Asia Society presents; 24
The Asian society prison. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your host on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham on this program we will be talking about two great people. One of them is no longer with us. His name is Thomas Merton and we will be discussing him and his work and what made him so unusual. The other distinguished person is the man who is August and is very much with us and he is Dr. Mia Chocola Bhatti. Dr. chocolate Vikki at the present time is professor of eastern philosophy at New York State University college at New Paltz in New York. He has been on the faculties of Boston University and Smith College. He has written a number of books he has received many awards. I would say he is one of the most distinguished
persons that we have ever had on our series and I'm most delighted that he is here. He is known in the course of his lifetime so far. Many of the outstanding figures of the wounded aside from Thomas Merton he has known Dr Albert Schweitzer Dr Rabindranath Tagore Mahatma Gandhi which I think is most important to mention because this is the centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi. And he's even known Boris Pasternak. So Dr. chocolate you have traveled so far and spoken to so many remarkable people. You must have a very fine sense of fulfillment in your own life. Well it was a great privilege to be on the road. Our life plan to travel in many continents and meet some of these very great people who with all the differences seem to carry some common quality of humor humanity and simplicity. The power they had of attracting
people their disarming friendliness and the genuine concern but they are not a person. This I've watched in Gundy and the crowds where he often is surrounded by people in the villages. I was with him and his various travels in Europe America and Asia and there was a man who was lofty and his own eminence but with such a tenderness. There was no sense of this kind of discriminating. Hierarchy validation that we often had. You mention the name. Sure I do. I should in my great reverence fought him refer to those days I had with him not only not us but uniquely Tauriel Africa for a great well known man
to go to Africa and not for six weeks or six months but for half a century. The jungle fly is terrible he let her see what made him do it. This quality of he'll want to thank him almost on reigning love for people to heal them to help them find their bodies Pasternak course would be very shocked if we spoke of him as a saint as a man who was as outstanding in his offerings to the people. But having suffered from the October Revolution from the first or second world war all the purges I'm not going into politics but a man who had been stealing me all these experiences was still a disarming friendly person who would chat with you on music on great art in the Noble
Prize and the snows in Moscow which were something like I think 15 feet high. And feel that warmth for Asia for there was for me one small reproof for man's humanity. Yes I've asked this question of others aside from you doc to talk about it. What do great men have in common. And I almost always see the same answer. It is the simplicity of an affection for the human race. But that these people seem to be easy to know the easy to reach. They never opportunity. There is no class system in their attitude and although they are distinguished they never don't even seem aware of it. But you say that's true. Exactly true because if they were artificial They would barely care themselves. Not only against people but against root against life. They had to keep all the. Having it was
open for the profound contacts with life and with people I totally agree with you. One of the extraordinary things about Thomas Merton to whom you begin with whom you became very friendly and quite close in fact I have in front of me a book by Merton go Zen and the birds of appetite. And this book is dedicated to you. So that is a sign of deep friendship. But Norton was an extraordinary man. He the first was a professor of English was he not beyond becoming a priest. And he ended the Trappist monastery up to seminary in 1941 and was ordained as a priest in 1949. What has he said to you. Unfortunately he lost his life in a bad accident in December 68 but I think there's no point talking about but what did he say to you about his early life. Well as you put it he was brought in two different spheres of civilization
in France where his father often was as an artist. And this country which was his home. And he felt that somehow in his depth of life he had to have a room for more than one nation. More than one religion even he had no conscious motivation but he grew to this larger acceptance of Fate of heart of this sensitive zones of music. Our love each seem to demand for him something more open than the life in a university where he was at that time. It's no reflection on the university I would give it he said. Well yes one more denies some little guys he is going to be reading a book. So it's the whole universe couldn't have been planned to devise these little comforts for me I had to do something more to deserve the tremendous gift of life. And he came to a pond when you couldn't
endure it anymore. He had to have the whole sky. And the sense of boundless pays the right to contemplate to read on any religion on any art. And these were provided to him by the abbey I get so many Trappist monastery in Kentucky so as you when there he discovered that silence prayer and the disappearance of the monastic life didn't shut teams Ashaji moth from their world at all is an amazing it's a kind of paradox. Having accepted to certain framework of discipline he was free to explore. And he said we in the ministry I spent a few days with him in his ministry in 66. He says We try to do everything right if we bake bread is good bread. We make cheese eaters
to be good. Geez if we draw a pharaoh in the ground it has to be a straight furrow. If we write a book it's expected to be right well and here was a man who had this essential right and this how we have acquired it is amazing to me. But evidently then when asked to live gave him a chance to fly to open up and shoot out shutting himself off from there. He had contacted to deduct the visa route not only subsoil of all humanity but there's richness of our own human heritage. This two days do seem to be slightly contrary to each other the confines of the ND and the openness. Not really though I think that the solitude and the freedom from trivial details such as will I find a cab. Where shall I eat my dinner tonight. All these things are very time consuming and he tracked seriously
from one's life which is all too limited and I think the confinement is not a confinement at all in a monastery. No it's a very liberal spiritually radiant community. They do not need my company in the end with a few days they spend there. I got to know quite a few. They walked around. They didn't obligate me to do anything I'm not him and I'm not in it at the least. I actually am not a Christian. He doesn't make any difference come and stay with us. So I was accepted immediately. I don't like to explain at this point that you were born in India and it is your religion. If I ask is it Hinduism. Technically it would be so. Yeah but then again I always say it's what you do with your religion that becomes your religion rather than what you were born to by accident. But in any case I was accepted and I heard beautiful Gregorian and God have a 2:30 in the night when their
prayers began and went under the starlight and there having is a tree to the silent prayer this was exceedingly beautiful sensitive. There was no pressure. And flung there as I was reading in that remarkable book courageous and the unspeakable. One of these volumes he speaks about it. So he Islamic mystic now is no other news that a Catholic saint and scholar should be so involved as it were in a beautiful noble of rather heart for God or man who died in thirteen ninety. In Mara says Mara. Barney and Tunisia and spend this man pursued the mystic a light in his in terms of his own fate and reach so far
that Merton says Very possibly he had some influence and send John of the cross and I fought again it alone and to think that one of the tallest sayings of the Christian are that could have been influenced by a Muslim saint is quite remarkable but he says it in such an all one have enthusiast equal he speaks of the Radiance and the lie that this man who when he died was buried buried in a vacant lot for he was a stranger and he had not built himself or to. After a few years the walls of the lark fell down and laid one city governor built the same and a small door that is all but the words he left are words of fire. Of lighter beauty. So he made that contact. I should add that India was very near to him mainly through Gundy. He has a
gem of a book called Gandhi and nonviolence. It Die anything put out by the New Directions and you see this guy and he he is of course not east. And the traditions of Vedanta New York but he knew the west. His mind was as spontaneous and precise as any Martin could be. So he became an image of modern man with that extraordinary thing in reverse about mission a man of the West. He so well think you know the East I mean it's often said that the West and the east have such different minds that it's very difficult for them to fully penetrate and comprehend each other. I don't know whether that's true or not. Could we answer that. I think you think that is true. You do that here you did Richard Pryor and who are these directional. Are these almost video types of East and West didn't matter too much because
he reached your depth of human concern and other lofty sense of the divinity that attends upon human affairs which made him see. All of our civilizations are not as one not as a uniform thing but with beautiful differences which did not consist constitute any contradiction or any hostility. So he could go from his ministry to the tarts of a guy and he you could go to Zen. That is what he was bent upon doing in the personnel direct way. On this last tragic trip of his he had been to India at this world Faith conference convened by the temple of understanding. I met him in a hotel in Calcutta we were staying together. You've never been to Asia standing in the front of a big street and I said What are you looking at. He said Ever thing.
Sacred cows cry as big as richness poverty sound silences. He took it all in his stride. So I said Would you like to meet one of the great artists of Calcutta is a very well-known man Germany is 84. Should I love to and when he was there he was N tries to buy the tartan the idea an Indian had lived out his life in a studio. He made his own painting made his own brushes. His professional work and his own ideal creativeness are all one piece and this is what the artist told Merton. He didn't have much English but he said explain to him that it's all one my family life my art life my profession all are one and Martin see that is how we tease. And that is what modern psychiatry tries to do for people doesn't it. To reconcile the outer in a man to help people
obey their instincts impulses without suffering guilt from it make a total person out of his man and so that is really another way of approaching it isn't it. How right that is because it's the holiness which is holiness when there is an integrity in our lives we become integral and the kind of thing which comes out of self divisiveness and reflects itself in hatred for others is the result by this engine city that you are mentioning. And Martin had that in abundance measure the sheer warm than generosity pardon me for quoting two lines one of the speeches he gave. I mean we are actually very near each other. All of us. Only we do not imagine that we are all really that we have to do is to read the rest of that
unity because what we are is what we shall be. You put it in such a simple way as if we are all growing out of these psychological barriers into that sense of the. Completeness of human nature. Now if art could feed its sense religious sacredness in regard to life which you had in great measure he was against us not because of any creed but because he's heard his sense of propriety. We are here for a sharp dime on a journey. The whole thing is a human adventure. You'd better live well and live with some kindliness and intelligence that is how we came to these big issues. And he put them across. So naturally and so beautifully. And as you was doing it in these little plays.
Retreat even in that retreat you hear the drone of an airplane every city. If you choose not to insistent it is all right. I wish it would fade away in the sky. Then it should hear the little bird cause the Marmara of the leaves and he saw the horizon and he was arrested or sometimes it rained and the sound of rain reassured him. There was this kind of affirmation that he got from life from people. I think also Dr Chakravarti one of his themes was that differences exist everywhere especially between east and west if one wants to emphasize them but that these differences are enjoyable and stimulating and should be accepted in the full sense without necessarily taking them personally. And that's probably what enabled him to comprehend everything even if it was something which was completely new to him and which you may not have accepted and I would have thought yes as you
said the rich are aware. I think modern readers looking at the human scene would be. If you accept differences but not to eliminate them because there are beautiful differences we don't want all the flaws to be the same are all human faces to look alike. Culture is convictions different traits of human personality and Richard unvaried. So the secret lies in a kind of unity of diversity. There is a deep down unity which we had not to say Hm. And I think it all it's a game from these profound commitment to his own fate. Many people think that because he was fond of Zen there's a beautiful interview with Dr. Seuss Zuki in his book The last book that you mentioned. Therefore he was weak in the pursuit of his own religion. Just precisely because he was so. Secure in wordly so deeply
convinced of the shining witness of Christianity edgiest highest that you could arrange for the next lot. Never feeling that is own faith would be shattered. There is again that paradox. If you carry that fate you can explore. If you have a religion in which you believe it doesn't mean that you will be opposed to other religions. One could even say and he would have said it. If you lose some kind of loyalty to your faith or a country people whom you know you do not really value other people's faith. So again because he had deep fear in his Christian witness he could write as he did glorious devout Judaism which one could quote in the same raids and the unspeakable gives this what he calls
the great tribal Asian. Their great sorrows of the people and see the conquered because they are the prophetic witness I saw heard this. Because he he would claim that he had a right to belong because he already belonged. I would like to ask a final question about Thomas Merton. What did you know like it's somehow important for many of us to visualize the person we're talking about. Well he lives in a sickly physically us very well built and strong and if I miss hear this I don't add this. But she was radiant. There's a kind of luminous quality to his face I think. Long silence intense concentration brought out a kind of a long line of expression in his eyes in his face. So at the conference people who know but who didn't know anything about him say Who is he says you're warm hearted strongly
built. Well feature is pleasant person and look what you are is which isn't always what happens to everyone. No you seem to have that much used word charisma. Yeah that is they were divided. I'd like to close with a quotation from you Dr Chakravarti something you said about your new assignment which is a professor of eastern philosophy at York State University at your post you said that you felt it was a unique opportunity to serve the community of man in an age riven by the paradox of NEA ness which still fall short of the understanding needed for our democracy. And I think although we've been discussing Thomas Merton one must put in a word for your spirituality and your great cultivation. It has been an honor to have you as a guest on our program. And Doctor talk of Artie is the author of many books. He has taught at Boston University Smith College known many of the great
people of the world and I think he is among them. And for those of you who would like to know Thomas missions books better I'm sure many of you have read Seven Story Mountain. And I'd like to add a few conjectures of a bit of a guilty bystander. And no man is an island. And finally Zen and the birds of appetite. This is Lee Graham saying goodbye and ask you to remember that although east is east and west is west. All of us do think the time has come for the twain to meet. But concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the
- Asia Society presents
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
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- APA: Asia Society presents; 24. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-td9n7b5p