So Thomas Merton wrote in a short, passionate piece in 1966 for the magazine Jubilee after meeting the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in May of that year. The essay was later published in his collection, Faith and Violence. It was an appeal for the safety of Thich Nhat Hanh on his return to war-torn Vietnam after a visit to the US in which he raised awareness of the true situation of his people.
Merton appeals for him in the name of 'freedom and humanity'. He says that he shares much with Nhat Hanh: an abhorrance of the war in Vietnam for 'human reasons, reasons of sanity, justice and love', deploring the 'fantastic and callous ravaging of human life, the rape of the culture and spirit of an exhausted people'; a monastic vocation; a poetic sensibility; a spirituality that recognises its responsibilities in the modern world. In his journal, Merton wrote warmly of Nhat Hanh's lively mind and gentle and modest spirit - 'you can see that his Zen has worked'.
At the end of his short essay, Merton issues a call to recongise new global bonds 'that cut across all political, religious and cultural lines to unite young men and women in every country in something that that is more concrete than an ideal and more alive than a program'. This unity is expressed in seeing the fate of our apparently distant brother and sister as our own fate. Merton urges his readers to treat Thich Nhat Hanh as they would treat him.
This appeal for unity and humanity in a time of war is timely - it always is, but needs to be expressed afresh in each age - but the little essay came to my mind for another reason. Thich Nhat Hanh is very ill, having suffered a brain haemorrhage, and his sisters and brothers in his Order have asked friends to unite in mindful recollection on his behalf. I have no doubt that his brother Thomas Merton would have been doing just. Indeed, I suspect he is, and I know that many of his Christian brothers and sisters are doing the same. Peace be with you, brother.