The Sun Rises In The Evening

It’s paradoxical but one of the main producers of gluten-free products is a country built on pasta. Yep, Italy produces a huge range of excellent gluten-free food; that is, except for the beer. Couldn’t drink it. So was I excited when O’Brien’s Brewery opened in 2007. They now supply Australia and the world with the best gluten-free beer available (declaration of interest: none), made in Ballarat, a 19th Century gold-rush city about 100 kilometers from Melbourne. I was enjoying an O’Brien’s lager yesterday afternoon, and my thoughts turned to boutique beers, a phenomenon of my time on this planet. I can walk up the road from where I work to the Belgian Beer Cafe, I thought; and there are some great Belgian beers. And six of the seven Trappist beers available are made in Belgium. Which sort of made me think of Thomas Merton.

Merton was a Trappist monk, a Cistercian, a mystic, author of a 20th Century classic religious text called The Seven Story Mountain, and an expert on eastern Religions. Not bad for a bloke who became a Roman Catholic at the age of twenty-three! It is said he picked the Cistercian order because they didn’t talk much. They follow the Rule of St Benedict, promulgated in the 6th century. The Rule of St Benedict is basically a set of Guidelines for monks. I wonder if he chaired a committee that produced them, wouldn’t be surprised.

Thomas Merton is the best exponent and explainer of Zen Buddhism I have read. Perhaps because he understands the language of mysticism, and yet he doesn’t say too much, just enough in simple terms. After all, that’s Zen. Words are not considered important, they just confuse the (ultimate) picture. Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite is a collection of 10 essays. They are readable and uplifting. For example, one chapter is on Kitaro Nishido who formed what would later be called the Kyoto School of philosophy early last century. This has the makings of an impossible subject to understand for most of us, but Merton’s interpretation is user-friendly, and very comforting. He writes that Nishida ‘seeks to preserve the unity that exists between the consciousness and the outer world reflected in it’. And Merton goes on to make Nishida’s philosophy as applicable to Zen as it is to a theistic religion. Quite a feat.

Thomas Merton starts the book with a Zen saying, known to many: ‘Ride your horse along the edge of the sword, Hide yourself in the middle of the flames, Blossoms of the fruit tree will bloom in the fire, The sun rises in the evening‘. It’s meant to confuse, unsettle, and dispose of duality. Thank goodness Merton’s book does the opposite – clears the mind, relaxes. Oops, did I write ‘the opposite’? A Zen master would have whacked me on the head for that one. Beer, anyone?

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