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Lions Roar : November 2013
a classic in the literature of the spirit. Hammarskjöld was Chris- tian by faith; his teachers were Meister Eckhart and other medi- eval mystics. But much that he set down in Markings could have been written from within Asian traditions—Buddhist, Taoist, or Vedantist. “The ultimate experience is the same for all,” he once wrote. Hammarskjöld’s friends, responsible for publishing his journal after his untimely death, were upset with the Anglo- American poet W. H. Auden, who had taken on the English translation of Markings. His draft introduction, circulated for comment before publication, struck them in part as offensive. To no avail, they did what they could to persuade Auden to revise it. Auden had made the smug posthumous suggestion that Ham- marskjöld would have been better off if he had attended church more regularly—like Auden. “Our views on DH’s religion differ from yours,” they wrote to him. “While keeping his roots in the Christian faith, we think that DH may have ‘out-winged’ what is usually described as religion, reaching a point where it does not matter anymore what label you give it. That needs, we think, just as much, and perhaps even more, discipline than any ecclesiasti- cal routine may be able to give.” What his friends said was true: Hammarskjöld was a lifelong dis- ciple of Jesus of Nazareth. The remarkable prayers he recorded in Markings address God directly, as Thou, in a mode that owes some- thing to the Book of Psalms and something to the modern poetry he read with passionate interest as a rest from his obligations. But Hammarskjöld was a practitioner, and practice has a blessed way of leading past boundaries. He followed what he called—without pride or show—“a spiritual discipline,” and his reports on inner experience varied in character from brief memos to himself to jewel-like renderings of authentic mystical perceptions. His brief memos were often self-critical: he had indepen- dently discovered mindfulness, which he called “conscious self- scrutiny,” and its reports back to him were rarely flattering. “You listen badly,” he told himself, “and you read even worse. Except when the talk or the book is about yourself. Then you pay care- ful attention. Are you so observant of yourself?” It was through such collisions with himself that he constructed and preserved his integrity, and the rigorous attention with which he scanned his own person penetrated deeply. “To be governed by that which comes alive when ‘we’ have ceased to live—as interested parties or know-it-alls,” he wrote. “To be able to see, hear, and attend to that within us which is there in the darkness. And the silence.” You see now what was in motion in this great life. As he went from crisis to crisis at the height of the Cold War, he became emptier inside in precisely the Buddhist sense—but also Eck- hart’s sense. “Each day the first day. Each day a life. Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and give back. It must be held out empty—for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity.” This he recorded at a time when he was engaged in winding down the Suez Crisis of 1956, a grave threat to world peace. Hammarskjöld’s critique of the selfish self mirrors his intense longing for selfless service—for the bodhisattva way. The cri- tique can easily be understood as Buddhist in flavor. For several years he wrote haiku, among them this one: This accidental Meeting of possibilities Calls itself I. Buddhist also in flavor—and Eckhart-like as well—are his powerfully stated insights into the nature, cost, and unique joy of freedom in the midst of action. He wrote: The “mystical experience.” Always here and now—in that freedom which is one with distance, in that stillness which is born of silence. But—this is a freedom in the midst of action, a stillness in the midst of other human beings. The mystery is a constant reality to him who, in this world, is free from self- concern, a reality that grows peaceful and mature before the receptive attention of assent. In our era the road to holiness often passes through the world of action. Visitors to United Nations headquarters today are shown the Room of Quiet on the ground floor. It is a meditation space inaugurated by and designed by Hammarskjöld in coopera- tion with an architect and a fresco painter. Visitors are welcome to take home a printed copy of the message he wrote for its inauguration: We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This house, dedicated to work and debate in the ser- vice of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer. At the end of this brief statement—unmistakably his own credo—he wrote: “There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.” What did Hammarskjöld know of love, of that part of the bodhisattva way? He was famously reticent when the occasion called for reticence, a diplomat through and through, but in a late entry in Markings he wrote: “You wake from dreams of doom and—for a moment—you know : beyond all the noise and gestures, the only real thing, love’s calm unwavering flame in the half light of an early dawn.” In his worldly role, he had grasped how to embody compassionate concern without being thrown off balance by it. He said, “You can only hope to find a lasting solution to a conflict if you have learned to see the other objectively, but, at the same time, to experience his difficulties subjectively.” Such wisdom is the fruit of worldly experience grounded in religious tradition. But for those drawn by Hammarskjöld’s example, there won’t be any easy wins. The relations between SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2013 68