The Snow Leopard - by Peter Matthiessen

(Of GS, I had written earlier that "he is single-minded, not easy to know," and "a stern pragmatist, unable to muster up much grace in the face of unscientific attitudes; he takes a hard-eyed look at almost everything." He was also described as a "lean, intent young man," and I find him as lean and as intent as ever.)

How strange everything seems. How strange everything is. One "I" feels like an observer of this man who lies here in this sleeping bag in Asian mountains; another "I" is thinking about Alex; a third is the tired man who tries to sleep.

Ecstasy is identity with all existence.

Most poets know about these pangs of loss, and here and there in my prose readings, strange passages would leap like unicorns out of the page. "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" was an early example, and a description of singing fishes in a novel by Hamsun, and a passage in Borges, and another in Thoreau, and many in Hesse, who wrote of little else. Hamsun's characters tend to destroy themselves, and Hamsun and Hesse, with the authority of failure, warned of the fatal spell of the mystical search--so did Kierkegaard, who declared that too much "possibility" led to the madhouse.

In case I should need them, instructions for passage through the Bardo are contained in the Tibetan "Book of the Dead" which I carry with me--a guide for the living, actually, since it teaches that a man's last thoughts will determine the quality of his reincarnation. Therefore, every moment of life is to be lived calmly, mindfully, as if it were the last, to insure that the most is made of the precious human state--the only one in which enlightenment is possible.

The emptiness and silence of snow mountains quickly bring about those states of consciousness that occur in the mind-emptying of meditation, and no doubt high altitude has an effect, for my eye perceives the world as fixed or fluid, as it wishes. The earth twitches, and the mountains shimmer, as if all molecules had been set free: the blue sky rings.

The sense of having one's life needs at hand, of traveling light, brings with it intense energy and exhilaration. Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being.

In the clearness of this Himalayan air, mountains draw near, and in such splendor, tears come quietly to my eyes and cool on my sunburned cheeks. This is not mere soft-mindedness, nor am I all that silly with the altitude. My head has cleared in these weeks free of intrusions--mail, telephones, people and their needs--and I respond to things spontaneously, without defensive or self-conscious screens. Still, all this feeling is astonishing: not so long ago I could say truthfully that I had not shed a tear in twenty years.

"Expect nothing." Walking along, I remind myself of that advice; I must go lightly on my way, with no thought of attainment. Instead of the Kannon Sutra, I intone OM MANI PADME HUM, which is addressed to the same great Bodhisattva and, when recited one word for each step, has a resonant and mighty sound much better suited to this slow tread up the mountain. Aum . . . Ma-ni . . . Pay-may . . . Hung!

Between clinging and letting go, I feel a terrific struggle. This is a fine chance to let go, to "win my life by losing it," which means not recklessness but acceptance, not passivity but nonattachment.

My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one. What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness into ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being. In this very breath that we take now lies the secret that all great teachers try to tell us, what one lama refers to as "the precision and openness and intelligence of the present." The purpose of meditation practice is not enlightenment; it is to pay attention even at unextraordinary times, to be of the present, nothing-but-the-present, to bear this mindfulness of now into each event of ordinary life. To be anywhere else is "to paint eyeballs on chaos." When I watch blue sheep, I must watch blue sheep, not be thinking about sex, danger, or the present, for this present--even while I think of it--is gone.

Tukten's indifference to cold and hardship is neither callous nor ascetic: what it seems to be is calm acceptance of everything that comes, and this is the source of that inner quiet that makes his nondescript presence so impressive.

Someone once said that God offers man the choice between repose and truth: he cannot have both.

I remembered how careful one must be not to talk too much, or move abruptly, after a silent week of Zen retreat, and also the precarious coming down from highs on the hallucinogens; it is crucial to emerge gradually from such a chrysalis, drying new wings in the sun's quiet, like a butterfly, to avoid a sudden tearing of the spirit. Certainly this has been a silent time, and a hallucinatory inner journey, too, and now there is this sudden loss of altitude. Whatever the reason, I am coming down too fast--too fast for what? And if I am coming down too fast, why do I hurry? Far from celebrating my great journey, I feel mutilated, murderous: I am in a fury of dark energies, with no control at all on my short temper.