Online Essays by Gary Snyder
Snyder on his relationship with Jack Kerouac
When I was a graduate student at Berkeley studying Chinese and Japanese and planning to go to the Orient, in a perhaps excessively orderly fashion I decided I should get my teeth fixed. I didn't realize they had dentists all over the place. Anyway, I signed up with the University of California dental school, and for two years I bicycled from Berkeley to San Francisco once a week and put myself in the hands of a Japanese-American dental student. On one of those occasions I took along New World Writing No. 7, and I read the little thing by a fellow named Jean-Louis, which was one of the most entertaining things I'd read in a long time, and it always stuck in my mind. I didn't know anything of Jack or Allen at that time, but I never forgot that little piece of prose, "Jazz of the Beat Generation." It was the first time I saw the term Beat Generation. What I liked was the writing, of course, and the energy that was in it, and the evocation of people. Of course it didn't say "Jack Kerouac," it said "Jean-Louis."
Later I met Allen. Shortly after that, I met Jack. When I met Jack, and hearing Allen speak of his projects and hearing Jack speak, I flashed that he was Jean-Louis.
Allen asked Rexroth who was doing interesting poetry in the area. Allen had the idea of trying to put together some kind of poetry reading, and Kenneth mentioned my name as one person he might want to look up. So Allen just turned up at my place when I was fixing my bicycle in the backyard, and said that he had been talking to Kenneth. So we sat down and started comparing who we knew and what we were thinking about.
Jack was, in a sense, a twentieth-century American Lithographer. And that's why maybe those novels will stand up, because they will be one of the best statements of the myth of the twentieth century. just as Ginsberg represents one clear archetypal aspect of twentieth century America, I think Jack saw me, in a funny way, as being another archetypal twentieth-century American of the West, of the anarchist, libertarian, IWW tradition, of a tradition of working outdoors and fitting in already with his fascination with the hobo, railroad bum, working man. I was another dimension on that.
Like on one occasion I remember we spent a number of hours in which I simply explained to him how logging camps worked and what all the steps in a logging operation are. Now I don't believe he ever used that in a book, but he was collecting that kind of information and enthusiastically digesting it all the time.
If my life and work is in some sense a kind of an odd extension, in its own way, of what Thoreau, Whitman, John Muir, etcetera, are doing, then Jack hooked into that and he saw that as valuable to him for his purposes in this century.
And Allen was the New York radical, Jewish intelligentsia. Jack really was skillful in identifying these types, recognizing them as being a particular image that would become part of the mythology of America that he was working at. When he talked about his great novel that he was writing, it was like Ovid's Metamorphoses, a collection of stories which sketch out the view of the times. And he saw himself on the scale of a mythographer. The legend of Duluoz.
The dialectic that I observed in Jack, which was kind of charming, really, and you see it at work in his novels, was that be could play the fool and he could play the student very well. "But see, I really don't know anything about this. Teach me!" "Wow! You really know how to do that?" and lead you on. 'I'hat was balanced by sometimes great authoritativeness and great arrogance, and he would suddenly say, "I am the authority." But then he would get out of that again. It was partly maybe like a really skillful novelist's con, to get people to speak. And be uses that as a literary device in his novels, where he presents himself often as the straight guy and he lets the other guys be smart.
I much appreciated what he had to say about spontaneous prose, although I never wrote prose. I think it influenced my journal writing a lot, some of which would, say, be registered in the book Earth House Hold. I think that I owe a lot to Jack in my prose style, actually. And my sense of poetics has been touched by Jack for sure.
Our interchanges on Buddhism were on the playful and delightful level of exchanging the lore, exchanging what we knew about it, what he thought of Mahayana. He made up names. He would follow on the Mahayana Sutra invention of lists, and he would invent more lists, like the names of all the past Buddhas, the names of all the future Buddhas, the names of all the other universes. He was great at that. But it was not like a pair of young French intellectuals sitting down comparing their structural comprehension of something. We exchanged lore. And I would tell him, "Now look. Here are these Chinese Buddhists," and that's how we ended up talking about the Han-shan texts together, and I introduced him to the texts that give the anecdotes of the dialogues and confrontations between T'ang Dynasty masters and disciples, and of course he was delighted by that. Anybody is. 'I'hat's what we did.
I didn't then, and I don't now, think in terms of whether or not people are genuinely committed Buddhists or not. We're working with all of these things, and it doesn't matter what words you give to them, and if I thought that there was some point where I would say, "Jack, you're thinking too much about how the world's a bad place," that would be my sense of a corrective and his understanding of the Buddha-dharma, but that wasn't in my interest, or anybody else's interest, to think: "Is this guy a real Buddhist or not a real Buddhist?" He was worried about it later, but I never was, and I don't think Philip Whalen ever was, or anybody else.
When Jack came I was living over on Hillegass, and Philip had come back from the mountains. I had spent the summer up in the Sierra Nevada working on a trail crew and, naturally, we were talking a lot about the mountains. We were just back fresh from it, from the season's work, and I had rucksacks and climbing rope and ice-axes hanging on the walls around my place. Naturally we talked some about all of that.
I perceived that there was a kind of freedom and mobility that one gained in the world, somewhat analogous to the wandering Buddhist monk of ancient times, that was permitted you by having a proper pack and sleeping bag, so that you could go out on the road and through the mountains into the countryside. The word for Zen monk in Chinese, yun shui, means literally "clouds and water," and it's taken from a line in Chinese poetry, "To float like clouds, to flow like water," which indicates the freedom and mobility of Zen monks walking around all over China and Tibet and Mongolia on foot.
With that in mind I said to Jack, "You know, real Buddhists are able to walk around the countryside." So he said, "Sure. Let's go backpacking." I think John Montgomery said, "There's time for one more trip into the mountains before it gets too much colder." It was around the end of October.
So we headed up over Sonora Pass, leaving at night in Berkeley, and went over to Bridgeport, up to Twin Lakes and went in from there, over Sonora Pass.
It was very funny. It's very beautifully described in The Dharma Bums, actually. It was very cold. It was late autumn. The aspens were yellow, and it went well below freezing in the night and left frost on the little creek in the canyon we were camped at. There was a sprinkle of fresh white'snow up on the ridges and peaks. We made it up to the top of the Matterhorn and came back down again. Actually, Jack didn't. I guess I was the only one that went up there. I was the persistent one.
"Four Changes" 1970
[edited and abridged]
Humanity is but a part of the fabric of life -- dependent on the whole fabric for our very existence. As the most highly developed tool-using animal, we must recognize that the unknown evolutionary destinies of other life forms are to be respected, and act as gentle steward of the earth's community of being.
There are now too many human beings, and the problem is growing rapidly worse. It is potentially disastrous not only for the human race but for most other life forms.
First, a massive effort to convince the governments and leaders of the world that the problem is severe. And that all talk about raising food-production -- well intentioned as it is -- simply puts off the only real solution: reduce population. Try to correct traditional cultural attitudes that tend to force women into childbearing -- remove income tax deductions for more than two children above a specified income level, and scale it so that lower income families are forced to be careful too -- or pay families to limit their number. Take a vigorous stand against the policy of the right-wing in the Catholic hierarchy and any other institutions that exercise an irresponsible social force in regard to this question; oppose and correct simple-minded boosterism that equates population growth with continuing prosperity. Work ceaselessly to have all political questions be seen in the light of this prime problem.
Share the pleasure of raising children widely, so that all need not directly reproduce to enter into this basic human experience. Adopt children. Let reverence for life and reverence for the feminine mean also a reverence for other species, and future human lives, most of which are threatened.
Pollution is of two types. One sort results from an excess of some fairly ordinary substance -- smoke, or solid waste -- which cannot be absorbed or transmuted rapidly enough to offset its introduction into the environment, thus causing changes the great cycle is not prepared for. (All organisms have wastes and by-products, and these are indeed part of the total biosphere: energy is passed along the line and refracted in various ways. This is cycling, not pollution.) The other sort is powerful modern chemicals and poisons, products of recent technology, which the biosphere is totally unprepared for. Such is DDT and similar chlorinated hydrocarbons -- nuclear testing fallout and nuclear waste -- poison gas, germ and virus storage and leakage by the military; and chemicals which are put into food, whose long-range effects on human beings have not been properly tested.
The human race in the last century has allowed its production and scattering of wastes, by-products, and various chemicals to become excessive. Pollution is directly harming life on the planet: which is to say, ruining the environment for humanity itself. We are fouling our air and water, and living in noise and filth that no "animal" would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us "we've never had it so good."
Effective international legislation banning DDT and related poisons -- with no fooling around. The collusion of certain scientists with the pesticide industry and agribusiness in trying to block this legislation must be brought out in the open. Strong penalties for water and air pollution by industries. Phase out the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel use in general -- more research into non-polluting energy sources; solar energy; the tides. No more kidding the public about atomic waste disposal: it's impossible to do it safely, and nuclear-power generated electricity cannot be seriously planned for as it stands now.
Stop all germ and chemical warfare research and experimentation; work toward a hopefully safe disposal of the present staggering and stupid stockpiles of H-Bombs, cobalt gunk, germ and poison tanks and cans. Laws and sanctions against wasteful use of paper etc. which adds to the solid waste of cities. Develop methods of recycling solid urban waste. Recycling should be the basic principle behind all waste-disposal thinking. Thus, all bottles should be re-usable; old cans should make more cans; old newspapers back into newsprint again. Stronger controls and research on chemicals in foods. A shift toward a more varied and sensitive type of agriculture (more small scale and subsistence farming) would eliminate much of the call for blanket use of pesticides.
Use fewer cars. Cars pollute the air, and one or two people riding lonely in a huge car is an insult to intelligence and the Earth. Share rides, legalize hitch-hiking, and build hitch-hiker waiting stations along the highways. Also -- a step toward the new world -- walk more. Boycott bulky wasteful Sunday papers which use up trees. It's all just advertising anyway, which is artificially inducing more mindless consumption.
Refuse paper bags at the store. Organize Park and Street clean-up festivals. Don't work in any way for or with an industry which pollutes, and don't be drafted into the military
Everything that lives eats food, and is food in turn. This complicated animal, homo sapiens, rests on a vast and delicate pyramid of energy-transformations. To grossly use more than you need to destroy is biologically unsound. Most of the production and consumption of modern societies is not necessary or conducive to spiritual and cultural growth, let alone survival -- and is behind much greed and envy, age old causes of social and international discord.
Humanity's careless use of "resources" and our total dependence on certain substances such as fossil fuels (which are being exhausted, slowly but certainly), are having harmful effects on all the other members of the life-network. The complexity of modern technology renders whole populations vulnerable to the deadly consequences of the loss of any one key resource. Instead of independence we have over-dependence on life-giving substances such as water, which we squander. Many species of animals and birds have become extinct in the service of fashion fads -- or fertilizer, or industrial oil. The soil is being used up; in fact humankind has become a locust-like blight on the planet that will leave a bare cupboard for its own children -- all the while in a kind of Addict's Dream of affluence, comfort, eternal progress -- using the great achievements of science to produce software and swill.
Goals: Balance, harmony, humility -- growth which is a mutual growth with Redwood and Quail (would you want your child to grow up without ever hearing a wild bird?) -- to be a good member of the great community of living creatures.
It must be demonstrated ceaselessly that a continually "growing economy" is no longer healthy, but a Cancer. And that the criminal waste which is allowed in the name of competition must be halted totally with ferocious energy and decision. Economics must be seen as a small sub-branch of Ecology, and production/distribution/consumption handled by companies or unions with the same elegance and spareness one sees in nature. Soil banks; open space; phase out logging in most areas.
Plan consumer boycotts in response to dishonest and unnecessary products. Politically, blast both "Communist" and "Capitalist" myths of progress, and all crude notions of conquering or controlling nature.
The inherent aptness of communal life: where large tools are owned jointly and used efficiently. The power of renunciation: If enough Americans refused to buy a new car for one given year it would permanently alter the American economy. Recycle clothes and equipment. Support handicrafts -- gardening, home skills, midwifery, herbs -- all the things that can make us independent, beautiful and whole. Learn to break the habit of unnecessary possessions -- a monkey on everybody's back -- but avoid a self-abnegating, anti-joyous self-righteousness. Simplicity is light, carefree, neat, and loving -- not a self-punishing ascetic trip.
It is hard to even begin to gauge how much a complication of possessions, the notions of "my and mine," stand between us and a true, clear, liberated way of seeing the world. To live lightly on the earth, to be aware and alive, to be free of egotism, to be in contact with plants and animals, starts with simple concrete acts. Simplicity and mindfulness in diet is a starting point for many people.
We have it within our deepest powers not only to change ourselves but to change our culture. If we are to survive on earth we must transform the five-millennia-long urbanizing civilization tradition into a new ecologically-sensitive, harmony-oriented, wild-minded scientific/spiritual culture.
Goal: Nothing short of total transformation will do much good. What we envision is a planet on which the human population lives harmoniously and dynamically by employing a sophisticated and unobtrusive technology -- in a world environment which is "left natural."
Specific points in this vision:
Since it doesn't seem practical or even desirable to think that direct bloody force will achieve much, it would be best to consider this a continuing "revolution of consciousness" which will be won not by guns but by seizing the key images, myths, archetypes, eschatologies, and ecstasies so that life won't seem worth living unless one is on the transforming energy's side.
New schools, new classes, walking in the woods and cleaning up the streets. Create an awareness of "self" which includes the social and natural environment. Consider what specific language forms, symbolic systems, and social institutions constitute obstacles to ecological awareness. Let no one be ignorant of the facts of biology and related disciplines; bring up our children as part of the wild-life. Some communities can establish themselves in backwater rural areas and flourish -- others maintain themselves in urban centers -- and the two types work together, a two-way flow of experience, people, money, and home-grown vegetables.
Investigate new lifestyles. Work with political-minded people where it helps, hoping to enlarge their vision, and with people of all varieties of politics or thought at whatever point they become aware of environmental urgencies. Master the archaic and the primitive as models of basic nature-related cultures -- as well as the most imaginative extensions of science -- and build a community where these two vectors cross.
We are the first human beings in history to have all of humanity's culture and previous experience available to our study -- the first members of a civilized society since the early Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our selfhood, our family, there. We have these advantages to set off the obvious disadvantages of being as screwed up as we are -- which gives us a fair chance to penetrate into some of the riddles of ourselves and the universe.
The Dhrma Eye of
by Gary Snyder
d.a.levy - Darryl Levy - I try out his names, reaching to know the man; his poems, his polemics. I feel brother to Levy not only as poet but as fellow-worker in the Buddha-fields. Levy had a remarkable karma: he saw who he was, where he was, what his field of activity was, and what his tools were to be.
"if in the past
i was of the black
and sat at night
In Indian thought the truth/law/absolute is called the Dharma. The Buddhadharma ("Buddhism") is the Dharma as transmitted by a line of enlightened men and women. Gods exist, but even the Gods are subject to the laws of karma; and because of their tiresomely long omnipotent lives they are somewhat handicapped in the achievement of liberation. Gods have been known to gain insight by attending little talks given by poor wretched mendicant human wise men. There are religious-minded people who strive for purity and solitary illumination, to be "God" like-but the Dharma is without dualism. Great Buddhist yogins of the past often sat through the night in graveyards, meditating while seated on corpses. Some of these yogins in their exhaustive search through all the components of mind and transformations of thought-energy became "of the black" - showing no dualistic distaste for "impurity" - and hoping to reach the depths where there is the basest lead, the raw material for the alchemical transformation into "gold."
"it was feb. 63 when i had enough money to buy a 6X9 letterhead hand press & type. Spent al most a year at my aunt and uncles printing sometimes 8 to 16 hours a day for days and days. . ."
The "right-handed" yogins and mystics have been an integral part of the conspiracy of civilization to degrade women and mis-use nature. They have become "established religion" living off of money provided by the state, or the pious gifts of workers and peasants.
The yogins of the left-hand, both women and men, have lived in the world doing their work and supporting themselves by crafts or labor. The Tantric siddha ("powerman") Saraha was an arrow-maker. Naropa's teacher Tilopa was a pounder of til seeds. Many were poets. Long apprentice ships were spent, in the mastery of a craft.
"i have a city to cover with lines"
His hometown, Cleveland, that he wouldn't move from. Like the Sioux warriors who tied themselves to a spear and stuck it in the ground, never to retreat. Why? An almost irrational act of love--to give a measure of self-awareness to the people of Cleveland through poesy.
"you will not confront yourself
so you leap to the aid of others"
--Levy's self-criticism also. But the Bodhisattva view does not imply that first, you perfect your selfrealization and second, enter the world to "cure illnesses and loosen bonds." The waterwheel swings deep into the water and spills it off the top in the same turning.
"in the background i sense
masonic mafia rites"
You'd think a hard-working young printer and poet would incur no particular wrath and blame. Or would you. The problem goes deeper than the celebrated American anti-intellectualism or guilt-filled prurient repressive over-permissive sexual attitudes or the compulsive accumulation of X
the police try to protect
the banks - and everything else
(Luther's outhouse a national institution.) The problem goes back to when the powers, beauties, and deep knowledges of the age-old women's traditions were supplanted by military-caste mystiques & the accumulation of heavy metals. The poet/yogin still speaks for that other, saner, consciousness. The Occidental poet, with his "Muse."
"lady you have to be realistic
sending all your poets to the looney bin
ain't helping the profession very much
your blue hair in the wind
& yr eyes full of diamonds."
Not an easy row to hoe. Nature a network of de-pendent transformations and the Muse can be Maya, mistress of the ecosystem of delusion; who will perpetually keep tricking, or be the means of seeing through (herself) - a challenge, Levy's Cleveland is not, exactly, his adversary: but his witch-Muse he needs must convert to the Path (more paying-back for spooky experiments in previous lives - that muse -)
"What form of energy is used to
create the original thoughts?
Try to become THAT!"
This takes us to the heart of Levy's strength. All manipulations of politics or magic - things, images, from inner or outer worlds; reduce down to this mustard seed that blows away when you try to look at it.
"Cherokee, Deleware, Huron [sic]
We will return your land to you"
It is curious how even a glimpse of the Mind-essence creates such primal respect for the land and for the dignity of men who live lovingly in the web of life - the primitives-
"it is not a Cathouse of the rising sun
or the deathwagon of the beat
generation, but a bridge of clouds
to a new culture."
Traditional orthodox Buddhists are not concerned with building new cultures any more than they are interested in nature religion or girls. Poets must try to get them together - playing a funny kind of role, today, as pivot-man, between the upheavals of culture-change and the persistence of the Single Eye of knowledge. d. a. levy finished up his karma early - "reborn as a poet in an industrial society" but he did his job well.
"the traditions we follow
make the gods look young"
Thus the name of Padma Sambhava's line of Tibetan Buddhism, Ning-ma, means "Ancient Ones." The sophistications of Mahayana metaphysics harmonized with archaic and primitive systems ... Goddesses; sexual yoga. Too rich to manage without the bitter tea of Zen as well - and here in North America, Turtle Island, we begin now to look for the next switchback in the path: something drawing on the wisdom traditions of Asia, incorporating the profound lore of our Semitic, Celtic, African, & Germanic roots - something that walks with the land and animals of Turtle Island in "a sacred manner" as the Indians do.
Levy gone up ahead, with that tinkle of bells (which is also how you hear the dakini approaching)
"when riding the winter pony
a trail of bells
deep in the mind
& if one listens
perhaps this sound
the young rider through the
4.V I 11.40071
(Reckoning roughly from
the earliest cave paintings)
Books by d.a.levy - find them where you can -
ukanhavyrfukncitibak. Cleveland, Ghost Press 1970.
Suburban Monastery Death Poem. Madison, Wis., Quixote Press, Vajrayana Reprint Series #1.
The Tibetan Stroboscope. Cleveland, Ayizan Press, 1968.
and, issues of The Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle.
Previously published in The Old Ways, City Lights Books
Copyright © 1977 by Gary Snyder
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