Book notes: The Snow Leopard - Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen (PM) goes on an expedition to the Dolpo region of Nepal in pursuit of a Snow Leopard along with George Schaller. The book is about him discovering or affirming the tenets of his meditation practice and finding the metaphorical snow leopard - enlightenment.

PM undertakes this journey in 1978 ~ 6 months after the death of his wife.

On seeking enlightenment:

A true experience of prajna corresponds to “enlightenment” or liberation—not change, but transformation—a profound vision of his identity with universal life, past, present, and future, that keeps man from doing harm to others and sets him free from fear of birth-and-death.

On seeing a child he cannot help

A child dragging bent useless legs is crawling up the hill outside the village. Nose to the stones, goat dung, and muddy trickles, she pulls herself along like a broken cricket. We falter ashamed of our strong step, and noticing this, she gazes up, clear-eyed without resentment —it seems much worse that she is pretty. In Bengal, GS says stiffly, beggars will break their children’s knees to achieve this pitiable effect for business purposes; that is is his way of expressing his distress. But the child that lies here at our boots is not a beggars; she is merely a child, staring in curiosity at tall white strangers. I long to give her something a—new life?—yet am afraid to tamper with such dignity. And so I smile as best I can , and say “Namaste”.

Try to be happy in the moment:

I am happy in this moment; we shall be up there in cold weather soon enough.

On dignity

Yet their dignity is unassailable, for the service is rendered for its own sake—it is the task, not the employer , that is served. As Buddhists, they know that doing matters more than the attainment or reward, that to serve in this selfless way is to be free.

On attachment

In Zen thought, even attachment to the Buddha’s “golden words” may get in the way of ultimate perception; hence the Zen expression “Kill the Buddha!'.

Too much speculation is useless.

Eastern culture emphasizes intuition more, do not underestimate the power of intuition.

On enlightenment

The Tibetian “Book of the Dead” 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.

I would like to reach the Crystal Monastery, I would like to see a snow leopard but if I do not, that is all right, too.

Waste no energy on regrets or indecision.

Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being.

The absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of the duty to live through as bravely and as generously as possible.

The happy go lucky are not weak. The happy-go-lucky spirit, that acceptance which is not fatalism but a deep trust in life, made me ashamed.

The east seeks flow and they get flow by doing the same thing over and over again. A state of optimal but samee existence. The west seeks to find the next improvement to the overall result. This causes permanent discomfort, All the pain but perhaps better results.

Perhaps this dread of transince explains why violence is libidinous, why lust devours us, why soldiers choose not to forget their days of horror: we cling to such extreme moments, in which we seem to die, yet are reborn.

When I watch blue sheep, I must watch blue sheepp, not be thinking about sex, danger, or the present, for this present—even while I thinking of it—is gone.

On coming down the mountain

The path I followed breathlessly has faded among stones; in spiritual ambition, I have negelected my children and done myself harm, and ther is no way back. Nor has anything changed; I am still beset by the same old lusts and ego and emotions, the endless nagging details and irritations—that aching gap between what I know and what I am.