The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen

Now the air is struck by the shrill of a single cicada, brilliant, eerie, a sound as fierce as a sword blade shrieking on a lathe, yet subtle, bell-like, with a ring that causes the spider webs to shimmer in the sunlight. I stand transfixed by this unearthly sound that radiates from all the world at once. . .



Many who visit this blog might have already read this gorgeous book, but since I am re-reading it for around the tenth time, I thought I should write briefly about it.

This is a travel book as well as an exploration of Zen Buddhism and contemplation. The author is travelling in the Himalayas with the famous field biologist George Schaller, and he describes the various landscapes and people he comes across in shimmering, pure prose. He has a keen sense for flickering, elusive beauty: cobwebs shining in the sun; the cry of a cicada that frames the silence; the loveliness of a lame beggar girl.

As he travels, the author describes his own discovery of Zen meditation and the way it grounds his life, especially since the death of his wife from cancer. Matthiessen goes into the history of both Zen and some Tibetan Buddhism, and the impact his various teachers have had on him.

Read, read, read!

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4 thoughts on “The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen

    1. Thanks again for your comments, Klaus. Have you read Nine Headed Dragon River? Lesser known than Snow Leopard, but very intense rendering of M’s engagement with Zen. Please let me know of any similar books you have enjoyed.

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  1. Two books I spent a lot of time with lately come to mind spontaneously: Pema Chödrön: “When things fall apart” (and others from her) and Jon Kabat Zinn: “Coming to our senses”. Kabat Zinn is a contemporary of Matthiessen and comes from the same background.
    However, there is so much more.
    Nisargadatta’s “T Am That” is very dear to me too.

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    1. Thanks. I once saw a Pema Chodron video in which she describes her life’s work. I have not read Kabat-Zinn, though I have seen his books around. I will keep looking!

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