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!