Peter Matthiessen


American Novelist, Non-Fiction Writer, Environmental Activist and CIA-agent, Co-Founder of The Paris Review, 3-time National Book Award Winner

Author Quotes

When I'm in the field, when I'm working, I keep very careful notes. I wear big shirts with big breast pockets, and I carry in them two little spiral notebooks.

Where could that vast Smile reside if not in my own being? ?and insight into ?one?s True Nature? may vary widely in its depth and permanence: some may overturn existence, while others are mere tantalizing glimpses that ?like a mist will surely disappear.? To poke a finger through the wall is not enough ? the whole wall must be brought down with a crash!

Without ever attempting to speak it, we perceive life in the same way, or rather, I perceive it in the very way that Tukten lives it. In his life in the moment, in his freedom from attachments, in the simplicity of his everyday example, Tukten has taught me over and over, he is the teacher that I hoped to find: I used to say this to myself as a kind of instinctive joke, but now I wonder if it is not true. ?When you are ready,? Buddhists say, ?the teacher will appear.? In the way he watched me, in the way he smiled, he was awaiting me; had I been ready, he might have led me far enough along the path ?to see the snow leopard.?

Wonderfully, Jang-bu laughed aloud, as did Dawa and Phu-Tsering although it meant wet clothes and a wet sleeping bag for the head sherpa. That happy-go-lucky spirit, that acceptance which is not fatalism but a deep trust in life, made me ashamed.

You mean... Billy exclaimed at last, you mean... ? his voice rose high and clear ? you mean... ? and he jumped to his feet, and standing there under the giant trees, pointed at himself, a small outraged boy named William Martin Quarrier, aged eight: You mean I just came crashing down into Ma?s under-pants?

They are big handsome silver-brown creatures, one of the most beautiful of primates, with frosted faces and an expression so entirely detached as to seem disdainful- a very suitable expression?

This world is painted on a wild dark metal.

Though these journals remind of the date, I have long since lost track of the day of the week, and the great events that must be taking place in the world we left behind are as illusory as events from the future century. It is not so much that we are going back in time as that time seems circular, and past and future have lost meaning. I understand much better now Einstein?s remark that the only real time is that of the observer, who carries with him his own time and space. In these mountains, we have fallen behind history.

To perceive the true nature of existence was one reason for performing a vision quest: after four days of fasting alone on a high rock, in great silence and solitude of earth, one is bound to discover that what was thought as a separate self is not separate from the trees, the rocks, the hawk, the insect peoples, that beyond the senses lies a different plane of consciousness in which all is related, simultaneous, and one.

To proceed as though you know nothing, not even your age, nor sex, nor how you look. To proceed as though you were made of gossamer. . . a mist that passes through and is passed through and retains its form. A mist that loses its form and still is. A mist that finally dissolves, particles scattered in the sun.

Today most scientists would agree with the ancient Hindus that nothing exists or is destroyed, things merely change shape or form; that matter is insubstantial in origin, a temporary aggregate of pervasive energy that animates the electron. And what is this infinitesimal non-thing ? to a speck of dust what the dust speck is to the whole earth? ?Do we really know what electricity is? By knowing the laws according to which it acts and by making use of them, we still do not know the origin or the real nature of this force, which ultimately may be the very source of life, and consciousness, the divine power and mover of all that exists.?

Tukum is at times forgetful about his pigs, being readily distracted by other children, dragonflies, puddles of water, and wild foods.

We cling to such extreme moments, in which we seem to die, yet are reborn. In sexual abandon as in danger we are impelled, however briefly, into that vital present in which we do not stand apart from life, we are life, our being fills us; in ecstasy with another being, loneliness falls away into eternity. But in other days, such union was attainable through simple awe.

We have had no news of modern times since late September, and will have none until December, and gradually my mind has cleared itself, and wind and sun pour through my head, as through a bell. Though we talk little here; I am never lonely; I am returned into myself.

We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.

All worldly pursuits have but the one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings, in destruction; meetings, in separation; births, in death. Knowing this, one should from the very first renounce acquisition and heaping-up, and building and meeting, and ? set about realizing the Truth ? Life is short, and the time of death is uncertain; so apply yourselves to meditation?

From the first day I met his daughter, all I could think about was snuffling up under that sweet dimity like some bad old bear, just crawling up into that honeycomb, nose twitching, and never come out of there till early spring. Think that?s disgusting? Dammit, I do, too, but that?s the way male animals are made. Those peculiar delights were created to entrap us, and anybody who disapproves can take it up with God.

If all else fails, GS will send Jang-bu to Saldang to buy an old goat as leopard bait. I long to see the snow leopard, yet to glimpse it by camera flash, at night, crouched on a bait, is not to see it. If the snow leopard should manifest itself, then I am ready to see the snow leopard. If not, then somehow (and I don?t understand this instinct, even now) I am not ready to perceive it, in the same way that I am not ready to resolve my koan; and in the not-seeing, I am content. I think I must be disappointed, having come so far, and yet I do not feel that way. I am disappointed, and also, I am not disappointed. That the snow leopard is, that it is here, that its frosty eyes watch us from the mountain- that is enough.

Like anything that one makes well with one?s own hands, writing good nonfiction prose can be profoundly satisfying. Yet after a day of arranging my research, my set of facts, I feel stale and drained, whereas I am energized by fiction. Deep in a novel, one scarcely knows what may surface next, let alone where it comes from. In abandoning oneself to the free creation of something never beheld on earth, one feels almost delirious with a strange joy.

On the sunny ledge, under the bright blue window of the gompa, we listen to the murmurs of the Lama and contemplate the prospect of the snows. Soon the mountains stir, the shift and vibrate- how vital these rocks seem, against blue sky! If only they would fly apart, consume us in a fire of white light. But I am not ready, and resist, in fear of losing my death grip on the world, on all that provides the illusion of security. The same fear- of loss of control- of insanity, far worse than the fear of death- can occur with the hallucinogenic drugs: familiar things, losing the form assigned to them, begin to spin, and the center does not hold, because we search for it outside instead of in.

The flower fulfills its immanence, intelligence implicit in its unfolding.

The sutra honors the most revered of all those mythical embodiments of Buddhahood called Bodhisattvas, the one known to Phu-Tsering as ?Chen-resigs? ? In the Japanese sutra inscribed upon this plum pit, this Bodhisattva is Kanzeon, or Kannon (in China, Kuan Yin; in southeast Asia, Quon Am). To Hindus, He is Padmapani, and in Sanskrit, He is Avalokita Ishvara, the Lord Who Looks Down (in compassion). Like all Bodhisattvas, Avalokita represents ?the divine within? sought by mystics of all faiths, and has been called the Lord Who is Seen Within.

Although the male herds are still intact- this sociability of rams is a trait of Caprini- the males are mounting one another, as much to establish dominance as in sexuality; among many sheep and goats, the juvenile males and females are quite similar in appearance, and tend to imitate the behavior (heretofore unreported) that GS calls rump-rubbing, in which one male may rub his face against the hind end of another. In the vicinity of females, the male kicks- a loose twitch of the leg in her direction that appears to be amounting preliminary and may also serve to display his handsome markings. Also, he thrusts his muzzle into her urine stream, as if to learn whether or not she is in estrus, and licks in agitation his penis. But the blue sheep stops short of certain practices developed by the markhor of Pakistan and the wild goat (the ancestor of the domestic goat, ranging from Pakistan to Greece), both of which take their penises into their mouths, urinate copiously, then spit on their own coats; the beard of the male goat is an adaptive character, a sort of urine sponge that perpetuates the fine funky smell for which the goats are known.

GS is discoursing happily on the freedom of carrying one?s own pack, of being independent of childish people who?ve lived all their lives in the mountains and won?t wear rag strips on their eyes in snow- do you realize we could travel for a week this way, and make good time, with just what we have here on our backs? I do realize this and am happy, too, watching him tramp off down the mountain; the sense of having one?s life needs at hand, of traveling light, brings with it intense energy and exhilaration. Simplicity is the secret of well-being.

Ignoring that body of peculiar lore based on vanished continents and cosmic Masters ? and putting aside the current speculation about ocean travel by such atypical Indians as the Inca, the many cultural similarities between the pre-Aryan Dravidians and the Maya, and accounts seeming to indicate that Buddhist missionaries reached the Aleutians and traveled as far south as California by the fourteenth century ? one remains faced with an uneasy choice between eerily precise archetypal symbols and the perpetuation of a body of profound intuitive knowledge that antedates all known religions of man?s history.

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American Novelist, Non-Fiction Writer, Environmental Activist and CIA-agent, Co-Founder of The Paris Review, 3-time National Book Award Winner