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

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.

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.

Asian traditions refer to a hidden kingdom ? Shambala, the Center ? in an unknown part of Inner Asia. (The Gobi Desert, formerly fertile, now a repository of old bones, is often cited; the desiccation of Central Asia, as broad lakes vanished in dry pans and grasslands turned into shifting sands, might have turned an ancient city into a legend. The death of a civilization can come quickly: the change in climate that dried up rivers and destroyed the savannas of the central Sahara scattered civilizations of Fessan and Tassili in just a few centuries after 2500 BC.) More likely, Shambala is a symbol for the Aryan cultures that emerged in that vast region between 6000 and 5000 BC ? the apparent source of esoteric mystery ? cults throughout Eurasia, which have echoes to this day in the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. According to one Tibetan lama, these mysteries ?are the faint echoes of teaching that existed from time immemorial in Central and North Asia.? Another believes that ?no people since the beginning ? has ever been without some fragment of this secret lore.? This view is supported by ethnologists, who find the same pattern of shamanistic practice not only in Asia and the Americas but in Africa, Australia, Oceania, and Europe. The historical diffusion of such teachings ? and perhaps the prehistorical as well ? is supported by striking consistencies in the practice of what Westerners, having lost the secrets, refer to with mixed fascination and contempt as ?mysticism? or ?the occult? but which for the less alienated cultures, past and present, is only another aspect reality.

I am everywhere and in everything: I am the sun and stars. I am time and space and I am He. When I am everywhere, where can I move? When there is no past and no future, and I am eternal existence, then where is time?

In the rain, all day, the Tibetans come to look at us, and again I am struck by the resemblances between our native Americans and these Mongol peoples. Most Dhorpatan Tibetans have the small stature, small hands and feet and noses of the Eskimo, the Mongoloid eye-fold, dark copper skin, and crow-black hair: even the low red-trimmed boots of hide and wool are very similar in appearance and design to the Eskimo mukluks. Their ornaments of turquoise and silver, on the other hand, suggest the Pueblo Indians and the Navajo, while the beads, braids, and striped blankets flung over bare shoulders evoke nothing so much as old pictures of the Plains tribes, an effect enhanced by the squalor of their encampments and the quarrelsome dogs. When traveling, these people use hide tents, children are carried papoose-fashion, and the basis of their diet is a barley or maize meal known as tsampa; no real kinship has been demonstrated between native American and Asiatic tongues, yet a similar farina of the Algonkian tribes of my own region is called ?samp.?

My letters I put away unopened, in my pack; they will not be read until I get to Jumla or Kathmandu. Today is the twelfth, and I leave on the eighteenth; even if the letters bring bad news, I could leave no earlier than the fifteenth, since Tukten and Gyaltsen have traveled hard, and must have rest. And good news, too, would, be intrusive, spoiling this chance to live moment by moment in the present by stirring up the past, the future, and encouraging delusions of continuity and permanence just when I am trying to let go, to blow away, like the white down feather on the mountains.

Such concepts as karma and circular time are taken for granted by almost all native American traditions; time as space and death as becoming as implicit in the earth view of the Hopi, who avoid all linear constructions, knowing as well as any Buddhist that Everything is Right Here Now. As in the great religions of the East, the native American makes small distinction between religious activity and the acts of every day: the religious ceremony is life itself.

The progress of the sciences toward theories of fundamental unity, cosmic symmetry (as in the unified field theory) ? how do such theories differ, in the end, from that unity which Plato called ?unspeakable? and ?indescribable?, the holistic knowledge shared by so many peoples of the earth, Christians included, before the advent of the industrial revolution made new barbarians of the peoples of the West? In the United States, before the spiritualist foolishness at the end of the last century confused mysticism with ?the occult? and tarnished both, William James wrote a master work of metaphysics; Emerson spoke of ?the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal One??; Melville referred to ?that profound silence, that only voice of God?; Walt Whitman celebrated the most ancient secret, that no God could be found ?more divine than yourself.?

But it is also true that in recent years, Western scientists have turned with new respect toward the intuitive sciences of the East. Einstein repeatedly expressed suspicion of the restrictions of linear thought, concluding that propositions arrived at by purely logical means were completely empty of reality even if one could properly explain what ?reality? means; it was intuition, he declared, that had been crucial to his thinking. And there are close parallels in the theory of relativity to the Buddhist concept of the identity of time and space, which, like Hindu cosmology, derives from the ancient teachings of the Vedas. Somewhere, Einstein remarks that his theory could be readily explained to Indians of the Uto-Aztecan languages, which include the Pueblo and the Hopi. (?The Hopi does not say ?the light flashed? but merely ?flash?, without subject or time element; time cannot move because it is also space. The two are never separated; there are no words or expressions referring to time or space as separate from each other.)

I have never figured out how women work but I do know that their skin color has no significance. Black or white, every last one is pretty pink on the inside and they are all impossible.

In the snow mountains- is it altitude?- I feel open, clear, and child-like once again. I am bathed by feelings, and unexpectedly I find myself near tears, . . .

Nevertheless, Tukem is a very proud little boy, and since his nami lives Lukigin, where his mother has already gone, he has decided to go away for good. This morning he put on his thin neck the cowrie collar with its brief string of shells which is his sole belonging, he smeared his body with pig grease until it shone, in order to make a fine impression at Lukigin....Then he set off alone on the long journey in the sun across the woods and fields, a small brown figure with a flat head and pot belly. His back was turned on Wuperainma, his pigs and his friends, his childhood, and he clutched a frail stick in his hand.

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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