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

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.

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.

And Tukten has known the answer all along, having only assented to my great plans to be polite, for he smiles as I come out- not to make light of things, far less to save face, but to console me. Plenty job, say, Tukten says; he accepts his life, and will go on wandering until it ends.

Holding his breath, swaying drunkenly beneath a bulb which illumined little more than grime and moisture, Moon stared awhile at the cement wall; it took just such a hopeless international latrine in the early hours of a morning, when a man was weak in the knees, short in the breath, numb in the forehead and rotten in the gut, to make him wonder where he was, how he got there, where he was going; he realized that he did not know and never would. He had confronted this same latrine on every continent and not once had it come up with an answer; or rather, it always came up with the same answer, a suck and gurgle of unspeakable vileness, a sort of self-satisfied low chuckling: Go to it, man, you?re pissing your life away.

In nonfiction, you have that limitation, that constraint, of telling the truth.

More often than I like, I feel that gaze of his, as if he were here to watch over me, as if it were he who had made me cut that stick: the gaze is open, calm, benign, without judgment of any kind, and yet, confronted with it, as with a mirror, I am aware of all that is hollow in myself, all that is greedy, angry, and unwise.

Phu-Tsering?s awestruck face, so like a child?s, reminds me of GS?s story of the time in eastern Nepal when our cook received a letter saying that his wife had left him for another man. Weeping, Phu-Tsering had got to his feet and read the letter aloud to all the Sherpa villagers where they were camped, and the people had all stood there and wept with him. As GS commented: A Westerner would have slunk off and kicked stones; you have to admire the Sherpas for being so open about everything- so open, so without defense, therefore so free, true Bodhisattvas, accepting like the variable airs the large and the small events of every day.

The native American traditions are Eastern cultures, thousands of miles and perhaps thousands of years from their source. Anyone familiar with Zen thought or the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism will not be astonished by the insights attributed in recent years to a Yaqui Indian sorcerer of northern Mexico. In content, attitude, and especially in that cryptic manner of expression which the inexpressible requires, there is nothing in the comments of this shaman that might not have been spoken by a Kagyu-pa lama or Zen roshi.

There is only a pearly radiance of Emptiness, the Uncreated, without beginning, therefore without end.

Around about now, young John Owen comes out of the shack lugging my old musket from the War. At six years of age, our youngest boy already knew his business. Not a word, just brings the shooting iron somewhat closer so he don't waste powder, then hoists her up, set to haul back on the trigger. I believe his plan was to shoot this feller, get the story later.

How could I say that I wished to penetrate the secrets of the mountains in search of something still unknown that, like the yeti, might well be missed for the very fact of searching?

In Tantra, the pessimistic fear of desire and pleasure that characterized early Buddhism was seen as but another form of bondage, and emphasis was placed on being ? in ? life without suppression of life forces but also without clinging or craving, Tantra concerned itself with the totality of existence, the apprehension of the whole universe within man?s being. All thoughts and acts, including the sex energies, were channeled into spiritual growth, with the transcendence of all opposites the goal; in the communion of sex, wine, and feasting, the illusion of separate identity might be lost, so long as a detached perspective was retained. All things and acts were equal, interwoven, from the ?lowliest? physical functions to the ?highest? spiritual yearning ? an ultimate embrace of all existence. Thus, Tantra might be interpreted as the practice of mankind?s earliest religious intuition: that body, mind, and nature are all one.

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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