Karol Wojtyla of Wadowice, Poland was a secular poet, playwright and essayist before he entered the priesthood. After leaving his hometown to study literature and philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, he fell in with a theatrical crowd and established himself as a key member of an acting company.
These were difficult times for an idealistic young man; he was 18 when Nazi Germany invaded his nation from the west, with the complicity of Joseph Stalin's Russia to the east.
Of Man's first disobedience and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb and Sinai didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos; or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dovelike sat'st brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support,
That, to the height of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
At this time politically, England had been through a civil war and a period called the Commonwealth, led by a man named Oliver Cromwell who had deposed Charles I and took over as Protector of England. Cromwell died in 1658, and two years later, Charles II took the throne, ushering in the era known as the Restoration. In a period of time with so much going on, it's logical that people were confused with and disillusioned by things that were happening in their country.
Enter Milton's poem. Though published nine years after the death of Cromwell, it's been argued that this is who Milton based his Satan on. And though he uses a classical form to write about Biblical matters (calling upon the Holy Spirit to be his muse), there should be no doubt that Milton also had politics on his mind.
Now, I'm not intending this to turn into a theological discussion at all, so please don't go there. As you might have noticed, I underlined a few lines for you. I thought I'd be a peach that way. And that's what I'm interested in here. The fact that Milton is writing a poem to make something he views as important clear to other people. Theodicy (justifying God's goodness in spite of an evil world) is a pretty lofty goal to be sure, and may just be impossible on a widespread basis, yet this is what Milton sets out to do with his work. States it clearly in the beginning, so his readers will know that everything that follows is meant to serve this end.
So, if you've made it with me this far, I'd like to ask -- what do you think about writing with such a lofty agenda? Is it something writers should aspire to, or should writers have an agenda at all? Finally, and most importantly, can a poem or a story or a novel ever really be a catalyst for understanding, for change? Or can these things only serve as pieces? Or can they do anything at all?
Are books that important, really?
Paul Reps was born in Cedar City, Iowa on September 15, 1895. A man that always felt there were too many words used to describe anything he was a master of minimalist haiku, Zen Buddhism, and swift sumi-e brush painting. Reps can truly be called the father of Buddhism and haiku in America. He never was caught up in tradition, breaking all that are now considered the haiku rules and, although he respected his teachers, he forged new paths. Always, in his wide travels, Paul was accompanied by his humor, wit and independent spirit. As Paul would say, If not fun, leave undone.
In his book Dast-e-tah-e-sang Ahmad Faiz of India writes:
"I don't know the reason why I wrote poetry but it could be the environment of my childhood in which much was talked about poetry and there was inducement by friends and heart-related affairs. I am talking about the first part of Naqsh-e-Faryadi which carries my writings of the period 1924-25 to 1928-29. Those were my student days. These verses are the outcome of the intellectual and emotional experience gained by every young man of that age. But now when I look back I find that it was not a single period rather there were two periods with different subjective and objective experiences. The period between 1920 and 1930 was the period of a strange carelessness, contentment and emotional confusion. Besides serious discussion about important national and political movements in our poetry and prose most of us would write as if indulging in frivolities."
In this excerpt, Faiz is referring to the period in which Hasrat Mohani, Josh, Hafeez Jullundhari and Akhtar Sheerani were the great names in the realm of Urdu poetry. In the first part of Naqsh-e-Faryadi one can observe their influence. Some ghazals and poems such as Intiha-e-kaar, Akhiri Khat, Intezaar, Khuda wo waqt na laye, Mere Nadeem etc. can be cited as examples. However, according to Faiz, that period did not last long because the country came under the cloud of economic depression. These changed circumstances cast a gloom on his poetry which is evident from the last few poems of the first part of Naqash-e-Faryadi.
In 1934, Faiz completed his studies and in 1935 joined M.A.O. College Amritsar as a lecturer. It is here that Faiz met Sahibzada Mahmuduz Zafar and his enlightened wife Dr. Rashid Jahan. Both husband and wife were among the pioneers of a progressive writers movement in India. The young Indian writers studying in London in the mid-thirties were enormously inspired by the Communist Revolution in Russia, and this led to the birth of this literary movement. The Association was formally founded in Lucknow in 1936 in a meeting of the writers and intellectuals in which Syed Sajjad Zaheer -- one of the members of the London group along with Sahibzada Mahmuduz Zafar and Dr. Rashid Jahan -- were present.
The main objective of the PWA was to create social awareness among the common man through literature so as to help establish a progressive social order in the country. Faiz writes that the singular important lesson from participation in the movement was that "it is not possible rather it is aimless to detach oneself from his environment. The writer should therefore highlight the experience of the life of a common man in its true reality." Faiz became active in this movement and the second part of Naqshe Faryadi depicts the change in his thinking, such as in the poems "Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mahboob na mang", "Soch", "Chand roz aur meri jan", "Kutte", "Bol keh lab azaad haen tere", "Mauzu-e-sukhan" and "Shahrah". Thus begins the period of Faiz's poetry with a purpose.
Naqash-e-Faryadai was published in 1941 and eleven years later Dast-e-Saba appeared. In 1952, Faiz was imprisoned in Hyderabad Jail along with other prisoners accused for conspiring to overthrow the government of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan. The group accused of conspiracy was led by Major General Akbar Khan and some other senior army officers but among the outsiders involved were Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer, the secretary general of Communist Party of Pakistan. The idea behind having these two gentlemen in the group was to facilitate the recognition of the new government by Soviet Russia. The period between Naqsh-e-Faryadai and Dast-e-Saba (1940-1952) was of great political turmoil in India. Not only the world saw the emergence of the phenomenon called Fascism but a world war was fought and won by the Allied forces against this menace. Since Soviet Russia was allied with America and England in World War II, the leftist elements throughout the world joined the Allied efforts against Fascist forces. In order to play his role in this direction, Faiz served the British army from June 1942 to December 1946.
During this period, the Indian independence movement also entered a crucial stage. The Muslims of the subcontinent demanded a separate nation, Pakistan, which became a reality in 1947. After leaving the army, Faiz took over as the Chief Editor of the Pakistan Times. Besides the poems Faiz wrote in incarceration, Dast-e-Saba also carries some poems of the period 1940 to 1951.
Although all the Faiz poems written in prison depict the poet's extreme sensibility characterized by prison environment, there are four thematic poems written on different subjects that deserve special mention. In the poem "Ai dil-e-betaab thehr", Faiz used the word teeragi (darkness) for the advent of Fascism and expressed his usual optimism: Subh hone ko hae ai dil-e- betaab thehr (Dawn is round the corner. Be patient my heart).
Another poem, "Ek Siyasi Leader ke Naam" ("To A Politician") was addressed to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's stand on world war surprised all those who considered Hitler and Mussolini's Fascism as a great menace for the world. Gandhi proposed that "Allies should invite Hitler and Mussolini to take what they want of the countries Allies called their possession." Advocating his philosophy of pacifism, Gandhi wrote to the British: "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with its many beautiful buildings. You will give all this but neither your minds nor you souls."
"Tujh ko manzoor nahin ghalba-e-zulmat lekin
Tujh ko manzoor hae yeh hath qalam ho jaen
Aur mashriq ki kamingah mein dharakta hua din
Raat ki ahni mayyat ke tale dab jae"
(You don't like that the darkness conquers everything
But you want that these hands are chopped off
And the Day that pulsates in the hideout of East
Gets buried under the steely corpse of night.)
A third poem, 'Subh-e-Azaadi', was written on India's day of independence. Faiz was moved by the events that preceded and followed the partition of India, in which millions perished or were made to leave their homes in destitution. All this suffering brought more misery to the common man. Faiz declared it "a blotted light and night-bitten morn." Later events proved the correctness of the poet's vision.
A fourth poem is addressed to the Iranian students who fell victims to the brute show of force by the Iranian monarch after the unsuccessful bid of Dr Mossadegh to topple him. It is a moving poem full of pathos:
"Yeh kaun jawan haen arz-e-ajam
Yeh lak lut
Jin ke jismon ka kundan
Yun khak mein reza reza hae
(Who are these young men, O the land of Ajam
The jewel of whose bodies
Is scattered on dust in pieces)"
The subsequent book, Zindan Nama (The Letter from Prison) was also the outcome of the same incarceration (1951-1954) and contained some of his famous poems on the subject of incarceration. It also carried a poem entitled "Ham jo tareek rahon mein mare gaye" ("We who were killed in dark pathways"). The poet here refers to the wave of McCarthyism in America that targeted the leftists and fellow travelers. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the leftist husband-and-wife team who were executed in America on made-up charges of espionage. The poem inspired by the letters of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg circulated throughout the world is full of intense patriotic feelings in a universal tone:
"Tere honton ke phoolon ki chahat mein ham
Dar ki khushk tehni pe dare gaye)
Terehathon ki shamaon ki hasrat mein ham
Neem tareek rahon mein mare gaye
(In love of the roses of your lips
We offered ourselves to the dry twig of gallows
Longing for the radiance of your glowing hands
We let ourselves be slain in half-lit pathways)""
Faiz's next book Dast-e-tahe Sang (Hand Under a Stone) was published in the early sixties. Besides his many other famous poems written during incarceration or otherwise it also carries the thematic poem "Aaj bazaar mein pa ba jaulan chalo" ("Let us walk with fetters in the street"). It was written in 1959 when Faiz was once again imprisoned under Ayub's martial law. He was taken to the Lahore Fort's torture cell passing through the streets of Lahore in a horse driven cart with his fetters on. Faiz's book Sar-e-wadi-e-Sina (In the valley of Sinai) was the outcome of his poems written between 1965 and 1971. The collection also includes two thematic poems, "Lahu ka Suragh" and "Zindan zindan shor-e-anal Haq" written on the occasion of the firing on the Karachi people protesting against the rigged election of Ayub Khan as president defeating Miss Jinnah, the sister of the founder of the country:
"Na mudai na shahadt hisab pak hua
Yeh khoon-e-khak nashinan tha rizq-e-khak hua
(Neither plaintiff nor witness but the decision was made
It was the blood of the wretched of the earth so it mingled with the earth)
Faiz wrote two poems about the September '65 war. One is called "Black Out" and the other is the dirge of a soldier killed in battle which begins with the verse "Utho ab mati se utho/Utho mere lal". The title poem "Sare-Wadi-e-Sina" is written on the occasion of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. On the twentieth anniversary of the inception of Pakistan in 1967, he wrote his masterpiece poem, "Dua" ("Prayer"), a poem that jolts the sensibility of every reader. It is full of wishes that every common man of Pakistan aspires for.
Sham-e-Shehr Yaran is the next book. It carries various poems written during journeys abroad, some Punjabi poems and other poems written on request. The only poem on an event is "Dhaka se wapsi par" ("On Return from Dhaka"). Written in 1974, it begins with the verses:
"Ham keh thehre ajnabi itni mudaraton ke baad
Phir banenge aashna kitni mulaqaton ke baad
Kab nazar mein ayegi bedagh sabze ki bahar
Khoon ke dhabbe dhulein ge kitni barsaaton ke baad
(We who became strangers after so much expression of affection
After how many meetings shall become friends again
When shall we see the beauty of blotless verdure?
How many monsoons will wash out the patches of blood from it?)"
His last two short books "Mere Dil Mere Musafair" (1978-1980) and "Ghubare Ayyam" (1981-1984) contain poems written in exile. After Ziaulhaq imposed martial law in the country Faiz spent most of his time in Beirut and abroad. In Beirut he edited Afro-Asian Writers Journal Lotus an assignment given to him by his friend Yasser Arafat. These two books carry most of his writings relating to civil war in Beirut and Palestinian cause. Besides the titled poem "Dil-e-Man Musafir-e-Man" that describes the emotions of a person in exile there are some thematic poems related to the Pakistan's political scenario resulting from Ziaulhaq's tyrannical dispensation. "Teen Awazain",
"Yeh Matam-e-waqt ki gharri hae" and "Ham to majboor-e-wafa haen" represent the current situation. The last one is written on the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto:
Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chahie ai arz-e-watan
Jo tere aarz-e-be rang ko gulnaar karein
(The blood of how many people you require my country
To impart flowerlike tinge to your colorless face)
In a poem in Ghubar-e-Ayyam entitled "Idhar na dekho", Faiz castigated those writers and intellectuals who were sold to the regime and compared them with those who "decorating their bodies with the cross of truth left the world and are now prophets among the people."
Baffling questions regarding human origins, as well as those of agriculture, horticulture, animal development, and society in general, are ones that continuously haunt the hallowed halls of academia. Archeologists, anthropologists, and botanists alike are, at points, forced to throw their hands up in exasperated uncertainty when examining the origins of ancient man and his society. We are plagued with inconsistencies and apparent holes in our timeline of development. Prevailing intellectual theories seem little equipped to effectively answer these queries.
Sitchin strings together facts, figures, illustrations, and analyses from a most diverse range of disciplines and sources. An interesting explanation is created, at least fairly plausibly explaining man's ancient past. At first blush, his account is at once coherent and incredibly fanciful. It's generally easier to believe his facts and translations are wrong than to believe his conclusions.
An example of an inconsistency in man's development is shown immediately:
The first being considered to be truly manlike -- advanced Australopithecus -- existed in...Africa some 2,000,000 years ago. It took yet another million years to produce Homo erectus. Finally, after another 900,000 years, the first primitive Man appeared, his name Neanderthal
Accepted modern sciences agree evolution unfolds on a massive scale of years. However, it seems that where it relates to modern man, i.e. Homo sapiens, this scale is condensed. It is reduced by an order of 10 to 100 times.
The appearance of Modern Man a mere 700,000 years after Homo Erectus and some 200,000 years before Neanderthal Man is absolutely implausible. It is clear that Homo Sapiens represents such an extreme departure from the slow evolutionary process that many of our features, such as the ability to speak, are totally unrelated to other primates.
At task is the very origin of man. Or perhaps it is the standard, accepted origin that becomes questioned. Simple evolutionary theory is insufficient and too immature to explain man's premiere place on Earth. The Bible, literally taken, is also insufficient to competently explain man's origin. As Sitchin tells the reader, standard scientific explanations can't seem to explain why things happened. The Bible doesn't explain HOW. He discounts neither contemporary scientific discoveries, nor biblical accounts, however, the two seemingly opposed camps, combined with other mythological texts can be consulted to form a highly readable and somewhat credible theory of our beginnings on this planet. One such mythological text is Enuma Elish, the Sumerian Epic of Creation.
Although he mostly stays close, for obvious reasons, to the region of Mesopotamia, he delves into the issue of how many cultures, assumedly separated by impenetrable boundaries such as mountains and oceans have similarities. Examples include languages, symbols and signs (mostly zodiacal), creation myths, and pyramids. The prevailing theory holds that spontaneous development is responsible for cultures' development of tools and language. However, if cultures thousands of miles apart develop similar words, concepts and culturally-significant archeological buildings, does spontaneous development truly explain it? Sitchin would say no. There was a greater hand at work. This is the hand of the Nefilim.
Historically, various definitions of the Nefilim have been offered. The one accepted by Sitchin is "they who to Earth came." The standard translation most used by biblical scholars: "those who FELL to Earth"; makes them, essentially fallen angels. Obviously this is not a small point, according to Sitchin. If these are the gods, or the Divine Our, found in Our image of Genesis, then the Nefilim couldn't be fallen angels. This is relevant as he asserts that the Nefilim are our creators.
It is these Nefilim who lived, and still live, on the twelfth planet, called Nibiru. We'd been visited many times previously, but around 50,000 years ago they colonized Earth, starting with Mesopotamia. In the process Modern Man was invented. The process was genetic experimentation with many awful by-products resulting. It seemed that the Nefilim, also called Annunaki in Sumerian texts, were gods. Sitchin supports the theory that Man's development radically changed and advanced every 3,600 years. That is the span of time that Nibiru takes to orbit our sun. They are due to come back somewhat soon, although no return date has been offered.
My take on the work is that it is fascinating. Obviously I'm not being critical of his work. If anything, modern science needs the criticism. I'm not certain about some of his translations, however. They seem far-fetched. For example: the Sumerian KA.GIR translated literally is rocket's mouth (170). Conversely, when looking at the chart with the words KA.GIR, ESH, ZIK, and DIN.GIR; rocket's mouth, Divine Abode, ascend, and righteous ones of the bright pointed objects (169) respectively, they are a curio together. Their shapes are interesting, and in context, they could resemble rocket ships or command modules.
It would be a mistake to literally depend on any book, including some of the obvious ones. But I ask myself, "what if?" If we can accept that the ancient Sumerians know something about flying, then it makes sense why they had such extensive astrological lists and texts. What would a farming community need with advanced astrological texts, when a simple calendar would suffice? Additionally, if the kings and gods were one-in-the-same, coming down from heaven, then it is important to have terms for flying, coming down, landing, space craft, etc. as the Sumerian language has.
Of course, when we talk about myths, we've been told they're metaphorical. Perhaps even the pictures carved into stone and preserved on clay tablets are only metaphorical, also. At our point in time, the illustration of a female deity sitting in a room, with rows that look amazingly like test tubes, is only metaphorical. If it's not genetic testing, what is it then? It's obviously only decoration. (It seems that modern archaeologists and anthropologists promulgate that tired old rhetoric anytime confronted by facts that they can't neatly, conveniently rubric into an established pigeonhole.) But then when the dust clears from these arguments, we're still left wondering how so many new, previously non-existent varieties of foods evolved over such a tiny fraction of time. All of them, magically, capable of nourishment.
I don't think Sitchin has to be 100% right. I don't think he is 100% right. Suppose he's only 10% correct about what he says. That sure makes things interesting, as a plausible alternate explanation for why things are. There's tons of stuff on this planet that we just can't explain. I'm not even talking about hauntings and evil spirits and stomach stapling. I'm not talking about why we call the pyramid a tomb when there was no evidence anyone was ever buried in one, while actual burial chambers were found on a different location. I'm simply talking about the tablets and sculpture culled from the ground with the weird pictures and words, which strike amazingly resonant with our modern world.
All prophecies are fragile. They are subject to contradiction, to falsity. The false prophet, then, one might consider insane. But how does one interpret the language of prophecy? Is it a language of madness, of hidden truth, of images? Such questions are pertinent when discussing the works of visionary poet William Blake. His prophecies or visions informed his poetic style and language and invested them with a vigor, energy, and substance that reach far beyond the mere meaning or signification of language. He claimed to experience visions of the prophet Elijah (among other visions). So was Blake insane? Blake, certainly, suffered from some type of mental illness. His mood swings, his depressions, and his fervent, inspired productivity have been the subject of much debate. However, does mental illness necessarily detract from the value of his visionary poetry? Or does it contribute something to it? These questions cannot be answered adequately unless address the topic of mysticism as well. Blake was a follower of the esoteric religious doctrines of Emmanuel Swedenborg. The intersection of madness and mysticism is key to the understanding of Blake, if only because it demonstrates that this madness did not signify a necessary degeneration in the faculties of the mind, but rather a passionate commitment to the imagination, the spiritual, and the profound.
Language as a Tool for Solving the Global Crisis
"Hakuin Zenji puts it 'self nature that is no nature ... far beyond mere doctrine.' An open space to move in, with the whole body, the whole mind. My gesture has been with language." - Gary Snyder, Preface to No NatureCan language bring about environmental change? Poet Gary Snyder shows us that it can. He’s not only important as a writer about environmental issues, but also as a prototype for modern environmental activism. Because he strives with his writing to redefine the ways in which nature is popularly perceived, he is combating the generations of negative thought and action directed toward the environment. By changing the way people think about the natural world, one can also change the way they act. Therefore, by studying Snyder's writing, humans discover a new way of interacting with the environment.
Gary Snyder is both a Buddhist and an environmentalist, and he’s been combining religion and environmentalism in his writing for more than five decades now. Looking at the need to take care of our world through a Buddhist lens isn’t a new concept; for many, the mental states Buddhists wish to achieve (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) only not apply to people, but to all beings on the planet. Because of this, the correlation between Buddhism and environmentalism is a natural one: being unkind to the planet and its inhabitants is contrary to the Buddhist path. Snyder’s consistent combination of the two themes is important to a modern discussion on the environment. In his writing, he has given us the most important tool of all: the language to frame our thoughts and discourse (and from there, our actions) on nature.
Snyder won the Bollingen Award for Poetry in 1997. Upon giving him the award, the Bollingen judges said:
"Gary Snyder, throughout a long and distinguished career, has been doing what he refers to in one poem as 'the real work.' 'The real work' refers to writing poetry, an unprecedented kind of poetry, in which the most adventurous technique is put at the service of the great themes of nature and love. He has brought together the physical life and the inward life of the spirit to write poetry as solid and yet as constantly changing as the mountains and rivers of his American – and universal – landscape."
This quotation is striking in that it hints at the inherent relationship between Snyder's writing and his environmental activism – that one does not exist without the other. Snyder's poetry, religious beliefs, and his activism are then all related. By reading his poems to find ecological significance, one also finds religious meaning.
PoemsGary Snyder has a wide, diverse body of work which encompasses a great number of themes, but one that he returns to with especial frequency is that of human relationship with nature. Snyder describes nature as divine, and this goes hand-in-hand with the biocentric nature of his Buddhist beliefs. For Buddhists, seeing the Buddha nature in their surroundings gives the natural world a religious significance. This significance is evident in Snyder’s poems.
The poem "Water" originally appeared in Riprap, Snyder's first book of poems. The poems reflect the time Snyder spent in Yosemite, as a trail crew laborer laying riprap, the rock pavement put into trails to keep them from eroding. The poem says,
Pressure of sun on the rockslide
Whirled me in dizzy hop-and-step descent,
Pool of pebbles buzzed in a Juniper shadow,
Tiny tongue of a this-year rattlesnake flicked,
I leaped, laughing for little boulder-color coil–
Pounded by heat raced down the slabs to the creek
Deep tumbling under arching walls and stuck
Whole head and shoulders in the water:
Stretched full on cobble–ears roaring
Eyes open aching from the cold and faced a trout.
This poem shows Snyder in the context of the natural world, and the fact that Snyder does not mention his presence until the fifth line of the poem suggests that he is only a small part of the world – not a dominant figure. Nowhere in the poem does Snyder say he has a more important place than any other part of the ecosystem, rather, it suggests that he is an equal. This is demonstrated in the poem's final line, where he ends up face-to-face with a fish.
While this may be a description of a literal event, deeper ecological and religious implications are communicated by the way in which Snyder presents it. The world that Snyder describes in the poem is one in which everything has a place and is important, and suggests that human life is equal to all other forms of life.
Snyder’s poem "For All" puts a new spin on the takes the American Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of pledging allegiance to a flag, Snyder pledges allegiance to the land, saying,
I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.
Creating a new pledge of allegiance is a revolutionary act. Snyder takes the focus off national identity and instead put it on nature. While God is mentioned in the original Pledge of Allegiance, Snyder replaces him with the sun. By doing so, he is shifting the focus from an outside deity onto a natural object. Just as God is seen as an important, life-giving power, the sun can also be seen that way – the lives of plants, animals and humans would be impossible without the light the sun provides. By replacing God with the sun, Snyder says that the ecosystem is a complete and sacred entity unto itself.
It is also noteworthy that Snyder's new pledge of allegiance makes no specific mention of humans. Humans are implicitly referred to in the line, "and to the beings who thereon dwell," but the poem never raises humans above the other forms of life on Turtle Island. Again, this demonstrates Snyder's belief that humans are only a part of the world, and not necessarily the most important one.
The final lines of the poem "Ripples on the Surface" show an interesting juxtaposition of human civilization and wilderness:
The vast wild
the house, alone.
The little house in the wild,
the wild in the house.
Both together, one big, empty house.
The house represents the human habitat, but Snyder places it alone in "the vast wild," which suggests that human civilization is only a small part of the world. Snyder further calls attention to this concept by reiterating and restating it in the next stanza: “the little house in the wild”. Snyder's view of the human relationship with the natural world is very clear in the last line, in which he calls both the little house and nature "one big, empty house". Everything – human homes and nature – make up one big ecosystem, which we all partake of and live in. Snyder's use of the word "wild" gives the word a different meaning, because, although wildness is often associated with evil, "the wild [is] in the house." Humans are not separate from wildness. Instead, they should embrace it.
However, Snyder's exploration of the human/nature situation does not end with these sentiments. He goes on to say that the house in the wild and the wild in the house have been forgotten. People have forgotten their inherent connection with nature, and do not see that they are only a part of the ecosystem. He also calls the big house of the ecosystem "empty," which suggests that without the recognition of the connection between humans and nature, the ecosystem is "empty" because it lacks the spirit of coexistence which is necessary for it to be full.
In 2004, Snyder published Danger on Peaks, a poetry collection that continues the theme of the interconnection of all living things. For example, the haiku “A Dent in a Bucket” –
Hammering a dent out of a bucket
answers from the woods
– is a snapshot of working alongside an unseen bird. At different tasks in different locations, each is up to the daily work of their lives, neither more important than the other, creating a sense of solidarity and connection?. It’s a small moment about a mundane task. But life is a series of moments like these, and Snyder’s choice to portray a human and woodpecker both at work reinforces the belief in the importance of harmony within a location among the other creatures who live there.
These four poems, from different stages in Snyder's career, give a sample of his innovative exploration of humankind’s place in nature. Each poem takes up issues, and together they serve not only as a portrait of one man's views of nature, but also as a foundation for a new way of dealing with the environment. Snyder’s poems go further than merely being about environmentalism or spirituality. They shape our outlook so that it becomes one inherently in harmony with the world around us, providing a template for a new sort of life. Therefore, as formerly suggested, Snyder's poetry is not simply writing about activism, it is activism.
The Etiquette of Freedom: A Prescription for the Global CrisisIn 1990, Gary Snyder published The Practice of the Wild, a book of essays about human relationship with nature. The first essay, "The Etiquette of Freedom", examines the terms we use to describe nature. Snyder spends a great deal of time defining the terms "nature," "wild," and "wilderness". Snyder moves away from the definitions commonly given to these words in contemporary culture, and proposes a new idea: that freedom is inherently connected with wildness, and humans must learn to embrace them together. He poses the question, "Where do we start to resolve the dichotomy of the civilized and the wild?" This question is important to any extended discourse on Snyder's brand of environmentalism, because he believes that for the global environmental crisis to be solved, humans must reconcile the created gap between their culture and wilderness culture.
Snyder suggests that the foundations for our present social orders are learned from the order found within nature. Therefore, no matter how much we try to disengage from it, we are connected to nature. In his discussion of language, Snyder says that language is something we learn while living, not while being taught. While schooling can teach us the finer points of language, "the power, the virtu, remains on the side of the wild". In other words, nature is a fine teacher, and the perception of the necessity of separation of civilization and nature is just that – a perception, and nothing more.
Part of Snyder's discussion includes mention of Hindu and Buddhist figures, who have relationships with animals. He says:
In this ecumenical spiritual ecology it is suggested that the other animals occupy spiritual as well as 'thermodynamic' niches. Whether or not their consciousness is identical with that of the humans is a moot point. Why should the peculiarities of human consciousness be the standard by which other creatures are judged?
Here, Snyder suggests that nature is vast, and by applying human perceptions to other species, humans are limiting the world. Therefore, Snyder argues that humans need to view their relationship with nature in a different way – instead of trying to make it fit preconceived notions of the way things "should" be, we should instead leave nature as it is, and live within it. He also tells us that "home" is as big as we want it to be, and we should stop limiting ourselves to our small definition. This would foster a greater feeling of connection with – rather than isolation from – the natural world.
Snyder concludes his essay with a proposal of how humans should live within the world. He says that if we stop fighting nature, "we can accept each other all as barefoot equals sleeping on the same ground". With that, we can return to wildness at its simplest meaning.
In order to change the way we act toward nature, we have to change the way we think about it, and Snyder’s reevaluation of the language we use to describe nature is a fundamental step toward that goal. Taking words that commonly have negative connotations and casting them in a positive light is a basic but necessary part of reshaping our approach to nature: it gives us the vocabulary for a positive environmental ethic. This supports the idea that Snyder's use of language is his primary activist tool. By redefining contemporary notions of nature, Snyder is able to propose a new way of living within the world, one in which environmentally sound habits become the obvious way of life.
ConclusionSnyder's career has thus been based on writing about nature in ways which are often foreign to the dominant cultural discourse, and his commitment to this presentation of nature is instrumental in shaping modern environmentalist thought. While much of his writing is not explicitly religious, the connection he has had with Buddhism for the greater part of his life is implicit in all of his work.
Although Snyder has been involved in environmental activism in what some may call a more "active" approach, I would like to argue that his body of writing is his most active form of activism. Presenting the issues through writing is important because it gives people the ideas to work from. Without written commentary, "active activism" is not complete.
Language can be a revolutionary tool, and writers and their works have been instrumental in shaping society for generations. Gary Snyder's poetry is part of a long tradition of literature as an agent of social change.
He’s not only important as a writer about environmental issues, but also as a prototype for modern environmental activism. Because he strives with his writing to redefine the ways in which nature is popularly perceived, he is combating the generations of negative thought and action directed toward the environment. By changing the way people think about the natural world, one can also change the way they act. Therefore, by studying Snyder's writing, humans discover a new way of interacting with the environment.
Being Buddhist is about as punk as you can get. That's according to Santa Cruz spawned author and meditation teacher, Noah Levine. "Punk points to the Buddha's first noble truth," he says, "that there is suffering in this life."
In his debut book, Dharma Punx, Levine traces a parallel between the Punk Rock ethic of "NO FUTURE" and the Buddhist doctrines of impermanence and universal suffering. "Buddhism teaches present time awareness," he says. "It's not about living for some future date. It's about moment-to-moment awareness in this present time. That's punk. The Buddha said his path leads against the stream. That's punk."
He admits that to a conservative observer, punks pounding pace and seemingly violent mosh pits might appear in sharp contrast to the tranquil settings usually associated with Buddhism. "The Buddhist meaning of no future," he admits, "is quite different then the punk feelings of no future. One is coming from wisdom. One is coming from nihilism." It is possible, however, to integrate the two and, according to Levine, recognize punk rock as perfect launching pad for spiritual practice.
"The masses are deluded into thinking that they have to be happy all the time and that there is something wrong with them if they are suffering," he says. "From the punk perspective, everything is fucked. Punk clearly sees that there is incredible suffering and oppression in life. Realizing this is the first step in the right direction. Punks have taken that first step." Dharma Punx have gone a few steps further and through meditation and prayer have found ways in which to reconcile their nihilistic political beliefs with their life-affirming spiritual faith.
Levine, the son of world-renowned Buddhist teacher, Stephen Levine, is currently touring the country and discussing his newfound philosophy and the recently released book that chronicles its genesis. The book follows Levine's dangerous rite of passage and, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, spiritual journey from punk junky to Dharma Punk. It takes you from his first trip on mushrooms to his first trip to India. More than that, however, it attempts to tell the story of how some of the angriest members of what has been dubbed Generation X are trying to find their own spiritual footing on their own terms.
The offspring of divorced parents, Levine spent most of his young life shuffling back and forth between a loving but unfamiliar home in Taos, N.M. and a volatile and sometimes unwelcoming home in Santa Cruz, CA. Between divorce and a dysfunctional family life, a bountiful breeding ground for the anti-establishment punk ethos was laid. Being a teenager in Northern California didn't help matters. "There was such a huge punk scene in Santa Cruz in the early 80's when I was growing up," he says. "All of the best punk bands from around the world came through Santa Cruz and the street scene was really wild."
The first half of Levine's book, despite the drugs and disillusionments, pays homage to the early 80s punk scene in Santa Cruz and the now historical days of all-ages venues like Club Culture and the beginnings of local punk legends like BLAST. According to Levine, Santa Cruz in the 80s (and even today) was very fertile ground to raise a punk. "In Santa Cruz," he claims, "there was such a big punk movement because there were so many hippie parents." Growing up in Santa Cruz, Levine's generation was surrounded be parents that were practicing a plethora of spirituality. As a kid, however, he wondered what changes were they really making? What differences? Was the world really a better place because they tripped acid and smoked pot? As an adult, Levine recognizes the fallacies of this view but, as a kid, it was enough to spark a rebellion. "The punks," he says, "in a lot of ways came as a reaction not only to the greater ignorance of society but also to our perceived failures of the hippie counter-culture."
Before finding the solution in spiritual practice, Levine sought freedom from the problems that plague the world and its inhabitants in all the easy but unfulfilling places. Drug addiction and dissatisfaction became staples in his life. Crime and violence became his main means of support. He left home at 16. At 17, already a veteran of incarceration, he hit rock bottom sitting in a juvenile hall facing criminal charges. He called his father who offered him, via the phone, "anapanasati," or mindfulness meditation instruction. "I had tried to live the nihilistic punk lifestyle and all I got was pain and more pain," he says. "Once I started on the path of spiritual practice, particularly meditation, I realized I had found a solution."
Levine realizes that having a father recognized the world over as a great Buddhist teacher gave him an introduction to spirituality most punks don't have. That's why he wrote Dharma Punx. "I want to make meditation and spiritual awareness more available to people," he says. "I want to remove the stigmas from spiritual practice. Spiritual practice isn't just for hippies anymore. It's for everyone. It's for the punks. It's for the kids."
Not everyone who quotes the Bible is a conservative or evangelist. Hunter S. Thompson wrote "I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language--and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music."- Generation of Swine. Gonzo Papers Vol. 2: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80s(Thanks to kkizer for helping me find that quote.)
Of course, the famous folk-rock band, The Byrds, had the hit song Turn, Turn, Turn. This song is based on a passage from Ecclesiastes:
- "To every thing, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap"
Even when the book speaks directly of "fearing God", the skeptic need not avoid it as fairy tale; "fearing God" can mean many things. Remember, Ecclesiastes is a Jewish document and so fearing God harkens back to the ten commandments. Those ten commandments can basically be broken down to "treat others fairly and honestly". So when the Elder says "fear God" he is saying, "live by your code of right and wrong. Start living now. But know right from wrong. Don't wait until it's late in life and the 'silver chord' is about to break.
The first thing the writer shouts out right from the top of the page is, "Vanity! Futility!" Okay . . . well, the King James Bible says "Vanity, but all the scholars agree that the word meant, "Futility." It's really the same thing.
The story follows this powerful King who surrounds himself with all of life's pleasures. He sets out to discover what life is all about. He tries everything: studying and gaining knowledge from books and teachers, drinking wine and laughing like crazy, building great gardens and increasing his possessions and wealth, having as many women as he wanted (strange thing that the conservative Christians don't explain why Solomon had so many wives, other than to say "those were different times"). He gets tired of studying and brushes it off with the observation, "Many words can be wearying." In fact, he gets tired of everything. He doesn't say that any of these activities are wrong, but simply that there is still something missing on the inside. All activity under the sun is futile in and of itself.
The writer of this story also sought pleasure in working hard and enjoying the feeling of calm and rest that comes after an honest days work. At one point he even says:
"There is nothing better for a man than to eat andBut even this life becomes wearisome to the Wise Man, and he unleashes this:
drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This
also I have seen , that it is from the hand of God.
So I hated life, for the work which had been doneThe writer then looks outward, globally, and he sees:
under the sun was grievous to me [I can relate to that]
because everything is futility and striving after the wind.
I looked at all the acts of oppression which wereThis great King who can have any woman and all the wine he wants says, "It would be better to never be born." He can't find peace in all of his labors and revelry until he gets the epiphany! It's alright to be happy. It's alright to enjoy the fruit of your labor and the wine & food. Just live with a conscience. There is right and there is wrong. Stand as honest as you can to your fellow human.
being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears
of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort
This is not much different from the revelation the Buddha had. As Levi Asher writes in his Litkicks article on Buddhism, Prince Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened when he looked at both the self-destructiveness of those who deny their desires and the misery of those who follow their desires, the Prince realized that there is a Middle Path, which is to simply lose one's desires. That is, an enlightened person should simply exist without desire. His needs and urges cease to control him, and he thereby avoids the cycle of indulgence and denial that tortures, confuses and distracts every living soul."
We've all heard the saying, "If I knew then what I know now . . ." That's what the writer is talking about. Get a little wisdom now, while you are young. It can only help you.
I'm not sure what to make of Chapter 8 where he says, "Obey all your rulers." Either the rulers were really good at the time, or this writer had some vested interest. Oh, wait a minute. Didn't we say King Solomon supposedly wrote this? Well, he sounds like a good ruler in my book, so to speak, I guess he can express a call to order.
Toward the end, the writer challenges the reader "Whatever you hand find to do, do it with all your might." When I was younger, some conservative Christians tried to tell me this meant I had to work myself to death; then I found out, it's like, if I'm engaged in an artistic project like writing or playing guitar, I will put my entire self into it.
Noel Paul Stookey is one of the members of Peter, Paul, & Mary, who are friends with Bob Dylan. In a magazine called Christianity Today, Mr. Stookey said, "Scriptural references were commonplace in Dylan songs, mostly Old Testament images. The allusions were rather strong, and there was no denying the power and authority of lines like "the first will be last," in "The Times They Are A'Changing". Then Woodstock, 1967: "I'm looking for truth; Bob is recovering from a motorcycle accident. He graciously allows a friend and me into the house to ask questions of the universe. He is totally honest with me, kind" and suggests I do some Bible reading. Thanks, Bob. -- Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary from the January 4, 1980, issue of Christianity Today.
(I just threw in that Dylan story to further legitimize this foray into Bible territory. Not that I think I have to.)
Check out Ecclesiastes (EEE-Clees-y-AST-ees). I would recommend a modern version, not the Old English of the King James version. Some of them have cool illustrations.
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?
-Han Shan (Cold Mountain)
In 1954, in a scene he described in his book, "The Dharma Bums," (pp 18-21) Jack Kerouac visited the Berkley shack of his new friend and Ur-Dharma Bum, Gary Snyder and found him translating the poems of an obscure Chinese poet named Han Shan, or Cold Mountain. Snyder told Kerouac about this "Chinese scholar who got sick of the big city and the world and took off to hide in the mountains", writing poems on rocks and bamboo and the sides of cliffs. Kerouac became so enthralled with Cold mountain that he dedicated The Dharma Bums to him when it was published in 1958. Read just a few of the 300 poems found written down on the bamboo and rocks and boulders of the mountain where he made his home, and it is not difficult to see how Cold Mountain would appeal to these two bhiku wanderers. Scenes abound of frustrations with the modern world, loneliness, leaving the manic world behind for mountaintop solitudes; wind blowing through pine trees; clouds touching mountain and tree tops; clear running streams flowing into jade colored lakes. Strong Buddhist and Taoist themes run through the poems of Han Shan, and unlike many Chinese poets of his time who often used just Buddhism as and embellishment in their work, Cold Mountain's poems show a deep understanding of both Buddhism and Taoism. Both Buddhists and Taoists often try to claim Cold Mountain as their own, but in his poems, he often delighted in poking fun at the pretensions of both traditions and seems to have considered himself a layman at best, a man of independent spirituality.
Biographical details of Cold Mountain are few and far between. Any details about his life must be gathered from his poems and the few mythic stories surrounding his existence. Chinese scholar and Cold Mountain translator Red Pine estimates Cold Mountain lived from 730-850 during the Tang Dynasty. He was born into some level of privilege and may have been a gentleman farmer and some sort of minor official in the grand bureaucracy of imperial China. At some point he was married. Eventually he became disaffected with society and left the world at 30 to make his home in the Tien-Tai Mountains at a place called Cold Cliff. He may or may not have become a monk. His physical appearance in drawings make him look like a template for the Zen lunatic or hobo-saint: wild hair, birch bark hat, patched robe, big wooden clogs, gnarled staff and an unconventional manner interpreted by others as craziness. He had two companions; Big Stick (Feng-Kan) and Pick-Up (Shih-Teh). Big Stick was something of a renegade monk at Kuoching Temple, which Cold Mountain would often visit near his home at Cold Cliff. According to legend, Big Stick showed up one day at the temple gate on the back of a tiger, took up residence in the temple library, refused to shave his head, and came and went as he liked. Whenever he was asked about Buddhism, he would answer ?Whatever.? One day when he was out walking, Big Stick heard someone crying. He found a 10-year-old boy in the bushes who said he had been left their by his parents, so Big Stick picked him up and took him back to the temple. The monks tried to locate his parents but no one came forward to claim him, so he was named Pickup and placed in the care of the temple?s chief custodian in the temple hall and later in the kitchen, where he would often leave out food for Cold Mountain. Pickup and Cold Mountain became close companions and are often shown together, their pictures hanging in Chinese households a symbol of marital harmony.
These few things seem to be the only sure things about Cold Mountain. There are different stories as to how his poems, originally written down on bamboo, rocks, boulders and the walls of people?s houses came to be collected. The most popular one is this:
Lu-Ch?iu Yin, a prefect in Tan-Ch-iu, had a bad headache and after visiting a doctor it turned worse. He met Big Stick and Big Stick told him that sickness comes from illusion and he needed pure water to cure it. Someone brought the water to Big Stick and he spat it on Lu-Ch?iu Yin, who was instantly cured. He was impressed with Big Stick's wisdom and asked Big Stick if there were any wise men he could look upon as Master and Big Stick directed him to Kuoching. He told him that there he would find two men who look like poor fellows and act like madmen. They came and went and they worked in the kitchen, tending the fire. Lu-Chiu Yin journeyed to Kuoching and inquired about the two madmen. He was directed to the kitchen where he found Cold Mountain and Pickup. He bowed to them and Cold Mountain laughed and said "Big Stick-loose tongued. You don?t recognize Amitabha, why be courteous to us?" before he and Pickup ran out the temple gate. Lu-Ch'iu Yin was determined to see these to men properly taken care of, so after he returned home, he sent clean clothes, incense and food back, but when Cold mountain saw the packer approaching, he yelled "Thief! Thief!" and ran into a mountain cave which closed behind him and that was that last anyone saw of him. Hearing this, Lu-Chiu ordered the monks to find all the poems Cold Mountain had written and to collect them to be made into a book, and those poems are perhaps the best way to get to know the elusive figure of Cold Mountain.
Whoever has Cold Mountain?s poems
is better off with those than with sutras
write them up on your screen
and read them from time to time
-Han Shan (Cold Mountain)