Matthiessen, P.  The Snow Leopard.  New York: Penguin Books, 1978.


“In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for near an hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came and went on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying, birdsong and sweet smell of privet and rose.  The child was not observing; he was at rest in the very center of the universe, a part of things, unaware of endings and beginnings, still in unison with the primordial nature of creation, letting all light and phenomena pour through.  Ecstasy is identity with all existence… There was no “self” to separate him from the bird of flower.”  (41)

“The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas,” of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions.”  (44)

“The Religious ceremony is life itself.”  (56)

“And it is a profound consolation, perhaps the only one, to this haunted animal that wastes most of a long and ghostly life wandering the future and the past on its hind legs, looking for meanings, only to see in the eyes of others of its kinds that it must die.”  (57)

“And then, almost everywhere, a clear and subtle illumination that lent magnificence to life and peace to death was overwhelmed in the hard glare of technology.  Yet that light is always present, like the starts of noon.  Man must perceive it if he is to transcend his fear of meaninglessness, for no amount of “progress” can take its place.  We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.”  (63)

“There is no real edge to anything.”  (64)

“Tibetans say that obstacles in a hard journey, such as hailstones, wind, and unrelenting rains, are the work of demons, anxious to test the sincerity of the pilgrims and eliminate the fainthearted among them.”  (87)

“A mountain lunatic, a sennin.”  (97)

“The Tamangs make wind shelters in the ruins of some herdsmen’s fallen huts, and the Sherpas take the headman into their tent, but the Tarakots are satisfied to hunch like growths among the snow patches, wrapped in old blankets, doing nothing at all to better their condition, despite the prospect of a long night of bitter cold.  They have carried no firewood, and must scavenge rice from us, and most are barefoot.”  (100)

“Still I sit a little while, watching the light rise to the peaks.  In the boulder at my back, there is a shudder, so slight that at another time it might have gone unnoticed.  The tremor comes again; the earth is nudging me.  And still I do not see.”  (109)

“..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 whole secret of well being.”  (“I could not simplify myself” – the explanation of the suicide of Nezhdanov.   Turgenev, Virgin Soil).  (111-112)

“This is closer to my own idea of freedom, the possibility and prospect of “free life,” traveling light, without clinging or despising, in calm acceptance of everything that comes; free because without defenses, free not in an adolescent way, with no restraints, but in the sense of the Tibetan Buddhist’s “crazy wisdom,” of Camus’s “leap into the absurd” that occurs within a life of limitations.  The absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of the duty (to that self which is inseparable from others) to live it through as bravely and as generously as possible.”  (112-113).

“My head has cleared in these weeks free of intrusions – mail, telephones, people and their needs – and I respond to things spontaneously, without defensive or self-conscious screens.  Still, all this feeling is astonishing.”  (115)

“The great sins, so say the Sherpas, are to pick wildflowers and to threaten children.”  (135)

“The walker must neither speak, nor look from side to side.  He must keep his eyes fixed on a single distant object and never allow his attention to be attracted by anything else.  When the trance has been reached, though normal consciousness is for the greater part suppressed, it remains sufficiently alive to keep the man aware of the obstacles in his way, and mindful of his direction and goal.” David-Neel.  “Lung-gom is literally wind concentration, with “wind” or “air” equivalent to the sanskrit prana, the vital energy or breath that animates all matter.” (151)

“The turn in my mood occurred this morning, when the brave Dawa, attempting to catch Jang-bu’s pack, hurled across a stream, dropped it ineptly into the water.  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.”  (158)

“The spell of silence on this place is warning that no man belongs here.”  (173)

“My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce my heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time.  Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one.  What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness onto ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being…To be anywhere else [but the present] is “to paint eyeballs on chaos.”” (Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo)  (249)

“Why nature should devote so many centuries to the natural selection of these creatures that favor head-on collisions over brains is a good question, although speaking for myselfin these searching days, less brains and a good head-on collision might be just the answer.”  (250)

“In the cold shine of its ice, this waste between high passes is a realm of blind obliterating nature.”  (281)

“Someone once said that God offers man the choice between repose and truth: he cannot have both.”  (294)

“..how can he forgive me, when he hadn’t bothered with resentment in the first place?” (307)