Bookcover - The Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard

by Peter Matthiessen

Rating: 8/10


In every moment, excitements fade, everything moves on, even the epiphanies and discoveries that seemed so exhilarating yesterday will soon be forgotten as the world floss on. You can't hold on to anything.

Sometimes we have to move away from that which we love most.


The people smile — that is the greatest miracle of all.


I nod to Death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path. The ancient is lost in a shadow world, and gives no sign.

There are no roads west of Pokhara, which is the last outpost of the modern world; in one day's walk we are a century away.

September 29

Down mountain fields, a path of stones flows like mercury in the sunlight; even the huts have roofs of silver slates.

September 30

Now the air is struck by the shrill of a single cicada, brilliant eerie a sound as fierce as a sword blade shrieking on a lathe, yet subtle, bell-like, with a ring that causes the spider webs to shimmer in the sunlight.

October 1

October 2

The Universe itself is the scripture if Zen, for which religion is no more and no less than the apprehension of the infinite in every moment.

October 3

October 4

October 5

How strange everything seems. How strange everything is.

Ecstasy is identity with all existence.

I only knew that at the bottom of each breath there was a hollow place that needed to be filled.

The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional — of its own particular law.... To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being ... He has failed to realize his life's meaning.

October 6

The invocation that calls the universe to attention: OM!

October 7

This haunted animal that wastes most of a long and ghostly life wandering the future and the part on its hind legs, looking dir meanings, only to see in the eyes of others of its kind that it must die.

October 8

October 9

The courage-to-be, right here and now and nowhere else, is precisely what Zen, at least, demands: eat when you eat, sleep when you sleep.

Zen has no patience with "mysticism", far less the occult, although its emphasis on the enlightenment experience (called kensho or satori) is what sets it apart from other religions and philosophies.

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

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 the pervasive energy that animated 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 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.

Energy is god. Is the Tao, is all there is, interconnected in a multidimensional fabric of void, of spacetime.

Atoms flow backward and forward in such useful but artificial constructs as time and space, in the same universal rhythms, universal breath as the tides and stars, joining both the living and the dead in that energy which animates the universe.


October 10

Cloud misty snow, and utter silence, utter solicitude: extinction. Then, in the great hush, the clouds draw apart, revealing the vast Dhaulagiri snowfields. I breathe,mists swirl, and all has vanished — nothing! I make a small, involuntary bow.

October 11

The mountain sky is bare — wind, wind, and cold.

Yet love was there, half-understood, never quite finished; the end of respect that puts relationships to death did not occur.

October 12

October 13

October 14

All worldly pursuits have but the one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersions; 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.

When body and mind are one, then the whole being, scoured clean of intellect emotions and the senses, may be laid open to the experience that individual existence, ego, the "reality" of matter and phenomena are no more than fleeting and illusory arrangements of molecules. The weary self of masks and screens, defenses and preconceptions, and opinions that, propped up by ideas and words, imagines itself to be some sort of entity (in a society of like entities) may suddenly fall away, dissolve into formless flux ehrte concepts sich as "death" and "life", "time" and "space", "past" and "future" have no meaning.

October 15

October 16

October 17

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.

I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun.

October 18

October 19

I long to let go, drift free of things, to accumulate less, depend on less, to move more simply.

October 20

October 21

Who is this everpresent "I" that is not me?

October 22

Seeing a stranger, he offers a broken yellow smile by way of apology for his old age.

October 23

October 24

Why is death so much on my mind when I do not feel I am afraid of it?

October 25

October 26

That happy-go-lucky spirit, that acceptance which is not fatalism but a deep trust in life, made me ashamed.

October 27

October 28

Tantra might be interpreted as the practice of mankind's earliest religious intuition: that body, mind and nature are all one.

October 29

My anger is wasting energy I badly need, and realizing this, it is easy to put it aside.

Simultaneously, I am myself, the child I was, the old man I will be.

October 30

In the early light, the rock shadows on the snow are sharp; in the tension between light and dark is the power of the universe. This stillness to which all returns, this is reality, and soul and sanity have no more meaning here than a gust of snow; such transience and insignificance are exalting, terrifying, all at once, like the sudden discovery, in Meditation, of one's own transparence. Snow mountains, more than sea or sky, serve as a mirror to one's own true being, utterly still, utterly clear, a void, an Emptiness without life or sound that carries in Itself all life, all sound. Yet as long as I remain an "I" who is conscious of the void and stands apart from it there will remain a snow mist on the mirror.

October 31

At crystal mountain

November 1

November 2

November 3

November 4

November 5

November 6

And soon all sounds, and all one sees and feels, take on imminence, and immanence, as if the Universe were coming to attention, a Universe of which one is the center a Universe that is not the same and yet no different from oneself, even from a scientific point of view: within man as within mountains there are many parts of hydrogen and oxygen, of calcium and phosphorus, potassium, and other elements.

The secret of the mountains us that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself:the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no "meaning", they are meaning; the mountains are.

November 7

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

A white down feather, sun-filled dances before me on the wind: alighting nowhere, it balances on a shining thorn, goes spinning on. Between this white feather, sheep dung, light, and the fleeting aggregate of atoms that is "I", there is no particle of difference. There is a mountain opposite, but this "I" is opposite nothing, opposed to nothing.

November 12

November 13

He regards me with that bodhisattva smile that would shine impartially on rape or resurrection — this is the gaze that he shares with the wild animals.

November 14

Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn't that wonderful?

November 15

Frustration at the paltriness of words drives me to write, but there is more of Shey in a single sheep hair, in one withered sprig of everlasting, than in all these notes; to strive for permanence in what I think I have perceived is to miss the point.

Mountains appalled me with their "permanence", with that awful and irrefutable rock-ness that seemed to intensify my sense of my own transience. Perhaps this dread of transience explains our greed for the fee gibbets of raw experience in modern life, why violence is libidinous, why lust devours us, why soldiers choose not to forget their days of horror: 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 filled us; in ecstasy with another being, loneliness falls away into eternity. But in other days, such union was attainable through simple awe.

My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in the hat solid second, as needles of fear pierce heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear and self are one.

November 16

November 17

The Way Home

November 18

There are no boundaries to this man, he loves us all.

November 19

November 20

November 21

I have the universe all to myself. The universe has me all to itself.

November 22

Perhaps I left to soon; perhaps a great chance has been wasted; had I stayed at Shey until December, the snow leopard might have shown itself at last.

November 23

November 24

Nor has anything changed; I am still beset by the same old lusts and ego and emotions, the endless nagging details and irritations — that aching gap between what I know and what I am.

November 25

Of course I enjoy this life! It's wonderful! Especially when I have no choice!

November 26

November 27

November 28

November 29

November 30

December 1

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