Gary Snyder, a committed Buddhist

- through Sophie Solere

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Central figure of the Beat Generation, poet, translator and Zen Buddhist, Gary Snyder is also a pioneer of the environmental movement, a man aware of our total interdependence with the natural world as evidenced by his collection of essays, The sense of place.

In The celestial tramps by Jack Kerouac (1958), he appeared as Japhy Ryder, a solitary poet and translator of Han Shan, versed in Zen Buddhism. A central figure in the Beat Generation, Gary Snyder (b. 1930) is the author of more than twenty-five books – from poetry to travelogues to essays – including Turtle Island crowned by the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. He is a leading American thinker, author of a work built at the crossroads of poetry, politics, ecology and spirituality.

In 1956, Gary Snyder left the United States for Japan, where he lived for ten years in Zen Buddhist temples in Rinzai school, working to translate ancient religious texts for the First Zen Institute of America. Work and time for meditation punctuate his days in this community which advocates “personal and universal liberation”. Upon his return to the United States, the writer would be one of the most fervent actors in the dissemination of Zen Buddhism in his country.

Published in the fall of 2018 by Wildproject editions, sense of place is a collection of twenty essays that provide insight into forty years of the author's thoughts and writings. The first part of the book ("Ethics") brings together committed texts aimed at defining an ecological policy to get out of the dogmas of unlimited growth – which he compares to the “symptom of cancer” – and of the development that threatens to lead us to a “biological holocaust”. Heir to the thought of Henry David Thoreau, he calls for a return to a form of “light, carefree and elegant simplicity” and to re-embed the economy in ecology. To do this, he draws on the wisdom of the Amerindians, the precepts of Buddhism and Chinese poetry.

“The heart of the problem? To transform, as in Jujitsu, the magnificent energy of growth displayed by modern civilization into a disinterested search for a deep knowledge of self and nature," he writes, emphasizing that "there are many ways immaterial and non-destructive to grow".

Live regionally by contributing to a planetary society

The second part of the book (“Aesthetics”) is concerned with writing, and more particularly with poetry, which “promotes integration, strengthens community and honors the life of the spirit”. But also to the powers of meditation which “makes you humble” and “promotes self-knowledge, serenity, attention and self-confidence”.

In the third part ("Watersheds"), listening to American Indians who know intimately the "sacred" lands they inhabit, he becomes the apostle of bioregionalism, an approach aimed at creating a harmony between human culture and the natural environment. A radical environmental activist, in the 1970s he founded a rural community in the Sierra Nevada, where he still lives. “The challenge, for each individual, is to relearn how to inhabit places – which means learning to live and think as if we were totally committed to a place and for the long term (…) This implies a search for economic practices that are both sophisticated and sustainable, and that would allow people to live regionally, while contributing to and learning from a global society”.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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