In 2019, Sylvain Tesson received the Renaudot prize for The snow leopard. This text echoes the Snow Leopard Hide Book entitled Tibet, promise of the invisible wildlife photographer Vincent Munier, and TIBET, animal mineral which combines photos by Munier and poems by Tesson. The snow leopard is not strictly speaking a travelogue in the heart of the desert mountains of Tibet. It is not limited either to the observation of the devastation of wild spaces under the effect of Chinese land-use planning policy. Vincent Munier's notes and black and white photographs recount the experience of a balance, an enchantment, a quest in an ocean of rocks and snow, the panther's paradise.
We have before our eyes testimonies of the survival of a "medieval bestiary in the frozen gardens" (1), at 5000 meters above sea level. Those who have been touched by the tantric tradition of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism will find in these living texts and these dazzling images food for thought on some fundamental teachings of the Buddha. Herds of wild yaks, which are "from here and always", the song of wolves and the vastness of the landscapes invite the mind into the vacant space of its ultimate nature. The three books carry with them the bite of the cold of the Tibetan highlands. The thermometer fluctuates between -20 and -35°C. Price to pay to stop the advance of human civilization and "settle in peace" (2).
Suffering and splendor
Sylvain Tesson recounts the unreasonable tension between the vision of an earthly paradise and the cruelty it shelters: herds of kiangs, cousins of horses, survivors of the massacres perpetrated by the Chinese army in the 60s; herbivores living in constant fear of an unpredictable attack; poachers who indiscriminately trap gazelles, lynxes and panthers; human world which extends its disorder and spreads to the most remote lands. The appearance of life is the joint and unexplained manifestation of misfortune and beauty.
Contrary to what the writer suggests on this observation, Buddhism does not aim to get lost in metaphysical questioning. The way is not reducible to the examination of the tragic dimension of existence nor, moreover, to the search for its causes. There is nothing negative or nihilistic about the Buddha's early teachings. On the contrary, they invite us to cultivate positive mental states, freed from insatiable desire (3).
Those who have been touched by the tantric tradition of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism will find in these living texts and these dazzling images food for thought on some fundamental teachings of the Buddha.
The marvelous contemplation of nature is precisely part of this culture. Tesson's texts, Munier's photographs and notes celebrate beauty: the majesty of wild yaks, the dazzling antelopes, the marvelous call of the bearded vulture, the long melodious song of a wolf, a deer frozen in the cold like a stone. , silhouette of the panther on snowy slopes, appearing and disappearing in the sheets of mist. We find in the tradition of the songs of realization in Tibet, in particular in the songs of the yogi and poet Milarepa (1040-1123), the praise of this wild nature, object of beauty which awakens dazzling and pure emotion.
Stand still and fade away
In an unchanging landscape, without wind, the icy days give the promise of immobility. The snow leopard lookout transmutes impatience into tranquility. The expectation of the improbable turns its back on the turmoil of modernity and its cult of mobility. “Where man is far away, nature is peaceful, notes Munier (4). It remains to make us small, erased. The body becomes stone, earth, snow, cold… When Sylvain Tesson sees the panther for the first time, he sees an animal appear “clothed with Earth” (5). In another article, I quote a poem by Dôgen to evoke mimicry, this union with the living, the fact of voluntarily melting into it. The writer reverses the process. He contemplates an animal that is content to be. And because it remains without intention, the body set in the landscape, the world is incorporated into it. On several photographs, the eye also takes time to distinguish the feline. The panther looks at the one who does not see it.
Stay in the presence
The art of stalking reveals a profound lesson in the practice of meditation. To become accustomed to patience, stillness and self-effacement is to train the body to release itself into the state of non-action. It is letting speech and thoughts melt into silence. Delivered from obstacles to stillness, the mind develops its qualities of attention. Engaging the gaze in the fixation of a fragment of landscape to reach the relaxed concentration of a sea of rocks or snow, resembles entering the state of contemplation such as speaks of the tradition of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. (6). Perceiving and feeling the beauty of the world contributes to the germination of love and compassion for living beings. Spacious openness and loving-compassion in turn favor the right understanding of reality. Thus we can distinguish intentional meditation from spontaneous meditation. By sitting down regularly to train the mind, one seeks to be a light to oneself and to others. Sometimes a pressing inner need arises. A surge of silence and stillness invites us to dwell in the boundless natural state, uninterrupted bliss.
I would like to thank Vincent Munier and Sylvain Tesson for relating their attention to the living present and to primordial life, that before men who built twilight dreams. The Snow Leopard knows nothing of technological mysticism and our uncertain future. She knows nothing of the bushfires in Australia that have killed over a billion animals, wiped out the people of trees and plants. The discreet presence of the feline challenges eyes that cannot recognize the obvious.