Meeting The Snow Leopard
Some books wait like a dream at corners of our lives. One such book is The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. It was waiting for me on a table in the living room of my daughter’s apartment in Dubai. I really have grown too old for new books. I picked up the book with scepticism and whoosh I was away on a soul searching journey with Peter Matthiessen. He is a yogi of the written word. I have read books but not enough to understand the great references made in this spiritual journey journal but I do get the drift.
Sitting in the balcony with the traffic sound like that of a Niagara from the Sheikh Zayed highway and the sun beaming off the glass tops of the buildings facing me and hitting my book like a table lamp’s concentrated rays, I had a feeling of being at one with the world, the Marina down below, the boats gliding over the still water, the sea gulls floating, the parachutists jumping from planes across the bay, the joggers taking life in gulps of fresh air and the boatmen washing the pretty cruisers of the marina residents. The restaurants have yet to open and old men on benches are waiting for the sun to hit them.
I continue to read the book and really begin to have an amused smile at Matthiessen’s tortured desire to nail the eel of existence/life/soul/god/cosmos; don’t we Indians have a perception of the truth instinctively or rather through religious learning through mythology, prayers, Ramayana stories told by mothers, grandmothers both maternal and paternal, Krishna stories, Mahabarata learning, a recital of all the granths while we are passing through streets of cluttered worshipers. Our understanding of Karma, fate and existence is there and we cannot explain it because of any books we have read or any lectures we listened to; to this he sort of agrees in seeing the one learned sherpa–on their quest for the bhural the blue sheep. It is a typical white man’s quest to find primordial universal answers from watching sheep making love. It just goes to prove that reading an extreme number of books does not still qualify you in that childhood party game of pinning the tail while blindfolded. On the other hand a tinge of distrust of Hindus sneaks in with the way he approaches Buddhists with love and rather with a pinched nose when he handles, ‘the Hindu.’
Like everyone else I am enamoured by tales of travelling that lead to self realisation the most classic being the rip roaring success The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This is of the same genre but the learning here is in the gems placed throughout the journey by the author on surprising corners of the book. One feels the cold thin air climbing up in the mountains close to the Himalayas through Nepal and Tibet.
I discover the power of OM Mani Padme Hum through Peter Matthiessen’s revelations about his encounters with the Buddhist religion.It was a bit eerie that I had brought Innocents Abroad and My Cousin Rachel as reading material both of which contain journeys of discovery.
(The CIA chose a very sensitive person for once to act as their undercover agent and Matthiessen’s cover was as one of the founders of the Paris Review.)
Whatever the story behind the man, he was a sensitive soul in tune with the Himalayan mountains and Buddhism. I am grateful to him for introducing me to esoteric concepts that I may never have understood if it had not been for his explanations. The book is studded with religious and philosophical gems and glimpses into Tibetan culture and here I leave a few samples:-
“The Holy Grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own ‘true nature’; each man is his own saviour after all.”
Enlightenment or prajna(pre-enlightenment?) for a man or woman is explained thus-’A profound vision of his identity with universal life, past, present, and future, that keeps man from doing harm to others and sets him free from fear of birth-and-death.’
Tibetan Book of the Dead–”a guide for the living, actually, since it teaches that a man’s last thoughts will determine the quality of his reincarnation.”
“As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds”–Rabbi Nachmann of Bratzlav.
“When you are ready, Buddhists say, the teacher will appear.”
In the end I learned a great motto which I feel I knew in the back of my mind but now had been verbalised with two words–”Expect Nothing”–’Eido Roshi had warned me on the day I left.’