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Thread: Nobody Home - book review

  1. #1

    Nobody Home - book review

    Nobody Home, by Gary Snyder in conversation with Julia Martin, 2014, Trinity University Press.

    I am a big fan of Gary Snyder. Kerouac’s Dharma Bums turned me on to him, and, as much as I love Kerouac, Snyder has the greater (though maybe less popular) legacy. This book is odd because it is not poetry or prose but a series of three conversations he had with Julia Martin and then a selection of their correspondence. The book starts with a long letter she wrote him in 1984 when she was working on her thesis. The letter (and others) is filled with questions, lots of questions, deep questions. I admire Mr. Snyder for even reading to the end of the letter (I found it somewhat exhausting, and see him as a role model for doing so), and then answering her questions. What transpires afterwards is the development of a long distance friendship that lasts 30+ years. There are three transcribed interviews over this timespan with Mr. Snyder and then a long section of their selected correspondence. The correspondence seemed boring and I wondered why they were included at all, but once I got to the end I realized their importance. Let me just say that their Zen-like development becomes clear. Let’s move on to the points in the book that really hit home with me.

    “I don't think Buddhism can function in a way that’s truly beautiful, truly interesting, until it has a natural society as its ground. Then the truly existential problems become the problems you’re dealing with. You get the politics out of the way by having a sane society (p. 32).” ... “Politics is just drama. I know people who do politics as their art form…. Politics is a kind of theater in which the stage is your own society… (p. 34).
    This reminded me very much of Jundo’s analogy of life as a play where we are both the actors and writers on the stage. I tend to be fascinated by politics, especially national politics. For example, the idiocy of Donald Trump’s current popularity drives me crazy, but after reading Snyder’s view I am better able to see his theatrics for what they are and let it go with a deep breath or two.

    About the Zen vow to help all sentient beings, he adds,
    “Let myself, let us be saved by all sentient being (p. 57).
    This hit me hard, really. I practice to save others so that they can save me! Wow, I still haven’t processed the full reciprocity of that wonder. I’m sure this isn’t new in my Buddhist study, but it hit me anew in a deep way coming from him.

    About repetition as a form of craftmanship,
    “Actually, craftsmanship is just a variety of mindfulness. Mindfulness is what’s important… doing things attentively, being able to see what you’re doing, and be conscious of how you use your body, and what your tools are” (p. 86).
    He goes on to explain that this also applies to taking care of yourself as well as others. Compassion as a form of craftsmanship is a wonderful idea I am still working on.

    On environmentalism,
    “It’s obviously human hubris to think we can destroy the planet, can destroy life. It’s just another exaggeration of ourselves. Actually, we can’t. We’re far too small…. The time scale is too large, and the resistance of cellular life is far too great (p. 35).
    But this is in NO way an argument against taking care of the environment. Rather, it’s just the opposite. It’s not about saving the earth, because it will survive us.

    PS: Zen Pig, by Matt Brown, 2015. This is a wonderful children’s book that I bought on a whim because I am fascinated by Shunryu's Pig (why ask for more problems than we already have?) when it showed up on Amazon. It’s a very nice little introduction to Zen for little ones and big ones alike. I’ve read it a few times and plan to keep it handy for reference, whereas Snyder is going into the bookshelf, but not his deeper ideas.
    AL (Jigen) in:

    I sat today

  2. #2
    Hi Al,

    Thanks so much for this great review! I'm putting this one on my list.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa View Post
    I practice to save others so that they can save me! Wow, I still haven’t processed the full reciprocity of that wonder. I’m sure this isn’t new in my Buddhist study, but it hit me anew in a deep way coming from him.
    Wow wow wow. Yes. Too cool. Beautiful. (*heart grows 2.5 sizes*)

    sat today

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