I was saddened to hear on Saturday of the death of Peter Matthiessen, Zen teacher and writer. His work “The Snow Leopard” had a great impact on me when I was taking my first tentative steps into Buddhist practice. And “Seven-Headed Dragon River,” his book about a trip to Japan with his teacher, was a help to me at a time when I’d wandered away from the path. This is said to be his last interview.
One of his obituaries included this distilled description of what practice is:
“Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2002. “We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”
Just after hearing the news, I came across a line in “Zen Sand,” a compendium of capping phrases for koan study, that seemed somehow appropriate: Old, uncaring, he wanders into the wild weeds.