NINE-HEADED DRAGON RIVER Zen Journals 1969-1982 by Peter Matthiessen
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NINE-HEADED DRAGON RIVER Zen Journals 1969-1982

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the same journal format as The Snow Leopard, naturalist-explorer Matthiessen traces his personal experience with ""the wonderful teachers who had brought the Dharma from Asia to the West"" and brings from his notebooks a rich description of his whole-souled immersion in Zen. ""Old pond/A frog jumps in/The sound of water."" What is Zen? Something so transparent and instantaneous that it can't be nailed down by words, or even by a book as greedy to reveal the unrevealable as this one. As Matthiessen says, ""In using dead words to say that Zen is this or that, a separation is created, and the freshness of the Zen moment is lost."" Even so, we follow Matthiessen as he hurls himself against iron cliffs of ego, year after year, in sesshins with him seated cross-legged for six long days of pain, finding moments of tearful kensho clarity, later followed by teeth-chattering, excruciating pain, ""none the wiser for my joy, doubts, and ambitions."" Zen, however, he discovers ""is a kind of homesickness,"" a longing, and its practice a journey home--but not to the mind of the child one once was; only to that child's freshness of response to the Now. The finest pages of this journal come right at the beginning, with signs that Matthiessen's long trips abroad have not helped his marriage; his wife Deborah, in fact, seems to have taken up Zen as an activity more fulfilling than being stay-at-home companion to an explorer and mother of his four children. On returning from Tibet, he finds ""three inscrutable small men"" in his suburban driveway, her Zen teachers, and when they see his dead Western eyes they sigh, ""Poor Debo-lah!"" These are the first great teachers whom Matthiessen meets in a series of Zen encounters that form the heart of his book. He begins accompanying his wife to meditation sessions, to show his open mind, but one day is struck speechless by seeing his wife's death in her face. Indeed, within days she had malignant cancer diagnosed, and her dreadful dying and ever-waning moments of clarity are movingly recounted, as is the support she received from her Zen teachers and friends. Taking his six-year-old son Alex for a walk on a winter beach, to tell him that his mother is dead, he is assured by Alex that Deborah could not be dead. ""If she was dead, I would be crying."" Matthiessen's most intimate book, distinguished and lyrical as ever, full of fierce pains as he seeks ""to empty out the mind, to return it to the clear, pure stillness of a sea shell or a flower petal.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1986
ISBN: 1570623678
Publisher: Shambala--dist. by Random House