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Quote of the Week: Gary Snyder

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Gary Snyder (born in 1930) is a poet and environmental activist, and one of the pioneers of American socially engaged Buddhism.

Snyder initially taught himself Zen meditation while he was a graduate anthropology student, and later encountered the painter and writer Saburo Hasegawa, Alan Watts, and Allen Ginsburg, all of whom became dharma mentors and friends.

Snyder later spent time studying and practicing at Rinko-in Temple in Japan, where he first took refuge as a Buddhist when he was 25 years old.

Snyder has written many poems and essays, but is perhaps best known for Mountains and Rivers Without End (1997).

This quote is an excerpt from the essay “Buddhist Anarchism,”  originally published in Journal for the Protection of All Beings #1 (City Lights, 1961). It also appears in Earth House Hold (New Directions, 1969) under the title “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution.” You can access the complete essay online here.

There is nothing in human nature or the requirements of human social organization which intrinsically requires that a culture be contradictory, repressive and productive of violent and frustrated personalities. Recent findings in anthropology and psychology make this more and more evident. One can prove it for himself by taking a good look at his own nature through meditation. Once a person has this much faith and insight, he must be led to a deep concern with the need for radical social change through a variety of hopefully non-violent means….

The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself — over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

4 responses »

  1. I’m drawn to this short essay of Snyder’s. He’s clear- sighted about the transformative and anti-authoritarian implications of Buddhist practice.

  2. Can’t wait to read this one when I get a moment! Thanks for sharing, Maia.

  3. Diggin’ the new blog theme, btw. 🙂

  4. This is the Gary Synder we all love who is more to the side of beat Zen than square Zen which is probably a good thing given the ritualism that square Zen is still drowning in. We also have to remember that square Zen supported, very much, Japan’s war with the Allies. It is not without a checkered past.


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