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  • The Shaping of Gary Snyder's Ecological Consciousness
  • Ayako Takahashi

Lay down these wordsBefore your mind like rocks.

(Riprap 32)

Gary Snyder has been a cultural bridge between East and West since the late 1950's.1 Together with Allen Ginsberg—who was widely known as a "Beat" poet, read "Howl" at Six Gallery in 1955, and who was deeply affected by Eastern philosophy and the Buddhist poet Phillip Wheren—Snyder turned to Eastern Philosophy for his poetic inspiration. His poetry and essays examine various critical concerns, and recently many studies have been done, from critical and anthropological angles, as well as from the view of "an ecological consciousness." Consequently, Gary Snyder is being placed in the tradition of Robert Bly and Ezra Pound, and he has attracted the attention of comparatists in China, who are interested in the influences of Zen, Taoism, Hua-yen Buddhism and Cathay's upon his work.

Snyder's poetic identification of the mind with things, as we read in the poem "Riprap" and others, may derive from his interest in Hua-yen Buddhism. According to this philosophy, the metaphor for the interconnectedness of nature is "the jeweled net of Indra" and is mirrored in ecological images. Robert Kern has shown Hua-yen Buddhism, especially Avatamsaka and "the jeweled net," has a prominent place in Snyder's ecological consciousness.2 Avatamsaka, as Snyder uses it, means "Flower Wreath"—a flower crown or flower earrings. It is the original name of Hua-yen Buddhism, according to "Hua-yen" a Tibetan translation of Hua-yen Buddhism, and it is symbolized literally by Hua-yen (). Likewise, the "jeweled net of Indra" that Snyder sometimes uses comes from the Hua-yen idea, , and its represents infinitely crossing relationships and the interconnectedness of all things. There is also a similarity between Snyder's principle and the Hua-yen Buddhist view, "." In [End Page 314] the Hua-yen Buddhist view, the realm of truth is called "." "" means things and truth; "" teaches us the relationships between things and truth. Among "," in "" is the world of affairs, in "" is the world of reason, in "" is the relationship between things and mind, in "" is the relationships between things and things. This interrelatedness is the essence of Snyder's ecological consciousness.

In Snyder's worldview, this ecological consciousness leads to a new definition of humanism and of democracy. Wai-lim Yip argues that, for Snyder, the underlying principle is the complete awareness of all beings in nature as "self-so-complete" or tzu-jan (), as the Taoists and the Ch'an Buddhists would say.3 According to Snyder's philosophy, the identification of things with the mind does not amount to humanism, rather it is the result of "human-centeredness," a radical form of "de-humanism." This view represents the complete transition from a human-centered to an all-creature-centered—including non-human—nature.

I: Capturing Things and the Mind

In 1912, Ezra Pound listed as the principles of the aesthetic, direct treatment of the "things," whether subjective or objective, the use of absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation, and composition in the sequence of musical phrases.4

John Gould Fletcher tells in the preface to Goblins and Pagodas (1916) of the "doctrine of the interdependence of man and inanimate nature" which he hoped to make use of in his poetry. He felt that if he could "link up" his personality with the essence of the objective world, he might "evoke a soul" out of inanimate nature and thereby produce a rich and new kind of poetry.5 Needless to say, the haiku form had influences upon the Imagists, and Fletcher emphasizes that this influence explains the short, concise form of Imagist poetry, which nonetheless demonstrates an intense experience of nature. This is significantly different from Romanticism, which searched for the ideal of God in nature, because it could find different relationships between nature and humanity.

In his first volume of poems, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, Snyder wrote some Imagistic poems. However, Snyder is clearly different from his predecessors; he doesn't use nature as a means of expression, but instead as a personal experience. For example, Snyder...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 314-325
Launched on MUSE
2002-11-15
Open Access
No
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