Gassho, Peter Matthiessen

Author, naturalist and Zen teacher Peter Matthiessen has gone west.

Jeff Himmelman recently wrote a piece on Matthiessen for The New York Times Magazine — I just read it last night, and a good read it is — and today an obit followed in the news columns.

Zen is a tough nut to crack, but I think Matthiessen did a pretty fair job of it while arranging what seems to have been a graceful departure given his circumstances (more than a year spent battling leukemia). Discussing radical experimental measures that might have helped keep him around a while longer, he said,  “I don’t want to hang on to life quite that hard. It’s part of my Zen training. … The Buddha says that all suffering comes from clinging. I don’t want to cling. I’ve had a good life, you know. Lots of adventures. It’s had some dark parts, too, but mainly I’ve had a pretty good run of it, and I don’t want to cling too hard. I have no complaints.”

Speaking with The Guardian newspaper in 2002, he said that Zen “is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake.”

“We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past,” he continued. “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.”

In the here and now, Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday.

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8 Responses to “Gassho, Peter Matthiessen”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Great Times articles, Patrick. Thanks for the post.

  2. Debby in Longtucky Says:

    Just heard a feature about him on NPR this morning. I’ll read the article later. Thanks for the post.

  3. Herb in NH Says:

    Be damned. Just this morning finished a book of his (“Men’s Lives”) about the fishermen of Eastern Long Island, amongst whom he worked hmself in the 1950’s – even owned and ran his own charter boat for a spell. Matthiessen is one of my top ten writers. He turned me at least in the direction of an interest in Buddhism – I’m too lazy and undisciplined for any real practice. RIP, Peter. I know you do.

  4. veloben Says:

    Amazing. He lived not ten miles from me across the bay, yet I knew nothing of him till now. Thanks for the heads up.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Where did you live? I spent a decade at Stony Brook/Port Jefferson (1978-87), trying to finish a master’s and Ph.D. in between bouts of messy divorce and brain injury (courtesy of a motorist nailing me while I was riding my bike to school). That loop from Stony Brook out the North Fork, across Shelter Island on the ferry, and then ride back the South Fork and up through Riverhead and home was a favorite long day in the saddle for our little bunch. The shorter ride was an out and back from Stony Brook to Mattituck.

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  7. livia Alfonzo Says:

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