Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Reveries of libraries, the thirty-sixth: Zen Libraries

Gary Snyder 2020 :

Were you in monasteries?
I was partly in monasteries and partly living in a little place nearby. I had to do that because I needed to be able to look things up. They don’t have a library or a dictionary in a Zen monastery, so I had a place just a ten-minute walk away. To pay the rent I took on conversational English teaching jobs.
These words of Gary Snyder this year recall his time in Zen monasteries, years ago. I have made searches to find out why Zen monasteries don’t have a library, or a dictionary. I wonder why Gary Snyder needed a place just ten-minutes away to do his reading. Or why anyone would.
Perhaps the Zen monastery is the place of complete solitude and contemplation. It is where the residents live a life of communal work and prayer. Visitors attend Zen monasteries for their own reasons, entering those doors with personal knowledge and experience that soon will be put to the test. Perhaps that’s enough knowledge for now.
Gary Snyder needed to be able to look things up. I understand that, it is the desire or motivation to want to know more, or just to understand what is being said. His library was a ten-minute walk away. So, he lived in two places. Perhaps what he was after wasn’t in a book. Conversational English is just a way to earn your keep.
He was partly and partly. I keep wondering if having a library in the Zen monastery would have made any difference. My mind asks if the dichotomy of needing words to learn that which has no words, is unique to Zen. My reading tells me that Zen is anything but unique in this regard. A library explains that we are not alone.
If the partly parts of the mind visit a Zen monastery they are still partly living in a little place nearby. Perhaps that is ever the case. We need to be able to look things up. A library or a dictionary may seem incidental, just a ten-minute walk away, until the need becomes essential for understanding. Need may become everything. 
I suppose it doesn’t matter so much about Zen monasteries and their lack of libraries, or Gary Snyder even, if you are in covid lockdown and your library isn’t open whether you want to read anyway. Time to take time. Even paying the rent is perhaps enough for now and how to figure that out in conversational English.
Perhaps it’s not true, that they don’t have a library or a dictionary in a Zen monastery. Perhaps some monasteries have a library, or a book collection, or a trunk of scrolls. Gary Snyder may have visited austere establishments where the monks read in the forest, or have already read everything needful. It is hard to imagine such a state.
The words prepare you for what comes next, though it’s all a clarification of the past, when it happens to be a clarification. Words can be a consolation, they can leave you happy. The more words there are to help console or leave you happy, the greater your need to look up their meanings. Sometimes that involves a walk.
If Zen monasteries don’t have a library then the question is where is the library. Perhaps Gary Snyder just wanted somewhere to read and that space was not provided by the Zen monastery. Or it really is the case that libraries are temptations, distractions from the main business of contemplation upon being. Retreat is wise.
I hope one day to be where the mist surrounding this mystery evaporates. The explanation is not immediately available, even from my keyboard at the other end of all the websites in existence. Looking it up won’t work. Leaving it alone may be more help. It is best to wait a while and read some more Gary Snyder.

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