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% The Yogin and the Philosopher, by Gary Snyder
% This essay was typed from the version that appeared in
% his book "Old Ways" (City Lights Books, 1977).
% This online version is, hm, illegal, or at least sort of. I haven't
% asked for the permission of the author because I was afraid he would
% say no for hairy legal reasons... But I've been mentioning this
% essay to so many people over the last years, and I think that its
% contents are so important, that I finally decided that it should be
% made more easily available, and I took the pains to type everything.
% So: read it, LaTeX it (it is a LaTeX file), print it, give it to
% friends, and *please*, if you like it do show your gratitude to its
% author in the standard ways: buy that book, or another one called "A
% Place in Space" (see <http://www.serve.com/ecobooks/placspac.htm>;
% it has five of the six essays in "Old Ways", plus a lot (24?) more),
% and, I know that this expression sound ridiculous but I love it, do
% your part and save the world...
% Version: 2002mar30
% URL: http://angg.twu.net/LATEX/yogphi.tex
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% Page 9

{\bf The Yogin and the Philospher}

by Gary Snyder


We live in a universe, ``one turn'' in which, it is widely felt, all
is one and at the same time all is many. The extra rooster and I were
subject and object until one evening we became one. As the
discriminating, self-centerd awareness of civilized man has
increasingly improved his material survival potential, it has
correspondingly moved him father and farther from a spontaneous
feeling of being part of the natural world. It often takes,
ironically, an analytical and rational presentation of man's
interdependence with other life forms from the biological sciences to
move modern people toward questioning their own role as major
planetary exploiter. This brings us to the use of terms like ``Right
of Non-human Nature'' or questions such as, ``do trees have
standing?'' From the standpoint of ``all is one'' the question need
never arise. The Chinese Buddhist philosopher-monk Chan-jan argued the
even inanimate things possess the Buddha-nature as follows: ``The man
who is of all-round perfection knows from beginning to end that no
objects exist apart from Mind. Who then is `animate' and who
`inanimate?' Within the Assembly of the Lotus, all are present without

From the standpoint of 70's and 80's it serves
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us well to examine the way we relate to these objects we take to be
outside ourselves --- non-human, non-intelligent, or whatever. If we
are to treat the world (and ourselves) better, we must first ask, how
can we know what the non-human realm is truly like? And second, if one
gets a glimmer of an answer from there --- how can it be translated,
communicated, to the realm of mankind with its courts, congresses, and
zoning laws? How do we listem? How do we speak?

The Cahuilla Indians who lived in the Palm Springs desert and the
mountains above gathered plants from valley floor to mountain peak
with precise knowledge. They said not everybody will do it, but almost
anybody can, if he pays enough attention and is patient, hear a little
voice from plants. The Papago of southern Arizona said that a man who
was humble and brave and persistent, would some night hear a song in
his dream, brought by the birds that fly in from the Gulf of
California; or a hawk, a cloud, the wind, or the red rain spider; and
that song would be his --- would add to his knowledge and power.

What of this attention and patience; or the hearing of songs in
dreams? The philosopher speaks the language of reason, which is the
language of public discourse, with the intention of being intelligible
to anyone, without putting special demands on them apart from basic
intelligence and education. Then there is religious discourse,
involving acceptance of certain beliefs. There is also a third key
style: the
% end of p.10, beg of p.11
yogin. The yogin is an experimenter. He experiments on himself. Yoga,
from the root {\sl Yuj} (related to the English ``yoke'') means to be
at work, engaged. In India the distinction between philosopher and
yogin was clearly and usefully made --- even though sometimes the same
individual would be both. The yogin has specific exercises,
disciplines, by which he hopes to penetrate deeper in understanding
than the purely rational function will allow. Practices, such as
breathing, meditation, chanting, and so forth, are open to anyone to
follow if he so wishes; and the yogic traditions have long asserted
that various people who followed through a given course of practice
usually came up with similar results. The yogins hold, then, that
certain concepts of an apparently philosophical nature cannot be
grasped except by proceeding through a set of disciplines. Thus the
literature of the yogic tradition diverges from true philosophical
literature in that it makes special requirements of its readers. Note
the difference between Plato, and the school of Pitagoras. The latter
was much closer to the schools of India --- ashrams, with special
rules and dietary prohibitions. The alchemical, occult, neoplatonic,
and various sorts of Gnostic traditions of what might be called
occidental counter-philosophy are strongly yogic in this way.
Gnosticism took as its patroness Sophia, Wisdom, a goddess known in
India under the name Tara, ``She who Saves'' or leads across the
% end of p.11, beg of p.12
shore. Witchcraft, a folk tradition going back to the paleolithic, has
its own associations of magic, feminine powers, and plant-knowledge.
As Robert Graves points out in {\sl The White Goddess} the convergence
of many ancient religions and shamanistic lines produces the western
lore of the Muse. Some sorts of poetry are the mode of expression of
certain yogic-type schools of practice. In fact, song, singing, comes
very close to being a sort of meditation in its own right --- some
recent research holds that a song is a ``right hemisphere of the
brain'' function --- drawing on the intuitive, creative, non-verbal
side of man's consciousness. Since speech is a left hemisphere
function, poetry (word and song together) is surely a marriage of the
two halves.

The philosopher, poet, and yogin all three have standing not too far
behind them the shaman; with his on her pelt and antlers, or various
other guises; songs going back to the Pleistocene and before. The
shaman speaks for wild animals, the spirits of plants, the spirits of
mountains of watersheds. He or she sings for them. They sing through
him. This capacity has often been achieved via special disciplines. In
the shaman's world, wilderness and unconscious become analogous: he
who knows and is at ease in one, will be at home in the other.

The elaborate, yearly, cyclical production of grand ritual dramas in
the societies of Pueblo Indians of North America (for one example) can
be seen as a
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process by which the whole society consults the non-human (in-human,
inner-human?) powers and allows some individuals to step out totally
out of their human roles to put on the mask, costume, and {\sl mind}
of Bison, Bear, Squash, Corn, or Pleiades; to re-enter the human
circle in that form and by song, mime, and dance, convey a greeting
from the other realm. Thus, a speech on the floor of congress from a

The long ``pagan'' battle of western poetry against state and church,
the survival of the Muse down to modern times, shows that in a sense
poetry has been a long and not particulary successful defending
action. Defending ``the groves'' --- sacred to the Goddess --- and
logged, so to speak, under orders from Exodus 34:13 ``you shall
destroy their images and cut down their groves.''

The evidence of anthropology is that countless men and women, through
history and pre-history, have experienced a deep sense of communion
and communicationwith nature and with specific non-human beings.
Moreover, they often experienced this communication with a being they
customarily ate. Men of goodwill who cannot see a {\sl reasonable}
mode of either listening to, or speaking for, nature, except by
analytical and scientific means, must surely learn to take this
complex, profound, moving, and in many ways highly appropriate, world
view of the yogins, shamans, and ultimately all our ancestors, into
account. One of the few modes of speech that gives us
% end of p.13, beg of p.14
access to that other yogic or shamanistic view (in which all is one
and all is many, and the many are all precious) is poetry or song.

[Based on a talk given at the conference on the Rights of the
Non-Human, Claremont, Spring 1974.]