Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Zen and 'Serpent' by Niel Gunn

A well read student of English literature was asking me for book suggestions.

‘Serpent’ by Neil Gunn gripped me and since I’d just finishing it this morning I'd planned to write about it for her.
But now with ‘blogarrogance’ I thought others might be interested too.

‘Serpent’ contains an intensity of vision of ordinary life that points to nothing less than Enlightenment. He takes us into those moments of insight, those moments of awareness:

.....and off sped the light over the grass and in among the wild roses and glittering across the sea. The sheer freshness of such a moment had surely the spirit of creation in it.

It is a deep love story:

It was then no doubt, imperceptibly, little by little, that there was born in him a first real intimacy with the earth, the earth of his own land.

Imperceptibly, because at first it was not the earth but Janet......


Presents a mature acceptance of tradition and change:

.....(he) had the individual responsible for his own bit of land, while at the same time he was an active member of the community, abiding by its customs and laws, just as his own bit of land was part of the communal land…a true balance between the maximum freedom of the individual and the common welfare of all, and at the same time-and this is where the anarchism comes in-they had no bosses, no tyrants, no bureaucrats, no profit-drivers among themselves.....

And enters meditation:

.....the moment of extreme pause when it seems that the veil which divides being from not-being becomes filmy, verges on complete translucence. Here the last illusion seems to be dispelled and time in stillness completes itself; the beginning and the end are comprehended.

Neil Gunn lived from 1891 to 1973 and had written ‘Serpent’ and many other books before 1953 when he read ‘Zen in the art of Archery’ by Eugen Herrigel. Now he found echoes of his own ideas in Zen and among of many books ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’ by Paul Reps was a favourite.

His last novel is ‘The Other Landscape’ 1954 and his last book an autobiography, ‘The Atom of Delight’ 1956, both of which I look forward to reading.

I fetch water. I break sticks. Miracles happen.

P’ang-yun , favourite poem of Gunn.

Refs:
John Burns, A Celebration of the Light (Cannongate 1988)
http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/Laverock-Gunn.html
http://www.neilgunn.org.uk/

Picture is Anna 2002 by John Bellany because he shows us another brighter world (Sorry couldn't load pic. yet.)

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