Here’s a quote I’ve long treasured:

The statement commonly heard in some circles, “All religions lead to the same goal,” is the result of fantastically sloppy thinking and no practice.

It’s by a not-yet-30 Gary Snyder, “now making it in Japan” as the contributor’s blurb proclaims, where he’d gone to immerse himself in Zen Buddhism. I love the youthful bravura, not just “slopping thinking” but “fantastically sloppy.” And, of course, I totally agree with his conclusion that all religions don’t lead to the same goal, much less arise from the same promptings.

His very next sentence, though, continues to jolt me:

It is good to remember that all religions are nine-tenths fraud and are responsible for numerous social evils.

Ouch! Remember, he’s already deep in what would be years of Zen study in Japan and he’s aware of social evils in even that track? And fraud? Despite the many shortcomings I could cite in Quaker action past and present, “social evils” and “fraud” do not come up on my radar, even acknowledging the years when entertainment was taboo. As for the ashram? Well, I’m discovering much I didn’t see at the time.

Still, it’s that one-tenth that redeems the rest, the three elements Snyder values at the conclusion of the essay:

… contemplation (and not by use of drugs), morality (which usually means social protest to me), and wisdom …

The essay – “Note on the Religious Tendencies,” originally published in 1959 in Liberation magazine and republished a year later as “Notes from Kyoto” in Seymour Krim’s The Beats anthology (“Raw, penetrating stories, poems and social criticism by Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and many others” – Snyder was not yet famous) has not reappeared in his later collections, as far as I’m aware. I am curious if it’s merely been overlooked or if he’s rather backpedaled from its brashness. I still love to reflect on it, though.

“Social protest,” I might add, for me comes in traditions that challenge the conventions of the larger society at large. Think Amish, for instance. Just living, that is, as a witness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.