12 February 2020

Blue sheep and Buddhism in Nepal

The Snow LeopardThe Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this again after 25 years, I decided to give it one more star.

Peter Matthiessen travels with George Schaller to the land of Dolpo in north-west Nepal, on the Tibetan plateau, to study the mating habits of blue sheep, and also to search for the elusive snow leopard. Matthiessen is a Buddhist, and is therefore also interested in the Buddhist customs, practices and beliefs found among people along the way, and also those of Lama Karma Tupjuk at
Shey Gompa, the monastery at Crystal Mountain.

I enjoyed it more on the second reading. The tip required a month's travel on foot to reach the place where they were to do the research, and quite a bit of it dealt with the difficulties in finding and hiring porters to help carry the equipment and supplies they needed for the trip -- and at times Pater Matthiessen's descriptions were reminiscent of the conversations of white South African housewives of the 1950s discussing "the servant problem", and sounded more than a little paternalistic. Being a baas on the southern African subcontinent or a sahib on the Indian one seemed not all that different.

His Buddhist experiences in the mountains, however, were reminiscent of some of Jack Kerouac's ones in The Dharma Bums. I found it helped me to see more clearly some of the differences and similarities between Christianity and Buddhism.

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