gary snyder | smokey the bear sutra

22 04 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 229| April 22, 2008

Earth Day, April 22, 2008

Today is Earth Day.
This is our bigger, greater story, our other, larger self.

Here in Wisconsin, we give thanks on this day to our own Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day back in 1969. A ‘60’s-time some still deem a threat to the American Way…which seemed to have lost its way. A time when so much was on the line for so many yet amidst all the turmoil the culture reawakened (green again) to promises of another better, perhaps “older” way to live: the ancient message of sanity and sanctity re-connected by the Transcendentalist transformers of our time (Kerouac, Ginsburg Snyder, et. al) to the greater oversoul humming and glowing in the works of Emerson and Thoreau. Whitman had his Leaves of Grass way with it too.

We celebrate all that this Earth Day, including another Wisconsin connections: Leopold, the father of wildlife management.

And John Muir, who once wrote:

“One night, my father came in with the most wonderful news that wild boys ever heard. He said, ‘You need not learn your lessons tonight, for we’re going to America in the morning.’
…”My father started with intention of going to the backwoods of upper Canada. Before the end of the voyage, however, he was persuaded that the States offered superior advantages, especially Wisconsin.
…”He had found fine land for a farm in sunny, open woods on the side of a lake. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness. Here, without knowing it, we were still at school. Every wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped, but charmed into us. These were my first excursions, the beginnings of lifelong wanderings”
John Muir, Portage, Wisconsin, 1901.

It may come as a surprise to some, but even Thoreau (who seldom left Concord) once journeyed by boat, train and stagecoach to the Twin Cities of Minnesota…traveling through Wisconsin, though there is little record of this excursion. He died back in Concord 9 months later.

There are ‘nature poets a-plenty these days, many to choose from in honoring this day. Mary Oliver’s fans are legion, and easily comes to mind. She certainly speaks satisfied that need to know all that is out there that we muct take in.

But I’d like to think Gary Snyder goes a little deeper and beyond. Our greatest living American poet who put the call of nature (now/then) back in our culture, back on the map in book after book: MYTHS & TEXTS; RIPRAP & COLD MOUNTAIN POEMS; REGARDING WAVE; TURTLE ISLAND; EARTH HOUSEHOLD, AXE HANDLES; THE REAL WORK; HE WHO HUNTED BIRDS IN HIS FATHER’S VILLAGE…

Any or all these books….a good way to remember the green meaning of this day. –Norbert Blei


Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infanite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings – even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth

“In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”
And he showed himself in his true form of


A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attach- ments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the mudra of Comradly Display-indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:

all true paths lead through mountains-

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for evryone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him…


Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traks ham mam


And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:





And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surly appear to put the enemy out with his vsjra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick. Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature. Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts. Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.


…thus we have heard…

(may be reproduced free forever)

Editor’s Note: “Smokey The Bear Sutra” BROADSIDE BEAT #4 (2001) was published as a single sheet, four-fold broadside, illustrated, by Cross+Roads Press, PO Box 33, Ellison Bay WI 54210. A few copies remain, $5 each. All proceeds go to the Door County Environmental Council



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