Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry
Edited by Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich.
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1991.
400 pp. $22.50 (paperback).

During the last four decades a stream of Buddhist awareness has been flowing in an underground and almost silent fashion through the arts in America.

Yet, almost paradoxically, although Buddhism has had its strongest influence on poetry, Beneath a Single Moon is the first anthology to bring together a broad range of Buddhist poets. It is also the only one to give poets room for essays on their practice and their art. In these two respects it is an important and seminal work. It succeeds not only in drawing us into the fabric of separate daily lives but provides as well a vision of being, as in Jane Hirshfield’s description of Indra’s net, where “all things are joined by a wide mesh in which every knot is a jewel, each jewel a universe, and all of them glimmer in the reflected light of one-an other’s existence.”

Every major Buddhist tradition is represented here, and Gary Snyder’s thoughtful introduction leads the reader into many of the elements common to the different forms of practice: “No one—guru or roshi or priest—can program for long what a person might feel or think. . . . we learn that we cannot in any literal sense control our minds…The mind essentially reveals itself.”

Beyond Snyder’s introduction, the book provides many subtle insights into lives lived in clarity of mind, as when Jim Harrison discusses sitting: “We should sit after the fashion of Dogen or Suzuki Roshi: as a river within its banks, the night sky in the heavens, the earth turning easily with her burden. We must practice like John Muir’s bears: ‘Bears are made of the same dust as we and breathe the same winds and drink the same waters, his life not long, not short, knows no beginning, no ending, to him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accident of time, and his years, markless, boundless, equal eternity.'”

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