Colorado College Logo


Use AND (in capitals) to search multiple keywords.
Example: harmonica AND cobos

East, West, and Back: The Path of Gary Snyder

by Stein, Thomas Jacob


This paper will address two closely linked lines of inquiry, the first of which is how the living practice of Zen Buddhism might work to deepen an ecological understanding of the world by fostering a deeper understanding of the self and the place of the self in the wider sphere of the inherent interconnectedness of the natural world. The second question is: How might the path of Gary Snyder be an example to which American environmentalists might look in order to bring greater meaning and understanding to the practice of what is conventionally termed “environmentalism.” These questions will bring about discussion of the potential problems with Western dualism that might be countered by the nondualist tradition of Zen Buddhism. With this context established, we will examine the trajectory of the work of Gary Snyder and how the practice of Zen Buddhism broadened his understanding of themes already present in his American naturalist roots. In this paper I focus on two important gleanings from Zen Buddhist practice and teaching, the first of which is the idea of a dependent self that is inherently part of the interconnected sphere of living and nonliving things here on this earth and extending outward into the entire universe. This Buddhist view of self allows for a wider scope that works against the restrictions placed on the self by the dominant Western notion of an independent and autonomous self. Snyder’s sense of interconnectivity can be seen to develop throughout the trajectory of his poetry and prose, coevolving with his understanding of self as it is informed by his Zen practice. The second takeaway I hope will be the grounding effects of Zen practice, allowing the practitioner to focus on the task at hand, effectively eliminating mind-body dualism that can be shown to extend to a problematic and hierarchical human-nature dualism. I will examine this idea of undivided attention to the task at hand as Gary Snyder has emphasized this aspect of his Buddhist and naturalist practice throughout the course of his life and works. An American naturalist, poet, activist, and Zen practitioner, Gary Snyder supplements Western ecological thought with indigenous and Eastern wisdom. He effectively draws from each tradition to add to his practice of living lightly on this earth. Snyder has cultivated a worldview in which interconnectivity is inherent and every action is done in mind of a larger whole, no doubt owing to his involvement with Zen practice. It is my goal in writing this paper to examine, by the example of the life and writing of Gary Snyder, how certain aspects of environmentalism, speaking both philosophically and practically, might be given greater meaning and depth through the nondualist practice of Zen Buddhism.


The author has given permission for this work to be deposited in the Digital Archive of Colorado College.

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Includes bibliographical references.

Administrative Notes

The author has given permission for this work to be deposited in the Digital Archive of Colorado College.

Colorado College Honor Code upheld.

Copyright restrictions apply.
Colorado College
Digital Origin
born digital
50 pages
Senior Thesis -- Colorado College
Thesis Advisor
Marion Hourdequin Gardiner, David
Environmental Program
Degree Name
Bachelor of Arts
Degree Type
Degree Grantor
Colorado College
Date Issued