Occasionally a book appears that breaks open the floodgates of human creativity, sending new currents of thought and behavior flowing out in all directions. Such was the case with Earth House Hold, by Gary Snyder, published in 1969 and speaking to the then newly formed spiritual and political counterculture and the incipient environmental movement. The book, whose title is a play on the root meaning of ecology (eco, from the Greek oikos, meaning “house”), appeared at a time when the word ecology itself was just beginning to circulate in public discourse.
The book is a collection of Snyder’s essays and journals, including pieces about his experiences with Zen Buddhism in Japan, his journey with Allen Ginsberg to India, and his time as a fire lookout in Mt. Baker National Forest. His most coherent and inspired thinking, however, is expressed in an essay entitled “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution,” where Snyder proposes the values and practices of Buddhadharma as a perfect infusion for the ills of our time. He writes:
The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both. They are both contained in the traditional three aspects of the Dharma path: wisdom (prajna), meditation (dhyana), and morality (sila). Wisdom is intuitive knowledge of the mind of love and clarity that lies beneath one’s ego-driven anxieties and aggressions. Meditation is going into the mind to see this for yourself—over and over again, until it becomes the mind you live in. Morality is bringing it back out in the way you live, through personal example and responsible action, ultimately toward the true community (sangha) of “all beings.”
Earth House Hold is not so much a critique of our civilization as it is a vision of how we might live and think about our lives, reaching into areas of myth, art, language and technology. It is a plea to live with respect for our Earth house and all its living beings, and a call for a spiritual and cultural revolution that is, if anything, more pertinent today than it was when the book was written.