Peter Mattheissen died less than a month ago, on April 5, at the age of 87. He was a remarkable man. Jeff Himmelman wrote an article about him that appeared in the New York Times Magazine on April 3 of this year, just two days before he died. There are not many people with this biography:
Born into the East Coast establishment, Matthiessen ran from it, and in the running became a novelist, a C.I.A. agent, a founder of The Paris Review, author of more than 30 books, a naturalist, an activist and a master in one of the most respected lineages in Zen. As early as 1978, he was already being referred to, in a review in The New York Times, as a “throwback,” because he has always seemed to be of a different, earlier era, with universal, spiritual and essentially timeless concerns.Matthiessen won the National Book Award for both fiction and non-fiction. His works include At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Far Tortuga, The Tree Where Man was Born, the Snow Leopard and In Paradise, a novel based on a Zen retreat he attended at Auschwitz. In Paradise was published just three days after his death.
Bernie Glassman was one of Matthiessen's Zen teachers, and wrote a lovely appreciation, which ended with this anecdote:
He died at the age of eighty-seven. And his senior priest, Sensei Michel Engu Dobbs—a wonderful man who I feel will carry on Peter’s work in the zendo in a beautiful way—Michel spent much of the last few days with Peter. And Peter was already—he was in the hospital, he was on a lot of morphine—he was dying. And the last few days he didn’t speak. He didn’t speak. And he died on Saturday. And he came home from the hospital on Friday, to die at home in hospice. And Thursday night, Engu Michel was with Peter at the hospital. And as I said, Peter wasn’t speaking, but Michel saw on the TV screen it was Fox News. And so he said to Peter, “Are you watching Fox News?” Peter said, “No!” And then he said, “Do you want me to change the channel?” And Peter said, “Yes!” And so Zen Master Peter Muryo Matthiessen’s final dying words were “Get Fox News off of that TV!”Sometimes the meaning of a Zen Master's words are not that hard to discern.