Christopher Ives: Zen, Ethics, and the Wildness of Nature

On this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with Christopher Ives, scholar and practitioner in the Zen Buddhist tradition, and author of Zen on the Trail: Hiking as Pilgrimage, recently published by Wisdom. Chris specializes in modern Zen ethics, as well as Buddhist approaches to nature and the environment. In this conversation, you’ll hear Chris talk about his exposure to American Zen in the 1970s, and how his upbringing in New England prepared him for a very different encounter of Zen in Japan, where he spent years practicing. Chris also discusses the history of ethics and social engagement in traditional Japanese Zen Buddhism, and how this has differed from American approaches to Buddhist ethics more broadly. Lastly, Chris compares the symbolic value of nature in Japanese and Zen culture, to the raw and wild nature Gary Snyder writes about in his poetry, and how both have influenced his writing and practice. He then offers ways of enriching our sense of connectedness to the deeper rhythms of nature, whether through hiking in the mountains or simply sitting outside in our own backyard.

Zen on the Trail: Hiking as Pilgrimage

Discover how hiking can be a kind of spiritual pilgrimage—calming our minds, enhancing our sense of wonder, and deepening our connection to nature.

Evoking the writings of Gary Snyder, Bill Bryson, and Cheryl Strayed, Zen on the Trail explores the broad question of how to be outside in a meditative way. By directing our attention to how we hike as opposed to where we’re headed, Ives invites us to shift from ego-driven doing to spirit-filled being, and to explore the vast interconnection of ourselves and the natural world. Through this approach, we can wake up in the woods on nature’s own terms.

In erudite and elegant prose, Ives takes us on a journey we will not soon forget.

This book features a new prose poem by Gary Snyder.

“Like John Muir, Chris Ives knows that going out into the natural world is really going inward. This book about pilgrimage is itself a pilgrimage: we accompany the author as he leaves civilization behind to enter the wilderness and encounter his true nature and original face.” —David R. Loy, author of Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution

“Ives’s thoughtful analyses of Zen meditation and the Zen view emerge seamlessly from a well of nature writing that recalls his hiking adventures around the world. Part Transcendentalist memoir, part Japanese Zen ethnography, and part dharma teaching, Zen on the Trail makes a bold vow: to ‘help us realize our embeddedness in nature and, ultimately, realize ourselves as nature.’” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

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Christopher Ives is a professor of religious studies at Stonehill College. In his teaching and writing he focuses on ethics in Zen Buddhism and Buddhist approaches to nature and environmental issues. His publications include Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen’s Critique and Lingering Questions for Buddhist EthicsZen Awakening and SocietyDivine Emptiness and Historical Fullness; a translation (with Abe Masao) of Nishida Kitaro’s An Inquiry into the Good; and a translation (with Gishin Tokiwa) of Hisamatsu Shin’ichi’s Critical Sermons of the Zen Tradition. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and is serving on the steering committee of the Religion and Ecology Group of the American Academy of Religion.