The Surveyed Vision: 36 Meditations on 3 Books by Barry Hill (Peacemongers, Grass Hut Work and Reason & Lovelessness)

By | 1 October 2020


a. Tagore was not going to be lectured by the Americans on the Indian caste system: ‘You have used violent methods to keep aloof from other races, but until you have solved the question, here in America, you have no right to question India’ (quoted in P 627n23).
b. ‘To be without prejudice is to be kingly’ (LZ 130).
c. ‘[Vera Brittain] described herself as ‘a very imperfect pacifist and an even more imperfect Christian’. She rested her case on a simple proposition: that war, especially modern war, brought shame and humiliation. The question was how to survive this truth without descending into barbarism. Or to put this another way: how, for the sake of civilization, was one to contend with such circumstances?’ (P 287).
d. Religion as a code of conduct. Adamic. A claim to an inner life. Revelations, superstitions, correspondences, entelechy.
e. Most people think of paganism as pre-Christian; in my mind, it is not merely secular or atheistic, but beyond Christianity. A kind of transcendentalism.


a. Broken Song? (‘says she’s been to Ayer’s Rock. / She’s not heard of Uluru’ G 37–38).
b. The Uluru Statement from the Heart (May, 2017). ‘Rachel Perkins stood and eloquently explained how the Constitution provides the sole means to achieve enduring reform—reform that cannot be struck down on a government whim’.24
c. ‘Gandhi, in his first book, Hind Swaraj, defined civilisation as nothing less than the circumstances that made self-understanding possible, a self-understanding that led to the path of duty towards the morality of mind over passions because, ‘so doing, we know ourselves’ ‘ (P 223–224; italics in original).
d. Buddhism, which sounds meaningless, an enigma; the riddles and games inherent in koans evoke childhood, an evincement of landscape, spiritual or otherwise.
e. Contrasting Taoism with Buddhism.
f. Having to adhere to the strictures of the monk or priest, abandoning the world, turning one’s back on temporal literature. The amnesia that comes with depersonalisation.
g. A life toward perfection, always knowing that perfection is a kind of nympholepsy.


a. Punctuation often jogs the memory.
b. The hermeneutics of meditation — midden readings misread as hidden meanings.
c. Meditation is a disorientation of sorts, a deterritorialisation (the opposite of colonisation).
d. ‘The point of satori, the Zen experiences which might lead to a state of enlightenment if they were consolidated and became part of one’s life, the whole raison d’être of their transcendent gift to human understanding, was to open one to wisdom and compassion’ (P 464; italics in original).
e. ‘As if to say: translation is sitting at the piano’ (G 106).
f. Writing as a consummation of love. Writing to exercise the imagination and one’s intellect. Writing to avoid hypocrisy as well as to evince it.
g. Trace as memory.


a. It is obvious that Hill admires gadflies in his pursuit of justice. ‘The Buddhist trouble-maker Uchiyama Gudo was the abbot of a Zen temple in Hakone. An anarchist and agricultural reformer, he had installed a printing press under his temple floor. Your poverty, he told tenant farmers, has little to do with your karma for evil deeds in the past, and much to do with deception by superstition. Those who kept the people poor, who sucked their blood, were leeches’ (P 448).
b. ‘By following our senses and right reason we may discover what is pleasant by nature: it is a delight that does not injure others, does not preclude a greater pleasure, and is not followed by pain’.25
c. Putting back into society, literature, the land, Aborigines, who have been made invisible by the colonists and most often their heirs. Debunking ideologies, such as obscurantism, capitalism, colonialism.
d. An idealised landscape, with cicadas.
e. Japan as a Wildean invention.
f. War followed by peace treaties.
g. No history of Australia can be told omitting our first peoples, called here Aborigines, even though I know this to be a fraught word. What we white people have done to make indigenous or Aboriginal life worse; what we white people have done to try to make amends. What Aboriginal people must do. Australia can never be a proper nation or a republic if we do not heal this rift in ourselves. Governments both left and right use the innocuous word ‘gap’, as if the rift were a mere space to be filled. (The present conservative government’s solution to the gap around domestic violence, that it acknowledges will never be filled, is to cut funding. It has announced a new ten-year plan to ‘close the gap’ in mortality rates, prison rates, life expectancy, health, poverty, etc., between white Australians and the indigenous population, but makes no new funding available at the time of writing. This new plan is doomed to failure unless the above measures are taken.)


a. After the rain, when the sun hits the trees, the light spreads like fire and crimson dances with black, beats like a drum. So many reds, in actuality — madder, vermilion, scarlet, crimson-violet, a red that laps in ultramarine, a red in wood-shadow — but always that red which makes its secret marriage with black. It’s hard to find the line between art and fury, between order and time’s rough passing [G 116].

b. Water is a Taoist symbol.
c. ‘Great Tao is like a boat that drifts; / It can go this way; it can go that’ (LZ 154).
d. I am sceptical whenever I read that a word like tao cannot be accurately or fully translated into English (or any language, for that matter — there is such a thing a paraphrasing when all else fails). Language is more malleable than a lot of people think. The idea of sacrifice is overblown to me.26
e. The same goes for ‘Words fail me!’, when the speaker clearly means, ‘I fail words!’
f. ‘That English word ‘civilization’—what was the local equivalent? Manu, Sadachar—proper conduct—was the best [Tagore’s] own culture had on offer’ (P 267; italics in original).
g. Gandhi said ‘In India we have no word for ‘nation’ (P 232).
h. ‘[T]he lackey realized clearly for the first time that this old woman’s life and death depended entirely upon his will’ (RA 24).
i. Praying for rain (mysticism): ‘The sound of rain off wide eaves sooths the mind, the water fall, its force / the force in its gentleness off wide eaves sooths the mind, its outside-inside sounds falling …’ (G 28; ellipses in original — from ‘On Getting to Grips with the Heart Sutra’).


a. The wisdom of Chuang Tzu.
b. ‘What with draughts, backgammon and tagi the time passed quickly enough’ (LM Vol. 2, p. 815).
c. Simon Leys passes judgement on our society: ‘Our age has proved so far to be the age of Sham and Amnesia’.27
d. ‘Zen talk is still slippery, ideologically speaking. It seems to have no special doctrines to help it resist the charms of anarchism or fascism or communism’ (P 458).
e. ‘Even an entirely made up quotation from Ecclesiastes receives official corroboration by the fact of its being published’.28

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