From a conversation with Mark Strand at Post Road Magazine:
Michael O’Keefe: I’m curious if there has been any kind of influence from Zen practice or Buddhism in your work and personal philosophy?
Mark Strand: Well, not formally. I mean, the closest I’ve ever come is from reading Sufi tales. I never practiced Zen or Sufism. People have told me that I am a kind of a natural Buddhist. But I don’t know what that means.
MO: Well, it seems to me Zen is not necessarily constrained to the province of Buddhism and that neither insight nor truth are. There is a sense that I get from reading your work that you have the ability to abandon self or forget the self so that you can get into whatever it is you’re creating on the page.
MS: I think you have to forget self when you write. I call it “The Other Strand.” When writing you are in a place where all those things that seem to define life aren’t operating. It’s more or less a feeling that you are just writing. You are in the world of your writing and that’s not necessarily the world in which you live. There is an excitement that attends to being in that world that makes it all worthwhile. It’s not that you are going to show it to somebody or that it’s going to be published but just to be in it and have it there everyday to work on. That is, to enter that world again and again is kind of thrilling.
MO: I want to quote a famous Zen expression from Dogen Zenji who lived in the 13th Century. He wrote, “To study the Buddha way is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas.” What he is getting at is that when you really sit down and examine yourself, the more you do the less you find, the less you find the more there is.
MS: Yeah, I said something like that in one of my early poems.
MO: Sometimes I get the sense in your work that “self” is a kind of sickness.
MO: And that this forgetting of the self is a kind of antidote.
MS: Yeah, I think so.
MO: That’s why I got into Zen. It is really a school of forgetting.
MS: Oh? Why do you need a school?