Category Archives: Jerry Katz, photography with writings

The Smokable Sacredness: A Consideration of Cigars & Nonduality

by Jerry Katz

The cigar holds an essence of nature that is released in the smoke. This essence resonates with the most essential part of what I am. That resonance is what I feel, enjoy, and contemplate as a smoke.

Nonduality means not-two and refers to non-separateness as the nature of reality.

Cigar smoking reveals there is no separation between the natural world and myself.

At age 13 I started to smell an earthy, sweet, even ambrosial scent, the aroma of an inner distillation. When it was most strong I would ask my parents, brothers, friends, whoever was in the room with me, “Do you smell that? What is that?”

No one ever smelled it. The occasional flood of inner liquor lasted for several weeks. Its deliciousness made me happy and delightfully spirited about being alive. It was more than an aroma or taste. It was a deeply interior elixir, more like an initiation into a secret of the natural world, the secret of non-separation.

In later years that nectar-like aroma would be re-discovered.

I’ve always had a fascination with cigars. In my early 20s I lived and worked in Santa Monica, California, home of the Tinder Box owned by Ed Kolpin. I was a regular customer, trying various cigar brands and enjoying almost everything.

One day in the mid-1970s I was standing in the Tinder Box humidor, eyeing the varieties of cigars, when Ed walked in and told me about some cigars that had just arrived. He was excited to tell me they were Cubans that had been warehoused in Florida in anticipation of the embargo at that time, 1960. I don’t know if the term “pre-embargo Cubans” had yet been invented.

It was an expensive cigar, 65 cents, but his enthusiasm sold me and I bought one of the Armas del Casa pre-embargo Cubans. I was always one to enjoy smoking while driving. I got into my 1969 Dodge Charger and lit up an Armas del Casa. After a few puffs, I had recognized something.

That nectar-like aroma/feel; that inner liquor of happiness: What was it doing in a cigar? The next day I went back to the Tinder Box and bought a box of Armas del Casa. Almost every cigar presented the nectar-like remembrance, some quite strongly. Over the next few months I bought perhaps another ten boxes, one at a time. Back then I smoked two cigars a day.

I have never again found the elixir in any other cigar, Cuban or otherwise. Yet I can taste the elements of the nectar in almost any cigar, and within those elements I find the remembrance that I am not separate from nature. Nature is what I am. In my world view, the nectar is an expression of the sap of the tree of life, which is the tree of all life, all existence.

A cigar is a connection with the eternal, unspeakable, smokable sacredness of everything that exists.

The author in Westerpark, Amsterdam.
Photo by Anamika Borst

A realization of nonduality

If, in any painting or photograph, a person is depicted as very small within a wide space of nature, there is a possibility that the viewer will recognize that small form as one’s self and that this self is not separate from the vast space. That is to say, such a picture may inspire the realization that one is the vast space itself. When it is recognized that the vast space contains the form and that one is both the vast space and the form — at the same time — this is a realization of nonduality.




too alone to feel alone


I feel that in the company of something true, a sadness could arise for all the time and energy spent — not only by one’s self, but by the multitudes — pursuing something false. Yet because it arises in the company of truth, it is sweetened by compassion, the seeing of which evokes another level of tears, and other qualities of sadness as well. In Zen, the term loneliness is used more often than sadness; they seem equivalent to some degree. You can look up sadness and Zen or loneliness and Zen and find different kinds of writings. Some of the writings refer to personal psychological sadness. However, I’m talking sadness that involves existence. I have not considered all the possible shades of sadness, so please offer your own in a comment.

Festival of the Rushes


the drawing contest
comes to a close
i’m tired of it
although my fame has spread across the land
i know myself as a pebble
whose curve will never be followed
by the artist’s hand
saying goodbye
i climb into my boat
and row through a clump of rushes
to my small house
on the other side of the lake

[This poem carries the influences of the Chinese poet Tu Fu and the Japanese poet Basho, blended, one reflecting the other like green leaves reflecting darkly in still water.]

the stalking cobra


I was looking at a world map. The “free” countries were coloured green. The “partly free” countries orange. And the “not free” countries red.

Mapping my brain I see a pattern as splotchy and colourful as the map. I am both the good guys and the bad guys.

All the while death – I myself – awaits like a stalking cobra.