Spiritual Poetics


Allen Ginsberg Class – NAROPA Institute July 31, 1974

AG: (This) I got from Karma Thinley, who’s a lama, friend of (Chogyam) Trungpa in England – OM, you might want to write it down so it won’t be mysterious: OM (O-m.) SARASWATI (S-a-r-a-s-w-a-t-i) , Sar-a-swa-ti – how many have heard of Saraswati? – okay, Om-Saraswati, HRIH (H-r-i-h), SOWAH (S-o-w-a-h – So-hah), so it’s easy, Om-Sarawati-Hrih-Sowah

Raja Ravi Varma – Saraswati (1848-1906)

Om”, you know – body sound, salutation. Saraswati – is generally pictured with a veena in one hand and a book in the other. Riding, what?. Riding a swan, I think. I’m not sure. Does she have any other attributes ? In Hindu she’s a wife of Shiva

Student: ..playing a lute?.

Student: ..playing a veena

AG: A veena, which is, like, a stringed instrument, (a lute would do just as well), a long stringed instrument . Yeah

Student: ..she’s all flowing, she flows..

AG: Flowing? ..you mean.. clothes…?

Student: ..flowing

AG: …are flowing? (uh?) – (that’s) pretty indefinite. Okay, she flows. She’s the mind. She flowed.

Student: Is she the one they throw in the river one day?

AG: Ah, Durga, I think, another wife of Shiva, they throw in the river. But she apparently exists in Buddhist iconography also. I also don’t know who she’s the consort of . You can ask around your iconography teachers.

Student: Manjusri

AG: Ah, okay, consort of Manjusri

Student: I’m not sure though

AG: I think so. I’ve heard that before. Discriminating wisdom – which would mean a sharpness of mind, a discrimination, and a clarity. Manjusri also has a book in one hand and the flaming sword in the other. So, clarity and definiteness, no bullshit. Flowering, but within specific boundaries, where something specific is flowing; either her clothes, or her mind, or her thoughts, or.. so how many here are sort of familiar with basic Buddhist gossip?, have heard of Manjusri – have heard of Manjusri Buddha?? ..Yeah, well, some. Manjusri’s an interesting figure because he’s got the sword of mind and the book, which means he’s read the classics. Background intelligence and reading, and not just total spontaneous oatmeal – (but) it still is discriminating mind, there would be mind recognizing its own nature, or first thoughts of the mind, remembering what the mind was actually thinking, remembering how the mind was actually working, and thus cutting through bullshit; that is, remembering first thoughts, or remembering what you secretly thought , or what occurred to you on the bathroom stool – a thing you wouldn’t necessarily write down for public. It’s the making public that private thought that’s, in a way, the sword of intelligence or the sword of discriminating wisdom. In other words, being frank. You could call it, like, mental frankness in a way, or you could also call it alertness, that is, remembering, without hypocrisy, what you were really dreaming about. So that would be the husband of Saraswati. Instead of a sword she (Saraswati’s got a veena, or musical instrument, so she.. I’m interpreting her as, then, speaking out her mind, expressing herself or manifesting her thought forms via music or via any way that invoves her whole body and her breath. She’s got a book too – that means she’s read, she’s learned. Anyway, Om-Saraswati-Hrih-Sowah – “Hrih” – I guess I don’t know what “Hrih” means. It’s a seed syllable, but I’ve heard it used.. Pardon me?

Five forms of Manjushri

Five Forms of Manjushri – Tibetan Thangka Painting

Student: I think it’s a syllable of the heart chakra

AG: Is it the heart chakra?. That’s good. When you say “Om-Padme-Hum-Hrih”, “hrir”, is used as the bodhisattva extra syllable. Om-Padme-Hum-Hrih. The extra syllable is for getting into the world of action, getting up out of meditation and moving out into a world of action. So, “Om-Sarasati-Hrih..” – I guess active, then. “Sowah” is “Swaha”, the same as “Svaha” in Sanskrit. I guess it’s a Tibetan pronunciation, of “Svaha”, meaning “Amen”, or “Salutations” – generally to a feminine divinity.

So let’s all sing that to invoke whatever we can get up

(AG & Students chant (repeating the mantra), with Allen accompanying on harmonium – OM-SARASWATI-HRIH-SOWAH – open eyes!”, he counsels, and, “anyone who doesn’t sing it, fails”).

AG: There’s another Bengali mantra, very similar, a strotra to Saraswati, has a really nice nursey-rhyme rhythm. I don’t know what use it is, except it has such a strong rhythm, It’s a little bit like (Edgar Allen) Poe’s “(The) Bells”, or “half a league, half a league, half a league onward into the Valley of Death charged the six hundred..” It’s got a good, solid rhythm. I can give the words, if anybody’s interested, but I’ll recite it, because it’s a good invocation anyway


(It’s) “Jaya-Jaya-Devi”, for (whatever it’s worth, Jaya-Jaya-Devi – J-a-y-a, J-a-y-a, D-e-v-i). I don’t know what it all means actually! I know a lot of it and I’ve got a book, I can look it up! If anybody’s ever seen a copy of a bibliography of my poetry, put out by City Lights, there’s a whole page of technical explanations – “Jaya-Jaya-Devu” – “Devi” is “goddess”, “Jaya” is “victory” – “Charey, Charo” (CharoSari)

Student: In a purple sari.

AG: Yeah, it’s a red-bordered, or vermillion-bordered, or purple-bordered, sari. “Charey Charo” (C-h-a-r-e-y, C-h-a-r-o). “Charey, Charo Sari, Kucha” (so, K-u-c-h-a), Kucha-Juga (J-u-g-a, Juga), Kucha Juga Sovita. Next line,. “Mukta Hari” (M-u-k-t-a..M-u-t-c-k-h-a? – M-u-k-t-a H-a-r-i) Mukta – “release”, “(one) who brings release”, “goddess who brings release to the whole world”, Hari

Student: Sovita wears pearls on the breast

AG: Maybe

Student : Yes..

AG: Okay, remember that now. Okay, Kucha-Jug-Sovita-Mukta-Hari-Kucha-Sovita-Muk.. pearls-adorning-breast, or, pearl-breasted maybe, Kucha-Jug-Sovita-Mukta-Hari-, Veena (V-e-e-n-a, Nan-dee-tah) , Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey (P-u-s-t-a-k-a H-a-s-t-e-y).. veena in the left hand, book in the right hand, or veena in the right hand, book in the left hand, whatever. Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey, Bhagavati

Student: Pustaki?

AG: Pustaka (P-u-s-t-a-k-a). Pustaka Hastey. I guess “Pustaka” would be “book”, if I’m not mistaken. Veena.. ..and you could always look it up in the book if the right interpretation is important, (which it probably is), but the sound is what I’m interested in, and rhythm – Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey, Bag-Havati…where was I ? – Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey. Bag.. (B-a-g) B-a-g-h-a-v-a-t-I, Baghavati (B-a-g, h-a-v-a-t-i). Bharati (B-h-a-r-a-t-I, B-h-a-r-a-t-I – “Bharati” is the word for India, but, I guess, for the whole world also). Bhagavati Bharati, Devi (Goddess) D-e-v-i – Namaste (N-a-m-a-s-t-e) – “hello”, “hello Goddess”, or “namaste” (“salutations”, “respect”). It’s catchy, sort of, can be sung together


While singing, I was thinking of something Robert Duncan told me in (19)63, which was that when I was singing “Hari Krishna”, which I was just beginning to do in ’63, he found that I was using my voice and my body a lot more..thicker..more involved, using my body and my voice a lot more than when I was reading poetry, that I was putting more force and more energy, more conviction, into the physical rendering of the mantras than to what I was supposed to be good at, which was the poetry. It was, I think, a real criticism. It was a seed that got stuck over time and flowered somewhere. From then on.. For one thing, I realized that singing is a very good thing if it can bring that out and break through the shyness or the barrier of fear of energy or fear of expression. But it also turned me on to, or made me more conscious of, the fact that in whatever great poetry I wrote, like “Howl” or “Kaddish”, I was able, actually, to chant and use my whole body, whereas in lesser poetry I was not, I was talking – or, I wouldn’t say “lesser”, but poetry that didn’t involve me so much, so, in that sense, lesser. So from that point of view, poetry becomes less intellectual or verbal and also becomes, like, a physiological thing, something where you actually use your body, use your breath, use your full breath. At least chant becomes that, and poetry can approach chant. When you’re really into it, poetry can become an expression of the whole body, of a single body/single mind, really all, with real oomph! As distinct from the practice of poetry as it was all along into my day, and probably yours still, which is more of a tentative thing, where you’re dealing with the flimsy materials of your own mind, and so you’re not really sure whether you should lay it out, solid, like a prophet or something, whether it’s worth shouting or speaking or howling or using your whole self in. That’s not, of course, the only form of poetry because there is a quiet, conversational, poetry, and there’s a whispered poetry – I guess, whispered transmissions, even. But.. since that area of full energy is very rarely appreciated now – well, it’s appreciated when you hear it, when you hear it in (Bob) Dylan, it’s totally appreciated, which is a great thing about Dylan in a way, that what he’s doing is, in one vowel, he puts his whole lung – “How does it fEEEEEl?” (or, as in old blues – “hOOOOOme, I’m goin’ hOOOOOme”). So, you have the whole body into it because what is meant is something very definite emotionally, rather than tentative. So it’s good, then, to link poetics with some form of vocalization.

to be continued

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