Student: It encourages me that India has had this experience of yoga and meditation for a millennia, tho’ I don’t get the sense that Hindus write poetry like yours.
AG: They sure do!
Student: They write the Vedas and the write the hymns to the deities, but they don’t write things about suicide-notes and they don’t subject you to the garbage of the mind
AG: If you think the mind is.. I don’t know if I want to buy that “garbage” phrase, I mean, the mind is the mind.
Student: You don’t have to buy…
AG: Well, first of all, I don’t agree with you. There’s a whole branch of Indian poetry which impinges on what we’ve been talking about – the vocalization and vowel and all that is basic to Indian poetry, and the understanding that mantra quality, and (that) breath is basic – that aspect/
Student: Yeah, that aspect
AG: And ideas about the aspect of spontaneous mind are very basic in Tibet and Japan and India.
Student: Can you give me an example?
AG: Yes. Baul songs are improvised in spontaneous mind. Poems by Meera Bai. Many poems by Kabir are just spoken as such…
Student: Yeah, but look at the…
AG: ..and taken down. Well, I’m saying, you’ve got to arrive at a level of mind that’s clear, here.
Student: Well, that seems the difference. Spontaneous mind can be spontaneous at different levels. Spontaneous at one point could be just garbage. Spontaneous at another point could be inspirational.
AG: Okay. I would say, that the more genuinely spontaneous it is, then it’s not garbage. The more reflectively thought-out – pseudo.., the more it’s an attempt at spontaneity with the intervention of self-consciousness and literary overtones, the less elevated it will be.
Student: But their poetry mostly all describes their religious experience.
AG: Well, or using religious imagery as a mask for sexual experience
Student: For sexual experience?
AG: or for loneliness-experience, or for normal William Carlos Williams-experience. It’s very varied. I have a book on it, which I was going to use as a text, so I’ll bring some in.
Student: Yeah, I’ve read some of it.
AG: The one I had in mind was Obscure Religious Cults by Shashibhusan Dasgupta which has some, really, very strange, funny poems. But the Baul tradition
Student: Yeah, but still, my sense is, that there are different levels of inspiration
AG: Okay, then you’re not quarreling with the method, you’re quarreling with the elevation of the mind.
Student: ..where your mind is coming from when you’re being spontaneous.
AG: Well, that’s something we haven’t fully described, haven’t gotten to yet. Remember, I’m trying to describe a general path or practice to get to the mind, and how far in the mind we get, it depends, really, on the application of practice, and the application of meditation with sincerity and practice, the clarity of the practice, as distinct from the ambitiousness of it, the simplicity of the practice, as distinct from the greediness of it.
Student: But, I mean, that process will continue forever, if we are just writing what the mind is thinking,,,
Student: ..without any focus of a religious nature
Student: ..without writing a hymn to a deity
Student: ..or without writing a song with some kind of in-put..
AG: Yeah, yeah
Student:: ..you’ll always be writing about the garbage in our mind.
AG: You’re assuming that the mind won’t arrive by itself at its own source, that the mind won’t want to think about deity or emptiness. I think most people who try and write spontaneously, write garbage, I’ll agree. . I think most people who try and write spontaneously do write garbage, I’ll agree there
Student: Well that’s why I’m saying, perhaps, there’s a need for more self-conscious…
AG: Well you better define what you mean by “self-conscious”
Student: Well, having the name of a deity in mind when you’re trying to..
AG: Are you saying.. then,, you’re saying you have to have a pre-supposition, pre-context, or…
AG: Well, I think that would be contrary to this practice. And I think that until you are accomplished in the practice of observing your own mind and transcribing it, you can’t start off with a pre-fixed idea, because, then, you won’t observe your mind, you’ll be observing the idea, and trying rationally to create an extension of the idea, or an image, of a hymn.
Student: Well is that your understanding of how Baul poetry is written.
AG: Baul poetry is sung spontaneously very often. It’s just that they’ve got a lot of practice at getting to the root of their thought. They practice it. I mean, they practice a lot..You gotta practice a lot, or you’ve gotta get to good accidents, sing it a lot, writing a lot. So this kind of writing requires writing quite a bit. There is a certain amount of selectivity in what you might want to show to other people or publish. In other words, the fragments that I showed Williams were just five or six lines out of hundreds of pages of bullshit – but there were maybe five or six lines that I said something that was natural, rather than ambitious. So you have selectivity there in your editing, in your choosing what you’re going to present outward as a poem, there. – that is, if you’re writing, if you’re improvising on the stage, however, you don’t have a..(you have no) chance to select, you just have to take what you got.
Student: It seems to me that the Bauls don’t keep books.. ..for all the things they don’t want to show people
AG: I’m not sure what their practice is. I knows they have books full of things they want to show people, things that they’ve done. But sometimes it’s oral transmission and sometimes they don’t have books, but Purna Das had things in mind which he passed on to his son, things that he’d arrived at and kept.
Student: But you’ve got an internal structure in your mind, your unconscious, however you want to rationalize it or describe it, which determines what comes out, and you can’t say that’s less structured than a traditon of oral transmission, such as the Bauls.
AG: Not only the Bauls but you’ve got the Baul form, you’ve got Kabir, Meera Bai. Most of the great saint poets didn’t even write their stuff down (but) it was all spontaneous utterance. I thought you were being inaccurate, if you were saying that, in India, there is no ancient tradition of spontaneous utterance in poetic form. Then there is the tradition of the qawwali, which I have seen practiced, which is where poets get together, say, on Christmas, Jahan’s Taj Mahal’s birthday, at the Taj Mahal, and spent all night capping each other with improvised songs. Then in Japan there’s an old tradition of spontaneous calligraphy, of course, and spontaneous painting, and spontaneous haikus, made up on the spot. That process has to be totally spontaneous, relying on observation of the mind at that moment. Actually Chogyam (Trungpa) Rinpoche told me something about two years ago, which extended something that Kerouac had said. Kerouac and I were worrying about this problem, or trying to formulate it, and he said, “If the mind is shapely, the art will be shapely” . Mind is shapely, art is shapely. So it’s a question of knowing your own mind. So, the discipline, in a sense, would be, having a mind and knowing it, and then when you’re writing, your writing will be interesting according to that mind.
Student: But even the spontaneity is done within a certain form.
Student: Haiku has a certain number of syllables
AG: Some spontaneous forms are very formal, like the haiku and like blues, and some are utterly informal and open like William Carlos Williams’ poetry.
Student: Can you give me an example of that? spontaneity without form?
AG: Yes I believe there are.. I can’t give you an example, but I’ll go check and find out . I think Milarepa is an example of spontaneity without form in certain poems. There are certain open poems.. Pardon me?
Student: But he was enlightened
AG: We’re all enlightened! Fuck that bullshit enlightenment! There is no enlightenment. If you’re going to start waiting to be enlightened to start writing poetry.. Well, I fear that you’re going… you’re imposing all sorts of prohibitions on your poetry.
Student: But just syntax, language is form.
(Poet Diane di Prima is in the class and speaks out: I’m seeing there’s something in the content of your head that you don’t want to look at, that you’re labeling “garbage”.”
Student: Part of this business of elevation seems to deal with just the world you live in, and mind can be used as a unique correlate with world, or with language, or, if you want to get formal, with proposition, and if you live in a different world, if you live in India and you have different practices, then, when you’re spontaneously reflecting on that world, you’re gonna have a different poem.It’s gonna have form, it’s gonna have that form
AG: Well, in America, the most extensive practice of spontaneous form is the blues (and calypso, but mostly the blues), and that has a very strong form, very definite forms. On of the forms I’d like to teach here (Naropa) is the practical application of blues to Buddhist meditation or something. But I didn’t finish.. Staying with your subject, the other phrase, that was a key phrase from 1971, or ’72, I guess, here in Boulder.. I was writing a spontaneous chain poem with Chogyam, and he said.. we finally agreed.. “First thought is best thought.” That was sort of the formula to sum everything up. “First thought, best thought”. That is to say, the first thought you had on your mind, the first thought you thought before you thought you should have a better thought, before you thought you should have a more formal thought – first thought, best thought. If you stick with those first flashes, then you’re alright. But the problem is, how do you get to that first thought? That’s always the problem. In other words, the first thought is the great, elevated, cosmic, non-cosmic, empty, sunyata thought, at least according to the Buddhist formulations, and then after that you begin imposing names and forms and all that. So it’s a question of catching yourself at your first open thought.
But we’ve deviated a little from the subject, which I wanted to keep to something simple, which was forms of notebooks.
What time is it now and how much time do we have?
Student: It’s 25 ‘til..
AG: And we have till when? Quarter of?
Diane Di Prima: Fifteen minutes
AG: Okay, now, for heavy-duty work, for heavy-duty transcription, for beside, for home, for zafu-side (well, the little one is better for zafu), but for formal work, where you’ve got lots of space, lots of time), then a big notebook is really useful – any kind of big notebook (I’ve found, over the years, I’ve used school copybooks and done really great things in those, or, things I liked) and I’ve used beautiful ledgers. This (one) was bought in Idaho Falls at a Mormon bookshop, a really great giant-size, 155-page, ledger . I bought it last Fall and I’ve got..I’ve filled about 129 pages. It’s huge. So maybe from Fall to now, this is the main body of what I’ve written. This begins, let’s see – “Allen Ginsberg 10 October 1993, 3.42 p,m. wall cubicle basement men’s room police station Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA. Notebook journal diary dreambook poetry composition book meditation accounting blank line page haiku register epic container fantasy deposit”. And the first entry is – “Water dripping and gurgling in the urinal basement men’s room Idaho Falls police station. Agnew resigns Vice-Presidency, indicted, pleads guilty, fined and sentenced in the blink of an eye”. The next thing is “Hara Hara Maha Deva Sham-bow Kash-ee Vish..Hara Hara Maha Deva Sham-bow, Kash-ee Vish-va-hasha-gong-gay” (which I got from Bhagwan Das). “November 28th”. (I didn’t get to use it for about a month). “Six a.m. woke from dream and later remembered in Hotel Europe with Vajrayana Buddhists, trying to fuck William Seward Burroughs in the ass..Saw his asshole flashing like a cunt, but I couldn’t get in the bed, couldn’t get my pecker up. Strange flash of rectum in the sheets – nobody there but the loose hole.” – Well, you can call that garbage if you want. But, on the other hand, if you don’t pay attention to the garbage of your mind, you’ll never know what’s going on, and you gotta, you gotta, pay attention to that or you lose track of your mind.
AG: Because if you don’t pay.. if you don’t have good habits of attention to what’s actually happening, you’ll miss, perhaps, more elevated thoughts. You gotta just take what comes. You gotta take what comes. Actually, I thought that was pretty elevated thought. It was real, it was a dream, and had to do with a very deep relationship, and it actually expressed certain basic aspects of my relationship with Burroughs, and was kind of mysterious and poetic.
Student: Is he going to be here (at NAROPA) at all?
AG: I don’t know. I haven’t been in touch with him. He was going to come up and…
(tape runs out before the class is over)