Meditation Advice

Kobun Chino Roshi, sitting Sesshin at Naropa, July 1989. photo.c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

August 14 1978, Allen Ginsberg’s class on Meditation and Poetics continues. [Editorial note (via Randy Roark) – “The class begins with taking class roll and discussing credit requirements and other business. About mid-way through, the tape-machine begins malfunctioning and an indeterminate amount of the presentation (has been consequently) lost, as a result]

AG: Just to cover a little bit of meditation technicalities, which I may have said at one time or other. The purpose of having the eyes open is that you’re not checking out another universe, you’re just sitting normally in the middle of this one. So if the purpose of meditation is purposeless, settling into where you are already, in this particular case, (particularly related to poetry), eyes open is preferable.

One trick related to the eyeballs is (to) relax them and not stare, and that means looking, as it were, through the window of the eyes, even perhaps aware of the surface of the eyeball, rather than fixing on an external universe. Not staring at the surface of your eyeball, but at least looking through it. If you’re at all experienced with peripheral vision, sitting of that nature might wind up relaxing sufficiently. So, not focusing on a center, there would be some even spread, including peripheral vision, if you’re wondering what to do with your eyeballs (to get technical about it).

The reason for straight back is that when you’re sitting up straight there is alertness and wakefulness, whereas when you’re leaning against a chair there’s a tendency to daydream. A formula oft-repeated is – twenty-five-percent attention to breath (in other words, you don’t get hung up on that like another thought). And twenty-five-percent attention to posture (As I sit, you may have noticed that, occasionally, I straighten up. That means I’ve been daydreaming. The daydreaming and the absence, the travel out of your body, so to speak, comes, generally, when you begin to lose attention and you begin to droop. When you wake up, there’s that straightness again). Twenty-five-percent attention to thoughts (in the sense of recognition or acknowledgement) and twenty-five-percent nothing (open attitude – blank).

(It’s) not a question of fighting off thought-forms, it’s a question of acknowledging them, recognizing them, taking a friendly attitude, and passing on out through the breath again. The old formula back from Gampopa’s time, was making breath with space, mixing mind with breath, thus mixing mind with space. Basically, just sitting. Shikantaza is the Japanese – just sitting. There’s a little bit more than just sitting because you’re making a little bit of effort to wake up occasionally and go back out on the breath.

So far, we’ve dealt with definition and focus and some extension of awareness into space, and ) (this is) a good reminder of that spaciousness (because this sort of sitting, or this kind of awareness, which is both poetic and meditative, does tend to lead to what has been called “panoramic” perspective. You do become aware of yourself after a while, just as this <(moment now) sitting in the center of the room all around you, and above the room, the sky, and all around, Boulder, and all around, (the) Rocky Mountain region, and Colorado, America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System,  (the) Galaxy… In other words, you’re just sitting in the middle of an infinite space. And I’ve heard it suggested that, occasionally, you can remind yourself (of) that.. that you can say, “I, Allen Ginsberg, am sitting in the middle of (the) Casey High School cafeteria, up in the hill(s) in Boulder (Colorado)…” .And just go on out until you hit the end of space. Just, simply, to come back to awareness of where you are, actually, (which is an old poetry trick as well). In the “Plutonian Ode“, I used that simply as a poetic image –this Ode completed on the fourteenth day of the sixth month revolving on Planet Earth, revolving around the Solar System year after the Dominion of the last God, nineteen hundred and seventy eight, on Planet Earth, in a galaxy, in a solar system in a galaxy, in the middle of space.

This leads out to a sort of infinite emptiness, or empty infinity, occasionally, or a sense of spaciousness so vast that there’s no roof to the mind. And that does tend toward some kind of glimpse of such great spaciousness, that there is nobody there, or at least it’s space through which we’re passing. As Chogyam Trungpa pointed out, that’s somewhat of a Boy Scout notion (that is, there’s a certain amount of effort involved there to realize the emptiness), and, after a great deal of experience with that, it’s no longer (necessary) to try to practice it consciously, because it becomes somewhat second-nature. Then the human practice becomes actually being in your body, aware of what you are and doing what you’re doing – looking at what you look, hearing what you hear, tasting what you taste here, smelling what you smell, touching what you touch mindfully, and thinking what you think. So it’s just returning to yourself and doing what you are to begin with, which is the Vajrayana  sphere, (or, as in the haiku, the personal comment) Your own somewhat-cleaned-up ego. Your self, actually, intervening in the world, living in the world and intervening in it. So the poetry we’ll deal with touches on that mood, of the Vajra  indestructible self.

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