Q: The dedication on the “Laughing Gas” poem – to Gary Snyder,“The red tin begging cup you gave me,/I lost it but its contents remain undisturbed” – Does that refer here to any specific transmissions of concepts that you use today?
AG: Jack) Kerouac and he explained to me the doctrine of the Abyss of Light or the Void (of Light), or formulated it in my head before I understood it myself, actually, or taught me Prajnaparamita Sutrawhich…. so.. (which explains that rationally). Gary also gave me a red tin begging cup, a red tin cup, a mountaineer’s cup that you carry on the back of your knapsack, which he said was a Buddhist begging cup (the proper one for America) you know, like a hitch-hiker’s red tin water cup. And I lost it! But I realized this, that the gift, the charm of the gift, had been received, and – it really wasn’t my fault, it just got lost, you know, I didn’t feel guilty. So therefore, there was no guilt to fill the void. In other words, the void wasn’t filled with guilt, and the loss of the cup wasn’t filled with guilt. At the same time I wanted to tell him, “Thanks for the cup”. At the same time I wanted to tell him, ”I lost it!” So I tried to formulate it all so it wouldn’t make him feel bad that I lost his cup….
Q: Yes, but if you had been guilty about the loss of a cup, you…
AG: .. wouldn’t have written that.
Q: …you couldn’t have received the concept (of the Void)
AG: Well, if I thought there was.. If I thought that there was a god in the center of the Void, and the God told Gary to give me a red tin cup, and then I lost the cup! – and had to go to Hell..?
Q: (Yes, but, that’s the point… So you can’t leave the Void. Like Kerouac says you can’t lose thedharma, (when he was losing his juju beads)..and…)
[“On that path one night I lost my juju beads Japhy’d given me, but the next day I found them right in the path, figuring, “The Dharma can’t be lost, nothing can be lost on a well-worn path” ( from Dharma Bums – Chapter 20)]
AG: Okay.. so you can’t leave the void, so therefore nothing was lost. Yeah, yeah.. Since the content was that there was no ignorant beings there to be guilty, no beings there to be guilty ,or, if there was guilt it was only ignorance, then contents are undisturbed if I lost the Void. Same thing as like, “Bodhidharma forgot to bring nothing” – Yeah?
Q: (In) a letter you wrote (it was published in Esquire), that you wrote to Neal Cassady, you mention Zen in that…. – and after that I started reading up on the poetry of all these writers, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, you and Kerouac, American Zen. What is its influence on American poetry, and why did you pick up on Zen, as opposed to all kind of other Oriental religions?
AG: Well, there’s a long history to that. For one thing Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki had written a great.. a very great series of books which were just being published then in America – the Manual of Zen Buddhism, lectures in Zen Buddhism, (like, all of his work). Just simultaneously, Ruth Fuller Sasaki had founded the first Zen Institute in Japan and that was going into operation, That was funding Gary Snyder to go back and forth. Simultaneously D.T.Suzuki himself was teaching at Columbia from (19)48 on (or (1952) or something like that. At the same time, the practice of Zen art, that is haiku-making and calligraphy and painting, the spontaneous methods that they used were similar to the spontaneous method of the Action Painters in (of) New York of thel ate (19)40’s and similar to the spontaneous improvisation of the jazz musicians that were coming up from the (19)40’s on in bop and similar to Kerouac’s style of spontaneous prose, so there was an aestheticappropriateness to studying what were the metaphysical sources of that spontaneity in Zen literature, in other words, “how did they come around to that how come, like, in Europe, you wrote a sonnet and there you wrote a funny little haiku that occurred as you were (like) walking from the train station? So then, also there was the accidental meeting of Kerouac – myself, Kerouac and Snyder (in) (19)55. Kerouac had started studying Buddhism on account of Neal Cassady (who) had discovered Edgar Cayce and theories of reincarnation. You know Cayce? – Alright, well Kerouac thought that Cassady was kind of an American krank Billy Sunday in a suit reading eccentric Cayce. So Kerouac went in 1950 back to Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible to check back in the Oriental sources of Cayce’s reincarnation theories. In other words, Neal Cassady and Kerouac were staying in San Jose, California, which is a center of crank cult spiritism in California (the Rosicrucians have their center there, and an Egyptian Museum), Cassady had gotten involved in a love affair with “May” of “May’s Magic Massage”, who was seventy years old, and was getting all involved with Cayce and with a lot of local spiritist groups. Jack, coming into that scene, being yakked to about resurrection, about reincarnation, decided to go back and check on Oriental sources, started reading Buddhism and in a year or two later met Snyder, who was already reading Buddhism and practicing Zen sitting (so he taught Jack sitting actually, zazen) . So it was just that accident. Then, maybe it was five, six years later, when some of us went to India and then began picking up on Hinduism which had also powerful traditions and interesting music.
Q: What (do you think of) American poetry in terms of the metaphors being taken, not from the Bible but, from Oriental sources…?
AG: Well, I think that’s just a passing fad – the metaphors being taken from Oriental sources, what’s more important is.. the effect that.. what’s more important is the return of poetry to mantric ritual yoga, that poetry goes back to being, like, religious ritual yoga rather than belles lettres. In other words, that you can get high on poetry, by.. because of the breathing required to pronounce certain things, or because of the intense operation of mind-consciousness necessary to transcribe spontaneously. It’s like mind meditation and yoga, or its like breathing-exercises in Hare Krishna chanting. In other words, to chant Hare Krishna requires.. .it regulates the breathing in a regularized ordered fashion, and deepens the breathing, and brings the whole body into a single ordered rhythmic cycle if it’s chanted continuously for some time, and thereby alters the metabolism, thereby alters the body chemistry, also focuses all the mind-consciousness in one area, and focuses the imagination and the heart on one divine image. Poetry, like that can be done by the lungs, breathing and chanting. That influences, like, the writing of poetry, because poets want to begin to do that with American poetry too, you know, to write a great line that, if you pronounce it, it’ll alter your breathing and you’ll get high. In other words, for instance, if you pronounce some of my poetry aloud, or of you pronounce Hart Crane’s “Atlantis” aloud, or of you pronounce Poe’s “..Bells” or “The Raven” aloud, or Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind“, or some passages of Dante aloud, doing the right breathing, you can get high – the breathing – like the lines are built to get you high. It’s like taking a pill. In other words, it’s an exercise, it’s a verbal rhythmic exercise, which, if youpronounce it aloud, actually will alter your metabolism. A secret, see? – (in other words), under the disguise of high school poetry, a machine has been given to young kids which, if they pronounce it aloud, will alter their breathing and get them high- Yeah?
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fourteen-and-three-quarter minutes in (in the fifth segment), and concluding at approximately twenty-three-and-a-half minutes in