Buddhism and The Beats (Ginsberg 1993 – 2 – Trungpa Rinpoche)

Continuing from yesterday.

Buddha doodle. Allen Ginsberg. April 5, 1991

Mantra: Benefit for Kama Dzong Meditation Center, May 6, 1972. Macky Auditorium, Boulder, CO

Allen Ginsberg and Chögyam  Trungpa,  Rinpoche. Benefit for Kama Dzong Meditation Center, May 6, 1972. Macky Auditorium, Boulder, CO. Photo:  Bob Morehouse

AG : Then, 1972 Trungpa Rinpoche invited me to Boulder to give a poetry reading to raise money for Rocky Mountain Dharma Center along with Robert Bly and Gary Snyder. So I was really pleased to go out and see him in his home territory and went out there and he invited me to stay in his house  (actually, I had some interesting conversations with him, while he was cooking breakfast pancakes, asking him, like, “have you ever made it with a man?”, (and), did he ever masturbate? – things like that. He was open to questions, the sort of things you might want to ask somebody that you were going to be curious about, and learning about, (and, since one of my problems has always been, or delight has always been,  a sexual world, I was wondering, where does he stand on that? what’s his experience? – he, incidentally, said that he did, when he was a kid-monk, but no longer did, masturbate, (and), no, he hadn’t had experience of a man).

Then the evening of the poetry reading came, and he was drinking again (as always!).        So we were all lined up on the front stage of the Macky Auditorium in the University of Colorado – . Robert Bly here -Gary Snyder- here, a Japanese poet friend of Gary and mine, Nanao Sakaki, a great Japanese poet (who was just visiting, like a desert rat, the old “dharma bum” style, unattached non-monk-meditator poet)  -Trungpa Rinpoche, myself, and Rachelle Ferrell.  (who was playing guitar for us, you know, opened the evening with some music).

And Robert Bly began reading. (now, this was a benefit, they’d come all the way to Boulder to benefit Trungpa’s meditation center). And there was a big bowl, a gong, a big-sized gong, that big, to begin the evening. And we began the evening with Gary reciting (the) Prajnaparamita (Sutra) in Japanese, Nanao chanting it (long long long syllables in Japanese), Trungpa Rinpoche reading it (in a low-keyed Tibetan), and me chanting it (in Suzuki Roshi’s English translation).

And then Robert Bly read.

And Robert Bly had got in about ten sentences (when) Trungpa looked at me, looked around and looked at the audience (many of whom were his students), and (he) took this big bowl, the gong, and put it on his head! . And Bly couldn’t see what was going on because we were all lined up in a row, but the audience began tittering and Bly was a little unnerved but Bly was going on and on and…and I said, “Listen, these guys have come here to help you out”  (because we were sitting next to each other), I leaned over and said,  “They’re raising money for you. You shouldn’t be impolite to them like that”.

And he leaned over to me and said, “If you think I’m doing this because I’m drunk, you’re making a big mistake”. Then Gary got up. (Well, Gary sat there. We’re all on, actually, we were doing it on zafus and zabutons,, real Oriental-style, Spiritual Materialist Oriental- style. And Gary started – Gary Snyder,  the somewhat-perfected Zen practitioner, with his little beard and alert spine, and axe-sharp poems. And Trungpa listened to him and then he took the bowl and put it on my head! Gary didn’t know what was going on either because people were tittering. And then finally Trungpa read, and then I . But Bly and Gary, finally, when they realized what happened were quite offended. But we all had a meeting afterwards at Trungp’s house. So we talked about “international tantra’, you know, what kind of international tantra would be interesting, or would be possible for Americans.

And, maybe a year later, I said. “Why did you do that to them? (because, really, Gary was mad at him for ten years, and Bly took after him for a long long time thereafter). He said, ”The students were my students, mostly, and I was responsible for the evening, and I didn’t want to give them the idea that this was perfected poetry”. Bly was somewhat full of himself and, you know, presenting himself, rather than poetry, so to speak. Snyder was more polished, but, after all, was presenting Gary Snyder. Ginsberg was alright, but only Trungpa was a true drunken poet. And, by hindsight, it was true, I found.

So I began to learn something about poetry from him. And I figured anybody who can teach me something about poetry, I’ll go all around the world  (as well, I liked his heart, and he was really nice to me). So I fell in love with him basically, from 1972 on. And on the way back to the house where they were going to be talking about this party and  tantra, I said, ”You know, I’ve been sitting with Muktananada Paramahamsa’s mantra for two years now, you think it’s doing me any good?”. And he said, “Probably not”. So I said, “So what should I do?” – He said, “Well, let me think a minute”, and , on the way, in the car out there, he gave me another, another practice, kind of an interesting one, which I’ve never understood – A Ah-Sha-Sa-Ma-Ha   Do you know anything about what that is? – He said it was some kind of Ati practice, just in case I got bumped off or something, some preparation, something simple to keep in mind, for, you know, my last breath, I assume .

And that’s (19)72.  (19)73 he invited me to teach at his first seminary. Every year he went off with, in this case, two or three hundred of his students to have a seminary, where he gave a complete exposition of the structure of Hinayana, Mahayana,Vajrayana, at the end of which there was some kind of vow and initiation into prostrations, to be doing a hundred thousand prostrations, and then to be followed by other sequence of foundation practices (which I guess you know about, something), And I thought,”Well, he’s going to set me up here on a chair as a teacher again. Boy, quite an honor, I think I’ll go”. But when I got there I found out I was just another student with the rest of the students. Yes, I was going to teach in a little side room on the off hour and teach poetry, (which I enjoy doing), and..  But it was somewhat of a come-uppance and a puncture of my vanity (not that much of a puncture, because I adjusted, you know, almost immediately and realized I was off the hook. I didn’t really have any responsibility except to sit there and learn and listen, and teach a little bit of what I could teach about Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams. So I was grateful that I really had no big responsibility but to be a student). Since then, I’ve been to a number of the seminaries.

My dress at the time was not exactly classic Beat Generation, but I was usually wearing dungarees and work shirts, very often black work shirts, and longer hair (though I’d heard years ago from Swami Satchidananda very good advice, which is, if you’re going to have long hair and a beard, make it very neat so you don’t scare people, so it was usually (kept) very simple) . Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Why don’t you try wearing a white shirt sometime, see if people treat you differently?” . And I said, ”Well, white shirts are expensive to launder”. And he said, “Wash them yourself”. So I took him up on it and went out to the Salvation Army in Boulder and bought for ten cents each about twenty white shirts and started wearing them and I noticed people treated me slightly differently, a little less fear, or a little less fear of the black-shirt Beatnik. So then I said, ”Well what if I try on some Oxford grey jackets and shoes and what-not, put on nice shoes, and I began slowly evolving a wholly different costume, more consonant with the three-piece suits dress that his students wore, which he saw as a form of secular monasticism, that is, since they weren’t wearing saffron and yellow robes, so formal discipline in dress would be interesting for his students.And so (he) suggested English-style three-piece suits, (which offended many people, but, on the other hand, was actually a kind of a Shambhalian discipline for them in presenting a world of richness, and elegance, and awareness, and style, and art, rather than slovenliness and sloppiness and a sort of negative,  setting-sun attitude to, resentment to, the society, and resistance). And around the same time, he had a community meeting and proposed that we buy a big building down in Boulder, across from the Courthouse (and) so not be afraid to own things and not be afraid to be part of society. In fact. not to be too much tainted by what he called “Ginsberg resentment”.

And I got furious and came down from the balcony after it was all over when everybody was lining up to see him – “Ginsberg resentment is Mukpo dumbness!” (Mukpo’s his family name). So he made a sort of downturn of his mouth and said, “I thought dumbness was a mark of honorific intellect, in your terminology” (which is true, actually, you know in..  (Jack) Kerouac and I had reversed the word – “dumb saints”) And I realized I was resenting what he said, (so there must be a lot of resentment if I can be caught up that easily). So he pointed out my anger and resentment and I owe him a great deal, a great debt for that little bit of insight, right there, that set me off on noticing my mind and noticing my irritability more acutely than before..

So there were a number of such small little casual statements which gave me sort of arrows pointing in a direction, one of which was quite interesting, because there’s always been, among Catholics, Marxists and Buddhists, a kind of prejudice against self-expression in art, a kind of puritanical..  If you weren’t enlightened, or proletarian, or  (hadn’t) received divine grace, what right do have you to spread your ego over the joint and open your mouth and yap and display yourself? – which was not Trungpa Rinpoche’s view of art – he saw it as something that… of training and self-expression, like a form of meditation and a form of dharma.

So we founded, in 1974, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado (because one day I had read him all of Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, a Buddhist-inspired set of verses, two hundred and forty poems, on a five-hour auto ride down from Tail of the Tiger, now Karme Choling, in Vermont to New York, and he laughed all the way through, including (at) the line “Anger doesn’t like to be reminded of fits”, which is Kerouac, and, “America is a permissible dream/ Providing you remember ants/ Have Americas… And little Americas are had/ By baby mules in misty fields”, and so forth – a great book of poems) And when we got out, he said “It’s a great manifestation of mind (Mexico City Blues) So he was one of the first sort of classic Buddhist teachers who saw how interesting Kerouac was as a kind of American home-made insightful dharma artist. And so when we decided to have a poetics school at Naropa Institute, I said “Let’s call it the Jack Kerouac School” and Anne Waldman said. ”That’s too square. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics”. And Trungpa approved that, accepting Kerouac as, as a..(an) inspirer ( and, in fact, he said hearing either my voice or Kerouac’s had changed his relation to poetry, and from then on, (!9)72, (19)73, Trungpa began writing open-form, spontaneous non-counted , non-syllabic count verse, before that it was five, seven, nine, eleven syllable verses, Tibetan-style, in Tibetan, translated into English. He began writing in English and in an international free style that was very appropriate for his sangha and which contained pith instructions that were quite beautiful – and good poetry, he’s a really good poet. I learned a lot from him as poet actually)

So we formed the Kerouac School and his idea in asking Anne Waldman, myself and Diane di Prima to work on it, in the presence of..John Cage, was at this conference after the first summer jamboree, sort of a smorgasbord of many people including Ram Dass and Gregory Bateson and Swami Mutktananada who visited. His (Trungpa’s)  idea was that the Buddhists should be sophisticated in mouth and learn golden tongue in poetry in order to be good practitioners of dharma and good bodhisattvas in turning the wheel of dharma, that it would…(in his tradition, in his lineage, from Milarepa on, the teachers were all poets). And, on the other hand, the trade-off for the poets would be to learn some meditative sanity to avoid suicide strung-out alcoholic creephood – the Western idea of bohemian fuck-up among the poets, the maudit, from Rimbaud, Villon through Kerouac and Cassady who died of excess. So it was a very interesting deal, and a very interesting rationale, and a very successful one. So I think now [1993] Naropa is one of the strongest centers of poetry in America,

And, as part of that, he gave us some instructions on teaching poetry and forms of poetry, one of which, if you’re interested, is very simple – seeing the poetic verse, or seeing a poem, as structured, in the same principle of ground, path and fruition, or heaven-earth-man, or dharmakyanirmanakayasambhogakaya that is to say, in a three-line poem or three-line haiku, the first line being enclosed in brick – “People silent on the floor, electric lamps and cameras/ Oh, it’s a dharma meeting with a Tibetan lama/ I wonder if I’ll get anything to eat afterward” – So, first is the glimpse of sensation perception impression nameless space. Second is the location and recognition (or nirmnakaya). Third,  is your after-word, or after-comment, or after-thought, which might be zig-zag and irrelevant to the first set-up, your own personal reaction.  So, in aesthetic terms, you could say sensation-recognition-reaction.. In Marxist or Hegelian terms, thesis-antithesis-synthesis. In Pseudo-Dharma terms ground-path-fruition (or heaven-earth-Man). Basically it’s a Heaven-Earth-Man aesthetics, which Trungpa Rinpoche applied both to flower-arranging, to poetics – and to photography too (that a photograph should have a piece of the sky, something intermediate and some ground). So it’s a whole principle of poetics that he suggested with a number of very specific exercises he laid out, which we use at Naropa Institute, and now I’ll still use for teaching elsewhere.

His point being that poetry was training in orderly..ordering the mind and becoming conscious of the mind and recognizing the mind and recognizing thiought-forms themselves, the beginning, flowering, and dissolution of thought-forms. And each line of poetry could actually be.. (could) go through that process, (which actually the mind goes through actually, when you conceive of something – you have a thought and it rises unborn, flowers, and then dissolves again, and then there’s a gap and then there’s another thought). So using the actual process of mind, of mentation, as a structure for deep form for poetry, Trungpa was elaborating, with a good deal of sophistication, on the…on more general but vigorous American bohemian Beat practice of spontaneous poetry, and gave a kind of classical order, super-added and super-imposed onto Kerouac’s practice. So that was the richness of the exchange back-and-forth.

So,to make a long story short… one other story, related to what I was talking about, the puritanism of Buddhists, Catholics and Marxists in relation to art or self-presence (or not the puritanism of these original teachers but maybe the puritanism of some overly-zealous disciples). Around 198o, when I came to Naropa, my picture was on the front-page of the magazine section of The Rocky Mountain News, and Trungpa said, “Did you see your picture in the paper?”, And I said, “Yes”. And he said, ”Were you proud?” – And I thought “Uh-oh, this is a trick question”, so I gave him a trick answer – “The word had not passed through my head” – (that was quite literal.)  “Well”, he said, “you should be proud” – “Why?” –  He said, “You should be proud, you’ve worked very hard, you’re a very good poet, you’ve done a lot of good with your work, you should continue to do that, and, doubtless, do it. That’s what you can do and that’s what you should do, and it does good for others, as well as yourself, and that was.. it’s among your practices, and it is something you can take vajra pride in, and not be a wallflower, not hide your light. It’s your obligation to go out and teach as much as you can through poetry, or in poetry, whether you know what you’re doing, or not. That’s what you can do well. That’s what you should be doing.  So, in that sense, you can be proud of what you’re doing, and don’t be… in other words, don’t be.. scared of your nature and of your work” (which is a basic old Zen..you know,  shit when you shit, eat when you eat, fuck when you fuck, sleep when you sleep, do what you’re doing, be there to do what you’re doing,, and be doubtless,  (in the sense that, naturally, you have your meditation practice which gives you plenty of space to examine the emptiness of what you’re doing and the openness, but, on the other hand, the actual doing of it, backed up by that sense of openness, is safe, doesn’t get you into any ego-trap, which would be the forced puritanism of the Marxists, who say unless you are of the proletariat you can’t speak for the proletariat, you’ve got to take your theme from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and obey their criticism, or the Catholics, you’ve got to obey, you know, the Index of Prohibited Books, or I would say some Buddhists or Hindu types who think, “Oh no, no, you’re not supposed to write anything until you’re enlightened, don’t open your mouth, and shut up”, (and, especially, since there is no enlightenment anyway, so pretty much.,,). As Robert Creeley said, “If you’re waiting for something to happen, I don’t understand your condition” . Okay, so that’s about it.

to be continued (Q & A to follow next week)

One comment

  1. This video is really amazing. I was stunned to discover you had transcribed the whole thing! That’s an amazing resource for posterity. Thank you.

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