Allen Ginsberg’s “Apology For Buddha” (“apology for losing my temper on behalf of the dharma’)
from Wang Ping‘s 2015 memoir, Flying: Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi
“We gathered in Allen’s apartment at the Lower East Side, Manhattan, celebrating the end of the 1989 American and Chinese Poetry Festival. It was the very first poetry exchange since China opened its door to the west, a confluence of great poets across the Pacific. On the American side, there were Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, John Ashbery, Bob Creeley, Kenneth Koch.… On the Chinese side, there were the Misty School poets – Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, Yang Lian, Jiang He, Shu Ting.… I was their translator and interpreter, totally in awe with this line of the great poets from two worlds. I had loved the Misty School poets when I was in China studying English and American literature in Beijing University. In New York, I read Howl and On the Road, and it was love at the first sound and sight. So when Lewis Warsh, my creative writing professor at Long Island University, called me one evening and asked if I’d be interested in working with Allen Ginsberg for the festival, I grabbed the opportunity even though it was a volunteer job and I was starving. For three months, I had worked every day with Allen and his assistant Bob Rosenthal translating Chinese poems into English, then traveled with the group all over America to give readings. My days had been full of adventures.
Allen’s apartment was small, but the wine and food were abundant, and spirits high. As the conversations went on, the group strolled into Allen’s bedroom. Above his bed hung a portrait of a beautiful green lady, dancing, with flowers in her hands and under her feet. At a closer look, I noticed she was actually sitting on a lotus, yet her body moved fluidly with the air, wind, water, earth, and fire. Her limbs flowed with music. Bei Dao wanted to know what it was. Allen gently pushed down Bei Dao’s pointing finger. “Green Tara,” he said, his palm up and open, his head bowed slightly, “Goddess of enlightenment, the great emptiness.” Bei Dao asked how long he’d been practicing Buddhism. Allen started with the Beatniks, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Then he went on about Tibet, the sacred land of Shangri-La, the great temples that had been destroyed, and the master teachers who had been imprisoned or exiled. As he talked, his eyes got red, and veins rose along his temples and neck. Bei Dao assured him that things were getting much better now. No more arrests of the monks or nuns, no more destruction of the temples. In fact, the government was putting a lot of money into the repairs of destroyed temples and cities, especially Lhasa. The conversation went back and forth, back and forth.
Suddenly Allen jumped, his trembling finger pointing at me as he shouted at the top of his lungs – “What do you know, what the fuck do you know what’s going on there, ehh?”
A dead silence in the room. I looked into his bloodshot eyes.
“Allen, I’m just doing my job as your translator.”
Allen hung his head. Bob took his hand and led him away. Bei Dao and the other guests also fled. I was alone in the room, feeling abandoned. The Green Tara beckoned, as if inviting me to join in her time and space. I took a step toward the bed, then another; my arms rose on their own, curved, right palm to the sky, left palm to the earth. My knees bent, my center closer to the earth. As my left foot grasped the floor, my right foot lifted and bent forward. I was in the “flying sky” posture of the dancing maidens who fly around the Buddha in ecstasy. I had no idea how I knew this posture. It just felt right as I faced the Green Tara on the wall, our eyes locked, breathing in and out, in and out…
Someone was behind me. I turned around. Allen was holding a pile of books in his arms. “I, I don’t mean to interrupt. But how did you know the dance? Who’s your master? How long have you been in training?”
I put my right foot down. The floor felt cool against my burning sole. “I don’t know, Allen. I guess I have seen the paintings somewhere when I was in China.”…..
I looked at Allen. “I learned it from a dream.”
He laughed and put down his books on the table. He took my right hand and kissed it gently. Then he opened his books one by one, drawing Buddha, lotus blossoms. “My apology for yelling about Buddha. AAAAH!”
I stroked the cloth-bound books, each a limited edition, each giving the fragrance of ink. I looked at Allen, at the Green Tara, and said, “Allen, I’ll go there as soon as I get my green card. I’ll find out what’s happening there.”
Allen smiled and brought my hand to his lips again.”
Wang Ping has gone on, since that memorable occasion in 1989 to establish herself as a significant figure in her own right – “poet, writer, photographer, performance and multimedia artist” – see her extensive and informative web-site – here (and see also here for more on her remarkable Kinship of Rivers Project)
Her latest book of poems (from Hanging Loose) is My Name Is Immigrant
We’d also recommend highly her two volumes from Coffee House Press – Of Flesh and Spirit and The Magic Whip and the prose collections, American Visa and The Last Communist Virgin. For more (a complete listing) of her books – see here.
Flash of Selfish Consciousness – The Poetry of Wang Ping (from back in 1997)
and here she is more recently (2020) (reading from My Name Is Immigrant)
& here, to conclude, is Ping making the important distinction between “being good” and ‘being wild”