Allen Ginsberg’s interview with Audun Engh, recorded in Oslo in 1993, continues from here
AE: My experience is the opposite that people who take these drugs will experience change which they may not appreciate but when the effect fades away they will return to their old selves. Would you recommend, for example, meditation as a way of changing your mind permanently?
AG: Well, this is several different subjects here you’re talking. On the subject, I think marijuana and LSD does make a subtle change in personality (as any deep experience does including meditation, or winning in business, or getting married, or being successful in inventing a new chemical, certainly any experience that’s deep will change your personality slightly, generally for the better if it’s a good deep experience so it depends what you mean by “change your personality”). It sounds like a very vague threat in this case – but the real change of personality comes with illegal drugs – if anyone knows an alcoholic, there are quite great changes of personality that take place with alcoholism, particularly overnight, or within five minutes, between sobriety and drunkenness. The real dangerous drugs (in America at least, and I’m sure you have parallel statistics in Norway) are, according to the New York Times surveys – twenty-to-thirty-thousand people a year die of illegal illicit drugs (generally speed or heroin, poisoned speed or unreliable heroin, which is on the street because junkies are just trying to score any way thy can, being cut off from treatment by doctors). So there’s twenty-to-thirty-thousand deaths from illicit drugs. One-hundred-thousand people a year in America die from alcohol, (something like four or five times that number) and four-hundred-and-thirty thousand people a year die from the bad effects of smoking tobacco – cancer, heart-failure, high blood-pressure and all the ills that go with tobacco smoke. So those are the real dangerous drugs – the official, the sanctioned drugs. And the amusing thing is that marijuana, which doesn’t kill anyone, is prosecuted in America with raging dogs and helicopters and tobacco agriculture is subsidized by the government, and that tobacco… (one interesting further footnote is that tobacco agriculture and tobacco interests (and beer interests also) also fund a lot of conservative, neo-conservative, right-wing moralistic censorship groups, who set themselves up as ethical counselors (maybe to compensate for their feeling of guilt of being mass murderers for purveying coffin nails and death-dealing drugs, legally).
For meditation, I think that meditation is a more ample and reliable way of altering consciousness and expanding consciousness in a very simple way of making yourself more aware of what’s going on around you in your mind and outside of your mind in the room by sharpening your perceptions. In some respects similar to grass and acid but more subtle and long range. So later I thought, I think, by the ‘Seventies, I began thinking, probably, if people were going to experiment with stronger things, like LSD, it would be good to have a basis and a centering practice in meditation of some sort, some non-theistic (i.e. no god necessary), non-theistic awareness practice that requires.. that involves centering yourself on the breath, or whatever, so that you have a stable grounding as you try LSD.
I don’t think grass or marijuana poses any particular problem, except for people who are already inclined to be very neurotic and neurasthenic and tend to smoke a lot and smoke a lot and get hung up in that but.. you know, leading that particular life, just smoking a lot and doing very little) – but those people might be better off doing that than drinking, because that would really change their personality and make them violent
AE: Having explored many ways of searching the mind, expanding the mind, why did you choose Zen Buddhism meditation as your practice?
AG: I didn’t. I chose a Tibetan style. Well, only because I met a teacher whom I liked – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – “Rinpoche” means the title, like the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – a Tibetan lama whom I had met briefly in passing in India but encountered in New York, and who’s a poet and a calligrapher and an artist, as well as a meditation master, and I liked his form of meditation. It seemed extremely simple and clear and almost inevitable. Basically, the key is, for meditating, you sit up straight, straight, spine straight, and in Tibetan style, with your hands on your lap (the older centuries illustrate the paintings in thangka – certain teachers are sitting like this – hands at rest) – and pay attention to the breath leaving your nostril – the out-breath, from the tip of the nostril – till the breath dissolves. Then, on the in-breath, you don’t have to do anything, just to make sure that your spine is straight, that you’re awake, (see (that) you’re in a posture of awake), and on the next out-breath follow the out-breath out. That sort of, like, unites the automatic breathing system with the conscious awareness of the breathing that’s going on anyway. So you’re not adding anything in except your awareness. Then you might find that you become impatient and the mind tends to wander and daydream and think and retrospect and memory and plan and question, So when you notice your mind wandering (just as I was before describing noticing rising of anger), if you notice your mind wandering that tends to dissolve the thought and you can bring your attention back to your next out-breath.
So it’s a question of balancing between the breath and awareness of your mind’s activities, and then always coming back to the breath. And following the out-breath ends to lead your mind, though it’s like mixing the breath with space (as Trungpa described it once, “mixing the breath with space” – mixing your mind with your breath, mixing your mind with space. And I think if you get high on marijuana, you find that you mix mind with space also but this is a much more home-grown way of doing that, and very simple. It doesn’t cost anything, So that’s Tibetan-style meditation.
But I was probably attracted to Trungpa and his teaching because of his basic intelligence and humor, and the fact that he really loved Kerouac’s poetry. So at the Naropa Institute he approved our calling our school of poetry “The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” (because it also changed Trungpa’s style of writing – hebegan experimenting in an international open-form idiomatic instead of a classical seven-syllable Chinese-Tibetan style)
AG: To provide a little area of calm and clarity amid the possible hysteria of police attacks and angry Yippies trying to provoke the police, to provide some place and a medium and a method for people to be at rest and not be provocative but just register their presence there in a quiet way. So I think “OM” was maybe the wrong mantra. If I were… A few years later in ‘72. I was talking to Trungpa and he suggested using “AH” so we used “AH” in 1972 in Miami with the Presidential Convention – “AH” being more American like “ah!”, at the same time appreciation of space – “aha!” – open “ah“, breath going out, so it’s a measure of the out-breath and, at the same time, it’s recognizable, it’s not sort of an Oriental closed home (where you’re closed back into yourself), so it isn’t… “AH!” is less mysterious and provocative than “OM!”
to be continued