Recommending Philip Whalen


More Ginsberg Naropa classes from back in 1981.  Here’s Allen substituting for Gregory Corso‘s “Visiting Poets Class”, October 6, 1981.  The first side of the tape is missing. The tape begins in media res.  He’s recommending that students seize a golden opportunity and go visit, in San Francisco, poet and Zen priest Philip Whalen

Whalen was ordained a Zen priest in 1976. He served as the abbot of the Hartford Street Zen Center from 1991 to until ill health obliged him to retire in 1996. He died in 2002

AG:  …what I would do is make tracks there immediately because he’s there in his house, got a two-story house with a little zendo and a place for sitting in the downstairs basement part, and he’s just starting out, he’s got lots of time to talk, doesn’t have anybody living there.  Probably I think about two or three people sit with him, from the neighborhood, which is more than he expected, and he’s just going to now build a clientele, so to speak, and he’s there.  He’s just sort of totally open.  And if I were young I can’t think of any better place to go for an education and for training and, you know, to spend a year.

Student:  Better than here?

AG:  Well, you have undiluted attention from Philip.  He doesn’t have anybody.  Nobody’s bothering him.  He’s just sitting there, waiting for people to come.  Sitting, waiting for the vibes to emanate, or something like that. I had.. I thought it would be great.  I’d just love to drop everything and go live there.  Go live around the corner.  It’s Fairmont Street, and it’s  65 Fairmont Street, San Francisco, 94131.  And the phone is two-eight-five- one-seven-four-six…

Student:  One-seven-four-what?

AG:  Four six.   I went out and got there at noon and sat there.  There was nobody there.  What a Sensei or Zen master has to do who runs a zendo is come downstairs and ring the bells at noon and chant the Prajnaparamita Sutra, so he did that.  And we went out to lunch with Don Allen, whom I spoke of just now.  So he’s in the literary community and he’s in the Zen world, both.   So It’s like Dharma Bums come true, actually.  Unexpectedly.  I don’t think Kerouac … Kerouac would be amazed that Philip became a Zen master.  Big.  He looks one too.  He’s a big, bald, huge robes, huge bulk.  It’s like one of the pictures of Bodhidharma.

Philip Whalen (1923-2002)


Philip Whalen at the Issan-ji/Hartford Street Zen Center, San Francisco. Photo by Jennifer Burkett

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and continuing until approximately two-and-a-half minutes in 

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