Page 3 of 6
Ever since then, I have perhaps been overeager to teach meditation to people who are too dumb, like myself, to ask for it. It seems to me that in America it might be useful for people to be more forward. Usually, I understand, the proper etiquette is to wait until someone asks you three times. But you can always suggest to them that they might ask you three times.
In 1968 I tried using mantra chanting, which I had been doing all the years from 1964 on, when I came back, usually “Hare Krishna” or OM SHRI MAITREYA, a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism, which I liked, without any instruction in how to do it. By 1968 I applied mantra chanting to situations of violence in Chicago, and I found that it worked on a limited scale. At least, it kept me safe and the people who were around me.
After I met Chögyam Trungpa, for the rioting after the bombing of Hanoi Harbor and the increased bombing under Nixon about 1972, he suggested using the mantra AH instead of OM, because OM was much too foreign sounding, while AH was just a good old American Fourth of July sound, like “Ah, fireworks.” Also, it goes out as purification of speech and a measure of the breath. I did try that.
By 1970 I met Swami Muktananda Paramahansa at an interesting meeting with Ram Dass, Muktananda, and Satchidananda, all of them sitting up on the altar at Universalist Church, Central Park. Swami M. invited me to come down to Dallas. I had nothing better to do, so I went down to Dallas, registered in the hotel where he was staying, and then he had the sense to say, “What kind of practice do you know, or do you have practice?” I said, “No, I don’t.” He said, “Why don’t you go to your room and sit and meditate using a mantra GURU OM at your heart level, using that on your breath.”
I was relieved. I had thought he was going to exploit me or parade me in front of his Dallas disciples as an asset of some sort, but instead he suggested that I go to my room and stay by myself and sit. That was a tremendous relief; I suddenly realized that I had a practice finally.
I did that, and he would come in and check me out every once in a while. I think he comes from the same related lineage as the Vajrayana practitioners. I remember once he invited me into his room where he was having a darshan with some students and giving them chocolate cookies. Donald Duck was on the television, and suddenly he turned and offered a cookie to Donald Duck. Somehow, I got the idea of emptiness out of that.
I ran into the Tibetan lama Chögyam Trungpa in 1970 on the street, coming from a poetry book-signing party on 47th Street. I had brought my poet father Louis to meet Snyder for the first time. This was a big meeting, since it was already many years since my father had read Snyder’s work and knew his influence on me.
My father was over seventy years old and couldn’t move very well. It was a New York summer, really hot, and as we went out on the street toward the Port Authority to get him back to New Jersey, I realized that he was going to faint. We got to 43rd and 6th and I saw this Asian gent hailing a taxicab with a bearded friend. I stepped in front of them and said, “May I borrow your vehicle?” which was an odd word to use—you know, the three vehicles of Buddhism—but it was a word.
The friend, named Kunga Dawa, said, “Are you Allen Ginsberg?” and I said, “Yes.” And he said, “This is Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.” So I bowed and said, “OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM,” the Padmasambhava mantra I’d learned the week before from Gary Snyder. Years later I said to Trungpa, “What did you think of that?” and he said he wondered whether I knew what I was talking about. So we exchanged addresses, and I got my father to the Port Authority in the cab.
About a month or two later, I got an invitation to visit with Trungpa Rinpoche at a tiny apartment on the Lower East Side. We sat down and Kunga Dawa, at Trungpa’s side, offered me a joint of marijuana—skillful means, I thought—and I was amazed that Trungpa was that much of a bohemian, or that supple-minded. So I smoked a little—he didn’t but Kunga did—and then he gave me his Sadhana of Mahamudra, which he offered as a poem for me to read and critique.
He asked me to read it aloud as a way of hooking me into his mind-beam. It’s a very great poem, a long poem. The refrain, “Although I live in the slime and muck of the dark age, I still aspire to see your face,” is repeated over and over in different stanzas, which appealed to my romantic heart. I really liked it, as both a religious document and as a poem, and went through the entire thing, which takes a half hour, and made friends with him.
A while later, in 1971, we had a really interesting meeting in San Francisco. I had made a date to meet at his motel. When I got there, everybody was late. Then I heard a noise outside, and I saw him with two disciples, stumbling totally drunk up the stairs. He was so drunk that his pants got caught on a nail and ripped. He got into the room, and his wife was angry at him. She had a new little baby and was pissed off that he was drunk in the middle of the afternoon.
I sat down with my harmonium. I saw his itinerary of talks and wondered, “Don’t you get tired of that?” I was on the road, and I was getting a little bored and fatigued traveling. He said, “That’s because you don’t like your poetry.” I said, “What do you know about poetry?” He said, “Why don’t you do like the great poets do, like Milarepa? You’re bored with reading the same poems over and over. Why don’t you make poems up on the stage? Why do you need a piece of paper? Don’t you trust your own mind?”
Actually, that was some very good advice, the same advice given me by Kerouac many years before. It was right in the groove of everything I had been learning but coming from another direction entirely—the insight or mind-consciousness of a well-trained meditator and specialist, a kind of genius meditator.
Then I showed him mantras I had been chanting and playing, and he put his paw, drunk, on the harmonium keys and said, “Remember, the silence is just as important as the sound.”
We went out to supper and got more drunk, and he said, “Why are you hiding your face? I’d like to see your face. Why do you have that big beard?” I had a big sixties beard, hung over into the seventies, and I said, “If you’ll stop drinking, I’ll shave my beard right this minute.” I went into the drugstore, bought a razor, and shaved my beard. I came back and said, “Now you’ve got to stop drinking.” And he said, “That’s another matter. You didn’t shave your beard completely.” Because it was still in rough tufts.