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We went off to his lecture, and I remember he was sitting very sadly in a chair, talking to this group of San Francisco hippies, saying, “No more trips, please, no more trips, no more trips.” Meaning whatever, acid, but also spiritual materialist trips, the accumulation of Blakean experiences for the purpose of impressing other people as credentials of one’s own sanctity or accomplishment. It was probably the series of lectures called “Buddhadharma Without Credentials.”

At this lecture I continued shaving and I came back out again, and he asked me to improvise. “This is Allen Ginsberg, the great poet. Now we are going to have him improvise.” I couldn’t think of anything: “Here we are in the middle of June/I just ate with you and I had a spoon/and we were talking about the moon.” Actually, walking on the way over he’d said, “America is not ready for the full moon,” meaning full doctrine, I think, full dharma. And I said, “That shouldn’t dismay the moon.”

I tried improvising but I didn’t do very well, and he said, “You are too smart.” But the next day I had a regular poetry reading at the Berkeley Community Theater as a benefit for Tarthang Tulku, and I resolved that I would go on stage without any paper at all, but I did bring the harmonium and improvised something like:

“How sweet to be born in America where we have like a devaloka where the god world is here and we have all the watermelons we want to eat and everybody else is starving around the world, but how sweet to be here in the heaven world which may last for a little bit of time but how sweet to be born.” It was a bittersweet song, it was still at the height of the war. So it’s “how sweet to be born in America where we’re dropping bombs on somebody else but not on ourselves.”

I’ve forgotten because it was improvised, but it actually did me a lot of good, his prompting, because from then on I was never scared to get up on stage even if I’d left my poetry back on the train or something. It was always a workable situation from then on.

A year later I was invited to Boulder to do a poetry reading to raise money for the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center. Trungpa, Robert Bly, Gary Snyder—whom Trungpa had not met—and I were all going to read at a big auditorium, the first big reading in Boulder for dharma. 

We were lined on stage and we had been joined by a sort of desert rat-Japanese-Zen-lunatic-poet-meditator Nanao Sakaki, a great character and good meditator and a really great Japanese poet, an old friend of Gary’s and mine from the sixties in Kyoto. I was going to do some singing GATE GATE, and we each chanted our own version of Prajnaparamita: Gary, the regular Japanese, “Kanji Zai Bo Satsu Gyogin Han Nya Ha Ra Mi Ta Ji…” and then Nanao a long KAAANNJJII using an extended breath, a beautiful hollow voice, and Trungpa Rinpoche almost in pedestrian offhand Tibetan. I did a version that I had worked out from Suzuki Roshi’s English telegraphese translation.

First Robert Bly read. Trungpa was drunk, as ever, and while Bly was reading, he did something very strange. He picked up the big gong and he put it over his head while Bly was reading. Bly couldn’t see because we were all lined up parallel, so he didn’t see what was going on there. The audience was tittering a little bit and I leaned over and said to Trungpa, “You shouldn’t do that. They’re making a benefit for you, they’ve come here to do you a favour. You shouldn’t be carrying on like that.” And he said, “If you think I’m doing this because I’m drunk, you’re making a big mistake.”

Then Gary Snyder read, and while he was reading Trungpa Rinpoche took the gong and put it on my head. So I just sat there figuring, well, he must know what he’s doing, or if he doesn’t, I don’t, so I’m not going to get in the way. I’m not the host, I don’t have to worry about it, though Gary was a friend of mine. After it was over then I read, and he didn’t do anything. I asked later why not and he said, “Because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

A couple of weeks later I asked him why he had done that, and he said, “Well, Bly was presenting Robert Bly—a big ham, so to speak. Gary Snyder was presenting Gary Snyder as sort of the finished Zen product. You know, neat and perfect and proper shoes and all of that.” He said that the people in the audience were his students and he didn’t want them to get the wrong idea of what was the ideal version of a poet. Later, he wrote a spontaneous poem saying Robert Bly presented Robert Bly, Gary Snyder presented Gary Snyder, Ginsberg was Ginsberg, but only Trungpa was the original drunken poet. That was the kind of original take I had on poetry from him.

That year we gave a reading in New York, this time with Anne Waldman and William Burroughs and Rinpoche and myself, and afterward I drove up with him to Karmê-Chöling, the retreat center in Vermont, then called Tail of the Tiger. On the way back, I read him through Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, ’cause it’s a four- or five-hour ride. He kept laughing all the way at Kerouac’s humor. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s a very good book of freestyle poetry, and when we got to New York, he got out of the car and said, “It’s a perfect manifestation of mind.”

I was really amazed because Kerouac had been attacked for that book by Kenneth Rexroth—somewhat an accomplished scholar and Buddhist-oriented—as a book that “separates the men from the boys,” and Kerouac was just “an amateur boy that didn’t know what he was doing”—that he was making a slapdash pastiche. All the San Francisco poets loved that book for its spontaneity and quick mind and quick notation of mind, but it was widely attacked and considered as a beatnik jerk-off. Now here was a very accomplished lama saying “perfect manifestation of mind,” and his understanding and appreciation was amazing to me.

The next day he said he couldn’t forget that voice, mine or Kerouac’s or Anne’s, or the style, and that it had changed his style of poetry from more formal Tibetan five-seven-nine syllable verse form to more international freestyle spontaneous dictated English. He asked me to be his poetry teacher and I asked him to be my meditation teacher, and so we made a kind of exchange, of which I think I got the better in the bargain.

A year later, he invited me to attend and teach some poetry at his first seminary, which is a three-month retreat, and at that point I heard a detailed exposition of Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana styles and practices—a detailed map, not the actual practices, but a map with all the different stages of Vajrayana yoga. A little while thereafter I began doing the foundation practices for the Kagyu lineage. 

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