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Where do you start? Well, with the chaos of your mind. How do you do it? Just tap into it and write what’s there in minute, particular detail. For the purpose of relieving your own paranoia and others’, revealing yourself and communicating to others. It is a blessing for other people if you can communicate and relieve their sense of isolation, confusion, bewilderment, and suffering by offering your own mind as a sample of what’s palpable, visible, and whatever little you’ve learned.
After Trungpa Rinpoche’s death in 1986, I guess it must have been 1989 or so, Philip Glass and I got together. Philip was a Buddhist from a long time back, with a good deal more experience than myself in a long steady relationship with a teacher. He’d been asked by his teacher, Domo Geshe Rinpoche, to help his friend Gehlek Rinpoche and do a benefit for Rinpoche’s Jewel Heart Center.
So I came out to Ann Arbor with Philip and we were greeted at the airport by Gehlek Rinpoche, who immediately struck me because he had the same, or similar, voice as Trungpa, and it turned out that they were friends, which I hadn’t known, and had actually begun learning English together and shared a room when they were young, when they first came out of India. So there was like a family relationship, and apparently Trungpa Rinpoche, a Kagyu, had invited the old enemy lineage, the Gelugpa, to visit and teach at Naropa. I thought that if Trungpa felt he was trustworthy, then I could trust him.
I began a friendship with Gehlek Rinpoche that also involved a series of conversations that slightly altered my attitudes and refined my understanding of where I was at and what to do. One of the first things I was interested in—by this time getting on in age, sixty-five at the time—was what do I do when it’s time to kick the bucket? Where do I put my mind?
Gehlek Rinpoche’s first answer was, well, cultivate a sense of openness, perhaps some emptiness; recur to the meditation practice you’re most familiar with; cultivate some sense of sympathy or compassion for all sentient beings, and perhaps recollect your teacher’s face.
I thought that was pretty good; I’d had lots of experience with shamatha/vipashyana over the years. Then I remembered that a drowning man still has eight minutes before the brain goes dead—you can resuscitate a drowning man eight minutes after he’s stopped breathing—and I suddenly realized, wait a minute, what happens after I stop breathing? What do I do with my mind then? Because shamatha depends on the breath. So what do I do then?
I went back, and he laughed and said, “Well…” and I said, “What about emptiness?” And he said, “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that one basket.” So he suggested the teacher’s face as one thing I could grasp onto, and compassion, whatever combination I could get, but the teacher’s face seemed to be the most available. [Yelled from the audience: “Although I live in the slime and muck of the dark age, I still aspire to see your face.”] Yes, I still desire to see your face, even in the muck and slime of these dark ages, I still desire to see your face, so that seems to be both a last resort and at the same time a romantic first resort, for a last glimpse.
Another question arose: how long is the world going to be able to maintain itself in the present rate of decay, destruction, muck, and slime of the dark ages? If civilization’s not going to be around that long, certainly not my books or records, what’s the use of poetry? What function has poetry got if the world is going to hell in a handbasket? Gehlek Rinpoche’s answer was really great and clear: the relief of suffering, the relief of mass human suffering.
That instruction or direction is a good compass for any vocation, but it’s particularly applicable to the rudderless poet who is shifting from preservation of his own ego or projection of immortality or the romance of being a poet, to an activity that functions well for other people. There is a bodhisattva aspect of poetry, particularly when you combine it with the notion of poetry as proclamation. So:
proclamation of original mind
proclamation of primordial mind
proclamation of your candid mind
proclamation of your own chaos
proclamation of your own uncertainty
proclamation of your own fragility
proclamation of your own sensitivity
proclamation of your own cheerful neurosis, so to speak, a cheerful attitude toward your nature, which fits in well with the meditation-practice suggestion to take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts rather than try to push them away—“invite them to tea,” merely observe them with a friendly attitude, and that can be applied to poetics, taking a friendly attitude toward your thoughts, and when you catch yourself thinking, if you have an interesting and vivid thought, notating it, particularly the sequence of thoughts that might lead other people to notice their own mind.
In other words, if you can show your mind it reminds people that they have got a mind. If you can catch yourself thinking, it reminds people they can catch themselves thinking. If you have a vivid moment that’s more open and compassionate, it reminds people that they have those vivid moments.
By showing your mind as a mirror, you can make a mirror for other people to recognize their own minds and see familiarity and not feel that their minds are unworthy of affection or appreciation. Basically, poetics is appreciation of consciousness, appreciation of our own consciousness.
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