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While I was sitting, I had an idea for a poem but I didn’t want to interrupt my sitting. We were doing shamatha/vipashyana on the breath, and I had this fantasy that my breath was going out the window and over the mountain into Idaho and across the desert to San Francisco, and then the zephyr was going under the Bay Bridge, and then maybe a little tornado out in the Pacific and breeze in Guam and a typhoon in the China sea and an airplane flying through the clouds over Cambodia Angor Wat all the way through to papers scattered by the wind by the Wailing Wall, and the Sunday Times lifting and settling in the breeze at Trafalgar Square or Picadilly, and then a breeze across the Atlantic across Labrador a cold wind and finally at the end, the breath coming back around the world where we were in Teton Village in Wyoming, the last line being “a calm breath, a slow breath breathes outward from the nostril.”

“Mind Breaths” was the title of the poem, and I asked, is it legitimate to write poetry about meditation? He said, well, most poetry about meditation is shit, because people are just repeating their neuroses in a sense, or writing out their complications, rather than some objective description of the mind. So this is all right because it actually describes the process of meditation—it comes back like returning to the breath. He gave me a sort of encouragement to consider poetics and meditation as related activities of scanning the mind in a sense. Related activities of observing mind and observing breath, observing space and observing the mind.

As I was still in those days dungareed and black-shirted, Trungpa suggested also that I try a white shirt on, and I said why? He said, well, see how people treat you, see if they treat you any differently. I was not sure because I thought, well, it takes a lot of money to get shirts cleaned, and so he said, well, wash them yourself. So I went to the Salvation Army and bought about a dozen white shirts (for twenty-five cents each in those days in the early seventies in Boulder) and tried them on, and I found that people treated me slightly differently, more trusting.

I began noticing the three-piece-suit sartorial manners of his Vajra Guards, his dharmapalas, and I decided, well, I’ll try some more elegant clothes. I went to the Salvation Army and bought all sorts of Brooks Brothers suits and pretty soon was all dressed up like a professor. And people treated me nicely befitting my age.

In ’74 Trungpa invited myself, Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima, John Cage, Gregory Bateson, Ram Dass, and others to Boulder to try a summer school, like a big smorgasbord festival, everybody all mixed up, and instead of a hundred or two hundred people we had about twelve hundred people registering.

So there was this enormous dharma culture explosion that took place, and after the summer was over, Trungpa sat at a round table with myself and Cage and Waldman and Diane di Prima asking us to take part in founding a poetics school. So we took that responsibility, particularly Anne Waldman, and that was a whole education in itself. Trungpa’s conception was that there were many varieties of practices for a kind of international tantra or international Mahayana that could be adapted to an American style of Buddhism based on the Tibetan insights. It would make use of the American genius for certain things, which he saw in poetry particularly, and to some extent in painting and music, to transform those or alchemize those, paint them gold. That was his particular genius as a teacher, and as a teacher of teachers.

The next interesting encounter—I’m trying to remember the pith exchanges that we had—was in 1976, when Vajradhatu decided to buy a building in Boulder. He gathered the whole sangha together to give a big lecture about how we are now citizens of America, we’re establishing Buddhism in America, and we have to have property, and we shouldn’t be cultivating what he called Ginsberg resentments.

I was up in the balcony. Ginsberg resentment, what is he talking about? I remember I resented it terribly. After it was all over, I went down ’cause I didn’t really have any objection to his buying a building, I had property of my own already, and I said, “Ginsberg resentment is Mukpo dumbness”—Mukpo is his family name—and he said, “Oh, I thought dumbness was a sign of genius in your vocabulary.” Which was true. In the little vocabulary that Kerouac and I had, we would talk about dumb Harpo Marx saints, and I realized at the moment that I was resentful, and I realized what a well of resentment I had within me. He had pointed out that one specific thing that I really had to work with.

In 1978 I had my picture on the front page of the magazine section of the Denver paper, and we ran into each other and he said, “Oh, I saw your picture in the paper, are you proud?” And I thought that was a baited question, but I didn’t know quite how to answer, but I said, “Well, the word never entered my mind,” and he said, “Well, you should be proud, you’ve worked very hard, you’ve worked for a very long time, you’ve done something, you should take pride in it. Be doubtless. Go ahead and do it, and not be hesitant about what you’re doing as a poet, or teaching poetry, or reciting poetry.” That was a kind of funny pat on the back or encouragement to take myself seriously as a poet, or take the poetry seriously if not myself, to take the function or role of poet—as he would define it in Shambhala Training—as a kind of warriorship where you do face the phenomenal world and make your proclamation into that space.

He had all sorts of ideas of poetics that interested me, partly in the Shambhala tradition, such as the notion of speech, or sambhogakaya, uniting heaven and earth, as in the traditional Taoist view that the emperor unites heaven and earth. That is, speech unites the impalpable heaven—mind, thoughts—with the physiological body-breath. So the body provides the palpable breath, the mind provides the impalpable thoughts, and the speech unifies them.

His phrase would be, speech synchronizes—proper speech synchronizes body and mind. He saw poetry as proclamation from the seat, from your seat or from your zafu or from your throne or from your chair as teacher, or from you chair as meditator or your chair as a human being or a Vajrayana student.

Poetry as unhesitating and doubtless proclamation. Proclamation of what? Proclamation of the actual mind, manifesting your mind, writing the mind, which goes back to Kerouac but also goes back to Milarepa, goes back to his original instructions: Don’t you trust your own mind? Why do you need a piece of paper?

So writing could be seen as “writing your mind.” In other words, you don’t have to make anything up, you don’t have to fabricate anything, you don’t have to fix up something to say, which causes writer’s block. All you have to do is tap into the immediate mind of the moment—what are you thinking about?—and just note it down, or observe your own mind, or observe what’s vivid coming to mind. 

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