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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 64 |buddhadharma By 1967 Ginsberg was hardly new to the dharma. Jack Kerouac had been try- ing to convince him since the mid-1950s of Buddhism’s value, and even earlier Ginsberg had read d.T. suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism after seeing an exhibit of Chinese Buddhist paintings at New york City’s Metropolitan Museum of art. in his travels to india, he had already met the greatest Tibetan Buddhist teachers of that day, including dudjom Rinpoche, the sixteenth Karmapa, the dalai Lama, and even Chögyam Trungpa (though Ginsberg forgot about this until he saw a photo of them together many years later). Trigilo betrays at least a partial sus- picion of Ginsberg’s root guru, evidently stemming from accounts of a 1976 Vajrad- hatu seminary halloween party, where things apparently got pretty wild. The matter was thoroughly investigated by Ed sanders, who published his findings in a book called The Party, and Michael schu- macher’s biography of Ginsberg called Dharma Lion gives a good account of it as well. The leaked incident cost grant fund- ing and delayed accreditation for Naropa for a few years. since Chögyam Trungpa is central to Ginsberg’s development of a specifically Buddhist poetics, Triglio’s reservations about Ginsberg’s principal teacher must be taken into account when evaluating his presentation. another, somewhat strange angle is Tri- gilio’s framing of Ginsberg’s poetic/spiri- tual process in Freudian terms. a major element of his discussion concerns Gins- berg working out the Oedipal issues that involve his schizophrenic mother. again, the good news is that Trigilio’s Freudian evaluation is completely logical within its own paradigm. Nevertheless, seeing Freud and Buddhist tantra expressed in the same sentence is an odd mix. a case in point: “Ginsberg’s particular Tibetan Buddhist practice with Trungpa can be seen in light of what Finn has described as the ‘flexible relationship to the Oedipus complex’...” The conventional view of Ginsberg as a poet is that after “howl” he never wrote anything of much significance. “Kaddish” and “wichita Vortex sutra” have gained in stature, but who has heard of the “Contest of the Bards”? in truth, Ginsberg’s poetry remained fascinating to the end of his life, refined to a pristine “snapshot poetics” as indebted to william Carlos williams’ objectivism as it is to Trungpa’s contribu- tion to the writing slogan that eventually became known as “First thought, best thought.” still, this later development in Ginsberg’s work does not seem to be the Buddhist poetics that Trigilio refers to in his title. instead, an entire chapter is devoted to the poem “The Change,” which Ginsberg wrote on the train from Kyoto to Tokyo on his return to North america from india and Japan in 1966. Biographically, the poem is important because Gins- berg attempts to renounce trying to get out of this body into some metaphysical truth. however, the poem is very much entrenched in a psychedelic syntax that he would later strongly advise others against emulating. This is because the guiding mental connections between much of the imagery is missing, and the reader needs to work unnecessarily to discover what is trying to be communicated. No doubt Tri- gilio doesn’t feel this way, but i’ve read the poem many times over the years and find it to be one of Ginsberg’s most abstract. Trigilio apparently sees Buddhist poet- ics as an integration of the spiritual and material worlds. This is backed up by Ginsberg’s pilgrimage from an early non- drug vision in which he believed he heard william Blake narrating a poem to him, through pursuits to duplicate this by acid and yogas he learned in india, and finally the formal earthbound study of Tibetan Buddhism with the Rinpoches Trungpa and Gehlek. Unfortunately, Trigilio doesn’t seem to have a firm enough grasp of Buddhism to always be able to distinguish between Ginsberg’s dabblings in the hindu phi- losophy and his actual practice and study of Buddhism. For example, he spends a great deal of time on Ginsberg chant- ing OM during the police riots that took place at the Chicago democratic Conven- tion in 1968. There is no mention that it was a hindu-style chant, nor of Chögyam Trungpa’s later advice to change his public mantra to ah, so as not to give the audi- ence “a buzz and nowhere to go with it.” One can appreciate Tony Trigilio’s exceptional Beat scholarship and value his book as a pioneering study of Gins- berg’s Buddhist poetics. however, it has the limitations of all pioneering works, and the definitive examination is still waiting to be written. More than a few of us anticipate it eagerly, but in the mean- time we have this provocative study to wrestle with. 3-4 year intensive, part-time, hands-on, experiential, psychotherapy skills training program, grounded in the perspectives of western psychology and the spiritual wisdom traditions of East and West. (October - June) Various experiential workshops www.transpersonalcanada.com or 416 481 6777