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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 90 as Swami Shivananda, who taught him to chant “Om.” One of the experiences that made the deepest impression on Ginsberg was spending hours at the burning ghats in Varanasi, smoking ganja with sadhus and mindfully observing the corpses as they turned to ash on the pyres that smoldered all night. Deciding that “the present is suf- ficient subject,” he revitalized his writing by turning his attention away from his cosmic obsessions and toward the human- ity around him in the swarming streets of Kolkata and Varanasi. Precisely observed journal entries such as “Describe: The Rain on Dasaswamedh Ghat” became the model for Ginsberg’s later work, which replaced the earlier overheated philosophizing with cinematic rendering of a suffering world: Today on a balcony in shorts leaning on iron rail I watched the leper who sat hidden behind a bicycle emerge dragging his buttocks on the gray rainy ground by the glove-bandaged stumps of hands, one foot chopped off below knee, round stump-knob wrapped with black rubber pushing a tin can shiny size of his head with left hand (from which only a thumb emerged from leprous swathings) behind him, lifting it with both rag- bound palms down the curb into the puddled road... From the tenderness and generosity shown to him by his impoverished In- dian hosts, Ginsberg also learned that what makes universal suffering bearable is the possibility of compassion. As Baker writes, “What held Allen Ginsberg and would hold him for the rest of his life was the sweetness and sympathy he found in the company of India’s sadhus, charlatans, poets, and saints. They sang to him, and they held his hand. They reached out to his lover, and touched his feet; they sucked their teeth in sympathy when Ginsberg confessed his fears of demons, childless- ness, old age, abandonment, and death.” By auspicious coincidence, one of the monks that Ginsberg met at the Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie would later become his own guru: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. After converging on the same taxicab in Manhattan in the early 1970s, Ginsberg helped Trungpa Rinpoche launch Naropa University in Colorado, where Kyger and Orlovsky would also teach in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Each of the poets brought home his or her own distinctive lessons from India, which flowed into the Sixties countercul- ture that they profoundly influenced. To Snyder, India represented “the spectacle of a high civilization that accomplished art, literature, and ceremony without im- posing a narrow version of itself on every tribe and village. Civilization without centralization or monoculture,” he wrote in 1983. For Kyger, the trip was more personal: “the emotions in our rooms on trains, the level of feelings for & against each other & the hangups.” These lessons stayed with them for the rest of their lives. A few days before his death in 1997, Ginsberg wrote in his journal for the last time. His final poem, “Things I’ll Not Do (Nostalgias),” recalled some of the happiest moments of his time on Earth, which included bathing in the Ganges, sitting beside Orlovsky at the Manikarnika ghat, and “Chai with older Sunil & the young coffeehouse poets.” The poet knew where he was headed— into the transforming fire. “Not myself except in an urn of ashes,” he wrote, and closed the book. ♦ Hindu and Buddhist ideas and practices were absorbed into the West via a generation of American poets for whom these represented not merely fascinating exotica but a workable foundation for daily life. Two straps adjust cushion loft up to 15 inches Ideal for cross-legged or kneeling postures Best for less flexible people Filled with buckwheat hulls Black, red, or violet UNPARALLELED VERSATILITY The Monastery Store 845-688-7993 www.dharma.net/monstore dharma communications SEIFU SEPT 80-99.indd 90 SEPT 80-99.indd 90 7/3/08 1:34:50 PM 7/3/08 1:34:50 PM