Sunday, July 06, 2014

Welcome to blogger Ruby

Ruby is my artist friend from New Orleans, I am showing her the virtues of blogger.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

What one Tibetan is Doing for his People - Choegyal Namkhai Norbu on the Importance of Tibetan Song and Dance


 [Photo by Paula Barry of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu leading a Tibetan Singing Session in his home on lower Khandroling 2013]

Upon the death of American folk singer Pete Seeger (1919-2014), often called the father of American Folk music,  people all over the world paid tribute to his long history of dedication for human rights through the power of song and his indomitable spirit of hope for a better world. In our times, he made the old adage "A song is mightier than a sword" a living reality. 

Much feted in his senior years, for decades Pete Seeger was censored by the US government and blacklisted on TV and radio during  the Cold War era during the McCarthy years. Nonetheless, he was able to perform world-wide to huge crowds in which his many signature songs such as We Shall OvercomeWhere have all the Flowrs Gone? Turn, Turn, Turn, and Guantanamera  became anthems for civil rights, the antiwar movement, migrant workers right, no nukes movement and environmental concerns among a host of many other causes he championed. He mentored some of the most brilliant song writers and musicians for generations such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. For seven decades Pete Seeger with wife Toshi lived in the Hudson Valley on a homestead they built themselves. 

His particular genius seem to lie in his infectious invitation for creating a participatory environment in which everyone sang along with him whether they wanted to or not. This created an entirely different kind of event than being entertained by passively listening or watching.   I recently attended a lunch at the Stone Soup Cafe soup kitchen in Greenfield, MA  run by Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacekeepers where a young man sat quietly singing Woody Guthrie's  If I had a Hammer . When another young  friend joined him in harmony--the entire cafe began spontaneously to sing along. And I mean sing as to bring the roof down.  That's the legacy of Peter Seeger! A bunch of silver haired oldsters in a soup kitchen with hungry families and street folk with kids running around and even reluctant teenagers all singing their heads off about peace and harmony. Song remains the great elevator to the human spirit in any culture and anywhere.


[Pete Seeger in Washignton D.C. for President Obama's inauguration celebrations]

Pete Seeger was no ordinary folk singer but someone who inspired millions  in the age-old practice of singing. Everywhere people sing--in cafes, at work, in the shower, at school, in worship, in protest, in solitude, in groups, around the hearth and in the public square.  No culture on earth  lacks this human urge for vocal expression through joy and sorrow. From song, what automatically emerges is the movement of the body, be it dance or even simple motions of swaying, clapping, waving in rhythm as you can see in the video above. Song may very well represent the first experiences of cultural   "communitas." But more than singing, Pete Seeger taught us how to bear witness to the suffering of others using music as his vehicle to soften the hard-heartedness of indifference and hatreds. Quite simply, music can  awaken our humanity. 

So what's this got to do with Tibet? Well, as most people already know, among one of the most remarkable developments of the Internet is the free video hosting service You Tube. Early in its development You Tube quickly became a living repository to archive every language and cultural group under the sun. If you ever want to learn a craft, how to play a musical instrument, study quantum physics or hear poems and songs from obscure languages--you'll find it on You Tube among the whole gamut of content.   It is the internet's finest open source of  communication along with wikipedia.  Here is where Tibet comes in. 

Through a small crevice of freedom offered by You Tube, young talented Tibetans have discovered an international window through which their contemporary music videos send a message to the world. They are celebrating what it means to be a Tibetan-- their land, the preservation of their language  and the beauty of their ancient culture as important for the world.  In short, they are telling us about Tibet, a country mired in over 50 years of cultural suppression and obscurity. They are trying to save their culture through the vehicle of song and language. Indeed the topic of many of their songs is about the Tibetan language itself which recently was eradicated from school curricula proving a last straw for many Tibetans as the death knell of their culture. The voices of these courageous young singers are not about politics but about what it means to be human.


In these terrible times for Tibet when some young Tibetans tragically choose to burn themselves out of deep despair and misguided nihilism, others are creating joy through their pop songs. The contrast is heart breaking. In recent years in our Dzogchen Community what began as a personal journey of listening to the music of his people on You Tube for enjoyment, eminent scholar and Tibetan Dzogchen master, Choegyal Namkhai Norbu began to take notice of the emerging pop culture of contemporary young Tibetan singers and their importance in communicating their message about Tibet to the world. 

[A practice session of Tibetan Dancing to Sherten's song above in Rinpoche's living room at Khandroling]

He  recently completed the transcription and translation of 180 contemporary Tibetan songs into English--no small feat which will be forthcoming later this year. A number of these songs have been choreographed  under his direction into dances (click here to see a video of the same song performed as a dance in the Dzogchen Community) which are learned throughout the world during his retreats. About three years ago, he introduced this practice of Tibetan singing and dance for many hours at all his retreats. Although in his 70's, Choegyal Namkahi Norbu tirelessly travels the globe giving Dzogchen Teachings which he says is important in regard to the songs and music of Tibet which have a direct link to these ancient teachings. Participating in this activity also creates a positive link of solidarity to the Tibetan people at this time of their great suffering. Through his international travels to his "Gars" where Dzogchen practitioners gather together to receive Teachings, he has disseminated these contemporary songs and dances of Tibet.

Interest in Tibetan songs is not new to him. In the 1960's one of his first scholarly works while at the Istituto Universitario Orientale, was about traditional songs,  and according to his daughter Yuchen Namkhai, he  learned to play the piano when he arrived in the West in order to remember and transcribe as many traditional Tibetan songs as possible. An eminent scholar and incarnate Lama of extraordinary range, Choegyal Namkhai Norbu has done more than any other Tibetan to revitalize interest in the origins of Tibetan culture through historical works which communicate Tibet's place in the long continuum of civilizations and its treasury of knowledge relevant to the modern world. His speciality is the pre-Buddhist culture of Tibet as an ancient civilization with its own written language and culture. These works are written both in Tibetan and English, the language he mainly teaches in today. 

Americans perception of the country Tibet has undergone dramatic changes over the past few decades. Today His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a household word and his face known to millions of Westerners. This is largely in response to the development of Tibetan Buddhism in the west as well as many Tibetan communities now in the US where there is a strong allegiance to maintaining their cultural identity. Twenty years ago one could find only a handful of translation of Tibetan works. Today thousands of books are published which cover the whole cornucopia of Tibetan knowledge which was preserved for centuries. .  

Where once anything Tibetan was considered esoteric and mysterious --the stuff of Hollywood's Shangri La, Today Tibetan studies flourishes world-wide in academia and in film, Op-eds n Newspapers and the media routinely cover news from Tibet. Yet for Choegyal Namkhai Norbu this is not enough to save his culture. His greatest hope is that one morning the world, especially China, will "wake up and hear the birds singing"--so that the Tibetan people can preserve their language and heritage with freedom and dignity.  The medium for this message is not political agendas but the universal appeal of song and dancing. 

For further information about The International Dzogchen Community's program in contemporary Tibetan song and dance, visit the following site: Harmony in the Space

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

MY Annual Losar Poem for Year of the Wood Horse

Wood Horse Drawing by Bepe Goia

Wood Horse Drawing by Bepe Goia

Mount the good steed of Windhorse
One-pointed on your journey eschewing
delays and obstacles debunked
Bearing the victory banner
Far from the confines of conventional mind.
Great strides, ablaze you shine a light
Through dark days for all.
Kindle your heart’s desire, hit the mark of one taste
Galloping through forests of greenery potential
Aflame with unending energy
That will lead you to where you want to go.
Let’s celebrate our good fortune!
Let’s sing and dance!
Let’s forgive one another!
Let (‘s) Go!
Jacqueline Gens
Tsegyalgar East

Reprinted from the Mirror, International Newspaper of the Dzogchen Community

Friday, January 10, 2014

NEW Contemplative Poetry Course with Jacqueline Gens

JACQUELINE GENS  will facilitate a weekly Contemplative Poetry Course beginning following Tibetan New Year/Losar in early March. Venue TBA in Turners Falls depending on number of participants. Limited to 6. Fee is a sliding scale of $7-$15 per class which includes weekly handouts or bay arrangement. 

Many people around the globe requested to join the online course so i am setting this up as well as visiting a very nice local venue for the in person class at a nearby retreat center. 

Please review my Update shortly with instructions how to join the class.  In the meantime here is some basic information:

Contemplative Course Objective: The main purpose of the course is to cultivate non-conceptual approachs to one’s writing free from crippling judgements by increasing one's capacity to access poetrymind directly with confidence and authentic voice while also honing one’s craft. Together the class will examine master poems in Western poetics and sacred world literatures while applying various techniques to stimulate our own work to share in class or online, not necessarily critique. The emphasis here is on process as a mind training rather than result in order to broaden our vocabulary of meanings in our writing.

The primary text will be Allen Gisnberg's The Mind Writing Slogans* and Ron Padgett's Handbook of Poetic Forms along with weekly handouts prepared by the instructor from resources collected over decades including a rare audio archive. Occasional visiting poet friends, literary scholars, artists, yoga instructors or meditation instructors will join the class either in person or through skype to enhance our writing. The class is designed for both beginners ( eager to learn) and advanced  writers in need of refreshing their practice through new approaches. 

Instructor: Jacqueline Gens MFA and MAT has worked with poets for over 30 years from Naropa’s famed Jack Kerouac School to the New England College MFA program she co-founded in 2001 with Chard deNiord and directed until retirement in 2012. She now focuses on her own projects. 

For many years, she worked for the late poet Allen Ginsberg  both at Naropa and in his NYC office where she served as office manager, photo archivist, and personal assistant.  Her archive of hundreds of personal letters from the late poet during the years of her employment/training with him are located in the Wilson Library of the University of North Carolina. She is a long time practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and  student of  Chogyam Trungpa, Lama Tsultrim Allione  and Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Recently she founded the Khandroling Paper Cooperative which specializes in making handmade paper from recycled sacred texts and sacred substances for calligraphy and other purposes.. She lives in Turners Falls, MA.

My Commentary on the Mind Writing Slogans

In the late 1980's, Allen began to formulate and teach his MInd Writing Slogans, a three-part series of dharma slogans relating to the craft of writing from the perspective of First Thought, Best Thought. These slogans are divided into the traditional Buddhist tripartite of ground, path, and fruition and modeled on Atisha's famous slogans for training the mind in compassion and selflessness.

Ginsberg first began to compile these slogans in his list poem "Cosmopolitan Greetings," a primarily political/literary manifesto of his aesthetic.

Cosmopolitan Greetings

Stand up against governments, against God.
Stay irresponsible.
Say only what we know & imagine.
Absolutes are Coercion.
Change is absolute.
Ordinary mind includes eternal perceptions.
Observe what’s vivid.
Notice what you notice.
Catch yourself thinking.
Vividness is self-selecting.
If we don’t show anyone, we’re free to write anything.
Remember the future.
Freedom costs little in the U.S.
Asvise only myself.
Don’t drink yourself to death.
Two molecules clanking us against each other require an observer to become
scientific data.
The measuring instrument determines the appearance of the phenomenal
world (after Einstein).
The universe is subjective..
Walt Whitman celebrated Person.
We are observer, measuring instrument, eye, subject, Person.
Universe is Person.
Inside skull is vast as outside skull.
What’s in between thoughts?
Mind is outer space.
What do we say to ourselves in bed at night, making no sound?
“First thought, best thought.”
Mind is shapely, Art is shapely.
Maximum information, minimum number of syllables.
Syntax condensed, sound is solid.
Intense fragments of spoken idiom, best.
Move with rhythm, roll with vowels.
Consonants around vowels make sense.
Savor vowels, appreciate consonants.
Subject is known by what she sees.
Others can measure their vision by what we see.
Candor ends paranoia.

Allen Ginsberg

During the period that I worked for Allen in his NYC office (1989-1994), the Mind Writing Slogans underwent considerable expansion growing to 84 sloganS. His dates of composition are indicated as: Naropa Institute, July 1992; New York, March 5, 1993; and New York, June 27, 1993. Towards the end of his life, Allen was in the process of creating an anthology of writing to go with each slogan.

The slogans were deeply influenced by Chogyam Trungpa's personal training in perception encapsulated by the now famous, First thought, Best Thought, a collaborative designation between Ginsberg & Trungpa, loosely based on Blake's phrase, "First Thought is Best in Art, Second in Other Matters." The slogans are drawn from a variety of literary and dharma sources following the Buddhist three part logic of moving in part I-- the ground, from situation or primary perception, to part II--the path method or recognition of the situation/perception, to Part III--fruition/result or as Ginsberg defines it, appreciation. In their totality, the logic of the mind writing slogans is a training in how to perceive the world clearly, write from this vantage, and arrive at a final work. They are also useful in terms of just ordinary mind, whether one writes or not.

What is Contemplative Poetry?

Naturally, this is a relative approach-- less spiritual in a traditional sense and more in alignment with natural mind. What I try to do in this course is to encourage writers to trust in their initial perceptions/sounds/myths as seeds (syllables) that might arise through open mind to manifest in full blown work. As many poets have noted, the poem often writes itself. To cultivate this process, we work together to discover authentic voice in the context of a "kitchen cadence" like old friends, family, and comrades confiding our homegrown speech and intimate cadences of voice around the kitchen table or hearth --an urge, as old as grass. 

If you are interested in this class contact Jacqueline:

Jacqueline Gens

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Precursor to The Butler

A few years ago at the AWP Conference held in Washington D.C. I experienced a "Sighting" so vivid I wrote a poem about it. At the time, I understood that domestics must have played an important role in the social life of the capitol.

Domestic Sighting

Summoned at dawn
In search of Starbucks
At the Omni Shoreham
in Washington DC
I take the other elevator
Leading to the basement
Into a dead space I see
A legion of grey-clad maids
With frilly aprons and long skirts
Descend down the stairs opposite me
to the Palladian room with crystal chandelier
I’m curious who these Black ladies are
Some crippled gripping the railing 
Their bodies ample and tangible
In crisp attire of formality
Their faces glowing

Only later do I ask myself what are they doing 
Then and there, in uniforms of another era
as they congregate in the large empty ballroom
at 6:00 AM