Friday, October 14, 2005

from Suzuki Roshi's article "Zen in the Modern World"

"Those of you who wish to discipline yourself in Buddha's Dharma must seek true understanding. When this understanding is attained you will not be defiled by birth and death. Whether walking or standing still you will be your own master. Even when you are not trying to achieve something extraordinary, it will come to you all by itself....

Do you know where the disease lies which keeps you learners form reaching true understanding? It lies where you have no faith in your Self. When faith in your Self is lacking you find yourselves hurried by others in every possible way. At every encounter you are no longer your master; you are driven about by others this way or that.

All that is required is all at once to cease leaving your Self in search of something external. When this is done you find your Self no different form the Buddha or the patriarch.

Do you want to know who the Buddha or patriarch is? He is no other than the one who is, at this moment, right in front of me, listening to my talk on the Dharma. You have no faith in him and therefore you are in quest of someone else somewhere outside. And what will you find? Nothing but words and names, however excellent. You will never reach the moving spirit in the Buddha or patriarch. Make no mistake."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"Composed on the Tongue" Letterpress Workshop

"Composed on the Tongue"
An Experimental Letterpress Printing Workshop

Jacqueline Gens will teach a six-week introductory letterpress printing workshop at Great River Arts Institute in Bellows Falls, Tuesday evenings 6:30-9:00 PM beginning October 4-November 8. Although open to everyone, the course will address the interests of writers, especially poets.

The class will explore various formats using metal or wood type for executing literary compositions into hand-printed broadsides, accordian books, postcards, chapbooks, or simple portfolios. We will also experiment with various writing
techniques suited to spontaneous composition with metal and wood type such as haiku, Tibetan doha, slogans, and cut-up methods. Printmakers can experiment with creating text to accompany their plates or to make direct impressions on prints and monotypes. At the conclusion of the six week program, participants should feel comfortable working on their own.

Letterpress printing, the primary printing technology for over 500 years, while no longer used in commercial printing, today is widely appreciated as an elegant method for creating handmade books and fine arts editions.

The aim of this class is to cultivate a lively exploration of letterpress techniques. No artistic or literary background is
necessary. Open to begininers and advanced alike.

Great Rivers Arts Institute's printshop includes a Vandercook Universal I, a large selection of metal type and ornaments, some wood type and all necessary tools for setting and printing metal type.

Cost for the program including materials fees: $200
Limited to 6 people. To register, please contact the Great River Arts at 802.463.3330
Contact me for the next scheduled workshop at

Jacqueline Gens has an MFA in poetry from New England College. She has
studied letterpress printing at the Book Arts Center in New York,
The Great River Arts Institute in Walpole, NH and at the Wisconsin
Center for Book and Paper Arts over the past decade.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Meditation on New Orleans and the Aftermath of Katrina

A few years ago I visited New Orleans for the annual AWP Conference. Hosted by a young gay couple living near the canal, I saw a great deal of the city that so captivated me; I was ready to move there in a heartbeat. Since then, New Orleans has entered my poems and stimulated me to reimagine my place in that great port. Driving aimlessly through its neighborhoods back in March 2002, I keenly felt the energy of its bold citizenry and the intense drala of the elements converging at the mouth of the Mississippi with a peculiar sense of recognition. Somewhere in my mindstream, New Orleans was once home. That much I am certain of.

The aftermath of Katrina fully discloses the beauty and terror of that city. Ever a charnel ground of life and death played out in full force for centuries, New Orleans will rise again in all its vivid display. Today, its suffering marks a transition in the American psyche where the citizens have truly toppled the doublespeak of politicians, the elements reared their monstrous heads in roiling outrage over environmental destruction and the world stopped a few seconds to contemplate the reality of life and death played out moment by moment.

We will never be the same but New Orleans will remain a timeless place, a rare flower of racial and cultural mingling celebrating the best and worst of humanity as free as the wild parrots who once graced that great city. My heart goes out to you people of New Orleans, brothers and sisters forever...

Jacqueline Gens

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Visiting Tzintsunzan

[Photo of the Growing Christ at Tzintsunzan]

Visiting Tzintsunzan

for Tsultrim Allione

"Rely, not on the Nethartha (indirect meaning/language) but on
Nithartha (direct menaing/experience)," the Buddha said.

The place where fire ends, marked in bronze, said gods
attained the human realm outside the village of Tzinsunzan.

It's just a minor ediface, in a field of megaliths along Lake Patzcuaro,
where Perepecha still cast handmade nets from dug-out canoes.

The place where fire ends rises as light in absence of struggle
from "Conque asi es la famosa civilizacion Humana"

painted on a scroll in the small dog's mouth on another church wall,
now turned library dedicated to Gertrude Botenegra and Mexico.

But here in Tzinsunzan where the growing Christ
lies encased in glass with a toy fire engine swathed next

to his body-- dust motes move toward the sun.
A simple AH, that's all there is, you once said.

Patzcuaro, Mexico

Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche (1931- 2005)

A Personal Tribute to Ven. Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche (1931- 2005)

I first met Dr. Trogawa in 1989 through the NY Shambhala Center which had invited him to teach for a week and see patients. Having recently moved to New York from Boulder, Colorado, I was asked to help coordinate his visit. On the eve of his arrival, the other coordinator unexpectedly had to travel to visit her dying father and I was left alone to coordinate his visit. I spent many weeks in his clinic helping out and cooking in a marathon of hard labor. Over the years, I saw him and here or there often spending time in his household, which tended to be at John Giorno’s wonderful loft on the Bowery in New York City. Poet, Allen Ginsberg was on his Chakpori board of directors along with Sir James George and other interesting people like John, and Shakya Dorje. Once, I spent a week in Boulder at the invitation of one of his students, Dr. Phil Weber, to cook for the doctor there. In addition to being a great lama and physician, I found him an interesting man in his observations about Western life with a subtle but wicked sense of humor. He had his quirks which always endeared me to him. One never knew what kind of odd ingredient he would request for his medicine preparations. He was my first real introduction to undiluted Tibetan culture. I will always hold him in high esteem.

A rarefied and aristocratic lama, I was impressed by Dr. Trogawa's uncompromising dedication to his vocation as a physician and the contrast of his sensitive nature in relation to the grittiness of dealing with so much human illness and suffering, Over the years, I observed him with hundreds of patients, many terminal. There is no doubt in my mind that he brought a healing presence to so many people, including myself. Although he was an incarnate lama, his path was different than most because his primary vocation was that of a physician. From morning to night he would see patients. He forwent many things by maintaining his own personal practice life in the midst of this kind of busy schedule. He worked really hard on behalf of others. Given his somewhat frail constitution, this always seemed so telling of his dedication. In this respect, he was something of a “Hidden” yogin—working by day, and practicing all the time. Like any great lama he was able to transmit the essence of the teachings with the slightest gesture, word or nuance of feeling. I consider him among my principle teachers—someone who
delivered me from grossest ignorance so that I could continue on the path.

Ven. Dr. Trogawa, Rinpoche was born in 1931 into a noble family in Thro Thralung, near Gyangtse, in the province of Tsang, in west-central Tibet. His father was an important officer in the Tibetan government. As child he was identified as the tulku of a Buddhist master and physician. Later, at the age of sixteen, he was sent to Lhasa to study medicine under the great physician Nyerongsha Rigzin Lhundrub Paljor who was a successor to the lineage of the Chagpori monastic school of medicine and a widely famed physician. He had at that time his own clinic, medicine production facility and apprenticeship program. Ven.Dr.Trogawa, Rinpoche studied with him for nine years, and became accomplished in all aspects of Tibetan Medicine becoming one of his master's principle successors. As an incarnate lama, he also studied and practiced the Buddhist path in depth during this time,

In 1957 Dr. Trogawa moved to Sikkim (then an Indian protectorate) in the company of the great Buddhist Master, Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. After his master's passing in 1961 he moved to Darjeeling, in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, where he lived and practiced. After the fall of Tibet, he was one of the last masters free to teach and practice Tibetan Medicine. In 1963, he was appointed chief medical teacher at the Tibetan School of Medicine and Astrology, in Dharamsala, India, the institute directed by H.H.Dalai Lama. After some years at this school he left for health reasons, and then spent a number of years in retreat in the forests of Bhutan, periodically emerging to treat patients. He returned to Darjeeling in the 70's, where he lived and practiced until the present. Choegyal Namkhai Norbu invited him to the First International Conference on Tibetan Medicine at Merigar in 1983. Since that time, he taught at various conferences and dharma centers including the Dzogchen Community throughout the world. In 1994 he founded the Chagpori Institute of Tibetan Medicine to propagate his lineage of medicine. Dr.Trogawa. Rinpoche is considered one of the pre-eminent masters of Tibetan Medicine.*

Because of him, I believe in the efficacy of Tibetan medicine, its genius as an indigenous healing art infused with the noble view of Buddhism. He was a true manifestation of the medicine Buddha and the power of compassion as the basis for healing. With him there were no hopeless cases. With his passing, we have lost another link between old Tibet and the present. It was a great privilege to spend the time I did with him. So many memories flood my mind at this time—passing remarks, dreams, fragments of inner experiences in his midst, the simple elegance of his presence, and the subtly of his mind. I wish him well on his journey from this realm to another where no doubt he will continue his ministry to the suffering of beings

*biographical details were extracted from the website of Shakya Doirje at

Jacqueline Gens
May 15, 2005

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Nazim Hikmet

My friend Barbara sent me this poem inspired by Nazim Hikmet which reminds me of a Neruda or Akhmatova poem.


by Barbara Paparrazo

It’s November, the boiler runs in the basement,
a low subliminal roar, the din of a fever,
like the great furnace of war grinding
its mill wheel somewhere, anywhere,
to feed the maws of power and greed.
I live far from the capitol but the gears
of empire are turning, mashing,
the clamor closer, louder.
O Nazim, where did you get your courage?
Imprisoned, you sang all the Turkish songs
at the top of your lungs – love ditties,
peasant ballads, even your own poems.
You knew walls were nothing,
chains were nothing,
and when a seamless white robe of a 14th century Sheik
appeared one night at your barred window in 1936,
you slipped through the iron grate
like a stream of water,
singing,the sound of a river
pouring from its source.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Poetrymind at Work!


Like the radiator that sits

in the kitchen passing gas;

like the mop with its head

on the floor, weeping;

or the poinsettia that pretends

its leaves are flowers;

the cheap paint peels

off the steamed walls.

When you have nothing to say,

the sadness of things

speaks for you,

-Ruth Stone from "In the Dark" (2004)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Wilderness of Mirrors

from NYT 4/17/05 magazine article “Agent Provocator”

--"How do I know that you are not lying to me now?
--"You don't know. I've lied for a living. This is what we call the "Wilderness of Mirrors"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hymn to Vajrayogini

Primo Pensiero

I've seen you in capitals and side streets
of Mexican border towns, in back woods and tawdry carnivals

your black eyes peering out from beneath creased brown
faces following mine, to stop mind's chatter.

You are the bow and arrow dangling mid-space Presenting one shot
with aspirated HA --The vision I saw at Apple Hill 30 years ago!

I heard your approach just around the corner, a commotion
or slight hissing in New York City, where I last sighted you

dancing in the green market loping your body
to the rhythms of little Andean men moving feet in unison

your kind of tune--strings scratching to the sky,
a bit off key. With arms uplifted, you swelled with drunken steps.

I've seen you the odd one out, the one who speaks up,
whose silence deafens, who displeases through just being--

"Unwanted intoxicated female disturbing the peace,"
according to local police logs.

Your little crook'd finger leads me on, the sound of your bone
ornaments in the distance arouses me, your gait

spans continents and thunderous approach quickens my blood..
I 'll gladly drink from your kapala. any day.

I beg you to pierce my pride with your katvanga.
In olden times, I would burn, left out on a mountainside at birth,

whipped, subdued, or crushed. But I was rescued
through knowledge of you.

You summon all elements: rivers, oceans, mountains,
sky and winds to arrive at the Lava source,

swirling cauldron of prima materia
To pass through the cosmic cunt, the cervix of becoming.

Jacqueline Gens

"A Loose Cannon"

Reprinted from the LA Times 4/24/05

Does Writing Change Anything?

By Salman Rushdie

A butterfly flaps its wings in India, and we feel the breeze on our cheeks here in New York. A throat is cleared somewhere in Africa and in California there's an answering cough. Everything that happens affects something else, so to answer "yes" to the question before us is not to make a large claim. Books come into the world, and the world is not what it was before those books came into it. The same can be said of babies or diseases.

Books, since we are speaking of books, come into the world and change the lives of their authors for good or ill, and sometimes change the lives of their readers too. This change in the reader is a rare event. Mostly we read books and set them aside, or hurl them from us with great force, and pass on. Yet sometimes there is a small residue that has an effect. The reason for this is the always unexpected and unpredictable intervention of that rare and sneaky phenomenon, love. One may read and like or admire or respect a book and yet remain entirely unchanged by its contents, but love gets under one's guard and shakes things up, for such is its sneaky nature. When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours— they become ours.

Love does this, hate does not. To hate a book is only to confirm to oneself what one already knows, or thinks one knows. But the power of books to inspire both love and hate is an indication of their ability to make alterations in the fabric of what is.

Writing names the world, and the power of description should not be underestimated. Literature remembers its religious origins, and some of those first stories of sky gods and sea gods not only became the source of an ocean of stories that flowed from them but also served as the foundations of the world into which they, the myths, were born. There would have been little blood sacrifice in Latin America or ancient Greece if it had not been for the gods. Iphigenia would have lived, and Clytemnestra would have had no need to murder Agamemnon, and the entire story of the House of Atreus would have been different; bad for the history of the theater, no doubt, but good in many ways for the family concerned.

Writing invented the gods and was a game the gods themselves played, and the consequences of that writing, holy writ, are still working themselves out today, which just shows that the demonstrable fictionality of fiction does nothing to lessen its power, especially if you call it the truth. But writing broke away from the gods, and in that rupture much of its power was lost. Prophecy is no longer the game, except for futurologists, but then futurology is fiction too. It can be defined as the art of being wrong about the future. For the rest of us, the proper study of mankind is Man. We have no priests; we can appeal to no ultimate arbiter, though there are critics among us who would claim such a role for themselves.

In spite of this, fiction does retain the occasional surprising ability to initiate social change. Here is the fugitive slave Eliza running from Simon Legree. Here is Wackford Squeers, savage head of Dotheboys Hall. Here is Oliver Twist asking for more. Here is a boy wizard with a lightning scar on his forehead, bringing books back into the lives of a generation that was forgetting how to read. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" changed attitudes toward slavery, and Charles Dickens' portraits of child poverty inspired legal reforms, and J.K. Rowling changed the culture of childhood, making millions of boys and girls look forward to 800-page novels, and improbably popularizing vibrating broomsticks and boarding schools. On the opening night of "Death of a Salesman," the head of Gimbel's department store rushed from the theater vowing not to fire his own aging Willy Lomans.

In this age of information overkill, literature can still bring the human news, the hearts-and-minds news. The poetry of Milosz and Herbert and Szymborska and Zagajewski has done much to create the consciousness, to say nothing of the conscience, of those great poets' time and place. The same may be said of Heaney, Brodsky, Walcott. Nuruddin Farah, so long an exile from Somalia, has carried Somalia in his heart these many years and written it into being, brought into the world's sight that Somalia to which the world might otherwise have remained blind. From China, from Japan, from Cuba, from Iran, literature brings information, the base metal of information, transmuted into the gold of art, and our knowledge of the world is forever altered by such transformational alchemy.

[Last week we honored] the memory of Susan Sontag and Arthur Miller, great writers, intellectuals and truth-tellers. The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still an idea worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it's a truth that's in hock to nobody; it's a single artist's unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it's incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book's truth is slightly different in each reader's different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader's imagination; and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can't. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.

Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.

Salman Rushdie, the author of nine novels, including the forthcoming "Shalimar the Clown," is president of PEN American Center. He gave this speech April 18 at the PEN World Voices Conference: "The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything?"

Monday, April 25, 2005

Dhondup Gyal: Tibet's First Modern Poet

Dhondup Gyal is considered the first modern Tibetan poet breaking through traditional Tibetan formalist elements. On the page, his verse appears almost projective. He began publishing in the 1980''s. Sad to say, he committed suicide in 1985. The two works published before his death are-"Dawn Pillow Writing" ('bol-rtsom zhogs-pa'i skya-rengs) and "History and Specificity of the Tibetan Tradition of Narrative Song" (mgyur-glu'i lo-rgyus dang kyed-chos). Note: I'm really interested in his scholarly work --if anyone knows how to get a copy in Tibetan or is working on the English, please contact me. Probably more recent publications such as Amnye Machen Institute's are available in Tibetan as well as Chinese editions. His most famous poem is "The Torrents or Youth" or, as in this case, "The Waterfall of Youth" published in English in "New Writing from Tibet; Song of the Snow Lion" edited by Frank Stewart-part of "Manoa's" series from Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. I’ve printed it here as is.

In the mid- 1990’s, poet Allen Ginsberg asked me to contact Pen Club to see if there were any contemporary Tibetan poets. I called around and asked if there were any secular Tibetan poets writing but didn't get very far. Since then I've discovered numerous Tibetan writers inside Tibet and in exile through web searches and obscure footnotes. If anyone would like to work on some translations of these works, please contact me. Many of these new works can be found in the Tibetan journal "Light Rain" or (sbrang char) which can be found at the Latse Library of Contemporary Tibetan Culture in NYC.

(Please note --I could not preserve the formatting which is quite interesting)

Waterfall of Youth
by Dhondup Gyal
Translated by Tsering Shakya

The clear blue sky,
The warmth of the sun,
The fragrant flowers,
The majestic mountains--

Ai ma!

But even more beautiful than these
a cascading waterfall
before a steep cliff,


Brilliant rays, pure white, spread like a
peacock's feathers,
parrot's plumage
patterns on silk brocade,


The sound of the gushing water, clear and pleasing,
The music of the angels,
unblemished melody,
music of the gods.
pure in origin,


This is not an ordinary waterfall---
It possesses a majestic quality,
a fearless heart
incomparable in its pride,
a strong body
adorned in the finest jewels,
most melodious music,


The torrential waterfall,
The glorious young people of the Land of Snows,


In the year 1980,
the heartfelt power and creativity of the youth of Bo
The dignifying struggle
the music of youthfulness.

Kyi! Kyi!

Youthful waterfall
waterfall of youth

Where did you obtain
the fearless heart,
immeasurable confidence unbending pride limiteless strength?


The rainfall during the months of spring,
the new growth during three months of summer
the nourishment of hail and storm during the three months of autumn
the ice and snow during three months of winter,

And more!

Water from the snowy mountains and meadows, valleys, ravines,

In short!

Water of auspiciousness,
water of prosperity,
water of fulfillment,
water of perfection,
possessing the Eight Purities of Water,

The hundreds and thousands different qualities of water,

You are the water of friendship,
daring to leap from the ferocious cliff--
You are the water of the universe,
Courageously leaping into the valley below,
Proud to take on what's new

You have an open mind, strong body, and majestic appearance,
without arrogance or defilement,
your origins are deep,
having cast aside all impurities,
you have an unblemished mind, are slender in your youthfulness,


You are witness to history,
the way of the future--
the breathing and lifting of the snow land are written
on every droplet,
the rise and development of the Land of Snows
shine in each of your rays,

Without you!

Where can we whet the sword of language?
Where can we sharpen the sword of our skills,

Without you!

The tree of medicine cannot bloom,
philosophy and Buddhism will not bear fruit,


Lingering in your crystal mind
may be wounds of history,
scars of old battles fought,
lesions of ignorance,
the clotting of conservatism--
these are not possible,

The reason is!

You possess pride, majesty, and strength of youth,
will never let the winter ice stop you or
numb your mind---
a hundred slashes from a wrathful sword
can not halt your flow,

The reason is!

The waterfall's source lies in the deep snows,
its end is joined with the vast ocean--
your history is long,
it generates pride and dignity,
how melodious your chorus of time,
our inspiration and potency,

Have you heard? Waterfall!

The questions of the youth of the land of the snows,

How can you let a poet's house suffer from thirst?
How can you let composition's elephant suffer from heat?
How can you let metaphor's snow lion be covered in dirt?
How can you not nurture the orphan of dance and music?

Who will preserve the heritage of astrology?
Who will welcome the groom of science?
Who will wed the bride of technology?

Alas! Waterfall!

Your clear, bright and harmonious answers will reach our ears,
they are incised in our minds as a carving on rock,

In truth!

The thousand brilliant accomplishments of the past
Cannot serve today's purpose,
yesterday's salty water cannot quench today's thirsts,
the withered body of history is lifeless
without the soul of today,
the pulse of progress will not beat,
the blood of progress will not flow,
and a forward step cannot be taken,

Kyi! Waterfall!

Your gentle ripples,
droplets from your splashing water,

You symbolize the strength of the new generation of the land of Snows,
your torrent and thunderous sounds,


You show the hope sof a new generation--
our generations must not tread these paths,
conservatism, barbarism, ignorance, and reactionism, these have no foundation in our land,

Waterfall! waterfall!

Our minds will follow your course,
our blood will run like yours,
in the currents of times to come,
however, the difficulty of the way,
Youth of Tibet, relinquish fear,

Our people!
A new path is opening in favor of you,


The new generation in the land of snows
we are marching to gether,


This harmonious song
is the anthem of the youth of the Land of Snows,

The bright road,
pride in understanding g
people in responsibility, joyous life,
song of struggle,

The youthful waterfall will not diminish,
Its waters will never be impure,

This is!

The waterall springs from the voices of the youth of Tibet

This is!

The waterfall flows from the mind of the youth of the Land of Snows.

Dhondup Gyal 1953-1985 "Waterfall of Youth"
Manoa - Volume 12, Number 2, 2000, pp. 9-13
University of Hawai'i Press

The translation is quite uneven but one still gets the powerful energy of the poem. I’m sure in the Tibetan there is a strong melodious element and driving rhythm.

ADDENDA: May  24, 2016

You Tube is a resource for the contemporary Tibetan Literary scene. Here is a marvelous recitation of Dhondup's poem in Lhasa dialect by students from Qinghai University. One can experience here the musicality and sonic qualities of the poem

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Wild Leeks

Wild Leeks

by Jacqueline Gens

You don’t see them at first
till you stop and look
slowly at the loose leaves
and winter debris
scattered across the forest floor.
After awhile, tufts of greenery emerge,
thousands of tender shoots ,
still too early to pick.
This is the method I learned from Yettie--
Sephardic Jew from Salonika--
once my neighbor on Packers Corner Road.
To gather morrels one year, we sat on
the ground until we noticed our field of vision
shifting to nascent specks of white.
She's here because of her grandfather's second sight
reading in tea leaves that things
were not as they seemed.
They left the dinner table, food half eaten,
for distant Aegean Isles surviving the war
because of his divinations.
The real miracle-- year after year
the leeks grow only in this one place.
Each spring, I try to remember
Their irony taste, drawn from deep humus,
decayed pine, juniper, crushed maple leaves,
moss, and rotted wood--
Often, I forget the wild leeks of Keats Brook Road
I can't remember how we ended up
in this New England neighborhood—
my mother, Olga (like Yettie), worlds from her native Shanghai
where bombs fell, first from Japanese then American planes
as she rode her bicycle through the city
to collect bread rations from the Jewish ghetto.
Her heroic stories our dinner conversation for decades—
We knew that daily ride through fear: sounds, smells,
her chronic hunger, the blown up bits of pregnant women and children
"It’s the shrapnel that kills you, you know, not the bombs."
We allowed her the telling over and over
surrounded by her collection of Americana.
She’s here in the woods now
buried over the hill on Carpenter Road,
Some years, I do remember the harvest
of wild leeks with their bitter vitality,
my mind a continuity of pungent smells and thoughts:
family, friends, survival, the old world still here
growing on a hillside in Vermont each year---
regardless if we live or die,
holding forth as though eternal
in a wild assembly of tenderness.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

IO & others

Some recent spring poems


Twice, I imagined her name called, once
when my lover came to visit, and then again,
in the root cellar where I strained in the dark
to listen among potatoes and onions.

Twice daily, I called out to her-- I O
toward the back pasture from which she came running
to enter the barn and charge into her stanchen
awaiting hay, and that greater reward, grain.

I squatted on a three-legged stool
tipping forward, my face pressed into her Jersey flank,
right forearm barring her feisty kicks
while I massaged hard udders to let down her milk.

Each time I heard or said her name,
I thought of that other cow driven insane
by furies when thoughts assailed my mind of L.
making me crazy--

Until a tension released itself through her milk’s flow
as I grasped two tits and the warm stream
poured out into the stainless steel bucket
and we both came into Egypt-- I, out of despair.


The Lilac Thief

This year I looked for lilacs
off the beaten track
in yards no longer tended –
It's in those forgotten places,
abandoned lots littered with debris,
broken shards and plastic bottles,
I find the deeper purple of old bushes--
their crushed bloomets falling into my arms
I snap from gnarled branches, the night already moist.
No one notices their heritage
plumage mingled with the weeds of choke
grass and mulberry stands grown unruly--
except for the local lilac thief,
that one, who stops to follow
the scent of unseen blossoms.


Nearing Summer Solstice

At Tires for Less on Route Nine
while waiting to exchange snow studs
for all season tires past the April deadline
--vehicle housekeeping--
A young skin head
with spider web surrounding his naked
elbow, strips each lug
which hits the floor as he moves on his haunches,
feral menace with a drill bit.
I pace the pavement
looking down at the Connecticut River.
At the edge of blacktop next to a field of low
lying wildflowers and scrub brush,
broken glass and butts. Two
monarchs catch my attention, then flecks
of orange move among purple cones,
a different butterfly, with fur edges.
This day is long and suddenly I have time
to wonder how it is they know to convene
in this dump by the hundreds--
oblivious of trucks and cars speeding past,
their movements counterpoint
to my noisy irritation, calmed a moment
until spider boy calls me over.

Jacqueline Gens

Revisiting Frank O'Hara's "To the Harbormaster"

To the Harbormaster

I wanted to be sure to reach you
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

(O'Hara, 217)

Frank O'Hara's poem "To the Harbormaster" was among the first poems I read as a teenager growing up in New York, then newly enamored of poetry. I happened upon it in the New York Times as part of his obituary in 1967. I had already read Keats, Rimbaud, and Ginsberg but this poem deeply stirred me unlike any other. For years, I remained haunted by the poem's heartbreak and courageous tenor, the authenticity of its feeling tone with its underscore of trieste but with verve. Before search engines on the Internet, I looked for this poem for decades-- it remaining but a half-realized memory from a chance newspaper encounter, the obituary long discarded and the poem too.
Some 37 years later, I remain equally affected by O'Hara's honest declaration of sadness and wisdom.

At its heart, "To the Harbormaster" serves as an apology for the perceived imperfections of mortal life and one's own limitations. Ginsberg in his introduction to "Howl" refers to the "secret or hermetic tradition of art 'justifying' or 'making up' for defeat in worldly life, to the acknowledgement of an "Unworldly love/That has no hope/Of the world/And that/Cannot change the world /To its delight--" (William Carlos Williams from "Rain")" Ginsberg further likens this compensation to the "imagination of art to reveal our deepest natural ground": love, hopeless yet permanently present to the heart, unalterable." (Ginsberg ix )

For Ginsberg, this strategy is played out through filial loyalty to his mother's mental distress and his poetics of empathy radiating out from his sense of sacramental relationships. For Keats, one sees a different strategy, for instance, in "Ode to a Grecian Urn." Who can not remember those words--beauty is truth, truth beauty? For Keats, the beauty of art is but the foster-child of silence and slow time and yet, that is all there is --the truth of our human condition.

O'Hara in "To the Harbormaster" achieves his justification of art compensating for life, primarily by means of the extended metaphor the speaker uses in addressing the Harbormaster while equating himself with the vessel with the emphasis on body = boat, the sea as life and journey, and the waves as a force of nature driving the vessel but also hindering its final arriving. It does not really matter who the Harbormaster is--God, a Lover, the lover as god, the Muse? For O'Hara, the Harbormaster is simply that omniscient presence overseeing the forces of life and death--not the navigator of these realities. This poem is about the journey itself which the speaker knows, like Keats, is already enroute for untimely death or lack of fulfillment. This knowledge is not philosophically abstract or adolescent but keenly, almost humorously, assented to. The speaker, after all, is "hard alee with my Polish rudder/in my hand" going head-on--"toward the sinking sun." toward the harbor, the shore where he is not yet arrived. Although self-deprecating in his apology (I am unable/to understand the forms of my vanity), this speaker is living life to the fullest while he can. Those lines, "hard alee with my Polish rudder/in my hand" are among the sexiest ever written with a candor almost unrivalled. Here the speaker's courage leaps out at one with the word "alee" with its onomatopoetic resonance with glee, his sheer joy in the face of inexorable mortality. One thinks, too, of the rudder as the vessel's innate energetics, the life force of the speaker, not just his libido/cock of which the imagery so graphically suggests. He may also be referring to his creative impulses, not just the more obvious allusion to sex. What is clear here is that the speaker contains a high degree of certainty in his own self-assessment although he is less clear about his destination and the Harbormaster, be that presence lover, muse or the most unlikely--deity.

O'Hara employs a brilliant technical strategy in his irregular metrical scheme alternating at times between tetrameter and pentameter lines which seem to mirror the broken vessel in troubled waters but still buoyed up by the steady, at times, majestic gait of the poem's tempo.

I want/ed to be /sure to /reach you
though my /ship was/ on the /way it /got caught

The poem simply does not scan well and this serves a purpose because the theme of the poem is really about how various forces, both inner and outer, disrupt the voyage of the boat.

The poem's almost total lack of end stops (only 3 out of 17 lines) often proceeded by a caesura and then followed by phyrric feet (in bold above & below) in some of the lines to follow, simulates the pitch of a boat in stormy waters (waves) --break, pitch, then diminish. In any case, whether consciously or intuitively, the lines are halting and broken metrically and this seems to mirror the rocking motion of the boat itself.

The next few lines following the opening lines cited above illustrate how the feminine endings and almost excessive passivity in the language contributes to the tone of self-reflection and egolessness in the face of some larger oceanic feeling:

in some moorings, I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable

Needless to say, beginning and ending a line with "and" is not the stuff of great poems. However, O'Hara gets away with it precisely because of the clarity of the speaker's presence in the midst of so much uncertainty.
Another notable feature of this poem is that O'Hara chooses not to break the
poem into stanzas, a more likely strategy given the three or four distinct statements. Instead, O'Hara merges these distinct thoughts into one another which serves to build up a well-spring of feeling--primarily of sadness culminating in the emotional arc of the poem in the speaker's humble offering, "To /you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage of my will.

The choice of the word, "cordage" in line 10, of course, is reminiscent of Hart Crane whom O'Hara must have held in great sympathy. This line is an exquisite figurative declaration of the speaker's real intent in this poem. The journey may be disrupted continually through the speaker's own lack of will, his distractions and forces beyond his control, yet he is unencumbered in his offering of his imperfect body (hull) and soul (will). This is like a marriage vow to one's beloved. Thus, "To the Harbormaster" is a poem tinged with the arrows of Eros, of an unrequited love, although we do not have any such information beyond the speaker's offering to the anonymous but present harbormaster.

Unlike many O'Hara poems, "To the Harbormaster" does not exhibit the bon vivant hedonism or camp observations of a removed spectator but deep emotional involvement shaped by the extended metaphor which does indeed serve to "carry" forth (like a boat) the speaker's poignant sensibility. What saves this poem from out right sentimentality is the speaker's innate wisdom of acceptance and bold honesty:
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

The extended metaphor finds its final release in the image of the waves which are an even a greater presence than the Harbormaster. The waves function as the oxygen of the poem, an elemental state of being as natural and rhythmic as breath itself. The notion of the water element as the province in which the extended metaphor takes place is paramount to understanding the essential attitude of the speaker's healthy state of mind--his "sanity." It is precisely the waves, the speaker tells us which are empowered "with the reasoning of the eternal voices" and therefore the strength of humanity. So what seems to be the overall meaning conveyed its that there simply are cycles and forces of life which have their own natural wisdom--whether in the end they disrupt our journey, as they most surely will, or not. The eternal voices are non-other than than all of us, mortal voyagers, on each our own journey back home from whence we came.

I love this poem. I wouldn't recommend it as a study in lineation or for its many weaknesses which, like the speaker himself, pale before the greater forces at work and which might have been delivered in more muscular lines. However, it is the receptive and feminine qualities of the poem's language which serve to create the calm atmosphere of acceptance underlying the speaker's artful compensation for his ship wrecked vessel:

…The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me.

These lines are ominous--especially the heavily stressed spondees jumping out so uncharacteristically and so beautifully executed --like a doomed Ophelia. Nevertheless, the speaker declares, "I trust the sanity of my vessel" as we all must too-- our bodies the ephemeral yet equally powerful counterpoint to the eternal voices of our humanity.

O'Hara, Frank, The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited Donald Allen,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995.

by Jacqueline Gens, 2005

Friday, April 15, 2005

Some Recent Insights

Pedagogical Teaching View For An Introduction To Tibetan Literature

In creating this course for the Pedagogy 2 class (Marlboro College/Spring 2005) out of my many years research into Tibetan culture and literature, I found a surprising number of pedagogical views that seem to suit the topic at hand. My own line of inquiry grows out of the basic ground that uncertainty leads to the discovery of new or perhaps one can say, fresh ways of perceiving the world and expression. This is a state of mind most poets know well. “Make it New” poet Ezra Pound, proclaimed at the dawn of the modern era. As a poet myself, daily I face the blank page in terror and discomfort awaiting that first flash of insight, seed language, or cluster of thoughts to arise. It has taken me decades to understand how important it is to allow oneself in the learning process, as in the creative, to stand in “bewilderment” as poet Fannie Howe said, and face the unknown.

Beginning this course amid a great deal of personal confusion at entering an unknown discipline for the first time, that of education, I soon found a spark to ignite my interest with D.N Perkins’ illuminating article, “Mindware and the Metacurriculum.” Perkins presents two key observations that framed my final project found in the following quotes:

Mindware does three jobs, all of which concern the observation of thought. It works to pattern, repattern, and depattern thinking.

I am an advocate of what is often called infusion—integrating teaching of new concepts in a deep and far-reaching way the subject matter instructions.

Since how mind functions happens to be the principal theme of numerous Tibetan literary works beginning with the great poet saint, Milarepa in the 10th century, I was intrigued. Perkins’ thesis that we need to know how to know better and that intelligence itself is learnable debunks the reliance on conventional measurements of determining intelligence. For as he points out, reflective intelligence offers the best target of opportunity for education because it is the most learnable of the three -neural/experiential/reflective.

In teaching Tibetan literature, one of the primary questions I ask my students is “Why Tibetan Literature? Or what does Tibetan culture have to offer Western culture at this point in history? For me, the answer is precisely in the Mindware which embodies Tibetan culture where pattern, repattern and depattern are the cornerstone to Tibetan worldview with its long inquiry into the primordial nature of mind in contrast to solidified dualistic thinking. We live in a world bifurcated by dualism—us & them, good & bad, rich and poor. Where such schisms prevail with a limited capacity for a deeper reflective thinking, as a society-- we are “stepping on the throat of our own song,” as one poet put it.

Thus, in this context, education may serve a noble cause in teaching individuals how to think and how mind functions for it is only in our ability to pattern, repattern and depattern, through acts of continuous reflection that we can meet the challenges of the 21st century. Tibetan culture, in general, has something to say to us about how a society can manifest so much wisdom with so little material goods, how the primacy of feeling stands in stark contrast to conventional mindsets. In short, Tibetan culture is a civilization passionate about mind and it might be interesting, if not useful, for us to consider what such a society might be like in terms of human development and to hear what they have to say. In the Tibetan language there are hundreds of words for mind detailing in minutiae its most subtle movements.

An infusion of properly relating to how thinking functions as part of an instructional design can only benefit an individual (and society) by providing an entrée into more creative modes of problem solving which requires stepping outside the box with keen perceptions and a mind willing to stand in bewilderment of the unknown. It is said in the Tibetan tradition that wisdom and compassion are the two wings of a bird. Without one or the other, there can be no flight. In teaching this course or any other, my intention is always to reach beyond course objectives and goals to touch the nerve of more enduring understandings. Like my subject matter itself, I find that educators can, and often do, appeal to the highest and deepest.

The primary pedagogical view point which strongly influenced how I evolved the delivery of this course, it’s syllabus, course strategies, rubrics comes from Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding By Design, particularly-- the six facets of understanding and the “backwards design” model. Here again, we stand on lofty ground as to the human potential for intelligence and wisdom beyond easy conceptual frameworks. To me, the ‘backwards model’ seems to embody a precise methodology for introducing training in reflective thinking to accompany subject matter instruction. Moreover, (according to these authors) the values of a deeper understanding can be transmitted and one’s capacity for them enlarged in how learning is processed individually and in the culture of learning itself—the classroom, whether virtual or not.

In putting together the course overview by means of the UbD template as well as the rubrics (template found at Thinking Gear), I found myself focusing on the ‘six facets of understanding’ in how I shaped the course content to enable well-rounded project oriented assignments allowing for explanation, interpretation applications, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge. Readings tend to emphasize explanation, interpretation and perspective while the project assignments lend themselves more to empathy and self-knowledge arising out of the applications required for each project.
Needless to say, I come to all this as a novice. I can now see that implementing an instructional course design means spending hundreds of hours dedicated to the task of creating a learning environment which demands presence to the learners themselves, where there is never any one answer but a multiplicity of viewpoints or applications. Where truly the teacher is as much a learner as the learner, a teacher.

Works cited or consulted:

D.N. Perkins, Mindware and the MetaCurriculum fromCreating the Future: Perspective on Education and Change ed. Dee Dickinson

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding By Design, ASCD, Alexandra, Virginia, 1998

Jon Mueller, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, especially Mueller’s Glossary

Tiffany Marra, Authentic Learning Environments

Thinking About Rubrics

Sunday, March 06, 2005

small epithet

Let us then travel together
to the realm of the real itself
Tibetan poet, Shabkar (1781-1851)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

"O Bloody Times"

Montse Kunda Palden (1408-1475?)

Little is known to Westerners about the life of Kunda Palden except that he was a lineage holder in one of the Kagyu sects. His handwritten biography is considered an interesting document, according to E. Gene Smith, who found his literary style, "graceful and his verse demonstrates a mastery of the idiom of folk poetry." Smith includes the full translation of a song about the 1434 civil war among the tribes of Utang as an example of his "exquisite poetic style." (Smith 50)

* * *

In the Tiger year (1434) when I was twenty- seven.
The phag mo gry pa troubeld times erupted.
The levies of the armies of Dbu and Gtsang
In a large sense divided Dol and Gzhung in two.
The route of March for both the great Army
And the Gtsang Army came through Ba ri rsang.

All the houses and homesteads were put to the torch;
The farming settlements were turned into cattle enclosures.
All the subservient were slaughtered on the knife;
Ordinary folk were turned into beggars.

The powerful slew and were slain by the sword;
The weak perished upon the knife of hunger;
Villager was thrashing villager. At such a time,
Ties of father and son and brother and brother were of no consequence.

Back and forth raged bitter feuds and defil ing vendettas.
No wergeld was extracted for the slaughter of men;
No pursuit was organized to follow the looted property.
Time passed in looting, banditry, and murder.

Who cared whoever wandered and strayed?
The pasturage dried up, the fields be came drying
Whatever small fortune there had been in the sun
in the center
At that time was bleeding out.

When I think of the suffering experienced
By sentient creatures at that time,
Even now the memory of it almost makes me weep.

Translated by E. Gene Smith

Oh pitious spectacle, O Bloody Times
While Lion won the battle for their den
Poor harmless lambs abide the enmity
Weep wretched man; I'll aid the tear for tear
And let our hearts and eyes, like civil war,
Be blind with tears and break o'er charged with grief.

from Henry IV, Wm Shakespeare

Friday, February 18, 2005

A Context for Tibetan "Songs of Experience"

Part II--of my essay

A Context for Tibetan "Songs of Experience"

In his introductory essay to Beneath a Single Moon, Gary Snyder points out that a culture combining meditation and poetry found in Tibet and other Buddhist countries, is "as old and as common as grass" (Snyder 110). He further indicates a logical supposition that meditation looks inward in order to discover innate luminous mind, commonly referred to in the Buddhist tradition as, the nature of mind, while poetry is a shared experience of communitas in song, language and performance of unknown ancient origins.
Great poets inevitably tap into luminous mind which experiences in nature and society a sacred world enlivened with energy, articulated in the West by Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The world is charged with the grandeur of God/ It will flame out, like shinning from shook foil." The impulse toward the discovery of luminous mind which fosters a sacred outlook on the world is neither Eastern nor Western but rather a human one outside of cultural particulars. One thinks of Keats' "straining against particles of light." On the other hand, how language finds its utterance in poetic measure, whether formally or in open formed composition with a myriad of expressions, is both a matter of cultural and individual factors.
In classical Asian cultures, such a tripartite aesthetic view could be discussed in terms of the principles of Heaven (Luminous Mind), Earth (Sacred World) and Man (Self). Specifically in Tibetan culture, this triad is found in the three-fold logic of Dharmakaya (dharma body or primordial mind), Sambogakaya (enjoyment body or speech) and Nirmanakaya (form body or body). In a non-theistic culture like Tibet, Hopkins' statement above might very well read 'The world is charged by the grandeur of dharmakaya (space).' Indeed, The 18th /19th century Tibetan poet Shabkar does just that
in his poem "A Song by a Yogin in Solitude":
Oh, enter the four features
Of dharmakaya--the Reality Essence:
Empty as space, brilliant as sun,
Transparent as mirror, sharp as eyes.

Let us travel together
to the realm of the real itself
As the discourse of philosophers
Conducted by all -knowing scholars
In the debating courtyard,
Is a melodious tune to the ear,
So too, are songs of experience
Sung in solitude by yogis
Who have entered the Great Oneness--
Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

(Jinpa & Elsner 67)

These songs represent a method to enter into the reality essence of primordial mind or luminous mind, "the realm of the real," through the songs of experience composed spontaneously by those who have already tasted the fruit of their meditation experience in the non-dual states of Mahamudra or Dzogchen--"The Great Oneness." Shabkar also says that the songs of experience are as melodious to those solitary yogins as the discourse of debating is to the philosophers found in the monasteries. Traditionally, it is said that one goes to the monastery to "study" and to the
uninhabited mountain caves to "practice." The namgyur tradition arises from the latter.
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, a contemporary yogin of the Karma Kagyu school who spent twenty-five years in retreat, currently makes extensive use of Milarepa's songs of experience in order to introduce the view of luminous mind, at times referred to as "radiant clarity" in his teachings to advanced Western students of Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, such an understanding does not come from reading a book but must be found in relation to a lineage of those who have already achieved a comprehension of this lofty view through mediation practices introduced by master teachers to their disciples. Thus, these songs may serve a didactic function to transmit knowledge/experience as well as to imbue the author with the pleasure-toned experience of creative composition so familiar to all artists. In other words, such a poetic composition is only as pleasurable as it is authentic in expressing the view of luminous mind. Often, Shabkar ends his compositions with "When I finished this song, I felt great joy." "For a Tibetan", the 14th Dalai Lama explains, "these songs of experience are not merely eloquent verses, but more importantly, they have the power to evoke profound spiritual inspiration in the devout practitioner. Many of them were composed as spontaneous songs following a profound spiritual experience, so they carry the palpable sense of freshness and immediacy" (Jinpa & Elsner 21).
Among postmodern Western influences, Charles Olson's projective verse in spirit, if not actual form, is closest to the radical shift in consciousness found in the namgyur tradition of Tibetan poetry. Olson's understanding that open form poetry is a kinetically alive "compositional field" where movement of mind, exemplified by "One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception," coordinating with breath (Olson 387,388), remains deeply influential among contemporary Western Buddhist poets such as Anne Waldman, Armand Schwerner, George Quasha, and others. For it is precisely in the relationship between mind and breath that some meditation practices find their method.
Traditional cultures which have strong oral traditions already sustain this body-mind synchronization linguistically through chant, song, or incantation, and epic recitations in which the medium of breath is often employed to determine the length of a line or phrasing. But the main distinction, between a solely ritual unlettered society and a literate one like Tibet which employs a number of oral methods of composition, might be found in the development of the self as a mediator for experience rather than a collective anonymous voice/self ( as in the Gesar of Ling narratives). Such oral compositions in the context of namgyur do not fall in the Milman Parry/Alfred Lord model for oral narratives like those researched among Slavic epics with their handy storehouse of stock figurative phrasing and epithets to act as a mnemonic device in the spontaneous recitation of the oral epic. Rather, the songs of experience arise, as the 14th Dalai Lama noted above, in response to profound inner experiences, not mythic/historic compilations composed anonymously.
Nor does the 'meditation' poem in English with its intellectually driven philosophical premise approximate the 'meditation' poem found in Tibet, where formal meditation is historically and aesthetically part of the development of a self and a poetic tradition. On the other hand, in the West, there is a lineage of poetics which finds a common ground with Tibetan poetry, particularly with namgyur. The designation 'contemplative' may be better suited than 'meditative' which in the West generally refers to an intellectual tradition of metaphysical inquiry unrelated to the experience of formal meditation techniques for training the mind in awareness, such as Shabkar expresses above. Among American poets, consider this early poem by William Carlos Williams, which is an example of an Imagist poem relying on a series of snapshots:

To A Solitary Disciple
Rather notice, mon cher,
That the moon is
tilted above
the point of the steeple
than that its color
is shell pink.

Rather observe
That it is early morning
Than that the sky
Is smooth as turquoise.

Rather grasp
How the dark
Converging lines
Of the steeple
Meet the pinnacle--
Perceive how
Its little ornament
Tries to stop them--

See how it fails!
See how converging lines
Of the hexagonal spire
Escape upward--
Receding, dividing!
that guard and contain
the flower!

Observe how motionless
The eaten moon
Lies in the protecting

It is true:
in the light colors
of morning

Brown-stone and slate
Shine orange and dark blue.

But observe
the oppressive weight
of the squat edifice!
The jasmine lightness
Of the moon
(William Carlos Williams,104-105)

Here, Williams seems to give instructions in executing the poetics of Imagism following Pound's dictum "direct treatment of things." This poem, unbeknownst to the speaker, articulates a traditional Buddhist training in meditative clarity (vipasyana/clear seeing). Beginning with "notice," the poem offers specific directives
such as: observation, perception, seeing, observation yet again (looking with new eyes) and release into clarity. The release of the "moving image" follows only after exacting and descriptive images of the steeple break loose in the heightened imagery of the moon. It's as though Williams allows himself such an extravagance of language with a hint of metaphor only after rigorous adherence to an unfettered focus on details. One would think Williams was giving meditation instruction by telling us not to get distracted by the more abstract notion of colors (Pound) but hold to the bare essentials--mind observing an object in space. In this poem, he tells his disciple not to focus on the background colors but on the foreground in order to "paint that which is not named," or "to make it new" (Pound) through the sharp lens of naked awareness.
While, of course, Williams was neither a Buddhist nor a meditator, his instinct toward a contemplative ground as the base for his composition is not unlike many non-Western poet-meditators. The title of the poem--"To a Solitary Disciple" --is telling for its acknowledgment that this way of seeing and looking at the world is not common but borne out of solitude, if not socially, at least in the solitude of mind meeting object through the act of bare attention. I do not think it far fetched to suggest here that Williams' perceptions of an ordinary building in the morning light, through the act of his natural capacity for clear-seeing, infuse his perceived world with a sacred dimension, a radiant effervescence depicted in just those two words "jasmine lightness," as though one could smell the moon as it evaporates into the sky. It is this sacred world that Williams masterfully communicates through the release of the image. The equivalent 'release' in meditation would be a release into clarity or insight, a perfect basis for creating art.
Williams has other poems in this vein, most notably "Thursday" often quoted by Ginsberg in his classes at the Naropa Institute. It's a poem which again parallels the meditative experience of mindfulness, or shamatha (calm abiding) with its injunction to abandon fantasy for the reality of the present moment by aligning attention with the medium of breath.
I have had my dream-- like others--
And it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
With feet planted on the ground
And look up at the sky--
Feeling my clothes about me,
The weight of my body in my shoes,
And the rim of the my hat, air passing in and out
At my nose--and decide to dream no more.

(William Carlos Williams 157)

When one compares Williams' "Thursday" with Shabkar's "Meditation at Tigress Fort," one discerns a common thread of resignation, rejecting not the world, but a modality of thinking that inhibits direct perception. These two poems differ from "To A Solitary Disciple" in that both speakers seek release into a quietude or stillness rather than focus on the movements of thoughts/perceptions.
Looking above, looking below;
Looking in all directions,
I saw the world and the beings in it --
All reliant on space.

I thought of fruition that is inherent and naturally present.
I experienced a state beyond accepting and rejecting--
Hope of results and fear of failure
I completely abandoned.

When I finished this song, I felt great joy.
(Ricard/Wilkinson 82)

Here, as in Williams, the final couplet indicates the joy of communicating what the mind perceives objectively. Shabkar's panoramic awareness, "Looking in all directions,/I saw a world and the beings in it/All reliant on space," is a moment of openness which precedes the greater experience "I experienced a state beyond accepting and rejecting." Williams sounds rather yogic himself, with his stance "I remain now carelessly/With feet firmly planted on the ground" as he locates himself in the present moment with a sense of abandonment. I would suggest that his word "carelessly" might be synonymous with Shabkar's "great joy," for it precedes the arc of the poem when he looks up at the sky and thereafter feels so present in his body. The main distinction between Williams' poem and Shabkar's can be found in the degree of openness. For Williams, it is a matter of entering into a momentary flash of open sky which catapults his speaker into the present moment, while on the other hand, Shabkar has already arrived there full-time.
In general, Western readers are more familiar with the minimalist quietism found among ancient Chinese and Japanese masterpieces of Mahayana Buddhism from the Chan or Zen traditions respectively. These poems are easily translated into other languages due to their Imagist predilection based on the linguistic ideograms of those cultures or, as Pound concluded, their exemplary models for phanopoeia. Their accessibility resonates among modern poets because of the visual associations found among images which form an aesthetic of clarity communicated through the very stillness. If the pond is still one can see what's inside; If the mind is still, then one can see what's there more clearly. In discussing the work of the Japanese ninth century poet, Tsurayuki, Jane Hirshfield asks how the image, "word's leaves (koto no ha)," a common Japanese phrase, likens poetical language with a procreant nature:

Primordial experience is nameless and without form; still, we find our way
into the life of expressive language by means of an inner attention to the outer world's voice, Images, metaphors, similes, and stories are sliding doors, places of opening through which subjective and objective may penetrate and become each other…Japanese poetry keeps close to this primary mode of conceptualization--it uses the power held in the seen, the heard, the tasted, to quicken, and instruct, and unfold.

(Hirshfield 83).

To expect a similar vein of Imagistic quietude in which the object of sense perception takes precedence over the observer in Tibetan literary aesthetics, does not take into account several key factors. In Tibetan culture, the historical confluence of Vajrayana Buddhism, with its radical Tantric methodologies, joining forces with an already evolved shamanic culture, led to an entirely different relationship to language. While the 'nature of mind' and a sacred outlook toward the myriad manifestations found in the phenomenal world are every culture's birthright--every individual's possibility to discover, Tibetan poetry discloses a unique relationship to self as an expression of its Tantric orientation and world view. In the Tibetan view, language is charged with an inherent energy as vowels and consonants carry within them the seed syllables of particular energies which, when vocalized, resonate with the subtle body. Again this is not necessarily a Tibetan 'invention' but an approach developed over millennia, in what the 14th Dalai Lama himself, calls an exact, "science of the mind." Language and mantra--the bija /seed syllables of energies, open a dimension in regard to the oral melos-song complex which through resonance is able to communicate experience in terms comprehensible to others, if not intellectually, at least somatically. The mantric mode alters the subtle body through the act of vocalizing and hearing for both self and others. This is particular to namgyur compositions, literally-- "experience (nam) songs (gyur)," which arise from a transcendent experience in order to express this experience on the spot through song.
Another key point worth considering in Tibetan namgyur literature is that the human body, while of little use in the Sutric traditions except as a vehicle to obtain liberation in the human realm, in Tantra becomes the actual vessel or means for enlightenment through potent methods utilizing all the senses without foresaking a worldly life. Instead of renunciation, the Tantric adept engages in transforming what is impure perception into pure perception according to the external circumstances of their lives. Paramount to this view and path is a rigorous lack of attachment to sense objects and a base of compassionate intention as the motive for the transformative mode found in Tantric practices. It is odd here, that in the context of a worldview which sees the self as an illusory dream--- a delusional misconception of a solid self-identity comprised of mental constituents like the apparent coherence of a whole image from a film strip made up of separate clips-- the impetus for expressions of self and identity are endless in Tibetan songs of experience. However, it is useful to consider who it is that is speaking. Allen Ginsberg touches on this question of self-identity in a class on Spiritual Poetics he taught at the Naropa Institute in 1974, later published in Loka where he explains clearly the relationship among breath, mind and self-identity:
So if we are talking poetics, and beginning with breath, the vowel road is connected then with the title of the course Spiritual Poetics. Mantric aspects are a lot more important than has been understood in western poetry--as pure breath, as exhalations of breath, as manifestation of breath, an animation, as expression in really the easiest most natural way of your own nature, which is by breathing, and making a sound while breathing. Just like the wind makes a sound in the leaves. No more presumptuous than the wind in the leaves. Of course, no more honorable either. But at any rate, not guilty. No more guilty than the wind in the leaves, So if you take that approach, that your singing or your chanting or your poetics is as neutral, impersonal, and objective as the wind though the black oak leaves, then you wouldn't have to be ashamed of expressing yourself, because it is not yourself, it's just the wind. Then you might take the trouble to fit it to whatever your subjective intellect is thinking about at the moment, and you might take the trouble to link that breath up with whatever is going on in your mind at the moment. But that can be done spontaneously as breathing, in the sense that the mind is always working--it's hard to stop, as those of you who have been meditating know.

Although Ginsberg is not necessarily referring to a 'realized' self, the basis for Tibetan songs of experience, he nevertheless makes an interesting point that the speaker, singer, poet need not be self-referential, for "it is not yourself, it's just the wind." Strains of this, of course, can be found throughout Western poetics beginning with the Romantics. What Ginsberg is interested in, with regard to Tibetan orally composed and spontaneous songs of experience, is how to duplicate the genre in a purely American fashion since there is already a lineage of Western poetics predisposed toward this mode of composition. He is less interested in the actual Tibetan compositions themselves which in translation may not appear spontaneous at all but even, awkward and didactic.
The work of Tibetan poets seems to fall more in the range of logopoeia or the dance of the intellect, equally reinforced by the musicality of its oral song-melos tradition (often forfeited in translation) followed by a variety of tropes in a world where phenomena are enlivened by means of the transformative remaking of the world where every person manifests in a sacred dimension as a dakini, the embodiment of wisdom or enlightened presence; the natural world in all its elemental energy of rocks, earth, water, is filled with drala and perceived as a pure realm; things are sealed with Mahamudra (the great seal) or as Trungpa/ Ginsberg cite "are symbols of themselves." This view is a huge leap from the quietude of what is generally recognized as the contemplative and meditative mode. In his poem "The Practice of the Essence of the Sublime Heart Jewel," Za Patrul summarizes this alternate reality (Thinley Norbu 27), "With calm, stillness-mind, cut moving thoughts,/With moving thoughts watch on the calm, stillness -mind,/There is no difference between stillness and movement,/so sustain fresh ordinary mind./Remaining in this sole experience, recite the six syllables (Om Mani Padma Hum)." Although prosaic in English, Za Patrul here presents a central paradox which "is" but "isn't" How can the mind be both still and moving at the same time?
The answer to this question has more to do with an historical viewpoint on the nature of mind found in the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism permeating Tibetan culture. In the Mahayana tradition of Zen Buddhism, the Buddha's second turning of the wheel teachings on emptiness (shunyata) gave rise to a poetics of quietude. On the other hand the songs of experience in the Tibetan tradition find, their origin in the Buddha's third turning of the wheel on emptiness and awareness--the starting point of Vajrayana Buddhism. While the Mahayana tradition speaks of innate Buddhanature, the Vajrayana tradition speaks of radiant clear mind or luminous mind. When such an understanding is realized through experience where both stillness as emptiness and thought as movement of mind are identical, a fresh perception can arise from this matrix of non-referential awareness. While to Westerners such mental subtleties may seem like intellectual acrobatics, to Buddhist practitioners-- the experience of a non -dual awareness is very precise and concrete experienctially. Analogous to this paradoxical stretch, Keats' "Negative Capability" has similarities in that the experience of "groundlessness" in lack of a conceptual certainty proves a fertile environment for the artistic process.

Allen Ginsberg's 108 Mind Writing Slogans

Allen began compiling these during the time I worked for him in NYC circa 1989-1994. They follow the traditional Buddhist tripartite logic of Ground, Path, & Fruition. A precursor to the "Mind Writing Slogans" can be found in his poem,
"Cosmopolitan Greetings."

These slogans introduce both a western contemplative persepctive on mind training for poets as well as Buddhist methods learned by the poet from various Tibetan masters he studied with. Gibnsberg's "Mind Writing Slogans" present an essentialized version of his poetic aesthetic.



"First Thought is Best in Art, Second in Other Matters."
— William Blake

I Background (Situation, Or Primary Perception)

1."First Thought, Best Thought" — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
2."Take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts." — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
3."The Mind must be loose." — John Adams
4."One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception." — Charles Olson, "Projective Verse"
5."My writing is a picture of the mind moving." — Philip Whalen
6.Surprise Mind — Allen Ginsberg
7."The old pond, a frog jumps in, Kerplunk!" — Basho
8."Magic is the total delight (appreciation) of chance." — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
9."Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." –– Walt Whitman
10."...What quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in literature? ... Negative capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in
uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." — John Keats
11."Form is never more than an extension ofcontent. — Robert Creeley to Charles Olson
12."Form follows function." — Frank Lloyd Wright*
13.Ordinary Mind includes eternal perceptions. — A. G.
14."Nothing is better for being Eternal
Nor so white as the white that dies of a day." — Louis Zukofsky
15.Notice what you notice. — A. G.
16.Catch yourself thinking. — A. G.
17.Observe what’s vivid. — A. G.
18.Vividness is self-selecting. — A. G.
19."Spots of Time" — William Wordsworth
20.If we don’t show anyone we’re free to write anything. –– A. G.
21."My mind is open to itself." — Gelek Rinpoche
22."Each on his bed spoke to himself alone, making no sound." — Charles Reznikoff

II Path (Method, Or Recognition)

23."No ideas but in things." "... No ideas but in the Facts." — William Carlos Williams
24."Close to the nose." — W. C. Williams
25."Sight is where the eye hits." — Louis Zukofsky
26."Clamp the mind down on objects." — W C. Williams
27."Direct treatment of the thing ... (or object)." — Ezra Pound, 1912
28."Presentation, not reference." — Ezra Pound
29."Give me a for instance." — Vernacular
30."Show not tell." — Vernacular
31."The natural object is always the adequate symbol." — Ezra Pound
32."Things are symbols of themselves." — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
33."Labor well the minute particulars, take care of the little ones.
He who would do good for another must do it in minute particulars.
General Good is the plea of the Scoundrel Hypocrite and Flatterer
For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized particulars." — William Blake
34."And being old she put a skin / on everything she said." — W. B. Yeats
35."Don’t think of words when you stop but to see the picture better." — Jack Kerouac
36."Details are the Life of Prose." — Jack Kerouac
37.Intense fragments of spoken idiom best. — A. G.
38."Economy of Words" — Ezra Pound
39."Tailoring" — Gregory Corso
40.Maximum information, minimum number of syllables. –– A. G.
41.Syntax condensed, sound is solid. — A. G.
42.Savor vowels, appreciate consonants. — A. G.
43."Compose in the sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." — Ezra Pound
44."... awareness ... of the tone leading of the vowels." — Ezra Pound
45."... an attempt to approximate classical quantitative meters . . . — Ezra Pound
46."Lower limit speech, upper limit song" — Louis Zukofsky
47."Phanopoeia, Melopoeia, Logopoeia." — Ezra Pound
48."Sight. Sound & Intellect." — Louis Zukofsky
49."Only emotion objectified endures." — Louis Zukofsky

III Fruition (Result, Or Appreciation)

50.Spiritus = Breathing = Inspiration = Unobstructed Breath
51."Alone with the Alone" — Plotinus
52.Sunyata (Sanskrit) = Ku (Japanese) = Emptiness
53."What’s the sound of one hand clapping?" — Zen Koan
54."What’s the face you had before you were born?" — Zen Koan
55.Vipassana (Pali) = Clear Seeing
56."Stop the world" — Carlos Castafleda
57."The purpose of art is to stop time." — Bob Dylan
58."the unspeakable visions of the individual — J. K.
59."I am going to try speaking some reckless words, and I want you to try to listen recklessly." — Chuang Tzu (Tr. Burton Watson)
60."Candor" —Whitman
61."One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." — W. Shakespeare
62."Contact" — A Magazine, Nathaniel West & W. C. Williams, Eds.
63."God appears & God is Light
To those poor souls who dwell in Night.
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of Day." — W. Blake
64."Subject is known by what she sees." -A. G.
65.Others can measure their visions by what we see. –– A. G.
66.Candor ends paranoia. — A. G.
67."Willingness to be Fool." — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
68."Day & Night / you’re all right." — Gregory Corso
69.Tyger: "Humility is Beatness." — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche & A. G.
70.Lion: "Surprise Mind" — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche &A.G.
71.Garuda: "Crazy Wisdom Outrageousness" — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
72.Dragon: "Unborn Inscrutability" — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
73."To be men not destroyers" — Ezra Pound
74.Speech synchronizes mind & body — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
75."The Emperor unites Heaven & Earth" — Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
76."Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" — Shelley
77."Make it new" — Ezra Pound
78."When the music changes, the walls of the city shake" — Plato
79."Every third thought shall be my grave — W Shakespeare, The Tempest
80."That in black ink my love may still shine bright." –– W. Shakespeare, Sonnets
81."Only emotion endures" — Ezra Pound
82."Well while I’m here I’ll
do the work —
and what’s the Work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken
dumbshow." — A. G.
83."... Kindness, sweetest of the small notes in the world’s ache, most modest & gentle of the elements entered man before history and became
his daily connection, let no man tell you otherwise." — Carl Rakosi
84."To diminish the mass of human and sentient sufferings." — Gelek Rinpoche

Naropa Institute, July 1992
New York, March 5, 1993
New York, June 27, 1993

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Why Tibetan Poetry?

The central question for me is why would anyone want to learn about Tibetan poetics. Does this ancient literary tradition have anyrhing to offer to western society?

Here's a fairly tedious academic paper on "What" is Tibetan poetry? Next blog will try t o make sense about the "Why"

Luminous Mind, Sacred Outlook, and Reflections of Self in the Tibetan Songs of Experi ence

Let us then travel together
to the realm of the real itself

Part I--Introductory Background

With the onset of the Tibe tan Diaspora in 1959, a vast collection of Tibetan literature became available to Western scholars for the f irst time. The translation projects emerging over the past 40 years into the present reveal a sophisticated culture of mind in startling contrast to the almost Neolithic material culture preserved for centuries in the hermetic environment of the Himalaya n region. Recent archaeology in the northernmost plateau of Tibet (Chang Tang reserve) suggest from carbon dating of lithic remains (25,000-23,000 years ago) that it is the oldest continuous occupied site of human habitation in an extreme environment. Th e implications of these and other studies now underway indicate that Tibetan civilization-- hitherto unknown except in popular imagination as a land of mystery-- contains a wealth of knowledge relevant to the modern world.
Although poetry, considered amo ng the five 'minor' topics of study takes the lowest priority in the current preservation of Tibetan culture, a number of key publications of poetical works have been translated into Western languages.

These include the collected works of the 11th centur y poet Milarepa (Chang), the 18th/ /early 19th century Shabkar (Ricard), and the love poems of the Sixth Dalai Lama from the17/18th centuri es (Chang & others). Other accomplished poets of the Karma Kagyu lineage have been collected in the only native ant hology, "The Rain of Wisdom," compiled in the 15th century.

Numerous poetical works await translation into Western languages including i nfluential treatises on the craft of poetic composition, such as the 7th century, Kavyadharsha (Mirror of Poetry) by Dan din and its commentaries first translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan in the13th century. Then, there are the works of poetry from early narrations known as drung( sprung ), verses from antiquity predating Buddhism and primarily celebrating the royal lineag es of the Tibetan kingdoms; the vast collections (28 volumes) of a later epic tradition, Gesar of Ling still undergoing translation; folk songs and indigenous poetry shaped by distinct regional dialects and customs, zhas (Gzhas) and Lu (Glu); ornate ver se known as nyandak (snyan ngag), developed in the monastic colleges; and finally the namgyur or "songs of experience" at the pinna cle of the Tibetan literary canon beginning with Milarepa in the 11th century. This list does not take into account the many liturgical texts of the Kanjur and Tangyur often composed in alternating segments of prose (tsek lhag) and poetry (tsek chad), no r other literary forms such as biographies known as namthar(gnam thar) which are often rendered in both prose and verse as well; novels, allegories, folk tales, proverbs and riddles.

Part II- Songs of Experience

In the Tibetan "namgyur" literature, th e experiences cited in these compositions express a transformation of self from dualistic modalities of thinking and perceiving to a non-dual awareness. The fantastic pantheon of 'deities' represented in Tibetan art are none other than mental and physica l templates of energy found within the individual, not projected onto outside entities (deities). The meditative deity, known as yidam, visualized in Tantric Buddhism, combined with a spoken or sung mantra associated with the particular yidam uses somatic resources, such as all the senses, as a means for transformation, which results in a radical remaking of the self. Transcending a limited identification with a self-constructed persona in the service of one's ego, the self in the Tantric context is not so much a "personality" but a continuity of awakened energy. The very word Tantra, means "continuity." It is this identity as an awakened mind which is the speaker in Tibetan songs of experience. In the Tibetan worldview, an awakened mind is not acquired, but discovered from within as one's own condition.

Among the many genres of Tibetan poetry, yogic songs of experience or namgy ur appeal to Westerners because of their spontaneous oral composition and highly developed experiential content which are closer to Western lyric sensibilities than other forms. This is not to say that other more elaborate Tibetan compositions do not app roximate the lyric intent for personal expression. In fact, they may very well surpass the yogic song of experience by dra wing on deliberate stylistic conceits and an extensive literary vocabulary outlined in the Kavya literature from the 13th century on wards.

Whether, in the end, "namgyur" can be relegated to categories of strictly religious verse as some Westerner scholars assert (Cabezan and Jackson 31) is a matter for further discussion, since there is a vast world of sacred literature which might be designated spiritual or visionary outside expressions of religious doctrine --such as Rumi, Kabir, Tan Shan, Blake, among others. Both conceptually and to some extent, stylistically, namgyur finds its roots among the earliest extant documents of the col lected sayings of the Buddha, the Tripitika, committed to written text (Pali) some three hundred year after his deat h, Across time and space for two millennia, Buddhist practitioners have expressed their aspiration and personal accomplishment for realiz ation in poetical form. In the Theraghata and Therigatha, songs of the elders, monks and nuns who were direct disci ples of the Buddha (6th century BC), these poems sound as fresh today as they were thousands of years ago. Even in translation one is able to discern a number of stylistic qualities such as tone, diction, mood, and figurative language. But of greater in terest, is the story they tell of each person's quest based on the Buddhist premise that through meditation liberation from suffering is pos sible in this life. Whether the expressions of princesses or courtesans, honorable housewives or abused wives, mer chants, Brahmanical scholars or outcasts, these poems leave a lasting impression. For one thing, the person is named. The following from th e nun's collection serves to illustrate both the spiritual and social liberation Buddhism afforded men and women:


Intoxicated by my own
Lovely skin,
My figure,
My gorgeous looks,
And famous too,
I dispised other women

Dressed to kill
At t he whorehouse door,
I was a hunter
And spread my snares for fools.

And when I stripped for them
I was the wo man of their dreams;
I laughed as I teased them.

Head shaved,
I, myself,
Sit at the tree's foot;
All t ies
I have cut men and gods
out of my life.

I have quenched the fires. ( Murcott 126)

It is likely that these songs were sung and used as teaching methods to inspire later practitioners. While it is not within the scope of this paper to discuss fully Indian poetics and Buddhist thought, nor their impact on Tibetan culture, these compositions help us to understand that the tradition of namgyur in the Tibetan tradition is connected to the Buddha's earliest teachings.

Part III. Tibetan Songs of Experience and their authors

Milarepa (1040-1123)

Milarepa's genius shines in his ability to synthesize the complex rhetoric of the Tantric view contained in the Vajra songs (gdor je Glu) or doha he learned from his teacher/guru, Marpa, brought back fro m India, with the simple folk songs indigenous to his native South Western Tibet. He also was undoubtedly familiar with the various epic narratives (drang) prevalent in 1lth century Tibet. The following example of a doha on the topic of bliss/emptiness b y the Indian siddha, Tilopa, the teacher of Marpa's own teacher, Naropa, was likely heard by Milarepa him self:

Like salt dissolved in water
is mind
in the mistress's embrace;

they taste the same
in that moment,
and they'll be the same forever

(Jackson 128)

The original language here is Apabhramas in a rhymed couplet, (jima lona viliijai paniechi tima gh arini lai citta/samsara jai takkane jai punu te sama nitta). The form of the doha seems to have undergone changes in the Tibetan which reappears as the 7 syllable quatrain favored by Milarepa and other masters of the genre, but the genre itself remained a s a form of paradoxically aphoristic and melodic expression composed spontaneously (bsam blo'I rangbzhin --literally, spontaneous nature of thought). The dohas preserved from the Mahasiddha literature of Indian Buddhism, later translated into Tibetan, are characterized by extreme states of paradox as a method to deconstruct conceptual thought in order to reveal the non-dual awareness of "suchness," th e unborn nature of reality (Dowman 9). In these poems, cripples walk, the blind see, elephants reside on thrones held up by bees. In other words, phenomena is not what we think it is. An example of such 'upside down language' (sanskrit: ulat (ta) bam) fam iliar to readers of Kabir or Medieval Indian poets (Shaw 116) can be seen in the following poem by La ksminkara, one of the female Indian Buddhist Tantric masters whose lineage continued into Tibet during the time of Milarepa.

L ay your head on a block of butter and chop.
Break the blade of the axe!
The wood cutter laughs,
The frog swallows the elephant.

It's amazing, Mekala,
Do not doubt!
If it confounds you, Avadhuti-pa,
Drop concepts now!

My teacher didn't tell me,
I didn't understand--
Flowers blossomed in the sky!

It's marvelous, Mekhala,
Have no doubt!
If you're incredulous--Avadhuti-pa
Drop your doubts!

A barren woman gives birth!
A chair dances!
Because cotton is expensive,
The naked weep!.

Amazing! An elephant sits on a throne held up by two bees!
Incredulous! The blind lead,
The mute speak!

Amazing! A mouse chases a cat!
An elephant flees from a drunken donkey!

It's marvelous, Mekhala,
Do not doubt!
If you're stunned Adadhuti-pa,
Drop your doubts!

Amazing! A hungry monkey eats rocks.
Wonderful! The experience of mind--
Who can express it?

(Shaw 117)

This type of composition was sung or recited within specific environments known to Milarepa such as Vajra feasts (ganachakra) , a Tantric rite in which adepts partake of alcohol and meat. This tradition is still enacted today according to the cycles of the full and new moons and special days designated as guru and dakini days in the lunar cycle. In ancient times, the Tantric feast was often held in charnel grounds, places, Keith Dowman suggests, that were "replete with all kinds of symbolic meaning. First, it is the death-bed of the ego…The Tantric yogin celebrates the cremation ground as an ideal place to meditate upon the precious human body, the transitor y nature of existence, upon death and karmic retribution, and upon emptiness itself" (Dowman 15).
Mi larepa's life biography (namthar-- literally, liberation biography) ) holds within it a paradigm for spiritual realization accessible to anyone. For Tibeta ns, he represents the possibility for realization in one lifetime, even for a great 'sinner' like Milarepa who murdered his uncle's family in retaliation for their disinheriting him upon his father's death. Many of his songs retell this story in detail, n either glossing over the immorality of his act nor justifying it. Thus, his songs do not exhibit an unrealistic or fabled account of an invented persona of perfection but an authentic self on a spiritual quest for redemption from a wretched life. This a uthentic self is in stark contrast to the heroic mode of the narrative tradition where beings are often enhanced with divine attributes and superhuman powers, such as in the Tibetan epic story of Gesar of Ling's birth:

So in order to conquer the twelve fo rtresses of Tibet
And the four demonic realms at the four borders
The deities have chosen a man from among the pure Ling
He will be able to fight against the bravest men,
He will be the support and strength of the chosen armies
And the three governors wi ll shine like the rising sun,
He will subjugate the immaterial beings that cause hindrances (b gegs),
He will subdue deities, cannibal demons and evil spirits,
He will be like a superhuman being.
He will be assisted by the Lha deities above,
Worshiped by t he nyen tutelary deity,
He will receive gifts from Tsugna the Lu
And will obtain a body endow ed with miraculous faculties:
May his birth be like an ornament for the pure Ling!
(Norbu 9)

Most of Milarepa's poems draw on the stunning landscape of Tibet for a
rich metaphoric language used to render the deeper meaning of his spiritual process. Mi larepa's treatment of nature departs significantly from Zen haiku treatments of nature, already discussed and so familiar to Westerners, where nature is perceived as a luminous presence permeated by shunyata/emptiness, greater than the individual observer/self.
Yoel Hoffman, in his groundbreaking work on Japanese death poems clarifies this distinction by suggesting that "Haiku shattered the self-reflecting mirror, leaving in the hands of a poet only the mirror that reflects nature" (Hoffman 20). To illus trate this point, he presents two poems. The first, a tanka written by court poet, Ki-no-Tsurayucki (870-945):
Winds passing
Through the shaded grove
Weigh down
M y robe with
The scent of blossoms
(Hoffman 20)

Some centuries later, the haiku poet, Fujiw ara-no-Yoshitsune (1169-1206) renders the same image, but striped of it's personal location in time and space: "My robe/grows heavy/with the scent of blossoms." (H offman 21). Other differences may lie in the actual structural basis of an idiomatic langua ge, such as Japanese or Chinese, which, as Pound suggested, lends itself to phanopoeia over and above the melopoeia and logopoeia orientations. The relative lack o f metaphor in Zen compositions suggests that the 'images' central to haiku serve to mirror the fruition experience of no-thought or satori in a communicable way about an experience which is, after all, beyond words. Linguistically, the sutras refer to th e limitations of language to express the ineffable as prajnapti, proverbally, the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself. Milarepa, on the other hand, dipicts nature as an extended metaphor for his own inner process. In many compositi ons, the natural environment becomes a metaphor for his body engaged in the practices of yoga he undertakes.

In the Tibetan poetical tradition, metaphors drawing on nature often link the actual process of arriving at one's spiritual destination to the so ng-- a road map, so to speak, of methods. One such example is "Mila's Song in the Rain," a relatively simple response to a kind benefactor who offered to provide a covering for Milarepa in a rainstorm. In this poem one can see how he develops his exten ded metaphor in a logical sequence which serves to encapsulate his spiritual path by means of identifying his worldly inadequacies with inclement weather. This is part of the song he sang to her:

I bow at the feet of the jewel crowning my head
Holy fu llfiller of all wants and needs.

Gracious woman blessed with offspring and wealth
Managing an abundant treasury of gifts,
Clothed in the woolen robe of merit--
Listen here, faithful lady.

If you don't know my name,
I'm Milarepa of Gungthang plain--
A beggar wandering by myself.
Moved by my suffering from cold wind and rain,
You offe red this help in true spirit of mercy.
Such good intentions are indeed a great wonder.

I've traveled the plains of six illusory realms
Where a rain of misery fell without pause
And the dark fog of delusion pressed close around me.

I lacked the broad hat of right view,
The raincoat of unfaltering faith,
And the warm dry cave of good refuge,

Swept by the river of desire and craving
Swollen by driving rains of bad action
I was borne to the horizon of the ocean of misery.
Buffeted on waves of three lower realms,
And battered on the rocks of unwholesome action.

One can only imagine the particular melody sung, the rhythm and subtle meanings conveyed through the figurative l anguage equating the imagery of various landscapes and weather with his internal spiritual development. While it is impossible to experience fully the rhythmic musicality of the composition in translation, the meaning is above all preserved in the use of his extended metaphor.

Such a composition is typical of Milarepa's response to people he meets on his journey through Tibet as a wandering mendicant. He often conveys sequentially the entire Buddhist path by means of figurative language in relation to a poetic strategy that is freshly suited to the particular person he encounters. In the last three stanzas quoted above, Milarepa, respectively covers connotative references to samsara (six illusory realms), wrong view (taking refuge in worldly matters), a nd karma (desire and craving) through his use of the extended metaphor.
"Mila's Song in the Rain" commences with homage to his teacher, Marpa, in an epithet of homage. Here, Marpa is the "jewel crowning my head," a reference indicating that Milarepa mai ntains the visualization of his guru atop his head in guru yoga to receive th e stream of the lineage blessings. Among other opening epithets, no two are alike. The following opening lines of other poems including their titles give examples of the vari ety of homage to Marpa :

Wishing gem whose mere memory's enough (Milarepa T ells His Story)

Glorious incarnation of universal ruler (Song of the Path Guides)
Best cure for the sickness of the three poisons
Excellent man of Lodrak

To my omniscient lam a I pray-- (Mila's Meeting with Dampa Sangye)
Grant me blessings

Precious p eerless savior of beings (from Six Vajra Songs)
Come dwell at the crown of our heads,
And guide us with unwavering attention
Let blessings of siddhis fall like rain

To the great translator Marpa, (Mila's Journey Inspired by a Dream)
Holy, precious, qua lified lama,
I constantly pray--
Protect me with your unwavering attention.

To my holy lama Vajradhara (Ibid)
Revered Lotsawa who revealed
The essence of birthless mahamudra,
I pray--grant me blessings.

The fact that Milarepa does not employ formulai c epithets and other mnenomic devices separates the composition of namgyur from other forms of oral poetry such as epic narratives. This is an important point because Milarepa him self probably established a repertoire of vocabulary which, more likely tha n not, was emulated by later practitioners of namgyur.
Milarepa's description of his lady benefactor in "Mila's Song in the Rain" conveys her equally devoid of formulaic attribut es. He presents her as compassionate toward others, a fact, he remarks, is a "wonder." We are given a descriptive picture of this unnamed woman--she wears wool, for instance, which would indicate that she is wealthy. The strategy of the entire compositio n is formed around her initial gesture of generosity to protect him from the rain. In the fourth stanza, Milarepa embarks on his spiritual biography where he states that he has traveled through the "plains" (six realms) where a "rain of misery" fell (sams ara) in ignorance depicted by the dark fog enveloping him. Rather than d eliver an esoteric message on the nature of mind, he uses a strategy to elicit further the woman's sympathy first over the miseries of confused existence. In the final stanza, Milare pa tells her why he doesn’t need her offer of protection:
Even on pe aks of white snow mountains
Amidst whirling snow and sleet
Driven by new year's wintry winds
This cotton robe burns like fire.

What Milarepa is referring to here in the final line, "T his cotton robe burns like fire" is the blaze of chandali (Tibetan: t ummo) or the yoga of generating inner heat. Milarepa was famous for this practice, hence his dharma name-- Mila repa
(cotton clad) which refers to his accomplishment in generating heat freeing him from the necessity for clothing to keep warm. This pract ice is one of the Six Yogas of Naropa , advanced practices, currently taught in an unbroken lineage form the time of Milarepa to the present The practice of Tummo has been studied by Harvard University recently under the direction of Herbert Benson and d iscussed in an article in the Harvard Gazette,
In 1985, the meditation team made a video of monks drying cold, wet sheets with body heat. They also documented monks spending a winter night on a rocky ledge 15,000 feet high in the Himalayas. The sleep-ou t took place in February on the night of the winter full moon when temperatures reached zero degrees F. Wearing only woolen or cotton shawls, the monks promptly fell asleep on the rocky ledge, They did not huddle together and the video shows no evidence o f shivering.

Unlike Vimala's song in which enlightenment is synonymous with extinguishing the flame of passion, here Milarepa is ablaze with it. What is remarkable here is that a sophisticated method expressed in figurative language can be discussed in such scientific terms today in an American college newspaper.

For an example of Milarepa's use of language in the original, the following poem,"Milarepa in Ragma," may serve to illust rate several poetic strategies as well the rhythm found in the original Tibetan but lacking in translation. Milarepa presents a detailed picture of the natural world free from tropes in a more objectively descriptive manner. Here, instead of using the natural world as an extended metaphor for his inner process, Milarepa describes the natural world as a pure