Because the theme of Bombay Gin 39.1 (January 2013) is “The Contemplative as Transgressive,” I thought I’d offer an interpretation of Contemplative Poetics, based on my course work with Reed Bye at Naropa University. The following are excerpts from an essay, “Transitioning Inbetween to Open Space: Three Gates of Contemplative Poetics.”
Contemplative Poetics, an investigation of perception, mind, body and speech to join heaven and earth, is the foundation for discovering the true nature of being: open space (Trungpa). The practice of meditation and poetry, along with teachings by Buddhist and literary scholars, illustrates spaciousness, to remind the practitioner, “Are you breathing?” As Allen Ginsberg wrote in “Meditation and Poetics,” “real poetry practitioners are practitioners of mind awareness, or practitioners of reality, expressing their fascination with a phenomenal universe and trying to penetrate to the heart of it” (262). Mind awareness begins with understanding the nature of reality and the mind. In order to glimpse our true nature, or bodhicitta mind (enlightened mind), contemplative practices (e.g. poetry, sitting meditation, yoga, dance) enable equanimity as one begins to practice non-dualism and non-judgment. Contemplative Poetics also introduces the notion of human existence as pertaining to three gates: body, speech, and mind (Thrangu Rinpoche 19). Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s “The Six Collections of Consciousness” questions, “What is a body for?” and “What are the limits of the body?” While the elements of the body, speech, and mind differ, they cannot be separated from the whole and lead to an awareness of the roots of attachment and aversion. This understanding is our capacity for a stable mind, happiness and the ability to live in open space.
As we begin to recognize our ultimate state of being, slowly-slowly, dancing to the quality of our breath, writing what we notice: dust dance, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings in “The Development of Ego,” further defines this ultimate awareness. “Fundamentally there is just open space, the basic ground, what we really are. Our most fundamental state of mind, before the creation of ego is such that there is basic openness, basic freedom, a spacious quality; and we have now and have always had this openness”(74). Ultimately, contemplative practice can allow one to understand the poisonous emotions that rule the mind, and eventually opens the heart to truth.
Allen Ginsberg’s “Meditation and Poetics” bravely calls the poet to take up a position, to explore consciousness and garner awareness of the “nature of reality and the nature of the mind” (262). Poetry becomes a “probe,” a tool to purify the mind and eventually one is free to “let go” of thoughts. This practice of shedding the ego is an on-going practice that may begin in stillness; the body becomes the vessel in which one can begin to cultivate awareness, instead of solely being in the mind. Trungpa taught the importance of synchronizing the mind and body in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, as “connected with how we synchronize or connect with the world…looking and seeing directly beyond language” (52). Thus, the poet may discover a vision that is beyond conventional language; cultivating space to wake up, to aid in the cessation of suffering. In this way, poets might live as bodhisattvas, those who are awakened and vow to live and work to awaken others who suffer. With the innovation of poetic forms, the poet begins to illustrate the three- interdependent gates of humanity: speech, body, and mind.
Birth of the Kerouac School
Awareness of open space containing human experience sparked the meeting of Trungpa and Ginsberg, and as a result, established the Jack Kerouac School, a ground for exploring humanity, including the five skandhas, or “heaps:” form, feeling, perception, concept and consciousness, which make up the ego, the gate of the mind and intellect (Trungpa 73). As poetry is a craft, a work of art that artists may attach a sense of self to, sentient beings can become overwhelmed with perception, “fascinated by our own creation, the static colors and the static energies. We want to relate to them, and so we begin gradually to explore our creation” (Trungpa 77). And yet as we engage in creation, Trungpa also wrote in “Joining Heaven and Earth” the absurdity of labeling oneself an “artist.” “We have to recognize how much neurosis comes out in works of art” (149). This identification as artist “prevents us from reaching beyond that particular scope” (149). “We begin to realize that the principle of dharma exists within us…relaxation can happen because such trust has become a part of our existence. Therefore, we feel we can afford to open our eyes and all our sense perceptions fully” (152). Since sentient beings have innate “basic wakefulness,” or “basic goodness,” a term Trungpa uses to describe our fundamental state of being that often becomes clouded by the ego, we have the capacity to end suffering by recognizing egolessness, through the renunciation of ego fascination. As we take up our pen to communicate our inner peace, we begin to bridge the gap between the inner and outer self, self and other, and realize interconnection.
Return to Open Space
When we realize open space, we realize the five elements: Vajra (white water) Ratna (yellow earth), Padma (red fire), Karma (green wind), and Buddha (blue space/sky). Contemplative Poetics investigates how the body, mind, and speech return to the elements, in life and death. With life and death staring me in the face, my body aches, my heart hurts, other organs feel tense, and yet, I find the means to breathe this tension into the earth, releasing the sensations from my grief. I can write to heal, I can sing, tone to move the energy through my body, to pay homage to life and death. James Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life” illustrates life as a delicate balance between suffering and awareness: “And someone/ you know well is suffering… I misunderstood silence for disapproval, see now it was/ Sympathy. Thank you, May, for these warm stirrings” (155-156). As I see my local and global community struggling with open space, the challenges it brings, the suffering, I look for the fine cutting edge that all at once illustrates the vastness and depth of reality. As we sit with these intense emotions, and study the dharma, through contemplative practices we return to the fundamental mind… bodhicitta mind.
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