Beat Memior #6 by Marc Olmsted
REFUGE VOWS WITH CHOGYAM TRUNGPA WEARING GINSBERG’S FLOWER TIE
During my 1978 visit at Naropa Institute, Allen showed me a “Refuge Tree” of the Karma Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist lineage. Allen explained how it was visualized and how one did prostrations in front of it, the preliminary practice Trungpa Rinpoche required before one embarked on the “deity” visualizations of the Tantric or Vajrayana path. One had to do 100,000 prostrations and Allen was working on his. I was intrigued and impressed. Little did I know such practices would be required by my own teachers years in the future. Ginsberg also explained that at this level of the path, it was like marrying the guru, and if you felt you had to leave the teacher, you didn’t want a “messy divorce.” It was a very straightforward explanation of the Tantric vow with the teacher known as “samaya.”
Refuge vows are a formal commitment to Buddhism, and here I was in Boulder, visiting poet Allen when suddenly it was possible to take refuge from Chogyam Trungpa (who resided there that summer), a totally unexpected situation and quite auspicious. Ginsberg encouraged us to take the refuge vows. Both Richard and I had to meet with a meditation instructor senior students who would determine if we were serious enough to take refuge (Allen arranged the appointment). Richard thinks it was Judith Zimmer-Brown. Anyway, she asked us how long we’d been meditating, who taught us, what did we understand about taking refuge. She asked us to sit on cushions and examined our posture. She thought my posture was too military (now that was a first) but still signed off on my aspiration for refuge. Richard was not criticized and also passed. Since our answers were satisfactory and our posture was correct enough she added us to the list and said we’d each get an individual audience with Trungpa who’d give us our refuge names. Although it may not sound like it, I had been relatively diligent with Buddhist sitting on and off since Allen taught me in ’74.
As I have mentioned, Trungpa wore a suit and smoked cigarettes, as well as having a reputation for copious amounts of sake (so much sake that his liver failed ten years later at the same age as Kerouac when he died). That being said, though I am now an alcoholic in recovery, I have nothing but admiration , devotion and faith for this extraordinary Tibetan master. Trungpa’s crazy wisdom, his poetry, his Zorba the Greek earthiness, and his articulate teaching no matter how much alcohol he drank made him a truly “Divine Madman,” a mahasiddha that has a long precedent in the Tibetan canon of hagiography.
We were each to have a brief interview with him for our “dharma name” to be determined. Trungpa was rumored to have extensive psychic powers. Allen (of course Trungpa’s student) told me to take a poem to him and I chose this one:
mind’s bright suffering yammer
promise of maggots
blonde darlin –
the black leather
gloves of the
I was proud of the poem and was ushered in to see Trungpa. He sat at a large obsidian block of a desk flanked by bodyguards, also in suits. Tibetan calligraphy in tiny frames completed a minimalist and spartan office that suggested a Japanese yakuza crime lord with his crew (though not noted until we saw a second run of The Yakuza at the Strand after we returned to San Francisco). “Allen Ginsberg told me to give this to you,” I intoned and Trungpa grunted, unimpressed. He jotted down my name, poem unread.
Allen wanted me to clean up for the refuge vow. That night at the ceremony, I wore the over-sized suit of Peter Orlovsky and Allen’s flower tie which I had admired in photos of Allen while I was still in high school a good 8 years earlier. In fact, I did an R. Crumb-like drawing of him wearing it, a cover for a Modern Lit paper I wrote as a Senior then titled ASTRAL DANCE THROUGH ATOM GRAVEYARD NEW YORK PURSUED BY SPECTRE OF MOTHER AND MOLOCH ( – & I got an A!).
I received the name Jangchup Nyima, “Sun of Enlightenment” and tears came to my eyes. As I left, this guy comes up to me, “Your name “Sun of Enlightenment?” I nodded gravely, slightly irked by this intrusion into my holy and profound moment of having formally become a Buddhist (I typo’d “formerly” – a reincarnational flash). “That’s my name, too,” he said, which was quite unusual in the same ceremony. I was shocked.
Richard and I attended a party that night for the new vow takers. Tim Leary, Ginsberg and Orlovsky were there and had also attended the ceremony. When Ginsey asked Leary what he thought of the ceremony he answered that “It was very beautiful.” Osel Tendzin, the Caucasian Vajra Regent who later died of AIDS, was at the party filling in for Trungpa. Ginsberg encouraged me to talk to him but he was being guarded by his entourage. Everyone got drunk and I ran into this guy again, “Ah, Sun of Enlightenment!” and when I left the party, the guy’s pulling out in a station wagon, waving from the window, “So long, Sun of Enlightenment!” Trungpa may not have read my poem, but he had read the young poet.