Chicago 7 Trial and Allen Ginsberg
In high school, I was the guy who read Playboy magazine for the photos and the articles. Playboy exposed me to queer Allen Ginsberg and his radical ideas for human liberation. In 1969 I tried to go see the Chicago 7 trial where those supporting the anti-Vietnam-War Festival of Life were accused of inciting a riot. Allen Ginsberg testified as a witness. By that time, Ginsberg was a celebrated poet, and had used Sanskrit mantras to try to calm the Chicago police riot.
In the Playboy article, Ginsberg reminisced:
[The afternoon of] the day before the the convention began–a lot of us were wandering around Lincoln Park when unexpectedly the police showed up with guns and clubs. Nobody knew when the police were going to attack…. Police fear everywhere. So I sat down and began chanting [the mantra] OM. I thought I would chant about 20 minutes and calm myself down, but the chanting stretched into [eight] hours, and a big circle surrounded me. A lot of people joined in the chanting.
After about 15 minutes, my breathing became regular … as if I was breathing the air of heaven into myself and then circulating it back out into heaven. After awhile, the air inside and out became the same–what the Indians call prana, the vital, silvery, evanescent air.
Then I began to feel a funny tingling in my feet that spread until my body was one rigid electrical tingling–a solid mass of lights. it was around 8 pm now and I’d been facing the [100-story] John Hancock Building, which was beginning to light up. I felt like the building except I realized that it wasn’t alive and I was. Then I felt a rigidity within my body, almost like a a muscle armor plating. With all this electric going up and down and this rigid muscle thing I had to to straighten my back to make a clear passage for whatever flow there was: my hands began vibrating.
If there’d been panic and police clubs at the moment, I don’t think I would have minded the damage. Clubbing would have seemed a curiously impertinent intrusion from skeleton phantoms–unreal compared with the natural omnipresent electric universe I was in.
Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Alan Watts and the unknown siddha.
Allen Ginsberg was an ur-Beat. In The Life and Times of Alberto G. Garcia, I write about the presence of Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and other Beats in Texas while Dr. Garcia lived there –in the late 1940s.
Burroughs had substantial agricultural properties in Texas, including a marijuana and poppy farm in the East Texas piney woods. Fifty years before the arrival of these Beats, this area of Texas had been populated with socialists — as well as Hermeticists and Rosicrucians: people who practiced an alchemical tantra, followers of the big hashish importer and prominent Civil War-era, black, rights activist Paschal Randolph. The Beats were unaware of this legacy and had no idea that a being, a siddha, like Dr. Alberto G. Garcia was living in Texas, practicing tantric yoga, raising kundalini up his spine through glowing spinning chakras, and selflessly serving humanity.
For his citrus operation in South Texas, close to the Texas border, William Burroughs relied on workers who he called “wetbacks,” leaving him plenty of time for psilocybin, booze, Benzadrine, heroin and schemes to raise cockroaches as chicken feed. Ginsburg complained to Burroughs about his exploitive practices and would have appreciated the politics of Dr. Garcia. The doctor’s discipline and sobriety, however, would not have been appealing to the Beats.
Dr. Garcia’s life and experiences in Texas as a Mexican American and as a yogi adds perspective to the Beats as men (they almost all were men) and as seekers of nirvana and other freedoms. In the book, I disclose the scathing and insightful comments Dr. Garcia wrote about the about Beat philosopher Alan Watts.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Of the Beats, it was Allen Ginsberg whose spiritual search seemed deepest and most profound. More than a decade after leaving Texas, Ginsberg traveled to India where he met in passing a 24-year-old Tibetan monk named Chögyam Trungpa. Trungpa failed to make any impression on Ginsberg. In 1970, Ginsberg again happened to run into Trungpa on a Manhattan street, where he talked him into giving up his taxicab for him and his father. Chögyam Trungpa had come to the United States to teach a Buddhist tantric yoga. Trungpa was a “Rinpoche,” a reincarnate guru. Ginsberg became Trungpa’s student and helped him create a Buddhist university, the Naropa Institute, in Boulder Colorado, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Later while looking at old photos, Ginsberg saw a photo of himself with the young monk Chögyam Trungpa in India in 1963. He had completely forgotten he had met him there.
In 1975, on a summer break from college, I attended Naropa Institute. I had already been doing the Yoga-Sutra-based practice of Transcendental Meditation. I wasn’t looking for a guru. In spite of the great heights many humans have reached, I was well-aware of human frailties and the corrupt pull of the contemporary world. I was suspicious of any approach to yoga that required submission to a human being. But I knew Chögyam Trungpa to possess an unsurpassed eloquence on matters of spirituality. And I wanted to see what was there for me to see.
At Naropa I sat in on Allen Ginsberg’s class on poetry, and got a salute from him in front of the school in apparent recognition of the bliss I happened to be feeling at the moment. I took classes in Gestalt Therapy, Tai Chi and physics for non-physicists. I attended readings by Ginsberg and by William Burroughs.
Burroughs was not a student of Trungpa—or even a Buddhist. But Ginsberg got him and other Beat literary luminaries to appear at the Institute. In the 1950s, Burroughs had left Texas to avoid a conviction for drugs. There at a party, by drunken and careless mistake, he shot and killed his wife. Burroughs sought to exorcise his demons using the legacy of magic practices taught by Aleister Crowley. (Crowley had headed a Rosicrucian organization and in 1914 had associated with and shared teachings with Dr. Alberto Garcia’s Rosicrucian magus and maestro George Plummer.) When I saw Burroughs at Naropa Institute, he looked a bit grim and hollowed out, like a businessman trapped in the same demimonde as the dark characters in his book. I enjoyed his readings more than his writing. He read with a sarcastic voice of a huckster, a voice that seemed oddly familiar to me. His performance revealed to me far more humor in the text than had been evident from my own reading of it.
The highlight of Naropa Institute was the weekly lectures by Trungpa, held in a high school stage. Trungpa would sit wearing a western business suit, and drinking what appeared to be water out of a large glass. It was universally understood that the “water” in fact was saké. We sat on the gymnasium floor. Often, I ended up sitting near the poet W.S. Merwin and his girlfriend Dana Naone. Trungpa had long given up the monk’s vow of renunciation. He was very engaged in the world with all of its “vices,” which he saw as just more material to work with and use to gain enlightenment.
Buddhist Reginald Ray documented that when Trungpa was a young boy in a Tibetan monastery, even then one of his young companions noticed “there was something unpredictable, uncanny, and somewhat frightening about him.” Trungpa delighted in puncturing “spiritual materialism” and with genius he wielded withering and aggressive blows to “the ego.” At this time, my ego was rather puny, so I was not drawn to pursue his teachings. It was amusing, though, to witness his handling of the Beat poet Gregory Corso – who periodically attempted to disrupt Trungpa’s lectures with drunken shouting. Three months after I left Naropa Institute, W.S. Merwin and Dana Naone got quite fed up with Trungpa when they experienced him at his most aggressive extreme.
I never did any Buddhist practice while I was at Naropa. I just kept doing my TM and learned some Tai Chi.
My only direct interaction with Chögyam Trungpa was at a café owned by his disciples. I was eating dinner with my dorm mate John. His eyes got big when he noticed that his guru was sitting at an overcrowded booth behind me, smoking, drinking and whooping it up with his wife and friends and students. As Trungpa’s party was breaking up, he stood up and pivoted over to our table to return a chair he had borrowed before we even arrived. John and I both kind of stared. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche looked at me and said, “You are welcome.” Yes, he nailed me. My interest in manners was non-existent. I tended to perceive manners at best as something beside the point or at worst something oppressively bourgeois and manipulative. It was an accurate and gentle little lesson Trungpa gave me.
Ironically, while at Naropa Institute I learned no Buddhist techniques – but instead I picked up a Vedic fire ritual called Agnihotra, a ritual that was practiced in what is now India, Nepal, and Pakistan thousands of years before the birth of Buddha. My dormmate had been practicing Agnihotra every day before he came to Naropa Institute. After his arrival at Naropa, he had asked Trungpa about Agnihotra and Trungpa told him to drop it if he was going to be a Buddhist. This is despite the fact that early Buddhist Pali texts extolled the benefits of Agnihotra.
Agnihotra was mentioned in the Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda, which were compiled perhaps 5000 years ago. And from these Vedas also came yoga and the Yoga Sutra practices I had been doing and still do. Agnihotra is a short ceremony performed precisely at sunrise and sunset, with mantras amplified by the flames of a fire. Performing Agnihotra subtly opened something up in me. Every ceremony seemed to strengthen my wakefulness and vivify prana in a palpable way. It was a way to give thanks for manifest existence. Like Transcendental Meditation, one purpose of Agnihotra is to promote peace and harmony in the environment.
More than fifteen years later, when I was living and practicing law in Washington, D.C., I attended an Agnihotra ceremony at a large group home in the Maryland countryside. Passing through the large house I walked by other much-longer Vedic rituals being performed, with chanting and the pouring of large ladles of ghee in the fire. And twenty years after that, while I was initiated into some Yoga Sutra siddhis, surprisingly I seemed to hear and sense in another realm sounds and sights of similar Vedic offerings and chants.
The Dalai Lama and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Reincarnation
In January of 2011, my law firm gave me a three-month sabbatical, and I went to India. Most of the time I was in India I was involved in legal advocacy for displaced shanty-town dwellers and for a national movement to block foreign big box retail stores like Wal Mart from the Indian market. The photo below is of me at a tent erected on the side of a major highway in Delhi to provide shelter for a few of the 100,000 people whose homes had been burned and bull-dozed to make way for accommodations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
In March, I headed to the Himalayas and Dharamsala and McCleod Ganj, home in India to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. I was going to hang out there with my friend Jamie for a few days.
I was familiar with Tibet’s predicament. When I was working for Justice Lloyd Doggett at the Texas Supreme Court in 1994, a top jurist from China came to visit the Court. He had been a judge in the trial of Mao Tse Tung’s wife after Mao’s death, when the Chinese Communist Party had turned against the Cultural Revolution. At the reception, in front of some of the Supreme Court justices, I questioned this eminent jurist, laying a foundation, and tripping him up with a cross-examination about the Chinese judicial system and how it was that a group of three Tibetan nuns could have been recently sentenced to long prison terms merely for singing Buddhist hymns. Probably no one had ever done this to him before and it probably was extremely embarrassing to him. His next stop was the UT law school. I had alerted local Tibetan exiles and they appeared in full force to protest the Chinese occupation and colonization of Tibet. A Republican federal Fifth Circuit judge who appeared with this Chinese jurist apologized and expressed shame and embarrassment that this Communist jurist should have been accorded such an impolite reception in Texas. There I was again, with my bad manners. But I don’t think Chögyam Trungpa would have minded.
Now in 2011, I was in the city that was the capital of the Tibetan government in exile. My friend Jamie and I stayed in a cheap hotel, staffed by some very young Tibetan guys, who didn’t seem to take anything very seriously. I insisted on space heaters at night the Himalayan temperature got quite cold. Two ultimately were delivered to our room. Besides emanating heat, however, they also emanated light. Lots of light. Enough light to brightly illuminate our room all night long. It was like having two airport runway floodlights at the foot of our beds. One night after Jamie fell asleep and I was about to lay down in my bed, the cord to the little reading lamp on our nightstand suddenly caught fire. Flames shot up, died out and then shot up again. I unplugged the lamp and we put the fire out. We were greeted with smiles and laughter when I told the boys at the front desk what had happened. A lamp that could not emit light because it burned itself up with hot flames, and a heater that emitted an immense light. Was this Buddhist tantra?
Late on my next-to-last day in Dharamsala, I decided to try to visit the Karmapa. The Karmapa is a figure like the Dalai Lama, but subordinate to him. He officiates over another lineage of monks and was widely expected to temporarily take over the Tibetan Government-In-Exile when the current 14th Dalai Lama dies. He is in his twenties and, like the Dalai Lama, is the reincarnation of his predecessor. The Karmapa’s monastery is located further down in the foothills from Dharamsala, in a small village in a rural area about an hour or so away. So I hired a little three-wheeled tck-tck to traverse the foothills. These vehicles are like juiced up golf carts, with dashboard shrines. The driver was in front with his wife and I was on the back seat. I had been on these vehicles on the expressways of Delhi going 60-miles-per-hour. It did not seem they were designed for that and it was unclear what they were designed for. But they were the popular and affordable taxis of India.
The Karmapa’s monastery complex with its central temple was beautiful and appeared immaculately maintained.
The Karmapa heads the lineage to which Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche belonged. By now, Trungpa had been dead for 24 years, and a reincarnation had been found. Given Trungpa’s wild behavior in this last reincarnation, I had heard that the monks were keeping an especially close watch on the boy. He was born in Chinese-occupied Tibet. I wondered whether he was still in China or whether he too had escaped. I thought that the monks at Karmapa’s facility might know where he is now. But of the monks I talked to, some had heard of Chögyam Trungpa, but no one knew where his new incarnation was, or at least was willing to say. The Karmapa had an open office on certain days and welcomed visits from Americans and others. But the day I arrived it turns out the Karmapa was out of town. His temple was locked up and deserted.
I later learned that Chögyam Trungpa’s reincarnation, the 12th Trungpa, at the time was 22 years old and living in a monastery within Tibet.
As I walked out of the monastery compound, the tck-tck driver and his wife were waiting for me to take me back to Dharamsala. As we headed out of town and up the first foothill, it became clear that the tck-tck had developed some sort of mechanical problem that caused it to stall going up steep slopes with a heavy weight like myself aboard. So, every time we reached a steep incline I had to get out and push the tck-tck and the driver and his wife up the Himalayan foothills. When we got to the top, I jumped in and coasted down the hill until we reached the next incline. This is how the up-and-down trip went, all the way back to Dharamsala. But I was not bothered a bit. I was so happy just to be in the Himalayas and be surrounded by so many yogis. And I was happy to help these poor souls who owned the tck-tck get their injured vehicle back home.
After I got back to the hotel, I saw that my future wife Joy had sent me a Facebook message from Austin, Texas, indicating that a major event was happening the morning, my last day in McLeod Ganj. The Dalai Lama was scheduled to speak. There was no sign or notice in McCleod Ganj that such a thing was happening. I asked our young Tibetan hotel operators and true to form they were clueless. On further inquiry from others, we learned that this day, March 10, was Uprising Day, commemorating the opposition to Chinese rule in 1959, a revolt that was put down by Chinese violence. The Dalai Lama was supposed to make an address and it would be followed by a political march. How strange it was that Joy, back home in Texas, was aware of this when Tibetans and tourists a few feet away from the Dalai Lama’s home were not?
Early the next morning, I was denied entrance to the Kalachakra temple complex where the Dalai Lama was speaking because I had a camera. The speech was to be in untranslated Tibetan, so therefore I decided to hang on to my camera and photograph the surrounding activities rather than attend the speech.
After the speech was over, I was given a written English translation—and it was a bombshell! The Dalai Lama had announced that he was stepping down as political leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile. For centuries the post of Dalai Lama had encompassed both the spiritual leadership and political leadership of Tibet. What the current Dalai Lama seemed to be saying is that he would no longer serve as the political leader of Tibet. From now on, the Tibetans would elect their own prime minister who would be the political leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile. By this act, the Dalai Lama ended a form of Theocracy and brought reform that was more consistent with 21st Century notions of democracy.
With predictable ridiculousness, the revolutionaries and dialectical materialists in the Chinese communist government objected to the Dalai Lama’s rejection of the old custom political leadership based on a reincarnated inheritance. The Times of India reported as follows:
[T]he Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet said the exiled leader did not have a right to choose his successor the way he wanted. ‘We must respect the historical institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism,’ he said. “It is not up to anyone whether to abolish the reincarnation institution or not.”
After the Dalai Lama’s speech, thousands of young Tibetans were on the streets of McCleod Ganj, holding banners, manning bullhorns. It was Uprising Day. A march proceeded along a forested road. Some people sold copies of a newspaper within which the relative merits of the three candidates for the position of the Tibetan prime minister were being debated.
The tantric yoga of Dr. Alberto G. Garcia
Dr. Alberto’s yoga practice in Austin Texas, which stretched from 1922 or so to 1962, was derived from a tantric interpretation of the Yoga Sutra. Like some of the Tibetan practices, the teachings he followed involved energizing the chakras and bringing kundalini up the spine. It also included tantric sex. Dr. Garcia’s yoga involved adherence to a strict interpretation of the “ethical” yama and niyama limbs of the Yoga Sutra as well as self-less service. Like the yoga of the Dalai Lama, it involved participating in political and social revolution. The Dalai Lama has identified himself as a Marxist. While Dr. Garcia did not, he for most of his life affiliated with Marxist and Communist working class movements and defended communists during the McCarthy era. The story of this unique early Texas yogi is found in The Life and Times of Alberto G. Garcia.
Brad Rockwell, The Life and Times of Alberto G. Garcia (2020); Allen Ginsberg: Spontaneous Mind, Selected Interviews 1958-1996 (Carter, ed., 2001); Rob Johnson, The Lost Years of William Burroughs: Beats in South Texas (2006); Reginald A. Ray, Chögyam Trungpa as a Siddha, Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (Midal, ed., 2005); Tom Clark, The Great Naropa Poetry Wars (1980); H.W. Bodewitz, The Daily Evening and Morning Offering (Agnihotra) According to the Brahmanas (1976); Vasant V. Paranjpe, Grace Alone (1971); Vasant V. Paranjpe, Light Towards Divine Path (1976); Premenda Priyadarshi, In Quest of the Dates of the Vedas (2014); Michael Danino, The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati (2010).