More of a Buddhist Jewish Pantheist

by Mark Chmiel

Everybody needs a guru, I’ve got Nima Sheth among the living, she’s just back from India. But it’s good to have lotsa gurus, including those bodily deceased but still lodged in heart/mind, as Allen Ginsberg is for me. Here’s why, in these selections from Jane Kramer’s portrait, Allen Ginsberg in America:

Guru as emanating trust and comfort: [AG] made a comfortable, avuncular presence—a rumpled, friendly-looking man with a nice toothy face, big brown owl eyes behind the horn-rimmed classes, and a weary, rather affecting slouch. 5

Guru as book fiend: What books do I carry around with me, like AG did the Prajnaparamita Sutra? … Go ahead, savor books.

Guru as Beloved Teacher: He has been revered by thousands of heady, flower-wielding boys and girls as a combination guru and paterfamilias, and by a generation of students—who consider him a natural ally, if for no other reason than that he terrifies their parents with his elaborate and passionate friendliness—as a kind of ultimate faculty advisor. 9

Guru as faithful, indefatigable correspondent: Ginsberg answers all his letters. 16

Guru as Filer Extraordinaire: Important communiqués, such as letters about drug laws and obscenity trials, get clipped, underlined, and filed away in an appropriate folder in the cross-referenced file cabinet in Ginsberg’s dining room. 16 Be better organized with my files…of letters, etc. Retrieve all my chaos up from the basement.

Guru as Master of Burgeoning Network: He enters the name, address, and phone number of anyone he meets who plays, or is apt to play, a part in what he thinks of as the new order—or has information that might be useful to it—in the address book that he always carries in his purple bag, and he goes to considerable trouble putting people he likes in touch with each other and with sympathetic and influential Establishment characters who might be helpful to them. 16

Guru as Jean Abbott: Ginsberg tries his best to be soothing rather than startling. 17

Guru as Payer of Attention: Keep a record of my investigations….

Guru as Bhakti Devotee: Have a shrine, altar somewhere in the study 22 [Sri Anandamayi Ma]

Guru as Syncetic Self: After a while, he said that he was probably a “Buddhist Jew,” with attachments to Krishna, Siva, Allah, Coyote, and the Sacred Heart. Then he said no—he was simply on a ort of pilgrimage, “shopping around,” In a minute he corrected himself again, saying that he really thought all the gods were “groovy,” and so, in fact, he was more of a Buddhist Jewish pantheist. 23

Guru as Mindful Wiz: I could be a whole lot better saying my gathas… and writing my own, too. [resume with Caroline Yoshifuji]

Guru as Recorder of All Ordinarinesses: Use that tape recorder more, though it would be good to get a digital one.

Guru as Housetaker: Karen House: write down what ever is going on throughout the house shift, keep a record. [Brainard, I Remember]

Guru as Hallower of Home: Clean up my study.

Guru as Nonviolent Lover of All: Some of the students wanted to arm themselves against the Angels, but Ginsberg, at the rally, made it clear that he was determined to love the Angels, if not into outright friendliness, at least into a temporary state of truce. 78

Guru as DAV/Edward Said Figure: A rumpled, baggy, but otherwise impeccable dark gray suit, which he had bought at Brooks Brothers for testifying at the subcommittee hearing on LSD… 79

Guru as “Step it up and go” Presence: He is a funny, eloquent teacher, and an admitted ham. As a reader, he is by rapid turns rapturous, weepy, plaintive, outraged, comical, heartbreaking and then rapturous again. 93

Guru as Engager of students: Teach my students… how to do gathas, all about heartbreak from Book of Mev, answer their questions about activism, send them to library to read tomes, tell them to be nice to their parents, talk to them as adults in ways that other teachers are too busy to.

Guru as World/Nation/City Traveler: Get on the road and do better and adding to my network, and stay in touch!!! … Get to know Saint Louis better, and Chicago, and other Midwest towns…. Belgravia Court—take my camera!

Guru as Simple Living Exponent: His friends prefer to think of [AG} as a sort of latter-day Hebrew prophet, roaming raggedy, exhortative, and penitential among the idol-worshippers. Ginsberg himself apparently never wasted much time wondering why he enjoyed being poor. 99

Guru as Groovy Japam Maven: Pick a mantra and use it a million times.

Guru as Appreciator of Ezra Pound: Read Pound, 20 books by end of year.

Guru as Bach Defender: AG: “I get hung up on Bach too,” Ginsberg told her. “Sometimes I think that if people listened to one little piece by Bach as often in a month as they listen to ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,’ they’d maybe find they were connecting with Bach too.” 112

Guru as Redeemer of Pedagogy: AG on his schooling: And there was a total lack of any sublime teaching. A lack of teachers with praxis for the delicate religious areas that we were approaching intellectually in all those seminars on Plotinus and Plato, but never really entering. 120

Guru as Announcer of Alternatives: There’s more to school than being “practical” to end up getting a good job.

–June 2006