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Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, two of our ancestors and patriarchs Barry Magid November 1st 2008

I've been enjoying reading the letters of two of our ancestors and patriarchs, Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, which has just been published, and I thought I'd share a little bit about that with you. I can really just go on and on about how the two of them, particularly Snyder, are responsible for our being here today. We cannot measure the depth of gratitude we owe to that generation of pioneers who built a bridge between Japan and America and really in their own lives brought zen to us. Snyder and Ginsberg's relationship goes back to the mid-50's when they met in San Francisco for a famous poetry reading in an art gallery, called Gallery 6, organized by Kenneth Rexroth, I believe, trying to show off the work of the local young poets, and Snyder and Whalen and Ginsberg and that whole crowd read, and Kerouac was there. It's where Ginsberg first read Howl, which became very famous.

In any case, the two of them stayed in touch for the next decades of their lives. They were remarkably different kinds of people, Ginsberg being the quintessential New York Jew, openly and unashamedly homosexual at a time when that was a great novelty, Synder growing up in the pacific northwest in a macho mountain climber mode that was focused on Japan and India and China and the Pacific Rim; Ginsberg focused towards Europe, drawing his inspiration from Blake and Rimbaud - very different sensibilities.

In any case, one little excerpt I'm want to read this morning is from a letter Synder wrote to Ginsberg after he'd gone to Japan for the first time and settled down at a monastery where he was initially doing translation work there with a number of other transplanted westerners who were trying to learn zazen. Meditation was something that both of them had you might just say dabbled in, speculated about, read about read a lot about mysticism west and east, and here was Gary moving to Japan and actually practicing in a zen monastery and describing what real Japanese zen meditation was like.

"Meditation is the most. You just sit still long enough letting your mind wear itself down on itself and pretty soon the bullshit and silliness of the intellect begins to evaporate and the brain and cock sort of come together in the belly and start laughing like a sharp-eared happy animal. "

I think I'll have Curtis and Claire just use this in the beginner's meditation instruction from now on.

It's really everything you need to know about practice - "just still long enough letting your mind wear itself down on itself. " That's it! You let it wear itself down on itself.

There's nothing here about a technique that he's learning or mastering, there's no preoccupation of whether he's doing a technique that's he's learning or mastering; there's no preoccupation of whether he's doing it right or not; there's just the complete trust in putting yourself in this situation where you sit down and let the mind wear itself out on itself. It's that trust in just sitting that I think is so central and in a way so easily lost. And I think that then he talks about that kind of "everything coming together" and you'll have to make some allowances for the brain and cock language - yes, I know - well, it was in 1957 you know, and they were all guys. But we will adjust that for our instruction from now on. I hope you can enjoy the sharp-eared happy animal part.

You see, what's nice about this is really not the picture of some great effort or pain but really just diving in and trusting the water to hold you up. All you have to do is jump in. Somebody was asking about stages of practice, and I said I thought there were really two stages of practice, the first of which is the one in which you think there are stages of practice. And the practice is the trust and experience that practice and realization are the same thing, that we can sit down and let the mind wear itself out on itself, and that will reveal everything that needs to be revealed about the mind and about life and about who we are and just free us up to be that sharp-eared happy animal. It's not always going to be happy, I know that, but there is a basic animal delight and vitality that we too often get cut off from precisely by our dualistic notions of practice and enlightenment and the feeling that we're not there yet. To spend a lifetime of practice trying to get somewhere is a real bummer.

These old guys were mixed up in lots of ways, but they knew how to enjoy themselves. I hope that gets transmitted to you as well.

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