Giving up Poetry: With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock

An account of the historic poetry and Buddhist meditation retreat led by Ginsberg at Hollyhock Farm on remote Cortes Island, British Columbia, in l985, With Allen Ginsberg At Hollyhock, will be published in August, 2001 by Banff Centre Press. The following excerpt is reprinted by permission.

Buy it at Banff Centre Press

Satori in the Himalayas 
by Trevor Carolan

At his reading the night before, Allen had begun his oration of "September on Jessore Road" by pumping his harmonium and intoning the Sanskrit mantra Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Sidhi Hum. As he chanted, something about the mantra struck me peculiarly hard, so I grew determined to find out its exact phrasing.

I asked him on the way to lunch.

"That's the Padmasambhava mantra from the Tibetan Nyingma school,

Dudjom Rinpoche, Head," he told me. "Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum."

I asked him to repeat it slowly so that I could write it down. Allen reached over, took up my battered City Lights edition of The Fall of America and inscribed the mantra above the poem on p. 183, notating also the chords accompanying his recitation: Fm Bb Fm-three chord rock and roll. He'd told me once that he took up the harmonium because it was the easiest thing to play and he knew nothing about music.

I thanked him, though something niggled at my recollection of the mantra, something I hadn't noticed before. On a hunch I detoured to my room where I consulted the entries in my journal of my wife's and my recent journey through Asia.

Combing the pages, passing through Burma, Taiwan, Korea, and the rest, I found what I was looking for. Dated February 8, Himalayas, India, virtually three months previous to the day, I read under the heading "Tamang Buddhist Monastery, Darjeeling-Place of the Lightning Bolts":

.. Pissing in the vile public loo, I spied a small Disney-like monastery through a wall opening. Wonderful happenstance! A surreal facade of Tibetan red, white and blue floating clouds, tiny deer, altars.

Met a young monk speaking some English who said relics of the Buddha and two of his disciples had rested here in transit once, and that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had also rested here during his travels. He invited us to sit for a Puja ceremony in a few minutes. Kwangshik and I followed and sat silently on the cold stone floor before a tall, gilt altar set behind glass. To our left, two young monks sat chanting bass and tenor from sheaves of old scriptures. The pair banged drums and cymbals steadily in 4/4 rhythm, periodically working themselves into a fervor, bashing huge crescendos of deafening sounds that echoed wildly in the temple before calmly returning to their steady monotone chant. We stayed the full puja; it was freezing cold with temperature at zero and icy wind blew through the open temple doors. We were the only attendees. At one point, when drums and gongs and incense and chanting and freezing cold in our socks were all becoming one I gazed intently at the golden image of the Buddha flanked by two Tara demi-goddess images and saw them bathed in a golden light that shimmered kaleidoscopic in the wintery gloom. The chanting and clamouring droned on, weaving a rapturous fabric. Everything slid away and I thought heaven must be like this. After- ward, on inquiring of the monk what mantra they'd been chanting he explained it was the Kangsu Khatampower mantra.

Spelled phonetically, it goes: Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum!

exactly the same as Allen's notation above "September on Jessore Road." The same chant, the first time invoking joy, the second grief. I felt a chill. There they were: Birth and Death, Heaven and hell, the same syllables: one name.

From With Allen Ginsberg at Hollyhock, by Trevor Carolan. Banff Centre Press, August 2001. 104 p.