Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Blue door, Bursa.

My hotel in Bursa was hosting a convention I didn't know about and when I went to extend my reservation I leaned instead that I'd have to move out for five days. For my exile I chose a place I found on the internet, The Atamer Doğa Resort in nearby Gemlik, a coastal town on the Sea of Marmara. 

Gemlik is an explosion of apartment buildings on the edge of a bay, one side occupied by the cranes that unload container ships and some kind of refinery, with dozens of smokestacks emitting white smoke and fumes day and night. The shoreline is thick with algae blooms and the refinery adds it quotient to the orange haze that not so distant Istanbul and other nearby cities generate. An inferno of industrialization occurs on the still waters of the Sea of Marmara. The hillsides are covered with olive trees and swallows with bright green bellies hunt in the morning. As I began my first walk in Gemlik, I left my room and descended down a vine-choked stairway and stumbled upon a arbor of untended and ripe grapes which I began to consume. 

The world is carrying on a latent conversation, speaking to each of us personally but requiring a reversal of how we perceive, the echo of the gunshot being the point rather than the bullet. I saw this once again on my first day at the Atamer. That morning I'd read something from the Ibn 'Arabi scholar Stephen Hirtenstein, who wrote, "The inherent loneliness felt when we are among other people is because they seem to be somehow like us, contradicting our reality which has no likeness." This struck me as an analog to something Lord Mukpo conveyed so deeply and often, that because we can never completely convey our experience to someone else, sadness is an unconditional aspect of our being. The echo tells us nothing in life can be compared to anything, and in moments of fully discovering the poignancy of trying we find ourselves in love.

After reading Stephen Hirtenstein I had decided to take a walk, - the very walk in which I'd encountered the grapes. Soon enough I left the road to scurry up the hillside into the olive orchards. The grasses and other plants lay horizontal, parched by season's end and long faded. Only the olive trees were green. I picked an olive and polished it in my fingers, removing the dusty residue to reveal an even brighter green, the same color as the swallow's belly. The trees of the orchard were planted symmetrically, as ordered as a military formation. But their trunks were varied and primordially undomesticated and each revealed an unfathomably singularity and dignity. I was standing in a hillside of tathāgatas. 

.  .  .

I will now describe the influences that brought me to Bursa.

In 2000, I took a trip to Spain and spent several days in Cordoba. I mostly wandered around, visiting the well known places in the old city, as well as the sides streets and modern avenues. Just outside of the old city gates and across the Guadalquivir river, I came across a museum dedicated to Ibn Arabi and went in. About all I remember of the museum is the large wax statue of Ibn Arabi, cast heroically as Jesus might be, and that I had encountered a major figure of world history and spirituality of whom I know nothing. I became enthralled by the Moorish history of Cordoba and the echoes of that time that could still be found; the visual ones of the architecture, and a spiritual echo that represented the enlightenment of the Sufis of Ibn Arabi's era - perhaps a time as thick with realized masters as Tibet or Japan were during their eras of great spiritual attainment (Karma Pakshi and Dōgen Zenji were  contemporaries of Ibn Arabi, as was St. Francis of Assisi).

Nine years later I rediscovered Ibn 'Arabi, though on a less extensive trip that simply required walking from my house to the storage shed along side it and retrieving a book with some of his quotes. A moment had occurred in my morning meditation, something from Cordoba spilling into a 2009 March day with snow on the ground. I became activated with a sense of new discovery and imperative, the energy of the dralas, and this continued for weeks. During this time, I remembered the book in my shed, a compilation of various Sufi teachings on love, and once I'd retrieved it, and then purchased others by Ibn 'Arabi, I began to read him regularly, which was to have his thought and metaphors enter my bloodstream, thought so thick with beauty and unexpected meaning I could feel my cells change. 

I realized almost that I was being redirected or sent back into school. That moment of meditation was unequivocal, Lord Mukpo's dream time has suddenly incorporated my forgotten trip to Moorish Spain into it's geography and in an almost diabolical twist, I was shot into the language of God. The non-theistic terrain of Buddhism no longer had "theism" opposing it, which enhanced my confusion but also and my faith. Since then I've periodically inhabited as isthmus eaten away from two sides, the language of Buddhism and the language of mystical Islam, with the waters around being one, so to speak, those of Shambhala.

.  .  . 

Our world is a globalized, geographical everywhere, with its ruined wells, witch hunts, emptied out libraries and dislocated ancestors, but also with it's enduring beauty, spread of knowledge and growing interconnected consciousness. Lord Mukpo brought the Shambhala teachings into this darkness and potentiality with language visions such as the term basic goodness, which he once described this way (these words are form my own transcripts and convey the unedited conversation he was having with the audience):
"The basic goodness is based on your first mind. Your first thought. Before your thought you have a gasp - aahh! (sudden inhale) "What should I think?" Before you think, even before you have a gasp there is that space that is the purity, that there is a… can you understand what I'm talking about?" 
Lord Mukpo paused to ask the audience if they understood, and of course we mostly didn't. He was inviting us into "an ocean without shore" - to mix metaphors and switch to one of Ibn Arabi's - so how could we? He was simultaneously transmitting this first mind to us. In the same talk he explained his name, that Lord is like "the sky" and Mukpo is like "sunshine in the midst of the sky." If any of us fully experienced our own name as he did his we would be an ocean without shore ("or space infused with knowing," as Tulku Urygen would put it). One is utterly confused in the face of such a language/transmission yet one might "cross over" into it for a moment, an instant, loosing reverence points, the way we can feel tipsy looking down at the surf when we wade into it. Here is an example of Ibn Arabi describing the experience of "first mind":
“The moment” (waqt) is an expression for your state in time. The state does not attach itself to the past or future. It is an existent between two nonexistents. And if your Moment is the wellspring of your state, you are the son or daughter of your Moment, and your Moment determines what you are, because it is existent and you are nonexistent, you are illusory and it is affirmed.


The calligraphy above is from Ulu Cami in Bursa (I took the photograph looking up, the calligraphy is high on a column, the camera slightly crooked). I'd first seen this calligraphy in one of the Ibn 'Arabi books I purchased in 2009, Journey to the Lord of Power: A Sufi Manual on Retreat, which was illustrated with copies, as noted in the introductions, of "the monumental mural compositions of calligraphy approximately eight feet in height" from the Grand Mosque in Bursa, Turkey. I'd never seen anything quite like these calligraphies and in that moment of learning where the originals were I realized I would go there (that is what the thought in the moment said; or course I forgot about it).

And as it has turned out, I've been in Bursa for over a month.

As I look at the calligraphy now it reminds me of the olive orchard, of some of the oldest olive trees, which were as densely irregular with their ancient growth as these brush stokes are uniform, but each convey the majesty of form and space as something we can never be apart from or escape and so our only option in the end is to surrender, awaken. The supremely stylized Arabic of the calligraphy says, Allah the Generous One, the Raiser of the Dead, the Guardian of All Existence, the Ever Present. This is our being, right down to the non-existent but apparent cells of our toenails. I hold out this calligraphy as evidence of the obvious realization-lineages within Islam, of an awesome and nearly hallucinogenic-symphonic beauty and as example of the long ways most of us have to go. It compels humility and an embrace of what is at hand. As Lord Mukpo said, in reminding us of the inevitable alternation between glimpses of the unconditioned and our relative life, how we are always returned to the life we have, "Instead of experiencing the boundless cosmic drink, the elixir of life, we might have to stick with Budweiser."


Monday, September 19, 2011



I happened upon this audio recording from The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche a few nights ago, a treasure. In it Rigdzin Shikpo recounts with what seems to be great fidelity and personal understanding the meditation instruction he received from Chögyam Trungpa in 1965. The recording documents not just the fruitional nature of Chögyam Trungpa's initial teaching but perhaps something of the "non-linear" element of a great teacher's work, since the language of these instructions is not unlike the teachings of Shabhala Level Five, the program Chögyam Trungpa/Lord Mukpo personally taught during the last decade of his life, a language of profound simplicity, immediacy and tenderness. Another remarkable document on The Chronicles are stories Rigdzin Shikpo's wife Shenon Hookam tells about meeting Chögyam Trungpa and about her and Rigdzin's lifelong involvement with his teaching. I have transcribed Rigdzin Shikpo's audio recording (scroll down to end of post).  
.  .  .

My sixth-floor hotel room has a windowed door that opens onto a small patio and comes with a view of the traffic circle and much of the city of Bursa. In this Mediterranean climate, it has not been warmer than 89F or cooler than 70F for the last three weeks and so I leave the door open. I'm in my room most of the day, writing, but often looking out at the city and its constantly changing light.

The dual towers of the coal plant are across town and loom behind a building that partially obscures them. I hear the traffic circle day and night, the horns and acceleration. The atmosphere above the basin of this city that has been occupied since antiquity and was the westernmost edge of the silk route fills with various forms of burnt fuel and processed chemicals and by the time the sun is low in the sky the buildings catch fire; even the blue of a nearby wall the sun hits at 5:00 PM is hot and cinematic. In this irresistible glow of late afternoon global warming is made into a tactile newsprint of itself, a scrim that didn't used to be here.

I bought a while button-down dress shirt at Brooks Brothers before I left Washington D.C. and wear it every day when I go out. I wondered why I was paying eighty dollars for a shirt but the hunch was right, it’s holding up well and is the right piece of clothing to be wearing, with my black belt and denim pants. It dresses me up just enough so that I feel employed in something rather than someone just wandering around, which is what I mostly do when I’m wearing the shirt. 

Sometimes I’m in Ulu Cami, the city's great mosque that was completed fifteen years before the battle of Agincourt, and the local Starbucks on the same day. The Starbucks, too, seems like a scrim, glass walls along the front, inside of which what has been going on for a long time continues. The main difference between the Starbucks and the traditional tea shops is the latter are frequently by men and from an initial glance they look centuries apart; the most traditional tea shop looking a bit derelict and the men perched on tiny stools, whereas the Starbucks comes in its standard uniform of throw away cups and chocolate brownies with men and women at the tables. Something remains intact, certainly in the tea shops but even in the Starbucks, an atmosphere of manners and tradition and enjoyment, things that haven't gotten as mangled or gone akimbo as elsewhere. Everyone sits and visits, not a single person carries a cup out onto the street, as if even that much multi-tasking hasn't taken hold.

There was a celebration day during Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish) and not just Ulu Cami but the entire area of the older, historic city – and it is a labyrinth of commerce and countless shops indeed – was flush with people. Like a penguin I was in it and sometimes pressed to the bodies of those around me, their touch, familiarity with each other, ways they were enjoying themselves. The unmangled factor was there in the familial enjoyment and chaste atmosphere of celebration, mores that seemed to have missed me as I journeyed with the culture of my own generation though the sexual revolution. The tenderness made we weep inside and I was ashamed for having missed things about love, and for America's need for a global enemy, the projection of Islam as a necessarily oppressive force.

 .  .  .

My experience of the drala principle and the drala has often occurred near water; Boulder Creek, the River Arno, the Mekong. I came down with food poisoning three days after I arrived in Bursa and lay in bed for thirty-two hours, for much of the time unable to drink water because it made me vomit again. I slept through most of it, two nights and the entire day in between, a long and rare and frequently disturbed sleep. 

Each time I woke I had a vivid and specific memory, as if I was being taken to earlier times in order to retrieve something: a certain hike I took in southern Utah; my mother's turquoise bracet; the zocalo in Mexico City.

 For some time I've been writing these moments down, the thought I have when I first wake, even if just from a nap (sometimes especially a nap), as if this was one of the moments Lord Mukpo's dream-time spills in, as he once said, All the relative thoughts that happen in your mind in connection with cause and effect are the agents of the dralas. As if finding a clue that amplified the logic of dream time, on the day I recovered my health I came across a quote about history by Antonio Gramsci, that it "has deposited us" in an "infinity of traces without leaving an inventory" and as part of becoming conscious it is necessary "to compile such an inventory."

This morning the swallows were out, acrobatic as ever. I lay on my back and stared up at them, though the open door; wing gusts of acceleration, then glides or turns in the next instant. Swallows fly in unpredictable changes of direction according to the insects they sight in their hunt. As I watched them my body relaxed discernibly, the patterns of their movement so at home in my optic nerve. The swallows were hunting and the insects where dying, that's what one narrative said. Another narrative was about the traces, that as we notice and record them, they accumulate into the steps of an unknown but optimal path. Realization feeds upon the erratic.

After three weeks in Bursa, writing, studying, doing my practice, wandering and taking my meals, without having had a single conversation beyond the ones it takes to order food or ask the desk clerks to help me with my Turkish, I recognize that what brought me here was an unimaginable sequence of blessings in a free-fall, accidents occurring beside other things I momentarily took more seriously according to the infections I had at the time.  
.  .  . 

.  .  .  .
From The Chronicles of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Rigdzin Shikpo, formerly known as Michael Hookham, talks about his training with Trungpa Rinpoche in the 1960s, beginning while Rinpoche was studying at Oxford.

Tribute to Trungpa Rinpoche

I and a friend first met Trungpa Rinpoche in 1965 in London. We both had been very impressed by his teaching and asked if we could meet him and talk further and get some teaching from him at his flat in Oxford, the flat he called Anitya, meaning impermanence. We went and stayed there for a long weekend, going up on Friday and getting some teachings from him in the evening, staying over Saturday and Sunday and getting some final instructions in the morning on Monday. The most astonishing thing about this period of time for us was that he was very enthusiastic in teaching us something of dzochen or Maha Ati as he called it. We perhaps didn’t realize at the time just how profound this teaching was, but nevertheless it was something that was very impressive and very telling for us, and in fact has something that stayed with us right up to the present the day.

The first aspect of the teaching he wanted to bring across to us was a very practical aspect, and that is the teaching of what he called complete openness. He said this is the way that you had to act to everybody and to every situation you encountered, you had to be completely open, without having prejudice mind and you had to train yourself in that particular way. And that this was the keynote of the essence of formless meditation itself and no matter what  kind of thing arose in meditation, no matter how emotional it might be, no matter how confusing the quality of openness, opening yourself out to what was there always had to be present. It wasn’t a question of indulging in the experience, but allowing yourself to feel it in a very complete way, and then be able to let go of it when you’d done that. So the essence of formless meditation was really this teaching of complete openness.  And it wasn’t simply that the complete openness was a meditation instruction, but simply he said that everything was completely open in nature. It didn’t matter what it was, the nature of everything you encountered, all situations and all people, no matter what the experience might be, complete openness was the keynote. 

Another thing he mentioned at that time he said it’s not just a question of things of being open, which one might interpret perhaps as some kind of ultimate emptiness, but that things form some kind of coherent pattern just naturally, and this he called natural perfection. As things manifest to you naturally in your life and in your experience they formed patterns that have meaning and significance in a way that he sometimes described as the mandala principle. There isn’t anything that is not significant and not valuable. And there is nothing you can say about your experience that doesn’t make it perfect, even if you were to experience something negative, then the perfection involved in that is of course the fact is that you had yourself constricted or interfered in some way with the natural flow or natural expression of that pattern, and as you did that then the pattern changed and it formed a different kind of natural pattern that might seem to our minds rather confused or rather negative, but it was simply the natural outcome of one’s personal participation with the pattern, along with the participation of all other beings and everything that went up to make up that natural situation.

The important thing in one’s life and in ones behavior was to see this kind natural patterning and to go with that, not in the sense, again, of indulging in it, but to be able to experience it and to open out to it and then to allow the third aspect, which he described as very important, which was to allow the quality of absolute spontaneity to arise. Absolute spontaneity isn’t really  something  that you can say, “I’m going to be spontaneous”; that of course wouldn’t make any sense,  and you can’t in any way make spontaneity happen, of course, but it is possible to lay some kind of ground for that spontaneity to arise, and the important thing there is to not have preconceived, solid ideas about notions of causality, why you think that the volitions that you have should arise in a particular way, such as, well I think in this way because it’s the way am, or I think in this way because it’s the force of my notions that make me think like this, or maybe I think it’s a series of associations that makes me behave or think in this way, but in fact, as you allow yourself to open up into something of that ground from which actions arise, you realize the actions that you called “yours” don’t arise from ego at all, they are not ego centered, and they simply arise from some bases which is actually beyond thought, beyond concepts. You could say its like a fountain of goodness, that all actions are fundamentally good in nature. When it seems that they don’t work and there is some negativity involved, one can see that it is one’s modifications and constrictions in how one treats one’s experience that makes that negativity there, and makes me think that I perhaps performed this particular action, and the egocentricity that is involved in that makes it not a spontaneous act.

You had to bring the three together, the natural perfection of everything, the complete openness and spontaneity all came together and that it was possible in the general experience of one’s life and one’s Buddhist practice to make those three things a complete unity, and then if you do that you have the experience of what is called the tree of life. That everything that arises has something of significance or value, that nothing in your life is to be considered, as it were, an accidental event, everything had to do with dharma, everything is the living dharma, as he would sometimes say, that on this day the dharma wants me to do this particular thing, or the dharma wants me to do this - that is something that obviously you have to find out for yourself - but his idea was that dharma was alive with these three particular qualities and that was the basis for him for the whole of the dharma and particularly this formless meditation.

And as I said that was something he said to take to heart and we did our best and of course even in those weekends with the instructions were straight from his mouth, as it were, when we went back to our hotel and started to meditate we would say to ourselves, “Well, we can’t force meditation into a particular way or frame it in a certain way,” but of course we couldn’t have not guided the meditation along a bit, to shove it in a particular direction, it took years, to learn to abandon yourself to this quality of spontaneity and to rely on natural perfection and to realize that complete openness was the only way.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Two Musicians and One Titanic Musician

In the spirit of bliss, I offer this six-minute video tribute to three artists, street musicians I encountered in Washington D.C. and New York City. The first two musicians are high-energy and magnetic in the way the best street players are, and the third is a huge musician, of truly titanic proportions.