Howling for India
Ginsberg’s search for enlightenment
In Blue Hand, Baker found a rare path to biography, paying close attention to Ginsberg’s 15-month quest for enlightenment in India, using what might have been his own way of writing the book, had he done so. Blue Hand is a well-researched, elegant biography written in Ginsberg’s tradition of an open field of composition, where everything counts as long as it can be accounted for in one sitting and with no revision.
On June 3, 1962, Ginsberg visited one of countless gurus he sought throughout his sojourn. On this day, his 36th birthday, he ran into a lama of the Gelukpa sect who offered him a young boy for sex (as it really was just a small sin). Ginsberg declined. He was in a hurry to visit the Tantric sect. From one holy tribe to another, he sought the enlightened state of detachment. His spiritual quest in this land of countless groups of mystics led him from one teacher to another, one doctrine of purity after another, each with its own eccentricities and each, except for one, finding Ginsberg charging through like a charming little boy lost.
The Dalai Lama, only 27 years old at the time, asked Ginsberg: “If you take LSD, can you see what’s in that briefcase?” In response, Allen proposed to recite “Howl.” Traveling with Ginsberg at this moment was Gary Snyder, perhaps the most contemplative of all the Beats, and he interrupted with questions about meditation posture. He asked the Dalai Lama, “How many hours of meditation do you do a day?” The response? “Me? I never meditate. I don’t have to.” Ginsberg was elated by the reply. He could never put up with meditation, no matter how many photographs were taken of him sitting as though doing so. Snyder was very disappointed.
Disney version of Eastern mysticism was perfect for an American cultural
revolution. He did ultimately find one doctrinal touchstone on his journey in
the Baul (which means “possessed”) tradition of song. Known as “holy fools” in
second rate, too, his enlightenment. But perfect for
Blue Hand has no beginning, middle or end.
This reviewer is way past deadline and not any closer to enlightenment. But
perhaps there never will be as definitive a book as Blue Hand regarding the basic elements of hip culture, since it
replicates the very process of discovery. Sitars on rock records; Beat lingo in
song lyrics; the poet as meddler and crazy jumper: It is all so neurotic,
attached and American. It is all so Allen Ginsberg, who went to