On the Road to Rishikesh (and Beyond)

50 years ago, this month, The Beatles traveled to northern India to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.  They were joined by their wives and girlfriends, along with a number of friends and associates, including Mike Love (Beach Boys), Donovan, and Mia Farrow.

This was a seminal event in the 1960s because it helped put eastern spirituality on the world map, big time.  All the sudden Indian fashion was in vogue (especially Nehru jackets), you started hearing a lot of Eastern flavored songs some featuring the sitar, and it seemed like every rock band now had their own guru (The Who had Meher Baba, The Rascals followed Swami Satchidanada, etc.).

I was a 16-year-old high schooler living in New Orleans.  One day the postman delivered the latest edition of Life Magazine and it had a 10-page layout of color photos of the Beatles and everyone taken at the Mararishi’s ashram.  It looked really cool.  Whether something was cool or not was the barometer by which I judged just about everything.  And still do to some extent.

After seeing these photos, I decided almost immediately that I had to find a new religion and philosophy.  I suspect the Beatles to Indiae had a similar effect on many others of my generation.  George Harrison’s exploration of Indian philosophy and his promotion of Indian music and the sitar (through Ravi Shankar) had already opened the door.  The Beatles stay in Rishikesh pushed it wide open.  This one event was critical in popularizing Indian culture and meditation around the world.

If you don’t already know, then you should understand that The Beatles impact was not only musical, it was also social.

The philosophy I became most interest in was Buddhism, thanks also to the Beat Generation writers who were heavily into Zen.  My high school library didn’t have any books on Buddhism, but it did have a book of quotes by Mahatma Gandhi and that was the first book on Eastern spirituality I read.

Evidently, Ringo didn’t stay at the ashram for long, only 10 days.  Paul stayed for about a month, while George and John stayed 6 weeks.

For the Fab Four, the India trip was also about music.  Many of the songs on the “White Album” were written there, including one called “Sexy Sadie.”  In this song, John satirically expresses the group’s disillusionment with the Maharishi (who claimed to be celibate) after he hit on Mia Farrow.  (“Sexy Sadie, what have you done/You made a fool of everyone.”)  Now that the Maharishi had revealed himself to be a phony, the Beatles had no use for him.  According to Rolling Stone magazine when the Maharishi asked John Lennon why he was leaving the ashram, he said, “Well, if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why.”

That didn’t end everyone’s interest in Eastern spiritually.  Its influence permeated many of John and Paul’s songs afterwards.  George continued to study the sitar and he found the teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, under whose guidance began a practice of japa-yoga.  Donovan and went on to study with other Indian teachers and eventually developed an interest in Buddhism.  Only Mike Love stuck with the Maharishi, embracing TM to this very day.

As for me, I embraced Buddhism and eventually became the world-famous guru, Lama Dharma Rama Ding Dong.

To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of this event, here are some photos (click on them for a larger view).  I don’t know if any of them are from that Life article (I wished I’d kept it), but one or two could be.  I don’t recall the individual photos in the layout very well.  Following the pics are videos of two unreleased Beatles-era John Lennon songs, “The Happy Rishikesh Song” and “Child Of Nature (On the Road to Rishikesh),” the melody Lennon later used for “Jealous Guy”.  This video has lyrics and film from the India trip.

Mike Love in the back with white hat, Mia Farrow next the Maharishi, Donovan in yellow (mellow), John, George, Paul, girlfriends, wives.

 

John, after accidentally dropping his pick into his guitars, tries to shake it out. Happens to me all the time.

Jammin’ with Donovan
Viewing the photo in this size, it looks like they’re using cell phones!
Entrance to the Maharishi’s ashram today.

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The Womb Realm

Esoteric Buddhism (Vajrayana) imagines two realms or worlds (dhatu), the Diamond Realm (Vajradhatu) and the Womb Realm (Garbhadhatu), mystical spaces that represent certain principles, different bodies of the Buddha, and various celestial Buddhas and bodhisattvas.  They could be called “buddhaverses.” The two realms correspond to the concept of the Two Truths as presented by Nagarjuna.

And they are presented graphically as mandala, which are diagrams, geometric patterns and art depicting or mapping out a buddhaverse and are used primarily as an aid to meditation.  In Japanese Buddhism, mandala is frequently used in the Shingon and Tendai schools.

The two realms are not separate (just as the Two Truths are not really two) but rather manifest one reality, and this oneness is represented in the Mandala of the Two Realms.  The individual mandala are the Diamond Realm and the Womb (or Matrix) Realm Mandala.   The Womb Realm (Taizokai) symbolizes the world of embryonic truth, and the Diamond Realm (Kongokai), the world of ultimate truth.

As you can see from the above image of the Womb Realm Mandala, various Buddhas and celestial beings are grouped together in halls or courts surrounding the central 8-Petal Hall and the central figure, the cosmic Buddha Dainichi (Mahavairocana), representing the Dharma Body of the historical Buddha.

Recently I put together a piece of ambient music that to me sounds like the Womb Realm.  Ambient is defined as “a genre of instrumental music that focuses on sound patterns more than melodic form and is used to create a certain atmosphere or state of mind.”

You can also listen to the piece on my YouTube channel.

https://youtu.be/KI8QDehIJiI

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Leonard Cohen: It’s Darker Now

A few weeks ago, in an interview for the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker, he said , “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

But I don’t want it darker, it is dark enough, and that’s no way to say goodbye . . .

Most of us first heard about this songwriter-poet from Canada, Leonard Cohen, from Judy Collins.  She had hit with his song Suzanne, originally a poem, Suzanne Takes You Down, from his collection Parasites of Heaven.  

cohen-sel-poemsMy parents gave me his Selected Poems 1956-1968 for my 17th birthday.  That was cool.  They could have given me a book by someone lame, like Rod McKuen.  I’ve had that book 47 years.  It’s been to New Orleans a couple of times, Nebraska, California, and it’s still in good condition.

Born Jewish, you know in the late 70s he began an involvement with Buddhism.  He became an ordained Zen priest in 1998 and lived at the Mount Baldy Zen Monastery for some years.

I loved that voice.  Deep, dark, haunting.  Instantly recognizable.  Beautiful and disturbing.

I’m glad he passed through this way and touched our perfect bodies with his mind.

Here is a poem from Selected Poems, and after that, a video of Tower of Song.  The poem was published in 1966 and the song written in the 80s.

I’ve Seen Some Lonely History

I’ve seen some lonely history
The heart cannot ignore
I’ve scratched some empty blackboards
They have no teachers for

I trailed my meager demons
From Jerusalem to Rome
I had an invitation
But the host was not at home

There were contagious armies
That spread their uniform
To all parts of my body
Except where I was warm

And so I wore a helmet
With a secret neon sign
That lit up all the boundaries
So I could toe the line

My boots got very tired
Like a sentry’s never should
I was walking on a tightrope
That was buried in the mud

Standing at the drugstore
It was very hard to learn
Though my name was everywhere
I had to wait my turn

I’m standing here before you
I don’t know what I bring
If you can hear the music
why don’t you help me sing?

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Poets to Come or Stuck Inside of Vegas with the Nobel Blues Again

Bob Dylan getting this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been a hot topic on the internet and this week I’ve seen more than the usual number of Whitman comparisons reeling in the air.

A critic for the NY Times opined that “Mr. Dylan is among the most authentic voices America has produced, a maker of images as audacious and resonant as anything in Walt Whitman . . .” From the Desert Trip stage, Mick Jagger said, “I want to thank Bob Dylan for an amazing set.  We have never shared the stage with a Nobel Prize winner before.  Bob is like our own Walt Whitman.”  One guy even had the audacity to write “Bob Dylan has surpassed Walt Whitman as the defining American artist, celebrating the capacity for self-invention as the highest form of freedom.”

whitman-dylan2c Bob has put his changeling persona to good use, but the reason he has been given the prize is, according to the Nobel committee, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  Just as Whitman did with the American poetry tradition in the 19th century.

Comparisons are odious is an old expression dating from the 15th century, and it’s true that usually it is unhelpful and unfair to compare two different things or persons.  Nonetheless there are some interesting similarities between Mr. W and Mr. D.

Iconoclasts, controversial.  Their writings celebrate freedom and individuality.  There is some mysticism in common and shared themes of war, death and democracy.  And the stand on public nudity: “Nakedness in Nature!  There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent,” Whitman proclaimed (A Sun-bathed Nakedness), while Dylan has murmured, “I run naked when I can” (11 Outlined Epitaphs).

One difference between them, is that unlike Bob, I’m pretty sure Walt Whitman did not receive any awards in his lifetime.  When Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855, it was labeled “obscene” and literally banned in Boston.  Whitman was not a rich man either, for he died in what we call today relative poverty.

Dogging the announcement of Bob’s prize has been the question of whether or not he deserves it, do his lyrics qualify as literature.  I think that can be answered with another question: If the Nobel Prize had existed during Whitman’s time, would Whitman be deserving of it?

By the way, Bob has not commented publicly about winning the prize (evidently, he has not even returned the Nobel committee’s calls).  He’s currently on the road.  The same night as the announcement, he and his band performed in Las Vegas where he played guitar for the first time in four years (on Simple Twist of Fate), and of course, he played at Desert Trip on Friday.

I know Bob admires Walt Whitman and thinks of him as an influence, and I can’t help but wonder what Whitman would think of Dylan’s writing.  Would he consider it poetry, literature?  I think he would.  But that’s just my opinion.

In the poem below, Whitman speaks to the future, and he speaks of his identity and role as an artist, and who knows, perhaps in an moment of mystical prescience, he is also describing a poet to come, a poet who has written surreal, complex, and sometimes beautiful and tender songs from Desolation Row, and has explained them away saying, “It’s all math . . . There’s a definite number of Colt .45s that make up Marlene Dietrich, and you can find that out if you want to.”

Poets to Come

POETS to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!    
Not to-day is to justify me, and answer what I am for;    
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,    
Arouse! Arouse—for you must justify me—you must answer.    
 
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,             
I but advance a moment, only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.    
 
I am a man who, sauntering along, without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you, and then averts his face,    
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,    
Expecting the main things from you.

– Walt Whitman

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Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoThese lyrics to a 1949 song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson, are offered to commemorate National Poetry Month, the opening of the 2016 baseball season, and this day 69 years ago when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history by playing in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it’s a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Jackie-Robinson_Stealing Home2bDid you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain’t all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie’s real gone.
Jackie’s is a real gone guy.

 

Most of you know about Jackie Robinson, but you may not be familiar with Buddy Johnson, an African-American blues and jazz pianist, bandleader and songwriter.  His biggest hit as a tunesmith was Since I Fell for You, a standard recorded by many artists over the years, my favorite being Lenny Welsh’s 1963 hit.

Now, the best known recording of Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? is no doubt the one by Count Basie, done at the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, with “Taps” Miller as vocalist.  According to the Library of Congress, this version “has become synonymous with the song itself.”

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