Tendrel: A Meeting of Minds is the latest book by Anne Waldman. It is a short collection of essays, articles, poems, and photographs loosely centred around the intersection of Beat Generation and Buddhism. Or rather, it is based upon one essay, with various addenda.

The book begins with a short poem by Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, called “Stray Dog,” before moving on to the titular essay. “Tendrel: A Meeting of Minds” discusses Trungpa’s coming to the USA in time to meet and hold influence over various figures in the New American Poetry scene – Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Joanne Kyger, Philip Whalen, and Waldman. This meeting of minds led to the creation of the Naropa Institute, now Naropa University. About the school, Waldman says:

The overall mission—if one could state such a thing—of these core and guest writers at Naropa has been to restore the poet’s ancient scholarly and shamanic role as keeper of the culture, as well as manifest as performer, teacher, and social commentator.

Waldman draws connections between poetry and Buddhism. She quotes Trungpa on similarities between Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Bridge” and Buddhist sutras, then she writes:

Modernist poet William Carlos Williams’s “no ideas but in things” and attention to the “minute particulars” resonates with Buddhist attention to “ordinary mind.” Ezra Pound’s useful triad melopoeia (sound), logopoeia (the dance of the intellect), and phanopoeia (the image cast on the mind) resembles the Buddhist triad of body, speech, and mind, while Gertrude Stein’s attention to tracking the grammar of her own thinking was akin to Buddhist mindfulness and discriminating awareness wisdom.

She discusses Tibetan poetry and “crazy wisdom,” and compares early and late poems by Trungpa, before returning to the connections between Beats (and their peers, the San Francisco Renaissance and Black Mountain poets) and Buddhism. She quotes Allen Ginsberg on this matter:

I think, probably, the meditation experience just made me more and more aware of the humor of the fact that breath is the basis of poetry and song—it’s so important in it as a measure. Song is carried out through the breath, which seems like a nice “poetic justice,” (laughs)—that the breath should be so important in meditation as well as in poetics. I think that must be historically the reason for the fact that all meditation teachers are conscious of their spoken breath, as poets are. […] That’s the reason for the Naropa Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics; originally, Trungpa asked me to take part in the school because he wanted the meditators to be inspired to poetry, because they can’t teach unless they’re poets—they can’t communicate.

Trungpa was one of Ginsberg’s gurus and he followed the lama’s advice in many matters, but when it came to poetry, it was Kerouac Ginsberg respected most. When he read Mexico City Blues (the poem Ginsberg credits with the inspiration for “Howl”), Trungpa was more than enthusiastic. He told Allen, “It’s a perfect exposition of mind.” It is perhaps no coincidence that Kerouac was deep in Buddhist reading when he wrote those short poems.

I respect the inclusion of William S. Burroughs’ thoughts on Trungpa and Buddhism, which sit at odds with Waldman’s and everyone else cited in this essay. Burroughs was more than a little sceptical about Buddhism and didn’t like Trungpa’s rejection of concepts Burroughs thought were useful—astral projection, telepathy, and other kooky ideas. When Burroughs went on a retreat, Trungpa told him not to take a typewriter and Burroughs was annoyed. As a writer, he felt a typewriter was more than a tool, and continued on to contest certain important Buddhist notions:

Writers don’t write, they read and transcribe. They are only allowed to access […] the books at certain arbitrary times. They have to make the most of these occasions. Furthermore I am more concerned with writing than I am with any sort of enlightenment, which is often an ever-retreating mirage like the fully analyzed or fully liberated person. I used meditation to get material for writing. I am not convinced with some abstract nirvana. It is exactly the visions and fireworks that are useful for me, exactly what all the masters tell us we should pay as little attention to as possible.

Waldman goes on to talk about her interactions with Burroughs and concludes with Trungpa’s assessment, which was that Burroughs was someone with so much “siddhi” that he should be left alone. There was no point in trying to teach or change him in areas he resisted.

Waldman returns to Ginsberg, talking about his guru-disciple relationship with Trungpa, and Trungpa’s efforts to “pop” Ginsberg’s ego, before going on to talk about di Prima and Kyger. She includes a wonderful poem by the former and an excerpt from a long poem by the latter.

After “Tendrel,” we have a short essay on Ginsberg in India, other short bits of writing, a few poems, and some photographs. In one short work, she writes:

What drew me to poetry was its embodying a recognition of the sacredness of life. What drew me to Buddhism was its connection to poetry.

I thought that was a lovely explanation of why certain people, including various Beat writers, were so drawn to both poetry and Buddhism.

Tendrel goes on sale May 28. You can pre-order the book from the publisher, Trident.