Foreword by Peter Coyote

What Book!?

Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop

Edited by Gary Gach

Published in June 1998


Some years ago I began noticing alternative archetypes to the American Eagle surfacing in tchotchke shops and galleries wherever I traveled. Owls were first: cookie jars, ticking clocks where the eyes moved left and right, bookends, posters, pigeon-chasers to mount on the roof, and lawn decorations. Soon after that initial perception crystallized, Coyotes began to intrude as well: lawn decorations, lamps, photos, tin-prints, and the same parapher nalia dedicated to Owl. Contemporary with that perception, a vogue of chile restaurants spawned like mushrooms, and menus began to litanize Aztec and Nahuatl words filtered through Spanish, like chipotle, jalapeno, and habanero. It was inescapable. The continent was beginning to assert itself through the popular imagination and the five senses.

Something of the same phenomenon is occurring with Buddhism. This gentlest of all practices, based on perceptions sharpened by meditation, is beginning to capture a population no longer sustained by Judeo-Christian archetypes and dichotomized, comparative thinking. Hollywood moguls sport Tibetan thangkas on office walls; benefits for Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama are ubiquitous; the Bay Area where I live has at least five Zen centers and many more centers in other traditions of Buddhism.

The "antennae of the race," according to Ezra Pound's description of the artist, have been in the forefront of this transmutation, beginning with the Transcendentalists and continuing with the Beat poets in the late forties and fifties. Poets like Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg (a deep gassho to his memory), Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, and Robert Duncan first brought the message of traceless interpenetrations from the sacred texts into the realm of uttered discourse in a popular context, and, as they should be, they are well represented in these pages. Zen masters and practitioners like Nyogen Senzaki, Suzuki Roshi, Robert Aitken, Kazuaki Tanahashi, John Tarrant, Steve Sanfield, Mel Weitsman, Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, Master Seung Sahn, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, have continued the ancient poetic traditions of Buddhist culture and added their rivulets to the swelling waters of Buddhist expression in America. Contemporaries like Scoop Nisker (a local Bay Area disc jockey) and author Jim Harrison join Jane Hirshfield, Anne Waldman, Garrett Hongo, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Lawson Fusao Inada, and as I continue to type, I am forced to leave the paltry metaphor of creeks and streams and begin to consider the more appropriate scale of rivers and oceans as more suitable to express the scale and imprint of Buddhism on contemporary culture.

Easily half of the extensive list of contributors in this book are either friends, comrades, fellow Zen students, or teachers of mine. Seeing them all gathered in one place gladdens the heart and makes me feel as if I have been catapulted into deep space and am now able to look down on the Earth from on-high and truly appreciate the scale of Buddhism's hold on the popular mind. If there were an appropriate color for Buddhism, it would have to be non-color transparency, and from my new perspective, the atmosphere itself, cradling our gem-like planet floating in darkest void represents the spread and pressure of Buddhism on every continent. It is ubiquitous, colorless, odorless (generally), and irrevocably there. These poems are the pointing finger and the target; the moon and its reflection in a puddle. They are inhalation and exhalation; tiny Dharma sandwiches. Finger food for the spiritually hungry. How lucky we are to be invited to attend this banquet. I give three deep bows to all the chefs and a special one to editor Gary Gach, our maitre d' who has organized this splendid, empty feast. I can't wait to get at it, but in the immortal words of Kwan Yin, "After you."

Peter Coyote
May 1997

(From the book, pg. 148)


Here are the lyrics of an old tune, played around many a commune campfire. You have to imagine congas, flutes, lots of guitars, red wine and weed and you'll get the picture:

Do you think
Think that you have a chance
When the drummer grins
And starts the Devil-dance?
Try your vanities on for size,
While the ants are eating out your eyes.

La-la-la  la la  la-la-la la
La la   la la la  (repeat)

A rush of blood
A vein turns a corner over bone.
I just got a buzz
from my spinal telephone.
Imagination, it won't leave me alone.
But I never tried to claim it as my own.

If you weep, it's only skin-deep
If you weep, it's only skin-deep,
If you week, it's only skin-deep,
Every skeleton wears a grin.
Your bones are beggin' you to give on in.
Every skeleton wears a grin.
Your bones are beggin' you to give on in.

La-la-la etc.

(Repeat until everyone is berserk.)


What Book!? - Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop edited by Gary Gach is a major, active anthology of modern, mindful poetry, featuring over 330 selections from over 125 authors. Plus the appendix includes "mind-writing slogans" and "mind-writing exercises," by Allen Ginsberg.

"Beat to hiphop" is meant more as a measure of time than as target of any particular style.

Contents include original work and translations; performance art and conceptual art; lyrics, arias, and blues; picture poems and calligraphy; prose poetry; sonnets; haiku; meditations and sutras; journal entries; bucolics; jeremiads; postmodernism; and other artifacts from the intersection of meditation and art.

Be sure to check out Gary's "online mindful poetry zone," at his web site for further enlightened reading!


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