The early-to-middle 1970’s were good years for alternative culture in America. The antiwar movement of the 60’s proved itself wiser and more resilient than the pro-war military establishment, and by 1974 America was fully out of Vietnam and President Nixon was hounded into resignation. This same year, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman created the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
The Naropa Institute itself was created by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a remarkable Chinese/Tibetan guru whose confrontational, unpredictable teaching style was smart enough to impress Allen Ginsberg into fully adopting the Buddhist religion. Trungpa taught a rough and humorous form of Buddhism, designed to force change by confronting the deepest roots of complacency with whatever means possible. After first meeting Ginsberg and sensing such a complacency, Trungpa challenged him to shave off his beard; Ginsberg did so. Years later, when Ginsberg complained that he was not taken seriously due to his hippie image, Trungpa commanded him to begin wearing suits at public gatherings, which Ginsberg did for the rest of his life.
Trungpa’s confrontational style might have gone too far, though, when in 1975 the poet W.S. Merwin and Merwin’s girlfriend Dana Naone visited Naropa to experience his instruction. Unable to elicit satisfactory responses from these two, Trungpa finally instructed other students to drag them into a large gathering and forcibly strip them naked. This act naturally shocked and outraged the American Buddhist community, and soured the public reception of the Naropa Institute for at least a few years.
The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the poetry school at the Naropa Institute has been a tremendously positive force in the American post-Beat poetry scene for decades.
Here’s Stephen Scobie’s report on a summertime Beat Gathering at Naropa in 1994.