Literary Shelf

Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg

What sutra is it? The Lotus Sutra or the Sunflower Sutra, which is in what, how the sutra? The word sutra, is it a binding, a formula? What formula is it? Let us see how he is putting before his sutra after having his tryst with the bohemian, the hippie way of life, how his grappling with the things to come to terms with. It may be his American sutra, his yoga and bhoga. How did he get fed up with bhoga and rotting nomenclature of his society? Where did pleasures lead him to? Where did he wander to in search of peace? What could bhoga and narcotic stuffs give to? A Paglet’s sutra is it, a gypsy’s, a beat’s and what more to say it? We do not know what sutra it is, a Buddhist sutra or a Hindu sutra, but a sutra is it, we can sense it. Perhaps the former is it. A yogi or bhogi’s sutra is it, a paglet’s, mendicant’s sutra is it and he is wandering in search of shantih and happiness. His is a disturbed psyche of an age, a generation lost and bewildered, digressed and deviated, wandering aimlessly and he a protagonist of some lost culture, drug culture where he could not mental peace and where did he wander to in search of pleasure and merry making.

Where are the youths loitering, the young men on the roads, footpaths going unconsciously? But who is it to call them back and take care of? Whose duty, is it? Why are they digressing far? What is it which ails them? Who is there to know it? There is no time to think about, not time to take to tenderly. The bureaucracy which is tight and tougher needs to be cosy to their hearts, but instead of it they go on legislating negatively going against the common sentiment, against the younger generation unmindful of what it thinks, where it is going. The old generation is lost in legislation unmindful of civil rights movements, not ready to compromise with the changing times, changing thoughts and ideas.

What it is in Lawrence the same is in Allen Ginsberg but in a different way. What it is in Yeats’ Sailing to Byzantium the same is herein, but the context may be different. It is here a song of a hippie, a Zen, a Roma, a gypsy, a bohemian, a romantic. To read him is study Beatdom and the Beats and the Beatles and they are so much interlinked to one another as in the absence of the things cannot be taken into comprehension. If we see it otherwise, there is something of Rajneesh’s Sambhoga to Samadhi and thereafter. When modernity and post-modernity corrode it the self, when materialism dishevels it, where does it the self-turn to, when drugs, alcohol, addiction tire it? Today we can try it with Ravishankar’s the Art of Living, the Joy of Living. Have we lost our smiles? How to regain it? This is the thing we must know it. Materialistic development is needed as one cannot without, but too much of it not good so is science and technology, but the wars not at all.

On the one hand there lies the Southern Pacific Locomotive while on the other the Sunflower Sutra with the sunflower in full bloom and attraction, if on the one hand the industrialization, mechanization and intellectualization combined with keeps engaging our space while on the other the spiritual prospects keep banging upon the door of the mind. It is just a matter of intuition what one wants to feel and introspect. If on the one hand the American Civil rights movements, the charters of liberty keep demonstrating while on the other the political order unmindful keeps enacting going against the populace which the younger minds keep it not in the right perspectives the minds of change have taken them by surprise. Some change has taken them unawares which, but they too know it wheat they are doing and where they are going. Bhogavad cannot take us. There is some spiritual food which but the soul wants it.

The poem is a psychiatric gossip between two lunatic souls, the psyche of one man speaking to another, the wails of a generation and every nation passes through as there is no escape from.

It is a song of a marijuana smoker, a chain smoker, but life is not smokes, one must know, which the poet has come to feel it when life frustrates it, love is lost, family gets destroyed, one comes to feel it, when one deviates and digresses from the path, when there is nothing to return one desperately thinks of recuperation, but recuperation is not in his destiny. One who has slipped will rarely paddle to be back swimming the troubled waters of life if our neuro system is disturbed, it is difficult to regain it, set it right. It is a song of a drinker, a dancer, a music man who after leading a romantic life gets fed up with.

What was his age when he wrote the poem? How did the image come to his mind? It was definitely a Buddhist sutra. The sunflower is within you, you try to see it in yourself first then in others as the radiation is so splendid and surprising,  soul-alluring indeed. There are sutras of joy and happiness, Eternal Happiness and Joy and it can be in silence, through meditation. Hence, meditate you closing the eyes, transfixing your chanchal manna, fickle mind. If you have not, go and see the sunflower blooming, standing in the direction of the sun rising with the disc positioned so, take you lessons from Buddha as for how to attain peace, peace of mind, happiness, the happiness of life, joy, the joy of living. Joy is in peace, mental peace, internal psychic peace. Mark his poses and postures, read his sermons. While reading the poem, the image of Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey flashes over the mind.

After revelling into song, dance and romance, drug, alcohol and cigar, opting for romantic notions and free life, wandering deep into and getting lost from where there is no looking back, the hippies, bohemians think of reviving themselves, we mean the young men transgressed, visiting ashramas and hermitages, practising yogas, meditating, taking diksha to recuperate and reinstate themselves. 

The impact of the Hare Rama, Hare Krishna Movement can also be seen and the romantics opting for the beat and the chant. Indian spirituality, why not to set it to musical beats, let there be a fusion of music, let music be for peace, love and  devotion.

But where the guru, the spiritual guru? Who to give lessons in meditation? How to teach a generation deviated and digressed from? How long the musical beats can give it joy if the void is within, if the mind works it not? Where to get mental peace? And how? Who is indeed a free man? Where is knowledge, the knowledge of the self after all?

A little bit of nasha can be good, not too much and it is not good to be after it. Where have they drifted to? Where have they transgressed?

A poet of the Beat tradition, who are they? What their identity? Are they bohemians, lovers or depressed people? Who, who are they? Are they hippies, wanderers, adventurers or drug addicts? Are they sadhus or bhogis?

But the dangerous liaison, bonhomie, camaraderie in between one friend and another friend is not acceptable. We do not know nor can say we if they are homosexuals or not.

Like a hermit, an addict turned a hermit, he keeps seeing the red, the red glow, the rose shining it in all, the sun retreating and the glow of the setting sun taking aback.

The poetic canvas of the poem is no doubt Gulliverian as where will his journey take to none can say it, if to Lilliput or Brobdignag.

How to be a Rama lover? How to be a Krishna lover? What it in Ram a love? What it in Krishna love?  Who loves whom? Where is it the pathway? How to gain it moksha? How nirvana?

When disturbed internally, listen you to peace sermons, the peace sermons of Buddha. How did he meditate under the peepul tree? How did he get enlightenment? How did the nautch girls opine him with regard to the middle path? So should do the Beats. Why to go to excesses? Why not to keep within a limit? Do you nasha, intoxication, but keeping within the limit, sing you Hare Rama, Hare Krishna but not always under the effect of intoxicant things. Sometimes one needs the spur, but to be an addict is not good if you are out of your senses.

Something it is be drawn from precepts and when feel you disturbed, when the peace of mind gets it lost:

Buddham sharanam gacchami,
Dhammam sharanam gacchami,
Sangham sharanam gacchami,

The shantih mantra always gives it peace so full of eternal bliss and benediction, asking to rest it all in peace:

Om shantih shantih shantih

Forgetting it all, sing you, sing you, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Ram-Rama, Krishna-Krishna, Hare Rama, hare Krishna, Krishna-Krishna, Rama-Rama. The song of Rama will give you joy, the song of Rama and Krishna which but you do not know it, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Rama-Rama, Krishna-Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Rama-Rama, Krishna-Krishna, the song of Rama, the song of Rama and Krishna.

Guru, Guru, Om, Om, Guru, Guru, Om, Om, in search of Guru, Allen Ginsberg in search of Guru, Guru, Guru, Om, Om. In which Himalayan cave, the light keeps it burning, in which Himalayan cave the guru lies it meditating?

Let us see what he says in the poem named Sunflower Sutra. The poet walks down the tin-can banana dock and sits under the shadow of the Southern Pacific Locomotive to look at the sunset over. His friend Jack Kerouac is with him. Under the shadows of the steel heavy machinery and machine tools, surrounded by the poles he thinks of the ruminations of the sad and forlorn soul, wailing with, the bleak and desolate landscape doing the rounds before and two friends sitting together with, sharing the things, two bohemians, two hippies, two romantics, two lovers, two shisyas, disciples so hallucinatory and illusory. Where were they wandering in search of Buddha, Buddha? Whereto? To Zen masters. To the stupas and pagodas!

No hermits, no mounts he comes to mark them and even if the mounts are, but those without the hermits. No hermits are living thereon. No sages to give sermons. Everything is but bare and bereft of.

The vision of the past is but a blurred imagery, a blemished one. Something debars it from viewing it exactly. His friend shows him the sun and the sunflower poised, but the image seems to be blurring and blemished. A grey picture too foreshadows their vision, but can it be so? It can never be, but where is the sunflower looking so beautiful and attractive, charming and lovely? 

The world of ugly realities, lost in the conundrum, mesmerizes it all, the world of bare realities where the dirt lies it heaped upon and the chastity gets it lost. How to negate the mire and snares of the world? How to view the sunflower from the factory of iron and grit? The lids and tents of it, the canopy of the workshop all housed under the tine sheets with the iron pillars and bars, raised platforms and the railway tracks laid over, this is the landscape and scenario.

But the sunflower is within you, is within us, if we want to see it, we cannot with the plain eyes as it is something very visionary and mystical. Just feel you the radiation, the glow, the halo of it, you will be a Buddha, the Buddha is within you, in the form of Light and Enlightenment and as thus can you be enlightened, as thus can you attain moksha, can you nirvana.

However desolate and bleak may be the machinery, locomotive landscape and scenario, the canopy of steel and iron bars and sheets, tin sheets overshadowing it just like a workshop or a factory taking the canvas from us, it cannot debar the pictures of the setting sun and the sunflower radiation. The soul in us is a sunflower and you try to feel the radiation, the glow and the halo of it. The locomotives at the cost of green space and lost internal cosmic space cannot add to modern civilization if it is inhuman and bereft of the milk of kindness and compassion. Spiritual space, especially the revelatory one cannot sacrifice. Truly, we have modernized, mechanized, but we have ruined Nature too so soul-alluring and fresh, so blissful and bountiful, so shadowy and cool. The soul is a temple of God which but have forgotten it. Sometimes we look to it not, take it not in confidence, feel it not the warmth and glow of it.


I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—

—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and un-retreated, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these

entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!   
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,

—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Image (c)


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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