ZEN MESTEREK ZEN MASTERS
« Zen főoldal
« vissza a Terebess Online nyitólapjára
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
and the Dharma
Jack Kerouac: Az arany örökkévalóság 64.
Magányos pufogások (Desolation Peak haikuk), 1956
Vázlatok könyve - Apa és lánya
PDF: Úton - Az eredeti tekercs
Darabos Pál (1931–2012):
PDF: On the Road
PDF: The Dharma Bums
PDF: Desolation Angels
PDF: Big Sur
PDF: Mexico City Blues
PDF: American Haikus
PDF: Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder: Chasing Zen Clouds
An Exploration of Jack Kerouac's Buddhism: Text and Life
PDF: Transpacific Transcendence:
PDF: Jack Kerouac: Dharma Voyeur
PDF: The Beatnik Buddhist: The Monk of American Pop-Culture
The Scripture of the Golden Eternity
by Jack Kerouac
New York, NY: Totem Press in association with Corinth Books, 1960.  pp. 8vo. First Edition; Stapled Wrappers.
The famous distillation of Buddhist wisdom in sixty-six chapters of prose-poetry by Jack Kerouac, Founding Father of the Beat Generation. Written during 1956 & first published in 1960 in chapbook format with front cover illustration by Jesse Sorrentino. According to Ann Charters in her definitive bibliography, this first American edition was first printed with purple illustration & lettering on white front cover, followed by second printing with red & third printing with black. Offered here is a copy of the third printing, with black front cover illustration & lettering on white background. Charters quotes Kerouac in this entry: "Gary Snyder said, "All right, Kerouac, it's about time for you to write a sutra." That's a thread of discourse, a scripture. He knew I was a Bodhi Sattva and had lived twelve million years in twelve million directions. You see, they really believe that, those maniacs. I'm a Catholic all along. I was really kidding Gary Snyder. Boy, they're so gullible." (A11, pgs. 34-35) Notwithstanding his Catholic (& alcoholic) guilt-hangover in retrospect, we don't think Kerouac was completely "kidding," you might consider The Scripture to be Buddhism with a Beat. Followed by several subsequent editions published by Corinth & City Lights Books with different formats, graphics.
These classic Kerouac meditations, Zen koans and prose poems express the poet's beatific quest for peace and joy through oneness with the universe.
Kerouac is known for his method of "spontaneous prose" which sometimes makes for disjointed, impenetrable reading. He did not write spontaneously in "The Scripture of the Golden Eternity". Rather, this book is carefully and beautifully written and edited. Kerouac seriously thought through the vision he wanted to convey.
The book is a short work in 66 numbered paragraphs which straddles the line between poetry and prose. Kerouac does nothing less than attempt to explain his spiritual vision and outlook on life. The book is eclectic in its sources, drawing heavily on Kerouac's engagement with Buddhism and on Catholicism as well. In addition to the extensive quotations and references, the book relies heavily on Kerouac's own experiences and thoughts.
Kerouac is moving in expressing difficult concepts. The spiritual vision expressed in this book is one of mysticism, shared in a loose way with mystic writers from many traditions and times. Kerouac offers a vision of a unitary, timeless view of the world and of the individual's place in it. He frequently describes individuals and discrete activities in space-time as "illusory", a seemingly paradoxical view shared by some other writers of his overall view, and one which may need to be interpreted. There are elements of pantheism in the book, although I suspect Kerouac might reject the term. The book is also heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings on emptyness and by the Diamond Sutra.
Some of the paragraphs in the book are lengthy and seem to present arguments while others are short and aphoristic. Here is paragraph 10, which seems to me to capture well what Kerouac is trying to convey.
"This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is."
An important aphoristic passage is offered in paragraph 30:
"Sociability is a big smile, and a big smile is nothing but teeth. Rest and be kind."
Kerouac conveys the mystic's sense of rest and unity in all things in paragraph 36.
"Give a gift to your brother, but there's no gift to compare with the giving of assurance that he is the golden eternity. The true understanding of this world brings tears to your eyes..... Religion is thy sad heart."
Kerouac fought losing battles with drugs, sexuality, and alcohol througout his life. It is too easy to put aside a book such as "The Scripture of the Golden Eternity" based on the troubles and shortcomings of the author. This would be to ignore the voice that comes through the book if not through the life. There is a felt spirituality in this book that informs Kerouac's other writings. Together with other spiritual works similar to this book, Kerouac has difficulty with differentiation and in thinking about evil. This form of spirituality might be viewed as condoning virtually any behavior, as might be suggested by several passages here taken in isolation. But the penultimate paragraph of this book describes the 64 earlier paragraphs as "the first teaching from the golden eternity" while the final paragraph concludes" [t]he second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure."
"The Scripture of the Golden Eternity" is an example of what is frequently described as "the perennial philosophy". It is a way of thinking about spirituality that may be found in other seemingly unlikely sources in addition to Kerouac. The text is available in a short single volume and in a valuable new collection of Kerouac's Collected Poems published by the Library of America. The quote in the first paragraph of this review is drawn from the LOA volume.
August 28, 2012
Did I create that sky? Yes, for, if it was anything other than a conception in my mind I wouldnt have said “Sky”-That is why I am the golden eternity. There are not two of us here, reader and writer, but one, one golden eternity, One-Which-It-Is, That-Which-Everything-Is.
The awakened Buddha to show the way, the chosen Messiah to die in the degradation of sentience, is the golden eternity. One that is what is, the golden eternity, or, God, or, Tathagata-the name. The Named One. The human God. Sentient Godhood. Animate Divine. The Deified One. The Verified One. The Free One. The Liberator. The Still One. The settled One. The Established One. Golden Eternity. All is Well. The Empty One. The Ready One. The Quitter. The Sitter. The Justified One. The Happy One.
That sky, if it was anything other than an illusion of my mortal mind I wouldnt have said “that sky.” Thus I made that sky, I am the golden eternity. I am Mortal Golden Eternity.
I was awakened to show the way, chosen to die in the degradation of life, because I am Mortal Golden Eternity.
I am the golden eternity in mortal animate form.
Strictly speaking, there is no me, because all is emptiness. I am empty, I am non-existent. All is bliss.
This truth law has no more reality than the world.
You are the golden eternity because there is no me and no you, only one golden eternity.
The Realizer. Entertain no imaginations whatever, for the thing is a no-thing. Knowing this then is Human Godhood.
This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is.
If we were not all the golden eternity we wouldnt be here. Because we are here we cant help being pure. To tell man to be pure on account of the punishing angel that punishes the bad and the rewarding angel that rewards the good would be like telling the water “Be Wet”-Never the less, all things depend on supreme reality, which is already established as the record of Karma earned-fate.
God is not outside us but is just us, the living and the dead, the never-lived and never-died. That we should learn it only now, is supreme reality, it was written a long time ago in the archives of universal mind, it is already done, there’s no more to do.
This is the knowledge that sees the golden eternity in all things, which is us, you, me, and which is no longer us, you, me.
What name shall we give it which hath no name, the common eternal matter of the mind? If we were to call it essence, some might think it meant perfume, or gold, or honey. It is not even mind. It is not even discussible, groupable into words; it is not even endless, in fact it is not even mysterious or inscrutably inexplicable; it is what is; it is that; it is this. We could easily call the golden eternity “This.” But “what’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare. The golden eternity by another name would be as sweet. A Tathagata, a God, a Buddha by another name, an Allah, a Sri Krishna, a Coyote, a Brahma, a Mazda, a Messiah, an Amida, an Aremedeia, a Maitreya, a Palalakonuh, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 would be as sweet. The golden eternity is X, the golden eternity is A, the golden eternity is /\, the golden eternity is O, the golden eternity is [ ], the golden eternity is t-h-e-g-o-l-d-e-n-e-t-e-r- n-i-t-y. In the beginning was the word; before the beginning, in the beginningless infinite neverendingness, was the essence. Both the word “god” and the essence of the word, are emptiness. The form of emptiness which is emptiness having taken the form of form, is what you see and hear and feel right now, and what you taste and smell and think as you read this. Wait awhile, close your eyes, let your breathing stop three seconds or so, listen to the inside silence in the womb of the world, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, re-recognize the bliss you forgot, the emptiness and essence and ecstasy of ever having been and ever to be the golden eternity. This is the lesson you forgot.
The lesson was taught long ago in the other world systems that have naturally changed into the empty and awake, and are here now smiling in our smile and scowling in our scowl. It is only like the golden eternity pretending to be smiling and scowling to itself; like a ripple on the smooth ocean of knowing. The fate of humanity is to vanish into the golden eternity, return pouring into its hands which are not hands. The navel shall receive, invert, and take back what’d issued forth; the ring of flesh shall close; the personalities of long dead heroes are blank dirt.
The point is we’re waiting, not how comfortable we are while waiting. Paleolithic man waited by caves for the realization of why he was there, and hunted; modern men wait in beautified homes and try to forget death and birth. We’re waiting for the realization that this is the golden eternity.
It came on time.
There is a blessedness surely to be believed, and that is that everything abides in eternal ecstasy, now and forever.
Mother Kali eats herself back. All things but come to go. All these holy forms, unmanifest, not even forms, truebodies of blank bright ecstasy, abiding in a trance, “in emptiness and silence’ as it is pointed out in the Diamond-cutter, asked to be only what they are: GLAD.
The secret God-grin in the trees and in the teapot, in ashes and fronds, fire and brick, flesh and mental human hope. All things, far from yearning to be re-united with God, had never left themselves and here they are, Dharmakaya, the body of the truth law, the universal Thisness.
“Beyond the reach of change and fear, beyond all praise and blame,” the Lankavatara Scripture knows to say, is he who is what he is in time and time-less-ness, in ego and in ego-less-ness, in self and in self-less-ness.
Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.
Things dont tire of going and coming. The flies end up with the delicate viands.
The cause of the world’s woe is birth, The cure of the world’s woe is a bent stick.
Though it is everything, strictly speaking there is no golden eternity because everything is nothing: there are no things and no goings and comings: for all is emptiness, and emptiness is these forms, emptiness is this one formhood.
All these selfnesses have already vanished. Einstein measured that this present universe is an expanding bubble, and you know what that means.
Discard such definite imaginations of phenomena as your own self, thou human being, thou’rt a numberless mass of sun-motes: each mote a shrine. The same as to your shyness of other selves, selfness as divided into infinite numbers of beings, or selfness as identified as one self existing eternally. Be obliging and noble, be generous with your time and help and possessions, and be kind, because the emptiness of this little place of flesh you carry around and call your soul, your entity, is the same emptiness in every direction of space unmeasurable emptiness, the same, one, and holy emptiness everywhere: why be selfy and unfree, Man God, in your dream? Wake up, thou’rt selfless and free. “Even and upright your mind abides nowhere,” states Hui Neng of China. We’re all in heaven now.
Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind. Now that we know this, throw the raft away.
Are you tightwad and are you mean, those are the true sins, and sin is only a conception of ours, due to long habit. Are you generous and are you kind, those are the true virtues, and they’re only conceptions. The golden eternity rests beyond sin and virtue, is attached to neither, is attached to nothing, is unattached, because the golden eternity is Alone. The mold has rills but it is one mold. The field has curves but it is one field. All things are different forms of the same thing. I call it the golden eternity-what do you call it, brother? for the blessing and merit of virtue, and the punishment and bad fate of sin, are alike just so many words.
Sociability is a big smile, and a big smile is nothing but teeth. Rest and be kind.
There’s no need to deny that evil thing called GOOGOO, which doesnt exist, just as there’s no need to deny that evil thing called Sex and Rebirth, which also doesn’t exist, as it is only a form of emptiness. The bead of semen comes from a long line of awakened natures that were your parent, a holy flow, a succession of saviors pouring from the womb of the dark void and back into it, fantastic magic imagination of the lightning, flash, plays, dreams, not even plays, dreams.
“The womb of exuberant fertility,” Ashvhaghosha called it, radiating forms out of its womb of exuberant emptiness. In emptiness there is no Why, no knowledge of Why, no ignorance of Why, no asking and no answering of Why, and no significance attached to this.
A disturbed and frightened man is like the golden eternity experimentally pretending at feeling the disturbed-and-frightened mood; a calm and joyous man, is like the golden eternity pretending at experimenting with that experience; a man experiencing his Sentient Being, is like the golden eternity pretending at trying that out too; a man who has no thoughts, is like the golden eternity pretending at being itself; because the emptiness of everything has no beginning and no end and at present is infinite.
“Love is all in all,” said Sainte Therese, choosing Love for her vocation and pouring out her happiness, from her garden by the gate, with a gentle smile, pouring roses on the earth, so that the beggar in the thunderbolt received of the endless offering of her dark void. Man goes a-beggaring into nothingness. “Ignorance is the father, Habit-Energy is the Mother.” Opposites are not the same for the same reason they are the same.
The words “atoms of dust” and “the great universes” are only words. The idea that they imply is only an idea. The belief that we live here in this existence, divided into various beings, passing food in and out of ourselves, and casting off husks of bodies one after another with no cessation and no definite or particular discrimination, is only an idea. The seat of our Immortal Intelligence can be seen in that beating light between the eyes the Wisdom Eye of the ancients: we know what we’re doing: we’re not disturbed: because we’re like the golden eternity pretending at playing the magic cardgame and making believe it’s real, it’s a big dream, a joyous ecstasy of words and ideas and flesh, an ethereal flower unfolding a folding back, a movie, an exuberant bunch of lines bounding emptiness, the womb of Avalokitesvara, a vast secret silence, springtime in the Void, happy young gods talking and drinking on a cloud. Our 32,000 chillicosms bear all the marks of excellence. Blind milky light fills our night; and the morning is crystal.
Give a gift to your brother, but there’s no gift to compare with the giving of assurance that he is the golden eternity. The true understanding of this would bring tears to your eyes. The other shore is right here, forgive and forget, protect and reassure. Your tormenters will be purified. Raise thy diamond hand. Have faith and wait. The course of your days is a river rumbling over your rocky back. You’re sitting at the bottom of the world with a head of iron. Religion is thy sad heart. You’re the golden eternity and it must be done by you. And means one thing: Nothing-Ever-Happened. This is the golden eternity.
When the Prince of the Kalinga severed the flesh from the limbs and body of Buddha, even then the Buddha was free from any such ideas as his own self, other self, living beings divided into many selves, or living beings united and identified into one eternal self. The golden eternity isnt “me.” Before you can know that you’re dreaming you’ll wake up, Atman. Had the Buddha, the Awakened One, cherished any of these imaginary judgments of and about things, he would have fallen into impatience and hatred in his suffering. Instead, like Jesus on the Cross he saw the light and died kind, loving all living things.
The world was spun out of a blade of grass: the world was spun out of a mind. Heaven was spun out of a blade of grass: heaven was spun out of a mind. Neither will do you much good, neither will do you much harm. The Oriental imperturbed, is the golden eternity.
He is called a Yogi, his is called a Priest, a Minister, a Brahmin, a Parson, a Chaplain, a Roshi, a Laoshih, a Master, a Patriarch, a Pope, a Spiritual Commissar, a Counselor, and Adviser, a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, an Old Man, a Saint, a Shaman, a Leader, who thinks nothing of himself as separate from another self, not higher nor lower, no stages and no definite attainments, no mysterious stigmata or secret holyhood, no wild dark knowledge and no venerable authoritativeness, nay a giggling sage sweeping out of the kitchen with a broom. After supper, a silent smoke. Because there is no definite teaching: the world is undisciplined. Nature endlessly in every direction inward to your body and outward into space.
Meditate outdoors. The dark trees at night are not really the dark trees at night, it’s only the golden eternity.
A mosquito as big as Mount Everest is much bigger than you think: a horse’s hoof is more delicate than it looks. An altar consecrated to the golden eternity, filled with roses and lotuses and diamonds, is the cell of the humble prisoner, the cell so cold and dreary. Boethius kissed the Robe of the Mother Truth in a Roman dungeon.
Do you think the emptiness of the sky will ever crumble away? Every little child knows that everybody will go to heaven. Knowing that nothing ever happened is not really knowing that nothing ever happened, it’s the golden eternity. In other words, nothing can compare with telling your brother and your sister that what happened, what is happening, and what will happen, never really happened, is not really happening and never will happen, it is only the golden eternity. Nothing was ever born, nothing will ever die. Indeed, it didnt even happen that you heard about golden eternity through the accidental reading of this scripture. The thing is easily false. There are no warnings whatever issuing from the golden eternity: do what you want.
Even in dreams be kind, because anyway there is no time, no space, no mind. “It’s all not-born,” said Bankei of Japan, whose mother heard this from her son did what we call “died happy.” And even if she had died unhappy, dying unhappy is not really dying unhappy, it’s the golden eternity. It’s impossible to exist, it’s impossible to be persecuted, it’s impossible to miss your reward.
Eight hundred and four thousand myriads of Awakened Ones throughout numberless swirls of epochs appeared to work hard to save a grain of sand, and it was only the golden eternity. And their combined reward will be no greater and no lesser than what will be won by a piece of dried turd. It’s a reward beyond thought.
When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you cant understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.
O everlasting Eternity, all things and all truth laws are no- things, in three ways, which is the same way: AS THINGS OF TIME they dont exist because there is no furthest atom than can be found or weighed or grasped, it is emptiness through and through, matter and empty space too. AS THINGS OF MIND they dont exist, because the mind that conceives and makes them out does so by seeing, hearing touching, smelling, tasting, and mentally-noticing and without this mind they would not be seen or heard or felt or smelled or tasted or mentally-noticed, they are discriminated that which they’re not necessarily by imaginary judgments of the mind, they are actually dependent on the mind that makes them out, by themselves they are no-things, they are really mental, seen only of the mind, they are really empty visions of the mind, heaven is a vision, everything is a vision. What does it mean that I am in this endless universe thinking I’m a man sitting under the stars on the terrace of earth, but actually empty and awake throughout the emptiness and awakedness of everything? It means that I am empty and awake, knowing that I am empty and awake, and that there’s no difference between me and anything else. It means that I have attained to that which everything is.
The-Attainer-To-That-Which-Everything-Is, the Sanskrit Tathagata, has no ideas whatever but abides in essence identically with the essence of all things, which is what it is, in emptiness and silence. Imaginary meaning stretched to make mountains and as far as the germ is concerned it stretched even further to make molehills. A million souls dropped through hell but nobody saw them or counted them. A lot of large people isnt really a lot of large people, it’s only the golden eternity. When St. Francis went to heaven he did not add to heaven nor detract from earth. Locate silence, possess space, spot me the ego. “From the beginning,” said the Sixth Patriarch of the China School, “not a thing is.”
He who loves all life with his pity and intelligence isnt really he who loves all life with his pity and intelligence, it’s only natural. The universe is fully known because it is ignored. Enlightenment comes when you dont care. This is a good tree stump I’m sitting on. You cant even grasp your own pain let alone your eternal reward. I love you because you’re me. I love you because there’s nothing else to do. It’s just the natural golden eternity.
What does it mean that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal?- It means that those trees and mountains are magic and unreal. What does it mean that those trees and mountains are not magic but real?- it means that those trees and mountains are not magic but real. Men are just making imaginary judgments both ways, and all the time it’s just the same natural golden eternity.
If the golden eternity was anything other than mere words, you could not have said “golden eternity.” This means that the words are used to point at the endless nothingness of reality. If the endless nothingness of reality was anything other than mere words, you could not have said “endless nothingness of reality,” you could not have said it. This means that the golden eternity is out of our word-reach, it refuses steadfastly to be described, it runs away from us and leads us in. The name is not really the name. The same way, you could not have said “this world” if this world was anything other than mere words. There’s nothing there but just that. They’ve long known that there’s nothing to life but just the living of it. It Is What It Is and That’s All It Is.
There’s no system of teaching and no reward for teaching the golden eternity, because nothing has happened. In the golden eternity teaching and reward havent even vanished let alone appeared. The golden eternity doesnt even have to be perfect. It is very silly of me to talk about it. I talk about it simply because here I am dreaming that I talk about it in a dream already ended, ages ago, from which I’m already awake, and it was only an empty dreaming, in fact nothing whatever, in fact nothing ever happened at all. The beauty of attaining the golden eternity is that nothing will be acquired, at last.
Kindness and sympathy, understanding and encouragement, these give: they are better than just presents and gifts: no reason in the world why not. Anyhow, be nice. Remember the golden eternity is yourself. “If someone will simply practice kindness,” said Gotama to Subhuti, “he will soon attain highest perfect wisdom.” Then he added: “Kindness after all is only a word and it should be done on the spot without thought of kindness.” By practicing kindness all over with everyone you will soon come into the holy trance, infinite distinctions of personalities will become what they really mysteriously are, our common and eternal blissstuff, the pureness of everything forever, the great bright essence of mind, even and one thing everywhere the holy eternal milky love, the white light everywhere everything, emptybliss, svaha, shining, ready, and awake, the compassion in the sound of silence, the swarming myriad trillionaire you are.
Everything’s alright, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and we’re here forever, in one form or another, which is empty. Everything’s alright, we’re not here, there, or anywhere. Everything’s alright, cats sleep.
The everlasting and tranquil essence, look around and see the smiling essence everywhere. How wily was the world made, Maya, not-even-made.
There’s the world in the daylight. If it was completely dark you wouldnt see it but it would still be there. If you close your eyes you really see what it’s like: mysterious particle-swarming emptiness. On the moon big mosquitos of straw know this in the kindness of their hearts. Truly speaking, unrecognizably sweet it all is. Don’t worry about nothing.
Imaginary judgments about things, in the Nothing-Ever-Happened wonderful void, you dont even have to reject them, let alone accept them. “That looks like a tree, let’s call it a tree,” said Coyote to Earthmaker at the beginning, and they walked around the rootdrinker patting their bellies.
Perfectly selfless, the beauty of it, the butterfly doesnt take it as a personal achievement, he just disappears through the trees. You too, kind and humble and not-even-here, it wasnt in a greedy mood that you saw the light that belongs to everybody.
Look at your little finger, the emptiness of it is no different than the emptiness of infinity.
Cats yawn because they realize that there’s nothing to do.
Up in heaven you wont remember all these tricks of yours. You wont even sigh “Why?” Whether as atomic dust or as great cities, what’s the difference in all this stuff. A tree is still only a rootdrinker. The puma’s twisted face continues to look at the blue sky with sightless eyes, Ah sweet divine and indescribable verdurous paradise planted in mid-air! Caitanya, it’s only consciousness. Not with thoughts of your mind, but in the believing sweetness of your heart, you snap the link and open the golden door and disappear into the bright room, the everlasting ecstasy, eternal Now. Soldier, follow me! – there never was a war. Arjuna, dont fight! – why fight over nothing? Bless and sit down.
I remember that I’m supposed to be a man and consciousness and I focus my eyes and the print reappears and the words of the poor book are saying, “The world, as God has made it” and there are no words in my pitying heart to express the knowless loveliness of the trance there was before I read those words, I had no such idea that there was a world.
This world has no marks, signs, or evidence of existence, nor the noises in it, like accident of wind or voices or heehawing animals, yet listen closely the eternal hush of silence goes on and on throughout all this, and has been gong on, and will go on and on. This is because the world is nothing but a dream and is just thought of and the everlasting eternity pays no attention to it. At night under the moon, or in a quiet room, hush now, the secret music of the Unborn goes on and on, beyond conception, awake beyond existence. Properly speaking, awake is not really awake because the golden eternity never went to sleep; you can tell by the constant sound of Silence which cuts through this world like a magic diamond through the trick of your not realizing that your mind caused the world.
The God of the American Plateau Indian was Coyote. He says: “Earth! those beings living on your surface, none of them disappearing, will all be transformed. When I have spoken to them, when they have spoken to me, from that moment on, their words and their bodies which they usually use to move about with, will all change. I will not have heard them.”
I was smelling flowers in the yard, and when I stood up I took a deep breath and the blood all rushed to my brain and I woke up dead on my back in the grass. I had apparently fainted, or died, for about sixty seconds. My neighbor saw me but he thought I had just suddenly thrown myself on the grass to enjoy the sun. During that timeless moment of unconsciousness I saw the golden eternity. I saw heaven. In it nothing had ever happened, the events of a million years ago were just as phantom and ungraspable as the events of now, or the events of the next ten minutes. It was perfect, the golden solitude, the golden emptiness, Something-Or- Other, something surely humble. There was a rapturous ring of silence abiding perfectly. There was no question of being alive or not being alive, of likes and dislikes, of near or far, no question of giving or gratitude, no question of mercy or judgment, or of suffering or its opposite or anything. It was the womb itself, aloneness, alaya vijnana the universal store, the Great Free Treasure, the Great Victory, infinite completion, the joyful mysterious essence of Arrangement. It seemed like one smiling smile, one adorable adoration, one gracious and adorable charity, everlasting safety, refreshing afternoon, roses, infinite brilliant immaterial gold ash, the Golden Age. The “golden” came from the sun in my eyelids, and the “eternity” from my sudden instant realization as I woke up that I had just been where it all came from and where it was all returning, the everlasting So, and so never coming or going; therefore I call it the golden eternity but you can call it anything you want. As I regained consciousness I felt so sorry I had a body and a mind suddenly realizing I didn’t even have a body and a mind and nothing had ever happened and everything is alright forever and forever and forever, O thank you thank you thank you.
This is the first teaching from the golden eternity.
The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure.
An Exploration of Jack Kerouac's Buddhism: Text and Life
by Sarah Haynes
Contemporary Buddhism, vol.6, No. 2, 2005
Jack Kerouac’s place in the literary world was secured in the 1950s with the publication of On the Road; however, his position as a Buddhist writer and practitioner was yet to be established. This paper examines his Buddhist life and texts, and explores two of his Buddhist books while focusing on his influences, their effects on his personal life and the impact these had on his writing and on Buddhism in America. Kerouac’s ‘Buddhist’ texts are not as well known as his others, although many of his more popular books include elements of Buddhism. The two Kerouac texts that are to be explored here are Some of the Dharma and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. While the focus of this paper is on the exploration of these two texts, their content and structure, one cannot ignore the influencing factors that led Kerouac to write them and the aspects of his life that affected the way in which they were composed.
Jack Kerouac was one of the most influential writers of the 1950s, inspiring the misguided and confused youth of the post-war era. Kerouac came onto the literary scene at a time when the world was experiencing change and wanting to discover new things about a world that seemed all too familiar. Much is known about Kerouac, his life, his family and friends. Through his writings Kerouac provided readers with glimpses into almost every aspect of his wildly fun, controversial and conflicting adventures. With his most famous book, On the Road, readers were introduced to the lifestyle of what came to be known the Beat Generation.
Kerouac’s writing took a turn when in 1953 he began to read about Buddhism and Buddhist literature. Eventually Kerouac became so engrossed in Buddhism that he became a practitioner of the religion he was reading about (Kerouac 1997, introduction). Books such as The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans and Mexico City Blues revealed how important Buddhism had become to the Catholic Kerouac.
Kerouac’s Introduction to Buddhism
In the mid-1950s Kerouac was practicing Buddhism and studying primary texts with the view that he was destined to teach the dharma and to convert millions of people (Kerouac 1997, introduction). With a change in worldview, Kerouac began writing letters about the dharma to friends like Allen Ginsberg, eventually realizing that instead of composing daily letters he would compile a text devoted to Buddhism (Kerouac 1997, introduction). The result of Kerouac’s daily thoughts, scribblings, poetry and interpretations of Buddhism became known as Some of the Dharma. What started as mere fascination with Buddhism in 1953 ended with a 420-page Buddhist text in 1956. Kerouac’s Book of Dharmas, his name for the text, became so important to him that he began to feel it was sacred. As Kerouac wrote to Ginsberg: ‘I haven’t sent you the Notes on Dharma because I keep reading it myself, have but one copy, valuable, sacred to me ...Besides it is not finished, I keep adding every day ...’ (Kerouac 1997, introduction). He never lived to see his masterpiece published as both publishers and editors could not seem to warm to the idea of Kerouac as a purely Buddhist author.
Kerouac was influenced both by Buddhist texts and by practicing North American Buddhists whom he encountered in his travels, including Gary Snyder—‘Japhy Ryder’ of The Dharma Bums—who was a student and practitioner of Zen. Some of the Dharma was completed on 15 March 1956; shortly thereafter, in the spring, Kerouac headed West to the Bay Area where he met up with Snyder, to whom he had shown portions of his Buddhist writings, and the two talked endlessly about philosophy and practice. While they were staying together Snyder suggested to Kerouac that he should write a sutra. He obliged, and the resulting text was The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, which was published in 1960—Kerouac living long enough to see it in print.
When one reads Some of the Dharma and then Scripture, the influence of the one on the other becomes clear, that writing Dharma led to the formation of the sutra. With the publication of Scripture Kerouac’s fascination with Buddhism became known to the world. Subsequently published in 1997, Dharma has allowed readers and scholars alike to delve into the realm of Kerouac’s American Buddhism, a world constructed in a formless void of prose, poetry, drawings and one-liners. Kerouac’s genius was recognized by his peers, and as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl states in the dedication: ‘Jack Kerouac, new Buddha of American prose, who spit forth intelligence ...creating a spontaneous bop prosody and original classic literature’ (Kerouac 1997, introduction). As a lone student and practitioner of Buddhism in an informal setting, Kerouac used what he had learned in formulating two books that focused on emptiness, impermanence, mind essence and transience.
Some of the Dharma
The first of Kerouac’s Buddhist texts, Some of the Dharma, exemplified what came to be recognized as his unique style of writing. Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation notes that, ‘by 1951 ... Kerouac was pioneering a stylistic revolution, forever changing the nature and content of his writing ...Abandoning conventional techniques of editing and revision, Kerouac committed himself to a new method, the practice of spontaneous prose’ (Tonkinson 1995, 23 – 4). The ‘spontaneous prose’ that became Kerouac’s hallmark was simply one of the unconventional techniques he employed in the writing of Dharma. As already noted, the construction of this book began as correspondence with Ginsberg about the excitement Kerouac was feeling about the discoveries he was making. In a way Kerouac wanted to ‘turn on’ Ginsberg to the teachings of the Buddha. The volume of the text continued to swell in accordance with the deepening of Kerouac’s interest in Buddhism. Eventually Dharma included many forms and literary devices. The so-called stylistic revolution of Jack Kerouac unfolded with the few years it took to write this book.
Unlike other Kerouac books, Some of the Dharma involved more than his typical usage of prose. Before the organization of material is discussed it is important to note and to keep in mind that this text was published posthumously and Kerouac was in no way part of the publication process. While the publishers remained true to every aspect of Kerouac’s laborious and specific effort in presentation, it will never be known if the manuscript is how Kerouac would have intended. It took him years of hard work to type the manuscript as it is presently seen. Kerouac implemented many different techniques and inventions in the form and presentation of Dharma. For example, many of his poems and sketches can be seen to take different shapes, often in diagonal slants or outlined in lines and rows of hyphens and asterisks (Kerouac 1997, 287, 299, 328). The presentation of this text was unconventional for its time, as well as an innovation for the author. In response to an editor about his different stylistic techniques, Kerouac wrote that
Even though the presentation of Dharma was aesthetically different, the form, organization of materials and ideas were also a departure from most of the works of the post-war era. Kerouac’s main focus or argument in Some of the Dharma is presented to the reader in an original and rarely seen way. Although in most texts organization of argument and presentation are different from one another, in Dharma the medium is the message, for reasons soon to be explained. The visual presentation of the text engages the reader just as much as the content does. On page 342 Kerouac provided an explanation of the various techniques of the Duluoz Legend. The publishers felt it was highly important that the readers be acutely aware of these techniques, and so they were printed on the front and back of the book. It is necessary to outline these techniques as Kerouac used them in almost every instance of Dharma. The first stylistic method that was utilized in the organization of Kerouac’s material is ‘TIC’. As stated in the book, a ‘Tic is a vision suddenly of memory. The ideal, formal Tic ... is one short and one long sentence, generally about 50 words in all, the intro sentence and the explaining sentence ...’ (Kerouac 1997, 342).
Here Kerouac merely shapes the descriptive paragraph in a simple manner, which includes the use of dashes as markers of breath. His use of TICS in Dharma was far less common than the other techniques. In all Kerouac lists twelve techniques that can be found in Dharma; in addition to TIC there are also Dream, Pop, Blues, Ecstasy, Movie, Vision, Flash, Daydream, Routine, Sketch and Dharma. Those most often used are POP, which is ‘American (non-Japanese) Haikus, short 3-line poems or “pomes” rhyming or non-rhyming delineating “little Samadhis” if possible, usually of a Buddhist connotation, aimed towards enlightenment’ (Kerouac 1997, 342); and FLASH, ‘Dreamflashes, short sleepdreams or drowse daydreams of an enlightened nature describable in a few words’ (Kerouac 1997. 342). Kerouac used all of these techniques in the organization of the material in Dharma and in the structure of the text’s focus.
These techniques are all a part of the most extensive and encompassing technique called DHARMA—notes in any form about the dharma. Of course this is the technique in which the entire text of Dharma was written. The key aspect is that with DHARMA all text takes place in the present. The implementation of this technique allowed Kerouac to engage the reader while still using other stylistic forms. The effect of these various techniques is a visual format that stimulates the eye as well as allowing the reader to make a quick identification of the state of mind that Kerouac was in while writing that particular section of the text. For example, if the reader is well aware of the characteristics of each technique then one can discern whether Kerouac was daydreaming or having a sudden memory. He demands of the reader an involvement in Dharma that is more than a simple reading, he creates a flow in the text that requires knowledge of his techniques.
As previously stated, the organization of Kerouac’s ‘argument’ or main focus and the presentation of the text are the exact same thing because of what Dharma is about. A central preoccupation is the Buddhist notion of impermanence and how everything is formless. Even though this text was constructed into various techniques and divided into 10 books, Kerouac stated how the text has no form. He writes:
Technically and literally this text has form and a definite structure; however, in light of the teachings expounded by Kerouac’s Buddha-nature and written while engaged in daily dhyana, it indeed does not have a clear form, only existing as an arbitrary relative condition. Robert A. Hipkiss writes: ‘Kerouac’s venture into Buddhism enabled him to dissolve the complex forms of day-to-day living into nothingness’ (Hipkiss 1976, 72). This dissolution of complex forms included, for Kerouac, his daily task of writing structured novels. With the support of Buddhist philosophy, Kerouac declared that the ‘consciousness of the Mind is the source of all’ (Kerouac 1997, 204). Therefore, the form of Dharma is a mere attribute of our awareness or an arbitrary conception of the mind.
The division of Dharma into 10 separate books appears to have been done with no particular motive, as there are no distinct topics for any of the 10 books. The different subdivisions appear to be a matter of convenience for Kerouac. While there are no uniform or single distinguishable topics in each book, Kerouac did make sure to highlight each area of importance on every page. For example, Kerouac would capitalize the main focus of his discussion, whether in the middle of a paragraph or at the beginning sentence. ‘NATURE, and the absence of NATURE, or the WORLD, and the absence of the WORLD, Are two sides/of the same Mind’ (Kerouac 1997, 337). Along with this little stylistic device Kerouac also included such things as doodlings to illustrate the way of proper Western meditation (Kerouac 1997, 279), hand-written arrows that direct the reader’s eye to the flow of the page (Kerouac 1997, 354), and the implementation of both French and Patois to illustrate points of interest (Kerouac 1997, 38, 301).
The various techniques and stylistic devices Kerouac used in Some of the Dharma were influenced by the reason for writing it. His enthusiastic interest in Buddhism led to the writing, but in the content of the material one can also see that many other factors were influential in its completion. While the main focus of Dharma was the teachings of the Buddha, it was through this content that Kerouac revealed much about his own life. Perhaps a reason why Dharma contains so much personal information is that his primary intention was for the content to be privately used between himself and friends, and the idea of publication came later as the text evolved. Originally it was somewhat of a Buddhism for Beginners book—with Kerouac as the beginner—starting with The Four Noble Truths and other basic concepts. Ann Charters writes that he ‘was profoundly in agreement with the First Noble Truth of the Buddha’s teaching, that all life is suffering’ (Charters 1995, 581). Kerouac begins Book One with basics, definitions of fundamental concepts such as nirvana, karma, dharma and kama, and a bibliography for beginning Buddhists. He must have realized that Dharma was more than an elementary text and correspondence with friends, since it appears that the succeeding Books became more evolved and delve deeper into Buddhist philosophy. Kerouac moved from simple definitions in Book One to analogies between him and a tiger in Book Three, to in-depth reflection about rebirth and individuality in Book Four, and in Book Eight he placed emphasis on Avalokitesvara and the Womb of Exuberant Fertility. On 7 – 8 December Kerouac writes of Avalokitesvara:
In this poem Kerouac’s spiritual questing can be seen as he erupts onto paper asking the great questions of existence. Kerouac saw this Buddhist text as more than a documentation of an intense interest in Buddhism; for him, it was an act of release. Kerouac’s spiritual journey was a shouting out and release of the bothersome things in his life while in opposition to the quiet introspective inward journey. He attempted to embody the realizations he was having, and in doing so Dharma became an act of meditation. This meditative act included the composition of the material and creation of the visual aspects, helping him come to terms with his lifestyle and beliefs. One should keep in mind that Kerouac was attempting to reconcile his lifestyle with his newfound interest in Buddhism when he began to write this text in 1953.
As a Buddhist text Some of the Dharma details the essentials of Mahayana Philosophy. Without previous knowledge in the higher forms of Buddhism, Kerouac’s formless text will appear to be the ramblings of a fool. However, once the reader works through Kerouac’s maze of thoughts, diary entries, meditations, poetry and prose they see that Kerouac was great at providing the reader with a combination of personal narrative and reflections and retellings of Buddhist doctrine.
Kerouac’s main focus in Dharma came to rest mostly on the notion of suffering and its causes. The notion of suffering, besides being the cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy, was especially appropriate for Kerouac as his life appears to have revolved around the anguish that his own lifestyle created. He struggled to define what was real, and what really mattered to him. On the one hand he outlined a strenuous regime or ‘Modified Ascetic Life’, while on the other he could not resist the temptations of friends, drugs, alcohol and women, all of which brought him tremendous suffering. Kerouac resolved to lead a monastic life; however, this resolution, written relatively early in the text, was broken short eight days later (Kerouac 1997, 138), a sign that his bhikkuhood and potential enlightenment were at the far end of a path fraught with the temptations of the world. Kerouac could not seem to take refuge in these four precepts for more than a matter of days.
The frustration that Kerouac felt in his daily dhyanas and in attempting to lead a pure life is evident in Dharma. When he starts drinking again his mood shifts, and changes in the text are apparent. While he is drunk in a cornfield, Kerouac’s poetry takes on a different tone and style. He states:
The rhyming nature of this poem is unlike the rest of the text, as is the discussion of such a topic—cornfields—both influenced by his intoxication. It was at moments like this that Kerouac’s practice of Buddhism became his second priority, as his first was the bliss he felt while drunk.
Although such instances occur throughout the writing of Dharma, the text remains Buddhist in nature and such occurrences only add to the honesty and personal quality that help readers relate to Kerouac. For Kerouac, Dharma became a living manuscript of his daily thoughts and prayers that came to reflect every aspect of his life, from squabbles with his mother about his Buddhist practice, to his friends’ and colleagues’ lack of acceptance of his teaching of the Dharma, and the inner turmoil he felt as a result of these personal conflicts. At times Kerouac saw himself as a great teacher of Buddhism, and indeed as a Bodhisattva. At the end of 1954 he wrote of his conflicts in light of his role as a Buddhist:
The pressure of an ever-devout Catholic family often caused Kerouac much stress and confusion as to whether his Buddhahood was meant to be. He seems to have found solace in reading the Diamond Sutra, his favourite Buddhist text. The Buddhist texts that originally influenced Kerouac came to be those that he looked to alleviate confusion and pain.
Even though Kerouac was enamoured of the Buddhist literature that he found in Dwight Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible, what becomes visible when reading Dharma is that his Catholic background could not be ignored. Kerouac’s family was too important for him to ignore their stress on the benefits of the Catholic tradition. Thus, Kerouac’s Catholic voice, both positive and negative, carries throughout the text. The presence of this voice is seen in such instances as when he refers to the ‘Virgin Mary & Buddha are UNO’ (Kerouac 1997, 70), or when he relates the Catholic religion to an ‘early expression of a primitive culture’ (Kerouac 1997, 99). At times Kerouac seems to have found a peaceful balance between his newfound Buddhist practice and his strict Catholic upbringing. In a January dhyana, Kerouac writes:
The final sentence can be translated as ‘this thinking is stopping here’. Here Kerouac has an experience that reflects his Christian background while engaged in his daily Buddhist practice. The result of both religious influences was, as stated in Big Sky Mind, that Kerouac ‘happily conflated Jesus Christ with Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. After all, he explained, a lot of people say he is Maitreya [which] means Love in Sanskrit and that all Christ talked about was love’ (Tonkinson 1995. 17). The outcome of this notion became apparent in the writing of Dharma. Although a text of Buddhist nature, Kerouac tended to tie all religions into one Universal belief, particularly Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Kerouac was continually concerned with arbitrary relative conditions and ignorance; ideas that became major concerns throughout the entire text.
He applies the notion of arbitrary relative conditions to what appears to be the Christian idea of original sin, or as he writes ‘my original ignorance’. Therefore, while Kerouac’s ultimate considerations stayed within the realm of Buddhism, especially Mahayana philosophy, he instituted much of his Catholic childhood teachings into areas concerned with Buddhism. The question can be raised of whether Kerouac used Buddhist doctrines to justify his feelings about what he had learned as a child and the things he was trying to come to terms with in his personal life—how closely are Kerouac’s personal life and religious identity as a Catholic linked to his appropriation of Buddhism?
The Scripture of the Golden Eternity
The view that Kerouac used veiled aspects of Christianity can be seen in Some of the Dharma and continues to appear in the sutra that he wrote in spring 1956. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity is a remarkable Buddhist Sutra that reveals aspects of different traditions, as may be seen even in its title. Anne Waldman writes in the Introduction that:
What we already see in the title is the Christian influence that remained with Kerouac even when he was in the process of writing a ‘traditional’ Buddhist text. His Christian background in fact is revealed throughout. Near the beginning Kerouac equates himself with the Chosen One or the Messiah (Kerouac 1994, 24), and later he seems happy in reflecting the Buddhist with the Christian. In scripture #37 Kerouac writes:
Kerouac provides a refraction of the Christianity that was often problematic in life. Instead of criticizing the tradition of his childhood, Kerouac changes its direction or path by conflating Catholic with Buddhist ideas. This merging of traditions elucidates the previously mentioned fact that Scripture was written after the completion of Dharma, so that a number of themes are concurrent. The format of Scripture, however, does not directly parallel that of Dharma; in certain parts of the first text there are instances where Kerouac made attempts to write condensed versions of sutras (e.g., on page 338 of Dharma, Kerouac has included the Envelope Sutra, originally written on an envelope).
This sutra from Dharma reflects the purpose of such a text as may be seen in traditional Buddhist sutras and in Kerouac’s own Scripture of the Golden Eternity. The function of the sutra rests in it being a collection of discourses or teachings of the Buddha, or, in this case, Kerouac.
The content of Scripture is similar to Dharma in many ways, yet differs in others. Kerouac presents his ‘case’ much more formally, thus limiting himself in ways that he did not have to in Dharma. In the scriptures of the sutra Kerouac did not use the unconventional asterisks, doodles and hyphens seen in Dharma. Scripture’s small 38-page text is divided into 66 scriptures, which Kerouac managed to fill with doublespeak logic that seems to have come quite naturally to him. Anne Waldman states:
Because the thinking’s heady enough to make you crazy, there’s a tendency in Buddhist matters to generate a magical language. To the outsider these illogical syllogisms sound like gibberish, doublespeak. They’re golden to a poet’s ear. Sanskrit poetics speaks of Sandhyabasha or twilight speech, which is an ‘upsidedown’ language harbouring contradictions and paradoxes. The Buddhist sutras, of which Kerouac’s Scripture is so redolent, are filled with these contraries. (Kerouac 1994, 2)
Kerouac loaded the short scriptures with haikus, Zen koans, poetry, prose and meditations that, like Dharma, reflected his inner search for enlightenment and outward quest for the meaning of the universe. The conflicted Kerouac of the first text appears to be absent from Scripture. Kerouac emerges in this latter as a man who was at peace with the realizations that he had made. In the second paragraph of his sutra, describing the Golden Eternity, Kerouac appears to be in a much more blissful state. He states:
Here Kerouac shows an upbeat mood that was often shadowed in Dharma by his bouts with drinking, drugs and his family. Two stanzas later, Kerouac declared:
And two paragraphs following, Kerouac discussed further his place:
Kerouac focused the material of his sutra around the Buddhist notion of emptiness and the nature of form as being consistent with concepts of emptiness. Waldman writes in the introduction that ‘Kerouac’s Scripture is accurately onto the profound dharma teaching of form is emptiness, emptiness is form, emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness ...’ (Kerouac 1994, 4). Scripture has been praised for its accuracy and brilliance, including by Eric Mottram who writes:
While Kerouac offered a meditation of emptiness and form, it is important to note that Kerouac’s emphasis was on the golden eternity. This aspect of time differs from the text of Dharma, where time was always in the present, while often looking towards the tragic future, but in his sutra time and eternity is golden and things have already been attained. The manner in which Kerouac presented his golden eternity used the form of Buddhist sutras; however, he also employed the Zen practice of koans. This was a departure for Kerouac since at this point in his life he was not as interested in Zen Buddhism as he was with other Mahayana schools. In Dharma Kerouac tended to shy away from Zen, and indeed there are moments in the text where he provided criticisms of this branch of Buddhism. In Scripture Kerouac has provided the reader with a few enigmatic scriptures that could be considered reflections of Zen koans.
The Zen aspect of Kerouac’s sutra is quite interesting when compared with his attitude towards Zen in Some of the Dharma.In Dharma Kerouac regarded Zen in a lesser light than Mahayana. He saw Mahayana as the purer form of Buddhism, writing that ‘Mahayana is the essence of Reality’ (Kerouac 1997, 251). In Book Seven he related his feelings about Zen Buddhism. His explanation:
Kerouac obviously felt that he had real reasons to disapprove of Zen. A few pages later he wrote:
Kerouac’s original influence was that of the Indian Mahayana Buddhism, and, as is evident in these passages, his interest in Zen was limited, but at the same time Kerouac had respect for D.T. Suzuki, for he read him intently and quoted him in Dharma. From this respect and interest in Suzuki, Kerouac came to be influenced by the Zen tradition of haiku poetry. Tonkinson suggests that he ‘resisted Zen because of his conviction that it emphasized attaining mystical insight rather than cultivating compassion’ (Tonkinson 1995. 17). Perhaps Kerouac felt that Zen Buddhism would lead him deeper into the world of temptations and peer pressure because it was becoming such a socially attractive and popular tradition. Whatever Kerouac’s true reasons for not identifying himself with Zen, the fact is that he was intrigued by its literary aspect, and this led to the compositions of the koans and haikus in both Some of the Dharma and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity.
The blissful and ‘golden’ tone of Scripture is an important aspect of Kerouac’s sutra because it could be said to be a direct reflection of his experience of awakening. In the prose scripture # 64. Kerouac described an experience of unconsciousness in which he realized upon awakening that everything is all right forever. Kerouac’s description of his moment of true enlightenment is as follows:
This experience of enlightenment or awakening that originated with a fainting spell appears to have affected Kerouac in such a way as to change his outlook on time and the here and now, similarly to the outcome of a near death experience. This moment of realization appears to reflect the accounts of the Buddha’s experience under the Bodhi tree. Hence, the result of this experience was a collapsing of time, a realization that the present was the golden age for Kerouac, one that influenced his daily practice and took shape in his sutra. The knowledge that Kerouac reaped from his enlightenment experience was that which he wrote in Scripture as the first teaching of the golden eternity.
This first teaching is the knowledge Kerouac gained from his experience of awakening, a Buddha-nature type realization. Kerouac did not have the answers to life’s big questions yet his golden eternity became his response to what became unbearable in his life. Kerouac’s teaching or reasoning may seem like a childlike cop-out of the conflicts in one’s life, but his vision of the golden eternity is in line with Buddhist philosophy as his second teaching confirms. The final scripture of Kerouac’s sutra reveals his second and final teaching:
‘This second teaching is directly related to the concepts that can be found in Dharma.In Scripture Kerouac continued to focus on the Buddhist views regarding emptiness, nothingness and arbitrary conceptions. Nothing exists but as an arbitrary conception of the mind and senses. Kerouac’s emphasis on the notion of arbitrary relative conceptions is less obscure in Dharma as he writes:
A few pages earlier, Kerouac writes ADORATION TO THE MIND OF BUDDHA:
It is concepts such as these Kerouac conveyed in Dharma that correspond to his knowledge of ‘the golden eternity’. During a Monday meditation practice in the North Carolina woods, Kerouac writes:
A few lines later Kerouac continues:
Kerouac’s Buddhist texts
Kerouac’s vision of ‘the golden eternity’ and his two Buddhist writings were influenced by many factors, including Mahayana Buddhism; in particular, texts such as the Surangama Sutra, Lankavatara Scripture and the Diamond Sutra. Even though Dharma appears to be a reworking of primary sources, and reinterpretations of theories, its importance goes beyond what is actually written. Together the two texts reveal a lot about the author, his practice, personal struggles and, more significantly, the influence and relation that Kerouac had and continues to have on Western Buddhism and to practitioners.
To look at the role that Jack Kerouac has played and continues to play in the rise and changes within Buddhism in the West, one must first look at what was instrumental in bringing about the rise of Buddhism in his life. In Dharma Kerouac provided a list of texts that were pivotal in peaking his interest in Eastern philosophies. The bibliography that is given in Book One allows the reader to get an idea of where Kerouac’s interests originated. The most significant of these books for Kerouac was A Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard. Kerouac’s connection with the texts condensed in Goddard’s book is obvious when reading Dharma.As an anthology of Buddhist texts, Goddard supplied Kerouac, as well as many Westerners, with the opportunity to become familiar with various Buddhist sources and to study the dharma more comprehensively. Kerouac was so taken with Goddard’s book that he memorized pages of text and a couple of times in Dharma one can find Goddard’s California address. On pages 213 and 329 Kerouac exhibits his fascination with Dwight Goddard and his surprise that they lived so close to each other:
Just over 100 pages later, Kerouac tosses in the address without labeling it as Goddard’s:
The three sections of Goddard’s collection that most influenced Kerouac are the Diamond Sutra, the Surangama Sutra and the Lankavatara Scripture. Each had tremendous influence on Kerouac’s writing as their main themes flow through both of the texts being discussed. The theme of the Diamond Sutra is that all things, ideas and phenomena are subjective and non-existent. ‘... all definitive things, phenomena and ideas are subjective and unreal, being merely manifestations of one’s mind; that even the highest conceptions of the Dharma and of Tathagata are mind-made and empty’ (Goddard 1994, 661). These characteristics of the Diamond Sutra are conveyed in Kerouac’s books, as shown in the excerpts already cited.
The second influential piece from Goddard’s text was the Surangama Sutra, whose focus is on the steps for attaining Supreme Enlightenment and Highest Samadhi. The aspect of the text that seemed to impress Kerouac was the details regarding the mental preparations for dhyana practice in achieving enlightenment. ‘The successive steps are given in such detail and are so intelligently interpreted that if faithfully followed from their beginning in counting breaths to their goal, one will surely attain Enlightenment and Samadhi’ (Goddard 1994, 665). Kerouac must have read the Surangama Sutra and have felt that enlightenment was possible for himself, as may have been the case with the experience of awakening in Scripture. However, it was not until Kerouac read the Lankavatara Scripture that he realized suffering could cease (Hipkiss 1976, 65), although one finds plenty of examples of both the Surangama Sutra and the Lankavatara Scripture in Dharma. On pages 201 – 4 Kerouac provides his lengthy version of the Surangama Sutra with the ‘wording rearranged for the understanding of Western minds’ (Kerouac 1997, 201). This rewording shows that Kerouac was aware of the problems that Westerners sometimes encounter in Buddhist practice. By using repetitive motifs and less ‘heady’ wording, Kerouac has provided a translation of Surangama that is understandable for the average Westerner. For example:
Here we see Kerouac employing simple language to explain the material in the Surangama Sutra followed by parentheses that correspond to the idea being articulated.
The influence of the Lankavatara Scripture is evident in Kerouac’s discussion of the origins and developments of cognition, and the progressions of false imagination and knowledge as stemming from ignorance. These concepts are present in both Scripture and Dharma, along with ideas about transcendental intelligence and the realization and intuition of Noble Wisdom as outlined in the Lankavatara Scripture. ‘The theme of it is to elucidate the profoundest experience that comes to the human spirit. It everywhere deprecated dependence upon words and doctrines and urges upon all the wisdom of making a determined effort to attain this highest experience’ (Goddard 1994, 668). In relation to Dharma Kerouac included direct quotes from the Suzuki and Goddard translation of Lankavatara with corresponding page numbers, as well as writing his own interpretation of the text and the Nirvana of the Tathagata. Kerouac writes:
Goddard’s A Buddhist Bible provided Kerouac with the basics for his Buddhist practice.
From the influence of Goddard on Kerouac comes the influence and impact of Kerouac on generations of people in the West. The question remains whether Kerouac’s deciphering of Buddhism spawned a ‘new’ Buddhism in North America. There was most definitely an Americanization of certain aspects of Buddhism happening, but were there enough changes occurring within the tradition to declare the emergence of a new branch of Buddhism? Was it enough that alterations were being made to traditional practices to claim the development of a new form of Buddhism? In the foreword to Goddard’s text, Atkin concedes that Kerouac was instrumental in Americanizing Buddhism and establishing a culture that flourished around the Zen centres in North America (Goddard 1994, viii). Would this culture have existed without Kerouac’s influence and Buddhist texts?
What helped in establishing Buddhism in North America was the manner in which Kerouac related Buddhism to his readers. As mentioned earlier, Kerouac’s approach was honest and personal, relating his struggles and frustrations with his daily practice. It became possible for budding Buddhists to identify with someone in the same situation. Kerouac suffered through sitting meditation with the pain of phlebitis, ‘a battle with pain of legs’ (Kerouac 1997, 188). Because of the pain he experienced and the realization that most Westerners cannot sit in the full lotus position, Kerouac explained his method of Western Buddhist Meditation in Some of the Dharma with instructions and a drawing that illustrates the proper positioning of the body. His method states:
Kerouac’s practical descriptions and effort in realizing the needs of Westerners was of assistance in his Americanizing of Buddhism. Kerouac was aware of the difficulty of practicing traditional Buddhism in North America, as he began to draw attention to himself. Whether this attention was positive or negative, the fact of the matter is that Kerouac was in the public eye. In a sense Kerouac relished the attention he received but he also wanted to be happy and his fame seemed to cause turmoil in his life. Realizing this, Kerouac was in search of a loner lifestyle with monastic undercurrents. Big Sky Mind quotes Kerouac as saying, ‘all I want as far as life-plans are concerned from here on out, is compassionate, contented solitude-Bhikkuhood is so hard to make in the West-it would have to be some American streamlined Bhikkuhood, because so far all I’ve done is attract attention’ (Tonkinson 1995, 25). Kerouac was cognizant of the impact he was having on the young people of the 1950s and 1960s generations—but what he really wanted was to teach Buddhism, not simply to garner attention.
Both of Kerouac’s texts relate his vision for America and Buddhism. In Scripture Kerouac dreams of the golden eternity, while in Dharma he planned ways in which he would teach the concepts of Buddhism to Americans. Kerouac went so far as to explain the approach he would take in teaching Southerners, for he must have thought them to be more pious to their Christian faith than other American citizens. Kerouac explained:
The Southerners must have affected Kerouac on his travels across the country, as Dharma includes not only ways of conveying Buddhist concepts specifically to these Christians, but also a two-page sermon called ‘Preaching to A Southerner’. In this sermon Kerouac strikes his Buddhist message on a chord of the suffering Southern evangelist worker.
It was smart of Kerouac to relate his Buddhist message to the pious southerners in terms of Christian ethics and problems. This trickery employed in Kerouac’s teaching of Buddhism attests to his awareness of the state of mind of North Americans who in the 1950s were steeped in the idea that hard work is the way to achieve the American Dream.
Kerouac as teacher of Buddhism was aware of the alterations needed and the ways in which his students, as Christian Americans, would understand the dharma. Does the approach that Kerouac took and the substitutions of Buddhist expressions allow us to classify his teachings as a new American form of Buddhism? Some people would believe this to be true, for Kerouac claimed he wanted to pursue the life of a Bhikku and recommended others to follow the same lifestyle; however, Kerouac could not endure the strict monastic way of living. The formation of meditation and dharma centres in North America are far from the monastic institutions of the East, so are these Western Buddhist centres indirectly part of Kerouac’s doing and influence? Although his sudden death preceded the formation of the majority of dharma centres, it is without doubt that Kerouac helped bring Buddhism into the consciousness of many North Americans. With the help of people like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, Buddhism began to flourish in America, particularly in California. Kerouac’s influence was felt after his death and continues to be discussed in Buddhist circles. One only has to pick up a copy of Tricycle to read Kerouac’s life-story of the Buddha (Issues 8 and 15) or head to the Naropa Institute to engage in Kerouac’s poetics and American Buddhism. Jack Kerouac’s vision of the golden eternity endures in the minds of many all over North America.
Perhaps Kerouac’s friends took it upon themselves to carry on Kerouac’s teachings and vision of the golden eternity after he was no longer able to do so. The flip side to this view is that by 1959 Kerouac had become disillusioned with Buddhism, just as his good friend Ginsberg’s interest began to peak in the teachings that Kerouac once tried to force upon him.
BRINKLEY, DOUGLAS. 1998. In the Kerouac Archive. The Atlantic Monthly, November, 49–76.
Jack Kerouac: Az arany örökkévalóság (64.)
Fordította: Ferenczy Éva és Hetényi Ernő
in: A Körösi Csoma Sándor Intézet közleményei, Budapest, 1973/1, 65. oldal
Virágillatot lehelt ki a kert,
mélyet lélegezve beszívtam,
vérem agyamban dobolt, majd hátamon
fekve a fűben talált az új eszmélet;
e hatvan másodperc ájulás vagy halál
volt? - szomszédom gondolhatta: csupán
a fűbe vetettem magam, hogy élvezzem
a Napot. A nem-lét ez időtlen
percében láttam az arany örökkévalóságot.
A mennyországot. Történés soha nem zavarta,
elmúlt évmilliók eseményei árnyak,
és üresek mint a jelen eseményei,
és az új évmilliók vagy a következő
tíz perc eseményei. Csodás arany magány,
arany üresség, Valami-Más; valami
alázatos odaadás. Örökös csönd
elragadtatott csengése. Nincsen abban
lét vagy nemlét, azonosság vagy különbözőség,
közelség vagy távolság, jótett vagy hála,
és kegyelem vagy ítélet sem létezik abban;
és szenvedés vagy annak ellenkezője sincsen.
Ālaya-vijñāna: az anyaméh ez, az egyetlen,
a mindent felölelő, a Nagy Szabadság,
Nagy Diadal, végtelen vég, és örömteli
rejtélyes lényege a Rendnek. Olyan
mint kacagó nevetés, mint imádkozó fohász,
kegyes, imádandó könyörületesség, örökös
biztonság, frissítő délután, rózsák, pompás
anyagtalan aranyfüst, végtelen Arany Korszak.
Szembogaram napból származó „aranya”,
röpke pillanatba zárt öröklét ténye,
melyre fölocsúdva emlékezem: ott voltam,
ott ahonnan minden jő, s hova
visszatér az Örökkétartó Most, melyet
- mert soha nem közeledő vagy távolodó -
arany örökkévalóságnak mondok, de
nevezhetnéd bárminek. És amikor visszanyertem
öntudatom, fájt tudnom hogy nékem
testem van és lelkem; de hirtelen ráébredtem
hogy azok nem én vagyok, éssoha semmi sem
történt, és minden a legnagyobb rendben van,
öröktőlfogva, örökösen, örökké - hála
érte, ó köszönöm, köszönöm.
Jack Kerouac regényei magyarul
Úton; ford. Déry György, bev. Kristó Nagy István; Magvető, Bp., 1966 (Világkönyvtár)
Úton; ford. Bartos Tibor; Európa, Bp., 1983
Művésztelep; ford. Török Attila; Szukits, Szeged, 1995
Magányos utazó; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Szukits, Szeged, 2000 (Modern klasszikusok)
Doktor Sax; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Szukits, Szeged, 2004 (Modern klasszikusok)
Senkiháziak; ford. Kepes János; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2005
Átutazóban; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2006
Az elhagyatottság angyalai; ford. Kepes János, Szántai Zsolt; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2006
Dharma hobók; ford. Szántai Zsolt, Jónás Zsolt; Szukits, Szeged, 2006
Cody látomásai; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2007
Tristessa / A szőke bombázó; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2008
Gerard látomásai; ford. Szántai Zsolt; Cartaphilus, Bp., 2009
Úton. Az eredeti tekercs; ford., előszó, jegyz. M. Nagy Miklós; Európa, Bp., 2011
Úton; ford. M. Nagy Miklós; Európa, Bp., 2012
Hazajáró lélek és egyéb írások; ford. Baló András Márton; Helikon, Bp., 2014
Jack Kerouac–William S. Burroughs: És megfőttek a vízilovak; ford. M. Nagy Miklós; Helikon, Bp., 2018
A Dharma csavargók; ford. M. Nagy Miklós; Helikon, Bp., 2019