"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac

Book Cover

Hopping a freight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Kerouac meets anold bum hopping the freights. He shares food and wine with the man andis reminded of a line from the Diamond Sutra, 'Practice charity withoutholding in mind any conceptions about charity, for charity after all isjust a word." Kerouac and the bum talk and share thoughts during theride. The bum whips out a tiny slip of paper with a prayer by SaintTeresa on it. Kerouac realizes that he is among a larger group of peoplesearching for purpose, searching for meaning. He considers himself areligious wanderer.

Japhy is a spiritual guide to Kerouac. He meets him at Berkley. Japhyspends his time studying and learning what interests him. Japhyintroduces Kerouac to the mountains and mountain climbing. The solitudeand clarity of thought one finds after the physical exertion of climbingand communion with nature.

Japhy's simple love of nature influences Kerouac to spend more timealone and with nature. He spends several months at his families homeliving on the porch and spending countless hours in the woodsmeditating.

Sometimes in the woods I'd just sit and stare at things themselves, trying to divine the secret of existence anyway. I'd stare at the holy yellow long bowing weeds that faced my grass sitmat. . . It was eerie. I'd fall asleep and dream the words "By this teaching the earth came to an end," and I'd dream of my Ma nodding solemnly with her whole head, umph, and eyes closed. What did I care about all the irking hurts and tedious wronks of the world, the human bones are but vain lines dawdling, the whole universe a blank mold of stars.

"I am Bhikku Blank Rat!" I dreamed. What did I care about the squawk of the little very self which wanders everywhere? I was dealing in outblownness, cut-off-ness, snipped, blownoutness, putoutness, turned-off-ness, nothing-happens-ness, gone-ness, gone-out-ness, the snapped link, nir, link, vana, snap! "The dust of my thoughts collected into a globe," I thought, "in this ageless solitude," I thought and really smiled, because I was seeing the white light everywhere everything at last.

Kerouac rails against the popular theme of the time, that the newAmerican counter-culture interest in Buddhism requires a distrust ordislike of other popular religions.

Kerouac shares with his readers the search, the struggle to make senseof our existence and our reality. He brings to the page the common mansthoughts as he explores and searches not for answers, but for everlarger questions that will allow us to see beyond and evolve beyond ourcorporal selves.

And in keeping with Japhy's habit of always getting down on one kneeand delivering a little prayer to the camp we left, to the one inthe Sierra, and the others in the Marin, and the little prayer ofgratitude he had delivered to Sean's shack the day he sailed away,as I was hiking down the mountain with my pack I turned and knelt onthe trail and said "Thank you, shack." Then I added "Blah," with alittle grin, because I knew that shack and that mountain wouldunderstand what that meant, and turned and went on down the trailback to this world.

Kerouac writes with a clean honesty and friendly conversational style.His easy going writing style makes everything he writes seem personaland exposed, letting us catch glimpses of the author behind the words.

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