"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac

Posted on Wed 18 February 2009 in ClubReading

Hopping a freight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Kerouac meets an old bum hopping the freights. He shares food and wine with the man and is reminded of a line from the Diamond Sutra, 'Practice charity without holding in mind any conceptions about charity, for charity after all is just a word." Kerouac and the bum talk and share thoughts during the ride. The bum whips out a tiny slip of paper with a prayer by Saint Teresa on it. Kerouac realizes that he is among a larger group of people searching for purpose, searching for meaning. He considers himself a religious wanderer.

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

Japhy's simple love of nature influences Kerouac to spend more time alone and with nature. He spends several months at his families home living on the porch and spending countless hours in the woods meditating.

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 new American counter-culture interest in Buddhism requires a distrust or dislike of other popular religions.

Kerouac shares with his readers the search, the struggle to make sense of our existence and our reality. He brings to the page the common mans thoughts as he explores and searches not for answers, but for ever larger questions that will allow us to see beyond and evolve beyond our corporal selves.

And in keeping with Japhy's habit of always getting down on one knee and delivering a little prayer to the camp we left, to the one in the Sierra, and the others in the Marin, and the little prayer of gratitude 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 on the trail and said "Thank you, shack." Then I added "Blah," with a little grin, because I knew that shack and that mountain would understand what that meant, and turned and went on down the trail back to this world.

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