Beatnik Buddhism in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, October 6, 2013

I was introduced to the writings of Jack Kerouac by a trumpet-player friend in high school who gave me a copy of On the Road just after it came out in 1957.  But though I’d already done some hitchhiking around New England and hung out in Greenwich Village on Friday nights, I was put off by the book’s frenetic style and its praise of aimless, restless travel.  Twelve years later, in 1969, I encountered The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s second most popular book, while selecting works to place on the syllabus of a class at Columbia University I called “Pastoral and Utopia, Visionary Conceptions of the Good Life.” This book’s triumphant celebration of free love, wilderness adventures, bohemian companionship, and Buddhist meditation made a perfect fit.  Forty four years later, while looking for a topic for a Sangha talk to follow up on the one about Thoreau’s Buddhism I offered last Spring, I picked The Dharma Bums in order to consider how my perspective on the novel and its Buddhist themes might have changed in the meantime.

I was encouraged upon reading the first page, where San Luis Obispo is mentioned as a stopover on the train-hopping circuit between L.A. and San Francisco. I remembered a 2009 New Times article revealing that Kerouac lived in this town for several months during 1943 while he worked as a brakeman on the Union Pacific Railroad and that he stayed in a rooming house on Santa Barbara Street now known as The Establishment. [1] And while driving my grandson to school along Chorro Street, I noticed a new restaurant called “Sal Paradise,” slyly named after the protagonist of On The Road.

Kerouac wrote all 244 pages of The Dharma Bums at his mother’s house in Orlando Florida between November 26 and December 7 1957 with a rented typewriter on a scroll of blank paper suspended from the ceiling.[2]  His creative frenzy was fueled by coffee, alcohol and Benzedrine, an amphetamine popular among writers, musicians and mathematicians at the time. He was also driven by his publisher’s insistence that he capitalize immediately on the recent commercial success of On The Road, which after its completion in manuscript had taken six years of rejections and delays to see the light.[3] As he pounded away, sometimes for 18 hours a day, Kerouac consulted and copied from the handwritten notebooks, stacks of letters, and translations of sacred texts piled around his desk.[4] Despite its haste of composition, The Dharma Bums has a coherent narrative structure, an easy-to-comprehend style and an explicit set of themes.

Though classified as fiction, the book presents itself as factual autobiography, opening and closing with the specific dates of September 1955 and August 1956. The first-person protagonist is named Ray Smith, but his adventures, both geographic and spiritual, are those of Kerouac himself, and the book’s other characters are portraits of the author’s friends disguised only by made-up names. These include Alvah Goldberg, aka Alan Ginsberg, Rheinhold Cacoethes, aka Kenneth Rexroth, and most prominent, Japhy Ryder, standing for Gary Snyder.  Many incidents in the story have been confirmed by external sources, but Snyder later claimed that most of the book strays far from the truth.[5]

As implied in its title and on almost every page, a central theme of The Dharma Bums is Buddhism, that is, the version of Buddhism espoused by Kerouac during the years 1953-1958 when the study, practice, and artistic expression of Buddhist principles shaped his life. During those years other American writers came upon Buddhist texts and found in them the alternate value system, cultural style and spiritual orientation that drew them together under the banner of the Beats.

Despite their characterization in the media of the time as anarchic sensualists, Kerouac asserted “The Beat Generation is basically a religious generation.”[6] Uninhibited rebels and outdoorsy adventurers, the Beats were also scholars and spent some of their most exciting times in libraries.  In 1953, according to his own report, Kerouac discovered Buddhism by way of Henry David Thoreau: “Well I went to the library to read Thoreau.  I said, ‘I’m going to cut out from civilization and go back and live in the woods like Thoreau.’  And I started to read Thoreau and he talked about Hindu philosophy.  So I put Thoreau down and I took out, accidentally, The Life of Buddha by Ashvagosa.”[7]

This led him to Dwight Goddard’s 1932 collection of Classic sutras, The Buddhist Bible, which he stole from the library, bound with leather, carried in his rucksack, studied methodically, quoted and paraphrased, and publicized among his friends and later to readers of The Dharma Bums.[8] This novel served as a significant stage in an informal American lineage—the transmission of Dharma from the New England Transcendentalists and a small cadre of Asian and Western scholars in the 1940’s and ‘50’s to a widespread audience today.[9]

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The words of the book’s title, Dharma Bums, epitomize Beat spirituality. The pairing of Classical Sanskrit and contemporary American slang typifies the Beats’ yoking of sacred and profane, exalted and base, the law and the outlaw. Kerouac draws attention to the phrase several times near the beginning of the book:

at this time I was a perfect Dharma Bum myself and considered myself a religious wanderer.(5) [10]

the little St. Teresa bum [whom he encounters hopping a freight from L.A. to Santa Barbara] was the first genuine Dharma Bum I’d met, and the second was the number one Dharma Bum of them all and in fact it was he, Japhy Ryder, who coined the phrase.(9)

While transposing elements of an ancient oriental tradition into mid-twentieth century manners and dialect, Snyder and Kerouac cast themselves as Han Shan (or Cold Mountain) and his disciple, Shih-te, two mischievous sixth-century ascetic beggars who spent their lives wandering the mountains and rivers of China and inscribing their poems on remote rock walls. The high note of the novel’s ending, as Ray returns to civilization after a long solo retreat on a mountaintop in Washington’s North Cascades, is a vision of Japhy as Han-Shan:

And suddenly it seemed I saw that unimaginable little Chinese bum standing there, in the fog, with that expressionless humor on his seamed face. …it was the realer-than-life Japhy of my dreams…who had advised me to come here… thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I learned all… (243-4)

During one of many drunken conversations, Japhy and Ray and Alvah envision the emergence of a new culture in 1950’s America created by

Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars…a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray…being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody…” (97-8)

Within the next decade this prophecy is at least partially fulfilled in the hippie counterculture.

However Ray’s devotion is bracketed with touches of reflexive irony. He introduces himself as a person seeking to “gain merit for myself as a future Buddha (Awakener) and as a future Hero in Paradise.” But then he qualifies: “Since then I’ve become a little hypocritical about my lip-service and a little tired and cynical… .”(5)

And he concludes the book, after his final prayer of gratitude for the revelation received on the mountaintop, with a cryptic disclaimer: “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.”(244)

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These volatile shifts of mood mark Kerouac’s signal insistence on immediacy and spontaneity in writing. They’re also validated by the Buddhist principle of the mind’s instability and by conventions of Zen humor and trickery.[11]

From the moment we first encounter Japhy through Ray’s eyes, he is the dominant character, the teacher to his student.  Ray finds him sitting in his immaculate little shed meditating, practicing calligraphy, and translating Chinese poetry, and expresses his reverence: “Boy what a great thing this is…and you sitting here so very quietly at this very quiet hour studying all alone with your glasses…” Ray plays the role of avid neophyte coming into the presence of the perfect guru: “he seemed to be talking from far away to a poor yearning creature (me) who needed to hear his message…”(23) Throughout the book, Japhy’s composure and exuberance, his abilities as cook, woodsman, sexual athlete, linguist, scholar, and poet, evokes as much admiration in the book’s readers as it does in its narrator.

This poor kid ten years younger than I am is making me look like a fool forgetting all the ideals and joys I knew before in my recent years of drinking and disappointment, what does he care if he hasn’t got any money; he doesn’t need any money, all he needs is his rucksack with those little plastic bags of dried food and a good pair of shoes and off he goes and enjoys he privileges of a millionaire in surroundings like this….and I promised myself I would begin a new life.(77)

Like the Christian gospels or the biography of the Buddha that Kerouac rewrote before meeting Snyder, his depiction of Japhy Ryder is the kind of saint’s life that guides a spiritual transformation for later readers.

Ray claims that he and Japhy are “two strange dissimilar monks on the same path.” The contrast between Japhy’s confident equanimity and Ray’s bumbling self-struggle has a compelling effect on readers. We engage both, aspiring toward the one while identifying with the other.[12]

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Like Thoreau’s Walden, The Dharma Bums points the way to liberation with the example of a hero and his way of life to emulate.  Also like Walden, Kerouac’s book places spiritual experiences within vividly described natural settings that deepen them. Both works can be understood as pastorals, patterned by the opposition between corrupt city and wholesome countryside.

Japhy counsels: “There’s nothing wrong with you Ray, your only trouble is you never learned to get out to spots like this…. For weeks on end, just like John Muir, [I] climb around all by myself following quartzite veins or making posies of flowers for my camp….” Ray agrees to join Japhy and another friend on a backpacking excursion to Matterhorn Peak in Yosemite National Park. During a rite of passage requiring him to confront cold, fatigue, discomfort, and danger on the ascent, he triumph over his fears and regains lost self-confidence.  On the way down from the Peak, he achieves a kind of ecstasy:

Then everything was just like jazz….I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized its impossible to fall of mountains you fool and with a yodel of my own I suddenly got up and began running down the mountain after him doing exactly the same huge leaps, the same fantastic runs and jumps, and in the space of five minutes Japhy Ryder and I (in my sneakers, driving the heels of my sneakers right into sand, rock, boulders, I didn’t care any more…) came leaping and yelling like mountain goats or I’d say like Chinese lunatics of a thousand years ago, enough to raise the hair on the head of the meditating Morely by the lake, who said he looked up and saw us flying down and couldn’t believe it. (85)

Back in Sin City, San Francisco, Ray is disoriented by the squalor of Skid Row and the trauma of nearly witnessing the schizophrenic wife of Neal Cassady commit suicide by jumping off the roof.  Eager to get back on the road, he hitches East for Christmas to visit his mother, sister and brother-in-law in their hillbilly trailer, regretting his night of carousing on the way in Ciudad Juarez. Sentimental delight at the family reunion is quickly succeeded by the desire to retreat—out of the living room with the TV and its attendant conversation, first onto the back porch in his sleeping bag, and then beyond, to an idyllic bower between two trees in the woods, where, accompanied by the family dog, he sits and meditates “completely relaxed and at peace with all the ephemeral world of dream and dreamer and the dreaming itself.”(134)

A lesson emerges from a dispute with his brother-in-law over control of the dog.  He recognizes his own childish pride: “What did I care about the squawk of the very little self which wanders everywhere? I was dealing in outblownness, cut-off-ness, snipped, blownoutness, putoutness, turned-off-ness, nothing-happens-ness, gone-ness, the snapped link, nir, link, vana, snap!”(146)

Spring brings him back to the West Coast as a roommate with Japhy in a shack on the slope of Mt. Tamalpais, where both await a departure—Japhy to Japan to pursue his Zen studies on a fellowship, and Ray for a summer of solitary retreat as a fire watch in the Pacific Northwest.  This three month Marin County interlude is another pastoral idyll of companionship, cooking simple meals, working occasionally for wine money, meditation, study and writing.  It’s disturbed by wild parties with urban visitors, the last of which the two friends ditch for a two-day circumambulation of the mountain.

Upon Japhy’s melancholy departure, Ray again hits the road, hitchhiking in the direction of real wilderness in the North Cascades. With him for the duration of the sixty-five day period of isolation, he takes only one book, the collection of texts in The Buddhist Bible. Japhy promised him a blissful opportunity for spiritual advancement based on his own previous stays as fire lookout, but for Ray the experience is mixed:

There were days that were hot and miserable with locusts of plagues of insects, winged ants, heat, no air, no clouds, I couldn’t understand how the top of a mountain in the North could be so hot…But night would come and with it the mountain moon and the lake would be moonlaned and I’d go out and sit in the grass and meditate facing west … let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious. (238)

In an archetypal account of mountaintop epiphany, the last three chapters of the novel build toward a climactic revelation:

Suddenly a green and rose rainbow shafted right down into Starvation Ridge…It hooped into Lightning Creek, rain and snow fell simultaneous…I went outside and suddenly my shadow was ringed by the rainbow as I walked on the hilltop, a lovely-haloed mystery making me want to pray.  “O Ray, the career of your life is like a raindrop in the illimitable ocean which is eternal awakenerhood…” (241)

I said “Pass, pass, pass, that which passes through everything!” Sixty sunsets had I seen revolve on that perpendicular hill.  The vision of the freedom of eternity was mine forever.’ (243)

Coincidentally, the rare optical phenomenon he describes here, known as “a glory” or  as “Buddha Light,” occurred for me on Poly Mountain last June, and I tried to show pictures of it during my talk on Thoreau at the sangha.

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For four years before he wrote The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac was taken up with the kind of Buddhist experiences that informed Ray’s Smith’s illuminations. He kept daily notebooks and sent letters to his friends about his readings and practices, which he subsequently collected under the title Some of the Dharma. He completed its 420-page manuscript during the 1955-56 Christmas visit to his mother recounted in the novel.

According to the Kerouac scholar, Stephen Prothero, Some of the Dharma is a “hodgepodge of poems, prayers, sermons, scripture snippets, commentaries, essay and story fragments, dream sequences and journal entries.”[13] Not until 29 years after the author’s death did the book find a publisher. Kerouac justified its apparently haphazard style and structure thus:

Bear with me, wise readers, in that I’ve chosen no form for the Book of Mind Because everything has no form, and when you’ve finished reading this book you will have had a glimpse of everything, presented in the way that everything comes: in piecemeal bombardments, continuously, rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of Mind essence.[14]

After his return to California, while living on Mt. Tamalpais and prompted by Snyder, Kerouac wrote another Buddhist work, this time in the style of a traditional Sutra.  Published in 1960, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, is according to Rick Fields,  “Kerouac at his best, and one of the most successful attempts yet to catch emptiness, nonattainment and egolessness in the net of American poetic language.”[15]

Combining some Christian allusions with paraphrases of the Diamond Sutra, The Scripture concludes with a framing device typical of visionary texts, an account of the circumstances of its composition:

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.[16]

In various utterances during these years, Kerouac presented himself as a Boddhisatva and a prophet. To Phillip Whalen, a poet who later became ordained as a Zen monk, he wrote: “With The Dharma Bums I will crash open whole scene to a sudden Buddhism boom and look what’ll happen closely soon…everybody going the way of the dharma… .”[17]

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Though Ray Smith celebrates his stint on Desolation Peak at the end of the novel, Kerouac expresses different views of it elsewhere.  In Desolation Angels, a book published seven years after, but written one year before The Dharma Bums, Kerouac sticks close to the journals he kept at the lookout and reports a growing disillusionment with Buddhism. He admits that abstention increased rather than cured his desire for alcohol, tobacco and wild stimulation and that isolation reduced rather than increased his capacity for the visionary experience he craved: “I’d rather have drugs and liquor and divine visions than this empty barren fatalism on a mountaintop.”[18] …”I’ve had my highest visions of Buddhist Emptiness when drunk.”[19]

After his summer on the Peak, Kerouac went to Greenwich Village and then travelled with Ginsberg and Gregory Corso to Tangier Morocco to visit William Burroughs.  On his return to New York he found On the Road finally in print and enjoying immense popular success.  During the period between writing The Dharma Bums and its appearance in print in September 1958, money and fame caused him more grief than satisfaction. Although praised by some, the novel was panned by many reviewers, in particular by the influential American interpreters of Buddhism, Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Alan Watts.  From Japan, Snyder sent Kerouac an affectionate first reaction: “The Dharma Bums is a beautiful book…that period was for me really a great process of learning from you, not just your vision of America and of people but your immediate all-embracing faith.”[20] But to Phillip Whalen, who had also spent summers as a lookout, Snyder wrote: “I do wish Jack had taken more trouble to smooth out dialogues, etc.  Transitions are rather abrupt sometimes.”[21]

Kerouac was disheartened by these reactions and also by the falling away of what Snyder called his “all embracing faith”: “I’d be ashamed to confront you and Gary now,” he wrote to Whalen,  “I’ve become so decadent and drunk and dontgiveashit.  I’m not a Buddhist any more…” … Fuck religion, it’s all words…Bang your gavel, jedge, I’se guilty of no-more-a –yogi…it was all prophesied on Desolation.”[22] Although he continued writing prolifically until his death in 1968, Kerouac’s last years were darkened by self-inflicted physical, mental and spiritual disease and alienation from his former Beat and Buddhist friends. He died at age 47 from cirrhosis of the liver.

The portrait of Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums generated widespread notoriety for Gary Snyder, and his accomplishments as poet, educator and ecological activist informed the anti-war and environmental movements during the 1960’s and 70’s. As Snyder’s reputation climbed Kerouac’s steadily declined. But recent years have witnessed a Kerouac revival.  He has become the subject of numerous books, films and ongoing blogs. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics Founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman as part of Naropa University in Boulder Colorado “…continues to honor its historical roots while bringing forward new questions that both invigorate and challenge the current dialogue in writing today.”[23] The Florida house where Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums has been purchased by The Kerouac Project of Orlando, which offers tours, lectures and three-month residencies for aspiring writers.[24]

In his introduction to Kerouac’s, Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha, a work written in 1955 and published posthumously in 2008, Robert Thurman notes: “There is no doubt that his tragic addiction to alcohol, which cut his life and practice short … is evidence that whatever enlightenment he had attained was short of perfect Buddhahood, as buddhas don’t usually drink themselves to premature death…”[25] Thurman’s cautious judgment captures the perplexity of many sympathetic readers.  How could a person who had reached such heights of insight, dedication and creativity fall so low?  One answer is to doubt the sincerity or depth of his original engagement. Another is to imagine Buddhism as his temporary and ultimately unsuccessful effort to control the addictions that finally overwhelmed him.

This dilemma leads me to reflect upon the place of Buddhism in the course of my own life. I started meditating during my late twenties, around the time I first read The Dharma Bums to prepare for the class I mentioned earlier. Like Ray Smith or Jack Kerouac, I was rebelling against authority and the demands of growing up, and I was searching for transcendence—in personal experiences of getting high on drugs and in efforts to build spiritual community.  I engaged in Buddhist study and practice in an effort to understand, validate, and extend those experiences of transcendence.

But as I approached thirty, aspiring for transcendence came up against hard economic and psychological realities. In order to maintain family relationships and become a responsible parent, I stopped meditating to get high and started meditating to get straight: 20 minutes a day, no bright lights or synaesthesia, nothing to write poems about or to attract followers, but a good alternative to Prozac or Valium. This shift required some sobering concessions.  First: it wasn’t all about me.  Second: fulfilling obligations in this world took priority over breaking through to the other side. Third: attaining a modicum of self-knowledge and self-mastery was enough of a challenge and a guide to make life meaningful. Finally, transcendence would remain ready for me later, if and when I was really ready for it.

Fifteen years earlier, Kerouac may have faced such a juncture.  His friends Snyder and Whalen followed up their early Buddhist involvements by accepting routines requiring humility and patience, Snyder as a student of Rinzai Zen under a roshi in Japan, where he pleaded with Kerouac to join him, and Whalen as monk in the San Francisco Zen Center.  Such disciplines didn’t satisfy Kerouac’s craving for stimulation and adventure. Rather than finding freedom in submitting to the commitments of long-term spiritual practice or to his family, he gave rein to impulse and ego, and by his own confession, burned himself out.

Thurman notes Kerouac’s “inability to take his alcoholism seriously enough to get free of it and preserve himself and his genius for our benefit somewhat longer.” The choice in middle age to relinquish the lunatic wildness of a Dharma Bum might have allowed Kerouac an opportunity in later life to continue the search for contemplative transcendence that I hope to resume during my final years.

 

Notes

[2] John Suiter, Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades, Washington, D.C. 2002, p. 233. This book is an invaluable source of information about all three writers it treats, as well as about the settings in which it finds them.  The book’s research is based on published sources, first-hand interviews, unpublished documents and the author’s own experience following in the footsteps of his subjects. It’s enriched with evocative original photographs.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road
[4] Suiter 2002, p. 229
[5] “I had already introduced (Kerouac) to hiking in the Sierra when we went up on the Matterhorn in October of 1955, which is described in The Dharma Bums — one of the few things in the book which is actually close to truth (laughing). http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2009/07/gary_snyder_on_mt_tamalpais_wi.html
[6] http://www.dharmabeat.com/
[7] Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, 1981, 1992, p. 210
[8] Interview with John Suiter: http://www.bigbridge.org/issue8/fictsuiter.htm
[9] Stephen Prothero, Introduction, p. 3 in Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation, ed. Carole Tonkinson, 1995
[10] Viking Penguin, New York 1976, originally published 1958.  Future references are to this edition.
[11] Even his most direct expression of Buddhist doctrine, written as an original Sutra, concludes with a similar reversal: “65 This is the first teaching from the golden eternity. 66
The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure.” Yet another explanation for this slippery irony is the literary influence of the picaresque. John Suiter observes that “All during the time he was writing The Dharma Bums, Kerouac was reading Don Quixote, immersing himself in that picaresque spirit.”( Interview with John Suiter: http://www.bigbridge.org/issue8/fictsuiter.htm ) “Picaresque” comes from the Spanish “picaro,” a rogue or rascal, possibly a bum.
[12] On a few occasions, the roles are reversed. After Japhy expresses concern about his friend’s refusal to control his excessive drinking, Ray gets the last word:  “Suddenly at dusk [Japhy] came running back into the cottage drunk as a hoot owl yelling… ‘I went to the Buddhist lecture and they were all drinking white raw sake out of teacups and everybody got drunk. All those crazy Japanese saints! You were right! It doesn’t make any difference. We all got drunk and discussed prajna! It was great!’ After that Japhy and I never had an argument again.”(192) And it’s Ray who proclaims the necessity for “hewing to the good old Dharma,” during a rare occasion when Japhy loses faith.(171)
[14] Toronto 1997, p.147 (Cited by Sarah Haynes, “An Exploration of Jack Kerouac’s Buddhism: Text and Life,” in Contemporary Buddhism, vol.6, No. 2, 2005, accessed at http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Miscellaneous/KerouacBuddhism.html)
[15] Fields, p. 216
[17] Suiter 1997, p.235
[18] Suiter 1997, p. 223
[20] Cited by Suiter 1997, p. 240
[21] Cited by Suiter 1997, p. 241
[22] Cited by Suiter 1997, p. 243
[24] http://kerouacproject.org/
[25] London: Penguin Viking

One Response to “Beatnik Buddhism in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums”

  1. Beatnik Barry Says:

    Wouldn’t cast off On The Road in your intro, it amazed me when I first read it, and most people dig the spontaneity, mayhem and hedonistic energy it embodies, I’m surprised you didn’t connect with it as a teenager. In my opinion the Dharma Bums is a deluded and self-indulgent search for an unidentifiable state of existence, yes the plot is more coherent, it follows a more tame narrative, yet is that what Beat Literature truly seeks to achieve? The Dharma Bums is rife with hypocrisy and ultimately the inability to escape a capitalist system.
    Dig the essay though man.
    All the best.

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