Buddhism And The Poetry Of Jac Essay

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Buddhism And The Poetry Of Jac

Buddhism and the Poetry of Jack Kerouac

For we all go back
where we came from,
God's Lit Brain,
his Transcendent Eye
of Wisdom

And there's your bloody circle
called Samsara
by the ignorant
Buddhists, who will
still be funny Masters
up there, bless em.

Jack Kerouac
-from Heaven

Jack Kerouac spent his creative years writing in a prosperous post world war II America.
He was in many ways a very patriotic person who had no problem making known his love for
his country , particularly within his literature. It was, quite literally, America that he
was in love with. Taking cues from writers such as Whitman, he embraced the American
landscape as a field for spiritual cultivation. Kerouac was indeed a writer with spiritual
preoccupations. He saw himself as partaking in a lifelong journey through the America that
was waiting to reveal itself and, consequently, himself. Also, of course, considering
himself a serious writer, he would chronicle this spiritual expedition throughout a series
of novels that together would be called 'The Duluoz Legend.'; This was the name Kerouac
had intended the novels to take on when he would assemble them in chronological order
before he died. Unfortunately he died earlier than he expected and was unable to formally
assemble them. However, the legend remains.

Kerouac undoubtedly made his mark on the literary world with his prose. And his prose
proves itself to be a very good example of his writing as spiritual commentary. Kerouac,
while wandering the country in freight cars and the backs of pick-up trucks, saw himself
as a modern day sage or bodhisatva, discovering the essence of 'the void'; and using his
literature as a record of these discoveries. His body of work is a wonderful example of
integrating Buddhism into the daily life and thought of a man living in a western culture.
Kerouac could not help but find religion in every aspect of his waking day. Every thing or
person he encountered or interacted with was a part of the 'essence of isness.';

Within the Kerouacian canon there is, besides his prose, another shining example of
Kerouac's literary translation of the spirituality of living. Throughout his career
Kerouac wrote several volumes of poetry, all of which deal with using the poetic medium to
express the profound and concentrated spiritual composition of everything. Much of this
poetry deals specifically with Buddhism. Kerouac was a devoted student of the Buddhist way
and would often impress his peers with his knowledge of the Sutras and other Buddhist
texts and ideas. This is particularly interesting when it is considered that these peers
were other students of Buddhism such as Gary Snyder or even Philip Whalen, who is an
ordained Zen monk. In fact, Kerouac was so immersed in Buddhist thought that in 1956 he
completed the manuscript to what would become a 420 page book titled Some Of The Dharma,
which was a collection of notes and thoughts on various ideas taken from the Sutras.
Included also were numerous poems and prose poems, which were attempts to transliterate
the ancient wisdom of Buddhism into a modern context, applicable to the western
intellectual and spiritual journeyman. Some of the Dharma was to be a study guide for the
beginning practice of Kerouac's good friend and companion Allen Ginsberg.

While Kerouac was writing what was perhaps his best and certainly one of his most
spiritually driven novels, Desolation Angels, he was also writing a poem to accompany the
novel which was titled Desolation Blues. Although written after Kerouac was no longer up
on Desolation Peak serving as a fire lookout in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it was a
reflection upon the many contemplations provoked by the solitude and serenity of the time
he spent alone atop the mountain. From the opening line he has recognized an inherently
Buddhist view of the world through his own eyes.

I stand on my head on Desolation Peak
And see that the world is hanging
Into an ocean of endless space
The mountains dripping rock by rock
Like bubbles in the void
Here Kerouac offers imagery of a world contrived and almost surreal in it's nature. It is
as though he is recognizing the true nature of the mountain and the world, buried beneath
it's own jutting out into a false existence. Later in the poem he ties this more directly
into his own, and consequently, our own existence.

We're hanging into the abyss
of blue-
In it is nothing but innumerable
and endless worlds
More numerous even (& the number
of beings!)
Than all the rocks that cracked
And became little rocks

At this point in the poem it becomes clear that Kerouac begins to utilize the same form of
writing that he used in many of his books. He fell into the 'spontaneous bop prosody';
that was very much influenced by Buddhism in the same way that many Jazz musicians were
influenced by Buddhism. When Kerouac would write or a soloist would solo (because Kerouac
saw much of his writing as a literary solo) something very Buddhist would take over. By
becoming linked intrinsically with the subject at hand, one would stop being a person
writing or playing, rather one would become the action itself. Kerouac would use this in a
later section of the poem in a masterful way.

And if you don't like the tone
of my poems
You can go jump in the lake.
I have been empowered
to lay my hand
On your shoulder
and remind you
That you are utterly free,
Free as empty space.
You don't have to be famous,
don't have to be perfect,
Don't have to work,
don't have to marry,
Don't have to carry burdens,
don't have to gnaw and kneel,

the taste
of rain
Why kneel?

Don't even have to sit,
Like an endless rock camp
go ahead & blow,

Explode & go,
I wont say nothin,
neither this rock,
And my outhouse doesnt care,
And I got no body
Here Kerouac relies on intuition to execute a Zen rambling, confusing consciousness into
an unconfused state of awareness of our confused human condition. Kerouac continued on
with this tradition of the contemplation of the essence of existence fused with a whirling
word play. Ultimately, his long-term poetic goal was to paint a confused, random and
chaotic literary melange. After reading his works, this would present itself as a poetic
interpretation of the nature of the world. Many of the choruses in his book Mexico City
Blues-the book consists of 242 separate choruses, which are individual poems-concern
themselves with this technique.

106th Chorus
Man is nowhere anyway
Because nowhere is here
And I am here, to testify.

Nowhere is
what nowhere was

I know nowhere
More anywhere
Than this here
Particular everywhere

When I fell thru the eye of the needle
And became a tumbling torso
In the Univers-O,
Brother, let me
tell you,
By this time, around 1958-59, Kerouac felt very comfortable with his ability to manipulate
the English language to his own poetic end. He was also very comfortable with his
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