Japhy leaping up: “I’ve been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that’s the attitude for the Bard, the Zen Lunacy bard of old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, 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, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures, that’s what I like about you Goldbook and Smith, you two guys from the East Coast which I thought was dead.”
“We though the West Coast was dead!”
“You’ve really brought a fresh wind around here. Why, do you realize the Jurassic pure granite of Sierra Nevada with the straggling high conifers of the last ice age and lakes we just saw is one of the greatest expressions on this earth, just think how truly great and wise America will be, with all this energy and exuberance and space focused into the Dharma.”
“Oh”—Alvah—“balls on that old tired Dharma.”
“Ho! What we need is a floating zendo, where an old Bodhisattva can wander from place to place and always be sure to find a spot to sleep in among friends and cook up mush.”
“The boys was glad, and rested up for more, and Jack cooked mush in honor of the door,’” I recited.
“That’s a poem I wrote. ‘The boys was sittin in a grove of trees, listenin to Buddy explain the keys. Boys, sez he, the Dharma is a door . . . Let’s see . . . Boys, I say the keys, cause there’s lotsa keys, but only one door, one hive for the bees. So listen to me, and I’ll try to tell all, as I heard it long ago, in the Pure Land Hall. For you good boys, with wine-soaked teeth, that can’t understand these words on a heath, I’ll make it simpler, like a bottle of wine, and good woodfire, under stars divine. Now listen to me, and when you have learned the Dharma of the Buddhas of old and yearned, to sit down with the truth, under a lonesome tree, in Yuma Arizony, or anywhere you be, don’t thank me for tellin, what was told me, this is the wheel I’m a-turnin, this is the reason I be: Mind is the Maker, for no reason at all, for all this creation, created to fall.’”
“Ah but that’s too pessimistic and like dream gucky,” says Alvah, “though the rhyme is pure like Melville.”
“We’ll have a floatin zendo for Buddy’s winesoaked boys to come and lay up in and learn to drink tea like Ray did, learn to meditate like you should Alvah, and I’ll be a head monk of a zendo with a big jar full of crickets.”
“Yessir, that’s what, a series of monasteries for fellows to go and monastate and meditate in, we can have groups of shacks up in the Sierras or the High Cascades or even Ray says down in Mexico and have big wild gangs of pure holy men getting together to drink and talk and pray, think of the waves of salvation can flow out of nights like that, and finally have women, too, wives, small huts with religious families, like the old days of the Puritans. Who’s to say the cops of America and the Republicans and Democrats are gonna tell everybody what to do?”
Japhy left at about two a.m. saying he’d come back and get me in the morning for our big day oufitting me with full pack. Everything was fine with the Zen Lunatics, the nut wagon was too far away to hear us. But there was a wisdom in it all, as you’ll see if you take a walk some night on a suburban street and pass house after house on both sides of the street each with the lamplight of the living room, shining golden, and inside the little blue square of the television, each living family riveting its attention on probably one show; nobody talking; silence in the yards; dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels. You’ll see what I mean, when it begins to appear like everybody in the world is soon going to be thinking the same way and the Zen Lunatics have long joined dust, laughter on their dust lips. Only one thing I’ll say for the people watching television, the millions and millions of the One Eye: they’re not hurting anyone while they’re sitting in front of that Eye. But neither was Japhy. . . . I see him in future years stalking along with full rucksack, in suburban streets, passing the blue television windows of homes, alone, his thoughts the only thoughts not electrified to the Master Switch. As for me, maybe the answer was in my little Buddy poem that kept on: “ï¿½Who played this cruel joke, on bloke after bloke, packing like a rat, across the desert flat?’ asked Montana Slim, gesturing to him, the buddy of the men, in this lion’s den. ï¿½Was it God got mad, like the Indian cad, who was only a giver, crooked like the river? Gave you a garden, let it all harden, then comes the flood, and the loss of your blood? Pray tell us, good buddy, and don’t make it muddy, who played this trick, on Harry and Dick, and why is so mean, this Eternal Scene, just what’s the point, of this whole joint?’” I thought maybe I could find out at last from these Dharma Bums.
Excerpted from The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Copyright Jack Kerouac, 1958. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.