The first four episodes of Wake Up, Jack Kerouac’s previously unpublished life of the Buddha, recounted the story of Prince Siddhartha’s early life: leaving his father’s palace, taking up the homeless life, attaining enlightenment, and postponing his own entry into nirvana until all sentient beings are freed from suffering. Episodes Five and Six described his journey to Benares, where he gave his first sermon, formed the first sangha, and delivered his famous Fire Sermon on the nature of reality to an assembly of a thousand fire worshipers. This installment picks up when King Bimbisara, who had known Shakyamuni when he was a prince, comes for a visit. The complete manuscript of Wake Up will appear in a volume entitled Some of the Dharma, due to be published by Viking Penguin in 1995. Note: Kerouac’s original spellings and usage have been retained throughout.


Jack Kerouac, Florida, 1962, photograph by Robert Frank. © Robert Frank, Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Jack Kerouac, Florida, 1962, photograph by Robert Frank. © Robert Frank, Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The Buddha, studying the person and then teaching the law, perceived that the King and his proud consort were men who had wealth and power but had come to see him because of a considerable doubt that it could do them any good in the end. Truly enlightened, he showed them that there was no individual in the matter of either wealth or poverty, of either enlightenment or ignorance, nay, in either being alive or being dead. He taught them that a man is but a heap of composites.

“After a stronghold has been made of the bones, it is covered with flesh and blood, and there dwell in it old age and death, pride and deceit.

“Look at this dressed up lump, covered with wounds, joined together, sickly, full of many a scheme, but which has no strength, no hold.

“There is no room for ‘I’ and no ground for framing it; so all the accumulated mass of sorrow, sorrows born from life and death, being recognized as attributes of the body, and as this body is not ‘I’ nor offers ground for ‘I,’ then comes the great superlative, the source of peace unending.

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