The first four episodes of Wake Up, Jack Kerouac’s previously unpublished life of the Buddha, recounted the story of Prince Siddhartha’s early life: leaving his father’s palace, taking up the homeless life, attaining enlightenment,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.

“The thought of ‘self’ gives rise to all these sorrows, binding as with cords the world, but having found there is no ‘I’ that can be bound, then all these bonds are severed.

“There are no bonds indeed—they disappear—and seeing this there is deliverance.

“There is no ‘I’ at all, in very truth.

“No doer and no knower, no lord, yet notwithstanding this, there ever lasts this birth and death, like morn and night ever recurring.

“But now attend to me and listen: The senses six and their six objects united cause the six kinds of consciousness; the meeting of eye and sight brings forth contact, produces consciousness of sight; the meeting of ear and sound brings forth contact, produces consciousness of sound; the meeting of tongue and taste brings forth contact, produces consciousness of taste; the meeting of nose and odor brings forth contact, produces consciousness of odor; the meeting of body and touchable object brings forth contact, produces consciousness of touch; and the meeting of brain and thought brings forth contact, produces consciousness of thought; then the intervolved effects of recollection follow.

“Then like the burning glass when it is placed over tinder in the high noon sun causes fire to appear, so the sense-organ being placed in contact with the object causes consciousness to appear, and individual self, the parent of consciousness, is born.

“The shoot springs from the seed, the seed is not the shoot, not the shoot and yet not different: such is the birth of all that lives!”

On hearing this discourse on the inconstancy of the self, which, originating from sensation and recollection, must necessarily be subject to the condition of cessation, the King and many of those that accompanied him took refuge in the Three Jewels (Tri-Ratna) of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and became lay followers. The King then invited the Blessed One to the royal palace, entertained him and his bhikshus and presented to the sangha his pleasure garden, the bamboo grove Veluvana, as a dwelling place for the homeless disciples of the Great Teacher. He then appointcd Jivaka, his renowned physician-in-ordinary, to undertake medical attendance on Buddha and his followers; and it was at the insistance of this doctor that the bhikshus, who were previously wearing only cast-off rags, were permitted to accept yellow-dyed robes from pious layfolks.

The bamboo grove was near town but not too close, with many gates and open walks, easy to find for those who sought it, peaceful and quiet all day, mystically silent in the night, far from crowds and roads, a place designed for retreat and undisturbed concentration of the mind on its own pure essence yet charmingly provided with gardens, cloisters, meditation halls, huts, store rooms, surrounded by lotus pools, fragrant mango trees and slender fan palms that stood high in the sky like ethereal flowers, like fantastic watery umbrellas of living pain reminding the monks, as they looked, of how seeds, like pleasures, disturbed the balance of the Happy Ground and sprung phantasies of trees sky-high.

One day in Rajagriha one of the first five converts that were ordained by the Buddha, the former ascetic Asvajit, was going on his alms-seeking round with his begging bowl when the monk Sariputra came along and was so struck by Asvajit’s appearance of joyfulness and dignity that he asked: “Who is your teacher and what doctrine does he profess?” Sariputra had a spiritual blood-brother named Maudgalyayana; long ago they’d agreed, the first one to find Ambrosia and to know the truth, must tell the other; now as Asvajit spoke, saying, “There is a great sage, a son of the Sakyas, who has gone forth to the homeless life; he is my teacher and it is his doctrine I profess,” and sang it in the well-known lines:

Whatever things proceed from a cause,
Of them the Buddha has stated the cause
And what their dissolution is.
This is what the Great One teaches,

Sariputra knew at once he had found Ambrosia and went to Maudgalyayana and told him what he had heard. They both attained to the pure eye for the truth and went with all their followers to the Tathagata. On seeing them coming on the road the Blessed One said:

These two men who come shall be my two most eminent followers, one unsurpassed for wisdom (Maudgalyayana), the other for powers miraculous (Sariputra). Welcome!

Authorship of various important sections of the Sacred Canon, has now been ascribed to these two brilliant saints. With all their followers they took refuge in the Order.

There was a Brahmin Sage of immense wealth, Maha Kasyapa, a wise philanthrophic priest whose renown had spread far, who had just renounced his handsome virtuous wife and all his estate and possessions to find out the way of salvation. Much disturbed, like Vasa the wild boy, he wandered into Buddha’s camp in the middle of the night.

“Having rejoiced in the true law, and being humbly desirous for a pure and believing heart, thou hast overcome desire for sleep, and art here to pay me reverence,” spoke the Buddha gently. “Now then will I for your sake discharge fully the duties of a first meeting. Famous for your charity, now take from me the charity of perfect rest, and for this end accept my rules of purity.”

The All-Knowing One wished to quiet the rich man’s contumacious exercise, the distribution of unneeded largesse, to teach him needed rest foremost. “The restless busy nature of the world, this I declare is at the root of pain.

“Seeing the constant toil of birth and death we ought to strive to attain a passive state: the final goal of Sammata, the place of immortality and rest.

“All is empty! neither ‘self,’ nor place for ‘self,’ but all the world is like a phantasy; this is the way to regard ourselves, as but a heap of composite qualities.”

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