The first three installments of Wake Up, Jack Kerouac’s previously unpublished life of the Buddha, recounted the story of Prince Siddhartha leaving his father’s palace and taking up the homeless life. In Episode Three, while meditating under the Bodhi Tree, Siddhartha discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and became fully enlightened, a buddha. This episode, the fourth of nine to be published in Tricycle, opens just after Shakyamuni Buddha has attained liberation, while he is still seated beneath the tree. 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: All of Kerouac’s original spellings and usage have been retained.
Now arrived the most critical moment in the life of the Blessed One. After many struggles he had found the most profound truths, truths teeming with meaning but comprehensible only by the wise, truths full of blessing but difficult to make out by ordinary minds. Mankind were worldly and hankering for pleasure. Though they possessed the capacity for religious knowledge and virtue and could perceive the true nature of things, they rushed to do other things and got entangled in deceptive thoughts in the net of ignorance, like puppet dolls that were made to jiggle according to some ignorant opposing arbitrary ideas that had nothing to do with their own essential and enlightened stillness.
Could they comprehend the law of Karma-retribution automatically left over from previous deed-dreams, or the law of continuous connection of cause and effect in the moral world? Could they rid themselves of the animistic idea of a soul and grasp the true nature of man? Could they overcome the propensity to seek salvation through a mediatorial caste of priests and brahmins? Could they understand the final state of peace, that quenching of all worldly cravings which leads to the blissful haven of Nirvana? Would it be advisable for him in these circumstances to preach to all mankind the truths he had discovered? Might not failure result in anguish and pain?
Such were the doubts and questions which arose in his mind, but only to be smothered and quenched by thoughts of universal compassion. He who had abandoned all selfishness could not but live for orhers. What could be a better way of living for others than to show them the path of attaining perfect bliss? What could be greater service to mankind than to rescue the struggling creatures engulfed in the mournful sea of this Sangsaric world of pain and debris? Is not the gift of Dharma, the “Established Law,” the transparent crystal clearness of the world, the grearest of all gifts?
The Perfect One looked up at that king of trees with an unwavering gaze. “This law is wonderful and lofty,” he considered in his heart, “whereas creatures are blind wirh dulness and ignorance. What shall I do? At the very time that I am uttering syllables, beings are oppressed with evils. In their ignorance they will not heed the law I announce, and in consequence of it they will incur some penalty. It would be better were I never to speak. May my quiet extinction take place this very day.”
But on remembering the former Buddhas and their skillfulness in all kinds of worlds, in instructing various beings to realize the perfect simple truth: “Nay, I also will manifest the Buddha-enlightenment.”
To Sariputra and a Vast and reverent assembly of saints, Gotama thus recalled his hours under the Bo-Tree: “When I was thus meditating on the law the other Buddhas in all directions of space appeared to me in their own body and raised their voice, crying ‘Om! Amen, Solitary, first leader of the world! Now that thou hast come to unsurpassed knowledge, and art meditating on the skilfulness of the leaders of the world, thou repeatest their teaching. We also, being Buddhas, will make clear the highest word, divided into three bodies (Appearance-body, Bliss-body, and Law-body): for men have low inclinations, and might perchance from ignorance not believe, ‘Ye shall become Buddhas.’
”’Hence we will arouse many Wise Beings (Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas) by the display of skilfulness and the encouraging of the wish of obtaining fruits.’
“And I was delighted to hear the sweet voice of the leaders of men: in the exultation of my heart I said to the blessed saints, ‘The words of the eminent sages are not spoken in vain.’
“‘I, too, will act according to the indications of the wise leaders of the world; having myself been born in the midst of the degradation of creatures, I have known agitation in this dreadful world.’
“Then I conceived the idea that the time had come for me to announce the excellent law and to reveal supreme enlightenment, for which task I had been born in the world.
“At certain times, at certain places, somehow do the leaders appear in the world, and after their appearance will they, whose view is boundless, at one time or another preach a similar law.
“It is most difficult to meet with this superior law, even in the myriads of ten millions of Aeons; very rare are the creatures that will adhere to the superior law which they have heard from the Buddhas.
“Just as the blossom of the glomerous fig-tree is rare, albeit sometimes, at some places, and somehow it is met with, as something pleasant to see for everybody, as a wonder to the world including the gods.
“And far more wonderful is the law I proclaim. Anyone who, on hearing a good exposition of it, shall cheerfully accept it and recite but one word of it, will have done honor to all the Buddhas.
“Give up all doubt and uncertainty in this respect: I declare that I am Dharma-Raja, the King of the Law.
“You shall become Buddhas; rejoice!”
Thus Tathagata, He- Who-Has-Attained-to-Suchness-of-Mind and sees no more differentiation of various creatures and phenomena, who entertains no more definite conceptions of self, other selves, many divided selves, or one undivided universal self, to whom the world is no longer noticeable, except as a pitiful apparition, yet without arbitrary conception either of its existence or non-existence, as one thinks not to measure the substantiality of a dream but only to wake from it; thus Tathagata, piously composed and silent, radiant with glory, shedding light around, rose from under his Tree of Enlightenment, and with unmatched dignity advanced alone over the dreamlike earth as if surrounded by a crowd of followers, thinking, “To fulfill my ancient oath, to rescue all not yet delivered, I will follow out my ancient vow. Let those that have ears to hear master the noble path of salvation.”
He headed for Benares, the capital of the world.
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