The first four episodes of Wake Up, Jack Kerouac’s previously unpublished life of the Buddha, recounted the story of Prince Siddhartha’s early life: leaving his father’s palace, taking up the homeless life, attaining enlightenment,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. The following episodes described his journey to Benares, his first sermon, the formation of the first sangha, and his sermons on the nature of reality and the inconstancy of the self This, the final installment, picks up when Shakyamuni Buddha is about to die. Now eighty years old, he has just proclaimed to his attendant Ananda, “The time of my complete deliverance is at hand, but let three months elapse, and I shall reach Nirvana.” 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 spelling and usage have been retained throughout.
Buddha rising from out of his ecstasy announced to all the world:
“Now I have given up my term of years: I live henceforth by power of faith; my body like a broken chariot stands, no further cause of ‘coming’ or of ‘going,’ completely freed from earth, heaven and hell, I go enfranchised, as a chicken from its egg.
“Ananda! I have fixed three months to end my life, the rest of life I utterly give up; this is the reason why the earth is greatly shaken.”
Cried Ananda: “Have pity! save me, master! perish not so soon!”
The Blessed One replied: “If men but knew their own nature, they would not dwell in sorrow. Everything that lives, whatever it be, all this is subject to destruction’s law; I have already told you plainly, the law of things ‘joined’ is to ‘separate’.”
And as Ananda wept in the dark wood, the Blessed One spoke to him these sad, true words:-
“If things around us could be kept for aye, and were not liable to change or separation, then this would be salvation! Where can this be sought?
“That which you may all attain I have already told you, and tell you, to the end.
“There is love at the center of all things and all things are the same thing. Svaha! I am resolved, I look for rest. The one thing needful has been done, and has long been done.
“Adoration to all the Tathagatas, Sugatas, Buddhas, perfect in wisdom and compassion, who have accomplished, are accomplishing, and will accomplish all these words of mystery. So be it!
“Ananda, prepare quietly a quiet place, be not moved by others’ way of thinking, do not compromise to agree with the ignorance of others, go thou alone, make solitude thy paradise; the Brotherhood of the Gentle Eyes, the white-souled tranquil votaries of good, will support thee.
“The mind acquainted with the law of production, stability, and destruction, recognizes how again and once again things follow or succeed one another with no endurance. The wise man sees there is no ground on which to build the idea of ‘self.’
“The wise man had nothing to do with form before his birth, has nothing to do with form now, shall have nothing to do with form after he dies, free from anxious thoughts about relationships. And how will he die, knowing that being and not-being of his form are the same?
“Ananda, weep not. My purpose is to put an end to the repetition of birth of form. Unfixed, unprofitable, under the nailer, without the marks of long endurance, constantly blowing and changing and agonized with restraint and restlessness, all things are in a branch of torment because of form.
“Unconsoled, all things that are formed, come to ultimate decay.
“Receive the Law as it explains itself.”
To the Likkhavis of Vaisali who came with grievous faces after having heard of his decision to die, the Blessed One said: “In ancient days the Rishi Kings, Vasishtha Rishi, Mandhatri, the Kakravartin monarchs, and the rest, these and all others like them, the former conquerors, who lived with strength like Isvara (God), these all have long ago perished, not one remains till now; the sun and moon, Sakra himself, and the great multitude of his attendants, will all, without exception, perish; there is not one that can for long endure; all the Buddhas of the past ages, numerous as the sands of the Ganges, by their wisdom enlightening the world, have all gone out as a lamp; all the Buddhas yet to come will also perish in the same way; why then should I alone be different?
“I too will pass into Nirvana; but as they prepared others for salvation, so now should you press forward in the path, Vaisali may be glad indeed, if you should find the way of rest!
“The world, in truth, is void of help, the ‘three worlds’ not enough for joy—stay then the course of sorrow, by engendering a heart without desire.
“Give up for good the long and straggling way of life, press onward on the northern track, step by step advance along the upward road, as the sun skirts along the western mountains.”
In his last preaching tour the Master came to the town of Pava, and there in the house of Chunda, the blacksmith, he had his last repast. The Blessed One understood that the pork offered by Chunda was not fit to eat and very bad;Sukara-maddava, it has been established, a kind of poisonous truffle; he advised his monks not to touch it and in conformity with the Buddhist rule of accepting all alms from the faithful no matter how poor and lowly, he ate it himself. After this he became mortally ill of dysentery and moved to Kusinagara in the eastern part of the Nepalese Terai.
To Ananda he said: “Between those twin Sala trees, sweeping and watering, make a clean space, and then arrange my sitting-mat. At midnight coming, I shall die.
“Go! tell the people, the time of my decease is come: they, the Mallas of this district, if they see me not, will ever grieve and suffer deep regret.”
He warned his disciples never to accuse Chunda, the blacksmith, of being responsible for his death but rather to praise him for bringing Nirvana nigh to the Leader of men.
To the Mallas who came in tears he said: “Grieve not! the time is one for joy. No call for sorrow or for anguish here; that which for ages I have aimed at, now am I just about to obtain; delivered now from the narrow bounds of sense, I leave these things, earth, water, fire, and air, to rest secure where neither birth or death can come.
“Eternally delivered there from grief, oh! tell me! why should I be sorrowful?
“Of yore on Sirsha’s mount, I longed to rid me of this body, but to fulfil my destiny I have remained till now with men in the world: I have kept this sickly, crumbling body, as dwelling with a poisonous snake; but now I am come to the great resting-place, all springs of sorrow now forever stopped.
“No more shall I receive a body, all future sorrow now forever done away; it is not meet for you, on my account, for evermore, to encourage any anxious fear.
“A sick man depending on the healing power of medicine, gets rid of all his ailments easily without beholding the physician.
“He who does not do what I command sees me in vain, this brings no profit; whilst he who lives far off from where I am, and yet walks righteously, is ever near me!”
… Entering the Samadhi ecstasy of the first Dhyana meditation, he went successively through all the nine Dhyanas in a direct order; then inversely he returned throughout and entered on the first, and then from the first he raised himself and entered on the Fourth Dhyana, the Dhyana of Neither Joy nor Suffering, utterly pure and equal, the original and eternal perfect essence of Mind. Leaving the state of Samadhi ecstasy, his soul without a resting-place, forthwith he reached Pari-Nirvana, complete extinction of the form after it has died.
The moon paled, the river sobbed, a mental breeze bowed down the trees.
Like the great elephant robbed of its tusks, or like the ox-king spoiled of his horns; or heaven without the sun and moon, or as the lily beaten by the hail, thus was the world bereaved when Buddha died.
Only in Nirvana is there joy, providing lasting escape, for to escape from the prison, was why the prison was made. The diamond mace of inconstancy can overturn the mountain of the moon, but only the diamond curtain of Tathagata, the iron curtain of the mind, can overwhelm inconstancy! The long sleep, the end of all, the quiet, peaceful way is the highest prize of sages and of heroes and of saints.
Voluntarily enduring infinite trials through numberless ages and births, that he might deliver mankind and all life, foregoing the right to enter Nirvana and casting himself again and again into Sangsara’s stream of life and destiny for the sole purpose of teaching the way of liberation from sorrow and suffering, this is Buddha, who is everyone and everything, Aremideia, the Light of the World, the Tathagata, Maitreya, the Coming Hero, the Walker of the terrace of earth, the Sitter under Trees, persistent, energetic, intensely human, the Great Wise Being of Pity and Tenderness.
The noble and superlative law of Buddha ought to receive the adoration of the world.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.