The Dharma Bums

The Dharma BumsTook some time to get used Kerouac s style but once you do it is an excellent read One of my favorites, simply a joy to read and reread My favorite Kerouac Re read four years later and its still one of my favorite Kerouacs. Yeah man, you know to me a mountain is a Buddha Think of the patience, hundreds of thousands of years just sitting there bein perfectly perfectly silent and like praying for all living creaturs in that silence and just wwaiting for us to stop all our frettin and foolinJack Kerouac, The Dharma BumsI recently started going to a weekly Kadampa Buddhism and meditation class at a local Unitarian church with a friend of mine I m far too skeptical to jump into or out of religions easily, but I have been attracted to secular Buddhism for awhile for years I used to tell people I was a Zen Mormon Anyway, this recent flirtation with meditation has launched me back into authors I haven t visited in a while The last Kerouac I ve read was 20 years ago, and I never read The Dharma Bums, so I figured it was a good place to start The novel is based losely on Kerouac Ray Smith and his relationship with Gary Snyder Japhy Ryder The book was an early shot in the counter culture movement that included Buddhism, the hippy lifestyle, mountaineering, etc Having grown up in Utah, California, etc., there has always been a resonance from this period I remember friends of mine in HS and college hitchhiking, riding the rails, and heading into the mountains to commune, nearly naked, with nature We were basically just kids playing at Buddhism, and sometimes it feels like Kerouac was too I have to keep reminding myself that I m not reading a clich that these are the guys who really started a lot of this These are the beats, the generation that helped expand and energize the SF Renaissance.Anyway, I enjoyed it for the beats, the bums, the Buddhism, and yes even the bullshit. Published Just One Year After On The Road , This Is The Story Of Two Men Enganged In A Passionate Search For Dharma Or Truth Their Major Adventure Is The Pursuit Of The Zen Way, Which Takes Them Climbing Into The High Sierras To Seek The Lesson Of Solitude Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara Kerouac gives us the rambling masterpiece of a sentence with no punctuation and yet chock full of description and character The poverty liberty of hopping a freight , the locale firmly rooted in hippy California Los Angeles, Santa Barbara , the laziness of contemplating the clouds all of these are central to the narrator s character and his attitude He is one with the road we rolled north and in a meditative mood and this feeling saturates every page of this rollicking, humorous, orgasmic Beat classic Just reading the phrase makes me want to throw off all the yokes of society andok enough of thatand on to the last one. A pure Kerouac novel, a real call to nature and freedom Once again beautiful.Lisbon Book Fair 2015. Enfant terrible, a unique individual, jazz lover and a poet this book, was written when Jack Kerouac was thirty six years old He was at the forefront of the Beat Generation in California in the fifties, through to his death in 1969, at the age of forty seven.I kept on telling myself this is not my kind of book and I m not enjoying myself but who was I trying to kid Yes, it s raw in thought but spirituality flows throughout, even though the catholic faith is viewed through the eyes of Zen Buddhism.I have no doubt that Kerouac s own unique background, i.e the gene pool , was responsible for bringing to life an individual who loved company, but who could also be than content to spend time on his own, thinking about nature and the wonders of our planet I can so readily equate to this fact.It was interesting to read that Kerouac s parents, Leo and Gabrielle, were immigrants from Quebec, Canada and that Kerouac learned to speak French at home before he learned English at school.The first paragraph in the introduction to the book could not have been quoted better as to how I came to arrive at my own views about Jack Kerouac When Gary Snyder, the Zen poet immortalized as Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums, first met Jack Kerouac in San Francisco in the fall of 1955, he sensed about him a palpable aura of fame and death.This is indeed a magical mystery tour which accesses the innermost recesses of this author s inquisitive, stimulating but also soul searching mind and, dare I say it, an individual who was frequently inebriated This mystery is shown in Ray Smith s I believe this is Jack Kerouac himself life, who makes massive treks 3,000 miles across the United States his adventures passing through Mexico, back into the US, and then taken by a trucker Beaudry was his name back into Mexico who offered to give him a ride if in exchange he could show the trucker hot spots such as the Mexican whore houses Ray went along with this as it was all part and parcel of his journey to Rocky Mount, North Carolina where he was planning to spend Christmas with his mother Roll up, roll up for the magical mystery tour, step right this way.Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour Roll up and that s an invitation up for the mystery tour.Roll up to make a reservation, roll up for the mystery tour.The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away This work had the most profound effect on me both emotionally and spiritually, and with the spectacular suicide of Rosie, caused me to sink to quite a low level of despondency within myself.Ray was happy in San Francisco and had gone over to Rosie s place to see Cody and Rosie Cody was worried about her She says she wrote out a list of all our names and all our sins, she says, and then tried to flush them down the toilet where she works, and the long list of paper stuck in the toilet and they had to send for some sanitation character to clean up the mess she s nuts Believing that she and her friends were all done for, Rosie slashes her wrists and was taken care of, however, she had obviously made up her mind what she had to do because she returns home and dramatically states to Ray This is my last night on earth and indeed her suicide was truly spectacular.Ray was always a worry for his friends This is shown with Japhy s concerns about his friend s drinking habits just before he goes off to Japan You re just drinking too much all the time, I don t see how you re even going to gain enlightenment and stay out of the mountains, you ll always be coming down the hill spending your bean money on wine and finally you ll end up lying in the street in the rain, dead drunk, and then they ll take you away and you ll have to be reborn a teetotalin bartender to atone for your karma Ray immediately thought, He was really sad about it, and worried about me, and I just went on drinking Ray also considered himself a religious wanderer , who loved to meditate One night I was meditating in such perfect stillness that two mosquitoes came and sat on each of my cheekbones and stayed there for a long time without biting and then went away without biting There s humor yodeling whilst hiking up the Matterhorn with Japhy and Henry Morley, whom Ray found mad and also boring still the poets were having a great time wistfulness Japhy and his meditation his Bodhisattvas , sexual expression with free love, depression, beauty, all pervade this book Knowing though that Ray was partial to his alcohol, I wondered what spiritual state he was in when he was writing this.Thinking about this work brings to mind a reporter I once knew in Fleet Street, London He best reporting was always achieved after he d had a liquid lunch and the words just poured like pearls from heaven Unfortunately, this literary genius ended with an early demise.So in conclusion, we have here a highly religious Catholicism man, who had a joy for life, poetry and Zen Buddhism It was this religion that was the bedrock of all his ideas be it in nature, thoughts, friends, families and all the wonders of our universe So what compelled such a talented individual to cross the final boundary and relentlessly slide and fall towards his own self afflicted decline to the inevitable, leading to such an early death in his forties Was the devil within him, I wonder.Due to this I must read his first book, On the Road but I ve been told that it s not as good as Kerouac s second Well I ll judge that for myself It was such a pleasure for me reading this book and such a cause for reflection of our own lives. Kerouac can spin an enjoyable yarn, as long as you don t mind rambling along with him on directionless paths with no real goal in mind but to spin that yarn In The Dharma Bums he takes the reader from city drop outs to mountain solitude, the mind fuck excitement and shit of civilization to the glorious simplicity and utter loneliness of a retreat back to nature.Even though he cheats the reader with some quick fix adverbs in place of the proper description owed his audience, Kerouac still deserves all the accolades bestowed upon him, and so every now and then when I m in the mood I don t mind taking one of these long hikes with writers of his ilk Slap a few rhyming words together vaguely associated with your intended meaning and call it philosophical poetry That s my problem with some of the beat poets, whom I blame for the crap classic rock songwriters of the 60s and 70s passed off as lyrics I digress The Dharma Bums is poetry, even if I do think some of it s silly nonsense. I was super into Kerouac in college which I supposed is the time in one s life where you are supposed to be into Kerouac Re reading On the Road in my thirties might not have been my best idea, because it served only to show me how drastically my perspective on things had changed in a decade, and how Jack s freewheeling madness might have been occasionally beautiful, but it had also had tragic consequences I couldn t ignore I thought about putting his books away for good, but I found I couldn t because of how strong an impression he had once left on my young mind Kerouac s books are like my first tattoo, a very silly tribal dragon on my shoulder this was years before Steig Larsson s books, for the record I ll never get that covered up, because it s nice to have a reminder that there was once a version of me who thought that was the most bad ass thing like, ever And I kept thinking about The Dharma Bums I was not interested in Buddhism yet the first time I read it Buddhism was my dad s thing, and you know how when you are nineteen, nothing your parents do is cool , but now, after a decade of studying Soto Zen, I wondered what I d make of Jack s attempt at meditation practice I came across this gorgeous untitled poem he wrote for his first wife The world you see is just a movie in your mindRocks don t see it.Bless and sit down.Forgive and forget.Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you re already in heaven now.That s the story.That s the message.Nobody understands it, nobody listens,They re all running around like chickens with heads cut off.I will try to teach it but it will be in vain,S why I ll end up in a shack praying and being cool and singing by my woodstove making pancakes Clearly, he d understood SOMETHING, he d had SOME insight He d actually written a biography of the Buddha in 1955 it wasn t published as a book until about ten years ago, and which I now I have to read to satisfy my completist curiosity So I figured I could revisit The Dharma Bums , in the full knowledge it wouldn t be the book I read fifteen years ago because I am not the person I was fifteen years ago.After the unexpected success of his novel, Ray Smith wants respite from his sudden fame and popularity He takes off to California where Japhy Ryder, a fellow writer deeply immersed in Zen Buddhism, takes him under his wing Ray and Japhy discuss Buddhism and poetry, go mountain climbing and party hard He eventually gets a gig as a firewatcher, on a lonely mountain peak in Washington State, and plans on using this isolation to deepen his meditation and attempt at reaching satori.The novel is fairly episodic, and the pace much less frenetic and disorienting than in On the Road Knowing his books are heavily autobiographical, I often have the urge to give Kerouac the benefit of the doubt it is possible that he never met genuinely intellectually or spiritually curious women wince It is possible that the guys he hung out with and idolized were really good dudes in person eyeroll and that the filter of his pen distorted them But whatever might have happened, the people in the book are often rather repulsive The best parts are almost always when Ray is alone on the mountain or hopping trains across the country, trying to find a good place to meditate The way Kerouac wrote about nature, the landscapes he took in, the way food and water tasted on his journey, well it makes me feel like travelling and it makes me hungry I don t even like blueberry pie, but the way Ray enjoys it, it seems like the most delicious thing on earth and now I want some The Beats were much interested in what they referred to as Buddhist anarchism which is kind of a hodgepodge mix of cherry picked Buddhist practices and ideas and proto hippie philosophy and lifestyle , as opposed to actual Buddhism so it s not really surprising that both Ray and Japhy play very fast and lose with oversimplified interpretations of things like the Precepts, meditation practice and so on, and use words like bodhisattvas, bhikkus and satori willy nilly I think their hearts were in the right place, but that a complete lack of experienced guidance and discipline made their earnest and ambitious efforts very scattered and vain There is no doubt that promising chicks enlightenment experiences through tantric sex was an effective pick up method in 1950s Frisco, but I don t think either one of those guys knew the first thing about Vajrayana tantra neither do I, for the record, but I m pretty sure it s not what s going on in the book In fact, it comes off as super sleazy I get that this was when Buddhism was just starting to become an interest in the West, but I can t help but feel that someone who spend years studying Zen in Japan, as Japhy claimed to have done, ought to know better Kerouac was also never really able to polish off the Catholicism he was brought up on, and it tinted his spiritual studies.I think the redeeming grace of this book is really the musical cadence and vividness of the prose, and the self awareness You can say a lot of bad things about Kerouac, but its undeniable that he knew how to string a sentence together with all the energy and rhythm a musician uses to play a solo There are times when I had to just stop reading for a moment, to savor the word riff he had just thrown at me As for the self awareness, it is very clear that Ray Jack knows he s not monk material, that he s flawed and that it seems unlikely he ll ever be able to really get over the hurdles that hinder him But he keeps trying To be fair, that s an incredibly important aspect of Zen perseverance It s a shame that his efforts were so misguided, and that he so often hung out with people who brought out the worst in him The Dharma Bums keeps the 4 stars rating I d given it before, despite the fact that it made me much sadder this time around than it had fifteen years ago I will be driving by Lowell, Massachusetts, next month, and I think I might make a small detour to go pay my respects to Jack he doesn t hold the place he had in my heart when I was in college, but I can t help thinking about him with a certain tenderness. Too much bum, not enough dharma. This was really a pleasant surprise After making my way through On the Road and a few other things by Kerouac, I had come to the conclusion that the dude is a hack, and that the other Beats were really on some way better shit I just couldn t feel that rambling ass style that he writes in, even though I acknowledge that it was a conscious decision of his to write that way I get it he writes the way he travels, making quick decisions and trying to be spontaneous and spiritual But to me it s kind of just a garbage decision stylisticallypersonally, I like writers to show a little discipline and take heed to the laws of grammar and punctuation Plus I think he was just drunk half the time I write a lot of stuff when I m drunk too it doesn t mean I would try and get it published unless I sat down and edited the fuck out of it, with a clear head one day Drugs and booze can be good for the creative process, but at some point you ve got to sit down and get serious, whittle down your ideas to a respectable form.Which is what I think Kerouac did here There is some great writing in Dharma Bums , and even when he rambles, it flows with the ease and beauty of a rolling freight train, or a babbling brook Finally, you feel like one of Kerouac s characters have gained something useful and spiritual from the life of being a hobo Ray Smith, the protagonist, embodies the strengths and faults of a lot of guys I know, myself included sometimes I only wish I could have been around in the days where the happily homeless poets would congregate in San Francisco, and talk about the kind of shit that these guys do Sadly, the days where stuff like this happens in America are pretty much long gone, I fear.I think I will take a second look at some Kerouac after being pretty durn impressed by this Namely, Big Sur is now on the list After taking in The Dharma Bums and the fantastic introduction which was included in the edition I read, I feel a newfound respect for what Jack K did and the legacy he left behind He was far from perfect, and a lot of the writing and relationships he left behind make this than evident But than anything I think Kerouac was honest about everything including his own self demise, which he foreshadows eerily in parts of this novel If honesty was his main goal as a writer, in that respect he was definitely a success.One last thing I found cool about The Dharma Bums a lot of American cultural references are derived from this novel Not only from the hippies and the neo hippies, but this is a very influential work in terms of modern artistry The Anticon Records rappers poets collective including Dose One, Why , and others referenced this book heavily in a lot of their stuff during the late 90 s early 2000 s Experimental Hip Hop Rennaissance Lines like Fresh bus station waterand it all ends up in tears anyway were lifted directly from the text, and put onto all these weird hip hop records I ve been listening to for the past decade I had no idea these were quotes from Dharma Bums , but I guess I shouldn t be too surprised Life and art tend to have circular qualities, indeed.

Jack Kerouac was born Jean Louis Lebris de Kerouac on March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts Jack Kerouac s writing career began in the 1940s, but didn t meet with commercial success until 1957, when On the Road was published The book became an American classic that defined the Beat Generation Kerouac died on October 21, 1969, from an abdominal hemorrhage, at age 47.

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  • Paperback
  • 187 pages
  • The Dharma Bums
  • Jack Kerouac
  • English
  • 25 May 2019
  • 9780143039600

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