[A joyous book and in my opinion his most accessible for its clarity and brevity.  During the period described in this book and the followup “Desolation Angels,” Kerouac pursued Buddhism with a passion.  He was a seeker and like so many seekers, couldn’t find just what he was looking for, or found “it” many times in many ways but then had to ask “now what?”  He sought emptiness but filled that void with alcohol and Catholicism later in life.  The book is also a tribute to his friend – the poet, author, translator, Buddhist disciple, and environmentalist – Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in the book).  – jbm 6/17/2018]


Dedicated to Han Shan

“He ate the cheese and bread and drank the wine with gusto and gratitude.  I was pleased.  I reminded myself of the line in the Diamond Sutra that says, “Practice charity without holding in mind any conceptions about charity, for charity after all is just a word.”

“Since then I’ve become a little hypocritical about my lip-service and a little tired and cynical.  Because now I am grown so old and neutral…”

“Happy.  Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running – that’s the way to live.”

“I had a lot more to learn, too.  Especially about how to handle girls – Japhy’s incomparable Zen Lunatic way, which I got a chance to see firsthand the following week.”

“The yard was full of tomato plants about to ripen, and mint, mint, everything smelling of mint, and one fine old tree that I loved to sit under and meditate on those cool perfect starry California October nights unmatched anywhere in the world.”

[the San Francisco crowd] “I have never met such weird yet serious and earnest people.”

[Gary Snyder] “You know when I was a little kid in Oregon I didn’t feel that I was an American at all, with all that suburban ideal and sex repression and general dreary newspaper gray censorship of all our real human values but and when I discovered Buddhism and all I suddenly felt that I had lived in a previous lifetime innumerable ages ago and now because of faults and sins in that lifetime I was being degraded to a more grievous domain of existence and my karma was to be born in America where nobody has any fun or believes in anything, especially freedom.”

“Besides all the background he has, in Oriental scholarship, Pound, taking peyote and seeing visions, his mountainclimbing and bhikkuing, wow, Japhy Ryder [Gary Snyder] is a great new hero of American culture.”

“There is no me, no airplane, no mind, no Princess, no nothing, you for krissakes do you want to go on being fooled every damn minute of your life?”

“…and I prayed that God, or Tahagata, would give me enough time and enough sense and strength to be able to tell people what I knew (as I can’t even do properly now) so they’d know what I know and not despair so much.”

“…colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.”

“Walking in this country you could understand the perfect gems of haikus the Oriental poets had written, never getting drunk in the mountains or anything but just going along as fresh as children writing down what they saw without  literary devices or fanciness of expression.”

“A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing, like the greatest haiku of them all probably is the one that goes ‘The sparrow hops along the veranda, with wet feet.’ By Shiki.  You see the wet footprints like a vision in your mind and yet in those few words you also see all the rain that’s been falling that day and almost smell the wet pine needles.”

“But it seemed that I had seen the ancient afternoon of that trail, from meadow rocks and lupine posies, to sudden revisits with the roaring stream with its splashed snag bridges and undersea greenesses, there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I’d lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all.  The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water…”

“In fact I realized I had no guts anyway, which I’ve long known.  But I have joy.”

“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics…”

“Things tucked away in all you mad guys like that go back to the days when men married bears and talked to the buffalo by Gawd.  Give me another drink.  Keep you socks darned, boys, and your boots greased.”

“You’ll see him in future years stalking along with full rucksack, in suburban streets, passing the blue television windows of homes, alone, his thoughts the only thoughts not electrified to the Master Switch.”

“I intended to pray, too, as my only activity, pray for all living creatures; I saw it was the only decent activity left in the world.”

“…they were young Sinclair Lewis idealistic forward-looking kids who lived in nice homes but put on jeans to come down and work on the church, like you might expect in some midwest town some midwest kids with a bright-faced Richard Nixon leader, the prairie all around.”

“I’ll never forget that intelligent Jewish ex-Marine bum from Paterson, New Jersey, whoever he was, with his little slip of paper to read in the raw gon night by dripping reefer platforms in the nowhere industrial formations of an America that is still magic America.”

“…a regular Don Quixote of tenderness.”

“It didn’t mean I was a better man than he was, however, he was a great man and I liked him and he liked me and said “Well I’ll tell you, supposin I drive you all the way to Ohio.”

“…it was winter cold now and Christmas was on the fields and food was good.”

“When I woke up in the morning, on Monday, I looked out and saw all the eager young men in business suits going to work in insurance offices hoping to be big Harry Trumans some day.”

“All living and dying things like these dogs and me coming and going without any duration or self substance, O God, and therefore we can’t possibly exist.  How strange, how worthy, how good for us!  What a horror it would have been if the world was real, because if the world was real, it would be immortal.”

“Then suddenly one night after supper as I was pacing in the cold windy darkness of the yard I felt tremendously depressed and threw myself right on the ground and cried “I’m gonna die!” because there was nothing else to do in the cold loneliness of this harsh inhospitable earth, and instantly the tender bliss of enlightenment was like milk in my eyelids and I was warm.”

“What’d I care about the tower of ghouls, and sperm and bones and dust, I felt free and therefore I was free.”

“So what did I care what the old tobacco-chewing stickwhittlers at the crossroads store had to say about my moral eccentricity, we all get to be gum in graves anyway.”

“Everybody knows everything.”

“Ah, if I could realize, if I could forget myself and devote my meditations to the freeing, the awakening and the blessedness of all living creatures everywhere I’d realize what there is, is ecstasy.”

“My pain was in getting rid of the conception of people and dogs anyway, and of myself.  I was hurting deep inside from the sad business of trying to deny what was.”

“It means that I’m empty and awake, that I know I’m empty, awake, and that there’s no difference between me and anything else.  In other words it means that I’ve become the same as everything else.  It means I’ve become a Buddha.”

“Like the ants that have nothing to do but dig all day, I have nothing to do but do what I want and be kind and remain nevertheless uninfluenced by imaginary judgments and pray for the light.”

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”

“…I felt lonely to see everybody paired off and having a good time and all I did was curl up in my sleeping bag in the rosebushes and sigh and say bah.  For me it was just red wine in my mouth and a pile of firewood.”

“Then I suddenly had the most tremendous feeling of the pitifulness of human beings, whatever they were, their faces, pained mouths, personalities, attempts to be gay, little petulances, feelings of loss, their dull and empty witticisms so soon forgotten:  Ah, for what?  I knew that the sound of silence was everywhere and therefore everything everywhere was silence.  Suppose we suddenly wake up and see that what we thought to be this and that, ain’t this and that at all?”

“East’ll meet West anyway.  Think what a great world revolution will take place when East meets West finally, and it’ll be guys like us that can start the thing.”

“The closer you get to real matter, rock air fire and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”

“What hope, what human energy, what truly American optimism was packed in that neat little frame of his.”

“I recalled with a twinge of sadness how Japhy was always so dead serious about food, and I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody’s food money to blow their heads off anyway.”

“I was feeling happier than in years and years, since childhood, I felt deliberate and glad and solitary.”

“But let the mind beware, that though the flesh be bugged, the circumstances of existence are pretty glorious.”

“Are we fallen angels who didn’t want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved?”

“Sixty sun sets had I seen revolve on that perpendicular hill [Desolation Peak].   The vision of the freedom of eternity was mine forever.”


copyright:  1958 Jack Kerouac, renewed 1986 Stella Kerouac and Jan Kerouac
author bio:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jack-Kerouac
my thoughts on kerouac:  https://walkcheerfullyblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/writers-i-like/
photo:  Penguin USA