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The Dharma Bums  

- Jack Kerouac


Sunday afternoons my family would want me to go driving with them but I preferred to stay home alone, and they'd get mad and say "What's the matter with him anyway?" and I'd hear them argue about the futility of my "Buddhism" in the kitchen, then they'd all get in the car and leave and I'd go in the kitchen and sing "The tables are empty, everybody's gone over" to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "You're Learning the Blues." I was as nutty as a fruitcake and happier. Sunday afternoon, then, I'd go to my woods with the dogs and sit and put out my hands palms up and accept handfuls of sun boiling over the palms. "Nirvana is the moving paw," I'd say, seeing the first thing I saw as I opened my eyes from meditation, that being Bob's paw moving in the grass as he dreamed. Then I'd go back to the house on my clear, pure, well-traveled path, waiting for the night when again I'd see the countless Buddhas hiding in the moonlight air.

But my serenity was finally disturbed by a curious argument with my brother-in-law; he began to resent my un-shackling Bob the dog and taking him in the woods with me. "I've got too much money invested in that dog to untie him from his chain."

I said "How would you like to be tied to a chain and cry all day like the dog?"

He replied "It doesn't bother me" and my sister said "And / don't care."

I got so mad I stomped off into the woods, it was a Sunday afternoon, and resolved to sit there without food till midnight and come back and pack my things in the night and leave. But in a few hours my mother was calling me from the back porch to supper, I wouldn't come; finally little Lou came out to my tree and begged me to come back.

I had frogs in the little brook that kept croaking at the oddest times, interrupting my meditations as if by design, once at high noon a frog croaked three times and was silent the rest of the day, as though expounding me the Triple Vehicle. Now my frog croaked once. I felt it was a signal meaning the One Vehicle of Compassion and went back determined to overlook the whole thing, even my pity about the dog. What a sad and bootless dream. In the woods again that night, fingering the juju beads, I went through curious prayers like these: "My pride is hurt, that is emptiness; my business is with the Dharma, that is emptiness; I'm proud of my kindness to animals, that is emptiness; my conception of the chain, that is emptiness; Ananda's pity, even that is emptiness." Perhaps if some old Zen Master had been on the scene, he would have gone out and kicked the dog on his chain to give everybody a sudden shot of awakening. 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. In any case it was a tender little drama in the Sunday countryside: "Raymond doesn't want the dog chained." But then suddenly under the tree at night, I had the astonishing idea: "Everything is empty but awake! Things are empty in time and space and mind." I figured it all out and the next day feeling very exhilarated I felt the time had come to explain everything to my family. They laughed more than anything else. "But listen! No! Look! It's simple, let me lay it out as simple and concise as I can. All things are empty, ain't they?"

"Whattayou mean, empty, I'm holding this orange in my hand, ain't I?"

"It's empty, everythin's empty, things come but to go, all things made have to be unmade, and they'll have to be unmade simply because they were made!"

Nobody would buy even that.

"You and your Buddha, why don't you stick to the religion you were born with?" my mother and sister said. "Everything's gone, already gone, already come and gone," I yelled. "Ah," stomping around, coming back, "and things are empty because they appear, don't they, you see them, but they're made up of atoms that can't be measured or weighed or taken hold of, even the dumb scientists know that now, there isn't any finding of the farthest atom so-called, things are just empty arrangements of something that seems solid appearing in the space, they ain't either big or small, near or far, true or false, they're ghosts pure and simple."

"Ghostses!" yelled little Lou amazed. He really agreed with me but he was afraid of my insistence on "Ghostses."

"Look," said my brother-in-law, "if things were empty how could I feel this orange, in fact taste it and swallow it, answer me that one."

"Your mind makes out the orange by seeing it, hearing it, touching it, smelling it, tasting it and thinking about it but without this mind, you call it, the orange would not be seen or heard or smelled or tasted or even mentally noticed, it's actually, that orange, depending on your mind to exist! Don't you see that? By itself it's a no-thing, it's really mental, it's seen only of your mind. In other words it's empty and awake."

"Well, if that's so, I still don't care." All enthusiastic I went back to the woods that night and thought, "What does it mean that I am in this endless universe, thinking that I'm a man sitting under the stars on the terrace of the earth, but actually empty and awake throughout the emptiness and awakedness of everything? 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." I really felt that and believed it and exulted to think what I had to tell Japhy now when I got back to California. "At least he'll listen," I pouted. I felt great compassion for the trees because we were the same thing; I petted the dogs who didn't argue with me ever. All dogs love God. They're wiser than their masters. I told that to the dogs, too, they listened to me perking up their ears and licking my face. They didn't care one way or the other as long as I was there. St. Raymond of the Dogs is who I was that year, if no one or nothing else.

Sometimes in the woods I'd just sit and stare at things directions and hairily conversed as the winds dictated Ta Ta Ta, in gossip groups with some lone weeds proud to show off on the side, or sick ones and half-dead falling ones, the whole congregation of living weedhood in the wind suddenly ringing like bells and jumping to get excited and all made of yellow stuff and sticking to the ground and I'd think This is it. "Rop rop rop," I'd yell at the weeds, and triey'd show windward pointing intelligent reachers to indicate and flail and finagle, some rooted in blossom imagination earth moist perturbation idea that had karmacized their very root-and-stem. . . . It was eerie. I'd fall asleep and dream the words "By this teaching the earth came to an end," and I'd dream of my Ma nodding solemnly with her whole head, umph, and eyes closed. What did I care about all the irking hurts and tedious wronks of the world, the human bones are but vain lines dawdling, the whole universe a blank mold of stars. "I am Bhikku Blank Rat!" I dreamed.

What did I care about the squawk of the little very self which wanders everywhere? I was dealing in outblownness, cut-off-ness, snipped, blownoutness, putoutness, turned-off-ness, nothing-happens-ness, gone-ness, gone-out-ness, the snapped link, nir, link, vana, snap! "The dust of my thoughts collected into a globe," I thought, "in this ageless solitude," I thought, and really smiled, because I was seeing the white light everywhere everything at last.

About the book:

In The Dharma Bums, Kerouac charts the spiritual quest of a group of friends- eager to experience the Zen way of life- in search of Dharma, or Truth.

Jack Kerouac is considered by many to be the best Beat Generation writer and poet. Kerouac's 'spontaneous prose' style, which he himself developed, makes the words shimmer and dance in front of your eyes, lending a somewhat transcendental feel to the novel.

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