The Dharma Bums
by Jack Kerouac
Kerouac’s “On The Road” is one of my favourite books, so it was great to see Vesuvio Cafe on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley in San Francisco when we visited a few weeks ago. We also stopped briefly in at the Beat Museum, where I finally picked up The Dharma Bums, having had it on my “to read” list for quite some time.
Basically, it’s based on events that occurred a few years post-On The Road, centering around Kerouac’s introduction to Buddhism. The narrator, Ray Smith, is based on himself, while his companion Japhy Ryder is based on his companion and Zen poet Gary Snyder, who helped bring Buddhism to the writer’s life.
In a complete turn around from the city experiences in On The Road, this tome records time spent in more natural surroundings, from an attempted trek up California’s Matterhorn, to making his way back to his mother’s home in North Carolina where he still slept under the stars in lieu of his bedroom. He spends a little time alone, and eventually reunited with Japhy on the way to his summer job up on Desolation Peak, who he finds living his simple life of studying, reading, drinking tea, meditating, and the occasional work and partying in a little cabin on a hill on a friend’s property.
It’s a raw and spiritual kind of read, sometimes scattered and very descriptive, and one that I really enjoyed and related to. Some parts made me feel like if I shut my eyes, I was right there, amongst the cold, fresh air and the leaves and the dirt trails. The Buddhist heavy writing also really struck me, particularly some of the parts about all of life being a dream, and dealing with fear, perhaps because my yoga classes before I left on this trip focussed on those concepts a lot. It’s an easy read in a or of ways, but only if you’re open to it; I was definitely in the right mindset on this trip to take it all in!
Some of my favourite passages..
” “This kid ten years younger than I am is making me look like a fool forgetting all the ideals and joys I knew before, in my recent years of drinking and disappointment, what does he care is he hasn’t got any money: he doesn’t need any money, all he needs is his rucksack with those little plastic bags of dried food and a good pair of shoes and off he goes and enjoys the privileges of a millionaire in surroundings like this.” ”
“When I woke up again and the sunlight was a pristine orange pouring through crags to the Easy and down through our fragrant pine boughs, I felt like I did when I was a boy…”
“Now when I went around that ledge that had scared me it was just fun and a lark, I just skipped and jumped and danced along and I had really learned that you can’t fall off a mountain. Whether you can fall off a mountain or not I don’t know, but I had learned that you can’t. That was just the way it struck me.”
” “Well I sort of agree with you because the trouble is these people saw the flowers like they were in a dream but damnit-all the world is real Smith and Goldbook and everyone else carries on like it was a dream, shit, like they were themselves dreams or dots. Pain or love or danger makes you real again..” ”