Jack Kerouac quit the mortal coil 45 years ago today, securing his release from the wheel of the quivering meat conception, and the granting of his wish:
The wheel of the quivering meat conception . . . . . . I wish I was free of that slaving meat wheel and safe in heaven dead. (Mexico City Blues, 1959, 211th Chorus).
The Last Interview, 12 October 1969. "I'm not a beatnik. I'm a Catholic." "I just sneak into church now, at dusk, at vespers. But yeah, as you get older you get more … genealogical."
As much of a screw-up and sinner as he was, as irresponsible, self-indulgent, and self-destructive, Kerouac was a deeply religious man. He went through a Buddhist phase, but at the end he came home to Catholicism.
Some Buddhism-Influenced Quotations
From Some of the Dharma, Viking 1997, p. 175, emphasis added:
No hangup on nature is going to solve anything -- nature is bestial -- desire for Eternal Life of the individual is bestial, is the final creature-longing -- I say, Let us cease bestiality & go into the bright room of the mind realizing emptiness, and sit with the truth. And let no man be guilty, after this, Dec. 9 1954, of causing birth. -- Let there be an end to birth, an end to life, and therefore an end to death. Let there be no more fairy tales and ghost stories around and about this. I don't advocate that everybody die, I only say everybody finish your lives in purity and solitude and gentleness and realization of the truth and be not the cause of any further birth and turning of the black wheel of death. Let then the animals take the hint, and then the insects, and all sentient beings in all one hundred directions of the One Hundred Thousand Chilicosms of Universes. Period.
Nature is the cause of all our suffering; joy is the reverse side of suffering. Instead of seducing women, control yourself and treat them like sisters; instead of seducing men, control yourself and treat them like brothers. For life is pitiful.
From Some of the Dharma, pp. 174-175:
Hit the makeless null. Whether or not individuality is destroyed now, it will be complelely destroyed in death. For all things that are made fade back to the unmade. What's all the return-vow hassle, but a final metaphysical clinging to eternal ego-life by Mahayana Thinkers. An intellectualized ego-attachment to taskhood. Hinayana, nay Ecclesiastes, is best.
Sweet gone Jack made such an effort to be a good boy, but failed so utterly as to break one's heart. Here is a Some of the Dharma entry (p. 127) written sometime between July and October 1954, before success and fame and alcohol undid him:
One meal a day
No drinking of intoxicants
No maintaining of friendships
That, if I break any of these elementary rules of Buddhism, which have been my biggest obstacles, hindrances to the attainment of contemplative happiness and joy of will, I will give up Buddhism forever. [He did break them and did give up Buddhism.]
Agreed, that I may finish the literary work I began, by the age of 40, after which my only work is to be in the Dharma Teaching, to be followed by all cessation of work, striving or mental effort when Nirvana is nigh and signs indicate there is no more to write and teach.
One meal a day means, the mind not to be taunted and tempted by the senses. (Sensation of taste left uncultivated.) No intoxicants means, the heart not to be deranged, beaten in, (as in excessive drinking), nor the brain hystericalized and over-filled with anxious drug-thoughts and irrelevant images. No maintaining of friendships means, no relations whatever to contaminate the good of contemplation, no pleasure-seeking, no ego-personality activity, no Co-Ignorance.
Quand tu t'ennui souffre . . .
Not drinking preserves contemplative strength
Eating once a day, contemplative sensitivity
No friends or lusts, contemplative serenity
Strength, Sensitivity, Serenity = Joy
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels (G. P. Putnam 1965), p. 48:
Outside it's October night in Manhattan and on the waterfront wholesale markets there are barrels with fires left burning in them by the longshoremen where I stop and warm my hands and take a nip two nips from the bottle and hear the bvoom of ships in the channel and I look up and there, the same stars as over Lowell, October, old melancholy October, tender and loving and sad, and it will all tie up eventually into a perfect posy of love I think and I shall present it to Tathagata, my Lord, to God, saying "Lord Thou didst exult -- and praise be You for showing me how You did it -- Lord now I'm ready for more -- And this time I won't whine -- This time I'll keep my mind clear on the fact that it is Thy Empty Forms."
. . . This world, the palpable thought of God . . . [ellipsis in original]
Some of the Dharma, p. 240:
Sunday Jan 30  . . This is it . . . the day I decide to go forward instead of backward . . . will stop drinking, cold turkey (if I can do it) . . . Drink is the curse of the Holy Life -- alcohol is the curse of Tao -- I'll be like Reverend Henry Armstrong now -- I put on the cloth this morning in the yard -- (damn the cloth) -- I felt its dignified hugeness on me -- This, coupled with No Publishing and No Loosing of Sexual Vitality, would return me to the original pristine state of the child . . . 6 year old Ti Jean seeing the red sun in the snow windows of Lowell wondering "Qui c'est ca, moi?" (O what difference does it make?) -- Now I'll go to Nin's and help with the new house and prepare for Summer & Fall in Mexico in a grass hut -- now I'll imitate the action of the child and like water rule the low valleys of the world -- Adoration to the Child.
[. . .]
Armed with continence, and with sublime childlike solitariness, and with unwasted vitality, 33 years old, I go reveal the holy life to men who perish for lack of knowledge.
Jack Kerouac, Tristessa (written 1955-56, first published in 1960), p. 59:
Since beginningless time and into the never-ending future, men have loved women without telling them, and the Lord has loved them without telling, and the void is not the void because there's nothing to be empty of.
Back to Catholicism:
Jack Kerouac finished Some of the Dharma on 15 March 1956. The Dharma Bums was published in 1958. By 1959, Kerouac was moving away from Buddhism. On 10 June 1959 he wrote to Philip Whalen:
Myself, the dharma is slipping away from my consciousness and I cant think of anything to say about it anymore. I still read the diamond sutra but as in a dream now. Don't know what to do. Cant see the purpose of human or terrestrial or any kinda life without heaven to reward the poor suffering fucks. The Buddhist notion that Ignorance caused the world leaves me cold now, because I feel the presence of angels. (Some of the Dharma, Viking 1997, editor's introduction.)
Blaise Pascal says not to look to ourselves for the cure to misfortunes, but to God whose Providence is a foreordained thing in Eternity; that the foreordainment was that our lives be but sacrifices leading to purity in the after-existence in Heaven as souls disinvested of that rapish, rotten, carnal body -- O the sweet beloved bodies so insulted everywhere for a million years on this strange planet. Lacrimae rerum. I dont get it because I look into myself for the answer. And my body is so thick and carnal I cant penetrate into the souls of others equally entrap't in trembling weak flesh, let alone penetrate into an understanding of HOW I can turn to God with effect. The situation is pronounced hopeless in the very veins of our hands, and our hands are useless in Eternity since nothing they do, even clasp, can last. (Vanity of Duluoz, p. 133. Photo by Tom Palumbo.)
When On the Road finally saw the light of day in 1957, fame proved to be Kerouac's undoing. William Plummer writes insightfully:
For nearly a decade he hungered for recognition, but when the public at last chose to take notice it would choose to measure the least part of him. In forums and on talk shows, he would be queried about drugs, kicks, promiscuity. No one would understand or care to credit the spiritual underpinnings of On the Road; interviewers would regard him quizzically when he suggested that his life and work constituted a single effort to force God to pull back the veil and show Himself in the althogether. (The Holy Goof: A Biography of Neal Cassady, Paragon, 1981, p. 104)
Vanity of Duluoz, pp. 176-7:
Pascal says it better than I do when he says:"WHAT SHALL WE GATHER FROM ALL OUR DARKNESS IF NOT A CONVICTION OF OUR UNWORTHINESS?" and he adds to show you right path: "There are perfections in Nature which demonstrate that She is the image of God" -- Timmy [Jack's dead cat] sittin like a lion, Big Slim in his prime, Pop in his prime, me in my careless 1943 youth, you, all -- "and imperfections" -- our decay and going-down, all of us -- "to assure us that She is no more than His image." I believe that.
"God is dead" made everybody sick to their stomachs because they all know what I just said, and Pascal said, and Paschal means Resurrection.
The despairing section X of Book Thirteen of Vanity of Duluoz which I quoted yesterday is followed immediately by this:
Yet I saw the cross just then when I closed my eyes after writing all this. I cant escape its mysterious penetration into all this brutality. I just simply SEE it all the time, even the Greek cross sometimes. I hope it will all turn out true.
It is fitting to conclude Kerouac month with the last section of Jack's last book, a section in which, while alluding to the Catholic mass, he raises his glass to his own piecemeal suicide:
Forget it wifey. Go to sleep. Tomorrow's another day. Hic calix! Look that up in Latin, it means "Here's the chalice," and be sure there's wine in it.