My affection for the writing of Jack Kerouac goes back to being a late teenager. The first thing I read by him was of course On the Road, which was great, and appealed immensely to a largely naïve, but deeply frustrated nineteen year old. I got myself into a position whereby I had succeeded in pleasing everyone but myself. Here was a blue collar boy who was working in a bank, my mother was proud and made everyone know it. But I was a nineteen year old that had just embarked on a doomed career and I knew it. I felt trapped, with no options but to endure until something broke, either in the job or within me. I must admit that I wasn’t really bothered which one came first at the time, but I had a suspicion that it would be me, which it turned out to be.
On the Road was part of my salvation in the long-term, and certainly an escape in the short-term. It didn’t make me pack up a ruck sack and hitch to California, or even New York. There was some geographical logistical problems in getting from a small English cathedral town to the other side of the world, and besides the eighties had started, and to me it seemed as if the lifestyle of On the Road might well have piqued some time before I read it. Perhaps I was wrong, but it didn’t seem so at the time. The eighties turned out to be a ruthless and unrelenting convention, so maybe I was right.
So instead of following his example and hitching across the planet, I settled for falling in love with Kerouac’s words. I fell in love with the expression of language, the easy, warm slow run of it like the languorous flow of dripping treacle. I have always been a voracious reader, ever since a small child. Surprisingly however, in all that time I seemed to have been unaware that language could be as melodic, sensual, and caressing as that written by Jack Kerouac, that there could be a rhythmic guidance to words that did much, much more than just pencil in a scene, give a to and fro in conversation, section out a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most importantly of all was the way it could say so much more than the practical and the mundane necessity of language. Language could be the encompasser of all, and that to me at nineteen, was a revelation more powerful than a hitch across the globe.
Jack Kerouac got me to see that the written and voiced language of expression could be everything. It could be the beat of a butterfly wing, the soft gurgle of water falling from one small pool to another, it could be the sigh of the trees in a breeze, or the roar of the ocean as it hits the beach, and most importantly, all of these things and more were an expression of your soul, and Jack Kerouac wrote from his soul. Not from the soul of the cool, of the hip, the beat, but from the soul of the quiet spirit that is in us all.
Which leads me to Some of the Dharma. This is a book, a collection of a writers thoughts if you like. Completed in 1956, it wasn't formally published until 1997. These are Jack Kerouac’s focused thoughts of revelation, or if not revelation, then the inkling of something larger, something better. There are so many moments here, moments of life, moments of living. It is a 'dip in' book of truths and revelations.
It is truly an extraordinary book, and it is one that I have quickly come to see as of importance to me. It is a book that gets transferred around my world. So it stays on my writing desk, it sits in my rucksack when I am out walking, it travels in my messenger bag when I go into town.
This is not a book however, that I have read from cover to cover. You can of course, but to me it is a book that needs to be opened at random, to be read with no sequence, no structure, revelations and truths abound in this book, and they can jump out at you from anywhere and at any time, and that to me is the great appeal of Some of the Dharma.
Buddhism, or at least his own personal interpretation of it, was a big part of Kerouac’s life, a big part of his creative writing, his creativity revolved around the fundamentals of Buddhism, much more so than perhaps is often given credit. Some of the Dharma is full of references to all aspects of Buddhism, and beyond.
Kerouac was convinced that his own mind, his ego, his personality, were not his as such, but were “manifestations of the universal mind,” and if you take that on board, then Some of the Dharma makes even more sense. It is a book of the fundamental truth, of the greater awareness, and the all-encompassing wisdom, all speaking through the seeming bewilderment of Jack Kerouac’s words, whether through poems, prayers, conversations, stories, sketches, and more.
Some of the Dharma may appear at first to be a bewildering cacophony of randomness, continuous tangents of ideas and musings. But stay a while and you will soon realise that there is the sound of stillness here, the continual hum of stillness, like the low hum of nature, the one that lies beneath the everyday noise, the hum of wisdom itself, and that is well worth reading about I would have thought.
I can recommend Some of the Dharma, but it is really for others to find for themselves. If it is to be a marker on your path, then that is what it will be, and if it is, I hope that it serves you well.