Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922–October 21, 1969) got into Zen Buddhism in the 1950s. In January 1957 the author wrote to his former wife, Edie Kerouac Parker (they tied the knot in 1944 but the marriage was annulled in December 1946). It was a few months before the release of On the Road, the book bearing Kerouac’s name, but, as he stated, written by the Holy Ghost.
Kerouac had completed Some of the Dharma on 15 March 1956, a work notable for its experimental grammar. In response to an editor about his different stylistic techniques, Kerouac wrote, “…the reason for the dashes is to give the reader advance visual warning of the impending end of a sentence which after all is a rhetorical expostulation based on breathing and has to end, and I make it end with vigorous release sign, i.e., the dash…” He used 12 techniques in Some of the Dharma, including FLASH, which he explained as “Dreamflashes, short sleepdreams or drowse daydreams of an enlightened nature describable in a few words.”
Kerouac was aiming toward the formless. He addressed us:
“Bear with me, wise readers, in that I’ve chosen no form for the Book of Mind Because everything has no form, and when you’ve finished reading this book you will have had a glimpse of everything, presented in the way that everything comes: in piecemeal bombardments, continuously, rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of Mind essence.”
And so to the letter to Edie.
Monday, Jan 28, 1957
That was a beautiful letter you wrote me. I read some of it to Lucien later on.
You know, before Joan died, when I saw her in 1950, she said you were the greatest person (I think she said nicest) she had ever known.
As for Willy B., he’s queening around now but as ever he never bothers me with that. Instead we take long walks in the evening with hands clasped behind our backs, conversing politely. He is a great gentleman and as you may know, has become a great writer, in fact all the bigwigs are afraid of him (W.H. Auden, etc.) Yes, he knows we’re coming in February, late.
Allen never loses track of me even when I try to hide. He does me many favors publicizing my name. Well, we’re old friends anyway. But I can’t keep up the hectic “fame” life he wants and so I won’t stay with them long in Tangiers. I’m going to get me a quiet hut by the sea on the Spanish coast, then join them in Paris in the Spring.
Escaping reality to go into simplicity is just what I do, except I regard reality as being simplicity. That is, God is Alone. Don’t worry, I eat plenty, I have my cook kit in my pack and make delicious food wherever I go, when I have to. In NY naturally everybody invites me to big dinners in homes. But like in Spain and Europe, I’ll make my pancakes and syrup with black coffee for breakfast, boil my big pot of Boston baked beans with salt port and molasses, make salads, eat French bread, cheese and dates for dessert. Etc.
I’ll write you and you keep writing and if you suddenly get the impulse to see Europe I’ll be here to show you around.
I have never left you either, and had many dreams of you, wild dreams where we’re wandering in dark alleys of Mexico looking for a place to bang, etc.
I want to end my life as an old man in a shack in the woods, and I’m leading up to that soon as I dig the whole world including the orient. I’m invited to a Buddhist Monastery in Japan and will go within 5 years. Also other things. Make movies too, later. I’ll have more money than I need. Or maybe only what I need. I’m glad to send my mother her reward, think eventually I’ll take her out to California and get her a little rose covered cottage, and get me a shack for half the time, in the wild hills beyond Mount Tamalpais.
Hearing your voice at night over the phone, in a hotel where I’d gone to hide out to work, was like a strange and beautiful dream. You sounded warmer and more mature. You will always be a great woman. I have a lot of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry. It’s all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky ways of cloudy innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect.
He would later says of his Golden Eternity: ” I was awakened to show the way, chosen to die in the degradation of life, because I am Mortal Golden Eternity… Strictly speaking, there is no me, because all is emptiness. I am empty, I am non-existent. All is bliss.”
We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere, or one universal self. Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes through everything, is one thing. It’s a dream already ended. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the one vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.
The world you see is just a movie in your mind.
Your eternal old man,
Is life a dream? Were the Jewish mystics not going far enough when they wrote in the Zohar (Hebrew: “Splendor, radiance”), arguably the most important work of Kabbalah, how during sleep 59 of the 60 parts of our soul leave our bodies?
Kerouac punctuates his letter with a poem (via):
The world you see is just a movie in your mind.
Rocks dont see it.
Bless and sit down.
Forgive and forget.
Practice kindness all day to everybody
and you will realize you’re already
in heaven now.
That’s the story.
That’s the message.
Nobody understands it,
nobody listens, they’re
all running around like chickens with heads cut
off. I will try to teach it but it will
be in vain, s’why I’ll
end up in a shack
praying and being
cool and singing
by my woodstove
Edie Kerouac: 1922–1993.