The question sometimes comes up, “When did you start practicing?” I was speaking to someone at a Tibetan meditation center once, and neither of us could date it any more accurately than the date of our first precepts. I'd been what I call a “book Buddhist” for quite some time with no live and in-person sangha. But while doing my reading, I came to realize that the Zen writers provided me with the teachings that felt most comfortable. I'd say that it made sense more than Tibetan or Theravada, but let's face it, a more absurd statement could hardly be made. Eventually I found a Zen sangha, eventually took the Bodhisattva Precepts, and another set, and another set, and here I am.
But then the question came up why and how I even stumbled into Buddhism at all. In college, I'd tended more toward Existentialists and Chinese history, and a linear progression from that to Zen could make sense. That's not how it happened though. After graduation, my voracious reading material became the “Beats.” That, combined subliminally with the other two, were how my exposure to Buddhism budded. I probably have read everything Jack Kerouac wrote; most of these books I still have. Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen were both Beat and Zen monks/priests/lay monks, Ginsberg became more formally associated with Buddhism eventually by way of Naropa University if nothing else, but Kerouac may have been the first to delve into it.
“Dharma Bums” and “Satori in Paris” are two obvious Kerouac-penned titles, then there were “Wake Up!” and the “Scripture of the Golden Eternity,” which were seriously Dharma-influenced, and there's always “Some of the Dharma” for an overtly Dharma-titled piece. I could have pulled material from any and all of them, but then this might have just become an academic exercise, and that would precisely be not-the-point. Kerouac's Dharma writings are anything but academic.
For this, I went with “Golden Eternity” for a few reasons. While most of the others are for the most part prose, and as such involve plots, “Golden Eternity” is somewhere between prose and poetry, much like the Sutras can be. So I culled verses that, at least at the moment I was culling, stuck out to me as worthy of culling. And here they are:
Did I create that sky? Yes, for, if it was anything other than a conception in my mind I wouldnt have said "Sky"-That is why I am the golden eternity. There are not two of us here, reader and writer, but one, one golden eternity, One-Which-It-Is, That-Which- Everything-Is.
That sky, if it was anything other than an illusion of my mortal mind I wouldnt have said "that sky." Thus I made that sky, I am the golden eternity. 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.
You are the golden eternity because there is no me and no you, only one golden eternity.
If we were not all the golden eternity we wouldn't be here. Because we are here we cant help being pure. To tell man to be pure on account of the punishing angel that punishes the bad and the rewarding angel that rewards the good would be like telling the water "Be Wet"-Never the less, all things depend on supreme reality, which is already established as the record of Karma earned-fate.
What name shall we give it which hath no name, the common eternal matter of the mind? If we were to call it essence, some might think it meant perfume, or gold, or honey. It is not even mind. It is not even discussible, groupable into words; it is not even endless, in fact it is not even mysterious or inscrutably inexplicable; it is what is; it is that; it is this. We could easily call the golden eternity "This."....
Both the word "god" and the essence of the word, are emptiness. The form of emptiness which is emptiness having taken the form of form, is what you see and hear and feel right now, and what you taste and smell and think as you read this. Wait awhile, close your eyes, let your breathing stop three seconds or so, listen to the inside silence in the womb of the world, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, re-recognize the bliss you forgot, the emptiness and essence and ecstasy of ever having been and ever to be the golden eternity. This is the lesson you forgot.
It came on time.
"Beyond the reach of change and fear, beyond all praise and blame," the Lankavatara Scripture knows to say, is he who is what he is in time and time-less-ness, in ego and in ego-less-ness, in self and in self-less-ness.
Though it is everything, strictly speaking there is no golden eternity because everything is nothing: there are no things and no goings and comings: for all is emptiness, and emptiness is these forms, emptiness is this one formhood.
Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind. Now that we know this, throw the raft away.
Sociability is a big smile, and a big smile is nothing but teeth. Rest and be kind.
"The womb of exuberant fertility," Ashvhaghosha called it, radiating forms out of its womb of exuberant emptiness. In emptiness there is no Why, no knowledge of Why, no ignorance of Why, no asking and no answering of Why, and no significance attached to this.
The words "atoms of dust" and "the great universes" are only words. The idea that they imply is only an idea. The belief that we live here in this existence, divided into various beings, passing food in and out of ourselves, and casting off husks of bodies one after another with no cessation and no definite or particular discrimination, is only an idea. The seat of our Immortal Intelligence can be seen in that beating light between the eyes the Wisdom Eye of the ancients: we know what we're doing: we're not disturbed: because we're like the golden eternity pretending at playing the magic cardgame and making believe it's real, it's a big dream, a joyous ecstasy of words and ideas and flesh, an ethereal flower unfolding a folding back, a movie, an exuberant bunch of lines bounding emptiness, the womb of Avalokitesvara, a vast secret silence, springtime in the Void, happy young gods talking and drinking on a cloud. Our 32,000 chillicosms bear all the marks of excellence. Blind milky light fills our night; and the morning is crystal.
When the Prince of the Kalinga severed the flesh from the limbs and body of Buddha, even then the Buddha was free from any such ideas as his own self, other self, living beings divided into many selves, or living beings united and identified into one eternal self. The golden eternity isnt "me." Before you can know that you're dreaming you'll wake up, Atman. Had the Buddha, the Awakened One, cherished any of these imaginary judgments of and about things, he would have fallen into impatience and hatred in his suffering. Instead, like Jesus on the Cross he saw the light and died kind, loving all living things.
The world was spun out of a blade of grass: the world was spun out of a mind. Heaven was spun out of a blade of grass: heaven was spun out of a mind. Neither will do you much good, neither will do you much harm. The Oriental imperturbed, is the golden eternity.
When you've understood this scripture, throw it away. If you cant understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.
The-Attainer-To-That-Which-Everything-Is, the Sanskrit Tathagata, has no ideas whatever but abides in essence identically with the essence of all things, which is what it is, in emptiness and silence. Imaginary meaning stretched to make mountains and as far as the germ is concerned it stretched even further to make molehills. A million souls dropped through hell but nobody saw them or counted them. A lot of large people isnt really a lot of large people, it's only the golden eternity. When St. Francis went to heaven he did not add to heaven nor detract from earth. Locate silence, possess space, spot me the ego.
"From the beginning," said the Sixth Patriarch of the China School, "not a thing is."
Everything's alright, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and we're here forever, in one form or another, which is empty. Everything's alright, we're not here, there, or anywhere. Everything's alright, cats sleep.
Look at your little finger, the emptiness of it is no different that the emptiness of infinity.
This is the first teaching from the golden eternity.
The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure.
Kerouac, Jack The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. New York, NY Corinth Books, 1960
There's a bit of the Dharma of Jack Kerouac, Jack's Sutra, as Gary Snyder suggested he write. Better known as a devout Catholic than Buddhist, he penned his Sutra with the heart of a Bodhisattva. Not a fan of Zen, but he quoted the Sixth Patriarch anyway. There are snippets of the Diamond, Lankavatara, and Surangama Sutras as well. He called it the Golden Eternity, you can call it the Dharmakaya, or Mind, or Buddha, doesn't matter. He calls it empty, or the Void; you may call it emptiness, form and formless realms, openness, it doesn't matter. You've just created those things and those words with your mind, just like you created the “sky.” Regardless of whether all are one, one is many, many are one, it just doesn't matter. Throw it all away. Smile, show your teeth, be kind.
You can listen to the Dharma Talk by clicking the title, or by navigating here:
You can listen to the Dharma Talk by clicking the title, or by navigating here: