Filed in Arts & Culture

Negative Capability: Kerouac's Buddhist Ethic

Allen Ginsberg

Wisdom Collection

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Jack Kerouac's interest in Buddhism began after he spent some time with Neal Cassady, who had taken on an interest in the local California variety of New Age spiritualism, particularly the work of Edgar Cayce. Kerouac mocked Cassady as a sort of homemade American "Billy Sunday with a suit" for praising Cayce, who went into trance states of sleep and then read what were called the Akashic records, and gave medical advice to the petitioners who came to ask him questions with answers which involve reincarnation. So, Kerouac was interested in going back to the original historic sources. He went to the library in San Jose, California and read a book called A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard—a very good anthology of classic Buddhist texts. Kerouac read them very deeply, memorized many of them, and then went on to do other reading and other research and actually became a brilliant intuitive Buddhist scholar.

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