It is possible to take our existence as a "sacred world," to take this place as open space rather than claustrophobic dark void. It is possible to take a friendly relationship to our ego natures, it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic play of forms in emptiness, and to exist in this place like majestic kings of our own consciousness. But to do that, we would have to give up grasping to make everything come out the way we daydream it should. So, suffering is caused by ignorance, or suffering exaggerated by ignorance or ignorant grasping and clinging to our notion of what we think should be, is what causes the "suffering of suffering." The suffering itself is not so bad, it's the resentment against suffering that is the real pain. This is where I think Kerouac got caught as a Catholic, ultimately, because I don't think he overcame that fear of the First Noble Truth.
The Third Noble Truth says there is an end to suffering, there is a way out of it. And the Fourth Noble Truth is called the Eightfold Path out of our suffering. The Eightfold Path is as follows: first, Right Understanding, Right View as it is called, Right Perspective on the whole scene of consciousness and space, which is the realization of suffering and the realization of transitoriness and the realization that there is no permanent ego. Right View, then, leads to the Right Aspiration or Right Ambition, or the ambition to overcome the obstacle of ignorance and greed and passion and clinging, and to get out of the fix.
Third after Right Aspiration comes Right Speech, speech that is in line or coordinated with an understanding of the basic situation. This is distinct from, let us say, the problem that Kerouac came to later, within the suffering of grasping for a permanent reference point in a Catholic God, who will save you and take you to Heaven, or who might condemn you to Hell: a sense of permanent doom or a permanent bliss that you are going to come to. So, Right Speech, not creating more mental garbage, not creating more mental fog for others or yourself.
From Right Speech, the fourth step is Right Activity, not messing up the universe with an insistence that other people follow you towards your obsessive wars, either wars against God or for God, or for Hitler or against Hitler, or for your mother or against your mother.
From Right Action comes Right Labor, a right kind of work so you don't get the wrong job in the atom bomb industry and help blow up the world. From Right Labor comes Right Mindfulness, the awareness of what is around you unobstructed by guilt over what are you doing, saying, thinking, and working at.
From Right Mindfulness comes Right Energy, waking up in the morning, happy with what you are going to do, not obstructed by your own garbage. From Right Energy comes Right Samadhi or Right Meditation, basically being here where you are, unchanged, without guilt. Being able to exist without credentials, existing simultaneously with the earth without apology any more than the sun has to apologize.
Here we come to Walt Whitman's original American proclamation of this condition: "not till the sun rejects you do I reject you." This was also in line with Kerouac's understanding. So, from this comes a term which Kerouac pronounces over and over again in his poetry, the "bodhisattva." How many know what a bodhisattva is, and how he's using it? Here's the formula: the bodhisattva makes a very clear set of four simple vows.
First: sentient beings are numberless. I vow to liberate them all (dogs, worms, kitty cats, mommys, myself, Ginsberg). I vow to illuminate all, is the purpose of Kerouac's writing and the ultimate ethic of his writing. Second: obstacles are countless, I vow to cut through them. My own neuroses are countless, my own graspings are countless, one's own aggression is inexhaustible. Yet, one vows to relate to it, to acknowledge it, to work on it, to cut through it and open up and admit the existence of other sentient beings into one's universe and relate to them in an honest way.
Third of the four vows of the bodhisattva: dharma gates are uncountable, I vow to enter every gate. Dharma gates are situations in which to practice wakeful mind, situations to enter into without being afraid, including the situation of birth and death, the situation of writing dharmic works for America as Kerouac did, and the situation of not being afraid to be corny & display Sacred Heart in expounding Kerouac's prose. It's the disposition to allow our own emotion and tears and sense of suffering, to allow mutual confidence in each other with our most sensitive feelings, as Kerouac confided to us his most sensitive feelings: "Gates of dharma are endless, I vow not to boycott anyone." No boycott of any situation, but total openness toward all situations.
And last of all, Buddha path, or path of awakened mind, is infinite, endless, you never can finish with it, it's too long. I vow to follow through anyway. These are the Four Bodhisattva Vows.
Now, when you take the Bodhisattva Vows it doesn't mean you can do it. It only means that this is the direction in which you would like to go. This is your ideal. This is your compass or this is your heart's desire even if you can't accomplish it. You need not be prevented from being a bodhisattva for fear that you'll not be able to accomplish these four vows, because if that's a heart's desire, that's sufficient for you to take that vow. It's a compass point or a direction or an indication of desire, and a vow to go in that direction. No permanent Heaven, no punishment of permanent Hell for that. So, this then leads to the next: Highest Perfect Wisdom, or Prajnaparamita, the ultimate philosophical and ethical statement of Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, found in a text which Kerouac knew very well, the Heart Sutra.
To summarize the gist, Prajnaparamita, the Heart Sutra, says: "Avalokitesvara (down-glancing-Lord-of-mercy) Bodhisattva dwelled in meditation on Highest Perfect Wisdom when he realized that all the five heaps (skandas) of consciousness we have were empty, this relieved every suffering." Then this discourse continues:
Shariputra (student), form is emptiness, form is no different from emptiness, emptiness no different from form, form is the emptiness, emptiness is the form. Sensation, recognition, conceptualization, consciousness are also like this. Shariputra, this is the original character of everything. Not born, not annihilated, not tainted, not pure, does not increase, does not decrease.... No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object; no eye, no world of eyes until we come to no world of consciousness. No ignorance, also no combat against ignorance ... no suffering, no cause of suffering, no nirvana, no path, no wisdom, also no attainment because no non-attainment. Therefore every bodhisattva depends on Highest Perfect Wisdom because mind is no obstacle, because of no obstacle fear does not exist. Go beyond screwy views, attain nirvana. Past, present and future, every Buddha depends on this Highest Perfect Wisdom.... Therefore, I know Prajnaparamita is the great holy mantra, the untainted mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, is capable of assuaging all suffering. True because not false. Therefore he proclaimed Prajnaparamita mantra, and said mantra goes: Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha! Gone, gone, gone over the top, gone all the way over the top to the other shore, wakened mind. Salutations.