Wake Up

Episode 3Jack Kerouac

In this, the third of nine installments of Jack Kerouac's previously unpublished life of the Buddha, we pick up the story after Prince Siddhartha has left his father's palace, adopted the homeless life, and taken a seat under the bodhi tree, vowing not to rise from the spot "until, freed from clinging, my mind attains deliverance from all sorrow." The complete manuscript of Wake Up will appear in a volume entitled Some of the Dharma, due out from Viking Penguin in 1995. Note: All of Kerouac's original spellings and usage have been retained.

HIS BONES could rot and his sinew shrivel, and crows pick on his abandoned brain, but this godlike man would not rise from this spot on the bed of grass beneath the fig tree until he had solved the riddle of the world. He set his teeth and pressed his tongue against them. He bent his radiant intelligence down, and let his consciousness drift into the inner intuition of in-sight. Hands folded gently, breathing like a baby, eyes closed, immovable and undisturbable, he intuited, as dusk descended on the terrace of the earth whereon he sat. "Though all the earth be moved and shaken, yet would this place be fixed and stable." It was May in India, the time known as Cowdust, when the air is golden as grain, warm and dreamy, and all things and beasts breathe forth their faith in sundowns of natural mental quiet.

Many words have been written about this holy moment in the now famous spot beneath this Bodhi-Tree, or Wisdom-Tree. It was not an agony in the garden, it was a bliss beneath the tree; it was not the resurrection of anything, but the annihilation of all things. Came to Buddha in those hours the realization that all things come from a cause and go to dissolution, and therefore all things are impermanent, all things are unhappy, and thereby and most mysterious, all things are unreal.


Buddha by Jack Kerouac, black crayon on paper

A cool refreshing breeze rose as he realized everything had flowered out of the mind, sprung from the seeds of false thinking in the Divine Ground of Reality, and there stood the dream all woeful and in gloom. "Beasts, quiet and silent, looked on in wonderment." Temptations filled the mind of the Buddha to rise and go elsewhere and give up this futile meditating under trees; he recognized these temptations as the work of the very Temyter, Mara, the Indian Devil, and refused to budge. Even fear crossed his brain, imaginary fevers that something was going on behind his back, before his closed eyes: unmoved like a man watching children at play, he let these doubts and disturbances, like bubbles, vanish back to their origin in the emptiness of the mental sea.

By nightfall he reposed peaceful and quiet. He entered into deep and subtle contemplation. Every kind of holy ecstasy in order passed before his eyes. During the first watch of the night he entered on "right perception" and in recollection all former births passed before his eyes.

"Born in such a place, of such a name, and downwards to his present birth, so through hundreds, thousands, myriads, all his births and deaths he knew."

Knowing full well that the essence of existence is of one suchness, what birth could not his Bright, Mysterious, Intuitive Essence of Mind recall? As though he had been all things, and only because there had never been a true "he," but all things, and so all things were the same thing, and it was within the purview of the Universal Mind, which was the Only Mind past, present, and future.

"Countless as the sands of the Ganges were the births and deaths, of every kind and sort; then knowing, too, his family relationships, great pity rose within his heart."

It had been a long time already finished, the ancient dream of life, the tears of the many-mothered sadness, the myriads of fathers in the dust, eternities of lost afternoons of sisters and brothers, the sleepy cock crow, the insect cave, the pitiful instinct all wasted on emptiness, the great huge drowsy Golden Age sensation that opened in his brain that this knowledge was older than the world.

"The sense of deep compassion passed, he once again considered 'all that lives' and how they moved within the six portions of life's revolution, no final term to birth and death; hollow all, and false and transient as the plantain tree, or as dream, or phantasy."

In the ears of the Buddha as he thus sat in brilliant and sparkling craft of intuition, so that light like Transcendental Milk dazzled in the invisible dimness of his closed eyelids, was heard the unvarying pure hush of the sighing sea of hearing, seething, receding, as he more or less recalled the consciousness of the sound, though in itself it was always the same steady sound, only his consciousness of it varied and receded, like low tide flats and the salty water sizzling and sinking in the sand, the sound neither outside nor within the ear but everywhere, the pure sea of hearing, the Transcendental Sound of Nirvana heard by children in cribs and on the moon and in the heart of howling storms, and in which the young Buddha now heard a teaching going on, a ceaseless instruction wise and clear from all the Buddhas of Old that had come before him and all the Buddhas a Coming. Beneath the distant cricket howl occasional noises like the involuntary peep of sleeping dream birds, or scutters of little fieldmice, or vast breeze in the trees disturbed the peace of this Hearing but the noises were merely accidental, the Hearing received all noises and accidents in its sea but remained as ever undisturbed, truly unpenetrated, and neither replenished nor diminished, as self-pure as empty space. Under the blazing stars the King of the Law, enveloped in the divine tranquillity of this Transcendental Sound of the Diamond Ecstasy, rested moveless.

"Then in the middle watch of night, he reached to knowledge of the pure Angels, and beheld before him every creature, as one sees images upon a mirror; all creatures born and born again to die, noble and mean, the poor and rich, reaping the fruit of right or evil doing, and sharing happiness or misery in consequence."

He saw how evil deeds leave cause for regret and the nameless desire to redress and re-straighten badness, initiating energy for return to the stage of the world: whereas good deeds, producing no remorse and leaving no substratum of doubt, vanish into Enlightenment.

"He saw, moreover, all the fruits of birth as beasts; some doomed to die for the sake of skin or flesh, some for their horns or hair or bones or wings; others torn or killed in mutual conflict, friend or relative before; some burdened with loads or dragging heavy weights, others pierced or urged on by pricking goads. Blood flowing down their tortured forms, parched and hungry—no relief afforded, one with the other struggling, possessed of no independent strength. Flying through the air or sunk in deep water, yet no place as a refuge left from death.

"And he saw those reborn as men, with bodies like some foul sewer, ever moving among the direst sufferings, born from the womb to fear and trembling, with body tender, touching anything its feelings painful, as if cut with knives."

This valley of darts, which we call life, a nightmare.

"Whilst born in this condition, no moment free from chance of death, labor, and sorrow, yet seeking birth again, and being born again, enduring pain."

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