Wake Up

Episode OneJack Kerouac

Article Preview

To access this entire article and all other member-supported
content, join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

IN A LETTER dated March 25, 1955, Jack Kerouac wrote: "I've been living down South here for two months, writing a Buddhist book of 70,000 words, which I'm just finishing now." For over a year he had been studying the life and teaching of Gotama Buddha. Immersed in the idea of leading an ascetic life in that tradition, he had decided to write "a handbook for Western understanding" of Buddhist teachings, following the story of Buddha's life.

The title page of the finished manuscript reads: "Wake Up, Prepared by Jack Kerouac," but the correspondence of Kerouac and his literary agent Sterling Lord reveals that this had not always been the book's title. Originally called Your Essential Mind: The Story of the Buddha, Kerouac referred to it at various times as "my Buddhist handbook," Buddha Tells Us, and Buddhahood: The Essence of Reality. Sterling Lord passed the manuscript on to editors Robert Giroux and Malcolm Cowley, who disappointed Kerouac by receiving it "coldly." Jack never lost his faith, as he told Allen Ginsberg, that his book had "magical powers of enlightenment." Sterling Lord sent the manuscript on to the Philosophical Library, and Kerouac was excited at the thought that he might have the same publisher as D. T. Suzuki. In September 1955 he heard that they considered it "very well written" and were willing to publish it if Kerouac could guarantee a sale of six hundred copies. Disappointed, he wrote Ginsberg, "I don't know no 600 people with $3.50."

Although Kerouac did not give up on publishing Wake Up, his primary focus was on new work, and he began to integrate Buddhism into books like Mexico City Blues, Tristessa, and Visions of Gerard, all written in the year following Wake Up. As he wrote Sterling Lord, "From now on all my writing is going to have a basis of Buddhist teaching, free of all worldly and literary motives so everything has actually worked out fine because in all consciousness I couldn't publish [On the Road] except as 'Pre-enlightenment' work."

—John Sampas, Literary Executor, The Estate of Jack and Stella Kerouac

This is the first excerpt in a series of eight from Jack Kerouac's Wake Up. The full manuscript will be published in Some of the Dharma by Viking Penguin in 1995.



Adoration to Jesus Christ,
The Messiah of the Christian World;
Adoration to Gotama Sakyamuni,
The Appearance-Body of the Buddha.

—A Buddhist Prayer in the monastery of Santa Barbara, written by Dwight Goddard.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Become a Supporting Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Supporting Member

Become a Sustaining Member

*With Autorenew

  • You Get
  • Tricycle | The Magazine - a one-year subscription to premier Buddhist quarterly
  • Tricycle Retreats - a new online video teaching every every week by a contemporary Buddhist teacher
  • Tricycle | The Digital Edition - web based edition of the magazine
  • The Wisdom Collection - nearly two decades of teachings by the world's most compelling teachers, from the pages of Tricycle
  • Tricycle Gallery - the best in Buddhist art to download and share with friends
  • Tricycle Book Club - online discussions with leading Buddhist authors
  • Tricycle Discussions - teacher-led explorations of dharma in daily life
  • The Tricycle Blog - our diary of the global Buddhist movement
  • Daily Dharma - heart advice delivered direct to your inbox
  • The Tricycle Newsletter - the latest news, teachings, events, and more, every Monday

Become a Sustaining Member