Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums and the Authentic Self

This summer I read a book that deeply resonated with me and said so beautifully what I’ve been thinking about for the past couple years. This book was Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Living in the Bay Area, I thought I owed it to myself, and Kerouac, to delve into some of his books which almost always have some connection to San Francisco, Marin County, and Northern California in general. Dharma Bums did not disappoint. It is a semi-fictional novel based off of events that occurred after Kerouac wrote On the Road. The book largely explores the relationship between the outdoors, city life in San Francisco, Zen Buddhism and everything in between. Beyond imploring everyone to read this novel, I just have to share a passage that is as relevant today as it was when Kerouac wrote it in 1958.

“…see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures..”

So simply stated and so brilliant. I feel like I’m constantly thinking about this cycle of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume. Where does it end? We work and work so that we can consume products we’re told we should want, but do we actually want them? I know we don’t need them. I’d like to think I’m a Dharma Bum, scrutinizing what I’m told I should do, want, and have, instead looking inward and focusing on what truly makes myself and the others around me happy and fulfilled. I imagine a ‘rucksack revolution’ where we all question this work-produce-consume cycle and tap into our intuition, focusing on and exploring the things that actually make us feel alive. Who wants to join me?

I’ll leave you all with one last passage from another book I read this summer, Sleeping Where I Fall by Peter Coyote.

“Billy had intuited that people had internalized cultural premises about the sanctity of private property and capital so completely as to have become addicted to wealth and status; the enchantment ran so deep and the identity with job was so absolute as to have eradicated inner wildness and personal expression not condoned by society.”

Now just let that simmer.

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