Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, which was published in 1958, crystallizes a moment in West Coast history that came at the beginning of a spiritual awakening that preceded the hippie movement and occurred just as Buddhist philosophy was beginning to take root in the United States. The character Japhy Ryder is Kerouac’s friend, poet and Gary Snyder, a Buddhist for the new American age with a vision of how the Dharma could transform his ailing country.
“Give me another slug of that jug. How! Ho! Hoo!” Japhy leaping up: “I’ve been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that’s the attitude for the Bard, the Zen Lunacy bard of old desert paths, 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 Jack, 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, that’s what I like about you Goldbook and Smith, you two guys from the East Coast which I thought was dead.” “We thought the West Coast was dead!” “You’ve really brought a fresh wind around here. Why, do you realize the Jurassic pure granite of Sierra Nevada with the straggling high conifers of the last ice age and lakes we just saw is one of the greatest expressions on this earth, just think how truly great and wise America will be, with all this energy and exuberance and space focused into the Dharma.” “Oh”—Alvah—”balls on that old tired Dharma.” “Ho! What we need is a floating zendo, where an old Bodhisattva can wander from place to place and always be sure to find a spot to sleep in among friends and cook up mush.”