The Dharma Bums Part One

Posted in Book Reports, History by chamblee54 on November 17, 2013









When discussing The Dharma Bums, it is helpful to know how to pronounce the central word of the title. Some say to pronounce the r, while others say the r is silent. The dharmic duality extends to the definition. The number one phrases are “the principle or law that orders the universe” and “the body of teachings expounded by the Buddha.”

Chapter One: Tdb begins in Los Angeles, sometime in 1955. Ray Smith is riding in a freight train. He is going to Berkeley, where he will hang out with Japhy Ryder. These are the central characters of tdb. Ray Smith is Jack Kerouac. Japhy Ryder is Gary Snyder. Mr. Kerouac is long gone. Mr. Snyder is still on the planet. There are several youtube videos of his available. He seems like a wise, gentle man. You can see the younger version of this man in Japhy Ryder.

In chapter one, RS meets a bum on the train. The fellow passenger has a poem by St. Theresa in his pocket, where she promises to return to earth, showering roses on all living things.

On the weekend when part one was produced, PG received a facebook challenge. Someone had written a brief post about a band. When you like the post, you are given a band. The band assigned to PG was The White Stripes. This was the first time PG heard of The White Stripes. He found a video of a live performance. This is the response.

Band I was given: The White Stripes Do I like them: no Seen them?: no Favorite song: Jolene I had never heard of the White Stripes before receiving this challenge. I found a you tube video of a live performance. I did not enjoy it. After fifty minutes, I turned it off, and put Joni Mitchell on.

Chapter Two: Asian schools of thought are a theme of tdb. A number of confusing terms are used. One of these is bodhisattva. The spelling can be a challenge. When you break it down, you get bod his att va. A complimentary shorthand for body, third person male pronoun, the phone company, and a government agency. One dictionary says “a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshiped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism.”

In chapter two, RS meets JR. They go to a poetry reading at a gallery. Many of the other characters are at this reading. The most famous is Alvah Goldbook, who read his poem “Wail”. (Spell check suggestion: Allah Goldbrick) You can probably figure this one out by yourself.

The preliminary notes for this post were written during a slow period at work. When it was time to type them, page three was not there. We will assume that nothing important was said.

Chapter Three: RS is staying with AG somewhere in Berkeley. In this book unit, RS goes to visit JR, who lives in a very small house behind a larger house. There is no sitting furniture in this house. You sit on a floor mat.

JR is into asian studies, which is called oriental here. This is the pre-politically correct fifties. At some point in tdb he goes to Japan. In the video, JR mentions living in Japan for twelve years. This is probably connected to the trip in this book.

Tdb is dedicated to Han Shan. On page eighteen, we learn about him. Han Shan was a Chinese poet. He lived over a thousand years ago. JR is translating a poem when RS comes to visit. The verbatim rendering has a zen feel to it. Unfortunately, JR is working for a university. They want a translation that sounds like english speech.

There are a lot of page references in this text. These might not work for all editions of tdb. This is a penguin book. The list price is $11.95 USA, or $15.95 Canada. Tdb was copyrighted by Jack Kerouac in 1958, with a 1986 renewal by Stella Kerouac and Jan Kerouac. The last date, and the probably printing date of this edition, is 1976. The book has three pictures of mountains on the cover. The background is black.There is a green slash, with the title rendered in black letters. The name of the author is in smaller green letters. A quote from Ann Charters, in white text, is at the bottom.

The copy of tdb was owned by a friend of a friend. This person will be called Lenny, and while alive was as much of a character as anyone in tdb. When Lenny died, Uzi took possession of many books.

One day, PG was pulling boxes out of Uzi’s van. The idea was to put a chair in the van. One of the boxes had Lenny’s books. Being a dumpster diving cheapskate, PG was required to look through the box, and take what he liked. And thus PG came to own a copy of tdb.

Chapter Four: On page twenty five, AG says, of JR, “Gee he’s strange.” In this chapter, RS, AG, and Warren Coughlin buy a jug of wine. They proceed to JR’s residence. There is much merriment that evening. This takes place in Berkeley CA, 1955. RS says the school is a conformity factory. This is nine years before the Free Speech Movement, which started the sixties tradition of campus unrest.

In 1973, PG was in Athens, GA. Many of his friends considered Athens to be a modern, hip environment. Some famous person… William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, or someone else … said that Athens in 1973 reminded him of Berkeley in 1952.

Chapter Five: RS is staying with AG during this part of the story. One night, JR comes by with a gf named Princess. They are going to show RS how to play yabyum. As we learn on page 22, “it’s only thorugh form that we can realize emptiness”. During the yabyum ritual, AG, JR, and Princess sit down cross legged and naked. They stare at each other and chant Om Mane Padme Om. This means Amen the thunderbolt in the dark void. This is the end of the Berkeley part of tdb. Photographs are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.









7 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on November 17, 2013 at 11:14 am

    “Dhamma” is Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism. “Dharma” is Sanskrit, the language of Mahayana Buddhism.

  2. Rupert said, on November 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    There is a photo of Jackie K. on the 60 campaign trail reading The Dharma Bums. Also nice pic of Peggy Mitchell – and the house on Lakeview that’s still there in the Crackers shot.

  3. The Dharma Bums Part One | Chamblee54 said, on November 30, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    […] is part two of a breakdown on The Dharma Bums. Part one was published a few days ago. Part two is where Ray Smith, Japhy Ryder, and Henry Morley go […]

  4. The Dharma Bums Part Three | Chamblee54 said, on December 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    […] the title suggests, this is part three of a breakdown on The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac. Parts one and two are already online. Chapter Thirteen Ray Smith (Jack Kerouac) is back in Berkeley now, […]

  5. The Dharma Bums Part Four | Chamblee54 said, on January 13, 2014 at 6:14 am

    […] As the title suggests, this is part three of a breakdown on The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac. Parts one, two, and three are already online. Tdb is the 1955-1956 story of Ray Smith (Jack Kerouac) and his […]

  6. Road Trip | Chamblee54 said, on June 1, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    […] and heard things in 35 years, and decided to give OTR another shot. PG read/blogged The Dhama Bums (one two three four) a few years ago. TDB was the follow up to OTR, and is a lot less fun. Back to the […]

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