Essay on Eastern Thought in the Works of Kerouac and Ginsberg

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Eastern Thought in the Works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg

In the late 1950's and throughout the 1960's, a fascination with Eastern thought developed, concentrating on Zen Buddhism and Daoism. This attraction can be explained in part by the complete strangeness of these thought forms to Western ideals. Buddhism's denial of reality and Daoism's wu-wei or flowing with life were revolutionary ideas to the people of the late '50's who had been brought up with consumerism, patriotism, Christianity, and suburbia. As people began rebelling from this cookie-cutter society, Eastern thought became a tool for the revolution, denying previously indubitable truths such as reality, attachment and God. This polar opposite belief-system,
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Kerouac's The Dharma Bums was a revolutionary work. Written in 1958, it was clearly at the forefront of the adoption of Eastern thought, and his own struggles with domesticating these exotic beliefs are clear throughout the work. Kerouac, in one of his first meetings with Japhy Ryder, struggles with the sexual practices Japhy has borrowed from Tibet. Kerouac's own celibacy, keeping with the Buddhist philosophy of non-attatchment, is a way for him to avoid distraction from his goal to enlightenment. He says at one point, "All the peaceful celibacy of my Buddhism was going down the drain" (30). Japhy dismisses Kerouac's concern and attempts to alleviate his fear of straying too far from the path. He explains that the yabyum ceremony, essentially group sex, is a Tibetan tradition and is therefore true to the overall ideals behind Kerouac's practices. He also states a sort of mistrust for any belief-system that does not allow free expression of sexual desires. Kerouac gives in, and the signs of both depurification and domestication become more obvious when Princess, the character whom the yabyum ceremony centers around, says that she believes she is a Bodhisattva. The idea that a sexual act could make someone feel holy enough to have attained that second highest place on the Buddhist spectrum is revolutionary in many ways. Kerouac dismisses her claim in his mind, but understands her
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