Dharma Bums in the Mountains – Kerouac



Here are two excerpts from Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. In the first short passage we find Japhy and Ray, the two heroes in this section, walking through the college campus of the small town they both live in. They express their view of the ‘conventional world’ of the college kids. In the second passage, a bit longer, they are settling in to their camp on the mountain after the first day of their ascent to Matterhorn Peak in the Sierra Nevada’s. They are waiting for the third man of the party, Morley, who was delayed, to join them. Enjoy!

Walking through the College Campus

Japhy and I were kind of outlandish-looking on the campus in our old clothes in fact Japhy was considered an eccentric around the campus, which is the usual thing for campuses and college people to think whenever a real man appears on the scene – colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization. “All these people,” said Japhy, “they all got white-tiled toilets and take big dirty craps like bears in the mountains, but it’s all washed away to convenient supervised sewers and nobody thinks of crap any more or realizes that their origin is shit and civet and scum of the sea. They spend all day washing their hands with creamy soaps they secretly wanta eat in the bathroom.”

On the Mountain – Ray’s Prayer and Meditation

That rock we were camped against was a marvel. It was thirty feet high and thirty feet at base, a perfect square almost, and twisted trees arched over it and peeked down on us. From the base it went outward, forming a concave, so if rain came we’d be partially covered. “How did this immense sonumbitch ever get here?”

“It probably was left here by the retreating glacier. See over there that field of snow?” “Yeah.”

“That’s the glacier what’s left of it. Either that or this rock tumbled here from inconceivable prehistoric mountains we can’t understand, or maybe it just landed here when the frig-gin mountain range itself burst out of the ground in the Jurassic upheaval. Ray when you’re up here you’re not sittin in a Berkeley tea room. This is the beginning and the end of the world right here. Look at all those patient Buddhas lookin at us saying nothing.”

“And you come out here by yourself. . . .”

“For weeks on end, just like John Muir, climb around all by myself following quartzite veins or making posies of flowers for my camp, or just walking around naked singing, and cook my supper and laugh.”

“Japhy I gotta hand it to you, you’re the happiest little cat in the world and the greatest by God you are. I’m sure glad I’m learning all this. This place makes me feel devoted, too, I mean, you know I have a prayer, did you know the prayer I use?”


“I sit down and say, and I run all my friends and relatives and enemies one by one in this, without entertaining any angers or gratitudes or anything, and I say, like ‘Japhy Ryder, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha,’ then I run on, say, to ‘David O. Selznick, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha’ though I don’t use names like David O. Selznick, just people I know because when I say the words ‘equally a coming Buddha’ I want to be thinking of their eyes, like you take Morley, his blue eyes behind those glasses, when you think ‘equally a coming Buddha’ you think of those eyes and you really do suddenly see the true secret serenity and the truth of his coming Buddhahood. Then you think of your enemy’s eyes.”

“I’m gettin hungry.”

“Me too dammit, I wish he gets here soon. Let’s ramble around and eat snowballs and drink water and wait.”

We did this, investigating the upper end of the flat plateau, and came back. By now the sun was gone behind the western wall of our valley and it was getting darker, pinker, colder, more hues of purple began to steal across the jags. The sky was deep. We even began to see pale stars, at least one or two. Suddenly we heard a distant “Yodelayhee” and Japhy leaped up and jumped to the top of a boulder and yelled “Hoo hoo hoo!” The Yodelayhee came back.

“How far is he?”

“My God from the sound of it he’s not even started. He’s not even at the beginning of the valley of boulders. He can never make it tonight.”

“What’ll we do?”

“Let’s go to the rock cliff and sit on the edge and call him an hour. Let’s bring these peanuts and raisins and munch on ’em and wait. Maybe he’s not so far as I think.”

We went over to the promontory where we could see the whole valley and Japhy sat down in full lotus posture cross-legged on a rock and took out his wooden juju prayer beads and prayed. That is, he simply held the beads in his hands, the hands upside-down with thumbs touching, and stared straight ahead and didn’t move a bone. I sat down as best I could on another rock and we both said nothing and meditated. Only I meditated with my eyes closed. The silence was an intense roar. From where we were, the sound of the creek, the gurgle and slapping talk of the creek, was blocked off by rocks. We heard several more melancholy Yodelayhees and answered them but it seemed farther and farther away each time. When I opened my eyes the pink was more purple all the time. The stars began to flash. I fell into deep meditation, felt that the mountains were indeed Buddhas and our friends, and I felt the weird sensation that it was strange that there were only three men in this whole immense valley: the mystic number three. Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya. I prayed for the safety and in fact the eternal happiness of poor Morley.

Once I opened my eyes and saw Japhy sitting there rigid as a rock and I felt like laughing he looked so funny. But the mountains were mighty solemn, and so was Japhy, and for that matter so was I, and in fact laughter is solemn.

It was beautiful. The pinkness vanished and then it was all purple dusk and the roar of the silence was like a wash of diamond waves going through the liquid porches of our ears, enough to soothe a man a thousand years. I prayed for Japhy, for his future safety and happiness and eventual Buddhahood. It was all completely serious, all completely hallucinated, all completely happy.

“Rocks are space,” I thought, “and space is illusion.” I had a million thoughts. Japhy had his. I was amazed at the way he meditated with his eyes open. And I was mostly humanly amazed that this tremendous little guy who eagerly studied Oriental poetry and anthropology and ornithology and everything else in the books and was a tough little adventurer of trails and mountains should also suddenly whip out his pitiful beautiful wooden prayer-beads and solemnly pray there, like an old-fashioned saint of the deserts certainly, but so amazing to see it in America with its steel mills and airfields. The world ain’t so bad, when you got Japhies, I thought, and felt glad. All the aching muscles and the hunger in my belly were bad enough, and the surroundant dark rocks, the fact that there is nothing there to soothe you with kisses and soft words, but just to be sitting there meditating and praying for the world with another earnest young man – ’twere good enough to have been born just to die, as we all are. Something will come of it in the Milky Ways of eternity stretching in front of all our phantom unjaundiced eyes, friends. I felt like telling Japhy everything I thought but I knew it didn’t matter and more-over he knew it anyway and silence is the golden mountain.

“Yodelayhee,” sang Morley, and now it was dark, and Japhy said “Well, from the looks of things he’s still far away.

He has enough sense to pitch his own camp down there tonight so let’s go back to our camp and cook supper.”

Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac p. 38, 39 and 67 – 72







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