LIKE A SHOT OF HEROIN: Jack Kerouac on Buddhist meditation

LIKE A SHOT OF HEROIN: Jack Kerouac on Buddhist meditation May 13, 2023

Chinese Arhat image from Liao dynasty statue
(Mary Evans Picture Library)


Jack Kerouac on Buddhist meditation

Complex, by turns wonderful and awful, the beat writer Jack Kerouac is one of the handful of people responsible for bringing Zen into the popular English speaking imagination.

Any number of people have struggled to contextualize Kerouac’s beatnik Buddhism. Some with more success than others.

And sometimes its wise to let the person speak for themselves.

And so, a poem first published in book form near I can tell in 1971 in City Lights’ Scattered Poems.

How To Meditate

-lights out-
fall, hands a-clasped, into instantaneous
ecstasy like a shot of heroin or morphine,
the gland inside of my brain discharging
the good glad fluid (Holy Fluid) as
i hap-down and hold all my body parts
down to a deadstop trance-Healing
all my sicknesses-erasing all-not
even the shred of a “I-hope-you” or a
Loony Balloon left in it, but the mind
blank, serene, thoughtless. When a thought
comes a-springing from afar with its held-
forth figure of image, you spoof it out,
you spuff it off, you fake it, and
it fades, and thought never comes-and
with joy you realize for the first time
“thinking’s just like not thinking-
So I don’t have to think

Okay. I have to admit it. I love the poem. I even think it points into aspects of what I consider authentic meditation. I don’t think I’d say “like a shot of heroin.” But given context, well, maybe. It does capture the ear.

What I love is that Kerouac seems to be inviting his whole being into the project, and he pretty obviously is leaving little out of that whole being. Perhaps the reader, maybe, can feel that whole invitation.

And, you know? That’s what it takes.

There is all the confusion when we sit down, the bardos of our lives all up front and present, or hiding behind the nearest mountain.

Kerouac does come to a point where thinking and not thinking come together. Almost as if he got what that line points to. Deadstop. Yes. Maybe. Possibly.

I’m going with a full on tentative yes.

Not knowing is also a very good thing. Not just did Kerouac get it? But. Do I? Do you?

Certainly there are pointers in here that old hands on the intimate way can recognize.

And this poem might even tantalize someone thinking of maybe giving it, meditation, not heroin, meditation a try.

I have found the great way is one great bit of upaya. You know, bait and switch. Of a spiritual sort.

The great Buddha way.

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