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Wake Up

Product no.: 978-0143116011
Originally written in 1955 and now published for the first time in paperback, Wake Up is Kerouac's retelling of the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

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Publisher's Synopsis
The titular theme of "wake up" is rehearsed throughout Kerouac's story of Prince Siddartha Gautama, who left an indolent but meaningless life of riches to embrace asceticism and enlightenment. Drawing on multiple sutras and accounts of the Buddha's life, Kerouac focuses on Gautama's renunciation of worldly things by repeating that trope with several other wealthy characters who forsake riches in favor of nirvana.

The prose is as meandering as it is beautiful, with Kerouac's Buddha spouting memorable sayings about sensation, illusion, emptiness and suffering. If there is an almost evangelistic zeal to this loose collection of axioms and Buddhist conversion stories, Kerouac at least states that openly: "The purpose is to convert," he explains at the outset.

"Though he (Jack Kerouac) often mentions no-thing-ness and even nothing, he refuses to reify any sort of disappearance, and most often talks of ‘the holy emptiness,’ not nothingness, and emphasizes that ‘emptiness is a form’ just as much as ‘form is emptiness.’… He offers many accounts of his personal experiences in meditation… But the following passage from The Dharma Bums might be the one he would prefer I quote:

‘What did I care about the squawk of the little very self which wanders everywhere? I was dealing in outblownness, cut-off-ness, snipped, blownoutness, putoutness, turned-off-ness, nothing-happens-ness, gone-ness, gone-out-ness, the snapped link, nir, link, vana, snap! The dust of my thoughts collected into a globe,’ I thought, ‘in this ageless solitude,’ I thought, and really smiled, because I was seeing the white light everywhere everything at last… ‘Everything’s all right,’ I thought. ‘Form is emptiness and emptiness is form and we’re here forever in one form or another which is empty… Like the ants that have nothing to do but dig all day, I have nothing to do but do what I want and be kind and remain nevertheless uninfluenced by imaginary judgments and pray for the light’ (Kerouac)…

The only discordant note in his experience is ‘I have nothing to do but do what I want,’ which evinces a trace of the ‘nothing matters after all’ sort of nihilistic misunderstanding of (the Buddhist understanding of) emptiness and perhaps the kernel of his inability to take his alcoholism seriously enough to get free of it and preserve himself and his genius for our benefit somewhat longer than 1969. Fortunately, Kerouac goes on to say, ‘and be kind and nevertheless remain uninfluenced by imaginary judgments and pray for the light,’ which evinces his deeper instinct… that the free person remain casually committed to the improvement of the conditions of others in the illusory unreal relative world."       ~Robert Thurman, Intro

"Ho there! Wake up! the river in your dream may seem pleasant, but below it is a lake with rapids and crocodiles, the river is evil desire, the lake is the sensual life, its waves are anger, its rapids are lust, and the crocodiles are the women-folk."

Author Kerouac, Jack
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 224 pp.
Publisher Penguin Books 2009
Browse these categories as well: Western Buddhism, Inspirational Poetry, Prose and Sacred Art, Spiritual Biography and Autobiography, Noteworthy Releases 2009

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