Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beat Generation Back Story: Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and the Diamondcutter of Mercy

In The Dharma Bums, Ray (Kerouac) gives Japhy (Gary Snyder) a going-away gift:
The next day I figured to give Japhy some kind of strange little going-away gift and didn’t have much money or any ideas particularly so I took a little piece of paper about as big as a thumbnail and carefully printed on it: MAY YOU USE THE DIAMONDCUTTER OF MERCY and when I said goodbye to him at the pier I handed it to him, and he read it, put it right in his pocket, and said nothing (1976, pp. 214-215).
I blogged about this back on November 29, 2008. I had the phrase, "MAY YOU USE THE DIAMONDCUTTER OF MERCY," tattooed on my left upper back and posted a picture of it here.

There's a back story behind this passage that I just learned about from Gerry Nicosia when I told him about my tattoo. Gerry told me that he learned this from Gary Snyder, and the story goes as follows.

Snyder and Kerouac had quite a spiritual disagreement. In Bums, Kerouac claims that he and Snyder had the same favorite Buddhist saint, Avalokitesvara, but Snyder told Nicosia that this was not true at all. Snyder's favorite saint was actually Manjusri.

Manjusri's sword is the "diamond-cutter," and with it he cuts through all arbitrary conceptions, including the belief in God. Snyder wanted Kerouac to allow Manjusri to drop his sword on Kerouac's belief in God. This offended Kerouac, who never strayed far from his Catholic beliefs despite his deep study of Buddhism. Kerouac thought a truly merciful saint would never attempt to destroy his belief in God.

As a result, Kerouac came up with the retort, "MAY YOU USE THE DIAMONDCUTTER OF MERCY."

Isn't that a great piece of Kerouac lore?

My thanks to Gerry for permission to share this intriguing back story with readers of The Daily Beat.


Rhonlynn said...

That tattoo is I want a Kerouac quote on me somewhere. And yes, that is a fantastic piece of Kerouac lore.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Thanks, Rhonlynn!