Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Buddhist Bible: Jack's only book on Desolation Peak

I just scored this used copy of Dwight Goddard's A Buddhist Bible. It was a significant influence on Jack Kerouac, so much so that, according to John Suiter in Poets on the Peaks:

Kerouac took only one book with him to Desolation: his leather-jacketed Buddhist Bible, with its marker ribbon set to the pages of the Diamond Sutra.....Jack read the Diamond Sutra, following his practice of studying one paramita/chapter a day in a weekly cycle, as he had been doing more or less regularly since 1955. (p. 210)

Jack borrowed and never returned his copy of A Buddhist Bible from the San Jose Public Library in early 1954 during a visit with Neal and Carolyn Cassady. According to Suiter:

...he had a rough leather cover made for it and carried the book around with him all over the United States and Mexico, reading it nearly every day for the next four years. The Diamond Sutra especially inspired him -- "the diamond that cuts through/to the other view," as he would call it in Orizaba Blues. (p. 166)

For some back story on Kerouac's use of the phrase "MAY YOU USE THE DIAMONDCUTTER OF MERCY" in The Dharma Bums, see my April 14, 2012 post at

Perhaps in retirement I shall take up Jack's reading practice in order "to condition ... [my] mind to 'emptiness' and, if possible, to actually bring on a vision" as he was trying to do on Desolation (Suiter, p. 210).

P.S. Don't you wonder what Jack's fine has accumulated to at the San Jose Public Library?


Anonymous said...

That fine sounds like a job for the great Dave Moore!

Anonymous said...

It's my impression that Jack, away from his mother, was a mainstream Mahayanist Buddhist. In his books I recall his saying he felt Gary Snyder's Rinzai Zen was cruel and lacking in scriptual depth. I don't think he acknowledged that Soto Zen, with its "no mind" solitary meditation, would have suited him and he, indeed, practiced solitary meditation.
Gregory Corso was also of the same mind and wrote The Mad Yak as a protest to alleged Buddhist cruelty to these animals when Zen, or Ch'an, was not practiced in Tibet.

Buddhist studies in English have come a long way since The Buddhist Bible but most of this book has held up well. Jack picked a good one to take with him.

Duke Knight said...

I have the 1932 edition that Jack read and carried with him. The other versions of this book are not the same. I have it for sale one eBay

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

Duke, you should send me the link to your item and I will post it here. Some reader of this blog may be interested.