Buddhist Anarchism - Differing Interpretations - "Dharma Bums"

"Dharma Bums"

In the 1950s, California saw the rise of a strand of Buddhist anarchism emerging from the Beat movement. Gary Snyder and Diane di Prima were a product of this. Snyder was the inspiration for the character Japhy Rider in Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums (1958). Snyder spent considerable time in Japan studying Zen Buddhism, and in 1961 published Buddhist Anarchism where he described the connection he saw between these two concepts originating in different parts of the world: "The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void." He advocated "using such means as civil disobedience, outspoken criticism, protest, pacifism, voluntary poverty and even gentle violence" and defended "the right of individuals to smoke ganja, eat peyote, be polygymous, polyandrous or homosexual" which he saw as being banned by "the Judaeo-Capitalist-Christian-Marxist West".

Kerouac himself was fairly conservative and eventually returned to Catholicism. But the ethos he embodied in The Dharma Bums had a definite anarchist flavor of living freely and unconventionally; riding freight trains, getting in touch with nature, living simply, and experimenting with sexuality. The book, along with his other novels, went on to inspire generations of young people and anarchist culture in general to live beyond the limits of the domain of mainstream, capitalistic culture. Kerouac's vision of the dharma bum as a free-spirited "bhikku" was influenced by the legendary crazy, wild monks in Zen Buddhism beginning with Bodhidharma himself. This kind of zen "madness" revered by Kerouac, though without any clear anarchist ideology accompanying it, is something that disrupts the normal flow of the state of things and the normal patterns of people's thought through spontaneous, eccentric, and bizarre behavior, which has the potential to undermine all of the consolidations of a state-ruled society, even if just in individual consciousnesses.

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