Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dharma Bums and Ryokan

I never really thought about how close I am to Desolation Peak. It's a place I've wanted to visit since I was sixteen, and used to read Dharma Bums in the backyard of my little house on Princeton Street in Parkersburg WV. I used to skip school and lie in the grass reading Whitman, Thoreau and Kerouac. It's odd, but I'm more like that person now than I have been for many years. I'm not as stupid, maybe, but the thoughts and feelings still make sense to me. I recently re-read some Kerouac, and really enjoyed it. I don't idolize the characters like I used to; I understand them better. It's still a nice read. From The Dharma Bums:
Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapors appeared, and I said "God, I love you" and looked up to the sky and really meant it. "I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us, one way or the other."
To the children and the innocent it's all the same.

I really want to climb the peak this summer, and get a good look at what he saw. Kerouac wrote a few books, and talked to the chipmunks. I'm more inclined to take some poetry from my ever shrinking library. I think the Zen poet, Ryokan, would be the perfect companion on a solo hike up the mountain.
In the village
Are sounding drums and flutes
But here on the mountain
Only the pines are whispering.

I've heard a Sufi quote about being a darvish. They say that anyone can be a darvish in the mountains, and it takes a real Lover to be a darvish in the city, surrounded by noise and hassle. I like that, it really resonates with me. I need the escape, the respite in the mountains. It isn't good for me, however, to wander off and not participate in the world. It doesn't help anyone, especially not me. I love going off in the woods, then coming back to the craze of daily life. You must be a human being, and other human beings are vital to that. Honestly it's something I like about the city. The city is a place of people, built by people, with human objects and machines everywhere. That's wonderful. The mountains are a place of nature, separate from humanity. That's wonderful too. I can imagine a fantastic country where we live in a city, surrounded by huge swaths of natural beauty. I would like to live there.

Ryokan himself had the people who visited, including his dear friend, the nun Teishin. She was his connection to the broader world, and he needed that.
Impatiently waiting for the hagi to bloom
And you to come
Through the dewy grass so thickly grown
Now you're here!

My solution to the frustration that seized Kerouac, and led to his alcoholism and swift decline, is like Ryokan's: I have the people in the world that I love, and that ground me. Kerouac was terrified of understanding the universe in a personal way. He didn't really like the anthropomorphic ideas of God that he saw in western culture, and the east was cold and foreign. Ryokan was satisfied with his spiritual path, and the personal was manageable for him. I have no issue with seeing the universe in a personal way, but I'm not really concerned with the way shape or how of it. My remembrance of God is what is present, what is real. Too much meandering from the issue of constant remembrance of the real, and it gets dull. Perhaps there is a deeper psychological discussion here, and I'm not terribly interested in the academics of it, but it is something to consider.

For this summer, I have Ryokan and Kerouac, and a nice night on Desolation Peak.
View Larger Map

No comments: