Caitlyn Nu.


As Gary Snyder said in his essay, Notes on Religious Tendencies, “Being high all the time leads nowhere because it lacks intellect, will, and compassion; and a personal drug kick is of no use to anyone else in the world” (Portable Beat Reader, 306). Throughout Tom Wolfe’s, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Ken Kesey and the Pranksters were all about getting high and meditating in order to “get them there”. It was their ultimate goal to travel the country and introduce these acid-tests. It was important for them to send the message out that getting high would help you get wherever you needed to go. But as Snyder said, you can’t rely on the effects of drugs to get you anywhere in life; meditation and hallucinations aren’t enough. Unfortunately, Kesey and the Pranksters caught on too late because of their ultimate failure. When it came time for the graduation they all realized “they blew it”. This phrase was repeated over and over again to indicate to each other this really was the end. The group had finally reached their downfall and nothing could be done to pick them back up. Even though this group of drug-users got as far as they did, they weren’t able to make it all the way because of their sole relial on drugs. They needed more in their lives to get them to that final step…the graduation which they all had looked so forward to.

As Alan Watts quoted in his work, “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen”, “The true character of Zen remains almost incomprehensible to those who have not surpassed the immaturity of needing to be justified” (Portable Beat Reader, 614). In other words, as a follower of the Zen customs, one must be able to follow their own spiritual path and not feel the need to validate their reasons to others. It is only important that you understand the path you are traveling and understand the means in which it is being done. This similar concept can also be seen in Tom Wolfe’s, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as Ken Kesey is formulating his group to ride on “the bus”. As the reader learns about the various passengers, they also learn about how Kesey foresees the journey ahead. In his eyes, it is important for everyone to be able to be themselves and continue on how they normally would act without feeling like they need to justify their actions. Kesey states, “None of us are going to deny what other people are doing. If saying bullshit is somebody’s thing, then he says bullshit. If somebody is an ass-kicker, then that’s what he’s going to do on his own trip, kick asses” (73). Here it is seen that those riding along should not be afraid of rejection for being themselves; they will be accepted for whoever they are. So is Zen another passenger on the bus? I would say that it definitely is. It is clearly seen that Ken Kesey believes in the teachings of Zen; be what you want to be, do what you want to do, and most importantly, don’t let others get in your way.

Throughout the novel, The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac, Japhy Ryder is consistently criticizing and trying to change Ray Smith’s idea of Buddhism and how he practices. Through several attempts, including their journey together up Matterhorn and Ray’s attempt to drink constantly, Japhy has tried to convince Ray that he has not become a real Buddhist yet. However, towards the end of the novel, the reader sees a significant turn in Japhy Ryder’s character, as he finally gives up on Ray Smith and allows him to follow his own path of Buddhism. This change began with Ryder’s giving of a Hershey bar and wine to Ray. While living in the shack one day, Ryder ventured out to buy 3 Hershey bars and Smith’s favorite wine, signifying Ryder’s new approval for Ray’s way of practicing Buddhism. At the point of this role reversal, Japhy has finally realized that he and Ray have reached a new level of equality and that he can no longer try to change Ray’s ways. During this time, we also see an example of reverse conformity. While Ray Smith is practicing his own Buddhism and following his own path of spirituality, Japhy is behind him trying to move him into the path of “normal” Buddhism, or the Buddhism that he would like to see Ray follow. While usually Ray is the character most likely to conform to society, it is he who now chooses to march to his own beat.

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