Everyone desires to find happiness, which can be found through anywhere: people, an object, an action, or even something as simple as a belief. People turn to religion at times of need to find satisfaction in life. In Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, the main character, Ray Smith, turns to Buddhism for happiness. During his study of Buddhism philosophy, he meets a younger writer much like himself, Japhy Ryder. While Japhy is close to his spiritual awakening, Ray is barely beginning and has much to learn.
Ray encounters complications as he tries to focus on the two main elements of Buddhist philosophy, which are all life is suffering and the suppression of suffering can be achieved. Ray finds difficulty in accomplishing nirvana because it takes time for him to achieve the suppression of suffering. As Japhy and Ray are near the peak of the Matterhorn Mountain, Ray’s paranoia begins to grow and he decides that he will wait for Japhy because of his fear of heights. He tells Japhy that he’s “staying right here! [Because] it’s too high! [Japhy] said nothing and went on. Ray] saw him collapse and pant and get up and make his run again” (63).
Ray decides he has suffered enough and doesn’t want to continue up the mountain; whereas Japhy continues to ascend even when it’s clear that he is almost out of energy, hence his collapsing. Japhy is persistent and doesn’t quit until he has reached the top and even then he continues to climb. Soon after, Ray finds how he can suppress that suffering from climbing the mountain. As Japhy comes down the mountain, practically leaping, Ray finally realizes that “it’s impossible to fall off mountains” (64).
When Ray saw Japhy descending from the peak of the mountain, he has his realization and is able to suppress the suffering he felt earlier from climbing the mountain. The mountain is a symbolism for nirvana because reaching the top of the mountain would be mirrored as reaching nirvana. Thus, once you reach nirvana, nothing can take that freedom and happiness away from you because nothing can go wrong, hence the thought of it being impossible to fall of mountains. Ray, once again, suffers because all life is suffering. The topic of pleasure and sex constantly comes up in Ray’s mind.
Each time it arises in his thoughts, he puts “sex out of [his] mind. As long as the sun shined then blinked and shined again, [he] was satisfied. [Instead he] wrote a pretty poem addressed to all the people coming to the party” (142). Ray suffers from the thoughts of sex, but he suppresses it with the outdoors and writing poems. Ray has a difficult time with this suffering because he watches as Japhy gives into his suffering. Japhy receives joy out of it rather than achieving his suppression. However, Ray is able to suppress his troubled thoughts and focus on poetry.
Finally, Ray reaches enlightenment and is honored with his spiritual awakening. One morning, while wandering around Desolation Peak, he has a realization. Ray discovered that “there is no answer. [He] didn’t know anything any more, [he] didn’t care, and it didn’t matter, and suddenly [he] felt really free” (184). Ray finally reaches his nirvana where he no longer suffers. It’s as if he reaches a whole new world after he finds nirvana, leaving him feeling free as if he were on top of Matterhorn Mountain. He is truly at peace because there is no one to bother home, interrupt him, or for him to listen to.
His studying of Buddhist philosophy finally pays off. There are many complications and sufferings Ray goes through in order to follow the Buddhist philosophy of all life is suffering and suppression of suffering can be achieved. At last, with the help of Japhy, Ray is able to achieve the suppression of suffering because Japhy helps inspire and motivate him. When Japhy leaves, Ray sets out to Desolation Peak alone and he is able to find his nirvana. After overcoming all of his suffering, Ray’s suffering pays off when he has his spiritual awakening and is at peace.
Courtney from Study Moose
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