Free «The Influence of Religion on Jack Kerouac’s Works» Essay Sample

Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969, was an American poet and novelist, who is recognized for his spontaneous way of writing by covering diverse topics from Buddhism, Catholicism, promiscuity, jazz, travel, and drugs.  Jack Kerouac died in 1969 from internal bleeding caused by abuse of alcohol but his literary standing has continued to grow from publication of several of his unseen works. Jack Kerouac’s position in the literature world happened in the 1950s, when he published the work known as On the Road; conversely, his place as a Buddhist practitioner and writer was still to be reputable. Jack lived in the midst of two religions, namely Buddhism and Catholicism, and much of his entire life was greatly influenced by both religions. They even brought detrimental effects to his personal life and, moreover, extensive impact on his writing as a whole. Numerous aspects of Jack’s beliefs and life became the major influencing factors that led him to compose his writings the way he did. The aim of this paper is to tackle the influence of Buddhism and Catholicism on Jack Kerouac’s life and its effect on his work by focusing largely on three of his works: On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and The Book of Haikus. The paper will also examine the religious conflict within Kerouac and the extent it contributed to his emotional breakdown and descent into alcoholism later in his life.

Jack Kerouac at first lived a very wild and exciting life. His works On the Road and The Dharma Bums were to propel the man, who was seen to have changed America’s literature and pop-culture. He is considered a legend, especially as the king of Beat Generation authors. The “Beat” was a wandering and spontaneous way of life for some people during the post war America. Jack’s way of creating style of writing that combined all elements of common language, great writers, real people, with speed and the reality of life earned him tribute (Jack Kerouac)

Jack Kerouac actually was amongst the most prominent writers during the 1950s, whereby he inspired the confused and misguided youth of the post warfare period. He came onto the literature picture at a moment, when the globe was massively experiencing revolution and wanting to find out new stuff about a planet that appeared all too proverbial. Through his extensive writings, he provided booklovers with foretastes into nearly every facet of his outrageously fun, contentious and differing adventures. In relation to his famous writing, On the Road, people were brought in to the way of life of what came to be known eventually as the Beat Generation (Lurie). Kerouac’s spree of writing really took a twist, when around 1953, he started reading about Buddhism together with the Buddhist literature. Ultimately, he became so absorbed in Buddhism that he developed into a solid practitioner of the religious conviction he was analyzing about (Hipkiss).

Kerouac’s Introduction to Buddhism

Kerouac’s introduction to Buddhism transpired in the 1950s, and by mid 1950s, he was actually practicing Buddhism as well as studying key texts with the vision that he was meant to tutor the dharma and, therefore, convert millions of believers into Buddhism (Kerouac 1997). With an alteration in worldview, he started inscribing letters on the dharma to the associates like Allen Ginsberg, but eventually he realized that as an alternative to composing day after day letters he would instead compile a wholesome text entirely dedicated to Buddhism.

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The Dharma Bums is abook, which was done by Kerouac after acquiring the Buddhism religion that mainly explores his personal beliefs. Even though he was raised in a Catholic setting, he becomes exceedingly engrossed to Buddhism, thus this saw him become more and more influenced by the Buddha beliefs in his entire book. In the Dharma Bums, Kerouac focuses much on trying to explain the sensationreligious beliefs of Buddhism roots in him. The believes of compassion as well as the sense of space and had a great effect on the way of doing things of Kerouac and through such practices saw him even extent them further into the world literature as evident in his book of The Dharma Bums. Although much of the work seen in the book have much shadows from the Buddha religion, he goes on and enlightens some beliefs of Buddha, which he wasn’t ready to practice, for instance, like believing that there was no God, hence, also Christianity in this book is also evidently termed to be an influential facet. He is actually seen to adopt the ideas in both religions, which he liked most and combined them (Kerouac).

Kerouac was vastly influenced by both the Buddhist texts, as well as the committed North American Buddhists people, whom he came across while in his travels, plus Gary Snyder termed as ‘Japhy Ryder’ in the book. Through getting involved in Buddha religion, Kerouac actually started growing in and using new and completely unique approach of writing. Actually, he pioneered a stylistic revolution in literature, where he kept on changing the content and nature of his literacy writing. He abandoned the conventional practices of revision and editing, and devoted himself to completely a new technique, described as the practice of impulsive prose (Theado 155).

Kerouac’s Catholicism

Kerouac had been born in a catholic family and, in  fact, his Buddhism beliefs brought him much pressure as he saw himself as a loner, who was confused and stressed up with relation to adopting a new religion practice. Thus, with his extensive captivation by the Buddhist literature, he wrote his dharma book with quite an elaborate Catholic background. In the text, his stress on Christianity is noted, when he refers to Virgin Mary and where he also brings out relations concerning the catholic religion as an untimely look of a primordial culture (Lurie).

This whole book brings out extensive ideas on some religious arguments and theories, but yet again, it’s more on how the religion ought to make you believe, and it’s in actuality an attempt to lay ecstasy and revelations down in writing.  For instance, there is a panorama, whereby Kerouac and Japhy ascend nearly to the summit of Matterhorn. Thereafter, both of them, instead of cautiously hiking down, begin jumping downhill the region in marvelous leaps, since Kerouac comprehended that the Buddhist philosophy advocated that one cannot actually make a falling from a mountain and he saw it as true. 

He shows how Buddha religion had gotten into him to the point of believing such like teachings really, who doesn’t know that the ideology is completely wrong since how can you not fall off a cliff or a mountain top and come rumbling down either to your death or outrageous injuries. This sort of religion is seen to cloud in serene judgment and way of thinking to even a great extent if in fact a sober person can contemplate throwing himself/herself off a mountain cliff. He goes further and reveals that after the fall he felt quite successful and impressed, which shows to the level of ecstasy he achieved from the incident instead of realizing that he was gambling with his own life. Throughout the book, Kerouac is seen to be extremely influenced and in sighted by the Buddha beliefs, which in essence form his way of living.

Kerouac is much seen to apply the perception of subjective comparative circumstances to what materializes to be the Catholicism idea with regard to the original sin, and goes on to term it as his original ignorance. Consequently, whilst his decisive contemplations stayed in the dominion of Buddhism, particularly, Mahayana philosophy, he introduces a lot of his Catholic upbringing teachings into sections regarded with Buddhism. Kerouac’s visualization with regard to the golden eternity, as well as his Buddhist writing, termed as Dharma Bums are seen to be influenced by several factors, counting Mahayana Buddhism. Although the Dharma Bums book appears to be a modification of primary sources, with re-explanation of theories, its substance goes past what is essentially written. The book reveals a lot on the author, together with personal struggles, practice, and, furthers extensively on the relation and influence that he had and seemingly continues to have on practitioners and to the overall Western Buddhism (Tonkinson).

There was quite a remarkable reason or rather instrumental phenomenon, which drove Kerouac to the life of Buddhism. One of the vivid instruments that influenced him was the Buddhist bible, where he strongly made links with the contents and teachings of the bible to the extent of applying them in his literature work. The author of the bible Dwight Goddard provided many Westerners with the chance to familiarize themselves with the teachings and beliefs of Buddha, which by then were termed as a religion of the Easterners. Thereafter, Kerouac was so much taken by the new religious texts from the bible that he even memorized various excerpts from it, thus, revealing quite a big fascination with the Buddha bible (Kerouac).


Although being best known for his other works like in poetry, Jack Kerouac was also an accomplished poet, especially, written during the Beat movement. According to him, he wanted to be a jazz poet blowing blues on a jazz afternoon. Most of his poems have an uninhibited prose following his style of free-flowing with elements of jazz and Buddhism. Some of his jazz music can be seen from the “Mexico City Blues” with the effect of bebop genre.

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On the Road

There are numerous attitudes formed and revealed by the Americans during the age of the post World War II, but within jack Kerouac’s book called On the Road had the most significant and outstanding standouts, which revolved around being action oriented, as well as carefree. This trail of deliberation was different to that of those American citizens from before, who believed in a livelihood consisting of stability and conservatism. Loads of things occurred towards the closing stages of World War II, which included the bombing of Japan and also a mounting mistrust of the USSR. These proceedings were amongst those that made the citizens of America thoughts that their life possibly could end at whichever point in moment and these thoughts led them adopt an action oriented and carefree lifestyles, with the arguments that after all, if actually one had just a few days remaining in their existence, couldn’t it make that great deal to have pleasure in those left moments on earth and anyway not be bothered with regard to the future? On the Road covers extensively these humanity ideas, and brings out the picture of the situation together with the citizens in America in era instantaneously subsequent to the World War II; how populace lived, and how drastically people changed (“Reading Guides - On the Road”).

Having the 2nd World War at the rear, the Americans at the moment had diverse worries aggravation at their lives. For once, even if it was roughly a decade past after the war, thoughts and memories of the grand depression yet remained in the minds of numerous American people. Scared of economic inflation and considering as among one of the core reasons that the U.S. was able to pull through such a stern blow to the economy, which involved manufacturing materials and weapons for the battle, it still remained a distress that with the ending of the war the economy might once again collapse. The emergence of new age moreover caused much concern, such as the growth of science and inventions left majority of Americans scared for their safety. Consequently, more irrational thoughts like Satanism, aliens, and UFOs developed increasing the fear of the citizens (Birkerts 74).

In addition, the warring events completely changed the mindsets of the people, where millions of American men were termed as served in the war and this meant that once the war was over, they brought in all the memories and stories concerning the war into the nation, and all these memories extremely altered the way men acted and thought. Therefore, with such mindsets and experiences completely changed people’s idea of life and that’s why they turned into living for today as they had the perception that life could end at anytime.

This phenomenon is evidently seen throughout the book, where the author depicts people living for the moment, where Deans and Sal crisscross the countryside living dangerously in alcohol and extreme immorality, as they termed as a lively, carefree, and adventurous personality with two different approaches to life. The theme of religion, even though Kerouac had a strong catholic foundation, is seen not to influence anyone probably towards straightening up their life or even living at least a moral life according to the teachings. The war really was the major influential thing to all Americans as it brought in a new perspective towards the issue of living (“Reading Guides - On the Road”).

The character Sal is seen to represent the majority of the American people, whereby through the experiences emanating from postwar scares, wartime memories and deaths, as well as prewar depressions drove majority of citizens into acquiring new perspectives about living and life in general. On the other hand, the character Dean illustrates the individuality that’s admired by quite a huge number of the American people, which showed those, who don’t mind being tied down to responsibilities, families, and even jobs. These capture those people, who desire to exist as if there were no tomorrow, but still they are unable to dwell on it. Sal is set a chance to split free from that suppression upon his separation, and thereafter he closes up his preceding inhibitions and instead takes to the globe a liberated man to subsist that wanted after action filled and carefree life. This indicates the life lived by Kerouac together with his friends was full of trouble, action, and adventure. Consequently, Dean took up a fun life, however, with that life of irresponsibility eventually comes to consequences. Troubles caused a gap amid him and his extensive family. The consequences led to absolute criminal and stupid acts, which included infuriating family to the extent of being endangered with a gun or rather stealing cars. This destructive path of behavior led to a regrettable situation of stealing an automobile, which forced them escape from the city (Swartz 20-21).

The book On the Road is packed with amusement and trouble, adventures and stories, every one of which directs people to the fundamental principles of how the populace opts to live their lives. The character Dean embraces and characterizes the entire needs and wants of the Americans, who existed in fright of all the happenings and incidents of warfare, the trepidation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima event on ever happening on the American soil, to Satanists or aliens. He takes on the carefree life but eventually, Sal comes to the realization that Dean really was self-centered even though he had all excitements and quirks, thus, he cared for no one at all.  It’s interesting how this turned out for Sal, who notices that there is actually more for life than merely pleasing oneself but these expressions aren’t either subject to religion but personal reflections.

On contrary to the above scenarios of the On the Road book by Kerouac, there is another angle brought out by the author, which shows to some extent the influence of religion on him, thus, coming up with such a literature work. He brings out the beat generation who had only one ideology that was life. Sal together with Dean was all crazy youth, who were extremely excited about life. They are seen racing all over America, while testing on the limits with respect to the American dream. They take on urban jungles, sleepy small suburbs, rural wilderness, and endless deserts only accessed through road, and all these reveal opening the generation's inner need and desire to break its captivity, get out, and uncover freedom, enlightened from any advanced ideology, notion, or belief. The extreme anxiety and the need of fulfillment drove these youths to feel that the merely thing to accomplish was set off, in search of their personal liberty, and finding pleasure in jazz, drugs, and sex (Birkerts 75).

Religion, especially, is seen to influence the mindsets of these discoverers as Sal is noticed to refer to life as being holy and also terming every moment of it as precious. This sees them carryout everything concurrently, while, at the same time, subconsciously the fear of death followed them across America, through a visionary spirit looming with them all through the desert of life (Atkinson 9).

The beat generation was much enlightened and, particularly, wise since their biggest fear was death coming soon as it’s seen with the human beings, where they are all are afraid of death coming anytime before even accomplishing their plans. Despite the fact that the gang was all afraid that death was looming all over, and probably, overtake them before Heaven, thus, they undertook all that was in their power with the aim of experiencing as a good deal of Heaven as they may perhaps capture, while still living. The author through his religious background knows that material wealth stands no ground, when it comes to the heavenly way of living and thus, he is seen reflecting the same in the lives of the two youths, were they argued out that there was no need of conforming with the famous American dream, which basically advocated for materialism (“Reading Guides - On the Road”).

Basically, in line with the catholic teachings and beliefs, it’s this rationale that Kerouac presented the beat generation as a whole lot of a holy generation since it was set free from the danger of ideology, materialism, and ambition, and it was in a continuous search for various greater truths that life would possibly teach them. He goes further and personifies certain aspects of the Christian beliefs, where, for instance, describes Ed as an archangel of a man, whereas Dean was the epitome of a sacred con-man. In fact, by the ending of the narrative, Dean attains so high rank of holiness that he couldn't converse any more (Atkinson 73).

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This book is basically a narrative of experience, where it puts in the picture tales of insanity played out by the entire kinds of bizarre characters, in settings as miscellaneous as a Mexican whore dwelling, a New York jazz club, and a Virginia village diner. In essence, what really connects all these adventures is the youths’ rejection to fail out on life, as well as their dire fortitude to get the nearly all out of the moment. Kerouac reveals how religion could be used to build up literature throughout the book and his well conversant ability is extensively noted (Swartz 63).

The mainly striking feature of On the Road is Kerouac's spontaneous technique of writing, which absolutely equals the instinctual outlook of the beats generation. Kerouac grimaces upon expression, while believing that the initial words that jump to mind of an individual are the accurate words to express the experience. He goes further to mention that the purity of the occurrence is the most significant thing, therefore, application of carefully thinking results in some way a contrived and an impure outcome. This style conveys feelings and has its roots on the religious beliefs (Atkinson 70).

Book of Haiku

The Haiku was actually a form of poem writing invented and developed in Japan close to over hundreds years, which turned to be a comprehensive poem in consisting of seventeen syllables but Kerouac after learning and being influenced by the Buddhism religion throughout his literature writing came up with new forms of Haiku, whereby he rejuvenated the whole lot of 17 syllables and compacted them into a pack of a whole revelation of life through three petite lines. Thus, by arguing that a Western form of Haiku needs not distress itself with the 17 syllables because the Western languages couldn’t quite adapt themselves to the extensive fluid syllabic found in the Japanese dialect. Therefore, he saw it fit to shorten the Haiku into three short lines since in the western format the Haiku basically said a lot within those 3 short lines (Ungar).

Actually, by Kerouac venturing into Haiku it showed how he really appreciated and comprehended finely the culture of Haiku and basically the whole idea of Buddhism. He seemed to have been really born with a number of the mind-set common to a Haiku poet. Even though he was not an academician, he read expansively in Buddhist literature together with the customs and beliefs that had been deciphered into French, took plentiful notes, and undertook to really put what he discovered into practice. To him, the mainly significant principle of Buddhism culture was ‘Life is a suffering’. He, therefore, strove to accomplish a peaceful reception of that suffering. If he didn’t succeed, we are able to see nonetheless in his endeavors of writing Haiku an intense compassion to the weak through his deep sympathy for the unfortunate, growing things, animals, as well as to the children. Several of his haiku writings reveal quite a high quality of sadness and tenderness mixed with humor and earthiness (Ungar).

Kerouac’s Impact

From the manipulate ways of Goddard on Kerouac followed the impact and influence of Kerouac on numerous generations of populace in the West. The issue remains whether by decoding of Buddhism by Kerouac actually generated a new kind of Buddhism in the U.S. There was mainly categorically an Americanization of specific aspects of Buddhism that took place. Kerouac was highly instrumental in the process of Americanizing Buddhism as well as establishing a civilization that flourished in the region of the Zen centers in North America

Buddhism to a large extend played a key role in the writing aspect of Kerouac, where its beliefs and teachings are seen to influence his way of thinking, doing things and what facilitated in establishing the religion of Buddhism in North America was the style, in which he correlated Buddhism to his literature readers. His approach was personal and honest, relating his frustrations and struggles with his day-by-day practice. It happened to possible for nascent Buddhists to recognize with somebody in the similar situation. Kerouac endured through sitting reflection with the hurting of phlebitis (Kerouac 188). Due to the pain he underwent and the comprehension that most Westerners couldn’t sit in the complete lotus pose, he clarified his technique of Western Buddhist reflection in bums.

Kerouac’s realistic efforts and descriptions in recognizing the needs of Americans were quite of help in his Americanizing of the culture of Buddhism. He was quite aware of the complexity of practicing customary Buddhism in America, as he started to draw awareness to himself. In a sense he enjoyed the attention he was receiving, however, he also sought after being happy and his recognition seemed to bring out turmoil in his life. This havoc in his life was also seen to emanate from his divergent religions as, for instance, the Catholicism had its specific teachings and beliefs, whereas the Buddhism had quite a different set of teachings, thus, it was really hard to practice both doctrines at once (Kerouac).

Realizing this, Kerouac ventured in search of a recluse lifestyle with ascetic undercurrents. He was so much disillusioned with Buddhism that he even wasted to bring out new concepts together with teaching the religion to all the Americans. He went further in his mission of becoming a Buddha teacher to even strategize on the approaches to take in teaching the people since the majority of them were devoted to their Christian faith.

Kerouac as a tutor of Buddhism was conscious of the amendments needed and the customs, in which his students, who were the Christian Americans, would comprehend the dharma. Therefore, his approach towards teaching Buddhism to the American people through substituting the Buddhist expressions to fit the people usually consent to the thought that his teachings could actually be classified as a new American structure of Buddhism. This is given support by the claims that Kerouac was in the road of pursuing the life of a Haiku and thus, made recommendations to others to tag along the similar lifestyle of Buddhism. He was somehow short-lived as he couldn’t really endure the stern monastic way of living of the Buddha religion. The formation of dharma and meditation centers in America is far from the renowned monastic institutions of found in the East and Far East countries, where Buddhism actually emanated from. Hence, one wonders whether these American Buddhist centers were in some way part of Kerouac’s influence or doing (Theado 154).

Although he succumbed to sudden death but what proceeded was the extensive formation of the preponderance of dharma centers all over the United States, which raised the issue that it’s without uncertainty that Kerouac facilitated greatly in bringing Buddhism into the realization of many Americans in the north. The golden eternity together with the whole aspects of teaching the American people about the ways of Buddha really brought in a large speck of disillusionment to him, which actually saw him take to the streets and journeys with the aim of spreading the religion in the whole northern America.

Kerouac was actually under a lot of religious conflicts, which emanated from his incorporation of two religions, which had quite diverse beliefs and customs but above all he was the creation of a spiritually Catholic, industrious, lower middle level French-Canadian family. He had generally an unhappy life. He remained reliant on his mother throughout his life: where his 3 marriages were mostly unsuccessful and short-lived. He on no account made money and his close friends were hardly any and distant between. Frequently confused, superficially aimless, he undertook a sequence of cross-country expeditions by riding the greyhound buses, hopping freight trains, driving, and hitchhiking. He not at all seemed to discover the contentment he was searching for on the other side of the nation; nevertheless, there was momentary solace in movement itself. His writing works are semi-fictionalized descriptions of his running, together with the running of his acquaintances.

He appeared to have used up much of his existence in fantasizing his own boldness. Firstly, he wanted to become a great athlete; however, an injury blemished his academy football vocation thus dropped out to connect the armed forces. Consequently, his bug dreams of fitting a great combatant ended unexpectedly, when he was incapable of coping with the rigid regulation of the army and thereafter was discharged. Subsequently, the dream turned into becoming a great writer: though he may have made it in writing some of the great American books of the 1950s, his recognition of accomplishment came in too late. After nearly all of his literature writings he was yet undiscovered, still having problem finding a publisher, as well as not making ends congregate. It was then during this complicated time in his existence that he revealed Buddhism, and thereafter, followed his last grand fantasy of becoming a Dharma Bum.

Therefore, his set of misfortunes and failures could be seen to have greatly affected his life and made him take up a life of fantasies. The Buddha ideology actually drove him far way from living a reality life, where, for instance, he took into solitary life with the hopes of finding wisdom and tranquility alone with natural world. All this was religious driven but instead of taking him to the real life, he further became isolated in terms of the society, lonely, and bored rather than progressive.


Jack Kerouac’s position in the literature world happened in the 1950s, when he published the work known as On the Road; conversely, his place as a Buddhist practitioner and writer was still to be reputable. Jack lived in the midst of two religions, namely Buddhism and Catholicism, and much of his entire life was greatly influenced by both religions. Kerouac’s Buddhism was principally an attempt to move toward peace with his life as described through his Haiku, which expressed his attempts to go beyond it. However, all these attempts were actually not enough, thus, the feel of dejection and failure made him turn more and more to alcohol consumption. This new turn of things drove him further into drinking of delirium tremens and binge, and from that he actually got no joy from them. Writing little, taking onto heavy drinking, and being cut off from his aged friends, all those collectively drove him to his premature death.

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