- Feb 2018
In a way the Beat Generation is a gathering together of all the available mod- els and myths of freedom in America that had existed before, namely: Whit- man, John Muir, Thoreau, and the American bum. We put them together and opened them out again, and it becomes like a literary motif, and then we added some Buddhism to it. - Gary Snyde
This is a good quote and raises two ideas:
- Gary Snyder is a very interesting member of the Beat Generation when considering Beat Spirituality because in his explicit involvement in Buddhist practice. His depiction in Kerouac's The Dharma Bums is also revealing of his character and significance in the movement.
- Buddhism mixes, in the Beat Generation, with ideas of freedom (one of the all-times American values). As I want to consider how the Beats reacted to the American values of mid-century society, it is interesting to consider how they personally understood the ideal of freedom. Buddhism is one of the ways in which they re-invented it and connects to freedom from the ego, or the self. Other writers, for instance William Burroughs, considered freedom in more institutional/political ways (see his book Naked Lunch).
Despite the Beats' use of B
Why, though? Kerouac was a lifelong scholar of Buddhism, and so were other Beats like Ginsberg and Snyder. Indeed, Gary Snyder officially became a Buddhist and a disciple of Miura, and Ginsberg had a student-teacher relationship (together with a friendship) with the known Buddhist master Trungpa Rinpoche. This should be enough to consider them, at least at some points in their life, as Buddhists.