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Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha Paperback – October 27, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116011
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 4.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1958, Kerouac published his groundbreaking novel The Dharma Bums, which met with great acclaim and has since been heralded as the opening salvo of an indigenous American Buddhism. This fall, Viking is repackaging that novel in a 50th-anniversary edition while also releasing Kerouac's unsung and long-forgotten tale of the Buddha's life, published in book form for the first time. The titular theme of "wake up" is rehearsed throughout Kerouac's story of Prince Siddartha Gotama, who left an indolent but meaningless life of riches to embrace asceticism and enlightenment. Drawing on multiple sutras and accounts of the Buddha's life, Kerouac focuses on Gotama's renunciation of worldly things by repeating that trope with several other wealthy characters who forsake riches in favor of nirvana. The prose is as meandering as it is beautiful, with Kerouac's Buddha spouting memorable sayings about sensation, illusion, emptiness and suffering. If there is an almost evangelistic zeal to this loose collection of axioms and Buddhist conversion stories, Kerouac at least states that openly: "The purpose is to convert," he explains at the outset.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"[Wake Up] contributes significantly to the fascinating picture of Kerouac's spirituality."
-Jonah Raskin, The Beat Review


More About the Author

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Moreover, the book lacks a coherent narrative, which is really a problem for biography.
Daniel Orr
Kerouac describes the purpose of his book at the outset: "I have designed this to be a handbook of the ancient Law. The purpose is to convert."
Robin Friedman
Interestingly, I did not find this book in the Kerouac section in a big bookstore...they had it shelved in the Buddhism section!
Kenneth M. Goodman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Scott H. Strickland on October 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the first Jack Kerouac book that I have ever read, so I am not a follower of his. However, I have read many books on Buddhism, and this is one of the best. It covers the story of Buddha's life and his enlightened teachings in concise, but rich language, much of which is attributed to direct quotes from the Buddha. So even though this book is from a "famous" writer, its value is the remarkable story of the Buddha and his beliefs, and the author's writing skill comes through, but not the writer's beliefs, which aids the clarity of the presentation.

A bonus here is the long introduction (22 pages) by noted American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman. His writing is almost "a book within a book" and points out some key passages in the text, that then become more meaningful when you see them in the body of the book.

This book will be a treasure to any spiritual seeker.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the early 1950s, Jack Kerouac (1922 -- 1969)became fascinated with Buddhism. In 1955, he wrote this short, highly personalized biography of the Buddha, "Wake Up". The biography was serialized in 1993 in the Buddhist magazine "Tricycle" but it has never before appeared in book form. The book was published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kerouac's most overtly Buddhist novel, "The Dharma Bums" which has also appeared in a new commemorative edition this year.

"Wake up" is a small gem. The writing is a passionate mixture of Kerouac and Buddhist texts. The book shows fervor and commitment and explains what Kerouac found valuable in Buddhism. The Buddha is treated as almost an Asian equivalent of Jesus. Kerouac never left the Catholicism in which he was raised. He was among the first of a long generation of Americans that have tried to combine the insights of the Buddha with a western religion.

For an American in the 1950s Kerouac had read widely if unsystematically in Buddhism. Thus this biography draws on texts from different Buddhist traditions which are not fully consistent with each other. In much of the book, Kerouac drew on a book called "The Buddhist Bible" in which an earlier American writer, Dwight Goddard, who likewise was attracted to both Buddhism and Christianity, translated some basic Buddhist texts. Kerouac had great problems with alcohol, drugs, and sex througout his life. As often is the case, the writer was wiser than the man. "Wake up" evidences an excellent lay understanding of the Buddhism which so inspired Kerouac. While this book is introductory, informal and nonscholarly, Kerouac had a sympathetic grasp of his subject.

Kerouac describes the purpose of his book at the outset: "I have designed this to be a handbook of the ancient Law.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth M. Goodman on October 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
ANOTHER "new" Kerouac book...denied publication until now...originally penned in the mid 1950's. Amazing. Make no mistake, this book is great great great and; as a source of enlightenment, unsurpassed. It's every bit as enlightening as his other Buddhist book, "Some of the Dharma," every bit as enlightening as selelcted poems from Mexico City Blues and many other poetry books as well. Kerouac's poetic abilities shine clear & bright as his special talent for expressing ecstatic dharma. Interestingly, I did not find this book in the Kerouac section in a big bookstore...they had it shelved in the Buddhism section! Just as well, I guess. This is no "minor" Kerouac book like, say, Pic or Satori in Paris. It is a treasure of meditative ecstasy. Jack Kerouac was the greatest writer who ever lived.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Miz Ellen VINE VOICE on August 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many passages of this short book are beautiful, striking and poetic. Kerouac was sincerely impressed and inspired by the Buddha and WAKE UP was his meditation on the life and example of Buddha. For that alone, I would call this an important book.

For someone seeking information, it falls woefully short. Kerouac has written a poetic version of Buddha stitched together from various uncited sutras. There is a long philosophical discussion in the middle with Buddha instructing his disciple Ananda which seems murky as if Kerouac was copying from a translation he didn't completely understand. Also, Kerouac's subsequent career and life showed that he was not practicing Buddhism in a practical sense. His assertions about what he perceived Buddhism to be should be taken with a grain of salt.

After reading several scholarly biographies of the Buddha, the poetic stream of consciousness style that Kerouac adopted was very refreshing. One needs to read this book when in the mood for a mystical turn of mind and enjoy the poetic gems that swim to the surface. On the negative side, stream-of-consciousness does not lead to greater coherence when discussing obtruse philosophical points.
For a better explication of the philosophy, I'd recommend THE BUDDHA SAID by Osho.

Ultimately, this book may be interesting and valuable for people who are interested in a better understanding of Kerouac, and as a landmark point in the development of American Buddhism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
My last Amazon post reviewed "The Dharma Bums," so I pair this 1955-penned, 2008-published meditation. It collates a somewhat stilted, often moving, distilled version filtered through Kerouac's own practice of Buddhist "Law," as he puts it, or truth-teaching. It's a serious, intense series of reflections, not of the author himself, but as a transparent medium transmitting the Buddha and his core dharma 2,500 years later. It certainly mirrors the author's own awareness, at the height of his immersion; Japhy in "DB" warns that "Ray" will revert to his Catholicism on his drunken deathbed. Who's to say that his childhood faith is not incompatible with his love of Buddhism?

Robert Thurman thinks the two outlooks can be reconciled. A pioneering Western-born exponent of Tibetan Buddhism, he's a child of the Beat generation. His thoughtful introduction argues that we need not regard Jack as macho-bullish as Gary Snyder-"Japhy Ryder" in an uncompromising Zen attitude; we also need not assume Kerouac, comfortable with both Jesus and the Buddha, rejected his Christianity in the way Thurman did, at 17, when reading "Dharma Bums," renouncing Protestantism, and running away from Phillips Exeter Academy! He proposes that Kerouac found himself able, as a Catholic, to relate to the rich panoply of Tibetan or Mahayana forms of Buddhism more easily than the austerities of Zen. Thurman excerpts a lot of key passages, but as a previous reviewer states, these alert us to the importance and eloquence of these learned citations when they appear in the text.
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