Reading the paper edition of the Sunday New York Times is a rewarding ritual. Like the comfort of a classic book or poem that gives the allusion of an unexperienced life unfolding even though you know the ending, a structured safe zone is created. People, places, events and ideas flow from the pages to nourish the mind and promote thought.
The “Cultured Traveler” section visited the Boulder, CO homes of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and Beat Generation poet/writer Allen Ginsberg. The article quickly sent thoughts to the battle of American Zen in 1958 between Jack Kerouac and Alan Watts.
Watts (Square Zen) writes of Kerouac (Beat Zen) as lacking the discipline needed to attain enlightenment (“Satori“) through a comparison of rival 17th Century Rinzai Zen Masters Hakuin and Bankei. Kerouac, who died of cirrhosis after a lifetime of heavy drinking, wrote “We were never really born“, echoing Bankei’s realization of “Unborn” after a near-death experience.
Square Zen requires “years of meditation-practice under strict supervision”, quite the opposite of the “undisciplined whimsy” of Beat Zen. The Beat Generation/Beatniks gradually vaporized into the 1960’s Hippie Culture, providing future generations a literary raison d’etre for a structured existence.