Culture, Religion

Dharma bums on the Lucky Star

So I’m waiting for the Lucky Star bus at South Station to get to New York City for Yom Kippur (I just love Hadar‘s davenning for YK), and this extremely tall dude with blond dreads and two Big Brown Bags of stuff takes a seat next to me. We start talking; he’s been in Boston visiting a friend. He mentions he’s a healer.
“Wait a minute,” I say; somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I conjure a Jewschool post from December. The vivid image of him on the street in New York City, energy healing passersby, was hard to forget. (You should watch the video if you haven’t yet.) “Do you have like a YouTube video?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“I’ve seen it.”
Te’ De Van tells me how he went to U Michigan for philosophy and now lives by choice on the streets of New York, travels the country by bus or ride, visiting, healing, freestyling. We talk about energy and spirirtual healing, the Chi Gong master he learned with, his Jewish roots, Ram Dass, philosophy. I’ve just finished Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, and sitting there, I think to myself, here is a real dharma bum. And, some things do not change. The impulse to separate from material culture, to find an existence below the radar of marketing, individualism, consumerism, to forge an existence based on generosity, good will, and relationship has always walked beside our Western culture, whether in the 50s or today. Reading Kerouac, I recognized the lifestyle, the people, the impulse–from an intimate space of knowing, not by stretching to create analogous situations I could relate to.
“The secret,” Te’ De Van says, “is to not care how you end up. If you don’t care how you end up, no one can harm you.”
I know a lot of people, perhaps myself included, who practice Vipassina, talk kabbalah and hitbodedut and Buddhism, follow festivals, have opening heart experiences, wander in and out of cities and countries, aim for freedom. But few of us, I think, are really unincumbered with the material objects of our culture. (When I say material, I do not mean we should shun experiences of this world for transcendent ones of a “higher,” because spiritually I am in this world and awareness and gratitude for it, but rather it’s the object-owning-consuming that’s the problem.) I have my nesting impulse, the one that collects and owns, the one that needs stability and my own stuff, the one that likes costly clothing and electronic conveniences. And then I have an impulse to drop all my objects, my succcess-based goals, and follow the path the universe or God lays out for me moment to moment–strengthened when I’m wandering through Jerusalem’s streets or when I meet people like Te’ De Van.

6 thoughts on “Dharma bums on the Lucky Star

  1. Lovely piece of writing, escape from the world may not be the way to find God, when God is here, in the midst of materialism, in the depths of our self inflicted mellow dramas, in the very me that says my, in the correct and the incorrect, in exile and in redemption. God, as the Hasidic Rebbe says is found wherever you let God in.

  2. iiiiiiii dunno.
    did you ever read michael harrington’s “the other america?”
    he has some pretty harsh things to say about people who are poor by choice (as anyone who did a BA in philosophy at umich clearly is). granted, he gives short shrift to the possible religious dimensions of this. but…
    “and yet, even though the intellectual poor share the tenements, the diets, the jobs of the born poor, they do not really enter into the culture of poverty. they have chosen a way of life instead of being victimized by it. they are passing through, either moving back toward the larger society or achieving a place in literature or the arts. they do not participate in the atmosphere of defeatism and pessimism that permeates the lives of the truly poor.”
    harrington acknowledges that these folks are “fleeing a spiritual poverty in the affluent society,” but ultimately renders this verdict: “they reject the working world because it does not give them time. they spend their entire life making time, until that is all there is, and still they do not produce. at best, they return sheepishly to the conventional world from whence they came; at worse, they simply vegetate.”

  3. Really interesting quotation, Sam! I was thinking more about this this past weekend, that some are privileged to be able to wander because they know they have a safety net in case of emergency (whether it be family with money to support them, skills, savings, etc).
    Even Kerouac’s character in Dharma Bums spends the winter at his mother’s house when he doesn’t know where else to go.

  4. This makes me think of Roshi Bernie Glassman’s “street retreats” (which I’m about to go on tomorrow). He uses them as tools to help people break out of their tendencies to cling to ideas of self and other, and to “bear witness” to the oneness of life. (Check out his book, “Bearing Witness” for awesome material on his street and Auschwitz retreats, as well as his social action work in Yonkers.)
    But one thing Bernie emphasizes is that when you do a street retreat, you’re not homeless, nor are you pretending to be. You can go on the streets for spiritual purposes, but can you really be homeless? And if so, what’s the point?

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