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I found this article at "One City" blog and thought its worth sharing it here too. Enjoy.
Punk Rock Milarepa
By Kyle Thomas Smith
Hello, babies. I was in Barnes & Noble today and, once again, saw Noah’s second book, Against the Stream. It came out over a year ago and I have yet to read it. I’m way behind on my reading list. But, to assuage my conscience, I’ll post an article that I published on him in the September 2004 edition of CLAMOR magazine. It was right before he started gigging at Lila Yoga when he was still living in New York. If it weren’t for him, I would have never ended up finding the ID Project. Merry Christmas to all.
Punk Rock Milarepa
By Kyle Thomas Smith
Milarepa (1052-1136) was a Buddhist saint, who composed a repertoire of songs that are said to contain perfect instruction in the Dharma, or, the teachings of the Buddha. Before this, he had been a black magician and mass murderer. By and by, Milarepa’s transgressions began to weigh more heavily on his conscience than the roof he’d once sent crashing down on his uncle’s wedding party. Convinced he would perish a thousand deaths in hell, Milarepa sought out Buddhist master Marpa for purification.
Marpa would command Milarepa to shoulder boulders, one by one, from the lowest valleys of Tibet, and then erect towers to pierce the sky. Then, just as Milarepa would be setting the very last stone in place at the pinnacle, Marpa would order him to tear the whole tower down and put the boulders right back where he found them. This went on year after year until the once imperious Milarepa was ground lower than the dust beneath his master’s feet. At that point, Marpa deemed Milarepa absolved and fit to receive the Dharma. Milarepa became its most assiduous student and Tibet’s most beloved teacher, continuing the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, also called “the mishap lineage” since all of its patriarchs, including Marpa, had ill-starred pasts.
Even though Noah Levine practices in the Theravadan and not the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, he might just be the Gen X answer to Milarepa.
Browsing the Buddhism section of The Open Center’s bookstore in Soho, I was arrested by a cover like no other. Incense smoke curls up against a pitch-black background. In full relief are two heavily tattooed hands in prayer position, appendages to two heavily tattooed forearms, one of which is wrapped in Dharma beads. On the edges of the reverent-irreverent hands, needle-etched in India ink, is the book’s reverent-irreverent title, Dharma Punx by Noah Levine.
“Noah Levine?,” I asked the guy at the cash register, “Any relation to Stephen Levine?” For years, I had been reading Stephen Levine’s books on death, love, healing, and meditation via eastern pathways. “That’s his son,” he answered, “He lectured here recently.” I looked at the author’s bio on the back cover: “Levine lives in New York City.” I put my last $15 on the counter, bought the book, and started reading it on the subway back to Brooklyn. I couldn’t put it down the whole night.
Over the last decade or so, a wealth of great books has prescribed ancient meditation practices for the anxieties of modern life, but I’ve often wondered how many of them could cut any ice with the gutter punks, dead-end kids, and tortured artists I’d known. How could concepts of compassion, mindfulness, and transformation possibly penetrate the minds of those hell-bent for nihilism and self-destruction? I never would have guessed that the answer would be coming from Stephen Levine’s own son.
Many of the chapter titles that divide Levine’s journey from Gen X punk to Buddhist teacher herald punk and proto-punk anthems: “Suicide Solution” (Black Sabbath), “Fuck Authority” (universal), “Teenage Wasteland” (The Who), “Who Killed Bambi?” (Sex Pistols), and “Die, Die, My Darling” (Misfits). Levine’s no-bullshit, Hemingway-meets-Eminem narration is shot through with depictions of juvenile delinquency that make the movie Thirteen look like Full House. What does any of that have to do with Buddhism? Somehow, before I even cleared page one, I sensed the answer would be, “Everything.”
The book opens with Levine in a jail cell at 17, going cold turkey off smack and crack after being hauled in for larceny after multiple convictions: “I traded in my mohawk, Doc Martens and leather jacket for a fucking crack pipe.” A la James Dean and Sid Vicious, “Live Fast, Die Young,” was his crew’s credo: “Drowning our teen angst with drugs, sex and violence had, in the end, made me lose my punk rock ideals in what became nothing more than the pursuit of oblivion.” In fact, Levine gives a detailed account of how, at age ten, the year he discovered Sex Pistols, he envisioned only two escape routes from the ravages of his broken home (he lived with his chemically dependent mother, not his spiritual teacher father): suicide or drugs. He chose drugs, but always kept suicide in his back pocket. That jail cell was Levine’s proverbial rock bottom. Now his only two escape routes were “clean up or die.”
That night, Levine set about the most spectacular clean-up job since St. Francis of Assisi by heeding his father’s advice over the prison phone, “Attempt to stay with the sensations of each breath through counting each inhalation and exhalation.” At first, his response was, “How’s this hippy shit going to help me now?” Having nothing to lose, he sat still, tried it and found that it did help - a little. Then, he did it some more, and then some more. Little did he know, this simple instruction would be his doorway into a whole new life, one he’d actually want.
Zen writer Natalie Goldberg, who was once actually Levine’s schoolteacher, counsels, “Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” Levine’s young life, 33, is certainly a testament to this. Dharma Punx chronicles how Levine’s love of meditation and the Buddha’s teachings took him through 12-Step recovery, on a pilgrimage to monasteries in Asia, to college and grad school for a masters in counseling psychology, and ultimately back to juvenile halls and prisons in the United States, this time as a counselor and meditation teacher. His love of punk rock never diminished either. If anything, his book and his lectures have given Buddhism a whole new audience: punk rockers and activists, seeking to overhaul a truly corrupt system in truly effective ways.
Once I finished Dharma Punx, I decided it was time to meet Noah Levine. Minutes after I contacted him on his website (www.dharmapunx.com), he called and graciously accepted my invitation for a Clamor interview at Le Gamin, my writing haunt in the East Village. Stocky with a shaved head and full-body tattoos, he isn’t the kind you’d want to run into in a dark alley. Ever since some skinheads had a gay-bashing boot party on my stomach when I was fifteen, I’ve been phobic of anything even remotely resembling them. With Levine, though, I was totally at ease. Not only had I read his book, I had also attended his lecture the week before at Barnes and Noble in Union Square, where he displayed the cadence and countenance of a kind teacher, schooled by the full spectrum of experience. He was no different at Le Gamin, where we talked for hours about the punk movement, Bush’s rape of Iraq, Buddhism, and social activism.
KTS: You talked about how you still encounter anarchists and activists who are resistant to anything spiritual because it smacks of hierarchy and authoritarianism. But don’t you think that might sometimes just be a smokescreen for a larger stumbling block? A genuine Buddhist practice requires a measure of commitment and focus and introspection that our ready-to-wear, MTV generation was never taught to have. So, could this knee-jerk, anti-authoritarian response just be a cover-up for a deeper and more pervasive fear of commitment?
NL: I think so. But there’s a healthy distrust of authority. We can look at history. Our generation can look at the hippies. They seemed to have these high ideals and they sold out. We can look at just about any generation and say, “Nobody seems to be following through with anything.” And certainly we can look at the power dynamics and structures, not only in the family - not only in the human, American, western, patriarchal family – and say, “These parents don’t seem to be doing that great of a job with their authority.” We can look at the schools, at police authority, the government. So, distrusting authority is a pretty healthy response to the truism that “power corrupts.” We see it over and over again, especially in spiritual and religious communities.
KTS: And it’s obvious. I’m not saying “when an anti-authority stance is so fervent, it’s disingenuous.” I am suggesting, however, that it could be counterfeit if it’s spat at someone who’s not proselytizing, who’s just teaching meditation or something equally benign, albeit powerful. Could that signal a fear of a deeper practice?
NL: Of course there’s that piece: saying it’s anti-authority, but it’s really just avoidance. But the Buddha suggests this: Don’t trust traditions based on what you hear or what they say. Don’t trust in the teacher. Trust in your own direct experience. Which is what I try to say every time I teach. To empower people to trust themselves – which is the Buddhist path. Some of what calls itself Buddhism these days has incorporated this guru teaching.
KTS: An over-reliance on the teacher.
NL: Precisely. It’s not a Buddhist teaching! It’s not the
teaching of the Buddha.
KTS: How do you think meditation can facilitate
activism and social justice?
NL: Well, I think that there are both angles for it. I think one is that the meditation practice itself gets one in touch with the confusion in the mind, heart, and body.
KTS: And the collective consciousness?
NL: At first it’s personal. Let me back up…Meditation is an action. It’s a personal action of introspection. Then you take that meditative stance, action, into the world and say, “I’m not only going to treat myself with kindness and compassion. I’m not only going to take this inward action. I’m going to bring it into my daily life, my livelihood, my lifestyle,” which is the political piece.
The other piece: the social activism, utilizing meditation. If one is committed to social change, it doesn’t take much wisdom to know that, to be able to respond to the reality is going to make more sense and change more things than reacting out of anger. So, there’s this switch from “I’m pissed about what’s going on” to “I care about what’s going on” and “I want to respond with compassion, with care” – wanting to be involved from that level. So, there’s been a real movement in the Buddhist scene, in the spiritual scene, to get social activists involved in meditation…There is sometimes confusion, especially around Buddhist meditation practice, where people think that Buddhism is about being detached, living in a cave or a monastery somewhere… An avoidance rather than an engagement. But it’s so clear – the Buddha is so clear in his living example of 45 years of walking on foot from town to town as an activist, as a spiritual social activist, who was changing the face of Ancient India, of the racism, of the sexism, of the war-torn country that it was – that his was the ideal activism.
This will be the subject of his next book Against the Stream: A Buddhist Approach to Positive Change, which Harper Collins is due to release in 2006. When he’s not writing the new book or doing continental book tours for Dharma Punx, Noah is teaching Vipassana meditation at Tibet House and Jiva Mukti Yoga Center in downtown Manhattan. Having recently moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco, he hopes to one day open a Vipassana meditation center in NYC.
Levine is a great model for our generation of how to rise out of your own ashes and blaze a trail for a new world. Sitting on a Zafu cushion before his Thursday night class of more than 50 students at Jiva Mukti, he made the statement: “Meditation is the most rebellious thing you can ever do.” When I asked why, he said:
“Because it’s the most counter-instinctual…We are constantly trying to avoid pain and hold on to pleasure. The Buddhist meditative traditions are pointing us to the truth of reality – the natural pain, the natural pleasure – and asking us to rebel against the instinctual tendencies of grasping and aversion. We do this by training the heart and mind in present-time, investigative awareness, a revolutionary action that brings about inner freedom and outer contentment. We begin to change our values and our views and then approach life from a place of understanding and compassion rather than fear and anger. If that is not the most rebellious action one can take, I don’t know what is.”
Kyle Thomas Smith is the Editor-in-Chief of Sentient City: The Art of Urban Dharma. He also publishes under the pseudonyms Colin MacGowan and Ethel Moneymaker. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Technorati: Buddhism Buddha Buddhist Dharma Compassion Wisdom Religion Meditation Zen Philosophy Spirituality Inspiration Peace Insight
“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”
~ Amitabha Sutra
When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Click to go to the book "Dharma Punx" Official homepage.