Being Buddhist is about as punk as you can get. That’s according to Santa Cruz spawned author and meditation teacher, Noah Levine. “Punk points to the Buddha’s first noble truth,” he says, “that there is suffering in this life.”
In his debut book, Dharma Punx, Levine traces a parallel between the Punk Rock ethic of “NO FUTURE” and the Buddhist doctrines of impermanence and universal suffering. “Buddhism teaches present time awareness,” he says. “It’s not about living for some future date. It’s about moment-to-moment awareness in this present time. That’s punk. The Buddha said his path leads against the stream. That’s punk.”
He admits that to a conservative observer, punks pounding pace and seemingly violent mosh pits might appear in sharp contrast to the tranquil settings usually associated with Buddhism. “The Buddhist meaning of no future,” he admits, “is quite different then the punk feelings of no future. One is coming from wisdom. One is coming from nihilism.” It is possible, however, to integrate the two and, according to Levine, recognize punk rock as perfect launching pad for spiritual practice.
“The masses are deluded into thinking that they have to be happy all the time and that there is something wrong with them if they are suffering,” he says. “From the punk perspective, everything is fucked. Punk clearly sees that there is incredible suffering and oppression in life. Realizing this is the first step in the right direction. Punks have taken that first step.” Dharma Punx have gone a few steps further and through meditation and prayer have found ways in which to reconcile their nihilistic political beliefs with their life-affirming spiritual faith.
Levine, the son of world-renowned Buddhist teacher, Stephen Levine, is currently touring the country and discussing his newfound philosophy and the recently released book that chronicles its genesis. The book follows Levine’s dangerous rite of passage and, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, spiritual journey from punk junky to Dharma Punk. It takes you from his first trip on mushrooms to his first trip to India. More than that, however, it attempts to tell the story of how some of the angriest members of what has been dubbed Generation X are trying to find their own spiritual footing on their own terms.
The offspring of divorced parents, Levine spent most of his young life shuffling back and forth between a loving but unfamiliar home in Taos, N.M. and a volatile and sometimes unwelcoming home in Santa Cruz, CA. Between divorce and a dysfunctional family life, a bountiful breeding ground for the anti-establishment punk ethos was laid. Being a teenager in Northern California didn’t help matters. “There was such a huge punk scene in Santa Cruz in the early 80’s when I was growing up,” he says. “All of the best punk bands from around the world came through Santa Cruz and the street scene was really wild.”
The first half of Levine’s book, despite the drugs and disillusionments, pays homage to the early 80s punk scene in Santa Cruz and the now historical days of all-ages venues like Club Culture and the beginnings of local punk legends like BLAST. According to Levine, Santa Cruz in the 80s (and even today) was very fertile ground to raise a punk. “In Santa Cruz,” he claims, “there was such a big punk movement because there were so many hippie parents.” Growing up in Santa Cruz, Levine’s generation was surrounded be parents that were practicing a plethora of spirituality. As a kid, however, he wondered what changes were they really making? What differences? Was the world really a better place because they tripped acid and smoked pot? As an adult, Levine recognizes the fallacies of this view but, as a kid, it was enough to spark a rebellion. “The punks,” he says, “in a lot of ways came as a reaction not only to the greater ignorance of society but also to our perceived failures of the hippie counter-culture.”
Before finding the solution in spiritual practice, Levine sought freedom from the problems that plague the world and its inhabitants in all the easy but unfulfilling places. Drug addiction and dissatisfaction became staples in his life. Crime and violence became his main means of support. He left home at 16. At 17, already a veteran of incarceration, he hit rock bottom sitting in a juvenile hall facing criminal charges. He called his father who offered him, via the phone, “anapanasati,” or mindfulness meditation instruction. “I had tried to live the nihilistic punk lifestyle and all I got was pain and more pain,” he says. “Once I started on the path of spiritual practice, particularly meditation, I realized I had found a solution.”
Levine realizes that having a father recognized the world over as a great Buddhist teacher gave him an introduction to spirituality most punks don’t have. That’s why he wrote Dharma Punx. “I want to make meditation and spiritual awareness more available to people,” he says. “I want to remove the stigmas from spiritual practice. Spiritual practice isn’t just for hippies anymore. It’s for everyone. It’s for the punks. It’s for the kids.”