How do you reconcile punk with Buddhism? What I remember about punk is shaved heads, leather, and angry music targeted at Reagan and the arms race. Hmmm, in the aftermath of two Bushes and two Gulf Wars, it makes more sense than ever.
We enter the world clean, brimming with energy. In learning to deal with the world, we make compromises, bridle that energy, and grow into decent citizens. Years later, on a Wednesday afternoon, a certain angst still gnaws at our innards, begging for expression. Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, denied himself nothing, diving freefall into a teenage wasteland of alcohol, drugs, violence; making a few bucks stapling up posters for the punk concerts that ruled his life, and stealing whatever else. His memoir tells an intimate story of the chaotic life that nearly killed him, and his journey to becoming a Buddhist teacher.
Desperate for another option than suicide, Levine embraced the Straight Edge philosophy of punk, a clean lifestyle that still encourages full expression of anger though its music, dance, and art. We think of addicts as weak-willed people, but the opposite is true. It takes a mighty will to deny all and worship a vice. Once on the right track, Levine is unrelenting in his pursuit of truth. His story matures into Buddhist practice, forsaking violence and cultivating compassion. Still, he never abandons his identity in punk. Levine makes the combination make sense. While I reject any philosophy that wallows in fear and anger, I disbelieve any that denies their persistence on the border of our every day.
This book will be especially interesting to younger searchers. However, with so many dull books on Buddhism on the book store shelves, this middle-ager found it a very satisfying read. I will make good use of Levine’s “soft belly” technique.
See also my review of Brad Warner’s book about punk and Zen Buddhism.