Buddhist Recovery Network book review
“Dharma Punx: A Memoir”
Harper SanFrancisco, 2003.
Hardback [Subsequently issued in paperback]. 253 pages.
School/perspective: Buddhism (student of Jack Kornfield, son of Stephen Levine); AA
- 1. Suicide Solution
- 2. Kids of the Black Hole
- 3. It’s in My Blood
- 4. Fuck Authority
- 5. Teenage Wasteland
- 6. No Remorse
- 7. Live Fast Die Young
- 8. Nailed to the X
- 9. I Need Your Shelter
- 10. Serve the Truth, Defy the Lie
- 11. My Friends Look Out for Me Like Family
- 12. No Spiritual Surrender
- 13. Who Killed Bambi?
- 14. Love Sick
- 15. The Inner Revolution
- 16. Wander Lust
- 17. Meditate and Destroy
- 18. Die, Die My Darling
- 19. Reincarnation
- 20. Inside Out
- 21. Being Here Now
- 22. Death Is Not the End my Friend
- 23. Stay Free
- Mindfulness Meditation Instructions
“I questioned my dad and my therapist, Forest, about the whole Higher Power thing. They both tried to give me some spiritual, Eastern philosophy about how actually it was more like there was an inner power than a higher power, they were saying that ultimately it is non-dual but I couldn’t understand what they were pointing me toward. I felt so lost and beaten down at that point. All of my best ideas and attempts had just constantly brought about more trouble and pain. It didn’t seem like I had much of anything good or positive in me. I needed to seek some external help. So the Higher Power praying thing worked okay for me. I was willing to accept some direction and try something new.” (p. 83)
“I had grown up in some of the most beautiful and wild areas of this country, the redwood forests of northern California and the high deserts of New Mexico, but I had always preferred to spend my time in town, on the sidewalk. I was never much into camping or hiking; that shit was for tree huggers and cowboys.”
“When I first got sober and started in on recovery and would hear about serenity I always equated it with some place outside of myself. I had a picture in my mind of a peaceful meadow filled with wildflowers, butterflies, and grazing animals. I felt that peace was for hippies and that as a punk rocker it had been my duty to fight against those passive, useless people, to foster some real changes, or at least to leave a path of destruction so that someone would know I had existed. My vision in those days was to enter the serene meadow with a flame-thrower, smoking a cigarette, and burn down the whole fucking place, destroying everything and killing Bambi.”
“I was really afraid of what I would find in the quiet moments. I was afraid of being bored and boring. Filled with the grief and rage that had fueled years of drug abuse and violence (even in sobriety it was still there), I was still afraid of what I might find if I slowed down enough to see what was really behind my negative attitudes and actions.”
“Yet after having practiced meditation for a while I began to truly experience moments of serenity and my fear of peace began to lessen. Once I saw that serenity had nothing to do with nature and was simply another state of mind that could be experienced in any surrounding I became more and more attracted to spending time in the mountains and on the coast. The more my mind began to quiet, the more I found myself wanting to be surrounded by natural beauty. I began taking hikes and spending afternoons on the coastline of northern California, between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, just wandering about offering prayers and practicing meditation.”
“Just after my retreat with Ajahn Amaro and Sister Sundara, I decided I was ready to do some solitary practice, alone in the wilderness, sitting under a tree like the Buddha had.”
“I packed up my car with a tent, a sleeping bag, some food, and a copy of my father’s book, which was my meditation Bible at the moment, A Gradual Awakening. I was working full-time at the hospital and taking classes at the junior college so I had only a couple of days to camp. My friends thought I was crazy. “Why would you want to go camping alone?” I was asked. I just said I was going to do some soul searching or something and they were like, “Whatever, dude, you’re turning into a real fucking hippy.” They were right, I was. But I was lot fucking happier than they were, so fuck it.” (p. 109)
© 2003 Noah Levine
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I knew Michael was into this book in a big way, but when I checked out the comments on Amazon, there were some pretty savage critiques. Now that Michael’s egged me on, I’m glad that I’ve read it. Someone like Noah can be a powerful ambassador to a younger generation. His hard core, bad-ass story gives him huge credibility. One of the Amazon rants I read complained that even at the end of the book he was trying to (unconvincingly) explain why jumping on people (at punk concerts) is part of his Buddhist practice. This is true, but I tend to think that the fundamental message of the book is about spiritual progress rather than having reached spiritual perfection. And the progress made is phenomenal. Furthermore, when you read very polished writings on this topic, they present a stable, mature outlook. But this is not the reality of recovery, as we change gradually, and move in tentative, confused steps. Only in retrospect do we achieve insight and clarity. I feel this book does lack some of the insight of other titles in the genre, but what it has in its place is buckets of raw honesty that describe the story as it was felt, as it was experienced. It is such an extreme story, the whole unfolding process makes for an epic journey, and an entertaining one at that, as the Bambi excerpt above demonstrates. In terms of his synthesis of punk and Buddhism, I do believe that the high energy rapture induced by punk does have legitimate links with certain spiritual practices. However from a Buddhist perspective I can’t see how lyrics of anger and violence can do anything but lead to negative conditioning. I should also add that the ending of the book dragged a bit for me. I liked his ‘soft belly’ discussion and am interested in trying the ‘year to live’ practice at some point. An interesting disclosure is that his AA sponsor is none other than Kevin Griffin, the author of One Breath at a Time. And he also works with Jack Kornfield. What a support group!
Dharma Punx is the story of Noah Levine, a young guy who rebelled against the world and his parents (his father is best selling Buddhist author Stephen Levine), and whose self-destructive path led him to a punk rock lifestyle, violence, drugs and drinking. Eventually seeing the uselessness of his ways, he came to embrace the same spiritual tradition of his father and now uses that tradition to awaken to his own natural wisdom and compassion. In his own words turning the "outer rebellion into inner revolution". Rather than leaving behind his punk roots, he instead chooses to integrate both seemingly opposed worlds. They indeed have more in common that one might first imagine. Although there are certainly differences between Noah's journey and my own, his book nonetheless had a profound effect on me because I saw so many surprising parallels. Especially in his alienation and rebellion, total disregard for his own self destruction, and the seething anger of youth. Though never a punk myself, I have nonetheless always felt a connection and enjoyed the raw power, energy and emotion of its music. I shed tears with the loss of his friends in the book, just as I saw too many people die way too young on my own journey. I even have a liking for spiritually inspired tattoos, though not having as many as Noah I do sport five of my own. I too like Noah am a member of that Generation touted as 'X'.
With his wild past and tattoos, it would be easy to be dismissive or critical of Noah, and unfortunately there are few in maybe the more conservative establishment who do so. The title Dharma Punx is obviously a spin on Jack Kerouac, the famous American beat poet of the sixties,and his book Dharma Bums. Although he may not have the literary brilliance of Kerouac, I feel strongly that this book too has a voice that can speak to a whole new generation of youth in crisis. In his brutally honest account of his journey, Noah has done what many spiritual writers shy away from in that he is never afraid to show those many dark shadows of himself. Like many of us in recovery, it's my observation that Noah's greatest critic seems to be himself, albeit now to a diminished degree. But this is a story about progress and not perfection, and when one looks at where Noah has been and where he is now it is nothing short of remarkable. In his honesty there are no pretensions, he is no more and no less than he describes himself to be. Like all of our personal stories in recovery, people are always free to take what they like, and leave the rest aside.
Lastly, I will let Noah's inspiring words speak for themselves (drawn from the Preface of the book): "This is a story of transformation, that of a part of a generation often touted as X, who are now finding meaning and purpose in spiritual practice and service. It is a full circle, from being institutionalized to teaching meditation in institutions, from robbing and stealing to giving and forgiving. It’s a story about finding freedom and then spending the rest of our lives giving it away".
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