Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Against the Stream (Dharma Punx)

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2009 edited by Seth Auberon, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; Against the, Refuge
Tattooed Noah Levine
Except for his bald head, there isn’t much monkish about [Buddhist author] Noah Levine [son of famous Buddhist author Stephen Levine and student of more famous Buddhist Jack Kornfield].

His body is covered with tattoos, his speech is spiked with profanities, and his style (T-shirts devoted to his favorite bands, lots of black) is a throwback to his days as a hardcore punk rocker in Los Angeles.
So it looked a bit unusual to a newcomer when, on a recent evening, Levine, 37 [in 2009], sat cross-legged at a Buddhist center in Hollywood [on Melrose Ave.] to lead several dozen people in a guided meditation.

“Now bring your awareness to your breath,” began the Buddha in the Bad Brains T-shirt, who happens to be one of the most influential Buddhist teachers in America.
The American Buddhist punk reforming drug rehab - Noah Levine (The Daily Beast)
Levine is the founder of the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, which has centers in East Hollywood and west in Santa Monica and more than 20 affiliated groups nationwide. He and his students practice a unique fusion of Buddhism infused with punk rock’s anti-establishment ethos. They call themselves Dharma Punx.
Punk ethos of Rage Against the Machine
Dharma Punx don’t wear robes and they don’t bow to statues of the Buddha. Anyone can form a group -- as long as s/he checks with Levine first -- and there isn’t the emphasis on hierarchy found in many forms of Buddhism (no Zen masters or Tibetan lamas). The idea, Levine said, is to make Buddhist teachings accessible to punks -- and to reconnect Buddhism with what he sees as its radical roots.
“I don’t feel like this is bringing a punk rock corruption into Buddhism,” Levine said. “I think that that anti-establishment ethic is a part of [the] Buddha’s teachings.”

Both punk rock and Buddhism, according to Levine, began as a rebellion against the status quo.

“The first noble truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering [dukkha, disappointment, lack of fulfillment, unsatisfactoriness] in life, that there is an unsatisfactory quality to living in a world where everything is constantly changing, and to living in a world where there is so much greed and hatred and delusion,” he said.

“Punk rock’s foundation is dissatisfaction, acknowledging greed, hatred, and delusion and rebelling against sexism, racism, political corruption, and war.”
By bringing punk and Buddhism together, Levine has reached a mostly untapped demographic.

(Gary Sanders) Metta Sutra or "Loving Kindness or Friendliness" Discourse
Meditation teacher Gary Sanders
“I’ve been to other Buddhist centers where I felt out of place, but I’ve found a home here,” said [Against the Stream meditation instructor] Gary Sanders [(, Facebook) now teaching in Portland, Oregon], 37, who drives from Castaic to East Hollywood to attend Levine’s meditation sessions. “Noah’s taken an approach that makes it palatable to our scene.”
The movement gets its name from Levine’s 2003 book Dharma Punx, which chronicles his involvement in the Santa Cruz punk rock scene, his recovery from addiction to crack, heroin, and alcohol, and his turn to [his culturally Jewish father's] Buddhism.
Levine, whose father is noted Buddhist writer Stephen Levine, first tried meditating in 1988 while locked up at a juvenile hall in Santa Cruz (for trying to steal a car radio to score some drugs). At the time, he was a homeless 17-year-old dropout, an angry kid who had spent his whole life rebelling.

At a young age he had found an outlet for his anger in the punk scene -- in the fury of the music and the anarchy of the mosh pit -- but when he slid into addiction, he traded his mohawk, Doc Martens, and leather jacket for a crack pipe.
Sitting in a padded detox cell, Levine at first felt suicidal. When he started meditating, he found a kind of peace. “My early life’s external rebellion had only led to more suffering,” he wrote.
Continuing to meditate, he got sober with the help of a 12-step program. He attended his first meditation retreat in 1991 -- with Jack Kornfield, an influential America Theravada Buddhist teacher who trained as a monk in Thailand and Burma [with friends who were to become very influential American Buddhist teachers in their own right, e.g., Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg].
Levine liked Kornfield’s message -- and he went on to study with him -- but he said he felt a little out of place.

“I was the only 20-year-old there and certainly the only punk rocker,” he writes. “Looking around, I didn’t see anyone even close to my age. This was my father’s scene, not mine.”

(BlankTV) Early L.A. hardcore punk from Venice Beach, Suicidal Tendencies "Institutionalized"

After 10 years of studying Buddhism, Levine was certified to teach by Kornfield. But he wanted to create a new scene -- for people like himself, the kind who liked to rock out to bands like Suicidal Tendencies and slam-dance in mosh pits.

So he began leading meditation groups in Santa Cruz and San Francisco and in 2003 launched a Dharma Punx group on New York City’s Lower East Side. He moved to Los Angeles three and a half years ago and founded Against the Stream last year.

Though he draws inspiration from many strains of Buddhism (including Thai, Sri Lankan, and Burmese Theravada), he said, he has tried to tear down the hierarchical difference between teacher and student that is common in those forms.

“I tend to present the teachings as a peer, as, ‘We are all in this together seeking happiness,’ ” he said. “We are all the students. Can we take the wisdom and the compassion of the Buddha’s teachings and roots and leave behind some of the other things that I see as corruptions -- the dogma, the power, the patriarchy, and superstition?”

Levine lives in Highland Park with his wife, Amy, and his infant daughter, Hazel. He earns a living as a psychologist [drug recovery counselor] but travels frequently to lead meditation workshops and retreats around the world.

He founded and sits on the board of the Mind Body Awareness Project, an Oakland-based nonprofit that teaches meditation to at-risk youths in juvenile halls, clinics, high schools, and group homes.

His twice-weekly meditation sessions at Against the Stream [which are very LGBTQ-inclusive] are among the best-attended in Los Angeles, and they attract a diverse crowd not limited to punk rockers. More

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