Gradual Awakening and Dharma Punx
Paul Liberatore ...Marin Independent Journal
WITH HIS SHAVED head and tattoos, Noah Levine is right at home
on the Warped Tour with hard core punk bands like Rancid, Poison
the Well and Suicide Machines.
Levine is a punk rocker with a passion for more than angry,
defiant music. A self-described "spiritual revolutionary,"
he has "wisdom" and "compassion" tattooed
on his hands and images of Buddha and Krishna on his arms.
I met the Dalai Lama, he took my hands into his, looked at my
tattoos and then into my eyes and exclaimed, 'Very colorful!',
Levine said, laughing at the memory.
32-year-old Levine is the son of the renowned spiritual teacher
and writer Stephen Levine, author of the best sellers "A
Gradual Awakening," "Embracing the Beloved" and
"A Year to Live."
the younger Levine, a meditation teacher-in-training at Spirit
Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre with a new book of his own,
would follow in his famous father's footsteps was hardly a given.
Once a teen-age drug addict and street punk, Levine tells his
story of youthful rebellion, self-destruction and redemption
in his memoir "Dharma
Punx" (HarperSanFrancisco, $23.95), the title inspired
by Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums."
honest, page-turning confession is a measure of the adaptability
and usefulness of the Asian tradition of Buddhism for the young
and the restless of contemporary America," Publishers Weekly
said in its review. Mike Ness, lead singer of the punk band
Social Distortion, said in an endorsement, "This book is
a great success story that shows that violence, negativity and
self-destruction don't accomplish anything."
part of his book tour, Levine is traveling with the Warped Tour
to promote "Dharma Punx" and to talk to young people
about the salvation he found in Buddhism and spirituality.
selling books and making myself available, maybe doing some
meditation classes for the bands and production staff,"
he said by phone from a tour stop in British Columbia. "And
I'm getting out there and talking to the kids."
has a cautionary tale to tell. After his parents divorced when
he was a child, he was shuttled between his mother's home in
Santa Cruz and his father's in New Mexico. Hostile and outraged
by his broken home and what he perceived as the hypocrisy of
the '60s generation and of American society in general, he lashed
out and acted out, turning to drugs, alcohol and the fury of
punk rock bands like Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies to relieve
"Embracing the Beloved," Stephen Levine wrote of his
son: "As our youngest child, Noah, dutifully rebelled,
he rejected 'meditation and the lot.' Having mutinied with considerable
energy and originality in our youth, we could not imagine how
he might 'get to us' as we had 'gotten' to our parents ...Until
the afternoon he came home from school with a tattoo and nailed
young Noah became a child of the criminal justice system, sent
to juvenile hall, group homes, drug and diversion programs.
He would be released on probation only to end up in jail again.
When he was 17, he found himself locked in a padded cell after
a suicide attempt, and only then did he begin to turn his life
had an extreme adolescence, for sure," he said. "I
got into drugs and stealing and anger that was somewhat alleviated
and somewhat fueled by my obsession with punk rock. It was both
the solution for me for a long time and a problem. I just hit
such a rock bottom place of demoralization, being institutionalized
over and over, that at 17, I knew I had to try something else,
that what I was doing wasn't working and that it was going to
get me locked up in prison for the rest of my life."
his father called him in jail, offering some simple meditation
instruction, Levine was finally desperate enough to surrender
and listen. Aided by a 12-step program to deal with his addiction
and travels in India and Asia to study with the masters, he
found a measure of peace, beginning what is now a 15 year spiritual
first noble truth of the Buddha is that life is suffering,"
he said. "So that moved me and still moves me. I feel like
I understand what are the real causes of suffering and what
is the solution to get free, to end suffering. That's where
the Buddhist path has inspired me and taught me."
of the solution for Levine has been to dedicate himself to serving
others, particularly young people who may be as troubled and
lost as he was. He notes in his book that most practicing Buddhists
are aging baby boomers, and that people his age or younger are
underrepresented in spiritual practice. That's one reason he's
on the Warped Tour, to reach out to them.
I started practicing, I certainly felt like the only young person,
and certainly the only tattooed punk rock person," he said.
"That is slowly changing. As I get older, there are more
thirtysomethings coming around to meditation. But you go to
a retreat or a Buddhist center, the median age is going to be
late 40s to 60s.
big part of my intention in writing the book was taking the
baby boomer hippie stigma off of meditation and trying to make
it accessible and applicable to my generation, saying this isn't
just some mystical Asian tradition that's inaccessible. These
are psychological, spiritual practices that lead to a greater
sense of well-being, ease and happiness in our lives."
years ago, Levine began teaching meditation in the very juvenile
hall where he had been incarcerated. And for the past two years,
he's led a weekly meditation group inside San Quentin Prison.
Next month, he will finish his studies for a master's degree
in counseling and psychology, and plans to work as a psychotherapist
as well as a meditation teacher.
Rock in Woodacre has been an important part of his spiritual
development. He has been Spirit Rock's director of family and
teen programs and now studies under noted meditation teacher
Jack Kornfield and leads daylong meditation classes and retreats.
Kornfield describes "Dharma Punx" as "honesty
and wildness that become transformed and inspiring."
addition to his work at Spirit Rock, Levine leads a meditation
group in San Francisco that he calls "Buddhism for the
I've connected personally with hundreds of young people who
have been introduced through my efforts, I guess, through finally
seeing a teacher of their own generation appear," he said.
"I think I translate the Dharma in a way that's accessible
for our generation. I speak a lot from how I directly practice
with it and really bring in my life as an example ... the real