Punk Rock and Buddhism

I found a blog of someone’s interview with the punk rock mindfulness meditation teacher, Noah Levine. Below are his comments that I believe really portray his experience with mindfulness meditation.


  • My search for happiness, acceptance and freedom led me to punk rock. Punk had the energy, the information and the politics that I resonated with, but I took it to the nihilistic, self-destructive, drug-addicted, crime side of things. To that extreme. There definitely was an intense drive to escape from my own mind, from my emotions and my body. Drugs and alcohol offered that escape for a long time. To the point where I was so numb that I wasn’t even aware of the crimes and the pain that I was causing myself and others. And on a whole other level I just didn’t care, because I had really lost hope and wasn’t able to take responsibility for my actions. There came a point where I was strung out and locked up and I had even lost my punk ethic in the pursuit of oblivion.
  • But that same energy of dissatisfaction and suffering eventually led me to start meditating while I was in prison. At the time, I thought that doing spiritual practice would be like completely fucking selling out. That was for hippies and that was for my parents and brain-dead religious followers. That was the masses to me. But I had lost all other hope. I felt like I had nowhere else to turn. Meditation was a profound experience for me. I was able to just be present for that moment in my cell, rather than in the terror of prison and shame and regret for the crimes I had committed. I had been looking for that experience of freedom in punk and drugs and sex and crime, but I hadn’t found it there, that real freedom.I found a teaching where the Buddha said that practice is “against the stream,” or an act of rebellion. Most people are suffering and don’t even know it. They are so attached to pleasure and seeking pleasure all of the time that they will never wake up. So, I understood that teaching, because my whole life has been against the stream! There was a resonation, a deep knowing and reminder of something that I already knew. So I began integrating the punk ethic – that anti-establishment acknowledgement of suffering in the world – with the Buddhist philosophy that awakening, happiness and freedom are possible by acknowledging suffering and its causes, and cultivating awareness, morality and wisdom.
  • My experience is that meditation develops slowly, over years. In no way is it a good time, all of the time. It is not like every time I meditate I feel great. What it is, is that every time I meditate I get in touch with the truth. And I am very interested in the truth. I get in touch with the truth of how distracted I am, of how crazy my mind is and how much pain my heart is in. I begin to take it all less personally. I understand how impermanent all phenomena are. And that I don’t have to do anything, to push it away or hold onto it. And that when I do try to push it away or hold onto it, it creates this extra level of discomfort, of suffering, of dissatisfaction. I certainly wasn’t someone who came to meditation peaceful, looking for more peace. I came to it in tremendous suffering, looking for freedom. And I’ve found that. And it is not freedom from pain. It is freedom from identification. Freedom from the dissatisfaction that is inherent in trying to control the uncontrollable – the mind, the body, the world. Meditation has, in my experience, led to an incredible sense that everything is unfolding in its own way. And I can have total intention without expectation on the outcome for my happiness. I can have full acceptance of what is happening in the present moment, with the intention to go somewhere else. Which I think is a huge, yet subtle distinction. People come to spiritual practice, and I have done this myself a lot, and say, “It’s all about letting go, it’s all about acceptance, so I just have to accept how fucked up everything is.” But, it’s more about how, “I don’t accept how fucked up everything is and I want things to be better. I want to be happier, I want to be peaceful. I want to help other people.”
  • So, my practice arises simultaneously through the intention to purify my own mind and heart and to find freedom, along with the intention of discovering how I can use the freedom that I find to serve others. These two things have to be married, in my mind, in any kind of mature spiritual life.