What made you start writing?
Prior to writing Dharma Punx, I was doing a lot of teaching, lecturing and activist work. I was getting a very good response from people when I shared my personal story of transformation and how Buddhist practice had been an integral part of my recovery and rehabilitation. I was also finishing up an undergraduate degree and part of my course work was to write five, 25-page papers about life experiences that had been educational. I wrote about Addiction and Recovery, Buddhism, Punk Rock Rebellion and Pilgrimage in Asia. Those papers and my teaching experience inspired me to write it all down in a book and start the process of trying to get published.
Who are your favorite authors?
Honestly, I mostly read Buddhist books. My father Stephen Levine is one of my favorite writers as well as Jack Kornfield. I’m also a fan of the Beats, Kerouac, Burroughs, Snyder, etc. Jim Carrol and Jerry Stahl are really good, and I just finished reading Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird.
You talk about the uselessness of the drugs and violence previously in your life, was there a turning point or a gradual change?
I spent the first half of my life getting loaded and fighting against everything and anything. I hit bottom hard. At 17 I was looking at my third felony and life in prison. After a failed suicide attempt, I turned to meditation to address my inability to live or die.
How does Against the Stream differ from Dharma Punx?
Dharma Punx is my life story, a memoir. Against The Stream is the Buddha’s story and teachings and my translation and perspective on Buddhism as the ultimate form of rebellion.
How is Against the Stream different from other Buddhist guides?
Well, you may have to answer that yourself. There is a lot of common ground with other presentations of Buddhism and there is also a unique perspective and presentation that I am told is more palatable and accessible than much of the convoluted and dogmatic books on the market.
Is a lot of Western Buddhist literature too far removed from Buddha’s teachings?
I do want to let everyone know that Buddhism isn’t just for Hippies and flakey New Age Freaks. But more so I felt that Against The Stream was an appropriate follow up to Dharma Punx. I receive letters and emails daily asking for spiritual guidance. This book is the guidance I have to offer.
Does that mean you feel there is a lack of good Buddhist texts in the west?
I feel that the original teachings have been translated well, and are available. I also feel that there have been many great western teachers who have had their perspectives and experience published. That said I do find myself overwhelmed by the shelves of so called Buddhist books available, so many of them are real crap and so far removed from what the Buddha taught.
What do punk ethics and a Buddhist lifestyle have in common?
Dissatisfaction with the status-quo and the desire to create positive change in society.
Do you see a similarity between the erosion of punk ethics since the 80's and the same erosion of western Buddhist culture?
Yes…that’s the way it goes. But also every new generation has the ability to revitalize and rejuvenate the traditions that have become stale. Of course the big business of publishing and recording have utilized Buddhism and Punk to cash in and the effect has been what you are referring to as “erosion”.
Any other books you would suggest for people that enjoyed yours?
Gradual Awakening by my father Stephen Levine and A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield.
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