Maol Mhuire O'Duinnin's Reviews > Dharma Punx: A Memoir

Dharma Punx by Noah Levine
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M 50x66
's review
Jun 07, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir-autobiography, non-fiction
Read in July, 2010

There's not too much I can say here that my friend Andrew Sydlik hasn't said in his review of Noah Levine's "Dharma Punx"; it's very thorough and I believe a fair and balanced critique while also being informative. I would recommend reading Andrew's review prior to reading the book and/or my review.

I agree with Andrew that the book is principally a memoir that does not explore the subjects of 80s punk culture and Buddhism beyond their relation to Noah's life. While punk and Buddhism and their intersection are very important to Noah and his experiences, like Andrew says, he doesn't really explain what Buddhism is. Andrew already has some basic understanding of the elements of Buddhism whereas I do not, and i did find myself at times getting bored with the reading in the second half of the book and my unfamiliarity with Buddhism is one reason why.

However, one hook that saved me from putting the book down in the second half was Noah's decision to participate in the "A Year to Live" project, inspired by his father's (Stephen Levine) experience of having already completed the same project. As you might imagine, Noah prepared to live his life for a year as if he would die at the end of that year. At this point in his Buddhist and meditation practice, he was pretty self-disciplined and self-motivated, so though it wasn't easy to embark on this project, Noah seemed to take it very seriously and he did complete it with profound results. This part of the book definitely motivated me to check out Stephen Levine's book, "A Year to Live," which is about his own experience at the age of 58.

I think too, after exploring Noah's websites, that his latest book, "Meditate and Destroy" (2007), may answer some of the questions about what Buddhism is and more information on how he and other punks experience their practice. I'm also inspired to read "Meditate and Destroy" and learn more about Buddhism, meditation, service, Noah's life, and his father Stephen's life and works.

One reason for my continued interest in Buddhism and meditation beyond this book is Noah's emphasis that it is a way in which to deal with life's struggles and suffering in a way that can't promise happiness or contentment at all times, but that can allow someone connection to life's adversity without escaping or running away. Escaping and running away was how Noah now framed his involvement with booze, drugs, violence, and promiscuity as a youth, starting before the age of ten. His goal in the face of the pain and suffering he experienced as a young person, he recounts, was to become as numb as possible. Punk culture gave Noah an avenue in which to express himself and his disagreement with the values touted by mainstream society in 1980s America. But the misery he experienced led him away from his punk values and to a point where all he was doing was living for his next crack high or speed ball (crack combined with heroine).

As Andrew remarks, Noah finally gets to a place where he can see that if his own behavior doesn't change, nothing in his life will change either. He does take his father's advice and begins to meditate. Each time he does so, he takes another step toward his own freedom from dangerous habits and addiction. At first, I had a problem with Noah's seemingly non-chalant descriptions of how he progressed from the depths of savage addiction to being able to regularly meditate. It seemed like he just woke up and became a Buddhist by some of the descriptions, but since I'm taking that as his experience, it doesn't bother me so much. However, I'm worried that other folks reading it may have had a much more difficult time getting from addiction to a healthier place, or may still be struggling; I feel they could benefit from a more in-depth description of dealing with the challenges of coming out of the depths of addiction.

As Andrew describes, Noah starts off with a scene where he is in a rubber room after a suicide attempt at 17 and in the depths of his drug addiction and self-hatred. Another sucker-punch comes directly after with an intense experience where Noah is hiding under the front porch at five years old with a knife he stole from the kitchen, fantasizing about cutting his stomach open while his mother and stepfather fight inside. It wasn't hard for me to dive into the book and read about these intense and heavy experiences. But the second half was harder for me to speed through, although more of what I took away from that than boredom or lack of understanding was an inspiration to learn more and an appreciation for Noah's dedication to stay on his path of meditation, practice and service to other folks dealing with addiction.
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Andrew Sydlik I think you do a good job of reviewing the book in your own right. As to the seeming ease with which Noah seems to get involved with Buddhism, I think I can see what you mean, although it didn't really bother me. It did feel more gradual to me since he had backslides and doubts and such. But I do think that perhaps since his life was such a wreck, it made the draw of spiritual practice more powerful. There weren't considerations of leaving job, social, or family obligations behind; in fact, those things came because of his spiritual development. Noah also sounds rather confident and, to a degree, self-centered, which probably gives him a greater capacity for discipline.


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