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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 89 AGAINST THE STREAM A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries By Noah Levine Harper SanFrancisco, 2007; 192 pp.; $13.95 (paper) ONE CITY A Declaration of Interdependence By Ethan Nichtern Wisdom Publications, 2007; 224 pp.; $15.95 (paper) SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Eye By Brad Warner New World Library, 2007; 256 pp.; $14.95 (paper) REVIEWED BY MARCIA Z. NELSON A RECENT SURVEY OF 231 BUDDHIST CENTERS in America found that most of their members are 48 or older. But a new cadre of Buddhist teachers is on the rise, and it includes chil- dren of the first-wave Buddhists who came to the dharma in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these younger Buddhists came to the dharma kicking and screaming, like Noah Levine (son of Bud- dhist teacher Stephen Levine), who was a 17-year-old junkie in jail when he first began meditating. Ethan Nichtern was repelled by the ex-hippie practices of his Buddhist parents but writes in One City, his first book, that “like most well-intentioned rebel- lions, mine failed miserably.” The old man of this group, at age 43, Brad Warner came to Buddhism by way of 1980s punk rock rather than through his parents, but his punk lineage certainly qualifies him as a rebel against what went before. These three constitute a cross-section of the varieties of Bud- dhism now transplanted in the West that have yielded homegrown practitioners who don’t have gray hair (at least, the ones who have hair). A student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Nichtern belongs to the Tibetan tradition. Levine has been taught by many of the major Insight Meditation teachers. Warner is a Zen priest. So what does Buddhism look like with this turning of the wheel? One striking characteristic all three authors share is a deep engagement with popular culture. Forget monastic time- outs; this is high-def Buddhism on city sidewalks. Warner’s book is especially media drenched and marked by cultural references. From the indie band Flaming Lips to Doc Martens shoes, War- ner draws on music, movies, TV, celebrities, food and drink, and books. This isn’t surprising, coming from an author who has a day job working for the company that put Japanese monster movies on the pop-culture map. It’s the more striking, then, that he mixes up these contemporary bits with a big hit of tradition. The thirteenth-century Japanese teacher Dogen and his influ- ential work Shobogenzo are the real reason behind Sit Down and Shut Up. Having worked in Japan—a long way from his native Ohio—Warner knows Japanese and isn’t afraid to use it. He is intent on rendering in unvarnished twenty-first-century idiom Dogen’s insights, drawn from a time “when all Japan looked like the sets in The Last Samurai.” Like Warner, Nichtern is immersed in the specifics of everyday life, from T-shirts to falafels. He opens One City with a day-in- the-life prologue, a litany of how many countries and lives he touches during a typical day by way of products and people— food, clothes, the sights in a busy Manhattan streetscape. Each person and object is an occasion to glimpse interdependence, the clarion theme of Nichtern’s book. The culture Levine rebelled against was more central to the story he told in his 2003 memoir, Dharma Punx. In Against the Stream, his second book, Levine comes across as comparatively staid. What’s left from his hell-raiser days, though, is fierce punk energy, expressed in this book’s no-wimps-need-apply subtitle. Buddhism, Levine says, is socially and spiritually revolutionary. He calls Buddha the “origi- nal rebel” who saw through the status quo of suffering and delusion. Things haven’t changed much since then. Levine writes, “Our clas- sist, sexist, and racist culture is quite similar to the ancient Indian society that the Buddha was born into.” Levine, Warner, and Nichtern all see Buddhism as a rebuke to “the system,” an alternative approach that goes against the stream. Yet it’s not a countercultural alternative. All these Buddhism’s Young Turks PHOTOBYPETERSTUCKINGS,WWW.PETERSTUCKINGS.COM MARCIA Z. NELSON writes about religion and spirituality. Her books include Come and Sit: A Week Inside Meditation Centers and The God of Second Chances. SEPT 72-99.indd 89 SEPT 72-99.indd 89 6/25/07 5:30:51 PM 6/25/07 5:30:51 PM