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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 60 Yes, absolutely! [Laughs] That’s very true! When you find your teacher your life is turned upside down, but in the most divine way. My involvement with the dharma has completely changed the structure of my life. Our sangha is very small, so we work very hard. I would say that supporting Lama Gyatso Rinpoche’s activities is my number-one job. Togeth- er with my partner, Jamie Price, I’m on the board of directors of Ari Bödh, the American Foundation for Tibetan Cul- tural Preservation. We’ve been building a long-term retreat centre on a 475-acre property north of Los Angeles. We’re just four years old now, but we are plan- ning to create a facility that will accommodate retreats of three or more years. We have a temple, which has a lovely statue of Guru Rinpoche commissioned by Lama Gyatso. We also have a children’s camp called Tools for Peace. The curriculum we use there is being translated into four languages now. Kids come to Ari Bödh every summer for the camp, and I serve as a cook and bottle washer there. It’s very rewarding. What about your singing career? Well, my singing career got put on the back burner a little bit. When I took refuge and became a practitioner in earnest, I started devoting my time and energy to practice and building our meditation center. Music became this thing that basically kept me paying the bills. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to make the record with Tony Bennett, Wonderful World, and then Hymn to the 49th Parallel, an album of covers of classic Cana- dian songs. Interpretive records take far less time and energy than writing and recording your own record. Also, starting on the path really wreaked havoc on the con- cept of writing material. I was always worried about whether I had to literally become like Milarepa, the great yogi and ascetic, and write songs about spinning the dharma wheel [laughs]. I was a little nervous about the prospect of having to do that. That was one of the reasons it took me so long to write the new record. I was processing all of this information I had been learning and absorbing, which was changing the actual structure of my brain, and my soul, and my heart. It’s not unusual—I know myself—to think at the beginning that you have to go off and live in a cave or something. Exactly. You can become pretty carried away, to the point where you feel you have to let go of your friends and your house and all sorts of things, and nothing can be integrated. It’s total chaos. Then all of a sudden everything starts to integrate. At a certain point, Buddhist practice is so inseparable from everything you do that you start to live and breathe it. I suppose that’s the gradual process of awakening—it’s naturally incorporated into your very being. You don’t even think that you’re processing things in a “Buddhist way,” particularly. What about your songs? I had a couple of conversations with Rinpoche, asking him whether it was important for me to actually integrate my practice into my lyrics. He told me, “Oh, no. Not necessary.” That was a big relief, because it took away the pressure of having to produce explicit dharma songs. Of course, the dharma is integrated into the way I think and breathe and live, so it’s also integrated into the way I write lyrics. But it hasn’t been purposeful. It’s been natural. It has been a total relief to realize that. Buddhism is a religion of non-proselytizing, so it would have felt very unnatural to make an effort to include Buddhism in my lyrics. How would you say, then, that your practice has affected the songs on your new album? I’m a young practitioner. I’m really just in the initiation stages, which is like standing naked in front of the mirror and diving inside to see what you’re working with, what kind of a mess is going on in there! [Laughs] The new album, Watershed, is a reflection on my various relationships—my relationship to my partner, my relationship to my music, to my fame, to my teacher, to this existence. I try and touch on those things on some of the songs, such as “Je Fais La Planche” and “Flame of the Uninspired.” “Coming Home” is about finding my past. I tried to write the song in a way that would transcend all of the pedantic ways of expressing it, and just be completely naïve about it, you might say. I have always been struck by your willingness to expose yourself in your music—your heart, your desires, your pain. That kind of openness and vulnerability, which takes courage, is a core dharma principle. I guess that’s been there. I would like to think I’ve always been Buddhist; it just took me a while to find my teacher. Your song “Constant Craving” is a beautiful and accurate restate- ment of Buddhism’s first noble truth. I think “Constant Craving” just comes out of the experience of being human. The realm of desire is such a common theme in my music. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like it so much. [Laughs] Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa, k.d. lang’s teacher MAR 58-61.indd 60 MAR 58-61.indd 60 12/19/07 2:15:05 PM 12/19/07 2:15:05 PM