The Heart of the Revolution

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Noah Levine

The Buddha was a revolutionary, a radical advocate for personal and social transformation. He rejected the religious forms of his time and renounced all forms of greed, hatred, and delusion. He dedicated his life to going "against the stream," to the subversive path of an outlaw transient. He wasn't afraid to speak out against the ignorance in this world's political, social, and religious structures, but he did so from a place of love and kindness, from an enlightened compassion that extended to all living beings. The Buddha's teachings are not a philosophy or a religion; they are a call to action, an invitation to revolution.

Noah Levine, The Heart of the Revolution

As with many self-destructive kids, Noah Levine's search for meaning led him first to punk rock, drugs, drinking, and dissatisfaction. But the search didn't end there. Having clearly seen the uselessness of drugs and violence, Noah looked for positive ways to channel his rebellion against what he saw as the lies of society.

Fueled by his anger at the immense injustice and suffering of the world, Levine now uses that energy and the practice of Buddhism to awaken his natural wisdom and compassion.

Noah Levine is a Buddhist teacher, author, counselor, and is the founder of the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. He was trained to teach by Jack Kornfield of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. He teaches meditation classes, workshops, and retreats nationally as well as leading groups in juvenile halls and prisons. He holds a masters degree in counseling psychology from CIIS and has studied with many prominent teachers in both the Theravadan and Mahayana Buddhist traditions.

In The Heart of the Revolution, Levine invites us to explore the Buddha's radical teachings on forgiveness, compassion, and kindness. Sharing his own struggle over whether he could let go of anger and develop a loving heart, Noah reveals the tools that helped him embrace his true Buddhanature.

Order The Heart of the Revolution here.


Also leading this discussion is Joseph Rogers, a facilitator with Against the Stream in Los Angeles who has been sitting and studying meditation with Noah since 2005. Especially interested in meditation as an outgrowth of recovery work, Joseph has been teaching mindfulness and meditation practices to teens with substance abuse issues for several years and is the Director of Education for Visions Adolescent Treatment Center. Joseph has also participated in facilitating anger management groups at Camp David Gonzalez with Noah and JoAnna Harper. He has completed the year-long facilitator training with Against the Stream and plans on kicking Samsara's ass.


Further reading: Captain Karma vs. The One-Percenters: An Interview with Noah Levine

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atool's picture

Greetings to all,
The way I see it is the our true nature "is at that present moment we are in" annicca there is change at all times, every second. We have to be aware of our actions, to be minful & move on. Though haven't read Noah Levine's book, from little what I have read he is doing a good job of spreading the Buddha's DHAMMA. That is important, does it matter what one wears or has tattoo's, it doesn't as for me the message, the teachings are important & who am I to Judge.
Thank you.
With Metta
Atula Shah (Nairobi, Kenya)

Aleric's picture

My readings of these posts leads to a question. Going back to the us / them question, if being attached to any title or group is an attachment, (I am thinking of how groups form and maintain their identity, i.e., the theories of group formation, dynamics, and maintenance), how does a person (as a social creature) divest of attachments of identity and ego, but still connect with others, to learn, serve and grow?

I say this having spent a career as a minister and slowly having concluded (very slowly unfortunately), as I noted in another post, that much of the formation of theology or ideology has come about due to group dynanics, power politics, and individual ego. Also, as noted above, much of historic religion is just derived from human actions, choices, and needs.

I am on the cusp of retirement (early) and this is important as I have a sense that I no longer want to participate in "revealed" religion especially one that has a vertical hierarchy and all the baggage that tends to come with that (hence my growing deism leanings. However, I don't see how deism connects with others where Buddhism does). I sort of wish I could just say I am a person who likes the wisdom of Jesus, Buddha, and Marcus Aurelius (lol, I have a particular fondness for Marcus) and leave it at that and try to live out in a humanistic and positive way the best elements of informed moral and ethical precepts. I have a sense that good enlightened people exist in all religious and philosophic traditions to include atheists and agnostics. I also strongly feel that a system should lead a person to be more compassionate, understanding, and kind, unfortunately, I do not often see this.I can only speak of my tradition, but since I understand that much is this (but not all) is due not to theology or ideology, but human social psychology and political sociology (meaning people living in organized groups, not meaning politics).

I want to thank tricycle for this site, for the moderator's work, and for all who take the time to read or respond. I am on the very cusp of going somewhere, and I do not yet have an idea where that is. I know what I am leaving but not what my direction is. This site is playing an important role. Regards Aleric.

Melbourne77's picture

i just finished the book and it was is fantastic, helpful and well written. i have been doing the loving-kindness guided meditation daily and i am now reading the metta sutta. thank you noah

Noah Levine's picture

I want to thank everyone for their thoughts, views and opinions. And state for the permanent record that I know that what I know is always changing. Through meditation, service and ethical behavior more is revealed.

may our paths cross soon.


ebland's picture

Hi Noah,

I just wanted to say thanks for writing The Heart of the Revolution. I really enjoyed it. For many years, I have intuitively felt that embracing and adopting the Brahma Viharas was the next indiacted step for my Dharma practice. 6 years of mindfulness has been great, but similar to your experience, I am called toward the heart-opening practices. Your thoughts and instructions were very helpful, not just a re-tread of Sharon's thoughts. Very fresh, new, personal, insightful and relevant. I loved Punx, liked Against the Stream, and loved Heart! With much metta and aloha from Seattle. See you again soon. Thanks brother,

Ed --

bob knab's picture

greetings ------------------

demons yes yes, so this /

Offering *

the mind -

drum beat
heart beat
dine -

consume this food
blood -

love -

blessings --------------------------

j.robinowitz's picture

I've got to say, I'm really undecided about the whole Buddha-nature thing. I don't know if it is our inherent nature to awaken. My own experience suggests that the possibility for awakening exists in all of us, but I don't know that this is because deep down there is a Buddha just waiting to burst forth. I'm always a bit skeptical when teachers talk about "our true nature" or that it is our true nature to love and that kind of thing. It seems like a lot of effort is involved in revealing that "true nature", leading me to believe that maybe it isn't innate within us but something we must cultivate.

Just like with the other Buddhist teachings I'm not sure about I think it's a fine sentiment, especially if it is useful for people and does not lead to more suffering, but I don't know that it is a pivotal belief to hold in order to awaken.

Monty McKeever's picture

Joseph Rogers wrote,
"I'm always curious, whenever the subject of uncovering the potential wisdom and compassion that are supposedly present in all of us (which is discussed in chapter 2, Training the Monkey), what others think of this idea. Do we have a Buddha nature? Do we all have the potential for awakening within that can be uncovered? I'd love to hear from the community about this idea."

I think this is a great question and I too would like to hear what people have to say. I just posted a blog about this with an excerpt from Training the Monkey and as well as one from a Thanissaro Bhikkhu piece where he questions the teachings on Buddha-Nature:


wtompepper's picture

I have just a small point about the blog. There is clearly disagreement about whether Buddha Nature exists, but in this case I think that Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Noah Levine are using the term in very different ways. I may be misunderstanding Levine, but it seems to me that what he means by Buddha Nature is something quite close to what Thanissaro Bhikkhu is concerned that we might miss if we believe in Buddha Nature: we might not realize "the principle of freedom — that past kamma doesn't totally shape the present, and that present kamma can always be free to choose the skillful alternative." This capacity to become free of our karma is not what Buddha Nature traditionally meant, but it often seems to be what many people mean when they use the term today.

Monty McKeever's picture

Good points Tom. I didn't mean to be in any way pitting Noah and Thanissaro Bhikkhu against each other, I just wanted to show that there are different views. I think you are onto something in noting that they may be using the term in different ways.

Dominic Gomez's picture

The Commentary on the Ten Stages Sutra lists ten other terms for a buddha that variously express his or her qualities, such as power, wisdom, virtue and compassion. These are: 1. tathagata, one who comes from the world of truth, 2. arhat, one who is qualified to receive offerings from human and heavenly beings, 3. samyak-sambuddha, one with a correct and perfect understanding of all phenomena, 4.vidya-cha-rana-sampanna, one who understands eternity (or past, present, and future existences), 5. sugata, one who has gone over to the world of enlightenment, 6. lokavid, one who understands all secular and religious affairs by grasping the law of causality, 7. anuttara, one who stands supreme among all living beings, 8. purusha-damya-sarathi, one who trains and leads all people to enlightenment, 9. shasta-deva-manushyanam, one who can teach and educate all human and heavenly beings, and 10. buddha-bhagavat, an awakened one, endowed with perfect wisdom and virtue, who wins the respect of all people.
It's no wonder later practitioners would develop differing, sometimes conflicting views of the same thing.

Noah Levine's picture

I am very glad to see that the discussions have been lively. I have just returned from a week long conference with over 200 dharma teachers who are teaching in the west. I am happy to report that the dharma is alive and well in the west. The 1%ers were out in full revolutionary force. It was inspiring to me to see how many different expressions the dharma takes, from tattooed punx like my self to scholars like Stephen Batchelor and all the lamas and mamas.

May we all devote the rest of our lives to awakening our hearts and creating a positive change in this world.


Monty McKeever's picture

It's good to hear the conference went well!

zentient's picture

Noah is one of the better contemporary dharma teachers, and I appreciate how he has carried authentic teachings into our world. He has helped me sustain a practice with his message that we will always have stuff to deal with as human beings, no matter what. Mara checks in from time to time to see if our buttons can be pushed. "I see you Mara!'

iowlum's picture

unsettled by my angry post i decided to listen more to levine speaking and found that i can relate to him a lot. good to see you are wrong, even if it doesnt feel so good at first! just have never trusted authority, and have had my fill of wannabe gurus, in the rooms and sanghas!

wtompepper's picture


I liked your posts. I also thought that Levine's book would be a waste of time because of the persona he projects. Several people recommended Dharma Punx to me, and I would never read it because I assumed it was just what you described, a middle class kid craving attention and wanting to make money by posing as a rebel. When I read this book, I was wary, and surprised that it was as good, as useful, as it is. I still think the persona of the punk rebel weakens the message, and I wonder if it turns away as many people as it attracts.

Levine's approach is hardly radical. I don't think it is anywhere near as radical as Buddha actually was. Still, it is useful as a place to begin. I've never met Levine, or heard him speak in person, but the image seems like something created by a PR agent to sell books, and it is difficult to believe it is authentic. Perhaps it is, but as you indicated in your first post, it just seems so much like a clever sales pitch it is almost embarrassing.

It seems to me, though, that the core message of the book is that compassion comes from understanding, not pity or sympathy, and that is really a crucial thing to understand.

Joseph Rogers's picture

I agree that the core message of the book is about training our heart to access the wise response of compassion. Regardless of how I might personally view a teacher, I respect any who are willing to expose their journey from pain and difficulty to walking an open-hearted and forgiving path.

I'm always curious, whenever the subject of uncovering the potential wisdom and compassion that are supposedly present in all of us (which is discussed in chapter 2, Training the Monkey), what others think of this idea. Do we have a Buddha nature? Do we all have the potential for awakening within that can be uncovered? I'd love to hear from the community about this idea.

wtompepper's picture

I’m curious what others mean when they say Buddha Nature. Historically, it seems to have referred to a kind of atman, a deep self untouchable by the taints of samsaric life. Many Buddhists seem to believe it is a “true nature” we get to in certain meditative states, and that will “emerge” once we strip away our klesas.

Personally, I don’t believe there is any such thing. Intellectually, it seems like a return to Brahmanism or an adaptations from Daoism. Personally, in my own experience, I don’t find any indication of such a deep, pure “self.”

If Buddha Nature means the innate ability to understand the dharma and become awakened, then that’s another matter. I believe all people have the capacity to do this to some degree, but that most lack the karmic conditions for such activities. The Bodhisattva path is the attempt to bring the conditions for awakening to everyone, but they are not “already enlightened” at some “deep” level. We all need to practice to awaken.

My belief is that we are not simply "uncovering" our true nature, but training our conventional selves in compassion and wisdom.

Joseph Rogers's picture

@iowlum - I think it is wise to question the validity of teachers and gurus. I'm also glad that you investigated further, that is also wise. I believe we must also see our teachers as human, otherwise we risk great disappointment and heartbreak. If you like, you can also hear more teachers from the Against the Stream community by downloading podcasts from itunes for free.

iowlum's picture

this noah levine guy just had to happen, and no surprise from Cal.

just look at the guy, with all his tattoos and rock tshirts. for heaven's sake how old are you man?

a few guesses-you come from a comfy, lefty middle class background, grew up in 12 step programs, drank and took drugs for about 6 weeks when you were 11 or thereabouts, joined AA, quickly established a reputation as a charismatic speaker, profiting from the weakness and dependency of other members, and found that this fed your ego and gave you as much attention as the youthful rebellion phase. Sorted, you thought, but of course, there's something missing-never satisfied-this AA/NA just isnt enough, not quite cool enough. i know, zen, or dharma. those words sound cool. and punk, no punx , even cooler. can a man so enamoured with his self-image really be trusted?

BodhiDuck's picture

Wow, you really haven't read Dharma Punx, have you? I suggest you have correct information before you start disparaging a teacher who has brought the Dharma to a population who might never have known it otherwise, especially incarcerated and addicted youth.

Judgment looks unfortunate on one who is supposed to be walking the path.

wtompepper's picture

The idea of comparing Buddhists to outlaw bikers is a bit silly. I know that Mr. Levine means the kind of romanticised version of biker culture from silly movies like “The Wild One,” and not the actual culture of fencing stolen goods, collecting protection for the mob, and selling narcotics to kids. Still, even in the movie, the Marlon Brando character was pretty clueless about what exactly he was rebelling against; he was more interested in just not working than in rejecting a culture.

I see the idea of one percent of people being “willing” to do the hard work of training the heart and mind is less a exclusion than a challenge: if you can do it, it’s up to you.

The issue I have is that, from my perspective, it isn’t always a matter of being “willing.” Most people lack the karmic conditions to follow the dharma today. Those of us who do should not feel proud of being in an elite minority, but grateful for our oportunity. We should express that gratitude by continuing to work to extend the postive karmic conditions to more and more beings.

In the interview in the editor’s blog, Mr. Levine seems fairly uninterested in social activism, as if the real goal should be what this book calls “interior work,” constantly working to eliminate our own feelings of anger, jealousy, guilt, etc. Well, that’s fine, but we need to realize that the causes of these unskilful emotions and thoughts are partly the social and interpersonal structures we live in. I may live in a particular culture in which it is possible to eliminate these things, but some people, those living in poverty, suffering the effects of this terrible economy, may not be so lucky. It’s not always possible to eliminate hostility and anger and violence when you need to struggle every day to feed your kids and pay rent without a job.

I think Noah Levine’s book is great, as a first step, for those in comfortable conditions. But it is only a small beginning, hardly a “revolution.” It’s a little self-agrandizing to say this is all we need to do to transform the world--be a bunch of middle class Americans pretending to rebel against the evil “mainstream” is just not enough. Don’ worry so much about eliminating all your anger and resentment; try to use it, transform it, into positive energy to change the world.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear wtompepper:

I remember so well my days as an angry young woman--and it lasted well into middle age!

What I finally realized was that my anger was so extreme, it was neutralizing my ability to engage in social action. Other people appreciate their own anger, but they didn't appreciate being in company with mine.

When I learned to express compassion for the spiritual difficulties of being born privileged, as I in some respects was, I became able to communicate with other people of privilege instead of taking my unconscious frustrations out on them.

Since I have learned to work with anger by neither repressing it nor acting it out, I have become more effective as an agent of social change. People no longer write me off as a bitter and fanatical person. They listen. Love can move mountains which anger can not.

Appreciating all my own emotions, staying aware of how my emotions influence others, feeling compassion for the privileged, and acting on the new information I glean every day--these have proven to be prerequisites for social action.

I do appreciate your bringing the focus back again and again to social change. It is important to me.


wtompepper's picture

Hi Linda,

I agree, it is rarely (I would not say never) skillful to try to change social conditions while pissed off. It isn't any fun, and nobody wants to help.

What I'm thinking of is more that we shouldn't work toward never feeling anger, but noticing anger as an opportunity to change something. It doesn't even have to be something huge. For instance, if we get angry about all the crap on television (which I sometimes do), we could realize that the programming on television is really designed to produce craving suffering subjects desperate to buy things that will make them feel better. Instead of angrily complaining about television, which is a waste of time, we can get involved in community theater, or help with a children's theater program, so that we can learn to produce our own culture instead of taking what hollywood offers. This is a simple example, but there is real radicalism in encouraging people to take part in culture that doesn't make any corporation richer, and gives them something meaningful to do.

Similarly, if we're angry about the traffic, we can start advocating for a better, more extensive, and more rationally organized mass transit system.

Anger shouldn't always be eliminated, but understood. I think we agree on this, don't we?

Tharpa Pema's picture


Joseph Rogers's picture

From the tricycle interview with Noah:

There's that bumper sticker that says, "If you're not pissed off, you're not paying attention." I relate. If you're paying attention to all of the ignorance, oppression, violence, and injustice in this world, then being a little bit pissed off about it, being angry about it, is understandable. What dharma practice teaches us, and what I suggest to the angry revolutionaries and the angry activists and the frustrated people, is to look a little deeper. Through meditation practice look a little deeper into your own heart and mind and see what's underneath the anger. We see the injustice, and we have aversion to it, and it manifests as anger, but the reason we are angry is because we care, because we love, because we have compassion for those who are being oppressed.

Compassion is much more responsive and responsible than anger. Anger freezes us up, right? We get stuck in anger, we become part of the problem. We get stuck in the feeling, “I'm angry, I'm pissed off.” When we can touch into why we are angry, we see that we're angry because we're hurt. We're angry because we're scared, we're angry because we care. Then we can come to addressing the hurt, addressing the fear, and coming from a place of compassion that is fuelling the anger. Connect to the compassion and work for positive change with the understanding and acceptance that this is also just the way the world is, and perhaps always has been.

The Buddha was saying this about 2,500 years ago and he was also in a generation of war and oppression. This is part of our practice. It all doesn't have to go away in order for us to be happy and at ease. Be of service, create a positive change in this world. Anger is not going to be part of the solution. It's an understandable place to start, certainly is where I started for sure, but then we move on. We continue forward.

wtompepper's picture

"When we can touch into why we are angry, we see that we're angry because we're hurt."

This may true enough for those of us living a comfortable middle-class life. On the other hand, there may be some people who are angry because they worked had for twenty years and then the factory got moved overseas and their pension fund was raided because of Regan-era deregulation and now their family is being evicted. And this isn't even an extreme case. In many parts of the country, this is the norm. All I'm saying is, don't get too vain about being the one percent of the "willing." Be grateful about being the one percent of the fortunate.

I also don't think acting from compassion is enough. It is necessary, but not sufficient. So, I absolutely agree with the idea of cultivating compassion, and with the Levine's explanation in this book that compassion can only ever come from understanding. This is a great beginning, and I'm not arguing against it. We just shouldn't think it is really a "revolution." We shouldn't get too proud of our radicalism before we've really started being radical. Understanding someone requires not just knowing they are a product of their karmic conditions, but knowing exactly which social conditions are producing their suffering. "Compassion is much more responsive than anger," but only if we understand the correct way to respond.

Remember that Buddha was far more radical than just suggesting training of the mind. He also suggested walking away from the social system of his time, and firmly rejected the concept of money--a brand new invention in his day, and one he saw could only be a source of delusion.

andapeterson's picture

I also have some trouble with the "one-percenter" idea. While I appreciate and support the notion that Buddha, MLK, Ghandhi and Merton were "radicals" in their own right by going against the grain of their societies, I don't see that analogy holding with outlaw bikers.

From a regrettable relationship I had with someone who had been an outlaw biker I saw the reality of some of that lifestyle. Though my loved one was understandablly angry at society's pathology/criminatlity and its hypocrisy, he had never sought the skillful means of looking at his own pathology. He and his cohorts, to me, seemed to be caught in the "realm of demons and hungry ghosts"--violent, self-destructive, sexually depraved and addicted. I was shocked that I found myself in their "hell" due to my own naivite and my own pathologies (addicted to "fixing" someone to get them to love me--the typical Alanon personality). I finally had to save myself from the hell that these "outlaw bikers" lived in, and still must process the grief of what I lost (physically and emotionally) in that experience. I still also grieve for my "outlaw biker" who I pray finds peace.

Having said that, I still embrace the revolutionary and the radical. In a culture where we are fast asleep, any change from the norm is considered radical and is feared, but we need the brave soles who attempt to live in the way that has sadly not been the majority lifestyle.

Thanks everyone for giving me this opportunity to look at these issues, mindfully (I hope).

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear Noah and Joseph:

You have my great thanks for the opportunity to discuss. At one time I considered myself a revolutionary and an outcast. I still embrace many elements of this identity. Participation in this community helps me work through this identity fixation and move on.

I feel greatly encouraged by the words of your book's introduction. Being sometimes disputatious myself, I feel drawn to discuss the ONE item in your writing with which I feel significant discomfort. May this focus be perceived within the context of my overwhelming appreciation for what you and all the participants have to contribute to Buddhist discourse.

It is perhaps selfish of me to concentrate on what troubles me rather than on what may support others in the dharma. Perhaps if I gratify my impulse this time, I will be ready to leave it behind next time. Or maybe not! Some of you may be kind enough to tolerate it.

My discomfort is with the term "one-percenters." It seems unskillful at some level to single out one-percent of the population as special carriers of the dharma. Especially if you hope to be received with open arms by the other ninety-nine percent of us!

I can see where thinking of ourselves as special might facilitate growth for people with a personal history of feeling denigrated by others. It may help steer us back toward a more balanced perception of self.

At some point, however, in order to continue to grow in our ability to connect with other sentient beings, we will each have to acknowledge our parity with them and become comfortable with that.

Would appreciate feedback and the opportunity to learn from other people's perspectives.


Joseph Rogers's picture

Thanks to everyone for their discussion of the spiritual 1%ers that Noah refers to in his introduction.

The relevant quote, I believe, is from page 2. It states, “The Buddha is reported to have said that he thought ‘only a handful of people in each generation’ – the spiritual 1%ers- would be willing to do the hard work of training the heart and mind through meditation, ethical behavior, and unconditional love for all sentient beings. His message was radical.”

I read this as saying that it is rare in this world to set our heart/minds to the task of transformation, to approach the world from the standpoint of compassion and kindness. Therefore we who choose the path of the heart must set our intentions firmly, perhaps rebelliously, despite where the pull of desire and craving would lead us. I think the statement is as simple as this.

That being said, I have a personal difficulty with the use of the term 1%ers, as the term is usually applied to violent and misogynistic gangs who act in a manner contrary to the subject of the book. While I understand that Noah identifies with a certain subculture, and wishes to redefine a symbol, I do not believe that certain symbols can be washed of their historical context, as I believe the case is with the swastika. I have expressed this opinion to Noah, so I don’t think it will be a shock to him to see it here.

I will also say that there is a great value in our community of Against the Stream of using this kind of sub-culture image. There are many people who sit with us that I have not seen in any other dharma scene, and who take great comfort in hearing the dharma in a language that they can relate to. As my friend Pablo Das said at our daylong with Chonyi Taylor, “I am so grateful that there is a place for people like us, Rock n’ Roll tee-shirt-wearing-kind-of-people, to hear the dharma.” The Buddha taught in the language of the common people, and taught that the Dharma should be spoken in the manner of the people being taught to.

I am grateful and honored to be considered part of the 1%er posse. To move from a life driven by anger and alienation to one striving for deepest compassion and kindness is worth something to the world. I think this is the focus of the book.

jasondcrane's picture

After I finished Heart of the Revolution, I started reading Against The Stream. Reading them in reverse chronological order is interesting. From my perspective, Noah's current approach to the teachings of the Buddha reflect a non-supernatural stance a la Stephen Batchelor. In Against The Stream, he's still talking about reincarnation as if it were real, a position he no longer appears to hold in Heart of the Revolution. I also noticed that the Batchelors were thanked at the end of Heart of the Revolution.

Two caveats: I've only read the first 25% of Against The Stream, so I may be unfairly characterizing it, and I also may be inaccurately stating Noah's previous or current position. I'd be interested to hear more from him about what I'm perceiving as an evolution in his approach, and not just because I like it.

In any case, I'm glad to have his writing and perspective.

All the best,


paddy's picture

Hello all, Radicalisation is the spin we put on things, whatever works in a wholesome way is good. Elaborate---- I was researching de radicalisation programmes for Muslim inmates in prison. Something was wrong with it---- it was like the holy saying you need this your bad, then I realised that we all need de radicalisation and also re radicalisation. I work in a max security prison as a Buddhist chaplain one day a week. I have come to realise that the teaching needs to be energised, have a sense of drama and fun in the end the peace love brown rice Tai Chi stuff can be boring and not much fun. So I agree with Noah that the radical take is useful. I always remember Jesus and the story of turning over the money lenders tables in the temple, i like that its radical: while I am here I will share my latest poem, I have had fun with it with prisoners:

live in a deep hole
despair is my companion
scary outside
climb up my ladder
check it
too scary
down again
to what I know
confused now
just climbed up
and saw a man
rolling around
and laughing
said why?
reply -
a magpie has
just told me
a really funny joke.
Paddy 28/5/11

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi everybody,

FYI- I just published an interview I did with Noah on the blog, "Captain Karma vs. The One-Percenters."
It touches on some of the themes of the book.


Michael Jaquish's picture

Hello davidsmichael.

I am enjoying reading all the insightful Buddhist perspectives here that address my question asking how one should deal with the dangers of Monotheism (and religion in general and yes, even radical atheism). There is much to ponder here and I appreciate how seriously everyone seems to be taking this issue because like it or not, I believe we will all be compelled to confront this important issue more and more as time passes.

In response to your (davidsmichael’s) request to hear more about my personal confrontation of “a dangerous mythology and destructive attitudes that I see in the world today”, I would say that I am attacking the problem from a number of directions including, but not limited to, the below:

One is to simply be a positive role model by employing the fundamentals of Buddhism in my own life and projecting that to all I encounter.

Another is to reach out to the many groups and individuals involved or concerned with the threat of global terrorism and engage all who are willing in conversations centering on the predictable outcomes of the “them VS us” attitudes and then going on to tactfully point out how Monotheism tends to encourage such attitudes by classifying human beings into two groups: the “saved” who love God and are going to heaven and the “unsaved”, who are condemned to eternal suffering.

I then offer alternative perspectives that center on developing the principles of compassion and empathy through the practice of meditation and mindfulness and non-dual perspectives instead of dual perspectives. I may or may not label such techniques ‘Buddhism”, depending on how open the individual or group happens to be. I frequently point out that monotheists can in fact employ such concepts in their own religion if they choose because Jesus often made statements that encouraged followers to utilize similar techniques. For some, building such a bridge between Christianity and Buddhist philosophy seems to help create a common frame of reference.

To this end I have authored several books that lead readers to ponder such issues. (A Monk Without A Monastery- An Examination of Self-Discovery, Namaste- Greeting The Light Within & Where Did We Come From and Where Are We Going)

What motivates me the most? As a life-long student of Buddhism and a follower of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition committed to the path of the Bodhisattva, I am motivated to assist all beings who desire to end their suffering by encouraging them to step into the stream that flows in the direction of enlightenment. This is a long journey and I am making that journey one moment at a time by reaching out to all I encounter with empathy, loving kindness and compassion and offering them words that contain the seeds of change.

The journey of life in the material world involves many challenges that must be confronted and overcome if we desire to 'collectively' evolve to a state of greater peace, understanding and compatibility with our planet and the universe and all beings who reside within it. The complex challenges presented by monotheism are only one of those challenges. We can choose to ignore such challenges and focus only on our own spiritual growth... or we can choose to recognize the connection we have with all beings by taking steps to assist and encourage all beings to engage in spiritual growth. I happen to believe that the latter option is the most important option we can take.

I am pleased to be surrounded on this web page by so many who are on that same journey.

Many blessings to you all and Namaste.


wtompepper's picture

Seriously, getting pissed off in traffic? Why does everyone think that has something to do with Buddhism? If you practice Buddhism to avoid getting mad at bad drivers, just take a valium, it’s easier.

Mindfulness and compassion require a lot more effort than just not losing your temper. And mindfulness isn’t just stopping to think before you act, either.

Mindfulness would require you to think about the cause of that flash of anger. If traffic sucks for everyone, and everyone gets angry about it all the time, maybe that’s an indication of something that needs to be changed.

Think of this: in America alone, about 600 people die each week in car accidents, on average. An actuary could probably tell you within a very small range exactly how many people will be killed this weekend. If that many people died of a disease, there would be a walkathon to cure it and a foundation to raise awareness about it. But these deaths are just a necessary evil, and we can’t do away with them without cutting into corporate profits, so we accept them. Even try to blame the victims.

But every time you get in your car, you are producing bad karma. You are contributing to the most destructive form of pollution on the planet, and participating in a deadly and irrational form of transportation. So, instead of trying to mindfully avoid swearing at the next bad driver, maybe it would be better to be truly mindful and compassionate: direct that anger towards working for a world in which you do not have to drive a car every day of your life to survive! Don’t just feel guilty—that’s not mindful either. Don’t just stop driving so much—that won’t help. But really get invested in supporting reorganizing our world so that cars aren’t a necessary part of it. Think of the lives you could save, this weekend and in the planet’s future! That's compassion.

When those psychologists mentioned in The Onion think about these things, you can bet that two seconds of thought is all they want you to give to something. Any more, and you might start wanting to change the social system—not a goal psychology has ever encouraged.

yourneighbor57's picture

Right ON! Mindfulness is radical because it really does lead to that kind of transformation. _/\_

jasondcrane's picture

I finished Noah's book tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I read the latest issue of The Onion, and this caught my eye:

Study: All American Problems Could Be Solved By Just Stopping And Thinking For Two Seconds
MAY 27, 2011 | ISSUE 47•21

CHAPEL HILL, NC—A study published Thursday by psychologists at the University of North Carolina concluded that all American problems—from stuck jacket zippers to the national debt—could be solved if citizens just stopped, took a deep breath, and thought for two seconds before they acted. "We found that in 93 percent of cases, a positive outcome could have been achieved if Americans simply splashed a little water on their faces prior to dealing with an unfair boss, being out of clean spoons, signing on to direct a second Wall Street film, or answering a call from a parent," Janet Mallory, the study's lead author, told reporters. "Our data indicate that when U.S. citizens don't take a second to compose themselves, they typically charge in like maniacs and hurt either themselves or several million Iraqi civilians." Mallory said a good rule of thumb for Americans is to think of a plan, stop, and then do the complete opposite.


Yes, it's got The Onion's skewed lens, but in its own way it reflects the mindfulness practice Noah talks about.

moonaysl's picture

I enjoyed this Onion headline. I think their style of satire can be a really useful way of bringing things to the fore.

bjpontalion's picture

I bought my copy the day it came out! I just love all your books. I am looking forward to this discussion and insights it brings. Thank you for taking time to help us all.

Melbourne77's picture

I just got my copy and am looking forward to reading!

jshanson's picture

"But if the heart leaps to affirm something beyond your knowledge, don't forsake it."
B. Alan Wallace

I just read that and at the right time. Let's all quit analyzing our egos, our karma, and everything else. Lets leap with our hearts.

P.S. Noah, sorry about the criticism several years ago with Ann Tzao :)

wtompepper's picture


I would love to give an example of how Buddhism has transformed my relationship with the world in a very concrete way. Coming from a working class background in which higher education was not encouraged, I struggled to get through school at community college and state universities before getting into graduate school, and was unprepared for the level of class discrimination I found in higher education. This only fueled my already strong class resentment, and my life got a bit out of control for a while.

Eventually, I finished a Ph.D., and I teach English at the college level; for many years I was depressed and angry about how unprepared my students were, how much they hated reading and resisted learning. I was also resentful of the kinds of jobs I had, unable to get even an interview at the kinds of schools where the students were prepared for college and might be interested in reading a novel. I’ve almost always taught at community colleges and four-year state schools. Economically, I was doing okay, but I wasn’t getting any more satisfaction out of work than I had during my days hanging drywall before I went to college.

Buddhism changed my perspective on the world dramatically. I began to consider my students with compassion, and to understand that they are just as resentful of the screwed up world as I was. Why should they be interested in reading books they can’t make sense of, and working for four years, when they know full well that there are no jobs for them, and they might as well go to work at Walmart right now? Of course they’re angry and resistant! I had unconsciously assumed the only alternatives were the patronizing attitude of most of my former professors and many of my colleagues (don’ ask them to read that, they’re just not smart enough), or the angry insistence that if I could do it they could. I had to become compassionate before I could really understand what I already knew intellectually: the causes and conditions that prevented them from eagerly showing up with a well-thumbed Riverside Shakespeare. Now I’m less interested in Hamlet than in teaching them about the cultural uses to which such Literature is put, and the better uses it could be put to.

So, instead of railing at them for not reading Shakespeare, I began to teach them why Shakespeare is taught--to consider the possibility that Shakespeare is required just to convince them that they aren’t smart enough to succeed, that they always need the “experts” to tell them what to do. Then, I try to take it down a peg, and show them that often the reason it seems so impossible is just that they are told it must be about some profound, timeless truth, when sometimes it is just a crude, raunchy joke. And I try teach them to read Literature they do like, novels and poetry about the unfairness they’ve experienced, and they can begin to channel their own resentment into active thought instead of sullen resistance.

I am middle-aged now, and still passionate about the social and economic mess our world is in. Instead of giving rise to anger and depression and drinking, that passion now gives me tremendous energy to keep trying to change things, even when nobody wants to listen. I wouldn’t want to teach at any other kind of school now; although my students may still think I demand too much of them, I am confident that I am giving them a chance at awakening. The possibilities for a working class kid to get through college and into grad school are not what they were when I was young, and may never be that way again. I can at least give them a glimmer of thought, so they can see that there are other ways to resist social injustice without wasting their lives.

Intelligent understanding of the world is essential, but without practicing metta there is not motivation or strength to work for change.


Joseph Rogers's picture

Thank you for sharing this with us. I agree, without the practice of kindness and generosity, there is no sustainable strength to work for change.

eternallyperplexed's picture

Having read your posts on a couple of topics, I can tell you that I would sign up for one of your classes if I could! Perhaps a web-based program is in order? I am serious, in that you have a talent for stimulating thought.
The arc of your life is very different from mine, but somehow I feel we have ended up in the same place; hence a particular question. What do you say to a period of withdrawal, in middle age, from the passionate engagement of the social and other messes of the world? I don't mean a formal retreat, which for most of us is not practical. I mean more like a year or two or three of deliberate and determined quietude and non-reaction to the world with minimizing of chatter and clutter in order to allow the self to subside a bit, and enough to let the Mindful Observer within to come to the forefront and hopefully stay there. I am just embarking on such a 'plan for peace', experimenting with silence, much to the amusement of my family and consternation of my friends, and it is opening new vistas. Also gives me a lot more time to read! But I have a niggling sense of guilt, of abandoning the field at a time when every shoulder is needed to keep the creaky wheel turning when things look very much like they will soon fall entirely apart.
Your thoughts on all this will be appreciated.

wtompepper's picture

Why the guilt? I'm curious what other Buddhists would say about this. Didn't Buddha spend three months a year in retreat? Don't we need to "retreat," in every sense, once in a while? I can only speak for myself, but I have found it important to take the time to discover what I, with my particular karmic conditions, am best able to do in the world. My conventionally real "self" can do some things and not others, and at every age I need to reassess what those things are. Right now, I think it is trying to teach working class kids to open their minds to real thought. In a few years, once the powers that be have finished eliminating all humanities requirements from the state universities, it will have to be something else, and I hope at that point I have a chance to spend some time in contemplation of what to do next.

Thanks for your word of encouragement. I do tend to stir up controversy, and I do think it is a way to bring awakening. Not everyone agrees, but I doubt I'll stop--it is just my karma.


eternallyperplexed's picture

For sure don't stop! Go with your karma. Articulating contrarian and subversive viewpoints is not a common skill, and inevitably forces me to think a bit harder.
Maybe 'guilt' is not the right word. Perhaps I am looking for what is the most skilful way to be, at this point in time in my location with my skills and my limitations. With the state of the world being what it is, one part of me feels a kind of desperation to do my active bit, responding to the calls for Engaged Buddhism. Another part is utterly exhausted and just needs repose. I don't know too many middle-aged people who are not confronted with some version of this dilemma, and of course everyone says one can do both, take the middle way, balance your life, etc.
Yup, am trying. But man do I feel the tug to just say goodbye to the world of people. On the days when I interact only with dirt, wind, trees, ocean, and dog, I feel utterly refreshed and in sync with the universe. So naturally I 'crave' more of the same. Silence and solitude are not easy to integrate with the demands of the relative self in a world where so many are suffering so much.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear wtompepper:

I love that you are talking about your real life now. You are wonderful!

maitri, Linda

Joseph Rogers's picture

I would also like to welcome everyone to the discussion. I’m excited that there has already been such vigorous conversation, ranging from the place of the dharma in the mundane to the philosophical discussion of a Buddhist relationship to monotheism.
In the book, Noah discusses how rare it is for people of all faiths, and non-faiths, “or whatever to be open-hearted, to be free from ill will, resentment, and ignorance.” (Heart of the Revolution,pg 3) In my own life, I have seen the revolutionary effects of moving from a viewpoint of anger to one of compassion. In my work toward social justice, I have experienced burn-out, resistance from others, and a sense of hopelessness when coming from an inner view of “me vs. the world.” When meeting the world with an open heart, I have found a deeper reserve of energy, and a more effective manner of relating to difficult situations and people (including traffic).
I would love to hear from the community how the dharma has been revolutionary in transforming their internal relationship with the world, especially how the heart practices have facilitated this process.
I look forward to the continuing conversation.

j.robinowitz's picture

The thing that I have found both the most amazing and the most transformative about the different heart practices is that the closer I get to the suffering in my own experience and open my heart to it, the better I am at relating to myself and the rest of the world from a place of patience and calm rather than anger and reactivity.

I didn't used to have a relationship with myself. I never acknowledged the pain I was carrying around inside, let alone open my heart to it and actually feel it. I spent decades trying to escape my mind through drugs, alcohol, and sex. I was bitter and angry all the time. Having started down the path of opening my heart and letting that pain in I have found that I am living my life with greater ease. I no longer deny my pain and try to escape it, instead I welcome it into my heart and embrace it.

And this turning towards myself has had a profound impact on my relationship to the rest of the world. I am more open to other people, better able to hear their viewpoint and respond to their suffering in a skillful way. Take my marriage for example, before I used to take things personally when my wife was upset (whether it was directed at me or not). This would often result in my becoming defensive and closed off from her. Now I am able to meet her suffering with compassion and equanimity and respond in a way that brings us closer together instead of pushing us farther apart.

While I certainly have a long way to go, starting to walk down this path has literally saved my life.

kgarthern's picture

I am 36 years old and lived my share of a gnarled, self-destructive lifestyle- and still do to some extent. My question is- I have four kids ages 16 down to age 7 and I know they could likely engage in the same or worse BS that I did. That is their choice, but how can I best introduce the intention of the Buddha to them? How can I direct their natural sense of this world being "fucked up" to fuel a Buddha-inspired revolutionary approach instead of the chaotic unguided approach I took as an angry youth?? I have ideas, but appreciate more perspective.