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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Joseph Rogers's picture

My friend, and Against the Stream teacher, Matthew Brensilver, talks about that although Buddhists don't actively evangelize, that we do through our example (he says we are just classier Evangelists). I know that my son's behavior reflects so much of my own, which is another reason to practice!

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear Michael:

You address a very sensitive question and I thank you for it. My religious practice of choice is Vajrayana. However, my father was a Christian minister whom I loved and admired a great deal. Jesus was my first role model and I suspect I will continue throughout my life to make religious choices based upon my earliest ideas and emotions about this nonviolent, loving spiritual teacher.

In my thirties I discovered neo-paganism and began a long process of questioning the claims of some historians (my college major at one time) that monotheism represents religious progress. To date I am entirely comfortable with the idea that monotheism is not superior. Nor do I feel that it is in any way an inferior approach.

I live in a small Southern town where the vast majority of people around me are Christians. I see in each of them the same potentials for wakefulness and ignorance that I perceive in my fellow Buddhists.

As I endeavor to live a dharma-inspired life, I see every day that differences in religious affinity do not determine either individual happiness or how well an individual gets along with other people around him or her.

I find it more effective to understand the roots of each person's suffering independently of any assumptions about the wholesale worth of their religious affiliation, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Neo-Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, or atheist, etc.

In myself, I have seen the destructiveness in my urge to generalize any religion or person into some kind of false construct, a demonic conceptual form that exists solely in my own mind.

I perceive beauty as well as danger in all mythologies. My responsibility is to seek daily to delve deeper
into the meaning any mythology has for a specific individual. The same religious concept often has wildly different significance to different people.

Yes, there is much to fear in human nature, and it expresses itself in a multitude of religious forms.

I greatly appreciate the discussion, and look forward to further discussion and spiritual growth.

Maitri, Linda

jasondcrane's picture

Hello all,

As an atheist who's gone back and forth into and out of Buddhism over the years, I was really struck by Noah's suggestion that we find a path between clinging to material/sensual pleasures and clinging to religion. I've been reading Stephen Batchelor recently (big surprise, right?) and that was a perfect lead-in to this book. I'm looking forward to talking about the book with all of you.

All the best,

Jason Crane

Michael Jaquish's picture

Today's (06-01-11) Tricycle Dharma Message (the above intro quote) happens to address an important area of concern for me - 'the dangers of monotheism'. For me, the seriousness of the issue began on 09-11-01 when America was attacked by religious fundamentalists "in the name of God". Prior to that I was more or less content to leave monotheistic religion alone or follow the Dalai Lama's suggestion that we should focus on the good things that all religions share instead of those issues that seek to divide us. However, considering the large number of similar horrific incidents in humanity's past attributed to monotheism and projecting such attitudes into the future, I have come to see a destructive, "them VS us" pattern within monotheism that is preventing many from experiencing non-dual compassion for all beings. This awareness has compelled me to embark upon a mission to confront what I see as a 'dangerous mythology' with more negative than positive potential for society. I have for some time viewed my activism as being similar to the role The Buddha played in confronting similar destructive attitudes of his own time. Am I wrong?

I would be interested in hearing what Noah and others here have to say about this issue.

Aleric's picture

I think that as social creatures who have endured thousands of years of group living, an us / them mentality developed because it was adaptive to the survival of the group in competition with other groups, i.e., simple tribalism.

I have recently come to realize that for many, having the "truth" naturally leads them to both a subtle arrogance as well as a sense of not having to "do" anything for spiritual and human development, i.e., Jesus has accepted you ... you are go to go as you are, anything else is "works" which is understood as not only "bad" but undermining "grace."

Religion in all its forms can be reduced to something that is functional for a group (internal cohesion). Social science has shown that simple division can easily lead to not only ingroup cohesion, but also outgroup hostility.

I am new here (posted recently on what drew me to this site), and still working my thoughts out, but I have come to see that theism unchecked or unbalanced can be very dangerous. So right now I am thinking about Deism, Zen, and or Zen Deism.

I have presented a paper at a conference on religious violence and can say I am impressed that for the most part, within Buddhism the link is not that strong as compared to the monotheistic revealed religions. This fact under scores how monotheistic religions (apart from their truth claims) have played an adaptive role in fostering group identity and internal cohesion. Of course, these things are very powerful and do draw upon people with much strength. Regards Aleric

emotive.atb's picture

Perhaps this is a religion-politics issue, at least in part. Seems to me, when religious ideologies become methods for control over citzenry, it's all downhill from there.

davidstmichael's picture

Michael Jaquish,
I would love to hear more about your confrontation of a dangerous mythology and destructive attitudes that you're seeing in the world today. How are you doing this? For I, too, am aware of much disconnection between who we really are and who we think we are. What are your methods? Who are your teachers? What motivates you the most? Where is this leading you?
Thank you kindly for your time and reply, my friend. :)

gutoku's picture

It might be best to approach this differently. Monotheism is not the only belief that has been used to justify terrible actions. Shin Buddhism was used to persuade naive young men to die for Japanese Imperialism. Zen was used as the ideology of violent warfare. In other places, Buddhism has been distorted into a justification for caste systems or feudal oppression. These mistakes must be avoided in every belief system.

This does not mean, though, that we should have no strongly held views, accepting the attitude that every belief is equally true. If you think this, there is no reason to be a Buddhist. To be a Buddhist requires that you accept Buddhism as true, and the monotheistic religions as deluded. Rather than attack other religions for the mistakes they have made, it is better to show them that they are deluded, and that their delusions will lead to suffering in the world, not necessarily in the form of bombs and warfare alone, but in the more subtle kind of dukkha. There is no need to criticize other religions; we must begin by eliminating the idea of perenialism from popular Buddhism. One cannot encourage people in delusions that add to their suffering (such as belief in a creator god), and still claim to be teaching true Buddhism. Buddhism requires that we always try to remove delusions.

katemack's picture

I think 'deluded' is a bit strong. I'm near sighted. Every year I go to my eye doctor and he writes a prescription for my glasses. When I wear a prescription that's right for me, I can see. My husband is far-sighted. When I put on his glasses, I can't see anything because those lens aren't right for me.

The teachings of the Buddha are another lens that works for me -- not so much for my husband. His understanding of the Dharma (and I use this in the sense of The Truth -- ideal type, no brand affiliation requred or implied) comes through Chrisianity. The monothestic God of Abraham lens doesn't help me see but it helps my husband. I don't think he's deluded. I think he sees things differently.

gutoku's picture

Buddhism is not a "lense" through which to look at the world. It is a claim about he world itself. If you see that Buddha was right about reality, then you owe it to your husband to try to show him that he is deluded.

buddhabrats's picture

Give help when its needed and mind your own business "William Burroughs"
"If a thousand people ask and want to know to tell them is not enough, but if one person doesn't want to know and you tell them then it is too much" Garab Dorje Founder of dzoghcen

Dominic Gomez's picture

A certain amount of wisdom is valuable when teaching the Law to others. Even Shariputra, Shakyamuni Buddha's sharpest disciple, blew it. One day he attempted to explain Buddhism to a blacksmith and a laundryman. Shaiputra taught the practice of meditating upon the vileness of the body to the blacksmith and breath-counting meditation to the laundryman. But the result was that neither person was able to grasp Buddhism.
Reporting this to Shakyamuni, Shariputra was told that a blacksmith's job entails continually striking hot iron with a hammer while fanning the fire with a bellows. A smith, therefore, constantly works to control the rhythm of his breathing. Had Shariputra taught breath-counting meditation to the blacksmith, he would have immediately understood the Law.
On the other hand, since the work of a laundryman involves cleaning dirty clothes, if Shariputra had taught him meditation on the vileness of the body, the laundryman would have intuitively comprehended Buddhism. For all of his efforts, Shariputra succeeded only in causing confusion. Teaching Buddhism in a manner appropriate to the individual is critical.

katemack's picture

No. It is not my function to show anyone that he/she is deluded. After all, although I may believe that the Buddha is/was right about reality, I also need to acknowledge that I maybe wrong. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again before I die. No big deal if this turns out to be one of the many things I am wrong about.

And it is a perspective, a viewpoint, an approach, an understanding that is as culture bound as every other 'lens' out there.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear gutoku:

it is pleasant to hear from you again.

I personally believe it is beyond human capability to determine whether one religious belief or system has fundamentally more truth than another.

This is because each of us has a slightly different take on our own religion, i.e., each person's understanding of common religion concepts is somewhat unique. Human beings lack the vision to understand how religion is experienced by anyone and everyone else. We can only guess at it. Indeed, we imperfectly and impermanently understand our own beliefs much less other people's beliefs.

Take for instance, "belief in a creator god." I know a large number of people who say that they believe in god, and that concept--in conjunction with a lot of other ideas they hold--brings them tremendous relief of suffering. They are able to use the concept of god to take excessive, unbearable guilt off of themselves.

Then there are other people who are atheists who believe that it is the god concept itself--rather than what each individual does with that concept--that causes suffering. If only they didn't believe in god they would behave and feel in a way that would reduce their suffering.

What they are really saying, perhaps, is that the word "god" triggers so much emotional trauma in them that the trauma must be inherent in the word itself rather than in the body that feels the trauma.

I know both christian and atheist people who are bitter because, whatever set of constructs unique to them they believe in, they feel bad about it.

Just about any word or idea can be used in 84,000 different ways to achieve the reduction of suffering or indeed to increase suffering. This is because words and concepts are combined in myriad ways in people's minds. Even if we employ a computer to correlate "84,000" facts and assumptions that make up a belief system we fear is dangerous, the human mind will immediately stretch beyond that definition as soon as it conceives it.

Each word and idea is a SYMBOL with as many meanings as there are people and separate moments in which to think about them--in other words, infinite meanings. And each religion is a complex set of ideas that work together to create a sense of being able to enjoy life in an uncertain world.

To me, it's the suffering and cessation of suffering that is the central fact of my own and other people's lives. The value I place on a "conclusion" or "delusion" has to do with the result as measured in human suffering and its cessation.

For me, it increases my suffering to imagine that someone else might needlessly suffer due to an expression of my own delusion that I know their religion is inferior to mine... Is that hard enough to figure out?

It feels much better to say, for now and in this moment, that that which reduces suffering is a sufficient thing. And less suffering for more people is a desirable goal.

it is okay that for me the Buddhist complex of beliefs works the best; and it is okay if someone else has an entirely different set of beliefs that nevertheless fulfill the same function.

To me, it is too great a reification of an abstract concept to judge any religion wholesale.

Peace to all participants, Linda

gutoku's picture

If you believe that you cannot determine for yourself, in your own experience, that Buddhism is more "fundamentally" true than other belief systems, then you need to find a better teacher, or to practice more diligently. Buddha's teaching is that it is within our capability to see this for ourselves.

I am sure you do not believe that "each word is a symbol with as many meanings as their are people." This is just silly, and if you believed it you would not hope to communicate with anyone in writing, so just posting here shows you do not believe it. Consider this again. Are such claims about absolute relativism just a fashionable way to avoid the work of seeing the truth of the dharma?

Tharpa Pema's picture

Dear gutoki:

You sound very sure that you know what I am thinking. A time may come when you learn you are making overlarge assumptions about other people's experience that are not warranted by the little bit of information you have received.

I do not share your faith in the precision of human language. I am content to approximate with words.

In case you did not intend it, I want to let you know. I find your manner of expressing yourself in this post discourteous. Perhaps you will learn in time also the value of communicating with respect.

Nevertheless, I continue to learn through conversing with you.

With respect, Linda

Sophia's picture

Deep Deep bows to You Linda for the clarity and wisdom you have shared with us here. I especially resonate with your words:

"...for now and in this moment, that which reduces suffering
is a sufficient thing."

Buddha dedicated his thousands of lifetimes of returning to this plane of existence...towards this same purpose...the end of suffering of all beings. May we each, in our own way, and through our own understanding in this moment...awaken to the suffering around us and within us...and in seeing it's presence...engage with it in ways that replace fear and anger with compassionate 'inter-being". For when fear is vanquished by loving presence...suffering has nothing to hold on to.

Deep Bows to Us All, Sophia

j.robinowitz's picture

I don't think monotheism is the only religious path that can lead to an us vs them mentality. I mean, any strongly held belief can lead to that kind of thinking. For example, I have many friends who are atheists and they are just as guilty of us/them thinking, often referring to Christian fundamentalists and other hard core believes as "those people". I'll admit that it's often hard for me not to make us/them distinctions between Dharma practitioners and others. And that goes equally for any of the things I feel strongly about (gay rights or providing welfare assistance for example) not just religious belief. I think breaking the world down into us and them is part of the survival instinct Noah talks about so much in his book; it's another place where the practice is about going against the stream.

Noah Levine's picture

I want to welcome everyone to the discussion. I am very glad to see people being honest, open and supportive of each other. To me, the dharma is about all of the real life shit we face everyday. It is about failing and forgiving ourselves for our imperfections, while still striving to be Buddha like and and to Serve the Truth, Defy the Lies and do our best to be Kind, Caring and Generous. But, i know that i fail constantly, and at times I even celebrate my own shortcoming, with a smile and internal bow. The bUddha encourages Humility as part of the practice of Metta (Loving Kindness). so when we are angry, or saying "shit" or in the midst of a fight with our partners, we say "of course" this is part of the practice.

These are some of my initial thoughts and again welcome to the discussion.

Noah Levine

buddhabrats's picture

Even the anger is a pure state as one of the five lights it is just the attachment to it and the following after it that causes us to suffer. The same karma is accrued kicking a door a dog or a person, it is the action of holding on and not the action itself that causes us to suffer. If all is self compassion is automatic, I have always felt it and cultivating it has always struck me as a bit weird. it is like hunger you either feel it or you don't, although if you do not feel it I certainly see value in cultivating it.

Adamas's picture

Thanks for posting this "Yesterday I was a ..." lately "the road" has been in my face and with the double sword I am angry and then angry at myself for being angry so yesterday I remembered the story of Milarepa in the cave and the last demon won't leave so they have tea -- I got it again this thing where compassion has to be in my heart for those aspects of me that I find unacceptable which I am continually working out in the world around me as I project my anger and judgment outward sometimes it seems like this should all be better by now, how many thousands of mantra will it take? how many asanas, amends, seva, maybe not this lifetime? with practice I now have a tad of discernment, space between thought and action so I do not (everytime) call out the fellow traveler on their road behavior. Be good to yourselves.

silcarry's picture

So you had a bad day...But the important thing is what you learned from it, and it seems as if you got quite an insight from it. That is the whole point, right? To observe what we do , how do we act ( and "react") and learn from it. That is progress right there. One tiny step at a time...

andapeterson's picture

Yesterday I was a "bad" Buddhist. I yelled "shit" when a cyclist came around from behind my car and turned directly in front of me on the right as I was negotiating driving across a busy street. Not only that, but after another cyclist (who heard me) yelled "Shut up!" I responded with another obscenity...not "right speech" or loving kindness on my part. However, it was another opportunity to acknowledge my angry ego who can get riled up too easily. It serves as a marker for me as to where I am on the path to awakening. As I've said in my blog about "kicking samsara's ass" (as J. Rogers puts it so beautifully) at walkswithyogi.wordpress: If enlightenment is Paris, I'm still in the Greyhound station in Peoria... waiting to buy a ticket.

However, this is all part of it. Pema Chodron says "Unconditional good heart toward others is not even possible unless we attend to our own demons." It's not a pretty sight, not the peaceful Buddha sitting--its the fierce part of the practice that challenges me to see myself clearly. Only then can I apply real loving kindness to the worst of me---and the worst in others.

Love that Noah Levine writes about the Revolutionary Buddha. More wonderful stuff to look forward to reading and learning from!

Keith McLachlan's picture

I yelled at a motorist yesterday, who didn't understand that pedestrians had the right of way on marked crosswalks.

Actually my response was in reply to his: "do you want to get killed?"
My reply didn't answer his question.

Joseph Rogers's picture

birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering and traffic is definitely suffering.

emotive.atb's picture

I would love to hear more about your work with teens, or at risk youth. Fellow Dharma practitioner here currently working at a youth home for troubled teens.
I would not only be interested in how Dharma can help our troubled teens, but how to practice while working with them in a highly emotionally charged and dramatic atmosphere. Any thoughts? You could probably write an article or book about it... maybe you already have.
Best Wishes

buddhabrats's picture

not if you ride a motorbike, then no traffic, or parking suffering ever.

andapeterson's picture

Ha! Thanks Joseph!

wmblakewilson's picture

Someone cuts you off, you say "shit." That's not "right speech"? A bicycle cutting you off is pretty dangerous. Perhaps your obscenity will keep the cyclist safe in the future.

"Right speech" isn't "being nice," "saying nice things" or "being peaceful." It's about saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said and then moving on. SHIT gets the point across very quickly.

buddhabrats's picture

The wrathful deities are the most compassionate, and it might just save his lifer in the future so it could definitely be useful. Abiding in ones nature completely is the dzogchen buddhist path, so as the iching says, no error in activity. if one is concerned that it is not right speach then that becomes the karma of it, but if one is not concerned then there is no karma just ceaseless buddha activity.

andapeterson's picture

Thank you for this perspective! Very helpful. The darma often surprises in how it needs to operate in the world.

kgarthern's picture

Thank you for saying this. It was my first reaction, too. I ride my bike to and from work frequently and can sometimes get arrogant or distracted at my authority to have the "right of way." On a rare occasion, the driver of a vehicle is in the same state of mind and may inadvertently miss seeing me. A well-placed "shit" can really bring someone back to their bicycle riding practice. I think it is ok.

Michael Jaquish's picture

How amusing :-) I too have found myself being swept up in very similar situations while navigating highway chaos and I too use such events as 'markers' to inform me of how far I have yet to go in my journey. It keeps me humble and helps me regain my focus... until the next unexpected event shatters my equanimity all over again. It all illustrates the importance of expecting the unexpected I suppose but perhaps more importantly such events reveal not how perfect or imperfect we are, but how 'aware' we are of the role our ego plays in our daily lives in 'keeping' us imperfect. Try as we might, it seems as though we are relegated to remaining under the control of the ego to some degree as long as we remain in human form (or attain 'enlightenment').

Such is the nature of the journey.