Seattle Dharma Punx (left to right): Rachel Beals, Miranda Pinero, Ash Wednesday, Anthony Axtell, Danaelle Bel, Andrew Harman, Laura Pritchard, Beth Owen, Brian Sharp. Front row: Jon Ceis and Eric Wirkman
While Buddhism and the punk rock culture appear to have little in common, in fact, both share a common foundation: dissatisfaction with the status quo and desire to seek the truth. Punk rocker and long-time meditator Noah Levine recognized this commonality and sought to empower the rebellious energy of the punk rock culture by combining it with the dharma. This approach to teaching the dharma particularly resonates with the younger generation who seek to make Buddhism their own in the shadow of the Baby Boomer generation — the first to embrace Buddhism in significant numbers in the U.S. As the Boomers were initially attracted to Buddhism in the 1960’s through their ideals, Generation X is finding Buddhism through its cynicism. Enter the Dharma Punx.
On June 27, the Seattle Dharma Punx and Hidden Hand Tattoo co-sponsored a benefit and silent auction for Yoga Behind Bars. The benefit strove to bring together multiple communities, who have shared sensibilities but different agendas, to support a good cause. They raised $4,700 for Yoga Behind Bars.
When Rachel Beals, cofounder of the Seattle Dharma Punx, started sitting with the Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS) six years ago, she felt that an important cultural component was missing. As a response, she helped set up the Seattle chapter of the Dharma Punx after meeting Noah Levine at a retreat at Spirit Rock and helping him establish the first Dharma Punx in Los Angeles. She then started a year-long facilitator training with Levine.
In Seattle, the Dharma Punx started as a small group of people she knew who wanted a casual place to gather and sit. Over time, these gatherings grew through word of mouth. Now, the Seattle Dharma Punx attracts 20 to 25 dedicated meditators a week.
Given that the Seattle Dharma Punx have done very little advertising, Beals is impressed by the number of people, particularly young adults, attending the weekly sits. She believes the group is growing as it should: over time, as more and more people hear about it.
The auctioneer at work.
The Dharma Punx exists, she explains, because it is needed. While everyone is welcome, it attracts people who would not otherwise be exposed to the dharma and would not otherwise join a sangha. This draw is in part due to the cultural component that the Dharma Punx offers. Like the organization’s founder, the members of the Dharma Punx are young adults who share an affinity for the punk rock and counter–culture lifestyle. Also important is that the Dharma Punx defines itself as a casual space for people to gather in order to meditate and talk about the dharma. The word casual resonates with the people it draws. People feel comfortable coming exactly as they are.
Even though Beals facilitates, she does not define herself as a teacher. She believes that this is also important, as attendees don’t feel they have to align themselves to a specific tradition, lineage, or teacher. This freedom to practice the dharma on their own terms appeals to the cultural sensibilities of the people it draws.
The sits have the relaxed feel of a group of friends hanging out, but within a Buddhist structure so they get some real work done. So while it feels like a bunch of friends hanging out, it is more than that. Both Beals and Levine received most of their early training in the Theravadan tradition, and the Punx maintains an element of that Theravadan foundation. Rachel has recently given talks on the Bramaviharas, and the 10 paramis.
However, because they do not have a dedicated teacher, the Seattle Dharma Punx lacks the full experience of the dharma. The Seattle Dharma Punx can nevertheless serve as an entry point to a deeper practice, and this is beneficial.
No matter the context, younger generations necessarily rebel against their parents. This is also true for Buddhism in North America. The Dharma Punx takes what’s authentic and make it its own. Within five years of the movement’s founding, 18 Dharma Punx centers have sprung up across the U.S and Canada. They are clearly doing something right.
For more information on The Dharma Punx, please visit www.dharmapunx.com.
Contributor: Kate Forster.
Photos: Kate Forster.