Why Punk & Buddhism Beats “Us Vs. Them”

Miguel-Chen-Quote-for-LR-Front-Pagefrom Lions Roar
BY MIGUEL CHEN | JANUARY 7, 2015

I’m a musician, a punk rocker, a Buddhist of sorts, a yogi. Most of all, I consider myself an individual. But the further I come along on my path, I realize that while that’s true—I am an individual—I am also the same as everyone else.

The more time I spend on a meditation cushion, or turning inward during yoga, the more I realize that this “self” I have held onto so tightly for my entire existence, isn’t really what it appears to be at all. The self is an illusion, yet also very real.

Buddhism is full of seeming contradictions like this, where two truths that seemingly void each other out are both true at the same time. But that’s okay. Life often doesn’t make sense—and we don’t really need it to in order for us to appreciate and enjoy it.

There are many readings and teachings about non-duality, about emptiness, non-attachment and so on, and while they are very valuable, they will never give us a true understanding of the teachings. That can only be truly understood by diving inward, quieting the mind long enough for our deeper self to present itself. There is a part of every single human being that knows more than our ego or logical brain can interpret. In this part there is a basic goodness, a part of us that truly knows what is right or wrong for our lives, and what our true way forward is.

No matter how different we may seem on the outside, our paths are all connected, all essential. My path isn’t any more or less valuable than your path; we are all equal pieces of something bigger. If that’s true, the best thing we can do is to live according to our own truth, and allow others the support or space they need to do the same.

I spend about half of my time traveling with my punk rock band, Teenage Bottlerocket. Over the years we’ve been able to achieve mild success: I can make a little bit of money and support myself doing something I really love. Ever since I was a teenager all I wanted to do was play punk rock, go on tour, and see the world. It was an important part of my path even years before I would begin really contemplating such things. Eventually I did find myself actively looking for a deeper meaning. I was the last person I would have ever imagined would get into meditation, mindfulness, or spirituality.

Yet here I am: a few years into a daily meditation practice and finding myself happier, more connected, and alive than ever.

Meditation is a funny thing. This seemingly simple act—sitting on a cushion and being quiet—is actually an amazing tool that helps us start seeing things as they actually are. It helps us drop the illusion of how we think things are, or how we think they should be, and to just see and appreciate the truth. For me, this meant dropping my punk-informed attitude of “us versus them” and instead beginning to see connections that we all share.

Thanks to touring, I have been fortunate enough to meet so many wonderful people in so many wonderful places. Over time I have come to a deeper appreciation for the intrinsic value their presence has in my life and interactions with them. I’ve also gained a deeper appreciation for my interactions with people outside of the punk scene. Punk was all about being yourself, about living by your own rules and doing what was right for you. Eventually I realized everybody else was living by their own rules too, just because it wasn’t punk rock didn’t mean their path was any less unique or important than my own.

In fact, through meditation and mindfulness practices, I began to tune into a part of me that could better understand that every person is unique, following their own path, living their own life in a way that only they ever could. I’ve started to see that my own life and practice would not be possible without everyone else, and that brings me to a place of deep appreciation for all beings. I love my life. And I love your life, too. Without it, things would not be as they are, and the way things are now is not only perfect, it’s the only way things could possibly be!

Sure: my path as a punk-rock musician, Buddhist, and aspiring yoga teacher may not seem like it has much in common with, say, that of a Christian boat enthusiast and CEO. But there are payoffs in seeking the similarities. The truth is that ignoring, disregarding, or hurting others causes us to suffer. But when we work to be of benefit to others, true ease, meaning, and happiness, can arise. So let’s do this. You be you, I’ll be me, we’ll be us. To me, that’s what punk rock is all about.

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