In his latest book, Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries, Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, tells us just how radical the Buddha’s teachings are in a refreshing new way. He starts, “Against the Stream is more than just another book about Buddhist meditation. It is a manifesto and field guide for the front lines of the revolution. It is the culmination of almost two decades of meditative dissonance from the next generation of Buddhists in the West. It is a call to awakening for the sleeping masses.” This revolution began 2500 years ago with Siddhartha Gautama (aka, “Sid” aka, the “Buddha”) but Levine feels it is has gotten bogged down in dogmatism and corruption of the Buddha’s original teachings. He goes back to these teachings and so this book is more about Buddha than Buddhism. It’s a “radical, and subversive personal rebellion against the causes of suffering and confusion.”
The Buddha found a way beyond suffering, but this path does not provide insurance against pain and difficulty; it is not a meal ticket to unceasing bliss. This is one of the first planks of the revolutionary manifesto. The first plank is that there is no self, no “me” to suffer. This is discovered through real-time mindful awareness of the present moment. After his awakening, the Buddha did not set forth to teach right away. He hesitated. “To ask people to accept pain and a spiritual liberation that does not include bliss all of the time seemed crazy.” As it was 2500 years ago, this path is still hard. Levine cautions, “If you are looking for a quick fix or easy salvation, turn back now, plug back into the matrix, and enjoy your delusional existence. This is a path for rebels, malcontents, and truth seekers.”
The Buddha used a metaphor to help direct his future. He looked at a lotus pond and realized the lotuses were at different stages of development. Many were still stuck in the mud and deep under the water. Some had reached the surface, and others had broken through. If the mud is the unenlightened existence of ignorance, hatred, and greed, there were those who, no matter what, would not get the teachings. However there were others that would be more receptive, more ready to here the truth of what he taught and be willing to try it out for themselves. Thus, the Buddha set out on his 45-year teaching career.
To wake up in our society is a radical act. To reject consumerism and the relentless pursuit of pleasure is downright un-American. Levine is right in this way that there was something radical for the Buddha’s insights in the Axial age and that radical spirit persists in the Information Age. His teachings went “against the stream.”
The Revolutionary Manifesto: (1) Defy the lies (materialism, et cetera) “Human beings have created a deeply dysfunctional culture” The American ideal, oppression of native peoples, immigrants, slavery. Organized religion has a history of violence, extremism “I would reject so-called Buddhism along with the rest, because much of what masquerades as Buddhism today is in direct opposition to what the Buddha actually did and taught” (e.g., direct experience versus dogma; the example of the Shugin controversy in Tibet, should people beseech this deity?) “The spiritual revolutionary defies both the internal and external forces of oppression”
2. Serve the truth. “We must dedicate ourselves to finding the deepest compassion and highest wisdom, and from that place we can live in accordance with the truth of reality” “The spiritual revolutionary practices nonviolence … generosity …” and engagement to help others” in other words waking up from our self-centered existence that generates suffering. 3. Beware of teachers. Be a light unto yourselves” said the Buddha. “Don’t believe anything based on tradition or charismatic presentation” Sit down and discover or confirm the truths for yourself.
4. Question everything. “Accept nothing as true until you have experienced it for yourself”