Books That Changed My Life: Dharma Punx

I’ve walked by this book a hundred times in the book store, drawn to it first by aesthetic alone (since anything with tattoos intrigues me) and then by title; Dharma Punx.

As a former (and somewhat still current) goth kid, and someone who has a natural affinity for going “against the stream,” this book resonated with me on many levels.

The website,, summarizes the book like this:

This is the story of a young man and a generation of angry youths who rebelled against their parents and the unfulfilled promise of the sixties.

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 and so much injustice and suffering, Levine now uses that energy and the practice of Buddhism to awaken his natural wisdom and compassion.

Personally I always have a problem with summaries like that because the book holds so much more, but there’s no way you can fit it all on the back of a book cover. What the summary doesn’t tell you is about how real Noah is as both a person and a character in his own memoir.

The entire book is written in Noah’s voice, profanity and cocky punk-talk included, which makes him relatable and endearing, at least to me, even as he describes hitting rock bottom, drinking himself into oblivion and stealing from family and friends in order to fuel a drug addiction and drinking habit.  The entire time you’re reading through every painful moment of a troubled childhood and adolescence, you’re rooting for his awakening, and living through the the steady decline into misery makes it all the more inspiring to watch him rise from the ashes and take his first steps along his life’s path.

As the reader you follow him from the streets of California, in and out of a cold cell in Juvenile Hall, through recovery programs and sponsors, to a pilgrimage across Southeast Asia, and finally back home to fulfill his role as a teacher and mentor to people all over the nation.

It’s not just the story that inspires me so much, though.  It’s the fact that Noah, in the 80’s and 90’s, was doing exactly what I’m trying to do now with my blog: Wake up.

Near the end of the book, as Noah is completing the “Year to Live” exercise, where he spends an entire year living as though he only has one year left in this incarnation, he reaches a point where…

“I didn’t ask why anymore,  I just asked how could I wake up in each situation, how could I use all of it as a teaching, the good and the bad, all of it.”

This resonated with me on a such a level that it literally took my breath away.  I felt that the quote completely summed up the entire reason for starting this blog in the first place.  Of course, in the context of my own life story I came to this realization for a completely different reason in a completely different way, but that does not change the fact that we somehow even decades apart we arrived at the same place.

Then, on the last day of the same “year to live” exercise, the last sentence of the last entry of a journal he’d kept for the entire year, he wrote:

“…and I see that love is the only rational act of a lifetime.”

The soul that wrote that is a soul that I aspire to be.  While I know that the quote is true, I want not only to know it, but to live it, every moment of my life.  Noah’s inspired me to live more mindfully, thoughtfully, and with love as the primary motivator for everything I do.

The best part?  He never strayed from being a punk or following the punk mentality.  If fact, the punk culture was what drew him to Buddhism in the first place.  As he puts it, “the whole punk movement is based on the Buddha’s first noble truth, the truth of suffering and the dissatisfactory nature of the material world.  The punks see through the lies of society and the oppressive dictates of the modern consumer culture…unfortunately punks rarely come around to seeing that there is actually a solution and a path to personal freedom.”

He stayed true to himself, but never stopped looking for answers.  He didn’t need to give up punk music and tattoos and become a peaceful monk in the mountains of Tibet to make a difference in the world, to find spiritual awakening and inner peace.  He found it by remaining genuine, humble, and always seeking truth and purpose.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is doing any sort of soul searching in their life, it helped me on levels I didn’t even know I had access to yet.

Of course, his book was also the first step in Resolution #25, learning more about Buddhism. I’ve since learned that there’s a group in Austin called the Dharma Punx, named after the book, that’s described as a “group of people interested in pursuing the life of the Spiritual Revolutionary.”

I think I just found my next step.


8 thoughts on “Books That Changed My Life: Dharma Punx

  1. Sounds like a great book. I had a traditional Catholic upbringing. Buddhism always seemed so “out there” to me. As an adult, I found Buddhism to be such a peaceful philosophy. Meditation really helped me when I was going through a difficult time. If you want to learn more about Buddhism, I highly recommend the books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

    • I thought the same exact thing about Buddhism as a kid. Believe it or not, the thing that got me to look into it was one of those silly internet quizzes like “What religion are you” or something to that effect. It told me a was basically Buddhist and I realized I had no idea what that even meant, but I’m glad I do now. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

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