Noah Levine’s newest book is a call to arms. Open arms. His invitation to the revolution is no surprise, but the way in which he delivers his battle cry has ripened. Make no mistake, Levine lays it down real, true as ever to his own experience in the world and to the definition of karma he puts forth—that “all intentional actions have consequences.” You bet they do, and Levine’s intention to train his heart, to turn again and again toward forgiveness, compassion and kindness, has indeed had a profound effect. The raging bull has softened. He has become a full-on warrior for love.
A Buddhist teacher, author and counselor, Levine is the founding teacher of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. His memoir, Dharma Punx, was a revelation for many and brought the Buddha into the grit of the pit. A lot of hellish stuff goes down in that book, in Levine’s life—drugs, crime, prison—and he plainly shares with us both his suffering and the beginning of the end of his suffering. His second book, Against the Stream, rallied the troops (punks, rascals, outlaws, and the like) to action with the radical teachings of that hardcore rebel for truth, Sid (Siddhartha). Levine summarizes that revolutionary message into “a fourfold manifesto: defy the lies, serve the truth, beware of teachers and question everything.” Fair enough. But this third offering is, indeed, The Heart of the Revolution. The voice of the book is centered; Levine has firmly taken root in the arduous practice of being human, of fully experiencing both pleasure and pain.
Levine’s road to full personhood begins by remembering our animal nature—the monkey in us all. “By training the monkey to chill out, to pay attention, to spend more time with wise thoughts and feelings and less with unwise, we give the monkey a refuge, a safe home within ourselves.” Further chapters unpack the five skandhas, as well as the Brahma-viharas: loving-kindness, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. His reflections remind us that “each moment of letting go is an act of mercy. The subversive act of nonclinging is an internal coup d’état.” Levine then re-visions the Tibetan practice of tonglen, and even tackles the cosmology of the six realms in Buddhist philosophy. Six of the chapters end with a detailed meditation instruction for “dusting off our own hearts.” This isn’t easy. Cultivating the qualities of forgiveness and mercy, kindness and generosity, requires true perseverance. Levine is sure to remind us how “life will still, at times, become painful enough to feel like hell. An enlightened heart doesn’t spare us that; it just gives us the capacity to meet all that life offers with love.”
The pearl at the center of the book is Levine’s close reading of the Metta Sutta, where the sublime abiding refreshingly becomes “a cool place to hang out,” and his down-to-earth language turns this ancient text into a ready tool for the revolution. Those who have read Levine know him to be a straight-up talker, and his approach to the suttas is no exception: “The Buddha encourages us toward gentleness . . . it doesn’t mean we have to adopt a really soft tone of voice that sounds like we’re on Quaaludes . . . we are asked to be real. Not to play some fake-ass spiritual make-believe, but to source our communication from the heart.”
Sourcing the heart is the seed for this book, and Levine’s own garden has clearly come to blossom. Whether pithy—“hurt people hurt people”—or profound—“No one ever oppresses, suppresses or intentionally injures another out of wisdom; all of the ways we cause harm come from ignorance”—Levine’s teachings connect from the ground up. Warrior by trade, writer by craft, he strives to tend our hearts toward open, for indeed, “the closed heart lets no one in or out.”