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What is Zen Punk?

033When you think of Buddhism, what comes to mind? Images of monks or nuns with shaved heads and saffron robes? Maybe a statue of Hotei (often referred to as the fat Buddha) at your local Chinese restaurant? Well, friends and lovers, a new face has emerged on the Buddhist scene. This new Buddhist has a fine collection of body ink (that's tattoos, for those of you in North Dakota), piercings, black t-shirts with skulls, and will as likely sport blue liberty spikes as a shaved head. What's that you say? Punk and Buddhism mingling? That's like combining chocolate with peanut butter, Trekkies with Bikers, a houndstooth coat with flip flops! It's not natural! It violates the laws of nature!

And yet, more and more punks, goths and other sub-culture denizens are beginning to embrace this odd paring of ancient wisdom and alternative attitudes. But when you really look at what it means to be punk and what the Buddha taught, the two aren't as far apart as you might imagine. People often seen punks as violent, wasted, criminal drains on society. Yeah, yeah, so some of us have a history. But the fundamental aspect of punk isn't violence or drugs. It isn't even the music. Being punk means being authentic. It means questioning everything: rules, authority, and traditions. It means expressing yourself in ways that challenge the status quo. At the same time, it is said that the last teaching that Gautama Buddha gave to his followers was to question everything teaching no matter who it was from. And it is here that punk easily makes the bridge into Zen Buddhist practice.

Zen Punks, or Dharma Punx as we are sometimes called, put every belief and teaching to the test. We take nothing on faith. We care little about sacred beings, past lives, or lineages. We are out to free ourselves from the misery and suffering of this life. Anything that doesn't do that gets scrapped.

Watch out, world! The Zen Punks are here! We are the Buddhists your sensei warned you about! So peace out, namaste and rock on!


Some Zen Punks You Should Know

Yeah, this is me, but you just might find my history and work helpful. I am a recovering alcoholic and a survivor of domestic abuse and rape. After a suicide attempt, I made a decision to find a way to end years of emotional agony.

I have since written a book and several articles and even became the first person living in Arizona to donate a kidney to a stranger. Please check out my website at because there are some great articles, crisis management resources, as well as my podcast, blog and info about my book Fight the Misery Conspiracy: Reclaiming Your Right to be Happy.

Noah Levine
After years of struggling with drugs, violence and multiple suicide attempts, Noah discovered Buddhist teachings and merged them with his love of the punk lifestyle. He later trained under Jack Kornfield to become a Buddhist teacher, at the same time earning a master's degree in counseling psychology. He is the author of two books listed on this lens, and leads Buddhist retreats and workshops across the United States. Learn more at his website

Brad Warner
Brad Warner is a Zen Buddhist priest, ordained in the Soto school. He has played bass guitar in the hardcore punk band 0DFX (Zero Defects) and Dimintia 13, worked on Japanese monster movies and TV Shows (including Godzilla and Ultraman), and written two books on his experiences. Check out his blog at

Ryu Cope
A teacher of graphic design and a designer of role playing games, Ryu Cope is also the host of Bad Buddhist Radio, a podcast which he describes as denying "the placid, pacifying drone of most Buddhist speakers even as it preaches the sensible teachings of the infinitely practical Buddha".

Seth Godin
Hey! Wait a minute! What's Seth doing on my Zen Punk Squidoo lens? That guy gets into everything. I don't know if he's a Zen Punk Buddhist or not but he's got the right haircut! And in the marketing world, he is quite the maverick, so we will let him be an Honorary Zen Punk! Rock on, Seth! And if you haven't already done so, please do visit his website at and read some of his awesome books!