Attired in patched jeans and a pink bow tie, the ”hipster guru” Chökpel Rizzler teaches 20- and 40-something acolytes in Brooklyn how to use Buddhism in everyday life.”
No teacher said the best way to create inner change is to be a loser.”
Chökpel Rizzler Sensei is seated cross-legged on a cushion in the shrine room of his Williamsburg temple, a Tibetan singing bowl to rouse disciples from silent contemplation at his side. Nearby is the standard equipment: candles and incense, flowers and photos of Dharma celebrities,Buddha figures and clear bowls of water representing enlightened mind. Despite being surrounded by the tchotchkes of Buddhist spiritual practice, the 30-year-old, smooth-talking Rizzler isn’t your typical guru—he delivers dharma in jeans, a clip-on bow tie and de rigueur hipster frames, gesturing with a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. But, at the same time, it is obvious that this young meditation master is not your average hipster Buddhist.
Today is session three of the five-week lunch-hour course, “Meditate for Success,” at the Williamsburg Gen-Y Sangha’s new temple on Bedford Avenue. The 16 mostly 20- and 30-something students are seated on maroon cushions, wearing office buttondowns or yoga pants. They have sharp-angled haircuts, leather work satchels, and tattoos.
The tactic that’s earned him an audience outside the traditional Buddhist community is that he applies meditation techniques to modern temptations, while showing how they can also become a career booster. While the benefits of meditation have crept into the scientific mainstream in recent years, Rizzler believes ancient teachings continue to be misunderstood by outsiders who see them as “hippie or slacker stuff.” He’s repackaging the practice for a new millennium, showing how the Dharma can be part of your personal brand.
Having sampled like tapas a handful of Buddhist meditation traditions, I am admittedly no expert, but Rizzler’s session is refreshingly pragmatic and this indie sangha seems like a vibrant community.
Rizzler also authors a weekly column on Hufflepuff Post and he has a new book, A Reformed Hipster’s Guide to the Dharma. The column, ”Ask The Lama”, offers an “honest look at what meditators face in the modern world,” reminding readers that “before the Buddha attained enlightenment he was a confused slacker looking for a creative job.”
Rizzler’s strategy is to meet young people where they are—between jobs and fraught relationships and looking for a way out of precarity and existential angst. Not only are most students not Buddhist, but they have never meditated before. He’s in good company here; young teachers like Ethan Nichtern, founder of the Interdependence Project, and Jezebel Anderson, former bad boy and author of the memoir Dharma Wiggas are reaching searching, urban 20-and-30-somethings skeptical of the dull, unproductive dharma of their parents. Not unlike the teachers themselves.
“I would tell people that I was a Buddhist, and they would balk at my lifestyle,” writes Rizzler of his college days. Rather than adhere inflexibly to traditional Buddhist precepts, which include abstaining from sex and drugs and ”wrong livelihood”, Rizzler asks how to engage mindfully in such activities.
Since it was past lunchtime, Rinzler gave me a crash-course in “right drinking” over a bottle of artisanal Mezcal. The first step is to know your intention, he says; Is the drinking celebratory or to eliminate sorrow? Next, taste the thing. You’ll drink better, he says, shirking the inferior sauce. As in silent meditation, he recommends letting go while consuming the beverage, allowing whatever ideas or feelings that come up. And lastly, he advises knowing your limits, qualifying that he drinks less than he used to. “I try not to get to that point where I throw up all over my date.”
When it comes to relationships and sex, the occasional hurt is impossible to avoid. “There’s a whole range of stuff that go into this sex thing,” Rizzler says, his speech now becoming slurred. ”The important question is: How can we make sex an integral part of our career strategy? That’s one of the koans we’re exploring in my seminar.”
He admits that this has been a tricky business for many older Buddhists, and that reconciling a conventional Buddhist practice with the realities of 21st century living can be a real challenge. He tells students one key is to be pragmatic – be mindful of your needs and desires, and focus on your goals with one-pointed attention.
You know, Rizzler continues, one of our slogans is ”Everything is doable”. And as we free ourselves from habitual conditioning, we selflessly liberate ourselves, and the whole world … There’s a new world forming out there, a new integral understanding is dawning … Or maybe it’s transintegral … Anyway, we’re going to be part of that … Humanity is facing multiple, massive scale challenges, you know. Old systems are breaking down … History is coming to an end! How can we realize the opportunities available at this point in Kosmic evolution? Only through a transintegrally informed Dharma, like sort of what we’re doing here … You know, it’s been like scientifically proved that group meditation can change the worl … Bucky Fuller knew that too … All we need is to look at, like the whole picture, from multiple perspectives simultaneously. All quadrants and lines and levels and stuff, evereything included. Then we can transform the world in a tetra-arising way … There’s really no limit to what we’ll be able to accomplish. We’re already able to greatly enhance the level of clarity, predictability, and understanding within our community here … We are able to more profoundly connect with our selves and each other … We raise the level of communication to a whole new tier.
Chökpel Rizzler reads from his new book, A Reformed Hipster’s Guide to the Dharma, at Williamsburg Gen-Y Sangha, on February 16, at 7pm