The Naked Punk

Another somewhat obscure but brilliant Buddhist teacher you should know about is Steve Lobsang Zuccini, perhaps better known by his nom-de-plume “The Naked Punk”. While not as well-known as the younger and more successful media whores Steve has successfully promoted, he is quietly recognized as a grey eminence of the Dharma Punk scene, sometimes lovingly referred to as the “Malcolm McLaren of the Dharma”.

Blending Tibetan magic and mindfulness teachings, a secular ethos and punk aesthetics into a seamless whole, Lobsang is both a unique voice within the North American Mahasangha and its most exemplary representative.

The following is an excerpt from his forthcoming autobiography Surfing the Spectacle.

punk1This is the true story of who I am and what I do and how I came to be doing it. It started more than twenty years ago, in a Nepalese monastery …

I was known at the time as Thursday Lobsang Rampa. That was after I back-packed through Asia and ended up ordained in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism — shaved head, maroon robes and all. The fact that I didn’t accomplish anything in particular during my fifteen years with the Tibetans seemed to reflect more poorly on me than on their teachings, which remain perennially popular and perfectly immune to common sense. In the end I didn’t so much lose faith in theocracy, spoiled tulkus, and rancid yak butter, as simply drift away.

I returned to the States, not really sure what I should do with the rest of my life. But like many others in my generation, I had the profound realization that my background as a monk could become a valuable asset on the lay-oriented Buddhist market. Unlike them, I failed badly as a spiritual entrepreneur, however.

No one came to my workshops, no one wanted to publish my memoirs, and my most ambitious project: The Integral Dzogchen Center in Boulder was a disaster – I didn’t even get an endorsement from Ken Wilber.

Broke, frustrated, and deeply disappointed with the spiritual scene, I returned to my native New Jersey. After an unconvincing stint as a Tarot reader and in-house astrologer at a New Age bookstore.

I realized that a new Dharma was needed for the new millennium and when I found a bunch of tattooed Buddhist brats and misfits outside a local rehab, the Dharna Punx movement was born.

Many people today say that Punk isn’t a fashion or a gimmick. My point is, you can make of Punk what you want: a religion, a philosophy, a way of life – it can even become a rigid and lifeless intellectual structure if that’s your thing. Malcolm McLaren ‘s point, however, was to train the mind and develop a keen eye for trends and make them profitable. It takes some learning, but it’s mostly about practice – the sort of practice it takes to become a good musician, a sublime businessperson, or a successful Buddhist teacher: it’s an art where you train yourself to surf the spectacle. I call it The Art of Mindful Commodification. Some call me a Buddhist Punk, but I don’t really go for labels.

Today I feel that I’ve successfully integrated my many selves: The Monk, The Punk, The Entrepreneur, and so on. In some ways, my karma has lead me full circle, and I now fully identify as a Tibetan Buddhist again.

The Buddha archetype is an incredible source of inspiration. Just think of it, this dude began his career with an audacity that would shock the most accomplished PR professional: he announced that life was essentially miserable, but that he’d reached a state of perfection and could point the way. Amazingly, it paid off. That was twenty-six centuries ago, and until the communist takeover of China, Buddhism was the most successful religion of all time.

My mission is to make Buddhism a competitive force to reckon with. To make the Dharma as profitable as it once was. To make the Sangha as wealthy as it was in Tibet.



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