An Interview with Miguel Chen from Teenage Bottlerocket
Last week while flipping through my RSS feeds to keep up to date on the goings on in the punk rock world, my beady little eagle eyes spotted a ‘Meditate and Destroy’ t-shirt on Miguel Chen, bass player for pop-power-punk group Teenage Bottlerocket.
Now I fangirl adore Teenage Bottlerocket. Hailing from Laramie, Wyoming, they are pure in your face, three chord harmonious, snotty punk that’s hooky, tight and just done ever so right.
I was really curious to find out more about Miguel’s connection with Buddhism so I dropped him a line and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how he discovered Buddhism, details on his personal practice and a bit of information on how BDSM figures into his life. He’s very open in both being a Buddhist and his participation in BDSM and I found it both interesting and important to find out more about his perspective on something that I quite honestly have not really read or heard many Buddhists speak of aside from that filthy Brad Warner fellow
How did you discover Buddhism? Describe the circumstances.How long have you been interested?
About 7 years ago we went on tour with The Epoxies. I was kind of going through a rough time in my life and their lead singer Roxy gave me a copy of ‘Dharma Punx’ by Noah Levine. At the time the book helped me relate to someone who had been through similar suffering to my own, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I revisited it that the Dharma really made it’s way into my daily life. When I revisited the book I was going through a really dark time, doing lots of drugs and generally being depressed. I knew that when I played shows and connected with people I wasn’t depressed, but that was only for an hour a day, I needed to find a way to be happy the rest of the day. And so I revisited Dharma Punx. This time around it made even more sense than before and it lead me to many other Buddhist authors including Tai Sheridan, Charlotte Joko Beck,Thich Nhat Hahn, Brad Warner, Lodro Rinzler and many others. Over the next few months I read every book on the subject I could get my hands on and my life really began to transform. I started meditating every morning and finally began to feel like I’d found what I was looking for.
What school of Buddhism do you follow?
My initial reaction is to say I relate most to Zen Buddhism. I believe in keeping things simple and Zen offers a lot of that. I basically sit every day, then spend the rest of my day trying to do my best. There’s not a lot more to it as it applies to my life, people are often surprised when I tell them that. For me, Buddhism boils down to realizing we are all connected, we all suffer, and we all want to be happy. Those simple lessons have had a major impact on my life. Noah Levine once said he considers himself and American Buddhist, a combination of several schools and I might agree with that. A lot of the schools that work in the East don’t translate so well into our day to day lives over here. I really like that. Maybe I’ll say I consider myself a Mexican-American Buddhist.
Are there any specific teachings that resonate with you?
I’ve read the Dhamapadda, The Art of Living, The Lotus Sutra etc, however I find the teaching I relate to the most is of course the 4 Noble Truths. I interpret them to be first that all living beings suffer. Secondly, the reason we suffer is attachment to a self and that this self creates differences in the way things are and the way we think they are. Third there is an end to suffering and that can be found by following the 8 fold path. When I’m asked about the 8 fold path I generally tell people it’s just about trying to do what is best for each situation we are presented with, and to focus on living now, not in the past or the future.
Do you have a teacher?
I wish! Again, there are not a lot of Buddhists in Wyoming, so finding a teacher has yet to happen. I do have some friends around the country I will talk to when I get the chance, but no formal teacher.
Do you have a meditation practice? How is that going for you being on the road touring?
Every single morning I wake up and sit on a cushion for 20-45 minutes. On tour it’s usually on the shorter end of that spectrum because we have so little free time. I will spend the first part of my meditation calming and clearing my mind, and the second part working on metta concentrations. I also wear a mala on my wrist that I will use to count my breaths or go through mantras whenever I get a free moment on tour.
You are open about being a member of the BDSM community and see a tie in (ha ha) between BDSM and Buddhism. How so?
As far as letting go of your ego and becoming truly present in the now, few things will get you there as quickly as being tied up and beat with a paddle. Nipple clamps are a great tool as well because they will put your focus on one thing and keep your mind from wandering. The feeling I get after a good BDSM session is very similar to the feeling I get after a good meditation. There is a lot of power in just being present, for whatever we are doing when we are doing it. BDSM allows me to let go of control, to just exist in one exact moment in time. It’s really very Zen-like for me!
In his book ‘Sex, Sin and Zen’ , Brad Warner wrote about some misgivings he had about BDSM but overall spoke to the responsibility involved with all who participate. He mentioned trauma and power exchange and how it’s can be somewhat similar to cult-like behaviour within some Buddhist communities. How would you respond to this?
I would say there is definitely potential for that sort of abuse of power, but I have never had experiences like that. When done properly BDSM is a good way for people to really connect. There is a big stigma over BDSM but I think really a lot more people might like it if they went in with an open mind. Again it’s all about giving yourself completely to the moment and if you are doing these activities with people you can trust to care for you it can be a very rewarding experience.
How do you relate to desire and attachment as a BDSM Buddhist?
All humans have desire and I believe that is okay. The problem becomes our attachment to it. If you can work on accepting things as they are over how you think they should be, then desire isn’t much of a problem. It’s okay to desire something as long as it doesn’t consume you and if you can’t have it, just let it go.
Do you feel that the Buddhist community is open enough about sexuality as a whole?
One thing that really stuck with me about Buddhism is that it’s not necessarily a religion. I forget who wrote it, but I once read something along the lines of “Don’t practice Buddhism to be a better Buddhist, practice Buddhism to be a better whatever you already are.” With that in mind there are Buddhists of all walks of life, some are monks who perhaps aren’t open enough about sexuality, others are Dominatrixes and punk rockers. My Buddhist friends tend to be pretty open, but that might be because they are also punks.
Is there anything you’d like to share relating to anything I haven’t asked? Advice. Questions.
I can’t really think of anything. Thanks for the interview. May we all be happy and free from suffering!