Meditate and Destroy

Noah Levine
Hendricks Chapel
Dates of involvement
Dates of involvement: 
November, 2010

Typically, when the Zen Center hosts a guest lecturer or performer, he or she will have ample opportunity to relax, prepare for the event, and rest before traveling home.

And then there’s Noah Levine.

While the Syracuse University/SUNY ESF Student Buddhist Association initially asked Noah to stay two nights in Syracuse and give one lecture at the university, he graciously agreed to give 2 additional talks in the Syracuse community in the same amount of time.

He arrived late the evening of Monday, November 1st after a day full of airports between his home in Los Angeles and Hancock International, where he was received by Alex Spitzer, 2009-2010 President of Student Buddhist Association, and ardent supporter of Levine’s. Alex was instrumental in advocating for Levine’s trip to Syracuse, and indispensible in securing funding to make Noah’s travels possible.

Just a few hours later, Noah arrived at Henninger High School, armed only with a cup of coffee to aid him in his task of introducing 200 9th through 12th graders to the practice of meditation. 

He began his Henninger talk by speaking briefly about his life. Before long, an antsy crowd of teenagers counting the minutes until the final school bell rang magically transformed into listeners, earnestly hushing their neighbors to better hear Levine over the dull buzz of chatter that faded away.

And it’s no mystery why:  Levine told the compelling story of a 5-year-old boy contemplating suicide, whose internal disquiet eventually made him a frequent customer of the local police. In his late teens he found himself on suicide watch in prison, possibly facing trial as an adult and his foreseeable future behind bars. With no options left, he described how he “gave in” and tried meditation.

While the young audience was particularly interested in details of Levine’s crimes and drug use, before the hour was over they were enthusiastic about trying meditation. Levine led the crowded auditorium of 200 people in 2 minutes of silent focus on the breath—no small feat. The event’s hostess was JoAnn Cooke, a teacher at Henninger, who concluded Noah’s talk by announcing a meditation group she is now offering in her classroom after school on Thursdays.

Levine commented after his talk that it was difficult for him to speak about how meditation has changed his life without speaking in the context of Buddhism (teaching religion being a “no-no” in most public schools). But Levine artfully and subtly brought such millennia-aged teachings as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path into the context of every life in the audience.

Noah then took a short shopping tour of downtown Syracuse, acquiring a few flannel shirts and a bowler hat that fit perfectly fit the dining venue for that evening:  Dinosaur Barbeque (a Syracuse landmark). Noah and Co. then piled into cars for the epic battle to the University in the midst of basketball game traffic.

Despite Noah’s University lecture coinciding with the game, just under 100 students, faculty, and community members attended. In a gesture that was at once respectful and nonchalant, Levine began by taking a seat on the edge of the stage. With no air at all of being a famous Dharma teacher, he gave a talk that was similar in nature to that at the high school, but carefully calibrated to capture the minds of an adult audience. He celebrated greater freedom of speech in Hendricks Chapel by using his naturally more colorful language.

Half of his lecture time was reserved for audience questions, which were as inspired as his message. Lecturer and listener flowed together, swapping roles. Noah dedicated almost another hour after his lecture was over to conversing with interested attendees.

All of which would have thoroughly exhausted even the most robust of spirits. But not Noah. By the time chatter had ebbed, he had already located movie showing times at the Carousel Center and recruited 4 others to join him.

On no more than 4 hours of sleep, he arose early the next morning to speak to inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility (an event made possible by the quick thinking and hard work of Ven. Rev. Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz and members of the Sho Shin (Beginner’s Mind) Sangha at Auburn). Noah brought great joy and message of hope to those who were able to attend. Shortly after this epic conclusion to his whirlwind voyage to Syracuse, Noah boarded a home-bound plane, hoping to return soon.

All who benefited from Noah’s time here express endless gratitude for his teachings, kindness, and generosity.  We encourage you to read Noah’s books (look for a third to be published early in 2011) and joyfully anticipate the next time he is in Syracuse.