Who says you can't rap to nirvana?

SATURDAY NIGHT
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The Independent Online
You probably know that the Beastie Boys are the bestselling rap act anywhere in the world, and have been for the best part of a decade. You may also be aware that one of the Beastie Boys is a Buddhist, that his name is Adam Yauch, that he's 30 years old and that he plays bass.

The sharp-eyed will have noticed a rather unusual song title, "Bodhisattva Vow", on Ill Communication, the Beastie's latest, platinum-selling LP. Perhaps you have heard it and listened to the lyrics: "As I develop the awakening mind, I praise the Buddhas as they shine. I bow before you as I travel my path, to join your ranks, I make my task."

But how many non-Buddhists actually know what the Bodhisattva vow entails?

It's not exactly a piece of cake, according to the late Chogyam Trunga, one of the great Tibetan Buddhist teachers. In The Heart Of The Buddha, Trunga wrote: "The Bodhisattva vow is the commitment to put others before oneself ... a statement of willingness to give up one's well-being, even one's own enlightenment, for the sake of others ... from the time we take the Bodhisattva vow, there is no privacy ... we have been sold to sentient beings, merchandised. Sentient beings can plow on us, shit on us, sow seed on our back - use us like the earth. And it is very dangerous and irritating no longer to have any privacy."

Whew, rock 'n' roll, eh kids? I don't know about you, but I have enough problems without taking any vows like that. I mean, it's not like waking up one morning and deciding to fill the spiritual void in your life by doing a bit of chanting, or polishing your crystals.

Yauch is clearly not some kind of designer Buddhist, dabbling in a bit of Eastern promise. But how, why, dressed in baggy Chinos and old school trainers, take an oath to follow such a daunting spiritual path?

"It was just kind of a gradual type of thing," drawls Yauch, in a Brooklyn accent that is laid back to the point of narcolepsy. "I was checking out various religious traditions, including some Native American things. Then I went to Nepal and got exposed to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition."

Shortly after, he took time off from a snow-boarding holiday in Utah to travel to Arizona where the Dalai Lama was giving public teachings. It was His Holiness, says Yauch, who put it all in the frame for him, made him realise that there was something, well, familiar about the whole thing.

You don't regard it as a pretty grave decision, I ask, a heavy burden on your shoulders? "I don't really see it that way. It's something that I decided on some years before I became a Buddhist, you know, a decision that you will conduct your life so that it benefits the collective, rather than just trying to benefit yourself and walk on everybody else.

"Basically, it's just a realisation that everything is connected. When you make that realisation, it only makes sense to act in a way that benefits the entirety. And when I started learning about that in Buddhist terms, it was just dope, y'know. That got it all laid out, right there, they got books about it."

Yauch says he finds it strange that people make such a big deal of his spiritual leanings because he says: "I don't even know that there is a specific definition of what a Buddhist is. It comes down to a very personal feeling." One simple definition, I suggest, is someone who uses meditation to examine the nature of mind. Does he have a regular meditation practice?

"Yeah, although basically I kinda wing it. I go through phases. Sometimes, like when we're on tour and it's just crazy, I just space out. But when I have the space, sometimes I'll meditate several times a day." This, he says, helps him to maintain awareness: "What's going on in my life, what kind of fears might be coming up, how to turn them around and work with them. We all have situations that we automatically use, even in inappropriate circumstances. So I'm trying to be aware of my own thinking process."

It might seem exotic from here, but for Yauch, Buddhism is something very normal, very down to earth. In fact, it's just a means to an end. "Some Buddhist philosopher said that you should think of the teachings as a boat. If you use that boat to cross the river, then you're straight. But if you then put the boat on your back and start hiking with it, then you're missing the point." As the Beastie Boys say, that's an ill communication.

The Beastie Boys play at the Brixton Academy, London SW9, tonight, tickets £10.50. Call 0171-924 9999.

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