A Buddhist Beastie dies

Adam Yauch, one of the founders of the Beastie Boys, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was only 47 years old. He’d been sick with cancer for some time, not well enough to appear at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month when the group was inducted. Still, the news was quite a shock for his many fans.

As anyone who went to one of his Tibetan Freedom Fests would recall, Yauch was a Buddhist. I was curious how obituaries might remember this important aspect of his life. Thankfully, many did a nice job. For background, first of all, you might enjoy this Tricycle interview with him from nearly 20 years ago.

The Huffington Post had a piece headlined “Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch’s Buddhist Spirituality Permeated His Life And Music.” It collects some great links related to Yauch’s spiritual life, including details about how his religious tradition helped him in his battle against cancer and how it influenced his music.

For more mainstream outlets, the New York Times treated the religious aspect here:

While the Beastie Boys’ music continued to offer a crunching, squealing good time during the 1990s, the rhymes it carried grew more mature. Vandalism was replaced by constructive thoughts, and offhand sexism was replaced by explicit respect for women. After travels in Tibet and Nepal, Mr. Yauch became a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. On the Beastie Boys’ 1994 album, “Ill Communication,” he rapped “Bodhisattva Vow,” a version of a pledge taken by devout Buddhists, over a hip-hop drumbeat mixed with the deep chanting of Buddhist monks. The Beasties also brought Buddhist monks to perform ceremonies at the 1994 Lollapalooza Festival.

In 1994 Mr. Yauch started the nonprofit Milarepa Fund, which presented the Tibetan Freedom Concert series to raise awareness of Chinese control of Tibet. The first one, in 1996, drew more than 100,000 people to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco; concerts followed in New York, Washington, Tokyo, Sydney, Amsterdam, Taipei and elsewhere. After Sept. 11, 2001, Milarepa organized New Yorkers Against Violence, offering relief efforts for victims of violence.

In 1998 he married Dechen Wangdu, who survives him along with their daughter, Tenzin Losel; and his parents, Frances and Noel Yauch.

The Washington Post added to these details at the end of the obituary:

On a trip to Asia in the early 1990s, Mr. Yauch met Tibetan refugees while hiking the Himalayas and was inspired to pursue Buddhism.

During the 1990s and 2000s, he organized the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a series of music festivals, most of them lasting two days, that promoted pacifism and Tibetan independence. One was at RFK Stadium in 1998. Proceeds benefited Mr. Yauch’s charity, the Milarepa Fund, named for a Tibetan saint who sought enlightenment by composing music.

Having found Buddhism, Mr. Yauch said he regretted his earlier destructive ways.

“I didn’t realize how much harm I was doing back then,” Mr. Yauch said in 1998. “I had kids coming up to me and saying, ‘Yo, I listen to your record while I’m smoking dust, man.’ And I’d say, ‘Hey, man, we’re just kidding. I don’t smoke dust.’ People need to be more aware of how they’re affecting people.”

The reader who sent in this Washington Post piece said that it was a “very good obituary that linked the Buddhism to a genuine chance of heart that was reflected in his performances and daily life. We also learn of his secular upbringing by parents of different faiths, and get a good idea of this man’s trajectory in life. (And unlike many entertainers, this seemed like a positive trajectory.).” Sounds about right. The reader noted that the obituary was a bit brief on details related to Yauch’s marriage and any role she might have played in his religious life, but that for a brief piece, it was quite nice.

I agree. I find many of these obituaries to be somewhat short on details, but very nice, respectful and sympathetic. Do let us know if you see anything worth special mention.

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