It's very possible people might look at my being into Buddhism and think it's a goof, but I have to follow my heart and then let people think what they think."
Adam Yauch is sitting outside at a Greek cafe, trying to add some clarity to his enigmatic image. It's just past 2 in the morning, and our investigation has once again led us to Brussels. The quiet that has descended over the city is interrupted only by the occasional car wending its way through the cobblestone streets. Yauch is smiling easily, speaking softly and sincerely and sipping on a leafy concoction that looks more like the refuse from someone's yardwork than a suitable beverage. Not surprisingly, the topic at the moment is Buddhism. Along with the snowboarding that fills his time through the winter months, Buddhism is Yauch's tag. He even wrote a song for Ill Communication called "Bodhisattva Vow." It's a bit of type-casting that Yauch doesn't mind so long as people understand the dedication inherent in the description.
"The main thing I'm striving for right now," says Yauch, "is integrating the ability to only put out positive energy toward all other beings. I want to integrate that into having fun and functioning in the band."
Brooklyn Heights, the upscale neighborhood that housed the Huxtable family on The Cosby Show, was not exactly teeming with Buddhists when Yauch was growing up. He was an only child more into electronics than karmic energy.His father was a painter and architect, his mother was a social worker, and theology played no role in the household whatsoever. "I remember asking my mom if there was a God," says Yauch. "She said, 'What do you think?' And I told her, I really don't know.' She just looked at me and said, 'Neither do I.' So that was it."
Instead, Yauch was encouraged to explore other cultures. He made several pilgrimages to Mexico in order to study the country's various ruins. He also toured Ireland and Europe. "A teacher said she thought that I was really insightful because I had traveled," says Yauch. "I think it gave me other perspectives."
What Yauch didn't have was musical potential. Despite his obsessive love of music, when he took a high-school aptitude test, the results revealed that he would be successful in any career other than the one he most wanted. As a solution, Yauch did what any 16-year-old would do. He joined a band anyway. "When I first started jamming, in the back of my head I thought, 'I have been tested, and my aptitude is not in music,' " says Yauch. "I told it to a friend, and he told me it was just bullshit."
The rest, as some are wont to say, is history. The punk-rock scene. The Beastie Boys. Two years of college at Bard before eventually dropping out. "My mom was trying to give me the "You need something to fall back on' routine," says Yauch. "I was telling her, 'No, I'm going to be a rock star.'" He laughs. "Now she just says, 'You were right, you told me.'"
What Mama Yauch probably didn't know is that while her boy was gaining stardom, he was also smoking more marijuana than is found in most glaucoma wards and dropping what he deems "huge quantities" of acid. By 1990 both had ceased.
"At first, smoking a lot was just fun, and then after a point it would make me feel insecure around other people," says Yauch. "I think part of taking the drugs was opening myself up to the fact that there's a lot more going on than what you see in the immediate world. The problem is it's not a very controlled way of approaching that."
If this was Hollywood, right about now, central casting would probably send in a healer. And as we've already established, the Beastie Boys now call Los Angeles home. So with the help of a spiritual healer, Yauch began his studies in earnest. What he learned, among many other things, was meditation, massage work and energy fields. Now, Yauch believes he's "a little closer to leaving this dimension." He's worked through virtually all of his insecurities and claims that very little upsets him on a day-to-day basis. Around the Beasties entourage, he listens to people intently, laughs often and then, without warning, disappears. Most of his possessions are in storage, and he rents an apartment on a month-by-month basis. He is also, by far, the most accomplished musician in the band.
"I'm very happy with my life right now," says Yauch. "Amazingly so. I often sit and reflect on it. I sit in my room before I go to sleep at night and think, 'Damn, this is nice.' "
He pauses and absorbs the quiet of the night.
"The stuff that I'm talking about is the stuff that too many people have pawned off as being some bullshit or me being elusive," Yauch says. "What I'm talking about is my true belief and my true understanding of reality. I'm working on being more focused on living in the present. Most of the other interviews I've done have taken what I said to be some kind of aloof avoidance. That is just not the case."
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