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The Buddha Freestyles: Jay-Z and Overcoming Fear

The Buddha Freestyles is a new weekly column where I will take a quote from hip-hop and occasionally other forms of music and interpret how it can relate to living a life of mindfulness and compassion. Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.


“I move forward, the only direction/can’t be scared to fail/Search and perfection” – Jay Z, from On to the Next One             (thanks to Liza K. for this week’s suggested lyric)


Jay-Z stresses the importance of the present moment, overcoming fear, and discipline in this week’s concise verse. The meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “Everything is pre-determined, until now.” Jay-Z clearly agrees with this statement, noting that you cannot look to your past as a set marker for your future success. In fact, the only thing you can do in terms of living your life is connect with this very moment, now, and move forward. It is the only direction that you can take, as our sage guide points out.

As you embark upon realizing the potency of this very moment, Jay-Z warns us of one common obstacle to happiness: fear. Be it a new business venture, a romantic possibility, or releasing a new single, you cannot let fear rule your life. This could be fear of what could happen, or it could be based on what has happened in the past, but within the Shambhala tradition a set of teachings have been developed specifically for working with these scenarios: fearlessness.

The word “fearlessness” might immediately make you think that these teachings are based in getting rid of fear. Quite the opposite. They are based in the idea that in order to truly deal with your fear you need to confront it with an open heart and mind and, eventually, by applying the discipline of looking deeply at it with the tool of meditation, work through it.

In order to overcome the hold that fear has on us we need to confront it, fully. This is a path of great discipline. As Jay-Z points out, we need to search within ourselves to see our fear fully, so that we end up overcoming it and realizing the true happiness that can be found in this very moment. When we can do that, as our rap mogul teacher points out, we have searched appropriately and will find perfection.

Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.

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Lol. This is funny.

Ashoka does make an interesting point, one that could be examined fully… without fear. He’s actually pointing to something that people do all the time in order to amplify their sense of power. It’s used when the ego is at play because if you felt okay you wouldn’t need to build yourself up. This kind of hip hop is about the display of power. Not necessarily the holder of power…. just the display.

As for the usage of right speech…. Are you confused? Did you listened to the lyrics? … did you feel the tone?

This blog reminds me of the time when Lodro gave me dap (fist bump and a ghetto hand shake, if you don’t know). I didn’t know if I should be flattered or insulted. What I did know was that Lodro was as far from down as you can get. If he was down he would have known the proper way to greet me.

Did I spend time wondering what his intention was....nope. He's not the first to do that and he won’t be last. No big deal. I think what should be the big deal (enough to examine and not much else) was the idea that he could have such a great impact by behaving that way. I mean really who cares?

You can’t really know the African American experience unless you lived it and it’s not one harmonious voice. It’s a multitude of voices at times conflicting. You can’t fully understand it by reading a novel, poetry, political history. Not even hanging out with Acharya Ferguson the holder of the Yale degree in anthropology - Ethan Nicthern loves to drop that when he’s sitting in the teacher’s seat. It’s doesn’t mean you know anything.

What means something is what you do when you feel the loss of power or the potential loss of it. That means something and that's an important thing to know.

With that said I love Katy Perry. I can sing California girls and mean it. Does it mean I understand it the way she lives it…..nope. Should I be banned from singing it?..oh please say no.

Let Lodro drop the hip hop and perpetrate. Go right ahead boo.

What’s interesting about Lodro’s take about “The Next One” is he’s taken a song about ambition and translating it into vehicle to access wisdom. Which is kind of fishy because anyone with his mastery (or is it better to say “credentials”) should know the activities of ambition is antithesis to the inherent manifestation of wisdom.

It’s like the comment his friend Ian once said. “We are like the mafia without the aggression”. ….. but wait a minute you wouldn’t need to gather like the mafia if you weren’t aggressive.

You don't need to be down. You just need to wake up.



Why do you think you have the right or ability to interpret what a rapper is saying? It's clearly not a culture you're invested in or seem to give a fuck about one way or another, given that you keep choosing Top 40 club hits as representations. This feels to me like mockery, and given the racial and class dynamics in you speaking meaning into black culture, you might want to tread a little lightly. Your entitlement here is palpable and obvious. I also agree with Nancy, irony is the lowest form of communication and one of the worse personality traits of yuppie culture.

Feels like another step in a long line of you feeling comfortable trivializing things you don't appear to have engaged in much reflection over. Your whole thing seems to be degenerating into an abuse of the concept of metaphor, to a point that your message appears to me to be: nothing needs to be examined past my own conceptual reference point of what I want it to mean, in service of the safety I'm looking for. For what it's worth I think you're missing a lot in your rush to brand yourself as a teacher.

- Ashoka

PS Fuck Jay-Z.


Hey, dude with the sanskrit name, right speech much?

Lodro, thanks for all you do. Really enjoyed your book and your recent talk in Boston.


PS. Angry sanskrit-named dude, I also don't have much use for Jay-Z.


Hey, dude with the sanskrit name, right speech much?

Lodro, thanks for all you do. Really enjoyed your book and your recent talk in Boston.


PS. Angry sanskrit-named dude, I also don't have much use for Jay-Z.

Recently I've had a

Recently I've had a mindfuless newsflash: I don't always agree with the lyrics of the music that I listen to. Not just hip-hop - a LOT of the music out there. In addition to misogyny, there are strong themes of attachment, ego, and materialism in a lot of today's music. Sometimes I even feel guilty enjoying my fave tunes!

I think what's cool about this series is that it acknowledges music that a lot of us love, and helps us to listen to it in a slightly new light. When I suggested the song to Lodro, I was actually thinking he might chose the title - "On to the next one", which I find an exciting anthem for letting go of the past and moving on, of embracing the present and being open to what's next.

If some people are uncomfortable with these this, I think that's worth addressing. My point of view, however, is that posts like this both make the Dharma more accessible to me and maybe others like me, and help me to bring aspects of mindfulness into my everyday activities... which yes, include listening to Jay-Z. ;-)

is there a link

to hear the song in its entirety? I'm not seeing anything except a picture of JayZ.

Yes, the lyric has the value

Yes, the lyric has the value you described. But would you like to address the misogyny and sick attitude shown in the video, from a spiritual perspective? It is beyond harmful to isolate the good from a mass-market source like this without addressing the incredibly bad effects--spiritually and in any other way--of a video that shows women in this light. Jay-Z has come nowhere and shown nothing about spirituality if he continues to treat women--the mother, the sister, the daughter, the goddess--in this way.

it's a matter of context

Your comment raises an interesting (and important!) point. But I think that Mr. Rinzler is trying to do something specific, here. He's looking for the dharma in seemingly non-dharmic things. 

The truth is, we see quotes taken out of context every day. How often do we read or hear snippets of politicians' speeches that are completely removed from the context in which they occurred? Removed from its context, a brief quote can often be construed as something that radically diverges from the author's original intention. Remember when newspaper headlines last year cried, "Dalai Lama condones killing of Osama bin Laden?" The Dalai Lama never actually said those words explicitly, but when his remarks were taken out of context, they took on a life of their own in newspapers and blogs. (Removing quotes from context is actually something that is done frequently in Buddhist philosophy -- medieval Tibetan scholars often cited passages from earlier Indian philosophical works out of context, in order to support their own particular interpretations of the dharma.)

I think that Mr. Rinzler is doing something similar here; he's removing a line from its context, and is re-presenting it in a new light, to make us think about the dharma in unexpected places. (Although, unlike blogs and newspapers, he is also kind enough to let us hear the song in its entirety, in order to place the line he discusses in its proper context.) As long as we can be aware that his comments concern an interpretation of one small quote, and that he is not (to my mind, at least) attempting to speak for Jay-Z's overall message, we can find benefit in what he is saying.


I wrote the comment above.

Apparently, if you're not a member of the ID project and you're not logged into the website, the default is to post as "Anonymous."

Interesting point


That is an interesting point. To be clear, I don't think Jay-Z intended to ascribe the value I mention to this verse (I would never say I do know someone else's intentions, I can only know my own, right?). That is why in the intro I always say I am interpreting.

The point of this regular column is to take a slice of something we may not normally think could be dharmic and try to bring the Buddhist teachings to bare on the topic. I'm a firm believer that we can bring the teachings to bare on anything but it's up to each of us to interpret how to do that; we all can weigh in. So I'm curious what other people have to say in response to the point you raise.



P.S. it continues to feel odd to me that people will comment anonymously - if people are willing to dialogue about these topics maybe we could all share our names...

everything is dharma but ...

I like the idea of this column. I love finding dharmic reminders in non-dharmic places, and music is a great place for that -- especially because music, with its hooks and earworms, becomes the mantra that runs in the back of our heads.

I thought hip-hop was an interesting place to look since most hip-hop seems to be about celebrating samsara. (I said most, not all. I am aware of notable exceptions.) Certainly, this song, in its entirety, is about never being satisfatied with what is and seeking something better. Definition of dukkha right there.

But ... I'm a little uneasy with the idea of taking a line out of context and holding it up as wisdom. Yes, you can do that, as you've shown, Lodro. And that's cool. But I'm sitting here with "on to the next one" worming its way into my brain and images of women and bullets shadowed on my eyes.

I think I see it like this ... not altogether sure, but here goes ... you can find relative wisdom in a line taken out of context. Put back in context, in a more absolute view, and it's delusional and potentially dangerous. Basically, he's saying he'll do whatever he has to do (bullets, dripping lips, messed up faces etc)  to get what he wants ... and then on to the next one.

I feel like seeing this on a Buddhist blog presented as wisdom, even in a single line taken out of context, could be seen as an endorsement of it or could be confusing if you wander over here because your friend posted it on facebook or tweeted it or whatever.

which brings me to another point that I've been thinking about since last week. is it right speech to write ironically? the buddha calls out sarcasm as not-right speech; it's not honest -- you're saying the opposite of what you mean. deliberately being ironic falls about half-way between honest speech and sarcasm, I'd say. I find it disconcerting to come to the blog, where I'm usually reading things people write about their genuine experience, and to find this, where I have to enter sideways to get it.

thanks for asking,



Hi Nancy,

I'm not sure if this is because I know Lodro in person and can imagine his voice reading the words, but I don't read this post as Ironic.

His words

"The Buddha Freestyles is a new WEEKLY (yes, I’m back to writing weekly for IDP) column where I will take a quote from hip-hop and occasionally other forms of music and interpret, ironically, how it relates to living a life of mindfulness..."

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