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Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch's Buddhist Spirituality Permeated His Life And Music

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Adam Yauch, a Buddhist and Beastie Boys member, has died. Above, he arrives at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, Calif.
Adam Yauch, a Buddhist and Beastie Boys member, has died. Above, he arrives at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, Calif.

UPDATE: News outlets have confirmed that Yauch's death was from cancer.

Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boys member who went by the stage name MCA, had long practiced Tibetan Buddhism before his death, which was announced Friday in several news reports.

The cause of his death is unclear, but Yauch, who died at age 47, had been battling a cancerous tumor in his salivary gland in since mid- 2009 and was vocal about the role spirituality had played in his recovery efforts. Yauch, who was born in Brooklyn, New York to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, had practiced Buddhism since 1994.

In an email to the Beastie Boys fan club in 2010, Yauch asked supporters to meditate with him in "smashing apart all the cancer cells of the world."

A few friends and I are meditating at the same time twice a day. 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. eastern standard time, for about an hour and half. We are picturing smashing apart all of the cancer cells in the world. We are visualizing taking the energy away from the cancer, and then sending it back at the cancer as lightning bolts that will break apart the DNA and RNA of the cells. If you have the time, please join us in whipping up this lightening storm. Mind over matter.

Yoko Ono later told Paste magazine that she would join Yauch in meditating.

In a 1994 interview with Tricycle Magazine, Yauch spoke in detail about his Buddhist spirituality, saying that he had explored "a lot of different religions and spiritual paths and Native Americans for a while" before visiting Nepal and Kathmandu (his second trip to the region) in the early 1990s and being exposed to Buddhism. Upon his return to the United States, he started reading the Dalai Lama's books.

In the interview, Yauch explained his attraction to Buddhism:

The feeling I get from the rinpoches and His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and Tibetan people in general. The people that I've met are really centered in the heart; they're coming from a real clear, compassionate place. And most of the teachings that I've read about almost seem set up to distract the other side of your brain in order to give your heart center a chance to open up. In terms of what I understand, Buddhism is like a manual to achieve enlightenment—there are these five things and these six things within the first thing, and all these little subdivisions. And despite all of that right-brain information, it's very heart-centered. At least that's the feeling I get from the Tibetans. Also the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been passed down for a long time now. They have that system pretty well figured out.

Speaking in the magazine about his daily practice, he said it "incorporates all kinds of things that I've learned. I meditate in the morning and before I go to sleep. These are usually the main times, because before I go to sleep I can get focused on what happened during the day, pull that into perspective, and that'll make my sleep a little more peaceful. Then I set up what's going on the next day or get centered for those activities in the morning. A lot of times on tour I don't get a chance to because it's so crazy running around."

Several songs by the Beastie Boys, who rose to prominence in the 1980s with titles such as "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)" and "Brass Monkey," took a more spiritual turn in the 1990s with Yauch's influence. Two popular tracks from "Ill Communication," the group's fourth album that was released in 1994, were "Shambala" and "Bodhisattva Vow."

The song, which prominently included chanting by Tibetan monks, opened with the following 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 full time task/For the sake of all beings I seek/The enlightened mind that I know I'll reap/ Respect to Shantidiva and all the others/Who brought down the dharma for sisters and brothers/ I give thanks for this world as a place to learn/And for this human body that I'm glad to have earned.

Proceeds from the Buddhism-inspired songs were donated to Milarepa Fund, an organization Yauch created to support Tibetan independence. At the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, which the Beastie Boys co-headlined, Yauch's organization set up tents and passed out pro-Tibetan independence pamphlets. The Beastie Boys and the Milerepa Fund launched the Tibetan Freedom Concert series to support independence for Tibet.

Yauch also had a film distribution company, Oscilloscope Laboratories, which has been involved in Buddhist projects such as "Unmistaken Child," a 2009 film about a Tibetan Buddhist's search for the reincarnation of his teacher, Geshe Lama Konchog.

On Friday, several fans, including Buddhist celebrities, reacted on Twitter to Yach's death. "Such sad news about Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. A fellow Buddhist and part of hip hop history!! R.I.P!" said a tweet from Boy George. Other fans wished him happiness and peace.

In an interview last year with Project Happiness, Yauch expanded upon his spiritual view of happiness and his approach to everyday life.

Everything we do affects other people. One doesn’t have to be doing something that has some huge sweeping change on a lot of people at one time. Every way that we interact with other people, even if it’s like, you’re at the store and buying something, and it’s the way that you interact with the clerk at the store. EVERY action that we take has some motivation of either being selfish or altruistic. All that adds up. I’ve heard the Dalai Lama talk about how it’s important to watch your thoughts. Thoughts are what lead to actions. If you are striving to have more happiness in your life, it helps to guide your mind towards starting to recognize what are selfish motivations and what are constructive motivations. The more you look at that and recognize it, the more that’s going to influence your actions.