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The Cult’s Ian Astbury finds passion in music, jiu-jitsu and Buddhism


Rock star Ian Astbury is a Buddhist who does jiujitsu. I am a Buddhist who lifts weights at home. This is how we talk together about our paths.

I’m not religious about Buddhism. I just seek happiness in the moment without hurting others, I said to Astbury, whose band The Cult plays tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel.

“Buddhism is more of a philosophy, anyway,” he said.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all, if-you-break-the-rules-you’ll-be-struck-down-by-some-omnipotent-invisible-god.”

Precisely.

“I don’t have a devout, rigid practice of meditation and studying dharma and texts. I’m not a monastic,” Astbury said.

He tries to live his life in the moment, too, which guards him against other people’s expectations of his three-decade-old band as a marginalized ghost of the past.

“The whole idea of nostalgia, the whole idea of classic rock, ‘You’re done’ — that’s garbage,” Astbury said.

“I do not subscribe to that philosophy. And that is certainly an insight into living in the present moment.”

Living in the moment means different things to different people. For me, to “be here now” could entail reading, writing, video games, or partying on the Strip.

Oh yes, partying can fit into Buddhism. Just ask Buddhist Tiger Woods and “Siddhartha.”

To Astbury, to be here now leads him to rocking his arse off onstage, feeling each performance as exquisitely as possible.

But Astbury’s living in the moment also leads to having the courage to get hit in the face in jiujitsu, thus practicing “the reactive ability to meet life dynamically.”

“When I was a kid, it was: Get on my bike and find something dangerous to ride my bike off of. Which really hasn’t stopped. I still look for things to jump off of,” he said.

What’s fulfilling about jiujitsu?

“I’m into the body-moving, and getting it going. I love the performance. I love the ritual space, and get out of your head, and get out the garbage,” he said.

“I recently lost two friends who couldn’t get out of a cognitive space that was challenging. They couldn’t get out of their head space. They thought they were marginalized. They took themselves out of the game.”

That sounds dire, but Astbury did not elaborate to me the state of these friends. He paused. He cleared his throat. He continued.

“I don’t wish for a difficult life. I wish for a life that is challenging and the ability to meet those challenges. How do we get ability? We get it through experience.

“There are some guys who know a lot about stuff. ‘Hey, I know about traveling.’ But what are your life experiences? What is your actual wisdom of something you have tangibly interacted with? Reading a book is one thing. Climbing the Himalayas is another.”

Astbury and I talked for nearly an hour more about Osho, Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Prince, Pavoratti, subatomic particles, “the precipice of the great enlightenment,” dark matter and Lorde.

It led us to this.

“You control nothing,” he said. “I went to a monastery recently. There was one monk there. He’s always chopping wood. When I went there, I saw a monk chopping wood. That’s what I walked away with. Whatever you’re doing, you gotta chop the wood.

“Instagram’s amazing for curation to show how great your kids and cats are and selfies. But sometimes, you’ve gotta chop the wood. You can’t dine on the sugar.”

WEB EXTRAS

I have written some popular online-only pieces, including a defense of Lorde and a fond farewell to Mike Borchers, who ran the Red Rooster with his wife Chris for 32 years.

Visit reviewjournal.com to read, “Vegas’ king of swinging dies at 81 after ‘a long and happy life,’ ” and “10 things Lorde did when she came to Vegas.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.