Dharma in Action
Punk fashionista Heidi Minx transforms anger into action for refugees
Heidi Minx’s tattoo-inspired clothing and styles have been featured by Spencer’s Gifts and peta2, on snowboards, guitars and the bodies of rock musicians worldwide, but lately the New York-based merchandising maven has her designs on matters of the heart. After working with Tibetan refugees in India last year, Minx launched the nonprofit organization, Built on Respect, enlisting grassroots support from bands such as Pennywise, Sick of It All, Channel 3 and the Cro-Mags along the way. When in India, Minx shares her business savvy by working with the Tibet Hope Center, Jamtse in Action, and the Institute of Tibetan Thangka Art; back home her goal is to educate anyone interested and “make a positive difference in as many people’s lives as possible.”
Busted Halo: How does this sort of work tie in with your spiritual beliefs?
Heidi Minx: I’ve never been too good ‘on the mat’ or sitting still to meditate. But to me, Built on Respect is dharma in action, “putting others before self,” to use the Tibetan Children’s Villages motto.
BH: How did you transition from the world of fashion to philanthropy?
HM: Fashion was almost more of an accident, it really just happened when people began to pay attention to tattoo art, and my own individual style. If I find that at the end of the day it has no benefit, and isn’t making the world a better place, then what the hell am I doing? I know I am very idealistic, I think years in the punk and hardcore worlds limited my vision to black and white — there is not much grey. If I firmly believe in something, I put my whole self into it, and don’t let much get in the way. I certainly don’t have a ton of money; some days, I seriously wonder how I pay my rent, but somehow I do. You can’t always write a check to make things better — I’ve always thought education is the great equalizer. Poverty, sickness — so many other things are alleviated through education. So, if I can teach and make something better, than that is what I want to do.
BH: What is the plight of the Tibetan community you’re working with, and why have you become involved in this cause?
HM: Many of my friends and the people I work with are refugees — if you really think what that means, it means leaving behind your home, because the situation was unbearable. Here in the U.S., it’s not something we are used to thinking about — a foreign country invading, destroying our religion and cultural institutions, changing our language, forcing children to learn an incorrect history, being paid less than the citizens of the illegally occupying country, being under military rule, one with arbitrary biased legal procedures, nationally-mandated birth control policies, even the fact that flying your country flag is called ‘splittist reactionary behavior’ and is illegal. In Tibet, you can be taken away by the police for sending a text message or email about the situation within Tibet; all phone calls are monitored by the government. It is unfathomable that this has happened, and has continued for 50 years. Once in exile, education is key — to learn, to want to move forward. Even within India, the simplest thing, like getting a passport and visa, is a fulltime job.
First, I am Buddhist, and study Tibetan Buddhism, so seeing the epicenter of such a major world religion destroyed is heartbreaking, and unjust. And really, the unjustness is the second reason. I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where if I want to travel, I jump online and go where I please. I almost take it for granted that I can vote; if I don’t like something I can say it; if I want to practice my religion, I do.
BH: What has changed for you or in you, growing older in the punk world? Is punk part of your spirituality?
HM: A lot, and absolutely! Well, I think that punk was always about questioning: Is this right? Is this just? Can it be changed? When I was younger, I knew things were wrong, or unjust, but I wasn’t skillful in my approach to change them. So, as most young punks, I was angry. I went to shows, I was destructive to myself, I knew something needed to change, but I wasn’t sure how yet.
Dharma taught me a lot, even things like Lojong, or Tonglen — patience, and taking and giving. Once I got a firmer grasp on understanding anger — how to transform it — then a whole new world opened up.
I think punk taught me how to question, and dharma taught me how to answer, so the two are inseparable to me.
picture at top by Eric Vogel