No ego, just love… A reckless rockstar turns over a new leaf with Buddhism

Gambini who “partied” hard in his youth has given up alcohol for the past 25 years. A practicing Buddhist, he now embraces life with the “live and let live” principal, while enchanting the audience with his music.

 Sylvian Gambini : Turning over a new leaf by embracing Buddhism. Ground Tales Podcast
Sylvian Gambini . Image- Shuchita Jha/Ground Tales

 When I started, I had a big, big ego. When I was younger, I wanted what I used to play in a heavy metal band and touring in England. And it was not Buddhism at all, because it was like cigarettes, alcohols, drugs, you know, rock and roll stuff. Party every day.

Sylvian Gambini 

Shuchita  0:00  
 Hello, everybody, this is Shuchita. Today we’ll start with our first episode of the series French Tales. And with us today we have Mr. Sylvian Gambini, a professional musician who has been practicing Buddhism for the past 20 years in France. He has also adopted vegetarianism as a way of life, and follows the principles of Buddhism with the core of his heart. Today, we will interact with him and know what sparked his interest in Buddhism. And what led him to be such a great follower of the sect, which is very rarely found in France. He was the first Buddhist I met in France. And I have also been inspired by him. So let’s talk about him and come to know his journey. So, hi, Sylvian

Sylvian Gambini  0:52  

Shuchita  0:53  
So would you like to tell us how did you come in touch with Buddhism when you were younger?

Sylvian Gambini  1:02  
 Well, actually, as I told you, when I was really young, when I was hearing somebody talking about Buddhism, when I could hear Buddhism as a subject, I always thought I was going to get interested in Buddhism later, but I was convinced it was something for later, I was not ready for it. I didn’t know what it talked about.

Shuchita  1:24  

Sylvian Gambini  1:25  
Except maybe, that it’s something that represents respect and peace and all this kind of stuff that we all quite know.

Shuchita  1:35  

Sylvian Gambini  1:35  
And then when I was like, 30 years old, I started to read books about Buddhism. You probably know that there are quite different kinds of Buddhism, like Theravada, Buddhism, like Hinayana, like all these kind of Buddhism. So the first books I read about Buddhism didn’t interest me at all. I thought, Yeah, right. I’ve read this before. I’ve seen this before. I’m not so interested. And one day, one day, I had this book from about Walpola Rahula. He is a monk from Sri Lanka. This book was written in 1961. So it’s quite old, but it’s reference. And this is a monk who practices, the Theravada Buddhism, the old Buddhism that the Buddha used to practice

Shuchita Jha  1:49  
like the oldest Buddhism..

Sylvian Gambini  2:30  
absolutely. The original Buddhism. Theravada actually, can mean Buddhism of the ancients.

 Shuchita Jha 2:36  

Sylvian Gambini  2:38  
And when I read this book, first, I learned that I was a Buddhist, because I was following the five principles, not a, like Buddhist monk, I mean, a Buddhist, that is not a monk. Real life Buddhists. I want to tell you the principles quickly. It’s like, not taking life not hurting, not taking things from people not stealing, like not lying, not drinking alcohol, taking drugs. And finally, about you being honest to your wife and not going (cheating) what was the term? Fidelity.Absolutely yeah. So I was following all these precepts. Unconsciously. I didn’t know it was something that has to do with Buddhism. I’m reading this book. I felt like I could have read every word Well, not really, because it took me far away. And I learned things I didn’t know. But I thought, alright, this is home. You know what I mean? Right, right. I know this, this talks to me, this is exactly the way I can see life.

Unknown Speaker  3:48  
Right? Is that is that? You know, were you a vegetarian before you started, before or when came to know that you were a Buddhist, or afterwards,

Sylvian Gambini  3:56  
yes, I was a vegetarian before because before getting interest in Buddhism, I just couldn’t kill any animal. Like even a mosquito that is on your arm, I can’t kill it, just like this. It’s not intellectual kind of stuff. It’s just I feel if I can, last time I killed it. I thought about it for three days, just to myself. Why did I do this, that he didn’t deserve to die, and he’s not going to kill me. So there was no reason for this. And one day, a friend of mine just killed his sheep because he wanted to eat it. And I told him, how could you do such a thing? And he told me, well, you eat sheep. I said, Yes. He said, Well, if you eat it, you should be able to kill it. And this this meant to me and I, I could understand if it was right. I mean, it’s hypocrisy. To say I eat but I don’t want it to hurt it. But if you eat when you pay for the meat, you pay the guy to kill it. Yes. So, to be honest. And it made sense. I thought, Yes, that’s true. So I became a vegetarian and I like it. I appreciate it.

Shuchita 5:10  
Right. So like, you also once told me that You don’t try to dominate vegetarianism on other people. That is something that many vegetarians try to do. Oh, yes.
Sylvian Gambini  5:26  
Yeah, yeah. It’s funny, because I can see many vegetarians, quite angry. And they feel anger towards people that eat meats. I mean, I have nothing against people eating meat, everybody is made his own way. And, I mean, if you see the nature, eating meat is quite normal. I mean, this is an equilibrium. So it’s just I feel like I don’t want to eat meat. I feel very well with this. But I will never try to convince someone not to eat meat because he knows what he wants to do on he, I mean, killing an animal to eat it is quite normal. So I have no problem with this. I just don’t do it.

Shuchita  6:08  
Okay, so like with the principles of Buddhism, do you try to tell your kids about it also?

Sylvian Gambini  6:15  
Well, even the simple things like eat properly, they don’t do it. So I don’t tell them anything. quite complicated. I think maybe they can see the way I behave on what I do. For example, I have engagements with lacco, which is a Association this thing to help people this week, I’ll be free days I’ll be working has a benevolent. Yeah, volunteer, volunteer, to drive some people- refugees and driving some refugees. There is a for example a in Arromanches to help them to have some papers and  tomorrow I’ll be going to a place where you put old people so to help the visitors and to organize this event. I’ll donate my blood on Wednesday, in Bayeux  there is a blood collect. So my kids see what I’m doing. And I think this is much better than telling them, absolutely. 
Sylvian Gambini  7:23  
an example. Yeah, in France, there is a sentence we used to say, “Ne fais pas ce que je te dis ce que je fais.” Don’t do what I tell you to do, do what I’m doing.

Shuchita  7:34  
Right. Right. That’s wonderful. I mean, that’s like the basic principle of parenting, that should be, because if you don’t practice then it will not have an impact.

Sylvian Gambini  7:44  
They’re intelligent, they see if you are correct or not. If you don’t behave in a logical way, they will notice it. This guy is about something wrong.

Shuchita  7:56  
Right, right. Okay, and then, one more question. Let’s also talk about your journey in music and how, you know, while touring to so many different places, how easy or difficult was it for you to, you know, be a vegetarian, and also be like a Buddhist.

Sylvian Gambini  8:16  
So I never clashed with some of the bandmates, they are the people you know, because being a Buddhist is quite simple and just behave normally. It’s just the way you see life. And, of course, I think a real Buddhist has not hate and anger, and is really tolerant. So this helps. I mean, I’m really thankful about the fact that I can do what I like to do music, I love my passion, I get money from it. So I’m so thankful about this. So I have this attitude, and I’m really happy. And I like to go playing and I feel really, really light, you know, on. I like everything in my job and meeting people is something I like, listening to people in pubs or places bars, I like to listen to the people’s problem. I’ve always liked it. I’m interested, you know, it’s funny. So it’s not a problem at being Buddhist. Being vegetarian can be a problem, especially in France, because they don’t really know what it is. And most of the time they forget to give you some proteins. So we will have a simple plate and they think that vegetarian doesn’t eat much. I don’t know why. They think so. Most of the time when I say I’m a vegetarian, I have like a little plate with a little bit of salad and a little bit of bread and that’s it. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with this. I’m on stage for three hours. I will be carrying many heavy loads of amplifier on the PA for an hour and I will go to bed at four o’clock in the morning. I can’t make it with a little plate of salad. It’s impossible so well. Now maybe I don’t say I’m vegetarian, no more. I just take the meat off. Okay. I’ll have the other tgingsy, all right, yeah…. 

Shuchita 10:03

Of course. I mean, you have to feed yourself also.

Sylvian Gambini  10:06  
Yeah, yeah. I give the meat to my friends. Sometimes they give me some vegetables and cheese and say, Oh yeah, let’s make an exchange.

Shuchita  10:13  
That’s a good, that’s a good technique so that at least you have the other things. Absolutely. But being Buddhist..

Sylvian Gambini  10:19  
Buddhist, I mean, it’s so easy to me because it’s just, there’s no ego, for example, a Buddhist is working a lot on the ego stuff. Theory of anattā tells you that ego just doesn’t exist. It’s a construction of your mind. And I quite believe in the more and more I believe in this, I can feel it every day. I can see it through elements, things. And in the music, there’s a big thing about ego. You know, it’s like, I want to be the leader. I want to be the one that’s got the most success and what if I wasn’t good was this, you know, like fighting for girls, small mattering things is ego. So, if you are reducing your ego, I’m starting to see there no ego, you don’t fight for nothing (anything). You are just thankful to be doing what you like to do. So it’s really easier, we will never argue on we never have problems with my bandmates because I let them decide quite most of the things and they do it well. I respect that.

Shuchita  11:20  
Did you change the things about you that you didn’t like? I mean, is this like a change that you observe in yourself? Or were you like that from the starting?

Sylvian Gambini  11:27  
No, I was not like that. When I started, I had a big, big ego. When I was younger, I wanted what I used to play in a heavy metal band and touring in England. And it was not Buddhism at all, because it was like cigarettes, alcohols, drugs, you know, rock and roll stuff. Party every day. So no, no, no. But it was interesting, because I could see what it was made of the real texture of all this…. that it is all fake. Actually, it’s all fake. It’s it’s not…. It’s not peaceful stuff, you’re always kind of trying to fit you’re always kind of frustrated. You’re always trying to be what you are not. At the end. You are the loser. When you behave like this. That’s what I know today. So it was great to experiment.

Shuchita 12:14  
Right? And it was like a very major lifestyle change for you. Because once you told me or not had alcohol for 25 years….

Sylvian Gambini  12:21  
Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I was behaving stupidly, you know, like putting my my life in danger. Well, I’m really thankful to that I didn’t die during this period. Because, believe me, I did really, really crazy things. Like walking on roofs and driving cars really fast being stupid….

Shuchita  12:41  
like, very risky.

Sylvian Gambini  12:42  
Yeah, yeah, it was. People with me, we’re taking risk, too. And so if I had died….. we were talking yesterday about it yesterday that life could change in a second. You know, maybe at this time, if I had just a little accident, or for a second just I could have killed like three people or four people with me. I know I will be or an alcoholic today. Or maybe dead or crazy or Well, you can’t live with this. Such a crazy thing…. So I’m really thankful about it. I was a lucky guy, I was really lucky guy. Yeah, I know.

Shuchita  13:14  
So, apart from the book that you read the first book that you read, what are more books have you read about Buddhism?

Sylvian Gambini  13:20  
Oh, so many so many books. Theravada Buddhism, Buddhism books, but unfortunately, this guy,  Walpola Rahula wrote only one book. Well, he did some articles in other magazines,l could get, but many things from Theravada Buddhism, like agents of other (branches of Buddhism) or agents of Chan (a branch of Buddhism) ,or many or whatever they call ….mmm.. the School of the forest. Okay. Yeah, it’s kind of Buddhism. So simple. You know, like, just living in the forest and being alone.
Shuchita  13:55  
I like the eat from the trees that grow. Just like existing with nature. Yeah. And harmony in harmony?
Sylvian Gambini : Absolutely. 
Shuchita : Are there a lot of people in France who practice Buddhism? 
Sylvian Gambini : No
Sylvian Gambini  14:09  
Actually, when I was really interested in the  monasteries, I tried to find a Buddhist monastery. So you have some Buddhist monastery in France. But there are zero Theravada Buddhist monastery, and I visited some in England that are really, really working well. And they really do follow the principles of Theravada Buddhism, they get no money they possess nothing. So can be like, you know, on a really peaceful happy people. I mean, a Buddhist is quite happy. Yes.
Shuchita  14:42  
content with yourself.

Sylvian Gambini  14:44  
Yeah, yeah. They don’t waiting for anything and they just appreciate you being there. They freed their mind. So it’s just like, I feel so this is a good state of mind. And visited a few monasteries in France. And it’s not What I, what I was waiting of a Buddhist monastery, I mean, the monks would have alcohol party would possess cars. Yeah, true, true. So I can’t see how they can really.

Shuchita  15:17  
That’s just like lip service for saying,

Sylvian Gambini  15:20  
it’s really trendy Buddhism, you know, so like a I’m a Buddhist, I know some people that say that Buddhists because they like they have a Big Buddha in their house and they think it’s beautiful. It’s materialistic stuff, you know, I mean, being a Buddhist is be behaving a certain way. And you can see these people are not Buddhist, even Walpola Rahula. He says, in Sri Lanka, and in India, there are so few real Buddhists, many, many people say they are but they don’t behave like they are. They kill mosquitoes, or they are getting into you fight for stupid things they do. Yes,

Sylvian Gambini : 
this is not a Buddhist attitude, you must be peaceful, respectful. Humidity, not talking when you did you don’t have to talk. I’m trying to help people, trying to be a good person and that makes me really happy. I think so.
Shuchita  16:12  
And it’s, it’s like, like, there are some religions that believe in like penance or something and where you have to punish your own self or fast for long days to please a higher God. I mean, but Buddhism is very simple… I mean, as compared to them, because it’s just like, you be clean (pure) yourself and you are done.

Sylvian Gambini  16:39  Absolutely. You don’t need to go (for fasting or tough rituals) and all actually in Buddhism. Buddha didn’t say what God was deciding for us. So we all we don’t go to Paradise or hell because we behave great or bad. It’s just like, it’s the common law. You need to know this, I guess.

Shuchita  16:57  
Yes. Exactly. The karma.

Sylvian Gambini  16:59  
You don’t need any good to be in the karma. The karma law is just working alone.

Shuchita  17:04  
Yes, absolutely. It was a… a major, major lifestyle change for you then.

Sylvian Gambini  17:13  
Yes or no? I mean, I’m still the same person. I’ve never been an aggressive person or trying to (dominate)….I was never interested in power or money or materialism.

Shuchita  17:27  
Even now, like you say, like, all these… you are grateful for the things that you have but you don’t feel like you possess them…..

Sylvian Gambini  17:35  
Oh, no, absolutely not. I know I can lose everything. I can lose my wife. I can lose my house. I can lose everything. In one second. I know it. Yeah. No, no, no, no. No possession. 

Shuchita  17:48  
Would you like to say something Amélie (his wife) ?

Sylvian Gambini  17:52  
I don’t think so. I know. She forgot how to talk. I absolutely don’t feel you people possess people. I feel I just even don’t possess me. That’s how I really feel it. So how could I possess someone else?

Shuchita  18:07  
Yes. But what does that mean, like for for a person who doesn’t think as, I  mean, as deeply as you do? Does it scare you that… nothing in this world is yours?

Sylvian Gambini  18:21  
Oh, no. It will scare me that I possess things because I know people really rich who possess things and they want more and they are very afraid to lose them. On the contrary, I mean, I am really I feel at peace..  I personally feel great, it is great because I can’t lose anything.

Shuchita  18:41  
Yes, right. That’s one way to look at it. You don’t have anything you can’t lose anything either.

Sylvian Gambini  18:45  
I know you don’t possess things. Or maybe if you possess one thing it is your karma. And the way you you behave. This is what you do, what you say….you possess it.
Shuchita  18:55  
Yes. That’s That’s true. Yes. And that’s like the for the longer. Yeah, it’s not like this with this life. That gets carried along.

Sylvian Gambini  19:04  
Oh, yeah. You can ruin your future.


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