They say that the secret to anti-aging is to keep the body moving. Tina hasn’t quit shaking it since 1957.”
Are we in Thunderdome?
Lights are flashing everywhere. Fireworks! Explosions! Sequins! But nothing is as blinding as those legs. Those legs! She tosses her hair with the pride of a lion, and charges across the stage in black Louboutins. She prowls, glides, careens. She runs to the metal claw platform, and hovers over thousands of people, ferociously leading them in a call and response while she dances and sings her hit Nutbush City Limits, a song she wrote as an homage to her former hometown in rural Tennessee. Dancing in those shoes is a feat for a person of any age, but she is 69 years old. And this eruptive scene isn’t in the fictional dystopia of Thunderdome, it’s in Sheffield, England on the final night of a world tour to mark her 50th anniversary in the music business.
This is Tina Turner, the High Priestess of Rock ‘N’ Roll and Buddhism. Stilettos and sequins perhaps, do not immediately spring to mind when one pictures a spiritual leader. Yet the longevity of Tina Turner’s career—in a relentless industry known for sacrificing its heroes on the altar of youth—is mirrored by the endurance of her spirituality, the key to her success. While scores of her contemporaries were decimated by drugs, alcohol, greed, and depression, Turner has been able to keep those demons at bay and maintain clarity through her practice of faith. For Turner, faith is not devotion towards a specific religion (though she draws her inspiration from the well of Buddhism). Rather, faith is an accountability for one’s actions, their effects, and their relationship to nature. Not a single one among us escapes this life without pain. So the only way to survive, and indeed, thrive, is to learn how to “change your poison into medicine.” For Turner, this alchemy happens during the Buddhist chant Nam-myoho-renge-Kyo. It saved her life, and she thinks it can save yours, too.
Tina Turner’s new book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, is a masterclass on manifesting happiness from a woman whose experiences have run the gamut, from her humble origins as an African American woman in the American South to the stratospheric heights of her blockbuster career in music, theater, television, film, and publishing. Her mythical origins story was the subject of an award-winning biopic in 1993, but it is so compelling that it bears repeating.
Abandoned by her parents at a young age, and raised by her grandmother, young Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock) was a shy girl who loved to sing in church. A chance meeting with a charismatic bandleader named Ike Turner became the teenager’s entree into the music industry. When shy Anna Mae hit the stage, she became the golden-voiced goddess, Tina Turner. She also became a victim of domestic violence, during her 20-year relationship with Ike Turner. Somewhere in between the sold-out shows, the child-rearing, and the brutal beatings, Tina Turner discovered meditation.
“If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that encountering adversity, as I have, isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” writes Turner in Happiness, “It’s what we make of it, how we use it to shape ourselves and our futures, that ultimately determines our success and happiness.” Turner’s wisdom isn’t merely theoretical: it’s born of experience. “Busted lips, black eyes, dislocated joints, broken bones, and psychological torture became a part of everyday life. I got used to suffering and tried to keep myself sane while somehow managing this insanity. I felt there was no way out,” recalls Turner.
While her personal life was descending into a bottomless pit, her fame as a singer with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was skyrocketing. In 1966, her collaboration with mega-producer Phil Spector, River Deep-Mountain High, shot to the top of the European pop charts, and Turner was invited to tour with the Rolling Stones. The disparity between her public notoriety and private hell became too much to endure, and in 1968, Tina Turner sucked down 50 sleeping pills in an attempt to end her life.
After she woke up in the hospital, Turner came to the realization that she had survived for a reason. Her life had a greater purpose, and she was determined to find it. A few years later, she was introduced to Buddhism by a series of random encounters. But nothing is truly random, is it? “Apparently, the universe was trying very hard to send me an important message. This time, I was ready to listen,” recalls Turner.
In 1973, at the age of 33, Tina Turner, rock star, wife, Californian, and mother of four, became a Buddhist. She began chanting every day and studied books on Buddhist thought by Japanese philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. It was Ikeda who introduced Turner to the ancient notion of the “Ten Worlds,” or states which classify our human experience, ranked from lowest to highest: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility, Heaven, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva, and Buddhahood. And yes, Tina Turner has experienced the gamut.
The first four worlds are dominated by their insatiable desires, ego attachments, and conflict. For Turner, these were the worlds she inhabited during the emotional and financial scarcity of her youth, and in the throes of Ike’s abuse. The fifth and sixth worlds are defined by temporary elation. Certainly, scenes of the rock ‘n’ roll Queen in stilettos shimmying, dancing, vocalizing in rhythm to an ecstatic audience must veer between tranquility and heaven.
The four remaining worlds are referred to in Buddhist texts as the Four Noble Paths, and they can only be manifested through sustained inner effort. Learning is a state in which truths are attained through the lessons of others. Cut to Turner reading Ikeda. Realization is a state in which truths are attained through one’s own experiences. When she wrote her memoir I, Tina, the bestseller on which her blockbuster biopic was based, that was Turner accessing the 8th World.
Bodhisattva is a state in which altruism rules, and one finds joy in seeking enlightenment and helping others to do the same. What is more symbolic of the Bodhisattva state than Tina Turner’s writing Happiness Becomes You? The highest condition in life is a state of total freedom in which there is no separation between thought and deed. In Buddhahood, there is perfect unity between the individual and the force of the universe.
“We all have the potential to manifest any of these ten conditions at any moment, and as we are experiencing one of them, the other nine conditions remain dormant,” writes Turner. “At any given moment, we are always