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Michael Imperioli, born in 1966, grew up in a working-class, Italian American neighborhood in Mount Vernon, New York. His father was a bus driver and amateur actor; his mother a secretary. The family was Catholic.
“I felt a connection to the teachings of Christ and the life of Christ,” Imperioli says, “but I really didn’t like going to church. Like most kids, I just felt bored.”
More to his childhood tastes were biblical movies—The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told. The message was compassion and love, Imperioli says, and he liked seeing these values promoted. It inspired him to see characters on the screen face obstacles and overcome them.
In his teens, Imperioli stopped going to church, and though he didn’t pursue it, he began to feel the draw of Buddhism. He was haunted by the images of Vietnamese monks setting themselves on fire in protest of the Vietnam War and he was fascinated by the work of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. But in high school, Imperioli was also reading plays and resolving to have an acting career, so—immersed in theater and film—a decade was to go by before he explored spirituality.
Imperioli read about mysticism and the occult; he read Krishnamurti and Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Meditation in Action by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was the first Buddhist book he read. “In my late twenties,” says Imperioli, “I was what Trungpa Rinpoche would call a spiritual shopper. I would read books and they would all make sense to me and I’d get a lot out of them. But a couple of days later, after I’d finished them, I’d be back in my old habitual patterns and habitual way of thinking. It wasn’t until I had a real practice, which I got through Buddhism, that I felt things starting to change.”