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June 23, 2007

Book Review - Hardcore Zen

Hardcore Zen, by Brad Warner
Good down-to-Earth sensible Zen words

I love this guy. He's probably, strictly speaking, Brad Odo Warner Roshi (or at least Sensei), but he says he doesn't like fake names, and most people just call him Brad. He's an ordained Zen master who works on the Ultraman TV show, and has a website called "Sit Down and Shut Up". He says things like

You prefer The Pogues to The Back Street Boys, but the universe does not. It should, of course, but it includes and embraces both of them equally. Yet you and the universe are one and the same.

In discussing zazen, he says that if your legs fall asleep

you can do one of two things: not worry about it and just take your time standing up after zazen, so you don't fall over, or you can shift your legs a little. Personally, I shift my legs and get back to zazen.

And while we're quoting

Any good Zen Buddhist teacher will tell you right up front that the whole Zen Buddhist shebang, from robes to enlightenment to Dharma Transmission, is really a sham, ultimately not important in the least. And that's what makes Zen Buddhism different from every other religion. As Johnny Rotten said in MOJO magazine, "It isn't a rip-off if you tell everybody it's a rip-off."

Which is way more straightforward than anything I've read on the subject from the Mountains and Rivers Order, say. I like it.

I also like it because I get to pick a few nits. *8) As the "different from every other religion" up there suggests, he does now and then start reading his own preferences and concepts into the dharma (as don't we all). He spends more or less a whole chapter railing against anyone who thinks drugs have anything to do with enlightenment, and in particular against one specific book ("Zig Zag Zen": never heard of it) that he calls a "lump of turd". All of which is fine, of course, but if he'd backed off a bit at the end and acknowledged that that book is part of reality also, and that doing drugs is just doing drugs and is as much part of the dharma as anything else, I would have smiled less smugly.

(In this he reminds me of a dharma talk by John (Daido) Loori (Roshi) that I listened to once, in which in the midst of talking about the suchness of the all he suddenly launched into this diatribe against little girls wearing makeup and short skirts that I thought was hilarious. See Warner above on The Pogues vs. The Back Street Boys.)

Anyway, this is a great book (some chapter titles: "In my next life I want to come back as a pair of Lucy Liu's panties", "That's Zen Master Know-it-all to you, buddy", and "No sex with cantaloupes"). It's a wise and chatty (and profane) mixture of Zen ideas, practical advice, life story, punk rock, monster movies, and the ultimate ground of being. While much of the institutional and ceremonial stuff in Zen and Buddhism are probably necessary to keep the memes alive, this guy in his spare and irreverant take on the whole thing is, I think, more or less the point of it all.

Looking through the book while writing this I keep finding more passages I want to quote, but really you ought to just read the whole thing. Great as the snippets are, they add up to a whole that's even better.

Republished under creative commons.



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