Book Review: Hardcore Zen
Review written by Casey Douglass
Blurb: This is not your typical Zen book. Brad Warner, a young punk who grew up to be a Zen master, spares no one. This bold new approach to the “Why?” of Zen Buddhism is as strongly grounded in the tradition of Zen as it is utterly revolutionary. Warner's voice is hilarious, and he calls on the wisdom of everyone from punk and pop culture icons to the Buddha himself to make sure his points come through loud and clear. As it prods readers to question everything, Hardcore Zen is both an approach and a departure, leaving behind the soft and lyrical for the gritty and stark perspective of a new generation.
I first read Hardcore Zen years ago, but recent times have seen me growing more and more keen to have a re-read, if for no other reason than to see what I think of Brad Warner’s words after a second reading. I remember feeling impressed with the book after my first reading, and if memory serves me correctly, I did go on to read more books about Zen afterwards, although I’d also read a few before hand. This leaves the waters murky as to what kind of an effect the book had on me, but hot off the heels of my second reading, with a few more years on the clock, I am happy to report that it was still a very good read.
Hardcore Zen looks at reality through the gritty lens of Zen Buddhism. Standing in stark contrast to many religions that promise you paradise in the next life (if only you’d stop being a mucky pup, playing with yourself and being naughty), Zen lays reality bare and tickles around the truth that right here, right now can be paradise too, if only you’d look and pay attention to what is going on around and within you. Brad also delves into the idea that, again, unlike many religions, Zen encourages you to question everything, not to take anything for granted, be it from an authority figure or from your own habitual view of the world. How many religions adopt the tones of: “Believe it if you like, but if you don’t, that’s fine too, suit yourself” and “Don’t take anyone’s word for it, but try and test it yourself”. Maybe if more religions were like this, the world would be a better place.
Brad imparts his own take on Zen by way of his love of punk rock, his enjoyment of Japanese monster movies, and his personal experiences of struggling with life and its possible meaning at various points in his life, from his early years at Kent State University, to his life in Japan, first as an English teacher, and later as he worked at movie studio Tsunuraya Productions. Amongst these tales he intersperses information and teachings on the basis of The Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra (which is the stuff about form is emptiness and emptiness is form), the topic of zazen (sitting meditation), and other areas of interest such as sex, drugs and enlightenment. He doesn’t spend vast amounts of time on any one subject, which aids the book’s pace and readability, but does run the risk of leaving the reader wanting to know more. Then again, any well written book should leave readers inspired and hungry to find out more, so that’s hardly a draw-back. There is also humour, whether it is Brad’s own slightly twisted look at the world, or by way of anecdote and tales of Zen masters, both of present times and of yore. Dry, this book certainly isn’t.
Since Hardcore Zen, Brad has gone on to pen another seven books. Sadly I have yet to read any of these, but on the basis of Hardcore Zen, I am certainly hoping to in future. If you have any interest in Zen, or maybe not even Zen but just in books that challenge your way of viewing reality, books that do so in a voice that seems to stick their middle fingers up to stuffy dogma and clueless authority figures, check out Hardcore Zen.
Hardcore Zen Book Cover Image © Copyright Wisdom Publications
Book Title: Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality
Author: Brad Warner
Publisher: Wisdom Publications