Book Review – Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner

January 12, 2009 · 0 comments

Last year, when I started blogging on myspace and was looking for things to blog about, I started a list of the books I’d read. I continued to update it all year, and eventually transferred it here. You can see the final post here. Toward the end of last year, I also found goodreads.com; you can see my profile thereon here, if you’ve an inclination to check out my reading tastes.

The first book I finished in 2009 was Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. I thought it was ok. Warner was a punk rocker back in the day and he really likes mention this over and over again. Of the 202 pages in the book, I’d say I really learned something from about 15 of them. I don’t mean this as a dig or an anti-complement, just that there weren’t many “take-aways” for me. The book is really more autobiographical than anything else. Warner certainly has/had an interesting life, but my purpose in reading it was more of an academic one, and I just didn’t get as much of what I was looking for as I thought I would when I pulled it from the shelf.

Warner’s style, while interesting, is not all that unique in that it’s mainly in the vernacular. I can see how this would be attractive to some, but I found it off-putting at times. I think the idea of a hardcore anti-establishment punk rocker becoming a “Zen Master” is interesting, but I don’t think it was enough to carry the book. Warner talks about it so much that it lost its trading value for me.

At the end of the book, Warner also goes on a tirade about drug use. He says very specifically and emphatically that drug use is not a means of achieving enlightenment. While I would tend to agree with him, I didn’t appreciate the manner in which he voiced this opinion. He spent what I found to be an inordinate amount of time bashing some other guy’s book, entitled Zig Zag Zen. I thought this was a waste of ink and paper: Number one, because I don’t see a point to giving the other guy any ink at all – I wouldn’t have heard of his book if Warner hadn’t mentioned it; number two, because I think it (arguably) runs a bit afoul of the first of the Buddhist 10 Precepts; and number three, because I just find it unbecoming of any kind of scholar or author to give voice to an opinion in this manner, especially outside of any kind of forum for debate.

While I don’t advocate drug use either, I don’t think Warner is necessarily correct in his assertions. I see his point, but as has been said many times before “there are many different routes up the mountain”. I don’t think I want to follow this line of reasoning too far either – mainly because I think it’ll end up being circular and I’ll end up being a hypocrite.

At the end of the day, I don’t think this book was a particularly horrible read. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, neither would I attempt to dissuade anyone from reading it. I think Warner gets one main thing right: Zen practice starts with sitting zazen (that’s meditation, for the layperson). He really hammers this home, and for that I’m grateful.

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