Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brad Warner's "Hardcore Zen Strikes Again!": Book Review

I've reviewed all four of Brad Warner's "hardcore Zen" memoir-explications since I found his "original" version dog-eared, a good sign, I figured. As he writes in this "demos" and "bonus tracks" sort of sequel (I'd been thinking just that when he made the same comparison in these pages), he as of around 2001 had not found anyone who'd made a punk-Buddhist comparison. Neither had I, years later, until I read his spirited book. Since then, he and I found out about Noah Levine's "dharma punx" coming out on the West Coast, and as with punk once upon a time, the regional quality of its versions apparently keeps some of us hearing what others don't early on. That changed, however, with the Net, and these seventeen "blasts from the past" feature entries from his "Sit Down and Shut Up" blog. They blend ambitious searches with conversational topics.

He prefaces all of them, and a chapter excised from "Hardcore Zen" on vegetarianism that merits reincarnation, with a nod to his angrier, testier past. Like many of us, he's matured since an initial encounter with an alternative movement or two. This insight, coupled with characteristic determination to encourage his readers to practice zazen and experience Buddhism as it must be, firsthand, infuses this short collection with energy. Some entries have afterwords, and there's a final section on Ultraman and Warner's monster movie job in Japan. I liked the diversity of this "director's cut" edition, as in typically diverse nods to the Monkees' "Head," Mother Teresa (not "Theresa"!), 9/11, the Sugarhill Gang, and hypnotism. 

I assume most readers will seek this out after his earlier accounts. These delved gradually deeper into what as of a decade ago in some blog entries was forming as a more brittle, confrontational, and less nuanced exposition of the truths Warner finds at the heart of Dogen and his own teacher in Japan, Guru Nishijima. Particularly refreshing are Warner's takes on the too-often blindly accepted assertions of reincarnation, belief, faith, afterlives, and carefree if naive optimism. As with his other popular books, he's able to refine his writing skills as he goes along the past ten years. He corrects some overreaching here and his chapter on writing advice is casual but sensible, and often funny. Certainly, he deploys a casual sense of humor well. This is not as jokey as parts of his memoirs tend to be, and this may work better, in fact. I like his wit, still. (I've read his "serious" translation of Nagarjuna's the "Middle Way" with Nishijima but that's very advanced.)

Warner fits well between the stoic, more dogged, skate-punk turned sobriety Tibetan-trained stance of Levine, who is also coming of age in his writings (also reviewed by me) and (the guitarist from 80s Philadelphia hardcore band Ruin) Glenn Wallis' intellectual editions of Pali suttas and his erudite, anarchic approach to the fundamental representations of the dharma. These three, despite differences ideologically and philosophically, stand for inquiry from punks who grew up after the hippies and blissed-out years, and who may in my opinion stand for the now middle-aged (but still younger!) generation confronting the illusions and delusions of what has been packaged and made safely Buddhist teaching in America today. (E-book via Amazon US 6-24-12. Check this blog for entries on Warner, Levine, Wallis by typing their names in a search box, and mentions proliferate!)

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