Saturday, January 7, 2017

Brad Warner's "There Is No God and He Is Always With You": Book Review

There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places
I've enjoyed the series of engaging books by Brad Warner joining his Zen practice to his life and music. He writes naturally, in a conversational style, and roams widely in his speculations. His new book takes on the God question. He adapts "inmo" from his mentor Dogen for the title "There Is No God and He Is Always With You." Typically gnomic, the kind of challenge Warner likes taking up.

He makes intriguing connections. Stoner rock, punk, his Japanese work experience, his battles with facing a fatal disease that runs in his family all inform his reflections. Like his other works, this book does feel like a series of extended blog entries or reflections more than a coherent whole, and the informal approach may frustrate academic types of readers. But as in comparing the Buddhist concept of being reborn over eons to the Norse one of Ragnorok, he hits on a few memorable insights overall.

On p. 66, he opines that God exists because we ask questions of him. On p. 77, he cites a song by Om, "Meditation is the practice of death" to remind us of our mortality. I confess that Warner has more fortitude than me or the friend he mentions who stays awake at night fearing self-annihilation. But Warner has always championed a tough-it-out on the cushion method to staring down the truth.

He nods to others who support his own search. Christopher Hitchens' typically provocative statement that even if Jesus was born to a virgin, performed miracles, and rose from the dead, still this track record would not prove to Hitchens that "what Jesus said was valid" (129) fits well as Warner shows with Dogen's skepticism about supernatural powers. While Warner validates his form of Soto Zen, he leaves open the doubts that occupy many of us who may be less convinced by proclamations of any who deem themselves holy. As he reminds us on p. 175, God is "a dangerous word" to bandy about.

Therefore while I may not be as convinced as Warner about the usefulness of adapting this loaded word within a Buddhist framework, he does encourage one to examine the Big Questions. And that, combined with his commonsense style and accessible musings, makes for another worthwhile book, as Warner deals with middle-age, restlessness, and the continual quest that beckons for the thoughtful, contemporary seeker. It's loose and casual, but it also sums up serious, dogged inquiries.
(Amazon US 1/5/17)

No comments: