In this week’s eSkeptic:
The Not-So-Skeptical Buddhist
a book review by Mike Moran
Brad Warner does not promise you enlightenment. He will not be opening your mind to any kind of psychic third eye. Want to find out from whom you have been reincarnated? Don’t ask Brad. His writings won’t even put you in that kind of blissful relaxed state other Zen books seem costum designed for.
For this Ohioan punk rocker, monster movie enthusiast and Soto Zen Priest, Buddhism is a simple “philosophy of action” done for the goal of achieving real world joy and existential clarity. His writings are an immensely readable mix of blunt honesty and down to Earth light-heartedness that make the admittedly boring practice of Zazen (sitting still) surprisingly alluring. Brad’s humorous Zen-tinged anecdotes and alternative pop culture references will appeal especially to ageing Generation Xers with the troublesome duality of skeptical minds and spiritual needs. You might say Brad Warner is the Chuck Klosterman of sitting quietly in the lotus position.
Brad’s latest offering, Hardcore Zen Strikes Again, is a collection of his first attempts at Buddhist writings, many from decade old (or more) blog posts. Somewhat different in tone than his last few releases where he focused more on the application of Zen to specific areas of life (sex, divorce, death in the family), Hardcore Zen Strikes Again has a refreshingly back-to-basics feel, reminding old readers and enlightening new ones on the hows and whys of Brad’s preferred brand of Buddhism called Zen Soto, a Buddhist sect based primarily around the 13th century teachings of Dogen Zengi.
The Buddhism vs. religion theme is prominent in Hardcore Zen Strikes Again; no big surprise, as much of the content originates from the years following 9/11. Early 2000s Brad is quick to make the distinction in the first chapter declaring “Religion is what got us into this mess (9/11 and the subsequent war) and I want no part of it” and, on page 70, “it’s stupid to go against science.” Though statements like these are fulfilling enough for the incredulous Buddhist, they also serve to highlight Brad’s oft-reiterated point: that Zen is all about making the best of reality and not to, as Brad points out in the chapter on Past Life Regression, “promote a dreamy fantasy state that distracts us from seeing what our life is right now.”
This spirit of realism and what-Buddhism-is-not, pervades the majority of Hardcore Zen Strikes Again. The book goes on to address most of the other usual suspects you would want to talk to a hip, plainspoken, Buddhist about. Some great quotes (that you would never find in other books in the Buddhist section) are dropped along the way:
On enlightenment: “The only real enlightenment is to realize you’re a complete phony.”
On reincarnation: “We die all the time. Every moment of everyday we die. Look at a picture of yourself when you were ten years old. Where is that person now?”
And On the “All is One” thing: “It takes a great deal of effort to sustain the illusion that you are something eternally separate from the rest of the universe.”
Hardcore Zen Strikes Again takes a sudden and awkward shift in tone in its final three chapters. Brad delves uncharacteristically into new agey pseudoscience in the chapter “The Whole Vegetarian Thing,” declaring that things like “meat makes a person feel more aggressive (because when animals are slaughtered they) tense up and…This highly agitated state is passed on to the person who eats the meat.” He even concedes hypocrisy for his vegetarianism as “cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are alive too…and there is considerable evidence that they have a kind of primitive survival instinct. Mmm-Hmm. The not-so-skeptical Buddhist appears here as well I’m afraid.
Chapter 15 feels off putting for different reasons as Brad discusses his views on writing, eventually veering off the subject of Buddhism completely. Though his tips will be enjoyable for writers (like me), most readers will find them as pointless as the final chapter that (and Brad acknowledges this) goes completely off course for a Zen-less discussion of the monster movie industry. Brad is a good enough writer to pull off non-Buddhist writings but these last three destinations aren’t exactly what was promised in the brochure.
“I find some of my early writings uncomfortable to read” admits modern-day Brad in the introduction to Hardcore Zen Strikes Again as, in keeping in the realism spirit of reincarnation merely being the natural changing in personality over the course of a life time, Brad critiques his younger self’s writings throughout the book.
Despite his misgivings and a questionable third act, 2012 Brad Warner can relax. If Hardcore Zen Strikes Again feels like a collection of old demo songs—as he suggests on page 59—it is still as engaging as any studio album, and is just a fine a place as any for new readers outside of Brad’s established fan base to jump into his catalog.
The Soul of Science, and Skeptic Swag…
- The Soul of Science
by Michael Shermer
In this pocket mini-book, Michael Shermer asks, “Can we find spiritual meaning and purpose in a scientific worldview?” Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one’s place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this in spades. (NOTE: This is a pocket mini-book. 3.5 x 5.5 inches, 35 pages.)
- Skeptic Lapel Pin
by The Skeptics Society
- Unisex Flex Fleece Zip Hoodies
by AMERICAN APPAREL
- Skeptic Bumper Sticker (11.5″ × 3″)
by The Skeptics Society