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Thread: Hardcore Zen

  1. #1

    Hardcore Zen

    Okay, I will admit it, I didn't go into this book with an open mind. Despite having a general like of people involved in fringe activities such as alternative music and film, and those who have a habit of putting two fingers up at authority figures, something about Brad Warner has always bugged me. He seems like the poster boy for cool Zen and some of his attitudes towards sex and dharma don't sit well with me.

    So, I was totally expecting to hate this book and find it to be more about Brad Warner than Zen. The first couple of chapters did not disappoint me on that front. However, that was just setting the scene and a backdrop to what was to come. Starting with a section on The Heart Sutra, Brad goes on to explain the path of Zen in the normal language of 21st century America. And, although I almost hate to admit it – he gets it. Me saying that is pretty pointless as Brad gets it far more than I do. The parts about Gudo Nishijima were great to read and having someone who has a history of drug use report how irrelevant and counterproductive drug use is to Zen practice hits home far more than the same words falling from the mouth of an elderly Japanese man.

    Anyway, I am sure most of you have read the book already but this is my first real encounter with Brad's words and I remain impressed. He will likely never be one of my go-to references for Zen teachings but I think that he is a relevant and important voice to have in our tradition.

    Gassho
    Andy

  2. #2
    It is a great book! Right near the top of our recommended reading list.

    I think that you are wrong, though, if you say Brad had a history of drug use besides maybe a joint here or there. As I understand, he was pretty "straight edge" for the punk scene, and didn't even drink much if any.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    #SAT TODAY!

  3. #3
    Yes, it is probably fair to say that he wasn't a great drug taker but did recount a couple of LSD trips he had. The fact he was in music scene that had drug takers and his unwillingness to stick to the party line unless it accords with his own experience puts him in a good position to discuss it.

    Gassho
    Andy

  4. #4
    Hi Andy,

    I'd very much recommend reading Brad's book "Sit down and shut up" next - IMHO it is as good as "Hardcore Zen" or even a bit better!

    Gassho,

    Daitetsu
    no thing needs to be added

  5. #5
    Thanks, Daitetsu. I was wondering whether to sample some more or leave it at that, so the recommendation is very helpful.

    Gassho
    Andy

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Daitetsu View Post
    Hi Andy,

    I'd very much recommend reading Brad's book "Sit down and shut up" next - IMHO it is as good as "Hardcore Zen" or even a bit better!

    Gassho,

    Daitetsu
    I agree Daitetsu, I enjoyed the book and I too enjoyed Hardcore Zen very much. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  7. #7
    I've enjoyed all of his books. I can appreciate how he appears to want to "humanize" Zen "masters" or teachers. It's easy to de-humanize certain people and put them on an alter, instead of under a boot.

    I also enjoy disagreeing with some of the things that he has to say. I love readying books that I completely agree with, but when I can disagree and agree, I find it forces me to think and question more than simply just take in what I like.

    Sex, Sin and Zen is one of my favorites because it deals with the subject of sexuality from a perspective I've never been exposed to before and got me to thinking and questioning like never before because I couldn't simply find the thinks I agreed or disagreed with.

    Gassho.
    Chris

  8. #8
    Senior Member Sydney's Avatar
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    I didn't "get" his writing style in Hardcore Zen until he started in on the Heart Sutra. From that point forward, it was easier for me to see how he was saying what he was saying. I think I've read about 1.5 more of his books and found them consistently solid, and like hearing recordings of his public talks and Q&A sessions.

    There may be a lot of material out there in the "mediocre to bad" range, but yay for the quality stuff being preserved these days.
    Diligently attain nothing. Sort of. Best not to over-think it.
    http://gplus.to/sydneytinker

  9. #9
    Junior Member Edward E's Avatar
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    "Hardcore Zen" and "Sit Down And Shut Up" were key to me in considering Zen as a viable option. Although I was drawn to Zen before reading them, Brad Warner's books helped me get past the stereotypes of Buddhism I had always heard.

    Gassho,
    Eddie

  10. #10
    Member Roland's Avatar
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    I read this thread, bought Hardcore Zen and read it. I like the style, but I must admit if often baffles me. Brad does not believe in a hereafter, but then again he is sure his granddad somehow is aware of what happens at his funeral. He describes his mystical experiences, becoming one with the universe, yet underlines how each moment you live is you who are living it and not someone else. I'm aware that zen likes paradoxes and outright contradictions, but as a beginner is makes me think (I guess that's the purpose, or is it rather it should stop me from thinking analytically?). He warns for religious people being so sure about what they believe, but yet is totally sure about the validity of his (supposedly sound) meditation experiences - not once suggesting that maybe, just maybe, meditation could be just a very sophisticated way to auto-manipulate your mind. Sometimes he made me think of the philosopher Hegel who wrote something like 'in the night of reason all cows are black'.
    And yet, after all this criticism, I must admit I liked the book very much and I cannot get it out of my mind. I'll read his other books as well. It just helps me see my doubts about my meditation, practice and life, in a beautiful way.

  11. #11
    I've really enjoyed all his books, and his blog actually led me to join Treeleaf. His latest book (There is no God and he is always with you) is really interesting. I like how he breaks complex Buddhist philosophy down into direct, layman terms; I don't think that is as simple as it seems; I think he has a real knack for it. I also like the kitchy I'm writing to my friend style of writing and the nerd references to Ultraman and Godzilla. I can see how that could get annoying, but I'm a corny nerd, and I enjoy it. lol It's cool to read Sit Down and Shut Up and then actually read the passages in Shobogenzo where they come from. Dogen still confuses me though. hahhahah all with time I suppose

    Gassho,

    Risho

  12. #12
    I enjoyed all of his books. Brad is just Brad. :-)

    Gassho, Jishin
    治 Ji
    心​ Shin

  13. #13
    Senior Member TimF's Avatar
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    I have never read any of his books, but after reading this thread, I aim to do so soon. Thank you all for pointing me to yet another pointer of the moon...I would have likely skipped his words if not for you!

    Gassho,
    Tim
    "The moment has priority". ~ Bon Haeng

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    Brad is just Brad. :-)
    Nicely said Jishin ... we are who we are. As Clint Eastwood would say, "The good, the bad, and the ugly". =)

    Gassho
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    Personally I like his books and his style. I come from that hardcore punk rock scene myself, so it speaks to me on many levels. I do prefer Sit Down and Shut Up over Hardcore Zen, but I think they're both great books. One thing people need to understand is that Brad writes very abrasively, but when it comes to practice he may be one of the most traditional teachers out there. He's speaking a specific language in his books, speaking to a specific audience. Get past that, scratch the surface, and he is a very masterful teacher.

  16. #16
    Member Roland's Avatar
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    I'm reading Sit Down and Shut Up now. As a beginner in shikantaza I really like insights and practical stuff such as this: "Now try to look at the natural spaces between thoughts. Learn what it feels like just to stop generating more and more stuff for your brain to chew on. Now see if you can do that for longer and longer periods. A couple of seconds is fine. Voilà! Thinking not thinking!"
    I once experienced something strange (or so I thought) while performing a karate kata (a solo sequence of combat movements) - it was as if during the short gaps between the movements (in Shotokan karate the kata movements have these 'spaces' between them) my thoughts stopped completely. But now I realize these gaps are there if one just tries to pay attention to how thoughts manifest themselves.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Roland View Post
    I'm reading Sit Down and Shut Up now. As a beginner in shikantaza I really like insights and practical stuff such as this: "Now try to look at the natural spaces between thoughts. Learn what it feels like just to stop generating more and more stuff for your brain to chew on. Now see if you can do that for longer and longer periods. A couple of seconds is fine. Voilà! Thinking not thinking!"
    I once experienced something strange (or so I thought) while performing a karate kata (a solo sequence of combat movements) - it was as if during the short gaps between the movements (in Shotokan karate the kata movements have these 'spaces' between them) my thoughts stopped completely. But now I realize these gaps are there if one just tries to pay attention to how thoughts manifest themselves.
    It is important to realize, however, that the space between thoughts is not all there is to realize. Once the great, boundless, clarity of such a space is known ... like the wide open blue sky in all directions ... one must then come to realize that the thought and open, the clouds and sky, the clear mirror and all things appearing in the mirror ... were never really two at all.

    One realizes that the light and sky are there all along, even when hidden by the clouds and ... what is more ... one can come to find the light which shines through and as the clouds of thought, illuminating and lightening all.

    One comes to find the clarity of the nonjudgmental mirror which accepts all ... and the world perceived in the mirror ... are not divided.

    So, do not think that the point of this practice is merely to find some clear space free of clouds, or to wipe the mirror free of all dust. It is easy to think that is the whole goal.

    Such is Thinking-non-Thinking.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-28-2014 at 02:34 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    #SAT TODAY!

  18. #18
    Jundo

    I was just looking through the recommended booklist and Hardcore Zen is actually not included. Sit Down and Shut Up is there but not HZ.

    With Hans recommending Seeing Through Zen on another thread, this might be another good addition to the history of Zen section.

    Gassho
    Andy

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Jundo

    I was just looking through the recommended booklist and Hardcore Zen is actually not included. Sit Down and Shut Up is there but not HZ.

    With Hans recommending Seeing Through Zen on another thread, this might be another good addition to the history of Zen section.

    Gassho
    Andy
    Hi Andy,

    Your eyes must be playing tricks! They were there, though I moved Hardcore Zen together with Sit Down to make it a bit easier to spot.

    I am actually not such a fan of "Sit Down and Shut Up" because as I recall (it has been a long time since I read it) I found Brad's treatment of Shobogenzo a bit fluffy and off key. Brad can be a lazy scholar and says stuff sometimes which he pulls out of his left nostril without really doing his homework (the God book suffered from this too). I do like Hardcore. Should give "Sit Down" and "Hardcore" a reread.

    Also, the book that Hans mentioned ... Seeing Through Zen ... is wonderful, but might really only be of interest to Zen History wonks. As I recall (it has also been awhile since I read it, but I have a copy in front of my), it mostly is focused on very early developments in China and makes some points that are really pretty well accepted now. Yes, much of the "Sacred Lineage" going back to India and the early years in China is "made up" by folks just trying to play "connect the dots" back to Buddha. Many of the people in the Lineage did not even exist, or know each other, or have anything to do with "Zen". Many of the Koan stories of the Tang Dynasty (the so-called Golden Age) were made up in the Song Dynasty, and are unlikely to be real historical events (and actually the Song Dynasty, often said to be when Zen got a bit stiff, was the age that created legends of a "Golden Age" and was the actual era of the formation of most of our Zen institutions such as the Koan). A lot of this was done for political reasons, as the sect tried to give itself a history and legitimacy (e.g., by inventing these ancestors and their stories) it lacked.

    No problem, figures such as Bodhidharma and the 6th Patriarch, although perhaps more "legend" than "living people", are paradigms that stand for teachings as real as real can be. They are much like "Moses" in that way ... a symbol of freedom from oppression who may not actually have been in flesh and blood.

    Here is an often sited article by Faure, another well known Zen historian, on Bodhidharma as paradigm.

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/..._Paradigm.html

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-28-2014 at 01:27 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    #SAT TODAY!

  20. #20
    Hi Jundo

    Weird. I looked multiple times and couldn't see it!

    Thank you for the link to the Bodhidharma piece. Will give it a look.

    Gassho
    Andy

  21. #21
    Senior Member Daijo's Avatar
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    It's hard to capture this practice in words without getting slightly off the mark. Truthfully as soon as we are aware of "thinking-non thinking" then we've actually lost it. That's a problem with books on zen. You cant really describe the indescribable. You can describe posture, and effort to an extent, but once we attempt to explain "experience" we're creating problems.

    We may from time to time be in these moments of "thinking non thinking" or perhaps even "samadhi". Yet the instant we realize we are in it......we are not. I don't think anyone can really put that "in it experience" down to paper.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Daijo View Post
    It's hard to capture this practice in words without getting slightly off the mark. Truthfully as soon as we are aware of "thinking-non thinking" then we've actually lost it. That's a problem with books on zen. You cant really describe the indescribable. You can describe posture, and effort to an extent, but once we attempt to explain "experience" we're creating problems.

    We may from time to time be in these moments of "thinking non thinking" or perhaps even "samadhi". Yet the instant we realize we are in it......we are not. I don't think anyone can really put that "in it experience" down to paper.
    This is so.

    I would say, however, that there are those who find boundless clarity free of thoughts and divisions ... and believe that the point is to reach and stay so as long as one can. There are even Buddhist Teachers (not so many Soto Zen Teachers, however) who will tell you that the point is to reach and stay such, free of thoughts, judgments and subject/object divisions.

    However, most Zen folks of all stripes will tell you that the real fruits of this Practice come when one can attain such illumination shining right through and as the quiet spaces as well as whatever thoughts might happen to drift through mind ... the clarity of the mirror right as all the chaos of life encountered in the mirror. So, one does reach "thinking-non-thinking" where thoughts and no thoughts are not two. In the lovely talk on Song of the Grass Hut, Alan Senuake touches on the phrase "If one wishes to know the undying person in the hut, don't separate from this skinbag here and now". Buddha is found in and as all this, the "whole catastrophe" of life ... but then "whole catastrophe" is not encountered as was before such realization.

    However, in order to realize that thoughts and the Buddha are not two, one must usually get pretty good at piercing that boundless, illuminated, "clear as a mirror glass", all encompassing, free sky between the clouds of thought.

    I know that Brad would concur, although his words may be a bit misleading.

    Gassho, J

    PS - Someone asked where Brad can be a bit fast and lose with some of his statements. A quick recent example would be the paragraph in "There Is No God" where he seems to be saying that all forms of Buddhism involve meditation of some kind. Many Buddhists in the Chanting schools, such as the Pure Land and Nichiren folks, would disagree. He tends to make very fast and loose statements like so quite often which indicate that he didn't really do his homework or consider what he is saying. (The paragraph the starts "By the way .. ")

    http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=J...ion%22&f=false
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-28-2014 at 08:45 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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  23. #23
    Member Roland's Avatar
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    Jundo, thank you for explaining Thinking-Non-Thinking. As I was writing my post and quoting Brad, I realized that it sounded rather dualistic, as you so eloquently pointed out. Of course, between realizing 'this sounds dualistic' and attaining the kind of illumination you describe, I will have to sit for a long time - which is perfectly okay with me.

    Gassho, Roland

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Roland View Post
    Jundo, thank you for explaining Thinking-Non-Thinking. As I was writing my post and quoting Brad, I realized that it sounded rather dualistic, as you so eloquently pointed out. Of course, between realizing 'this sounds dualistic' and attaining the kind of illumination you describe, I will have to sit for a long time - which is perfectly okay with me.

    Gassho, Roland
    In some ways, thinking "this will take a long time" makes it take a long time. It is rather like riding a bicycle ... tricky and hard when one thinks about it as an outsider, literally "child's play" when one gets rolling. Thinking it is hard and scary and takes lifetimes to attain makes it so.

    I often say that this way is not about learning to do something ... it is about unlearning and just putting down. Put down thoughts of "longtime" or "short time", good and bad, something to attain ... sit in the Timeless, Whole Goodness of Zazen simply attaining Zazen in each moment ... and, like child's play, one might attain something VERY good in a short time.

    It is a Timeless Whole Goodness that is both short times and long, good and bad and all the broken pieces of life ... not two.

    Gassho, J

    PS - This other attitude mentioned today is also vital ...

    I came across a discussion on the internet this week about "how to Shikantaza" ... and much good and solid advice was given. Some folks follow the breath, some "Just Sit" in boundless spaciousness, some advised this or that on the posture and letting thoughts go. All wise and good, and talk of posture, focus and such are all a necessary setting of the stage.

    However, in my view (and that is all it is, and hopefully a viewless view too) SOMETHING VITAL WAS LACKING AND LEFT OUT OF THE CONVERSATION, something without which Zazen is perhaps left incomplete and lacking ...

    ... TO WIT ..................

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...l=1#post127298
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-29-2014 at 01:51 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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  25. #25
    Member Roland's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    In some ways, thinking "this will take a long time" makes it take a long time. It is rather like riding a bicycle ... tricky and hard when one thinks about it as an outsider, literally "child's play" when one gets rolling. Thinking it is hard and scary and takes lifetimes to attain makes it so.

    I often say that this way is not about learning to do something ... it is about unlearning and just putting down. Put down thoughts of "longtime" or "short time", good and bad, something to attain ... sit in the Timeless, Whole Goodness of Zazen simply attaining Zazen in each moment ... and, like child's play, one might attain something VERY good in a short time.

    It is a Timeless Whole Goodness that is both short times and long, good and bad and all the broken pieces of life ... not two.

    Gassho, J

    PS - This other attitude mentioned today is also vital ...
    Thank you for these thoughts, Jundo. I thought them over, read related posts and a bit of the Shobogenzo. I went to Myozan Kodo's Wednesday Evening Zazen. Sitting, I heard the noise of the fridge. My knee did hurt a bit from a previous attempt to try the full lotus. My mind was struggling with these phenomena, but then I felt like I was smiling at my struggling mind, the fridge and the knee. It was all still there, but it felt okay. But then the thought came 'who is smiling' and there was like a blank - and the feeling that the knee and the fridge probably were smiling, and all those other things around me and far beyond "me". It was not as if there was no self at all, it was still there but much quieter, and somehow there was also a feeling of kindness and compassion.
    I don't know whether these thoughts/feelings were induced by your words, or whether I would have felt that way without these conversations and readings, but one of the thoughts which resonated a lot was 'cleaning the windshield and seeing clear'.

    I had a huge resistance against your saying 'truly understanding that everything is completely beyond need for change'. I thought "how can he say that, while there is so much injustice, exploitation and repression? Should our parents and grand-parents have said 'everything is completely beyond the need for change' while people were being deported to die in gas chambers? Hell no!" But then again there is your other image of climbing the mountain, while every step is fully arriving...

    Gassho, Roland

  26. #26
    Lovely.

    But do not over-analyze too much. Otherwise, it is all the difference between making love and analyzing/describing one's making love, eating ice cream tasting the sweetness and philosophizing about "what is sweetness". Just love, just taste, just sit.

    I had a huge resistance against your saying 'truly understanding that everything is completely beyond need for change'. I thought "how can he say that, while there is so much injustice, exploitation and repression?
    In our crazy-sane way, one can accept and not accept AT ONCE, AS ONE. Each thing is just what it is, yet flawed ... perfectly flawed. So, there is nothing in need of change, yet simultaneously much about this world to change ... a Koan. It is much like seeing the kitchen as "perfectly dirty" as well as "beyond all human thoughts of clean vs. dirty" ... yet it is dirty, so we best clean it up! So with the whole world, all the wars and poverty and disease and injustice.

    And as we set to cleaning ... each step is total arrival as we polish, polish, polish.

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    #SAT TODAY!

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