Issue Date: December 14, 2007
Cleaning up a messy unconscious
By DANIEL BURKE
Religion News Service
There arent many Zen priests like Brad Warner.
Before turning to Buddhism 25 years ago, the 43-year-old Californian hit
the hardcore punk scene in Ohio as bassist for the Akron-based band Zero
Now a writer as well as a Buddhist priest, Warner, 43, combines his love
of punk and Zen to produce straight-talking meditations on sex, death, God and
the Buddha. His latest book, Sit Down and Shut Up, centers on
Shobogenzo, a mysterious 13th-century text.
Warner talked recently about practicing Buddhism and playing in a punk
band, why we need books and how meditating is like cleaning your room.
RNS: Ive heard Buddhist teachers say you dont need to
know anything about Buddhism, if you just sit down and shut up long enough,
youll get it. Do you think thats true?
think thats basically true. The philosophical aspect of Buddhism is
important, but practicing it is much more critical. A lot of Americans who are
into Buddhism will study the philosophy but never do the practice. If you had
to do one or the other I think the practice is more important.
Your book posits some surprising similarities between playing in a
punk band and practicing Zen.
People think they are entirely different
worlds. Punk rock is very noisy and in your face. Zen tends to be quiet and out
of your face. Theyre comparable in the sense that you have to just do the
thing youre doing. When youre playing bass, you have to just play
bass or youll lose the thread and make a mistake. Zazen [meditation] may
be a little harder in that sense because all youre doing is sitting. But
it is a kind of action even though youre not doing anything. Its
not like youre just being lazy.
Whats the biggest hang-up for Zen beginners?
youre doing zazen wrong because you sit there and your mind is full of
desire and plans and hopes and all kinds of thoughts. People imagine zazen must
be this beautiful tranquil place of ease. Generally speaking, when you first
start out, its not like that at all. It wasnt even like that for
the Buddha when he started.
How long does it take to get your mind to settle
Sometimes it takes ages. Im still waiting for it to settle
Your book says that the old Japanese Zen masters were the original
punks. Hows that so?
They went against their society. It was a
socially accepted thing to be a monk but it was still a pretty weird thing to
do. They were rejecting those things of society that everyone else was striving
Youre pretty critical of some of the books on Buddhism out
there. How is yours different?
A lot of those books point to some
beautiful thing thats far away that the author has and he wants to help
you achieve. Im trying to bring it down to something more real, to combat
that sense that the only way to practice meditation is to run off to India and
sit on top of a mountain for 10 years.
Your book centers on Shobogenzo, which, from the
excerpts, seems pretty tough to grasp. How long did it take you to understand
Its definitely difficult. I read the book completely through
three times before I got it. But even when I didnt understand
it, I could feel instantly that it wasnt just some guy talking
Youve got an interesting metaphor in your book: how meditation
practice is like cleaning your room.
Yeah, Im a really messy
person, I probably came up with that one day while I was cleaning my room.
Basically, its that you cant just get somebody else to shove all
your stuff in the closet and you cant clean it all at once. Thats
like moving all the mess to an area of your unconscious. Its still there.
So, theres no instant miracle. Its a gradual process.
Your book is pretty clear, weve all got it, that
is, universal truth, within us. Do we need books, then?
big question, isnt it? A book can be a useful kick in the pants to take
action and look at your surroundings. My big kick in the pants was to find a
teacher; maybe, hopefully, my book will spur somebody to come on and do the
National Catholic Reporter, December 14,