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Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality Paperback – August 8, 1994

4.3 out of 5 stars 198 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Hardcore Zen Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There's a Zen story about a teacher who holds up his finger, then reminds his student to look beyond the finger itself, to what the finger is pointing at-the moon. That's what this book does: it transcends itself-and with outrageous style. Warner, an early-'80s hardcore punk musician, discovered Zen in college, moved to Japan to make B-grade monster movies, and eventually became a bona fide Zen master by formally receiving "dharma transmission." Yet true to his punk spirit, he relentlessly demands that all teaching, all beliefs, all authority-including his own-must be questioned. ("Why should you listen to me? Who the hell am I?... No one. No one at all.") By turns wickedly funny, profane, challenging and iconoclastic-but always with genuine kindness-Warner devotes chapters to some common Zen notions such as the oneness of reality ("Why Gene Simmons Is Not a Zen Master"), reincarnation ("In My Next Life I Want to Come Back as a Pair of Lucy Liu's Panties") and the vital importance of the present moment ("Eating a Tangerine is Real Enlightenment"). Yet this is no litany of Zen orthodoxy designed for study. By liberally sharing anecdotes from his own life as a down-and-out punk rocker and maker of monster movies, Warner constantly focuses on the importance of a direct experience of reality in all its rawness over adherence to any set of beliefs-even Zen ones. Entertaining, bold and refreshingly direct, this book is likely to change the way one experiences other books about Zen-and maybe even the way one experiences reality.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School--Warner has appropriated the phrase "Question authority," a longtime battle cry for the punk-rock aesthetic, for use as a Buddhist mantra. Much of his book is laid out like a memoir. Readers follow the author from high school and his interest in '70s rock music and philosophical thought through his musical career under names like Zero Defex and Dimentia 13 and finally to his dream job with the Japanese television studio that produces the popular live-action children's show, Ultra Man. The common threads throughout are a rabid interest in transcendental meditation and enlightenment. A conversational tone and endless streams of pop references to everything from Minor Threat to TheMatrix movies make this a readable and even fun book. Warner stresses that enlightenment and meditation do not come easy, which separates his writing dramatically from many other Western books on Buddhism. It's nice to see someone with strong ties to rock coming down so hard on people like Terence McKenna or even the Beatles, who promoted drug use as a way toward higher thought. Although some of Warner's connections between Buddhism and the various pieces of pop culture are simplified, his idea of questioning is particularly striking. Not just questioning authority, but friends, oneself, and, yes, him. This wonderfully engaging primer just might get those more dubious, less willing readers to look at the world a bit differently.--Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (October 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 086171380X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0861713806
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (198 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Brad Warner deserves credit for writing a book that both is fun to read and does a pretty good job of explaining the most significant philosophical aspects of Zen Buddhism. Many an experienced practitioner has failed to convey as insightfully as Warner what Zen is about, let alone with such a sense of humor. The book does much of what Warner presumably set out to do: introduce Zen to younger folks who know little or nothing about it and might be put off by more traditional works. He does it without much pandering to the typical inclinations of some members of the target audience, such as the hope that drug use presents a viable alternative, or even supplement, to Zen practice. So I recommend it; you'll learn a lot and you won't be bored.

Nonetheless, the book has some significant shortcomings. While Warner does a fine job of presenting the present-centered aspect of Zen, which is critical, he overlooks almost entirely that Zen, like all Buddhism, is also about compassion. Unfortunately, Warner often expresses the opposite. While it's very tempting to ridicule those who don't "get it," and even more, those who imagine wrongly that they do, and while sniping at the supposedly (or actually) ignorant can be very entertaining when done artfully -- and Warner is good at it, and I have little sympathy for his targets -- his disdain for the benighted becomes wearying after a while, and it reveals that, transmission or no transmission, he has a way to go himself before he is able to walk the talk of the bodhisattva ideal. Arrogance is not merely unattractive, it indicates a lack of realization, and this cannot be entirely negated merely by acknowledging it (which Warner never actually does), and continuing to express it in the name of "accepting what one is.
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Format: Paperback
I've read Hardcore Zen twice. The first read-through last year left kind of a bad taste in my mouth. My overall impression was that even though Brad really did have some good information and interesting experiences to share, the book suffered strongly from his inability to get out of his own way while sharing it. A recent rereading hasn't changed my initial impression, which is that much of what the book was intended to convey is eclipsed by Warner's need to show off, criticize, and name drop. From beginning to end, Hardcore Zen is a vehicle for Brad's ego far more than it is a vehicle for the Dharma, and that's really unfortunate, as there is a lot of value in what Brad is trying to say.

I haven't met Brad Warner in person, so I don't want to make an all-encompassing statement about his overall personality, but in Hardcore Zen he comes off as an immature jerk. That's a fairly undesirable attribute to appear in a biographical work in general, but in a book about Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes a philosophy of "no self", it's a rather glaring flaw.

He's foulmouthed, judgmental, antagonistic, and seems to enjoy insulting other people in the Buddhist community who he disagrees with. I was shocked to find out that Warner is 40-something, as his writing displays a maturity level that reads more like early 20s. I don't have a problem with obscenity or sarcasm where it has value and meaning, but the "I'm a Zen priest who says %&@$" angle loses its novelty fairly quickly. More importantly, the book is pervasive with a "Zen is about questioning everything, but people who don't practice like I do are stupid and not worth your time" attitude, which I find a harsh contrast with the overall message that Warner is trying to get across.

To sum up, I do think Brad's experiences are worth reading, but his attitude does not inspire confidence in the credibility of his information.
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Format: Paperback
I love Zen books. For the most part, good books on Zen click with me. The thing is, though... the void surrounding that "for the most part" is glaring at times. The authors often come from a landscape so esoteric or removed from the average Joe-&-Jane's real life situation. Two contemporary writers of Zen I enjoy most are Charlotte Joko Beck and the late Alan Watts, yet when I read them, I can't help but picturing myself next to Alen Ginsburg on a houseboat in Sausalito, or eating macrobiotic rice at The Yogic-Yogurt Cafe in some land like Santa Cruz or La Jolla. It's not that I dislike these notions, but they are so far removed from my reality. I got much a lot out of these books, but a little something was missing.
I browsed through Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. I was initially drawn to the funky cover and thought "Oh cute... another book on 'Zen For the Western Mind." Nope. This book is much more than a cute punk-themed book cover.
Flipping through the pages, I was amazed to find that this Zen practitioner made references to several major pop-culture icons that I could really relate to. I thought I was the only American from my generation who remembered the episode of Ultraman where a funeral service is held for the scores of space monsters that Ultraman had to kill. Nor did I expect to see a reference to that cringe-inducing 1982 CHIPS episode where evil punk rockers terrorized the Battle of the Bands with their ode "I Dig Pain!"
These references to modern media moguls, from Henry Rollins to Ed Wood to Godzilla, are not just trivial inserts serving as a gimmick for a "Zen Book O' the Week" favorite. Brad Warner applies these references to everyday life as many middle class Americans know it.
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