Warner, Brad 1964–
Warner, Brad 1964–
Musician, ordained Zen Buddhist priest, filmmaker, and author. Former bass player with the punk rock bands ODFx (also known as Zero Defects) and Dimentia 13; has worked in children's television and for a movie special-effects company in Tokyo, Japan.
Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality, Wisdom Publications (Boston, MA), 2003.
Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye, New World Library (Novato, CA), 2007.
Brad Warner's career as a punk rock musician and his philosophical beliefs as a Zen Buddhist priest share something in common: question everything, including established authority, religions, even yourself. During his early career, Warner was a bass player for the hard-core punk bands ODFx and Dimentia 13, which played music that was a reaction to the 1960s and early 1970s music they considered overproduced and mellow; many hard-core punkers also embraced the beliefs of working hard, being honest, and avoiding drugs. Then, in the early 1980s, Warner became interested in Eastern religions and philosophy. Attending a Krishna fest at Kent State University in Ohio, he was intrigued by eastern ways. Remaining in Ohio for a time, he studied Zen Buddhism under Tim McCarthy and was influenced by the teachings of Dogen Zenji. He became a serious student of Buddhism, combining this pursuit with a new opportunity in 1994 when he was hired by a studio in Japan to help make television programs in the popular ‘Ultraman’ series. Warner spent the next eleven years in Tokyo, working on B monster movies, learning Japanese, and continuing to improve his understanding of Buddhism. Now an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, he has written about this personal journey and shared his interpretation of Buddhism in his books Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality and Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye.
Part memoir, part social commentary, and part philosophical treatise, both books are somewhat rambling affairs written in a highly informal and desultory style. Nevertheless, ‘Brad Warner pulls it off,’ according to Gary Gach, who was commenting on the author's first book. ‘After all, he's trying to express nothing other than the inexpressible, so why not!? And he also runs a risk of shocking (or boring) only himself when he goes off on his trademark tangents, but he usually manages to land like a cat on all four feet and move on. The net effect of the book is, to this reader, like an implacable zone of utter stillness amid a crazy factory of noise.’ Gach remarked that the second title, Hardcore Zen, ‘follows and extends the previous book's format, intermingling the personal with Dharma."
Interviewing Warner, Gach pointed out that the author compares the Buddhist idea of ‘be a lamp unto yourself’ with the punk rock philosophy of questioning authority. To this, Warner replied: ‘It's the same sort of stretch. It means you're not waiting for someone else to show you the way. You have to be the lamp. So ‘question authority’ works into that … but I admit I did stretch it a bit.’ The author explains that people should find their own way toward truth and enlightenment—even remarking that readers should not necessarily listen to what he says—at the same time commenting on a variety of Buddhist notions such as reincarnation, living in the moment, and the unity of the spiritual and material worlds. Warner does so in a tone of voice that is at times humorous and that includes numerous pop references. Reviewing Hardcore Zen, a Publishers Weekly writer stated: ‘Entertaining, bold and refreshingly direct, this book is likely to change the way one experiences other books about Zen.’ Booklist contributor June Sawyers commented that Hardcore Zen ‘isn't your typical Buddhist book,’ praising it as ‘an honest account of [Warner's] search for truth."
Critics of Warner's Sit Down and Shut Up enjoyed the author's writing style, too, which they felt would appeal to many readers and make his brand of Buddhism more accessible. Lauding the author's ‘intimate, funny, conversational style,’ Library Journal contributor Graham Christian called the book ‘a hip and modern twist’ on the teachings of Dogen Zenji. ‘Warner writes in an open, appealing, and friendly manner,’ June Sawyers similarly reported in her Booklist assessment.
Moving back to America and settling in Los Angeles, Warner is pleased that Buddhism has become more accepted in the United States, though he noted that there are many people who are Buddhist posers. ‘You've got all kinds of people displaying their Buddhas and ohms and have no idea of what it means and have no interest in it,’ he told Shawna Kenney in a Busted Halo interview. Speculating about why the Eastern philosophy has gained a toehold in the United States, Warner further explained to Kenney: ‘It's basically a realistic philosophy, and I think people are looking for something realistic. It's not a religion in the traditional sense—I usually say it's not a religion—there are people who say it is and some of those people would give reasons that make sense and I could agree and say, OK, well if that's what you mean by religion then maybe it is—but my take on it is that it's not a religion. But that doesn't throw away all the useful things that religions have. For example, having ceremonies or a certain degree of ritual."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2003, June Sawyers, review of Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality, p. 26; April 15, 2007, June Sawyers, review of Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye, p. 7.
Library Journal, March 1, 2007, Graham Christian, review of Sit Down and Shut Up, p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, July 14, 2003, review of Hardcore Zen, p. 72; November 17, 2003, review of Hardcore Zen, p. 37; February 26, 2007, review of Sit Down and Shut Up, p. 79.
School Library Journal, March, 2004, Matthew L. Moffett, review of Hardcore Zen, p. 254.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2006, Susan Rakow, review of Hardcore Zen, p. 16.
Brad Warner Home Page,http://homepage.mac.com/doubtboy (November 2, 2007).
Buddhist Channel Web site,http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/ (September 6, 2007), Gary Gach, ‘Question Authority,’ interview with Brad Warner.
Busted Halo,http://www.bustedhalo.com/ (November 2, 2007), Shawna Kenney, interview with Brad Warner.
Hardcore Zen Blog,http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com (November 2, 2007).