Hardcore Zen

Sometime the world gets so screwed up in your head, you need to take another perspective on things.

I have a lot going on right now. I'm in the end stages of interviewing for a new position in my company, and whether out of fear or anger at losing me, the workload in my current job has tripled. This combined with a major medical emergency courtesy of my father as well as the usual hard work and frustrations that come with marriage and fatherhood have me spinning around in circles, lashing out and being a general grump about life.

Reading Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner was an enlightening experience, which is odd thing to say, especially since one of the things Warner stresses in the book is the lack of enlightenment as an achievable goal when practicing Zen. Warner, who until moving to Japan and becoming ordained as a Soto Zen priest was an early participant in the early 80s hardcore and punk explosion in Middle America, playing for Zero Defects and leading Dimentia 13. Hardcore Zen in an exploration into what it means to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism (particularly the Soto school, as opposed to the much more rigid and vigorous Rinzai school, which focuses much more on enlightenment) and how it paralleled both his life and the fundamentals of the punk and hardcore movements.

The biggest takeaway from the book is the questioning of everything: what you see, what you hear, what you read, but especially what you think you are, and your role in this thing we call the Universe. Warner goes to great pains to emphasize that you should even questions everything he says - the overriding principle of Buddhism is founded on seeing true reality for yourself, instead of seeing what others tell you to see or to expect to see. There's a distinct lack of practical information - besides a chapter on sitting zazen (the basic meditative discipline in Zen practice), Warner's focus in on the principles of the practice and the ways it differs from a religion or philosophy, so if you looking for a generic handbook or "how-to" of Zen Buddhism, this probably isn't the book for you.

But I won't deny that Hardcore Zen got me extremely interested: the act of truly finding your own answers by questioning everything until you know what it is you're supposed to asking makes sense to me, and although I don't know if it will lead me anywhere it's fast becoming a subject I intend to pursue further. Warner comes from a similar background to my own, and the similarities made for a rewarding read, one that cuts through the New Age bull$#@! of what we commonly know as Buddhism and opened the door to something intriguing and new.

So the next time you're in New York and you see some guy sitting in the Half Lotus position, his hands folding in the cosmic mudru while his headphones bleed Bad Brains and Circle Jerks, don't worry: he's just trying to find the right questions.