“Hardcore Zen” – An Enlightened Book Review (of Sorts)


I found this book at my local library. It was the title, Hardcore Zen, that intrigued me enough to check it out. Lately I have been reading books about Buddhism and Zen but the authors were your typical mainstream  — you know,  the ones who live nearly a monastic life. There certainly is nothing wrong with that and I gained a lot of insight from their writings, but I was always left with a bit of guilt and the nagging question, “How would they get along in my ‘crazy’ fast paced world.”

Most authors who write about meditation live in a quiet environment. I live in Southern California. They have an entourage. I have a husband, cats and dogs. They have time to devote several hours a day to their meditation and spiritual practice. I am lucky to squeeze in one hour a day. There are times my day can be plagued with unsavory thoughts — depending on the amount of stress I am dealing with.

I guess I sort of felt inadequate. I know. I am responsible for my own feelings. The authors are not trying to make me feel or think that way. They are only sharing information that works for them.

That is until I met Brad Warner, the author of Hardcore Zen. I didn’t really meet him in person but it felt like I did when I was reading his words. Like I mentioned earlier, I got something from all the Buddhism books I read, but this one I really clicked with — here was a guy who lived a life I could relate to. He didn’t have an entourage; he faced the same hurdles many of us do — like scraping together money to pay rent and living with sloppy roommates, while trying to live a Buddhist lifestyle.

Warner is a bonafide Zen priest who lives in Santa Monica not the Himalayas. He used to live in Japan and helped produce Godzilla-style movies and was (is?) a member of a punk-rock band. He is definitely not the Dalai Lama.

He even has a dark side and isn’t afraid to share it with his readers! I felt I had no control over the random dark thoughts that popped into my head and I spent a great deal of my meditation time trying to suppress them. I read so many books about attaining ‘enlightenment’ and I thought to myself, “How can I ever gain enlightenment when I find myself entertaining (what could be considered) some very evil thoughts?”

Warner has the same thoughts!  He says we all do and so what?! It’s part of our human condition. I can’t tell you how many times I sat zazen (silent Zen meditation) and all of a sudden my mind was engaging in mental war games with another person whom I might have been irritated with earlier. I would find myself pushing those thoughts away, instead of looking at them for what they were and then continuing on with sitting in silence.

I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel normal. Before that I thought I might be a phony. I was living two lives. A public and a private — the private being inside my head. I can’t tell you how many times I outwardly told someone “thank you” when inside my head I was saying “fuck you.” Not all the time, mind you, but enough to wonder about my behavior.

Warner wrote, “… your thoughts are not the real you. They are electrical impulses bouncing around in your head… Thinking about doing something is not the same as acting on them.” I don’t know about you, but that is a huge weight lifted off me.

He also wrote that no one reaches ‘enlightenment’ — at least not in the sense of what we believe it is. We are all continuously enlightened because of the constant updates of information we receive. Our views evolve and change — at least it does for many of us.

I borrowed this book from the library but I bought a copy as well. He also wrote a few more books that are part of the Hardcore Zen series you may be interested in, although I have not read them as of yet.

Peace and Good Thoughts!


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