Book Review: Hardcore Zen by Brad Werner


This post is a book review, of a book I have enjoyed. The links herein are affiliate links: if you buy something from them I will make a little money (with no difference in your price). I won't get rich, but the money helps with the upkeep of the blog. Thanks!

Hardcore Zen is not your usual Zen book. As you read it, you won't picture shaved heads and saffron robes. Instead, you will think about smashing electric guitars and Godzilla gone wild among a city centre.

Hardcore Zen is written by Brad Werner, former bass player of punk rock band Zero Defex. It is written as a mix of a biography of Brad and a report of his lifelong pursuit of Zen leading to him being ordained as a Soto Zen monk in Japan.

In the book, Brad goes from the very Zen beginning: Zazen gave me a way of doing nothing while still doing something that seemed somehow constructive. Who has not felt like this some day?

The book starts with odd images and colourful, strong slang that can make it slightly hard to follow, for non-native English speakers. One of the early statements in the book is the comparison between the punk movement and Zen. According to Brad (who is the expert, I know nothing about punk, I'm more of a hard rock and jazz guy) the key premise of punk is its defiance of rules and authority, conforming to social conventions. And in Zen, non conforming with society is common.

An interesting fact for readers of this blog is that Brad Werner learned Zen in Japan under the guidance of Gudo Wafu Nishijima, (known also for his translation of the Shobogenzo) which in turn was taught by Kodo Sawaki: the master of Taisen Deshimaru, who has already made several appearances here. Destiny or sheer luck has driven me to read mostly Soto Zen books, and as you may guess Kodo Sawaki was a Soto Zen master.

I have found several pearls of wisdom in this book, pearls that were not so clearly visible when I started reading. One of them:
The present moment is the razor's edge of time, slicing through both future and past like a red hot machete through a stick of butter.
Another quote I enjoyed a lot looks like taken directly from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
Buddhism won't give you the answer, . Buddhism may help you find your own right question.
In case you "don't get it", go grab a copy of The Guide in your local public library and get a laugh out.

Did I mention I like hard rock? Well, there is a chapter in the book were Brad talks about the enlightenment (or not enlightenment) of KISS' Gene Simmons, whom he meets in Tokyo for one of KISS' Tokyo concerts. Looks like there is still a little hope in him finding his path... And both Brad and myself think that there is something very Zen-ish in KISS' song We are one, from the Psycho Circus album.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned and re-learned in this book, like the fact that your mindfulness practise should extend to all your day chores and not only when you are in deep meditation. Or that if you want to help others, first you have to help yourself and solve the smallish problems. I recommend this book dearly, if you are interested you can buy it from Amazon here or from The Book Depository here.

Brad also offers some insights on what his enlightenment felt like. Of course the real reason you should be practising Zen is to do Zen (at least in the Soto realm), and enlightenment is just sitting in Zazen. But well, go read the book and tell me what you think. It was pretty... clear to read. Some small inspiration to keep on sitting doing nothing.

Another quote to finish no one else has ever lived this moment and no one else will ever live it.

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