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Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Zen and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye Paperback – 31 May 2007
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I've had the print book for several years, and it took me a while to warm to Brad's approach to teaching Zen. He can come off as a bit snarky. sometimes, but the more you read him - both his books and his blog - the more you realize that he's simply not as pretentious as the more orthodox Zen teachers. Some of the jokes in his books fall flat, but he really is trying to explain this stuff in a more simple manner than what we're used to.
As for the audiobook, Brad really is a good narrator. He starts off with a sound-effect laden intro to the audiobook, and then starts reading, quite slowly. But he quickly finds his pace, and listening to this book is like having Brad in your living room talking to you. As one who has listened to a lot of audiobooks, Brad is a lot better than many professional narrators, probably because he's not thinking in terms of an "audiobook," but rather a talk to students or friends.
If you have the print book, I'd suggest getting the audiobook as well (if you're into that kind of thing). It's a refreshing way to absorb these teachings. I hope he'll record more of his books going forward.
The man is genuinely insightful into Zen ... aka everyday reality. He has a fine way of putting the essence of the wisdom of Dogen, the great medieval Japanese Zen master, into contemporary language: do the right thing - for its own sake.
I like the way he grapples with the challenges which Zen brings to just about every aspect of modern Western attitudes, continuously relating Zen to everyday life - often with refreshing personal anecdotes.
However, Warner has a typically old-fashioned and hazy understanding of Christianity, which he sees as centring on a crude, father-figure who exists separately from human life. He rightly dishes this type of Christianity, but has not been curious or thorough enough to go deeper. He also has a somewhat mechanistic sense of science, which therefore seems to him to be hard to reconcile with religion.
But there is much in his book - indeed, all of life!
Of the books I have read, this is definitely my favourite of Brad's and is a rare thing in buddhist literature: concise, clear, relevant to modern worldly life and above all entertaining. I was particularly intrigued by Brad's explanation of his belief in God, of course I'd been informed by many that buddhism is "basically atheism", which is not true. His explanation of this is fascinating - it predates Bachelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist" by the way.
I've sat through a lot of what's basically group therapy in the guise of a "dharma talks" where middle-aged people have rhapsodised about the illusory nature of all things, even time and life themselves, and been grumbling internally about how my association with buddhism has not brought me the girls my age I signed up for. My point here is, you must go after the teachings that are most applicable to you. I believe that if you're part of the amazon demographic, drawn to buddhism but don't want to change your religion, Brad's writing here can show you the way forward. As a result of my experience with it, I'm happier knowing that I can practice buddhism - while I remain in my own religion - and benefit from it without becoming some sexless enlightened robot, or worse - a "wisdom consort"!
A lot of Zen teachers I've encountered seem to engage in unnecessary esoteria and promote themselves as something greater than a mere human, but Zen is simply about things as they are. All you need is everyday life and the ability to see it through Zazen, and that's exactly how Brad Warner writes his books. His references to other aspects of his life - such as his punk rock interests - help to keep it all real and somehow keep the reader grounded. Whilst many Zen teachers come over as remote and distant, Brad Warner comes over as accessible and down to Earth.
'Sit Down and Shut Up' will be of most interest to students of Zen but it also stands alone as a pretty good read in its own right. Highly recommended.
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Well done Mr Warner.