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on 15 October 2007
How much do I envy Brad Warner? Hard core punk rocker. Japanese monster movie work. Lived in Tokyo. A Zen Buddhist master. One hot book already ("HardCore Zen" and now this one.) A column in Suicide Girls. And in one of his recent Suicide Girl columns he reveals that his well-known master Gudo Nishijima has asked him to be his sucessor ... and Brad has accepted. This from a guy who reveals in this book he hates being a Zen master, hates the challenges, the assumptions of his authority. Yes, I shouldn't envy him, I don't know his actual condition or what awaits him (or me) but it's hard not to envy a guy whose accomplished so much...yet is telling me to just go and sit facing a blank wall. Here's a guy who I expect might next show up on Entertainment Tonight having been spotted clubbing with Paris Hilton (could that be, Brad? Probably not) and yet he's the successor to Gudo Nishijima, who along with Chudo Cross, translated Dogen's masterwork Shobogenzo into English. So impressive it is distracting. Rather than sit down and shut up, I want to fly to Tokyo, I want to enter a cool-sounding rap into my word processor. Did Nishijima have sales of the translations of Shobogenzo in mind when he asked Brad to be his successor? No, I'm too cynical. And Brad's power to explain Zen, to the extent it can be explained, shouldn't be slighted.

Do you recall the Fuller Brush Man? One used to come lugging a suitcase to our neighborhood in New England periodically when I was young. My Mom would always be glad to see him and he's spend time showing her his latest products. She's always buy at least one. He was well-trained, could explain each product convincingly and was polite with her. The Fuller Brush Company (which still exists today although it may have abandoned door-to-door sales which never seemed cost-effective anyway) prepared him. But its an identity one can be proud of and something to keep one busy. Is it perhaps a roughly similar way that Brad Warner was prepared by his Zen teachers, trained using the entire Zen tradition? For a Soto (at least) Zen practitioner, Dogen's Shobogenzo is one element of that training. Another is the sitting method zazen. But Brad is one exceptional Fuller Brush Man. Must be to be selected to be a successor of Nishijima (or so it would seem). Or to hang out with the Suicide Girls. Any can be trained but not all have a gift to teach. I suppose I should be asking myself whether I have the gift to learn.

I confess I did zazen for 5 years every day but wasn't "making progress" and stopped and having been searching around in other ways the past 10 years. Recently I wondered if Zen might be worth a second try, which is why I read this book.

Shobogenzo is long and almost every page of it can be baffling. All four volumes of Nishijima and Cross's translation are available (at the time I write this review), new or used, via Amazon. If you enjoy this book by Brad, you may want to dive into them but don't expect it to be easy. Brad's gifted rap helps. He shares explanatory powers that Baba Ram Dass, who he expressed admiration for, also has.

Brad may seem like he has an answer for everything but he is wise enough to point out firmly that he won't take your own responsibility for yourself from you. And can't. He's strict about zazen posture (a position he clarifies, outside this book, by noting that if he made it easy for people to believe they could do zazen seiza style or sitting in a chair they may well lose the important body-and-mind benefit of correct posture. He has helpful positions, much learned from Nishijima but delivered in his cool punk rocker way, of enlightenment, the will to truth, reincarnation, boredom, and why we aren't happy (or hopefuly sad) all the time.

As in Hard Core Zen, I find his explanations of how I am the universe wanting. For an explanation that connected better with me, I suggest some from the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition (e.g. You Are the Eyes of the World, New Edition. And, as with other Buddhist teachers, the teaching that self is an illusion isn't so reassuring: my boss still expect ME to have my assignment done by the deadline whatever I make of my "self". But as to just what is meant by that Buddhist teaching, more explanation would have been helpful to reduce its mysteriousness (unless somehow I missed that elaboration in this book. The illusion, as I understand it feebly, being that the self exists independently, whereas actually its a dynamic process always dependent on other phenomena). One place the elaboration can be found well-stated is in Master Sheng-Yen's There Is No Suffering: A Commentary on the Heart Sutra But overall, Brad's explanatory powers seem much improved since Hard Core Zen. Grounding his explanations in passages from the Shobogenzo may be part of the reason why.

One thing that hasn't changed from Hard Core Zen to this book seems to be Brad's apparently strong interest in Lucy Lui. I suppose that is just a reflection of his honesty [Or, guys, how do you want to be reborn? ]

So do I go sit? For 15 years, influenced by Krishnamurti, I avoided methods as best I could. I was, unfortunately, heavily influenced by Krishnamurti as an authority. When I finally threw in the towel on Krishnamurti, I decided to give the minimalist method of zazen a try. Can I now go back to zazen ... and not be heavily influenced by Brad as an authority? Will I see him on Entertainment tonite? Brad suggested seeking out a local zendo. There is one near me. There are also contemporary masters less cool but impressive, such as Zen master and former IBM executive Les Kaye Zen at Work and Chan master Sheng-yen Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic. Is it written anywhere a Zen master can't be as cool as Brad? I'll have to ask Lucy Lui.
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on 15 December 2013
Pretty good, once one gets over the annoying 'how cool' elements.

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!
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on 26 June 2011
I've been involved with two different schools of buddhism - sitting zazen in the soto style and nyingma (tibetan) ritual. Though the philosophy of buddhism is the experience of trying to perceive and accept life as it is, it's taken on cultural trappings and idiosyncrasies since (e.g. it's forbidden to ejaculate at all during the completion stages of highest yoga tantra in tibetan and various other buddhist schools... good luck to them with that). Brad's vision of buddhism is of a philosophy which is of use to those of all religions and none. The book sets up the context for this excellently, using Master Dogen's "Shobogenzo" (IIRC) and the work of Brad's teacher, Gudo Wafu Nishijima, as its source. It's a clear-eyed, well-explained primer and how-to guide to some of the most valuable teachings of buddhism in general and soto zen in specific, which does not rely on foreknowledge or practical experience. It's not filled with jargon or magical logic, cutting through some of the knottiest zen koans and revealing their plain value. There's a great mix of autobiography, anecdote, rhetoric and pop-culture referencing so it never stagnates.
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"!
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This is a brief review about the audiobook edition of Sit Down and Shut Up.

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.
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on 15 July 2007
Brilliant! Shows how to interpret a lot of the harder to understand thoughts, ideas and theories and really brings Buddhism 'home'. I cannot reccommend highly enough. Read Brads' first book Harcore Zen first though............. Thanks for taking the time and effort Brad.
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on 19 February 2014
I'm not finished with the book yet but I am really enjoying Warner's book. He doesn't mince words. He lets his quirks, his flaws and opinions shine right through in his words. I don't agree with everything he says but that's ok. I still appreciate his DIY punk rock Zen Master attitude. Its actually really refreshing after reading so many mindfulness/Buddhist Studies books that are full of new agey language. He presents Zen (in particular Dogen's Shobogenzo) as just straight forward effort and change happens in tiny increments. Warner language can be brash, maybe even crude, but its real and there is poetic rhythm in his words. I'm loving it and looking forward to reading Hardcore Zen next. Yeah, I'm kind of going backwards then I'll go forward to read his latest book.
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on 22 November 2012
A great intro to some of the key budhist concepts. I'm no philosopher and a lot of this kind of stuff makes my head ache, but Brad Warner does have the knack of making this very accesible. If you're that way inclined this could change your life. I've also read Hardcore Zen and I thought this was just as good. Either would do if you're wondering which to read first.
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on 7 August 2007
Very little to say which hasn't been mentioned below . Maybe this will mean something : just finished this wonderful little book yesterday , and started reading it again today .
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on 2 January 2014
This is the only book on Zen I ever needed to read.And I have been "doing" zen for the past eighteen years and have read many books on Zen.And I never came close to finding Zen while reading these other books,yet it was in front of me all the time.There are a few words in this book that come close to distilling the essence of Zen.I won't tell you which words because this book isn't just about Zen.Mr Warner also puts something of his entertaining self into the book.I would recommend most of his other books as well.
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on 18 December 2013
Read a classic of Zen tradition as Dogen is not easy for a person with no philosophical education. At the same time don't read those kind of books could be dangerous.
This book helps to understand what Zen meditation is a popular way
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