Author and Zen Buddhist priest Brad Warner got his start questioning “reality” and seeking the truth as a teenager playing bass in Akron, Ohio punk rock outfit Zero Defex in the early 1980’s. After writing his first book in 2003 entitled “Hardcore Zen”, Warner quickly gained an underground following with his no holds barred approach to addressing spiritual practice and the nature of human life. Since then Warner has written several books on the subject of Zen Buddhism, his newest entitled “There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places”. On his tour to promote his new book, Mr. Warner will be coming to Pure Health Bar on the corner of Cookman Avenue and Bond Street in Asbury Park on Friday, June 28 at 8 p.m. I reached out to Brad recently to find out more about Zen, his new book, and his upcoming “The Living Room” tour.

Zappo: As a teenager you were involved in the Hardcore-Punk music scene and played bass in Zero Defex. Although normally punk rock has been considered nihilistic and anti-religious; many bands had interest and even zealously preached religiosity and spirituality. What do you think it is about people in the punk scene that although involved in something anti-authoritarian they are oftentimes drawn to what in the west are considered “alternative” spiritual paths?

Brad Warner: It’s interesting. Before Hardcore Zen was published, I had no idea there was anyone else anywhere in the entire world who was interested in both punk rock and Buddhism. In all my years studying and practicing Zen, I had not met or even heard of a single other person who shared those two interests. I honestly thought Hardcore Zen was unpublishable because of this. I only sent it out to publishers because I thought since I’d written it, I might as well at least collect a few rejection notices.

In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense. A lot of the punk scene was just nihilistic and self-destructive. But there was always a strong undercurrent of people who were trying to find something more real in life in general. The music was an expression of that. Johnny Rotten is a great example of someone who was not interested in destroying himself, but in being completely true to who he was. Unfortunately, his nihilistic bandmate Sid Vicious gets a lot more notice. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat is another prominent punk rocker with a strong interest in finding the truth.

Being anti-authoritarian is a necessary first step. In order for society to function, you need some kind of authorities like police, government, and so forth. But in terms of spiritual practice, this approach gets problematic. You have teachers and you need to respect them. But you also have to avoid turning them into authority figures. That’s where it gets tricky.

Zappo: In the realm of fluff New Age spirituality the word Zen gets thrown around a lot. I admit that I do it myself when speaking about certain states of being or experience. As a priest in the Zen Buddhist lineage, can you please give us a proper definition of the term “Zen”?

Brad Warner: Literally Zen is just a Japanese word meaning “meditation.” Historically the Zen sect of Buddhism was a back-to-basics movement originating in China a thousand or so years after Buddha died that sought to strip away everything unnecessary and bring Buddhist practice back to its original form, which was all about meditation and very little else. But that’s not what people want to hear when they ask you to define Zen.

It’s an approach to life that seeks to experience things as directly as possible. We recognize that our thoughts and perceptions are very powerful, but ultimately unreliable. Yet most human beings attempt to live their lives by relying completely on their thoughts and perceptions. In Zen practice, we spend a certain amount of time each day just watching very, very quietly the workings of our own minds and senses, not judging them, not attempting to make them different. There is no goal to the practice. It’s called “just sitting” and that’s really what it is. The style of sitting has been refined by millions of practitioners over 2500 years into something very simple and yet very profound.


Zappo: As an author, I’ve found what sets your books apart is your ability to weave no nonsense personal experience through colorful, down to earth, and interesting storytelling. You have a sense of humor and an almost “I don’t give a shit if I offend people” approach to your writing. Based on the title on your new book “There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places” it seems safe to assume you still aren’t taking yourself as serious as many of your contemporaries, while delivering the goods in a no bullshit package. Tell me a bit about the new book and your aspirations for it.

Brad Warner: Thank you. I try my best. I think the new book is the best I’ve written so far. People are saying it’s more serious. But all of my books have been very serious. It’s just that if you make jokes about Bevis and Butthead, especially in the context of talking about spiritual practice, some people think it’s just a bunch of kidding around. But this stuff has always been extremely serious to me. I just express that seriousness through humor. I feel like all that ponderous uptightness that surrounds so much of what passes for talking about spirituality just gets in the way most of the time. It also acts as a barrier to a lot of people who might otherwise be interested in meditation. They think it’s just for stuffy, boring people. But it’s really not. I feel like the practice allows you to be free and therefore to have a more enjoyable and fun life.

Zappo: You seem to be taking a different route in promoting your book than others in the genre. “The Living Room” tour appears very DIY, not unlike your punk rock roots. Tell me your reasons for taking such a grassroots approach to promoting your book?

Brad Warner: I think this is an important book. I guess you’re not supposed to say things like that or people think you’re bragging. But I really do feel that way about it. I felt like the usual channels for letting people know about my books weren’t working very well. So I decided to take the old punk rock approach. When the punk rock bands found they weren’t getting booked in the mainstream rock and roll venues, they didn’t give up. They set up their own shows in people’s basements or rented out the VFW for a night. And it worked. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this book.

Zappo: As a Zen Buddhist and an author what is the overall goal in your writing?

Brad Warner: I feel like certain things need saying and nobody is saying them. In terms of this book, I feel like the concept of God is the elephant in the room when it comes to Western people working on any kind of meditation practice. It’s a very important part of our culture and yet some of us try to pretend it isn’t there at all. Others take the ideas they’ve gotten from Buddhism and reinterpret them according to Judeo-Christian notions about God without even noticing they’re doing it. I also feel like a lot of non-Buddhists could learn a lot from the Buddhist approach to this God business. Too often people say we’re rejecting God but that’s not really true. I wanted to bring all that stuff out into the open so we can look at it clearly.

Zappo: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Brad Warner: My webpage is hardcorezen.info. There are links there to pretty much everything I’ve done.


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