In his new book, Brad Warner explores Buddhism and metaphysics through a philosophy he dubs Hardcore Zen. The Hardcore refers to hardcore punk music of the early 80s. Hardcore punk was a faster, often sloppier, version of the mid-70s punk rock made famous by bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Buzzcocks, but without all the flash and extravaganza. At the roots of the hardcore mindset is a fundamental anarchyeverything taken for granted must be questioned, no leaders can be accepted, and the only rules that matter are those youve written for yourself. As a lifestyle, it was an attractive alternative for rabid legions of young disenfranchised (mostly white, angry, and male) fans, but, with time would take on its own conformity and, by the late 80s, become just another suburban high school clique. This is just the kind of contradiction and irony that the language of Zen is spoken with. Zen is the ancient Japanese form of Buddhism where the trick to knowing everything is achieved by understanding that knowledge doesnt exist.
People have taken exception to my equating a noble tradition like Zen Buddhism with a scrappy upstart thing like punk rock. Zen Buddhism is ancient and venerable. Punk is trash. But punk is a cultural movement that was made possible only because of the increased understanding of reality that emerged in the twentieth century, the so-called postmodern worldview. The punks understood that all social institutions and socially approved codes of dress and behavior were a sham. This is one of the first steps to true understanding Questioning societys values is a great and important thing to do. But thats easy compared to questioning your own values. Questioning your own values means really questioning yourself, really looking at who and what you believe and who you are. Who are you? Thats where Buddhism comes into the picture. Stay tuned.
[One of Warners Zen guides,] Gudo Nishijima is like a force of nature. Describing his personality is like trying to describe the personality of an earthquake or a typhoon. Mostly youre not concerned about what hes really like so much as concerned about how to stay alive until he passes by the area. Hes just a little old bald man in robes, but he has this voice that can rattle walls for miles in all directions. There are times he seems to be baiting the audience to come after him, sort of like GG Allin used to do.
Like Herman Hesses Siddhartha, (as meandering and overrated as it may be) Warner insists that Buddhist notions of truth can only be grasped via first-hand experience. He repeatedly implores us not to accept his ideas on faith alone, but rather presents concepts that worked for this teacher who is still learning, and may be of assistance to the reader. Hardcore Zen is a philosophy that opens the possibility to spiritual stability for people who, in this enlightened age, simply cant allow a blind faith in a mystical deity to run their lives--an engrossing and entertaining Chicken Soup for the Anarchist, Over-Intellectualizing Soul.