So I wake this morning to find not one, or two or even three, but five emails from friends around the world asking me if I'd read Brad Warner's latest SG column, "sa+0ri pr0n". Well, up until this morning I hadn't, no. It's not like I stalk the guy. That's the trouble with affiliations. Everybody (SG peeps mostly) seems to think I am fully up-to-date with his every word. Honestly, even in this day and age with direct 'tube access, I don't follow many people all that closely (unless you're on the Huffington Post). We (Brad and I) corespond via email occasionally, and have been trying to plan a few things together with less-than-grand success. That's my relationship with Brad-san.

But I do read his writing. And I generally respect it, and him. Do I agree with it all? Nope. Do I have certain major issues with some of his positions? Yup. Can he be a pin-head? You bet. Do I think he's an important voice in Western Buddhism and Zen?


That last one is important. I am a believer in the idea that Zen cannot ever "get old". That's like saying "You think 1 plus 1 plus 1 is three? That's sooooo 'old math' of you..." However, having said that, I DO believe that the language used to bring "three" to the world needs to be kept idiomatically, intellectually and culturally contemporary. Anyone who's studied philosophy for a little while knows first-hand how hard it is to gain a true understanding and grasp of a philosophical concept developed in another language. German is notoriously hard to deal with in this regard, and inevitably suffers a dumbing down when being "translated" (read: butchered) into English. Japanese and Chinese are right up there. The old linguist joke is very true for Sino-Japanese languages (as they share phonemes and and characters [kango]); "Etymology is only an 'n' away from 'bugs'!1"

But I (wildly) digress. What does this all have to do with Brad's latest? Well, two things, mainly. First, I believe that people like Brad are very important to zen, and not only to "zen" but to "Zen". There's been talk and argument for decades about "American" Zen--good, bad and indifferent. Are we destroying Zen by "Westernizing" it? Is Zen anachronistic when practiced in LA or NOLA? Is all that sitting really necessary? Is it a waste for people in the here-and-now to be stitching up roksus and wagesas? And--moreover--are they doing so just to give themselves some warm and fuzzy feeling of being so very "zen"? Voices like Brad-san are important to the establishment of real, true and relevant Zen here in the West. When Suzuki-roshi came to America in the middle of the past century, he knew the importance of doing things in a way that would connect Zen to America (so much so that he outright alienated near the entirety of the then-current Japanese-American sangha of the SFZC while doing so). But Suzuki-roshi understood that he was in America, and it would no more do to try and make local residents understand Japanese than he suddenly understand everything American. All understanding comes with time and practice, intellectually, religiously and culturally, and they can inform each-other, but they could never substitute for each-other, at least not at first. And while Suzuki-roshi knew that the understanding and experience he was trying to convey was universal, the manner in which that conveyance happened was dependent upon him. So he chose to do so in as contemporary a way as possible. For his students that grasped Buddhism effectively, and wanted to experience more of the specific nuances of Japanese Zen, he would readily say, essentially; "Then off to Japan you go". There is no Zen babble-fish, Arthur-san.2 In my opinion, Brad serves close to the same purpose, albeit more as a generational and inter-cultural translator.

And secondly, I believe that in order for Buddhism and Zen to really, truly sink roots deep into this ground--in America--it must be as accessible to as many people as possible right here, right now (get on the decks and cue Fatboy on the "1"3). We have a generation right now that is absolutely lost. We have kids who are more apathetic than I believe at any time in America's history. At the same time, they are more self-actualized and self-realizing than ever before. They want something. They don't have a handle on it, but they're longing for connection. People 40 and younger- Generations X, Y & Z--are hot for something to help them as the arthritis and erectile dysfunction sets in. Religion has failed them and split the nation in two. They want answers.

But a not-insignificant portion of those people are not getting it from Tricycle and Shambala Sun. They see contemporary Dharma-rags as nothing more than slick, corporately shaped hippie hold-overs. We are trying to talk to the 'zine generation from the glossy gate-fold of corporate America, and they're not buying it. People like Brad Warner and Noah Levine understand that you must talk in the language that the audience immediately responds to before you start hitting them with sanskrit and wago. Essentially, you must be willing to say shit, piss and fuck when you mean shit, piss and fuck.

I'll connect this all back to me and Brad-san in the next chapter. I have lawn to go fucking mow in the fucking rain...

  1. although that's not strictly true. Bugs require a [-y +o] as well...
  2. Cheers, Douglass. A "poof of logic", indeed...
  3. Again, another contemporary(ish) reference. See how that works, pops?