Brad Warner Interview Vultures on a Carousel Mike Rutschky “I think it would be a good thing, but I think there is also

a danger to speculate about what will happen, because every time I hear people doing that they sound like nutcases,” Brad Warner tells me over the phone when I ask him about trying to bring large groups of people to the practice of Zen Buddhism. Brad is an average American guy who was also ordained as a Zen Priest by Gudo Nishijima of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism when he lived in Japan working for the company that creates the popular Ultraman TV series. He has released two books since his ordination, Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up, both are irreverent anecdotes applying Buddhism to his other preferred lifestyle: punk rock. Right now Brad is sitting outside a Starbucks in Los Angeles. He comes off calm and very down to earth over the phone; it’s obvious he’s had to endure many interviews since the release of Sit Down and Shut Up, his celebration of the teachings of the 13th century Japanese Zen Master, Dogen (I, on the other hand, am fumbling my words left and right, trying to ignore how nerve wracking it is that everything I say is going to be recorded for an eCorsair podcast). Despite all of the exposure he’s been getting lately, Brad seems to have very little interest in going out and converting everyone to his beliefs. “There’s this Zen Master that I don’t really have a great fondness for,” Brad says, choosing his words carefully, “who’s running around proclaiming that if people follow his way then the politics [of the world] will change and the world will become a utopia and all of this other garbage. All that utopia stuff I don’t really care for.” Indeed. Brad recently wrote in his column at the website Suicide Girls that while Buddhism is a pacifist lifestyle, it is necessary for Buddhists to understand that without violence they wouldn’t be able to practice. This didn’t seem to sit well with the readers of the column who took it as Brad condoning the war in Iraq. However, Brad sees it differently. “[Violence] is a real facet of human existence and if you try to pretend that it doesn’t exist then you can’t do anything about the problem of violence. I tried to make it very clear in the article, though some people seem to have glossed over that bit, that violence is a problem and that we somehow have to eliminate violence as a way of controlling societies and so forth, but before we can do that we have to face up to the very real fact of how we got to the civilization that we have now, and it wasn’t through

everybody being peaceful and loving and handing each other flowers, it was through a lot of conflict, a lot of wars, and a lot of terrible things. So realizing [that] we got here from that state, now we have to figure out how we can move on from that, but if you try to say that it’s not a factor, you’re living in a fantasy and you’re not going to help anything.” I recall a passage from Brad’s Hardcore Zen where Brad says that if you want to rebel against authority, you first have to rebel against your own sense of authority, or else your only adding to the problem. “If you continually paint this false picture of yourself as the great peacenik in among all of these stupid people who want war,” Brad adds, “then you’re just perpetuating the same kind of conflict, because then it becomes the peaceniks against the war-lovers, and there’s no real difference between that conflict and any other kind of conflict. It’s just more fighting. You have to accept that you have these violent impulses and you have to find what you can do with them and how you can make it work for the benefit of people.” So, if your aim is to recognize and reduce the sense of authority within yourself, why name your book something as abrasive and domineering as Sit Down and Shut Up? Well, while Brad is quite outspoken in his writing, the title itself is actually more of a tongue-and-cheek look at the practice of zazen meditation, the backbone of Zen Buddhism. Brad describes a practice in which you balance your spine via the lotus position of yoga, ignore all of your thoughts, and stare at a wall. I know what you’re thinking. What benefits could this possible have for me? “Ha! No benefits,” Brad answers, frankly. Like I said, Brad isn’t trying to convert anyone. And yet, Zen Buddhism has been a part of Brad’s life for 25 years now. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he shrugs his shoulders at the idea of Buddhism culminating in an ‘enlightenment’ of some kind. Instead, he says that daily practice is a never ending endeavor that you never master, but constantly continue to learn from. “There’s a mistaken idea that eventually there will be this end to your practice where you’re going to figure it all out, and that never happens. But that’s fine, y’know? That keeps things interesting.”