Brad Warner on Zen Buddhism as a communal practice

I finished Brad Warner’s Don’t Be A Jerk today for the second time, in preparation for reading his follow-up, It Came From Beyond Zen! Don’t Be A Jerk is described as a “radical but reverent paraphrasing of Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye.” That pretty much sums it up. Warner goes through chapters from Dogen’s 800-year-old Zen classic and tries to put them into accessible modern language while not diluting their meaning or impact. You can hear me interview him about this book in the video below:

I thoroughly enjoyed Warner’s paraphrasing of Dogen, but on my second reading I found myself most moved by the final chapter, “Dogen’s Zen In The Twenty-First Century,” in which Warner not only brings Dogen into the present, but also movingly depicts his own current view of Zen after several decades of practice. Rather than paraphrase Warner’s writing, I thought I’d just quote him. (I’ve skipped some bits. Missing bits are replaced by an ellipsis. Also note that “zazen” is seated silent meditation.)

“To me Zen is communal practice of individual deep inquiry. … Throughout human history people have been concerned about the deeper meaning of existence. They wanted to understand who and what they actually were and how they fit into the world. … Among those seekers, there is a certain class of people who try to understand the human condition by sitting very quietly and simply observing themselves in action (even sitting still for long periods is a kind of action; try it sometime if you have any doubts). … Buddhism started not when Shakyamuni had his great revelation by himself. Lots of people had done that before. It began when he made his first efforts to transform that into a communal practice. Although you can – and I think you should – do zazen by yourself, that larger thing we call Zen Buddhism is not something you do by yourself. You can do zazen by yourself. You do Zen Buddhism with other people.”

I think that’s one of the most beautiful summations of Zen Buddhism I’ve read. As someone whose practice has primarily been solitary, it also served as the kick in the pants I needed to find some other folks to sit with. Read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

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