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.

POEM: the bodhisattva of Prospect Ave (all praise to Jah)

Photo by Jason Crane

the bodhisattva of Hamilton Ave (all praise to Jah)*

briskly walking (trying to get back
in some sort of shape) I spotted
the bodhisattva beneath a bush

the moss covering him like a robe
the leaves surrounding him
like an offering

at this point in the poem, I very much
want to tell you that I’m listening
to a killer Desmond Dekker track

“Rudie Got Soul” doesn’t have much
to do with a lone bodhisattva
forgotten under a bush

then again, maybe they have
everything
to do with one another

/ / /

Jason Crane
16 February 2018
State College PA

*As you can see from the title of this post, rather than the title of the poem, I had mistakenly placed this statue on Prospect Ave, rather on its true home, Hamilton Ave. Also, in the days since I wrote the poem, someone smashed the statue.

POEM: particle & wave

particle & wave

peel back the flesh over the sternum, then slowly separate the ribs
there in the center is the light, both particle & wave
the light will spill into the room, but that’s to be expected
reach your hands into the chest cavity
it’s often best to do this part with your eyes closed
the fingertips are more sensitive than sight
as you press your fingers inward, you should feel
the hard edge of a jewel, concealed there in the light
were your eyes open you’d be unable to see it
your fingers, though, find it easily, willingly, hungrily
withdraw this jewel from the cavity & open your eyes
in the facets of the jewel there are universes reflected
some are worlds like this one, but with subtle changes
others are strange lands unlike any conceived of by the human mind
behind these worlds, at the very center of the jewel
is the home of the light; it sits in a perfectly spherical room
never flickering, never dimming, both particle & wave
knowing this is inside of you, what is beyond your grasp?

/ / /

Jason Crane
6 February 2018
Pittsburgh PA

POEM: the bodhisattva of Naples, New York

the bodhisattva of Naples, New York
for Mary Cornish

They came with stories.
They came to a big barn
near a small town
on a spring day
still gripped
by the memory of winter.
They stood beneath
a thousand tiny lights,
huddled around a wood stove.
They laughed and cried
as they talked about her.
In the end what are we
but stories in other mouths,
laughter in country barns,
tears on the cheeks
of those who love us?

/ / /

Jason Crane
24 April 2017
State College, PA

In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is an enlightened being who forgoes nirvana and instead stays in this world to help others.

POEM: sandbag satori

sandbag satori

I settle like a sandbag onto the zafu
bones finding a resting place
a contented sigh & the smell of sandalwood
I close my eyes as the bell rings

/ / /

Jason Crane
6 April 2017
State College PA

POEM: cohabitation

cohabitation

BOOM!
on the cushion while
BANG!
you are, inexplicably
awake
RATTLE!
breathe in, breathe out
TING!
a brief rain shower,
passing car
STOMP!
the bell dings, ending
the morning session
SLAM!
like magic, a bagel & tea
on the table beside me

/ / /

Jason Crane
21 March 2017
State College PA