Busted: Brad Warner

A conversation with the author of Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, and Death...

In his new book Sit Down and Shut Up, former Zen Buddhist priest Brad Warner breaks the teachings of Dogen Zenji down into manageable chunks of lively text, heavy with pop culture references. (This is, after all, the author of Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality). Part memoir, part primer on Buddhism, Sit Down and Shut Up is obviously the manifestation of many hours of reflection and a lifetime of questioning.

Long before becoming a Zen monk, Warner played bass in the early-80’s Ohio punk band, Zero Defects. These two seemingly unrelated states-of-being somehow make perfect sense when Warner takes us on the journey home for his band’s big 20-year reunion show, quoting sages from Spinal Tap to The Three Stooges along the way. While you may not agree with everything Warner has to say, anyone who’s ever chanted Nirvana’s ‘all in all is all we are’ or experienced the happiness “angry music” can bring, will get it. And what is this “it,” exactly? Well…read the book. Or check out Brad Warner’s blog: http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/

BustedHalo.com: Do you have any theories on why popular culture’s so interested in Buddhism, all of the sudden?

Brad Warner: It’s basically a realistic philosophy, and I think people are looking for something realistic. It’s not a religion in the traditional sense—I usually say it’s not a religion—there are people who say it is and some of those people would give reasons that make sense and I could agree and say, ok, well if that’s what you mean by religion then maybe it is—but my take on it is that it’s not a religion. But that doesn’t throw away all the useful things that religions have. For example, having ceremonies or a certain degree of ritual.

BH: I liked the explanation in the book about Buddhism lacking the concept of sin.

While you may not agree with everything Warner has to say, anyone who’s ever chanted Nirvana’s “all in all is all we are” or experienced the happiness “angry music” can bring, will get it.

BW: That’s true. There isn’t really this idea of sin—which is a Christian idea, and probably comes from Judaism as well—there are things you can do that go against what you ought to do, which is a little bit different of a concept. There’s not a god standing out there who’s gonna punish you for doing wrong things, but there is cause and effect to every action. In the same way that if you stick your hand in a fire, you’re gonna go ‘ouch,’ in the same way that if you do things that go against what you ‘ought’ to do, there are gonna be consequences.

BH: How’s the reaction to the book been from your old band Zero Defects, or scenesters in general?

BW: I see the book as an outgrowth of what I was doing in the punk scene. It’s sort of taking punk to its logical conclusion, which is not just questioning society, but to question yourself, which is hard.

BH: I totally see the connection, because to me, punk rock was never about the fashion, it was always about questioning everything.

BW: Yeah, that’s what it was for me, and I wanted to get deeper into that, and I felt in the scene I was in, we weren’t going as far as we could. We were stopping at questioning mainstream society but we weren’t questioning even our own society…a few of us were…and I think there’s people in the punk scene who questioned the punk scene itself, which is good. But you can go even further than that and question everything you look at. It doesn’t mean you end up lost—you just don’t accept things at face value. You keep revising your own conclusion.