Hardcore Zen: Brad Warner at the Spiritual Center de Roos

On the day of the event, Spiritual Center de Roos looked like a safe haven. The streets of Amsterdam were dark and rainy, making de Roos look kind of like a spot that angels or elves would live in fantasy films. Inside the center it was time to talk Hardcore Zen with Brad Warner: Zen teacher, filmmaker, blogger and punk-rocker all in one. Warner, American, is on a European tour to promote his new book, There is no God and he is always with you.

Zen and other forms of Buddhism are often still associated with Eastern traditions and rituals (scented candles, bowing to statues and wearing a robe and being bald, for instance). There are those who take different paths. Brad Warner is part of a group of practitioners of Buddhism who try to fit their meditation practice into modern Western lives. Some other examples are social entrepreneur Bernie Glassman; punkrocker and ex-troublemaker Noah Levine and his Against the Stream movement (of which the Dutch branch called “Tegen de stroom in” is run by Frank Uyttebroeck); and bigger names like Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Eckhart Tolle. All these teachers have in common that they try to translate Buddhist practice into Western culture.

 There is no God, and he is always with you

Warner also isn’t your typical Zen teacher. Besides being a teacher schooled in Japan, he is a bassplayer in a punk band, makes documentaries and has a blog called Hardcore Zen. Oh, and he writes for soft porn website suicidegirls.com. On this Friday night Warner is wearing a leather jacket, sneakers, a pair of jeans and a t-shirt from the Roswell institute. Warner has got a cold and a sore throat tonight: it seems Dutch autumn got to him too. Nevertheless, he is in a good mood and has a lot of stuff to talk about!


In his talk today, Warner touches on a profound experience he had when he felt that he was totally one with everything in the universe. He talks about God, and how God for him is not necessarily an external force or a man in the clouds but that he sees God more like the thing that everything in the universe is made up of, all of existence. Warner talks about how we, as living beings, are the way in which the universe (or God) perceives itself: we are holding hands with God so to say. Warner also talks about why in the world people would like Justin Bieber’s music.


Warner also touches upon the purpose of meditation. While meditation is often described as doing nothing and expecting nothing, the practice still has a certain purpose. By meditation you can reach certain stages of consciousness that allow you to experience stuff that you normally don’t see, making you understand yourself and the world around you better.


Meditation according to Warner also has to do with learning how to let go of yourself. He explains this with an analogy: imagine you having your fist tightly closed, as tight as possible, because you think you’re holding something in it which you don’t want to let go. Then someone asks you to take a peek and slowly you loosen your grip and open your fist. You look and it turns out there was nothing in it all the time. It is the same with our minds, clinging to ourselves and who we are, Warner explains. Meditation is a way of studying this process and learning how to deal with it.


Meditation seems to Warner a necessary thing for human beings. Like they need eating and drinking and sleeping, human beings often need time to do nothing, to focus on themselves for a while. Warner says that you don’t have to be doing Zazen for this. Sports, music and other stuff can also be very meditative. However, meditation is more effective, and easier as the only thing it requires you to do is sit still and do nothing!


After the talk, I have a chat with Warner about mixing different meditation methods. Your InLivin’ reporter is a Vipassana meditator, which is slightly different than Zen practice, and I want to know whether it can be harmful to mix things up. Warner thinks it’s ok to be curious about other methods, but that it is best to eventually just pick one and dive in. He has his doubts about the ‘spiritual supermarket’ that is out there. Trying out different stuff is ok but once you find something that suits you try to deepen instead of broaden your knowledge!


Brad Warner keeps things grounded: meditation sometimes has a rather hippyesque and new age up-in-the-sky image, while actually it is one of the most down-to-earth things a person can do. It helps you not to lose yourself in wild imagination, desire or fantasies about happiness in the future or in the past, but keeps you firmly in the present, which in the end is all there is.


If you find yourself looking for inspiration or a place to start be sure to check out our Spiritual Arts section. If you find yourself interested in Brad Warner, check out his blog hardcorezen.info, or read one of his books! Also recommended if you live in Amsterdam: visiting de Roos for a seminar or a course. Enjoy the lovely place, the intricate artwork, and have a tea and a chat with the friendly people there.