DEATH, REBIRTH, VANITY
Brad Warner (born
March 5, 1964) is an American
Sōtō Zen priest,
Brad was born
1964. His family traveled for his father's job and Warner
spent some time in
Nairobi, Kenya but
grew up mainly near
Akron, Ohio and
Kent State University.
As a teenager Warner got into the music of the 1960s and
hardcore punk, and a
friend of his took him to a show by
Zero Defex. He
auditioned for and joined the band after finding out they
bass guitarist. He
Zen Buddhism under
his first teacher, Tim McCarthy.Warner later studied with
He has played
with Dimentia 13. After the financial failure of his
Dimentia 13 albums, Warner got a job in
Japan with the
JET Programme, and
then later in 1994 with
played the roles of various foreigners in their programs.
While in Japan he met and trained with
Gudo Wafu Nishijima,
who ordained him as a priest.
He agreed to write
soft porn site.In
2007 he directed the
Cleveland’s Screaming, which depicts the punk rock scene
Cleveland in the
Also in 2007,
Gudo Wafu Nishijima named Warner the leader of Dogen Sangha
International which Nishijima had founded.Warner dissolved
the organization in April 2012.
Warner lost his job with the Japanese company he had been
working for in the States and as of January 2009 he was
In 2012, Warner moved to
California and started Dogen Sangha Los Angeles.In 2013,
Pirooz Kalayeh directed a film about Warner entitled
Warner's Hardcore Zen The film premiered on October 5th,
2013 in Amsterdam at the Buddhist Film Festival of Europe.
Are you interested in any of these
Warner: These are all interesting questions, but very difficult. What, for
example, is an "enlightened person?" To some people the definition of an
"enlightened person" is, among other things, a person who doesn't fear aging,
sickness and death (or do any of the other things you're asking about).
NDM: Yes, what
about Eckhart Tolle, would he be considered enlightened in the Zen tradition?
Warner: That's a loaded question. We have the same publishers!
If you were
going strictly by what is written in numerous Buddhist sutras, I think the best
classification Tolle could hope for would be that of pratyekabuddha, a
"self-enlightened one" who achieves enlightenment through her/his own efforts.
This is considered to be a lesser thing than a Buddha because a Buddha always
has a teacher. Even Gautama, for the purposes of tradition, is said to have had
a teacher. Buddha's teacher was a guy named Kashapa who, they say, instructed
him before he was born into this world. Kashapa had a teacher named Kunagonmuni
who had a teacher named Kuruson, etc., etc. Whether you buy that or not, it
indicates the very strong aversion in the Buddhist tradition to anyone who
becomes spontaneously self-enlightened.
with self-enlightenment is that one is prone to become terribly egotistical
about it. Having a teacher means having someone you trust to tell you that
you're wrong even when you are convinced that you know absolutely everything. If
you do not have that, the chances of becoming deeply deluded are perhaps even
worse than if you were not enlightened at all.
Tolle claim he has no fears? If so, I would say he's mistaken. He may believe
this about himself and he may be able to put on a good show when the cameras are
running. But I don't buy it. It's a bluff. It sells books. But it's not true.
Still, maybe he doesn't make such claims. I don't know his work very well.
What about someone like Deepak Chopra who spent two weeks in a Theravada
said this is what he learned.
1.When we let go of
our habitual certainties and the labels and definitions that we and that others
have given us, what emerges is a pure innocent, joyful, humble, creative, and
free consciousness. It certainly is the experience of a more real, authentic
self that lies beneath our social masks.
2. The monks
themselves were the perfect embodiment of the elegance of simplicity,
equanimity, compassion, kindness and joy.
3.The peasants and
villagers were generous and giving, and in my view they had more happiness than
some of the wealthiest people in the world.
4. The awareness of
impermanence makes every moment precious and an opportunity for giving and
5. Compassion helps
us go beyond the illusion of the separate self.
6. Life is a
continuum of experiences that occur in an eternal now. When we are grounded in
present-moment awareness, there is an awakening of innocence, joy, and
knowingness that is our essential nature.
and embracing impermanence and being aware of our own death makes every moment
precious and reminds us of what is really important in our life, so that we can
be happy and make others happy.
8. We create our
own environment. The quiet dignity and serenity of the monks and the villagers
who embraced us created an atmosphere of peace, joy, and a feeling of abundance
that money cannot buy.
I am back now in New York City and settling into
my routine of writing, public speaking, and consulting. What I bring back with
me is a fresh and renewed awareness of how we can all be and how this
transformation in us can help create a better world.
Warner: He got all that in just two weeks? Amazing! Is he going to give away all
his money now? I'll take some of it!
There is a
sort of "honeymoon phase" to monastic practice. When one is caught up in that,
one is likely to say things like this. I'd like to hear what Deepak would say
after a year in a monastery.
I've had a few of the experiences that the literature calls "enlightenment
experiences" and they did not erase the fear of aging, sickness and death or
make me immune to vanity or erase the desire to sometimes indulge in
intoxicants, use harsh language, live in comfortable places, etc. I saw that
there was no rational reason for these fears and desires. But that's not the
same as eliminating them.
NDM: Why not?
What’s the difference exactly?
Warner: There are experiences and there are habits. Having an "enlightenment
experience" does not eradicate habits of thought and behavior that have been
built up over a lifetime and which carry the weight of the entire human race
constantly reinforcing them every second of every day.
If there is
anything that can be called "enlightenment" it must be practiced. It doesn't
simply happen, after which time you remain "enlightened" forever. That's a myth.
It has never happened to anyone and never will.
Even saying "I saw…" is not quite correct. The "I" who "saw" these things wasn't
quite the same as the "I" who fears aging, sickness and death. They are
inseparable and made of the same stuff and yet they are not the same. As long as
there is an "I" this "I" will fear its ending and desire its comfort. Anyone who
says "I do not fear aging, sickness and death" or that they have no desires is
lying or deluded.
Few of the
top tier of famous "enlightened beings" in the business today actually say this
kind of thing outright. They just let others assume it about them, which is much
more clever. The current crop of "enlightened beings" gets the benefit of being
able to learn a lot from the mistakes of the past.
I do not
call myself an "enlightened person" because that generates a lot of bizarre
expectations that are very hard to deal with.
Such as what for example?
Warner: If I claimed to be an "enlightened person" this would obligate me to
behave in ways that people think "enlightened people" behave at all times. But I
have no way of knowing what sort of behavior any given individual might expect
from an "enlightened person." So I would always be running the risk of behaving
in some way that did not measure up to their expectations. These expectations
are not simple at all. They involve people's delusions about what constitutes
"perfection." I cannot live up to someone else's ideals, even if I wanted to.
And I definitely do not want to!
I suppose I
could just behave any old way I pleased and hold that behavior up as
"enlightened." But that's been done and it's extremely destructive. You get
people imitating all your bad habits, which isn't a very nice thing to make
people do. You see that in cults a lot. Srila Prabhupada, who founded the Hare
Krishnas, passed on a lot of his most reprehensible attitudes (such as racism
and misogyny) to his followers, who took them to be examples of "enlightened
thought." It's kind of disgusting. I don't want to do that.
I'm not at
all fond of "enlightened people." I would not want to associate with any of
So if I answered these questions as if I knew how an "enlightened person"
responded to these various things, I would in effect be claiming to be an
"enlightened person." So I couldn't respond to any of your questions honestly
except by saying "I don't know." Which wouldn't make for much of an interview.
said, this is an interesting exercise. I'd like to publish your questions and my
response on my blog unless you would rather use this response yourself. Although
I feel like it wouldn't be very useful for you.
NDM: When you mentioned a pratyekabuddha, what
Wouldn’t one have to be celibate or past all sense pleasures?
Brad Warner: As far as
the 10 fetters model and a pratyekabuddha, honestly I don't pay great attention
to that stuff. I only just learned what the 10 fetters model was about a month
ago. I would have assumed the 10 fetters model only applied to a Buddha and not
to a pratyekabuddha, anyhow. But I don't really know.
Lists like that are
made by people who like to make lists. They don't really have any direct
correlation to what happens in real life. It's hard for me to imagine anyone who
had actually overcome the so-called 10 fetters subsequently wanting to sit down
and make a list of them. For who? For other people to sit around and check them
off for themselves? "It looks like I've overcome eight out of ten, only two more
fetters to go!" I just can't see that happening. And wouldn't you risk fettering
yourself to the list? Or to the vanity that comes from the accomplishment of
having completed the list?
Or are these lists
meant for non-enlightened people so that they can judge the enlightenment of
others? That makes even less sense to me. How could they possibly judge? How
would I know what fetters someone else has truly overcome. Such a person could
just be putting on an act for the public in order to appear to have overcome
those fetters. Unless I lived with that person, I couldn't hope to know for
sure. Maybe not even then.
The whole thing strikes
me as kind of silly and pointless. I think lists like that are made by
over-intellectual people who have a lot of elaborate fantasies about what
enlightenment might be.
NDM: Yes, understood, but according to the Pali
cannon, the sutta pitaka, the Buddha made these lists himself. He stressed them
as part of the hindrances, also for attaining jhana and Vipassana as well. These
lists don’t just come from the later commentaries, or the abdhidhamma.
They say the sutta Pitaka identifies ten "fetters of
becoming", but more as a “road map”, not to judge others, but to see where you
are yourself. What stage you are at, out of the four stages
You are supposed to keep
this quiet, to yourself but some today in the PYA Buddhist movement, “Proclaim
your Attainments” feel that people should to go public with this. What’s your
view on making declarations like this?
Brad Warner: I don't
know how reliable the Pali Canon is. I know it's our oldest record. But it was
composed 200 years after Buddha died. So I take it with a grain of salt when it
says that Buddha said something. It appears to me to be about as reliable as the
New Testament is for determining what Jesus said and did. Meaning that I think
that, like the New Testament, it's probably pretty close and contains a lot of
things that Buddha actually said. But I don't think that just because something
is in there as a statement from the Buddha it conclusively means the Buddha said
it. And this one just seems weird to me for all the reasons I already stated. I
simply cannot imagine what such a list would be for. I don't know that one can
judge oneself when it comes to things like this. Or what it means, even if the
Buddha did say it (which could be the case).
For example, I could
scan my feelings this very second and say honestly that right now, at 11:49 AM
Eastern Time, Monday March 24, 2014 I don't have any ill will toward anyone. But
does that mean that my capacity to feel ill will has been eradicated? Maybe it
does. Maybe it doesn't. And who gets to define "ill will?" Does it mean I wish
someone actual harm? Because I don't. Or does it mean that a passing thought of,
say, kicking the asses of the jerks who broke my car window and stole my radio
last Christmas Day never arises? Or can never arise? How can I guarantee that it
never will arise?
And to me, Ill-will
seems like the easiest one on the list. The rest get even more complicated! What
is "restlessness?" I know the conventional definition. But what does it have to
do with anything? I'm confused. And "sensual desire?" Does the desire to feel
food in my belly and air in my lungs count? If not, why not?
As for people who call
themselves "arhats" or proclaim their enlightenment, they just seem laughable to
me. I wouldn't pay any serious attention to anyone who did that. The only reason
to do so would be if you hoped you could attract a following that way and make
yourself some money at the expense of gullible people. I can't respect people
who do that. Sometimes folks like this try to prove their sincerity by taking a
vow never to touch money. But I've watched that get abused big time. I've seen
supposed "enlightened people" who never touch money and yet manage to live in
much better houses than me, to travel all over the place, and generally live it
up in ways I'll never be able to afford all while someone else takes care of the
money they refuse to touch. It's a clever, but it's still a scam.
I can't come up with a
single good reason anyone would proclaim themselves to be enlightened or to be
an arhat. Such proclamations don't impress me at all.
Who are these people?
NDM: It seems to have begun with this
IMS Insight Meditation Society
who also made this claim.
also makes this claim.
The other one is
he goes by “hardcore Buddhism” or words to that effect and also
makes this claim. He is a doctor by profession, as well as some kind of
musician. Daniel Ingram speaks about a masculine sort of practice, not feminine
or soft Buddhism. A hard core Buddhism.
What do you think
this is all about?
Brad Warner: Funny guy!
He stole the name of my first book too!
An arhat, though? Seriously?
NDM: What’s the name of your first book?
It came out in 2003 from Wisdom Publications.
For example there are two Americans I know
of you say they are Arahat, (fully enlightened like the Buddha himself,
perfect, free of the 10 fetters below) (both married householders)
- belief in a self (Pali:
- doubt or
uncertainty, especially about the
- attachment to
rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāso)
- sensual desire (kāmacchando)
- ill will (vyāpādo
- lust for material
existence, lust for material rebirth (rūparāgo)
- lust for
immaterial existence, lust for rebirth in a formless realm (arūparāgo)
- conceit (māna)
- restlessness (uddhacca)
- ignorance (avijjā)