THE PRICE OF
question of charging for the spiritual teachings
Zen and Chan
35. BRAD WARNER
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
Clevelandís 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.
please tell me a little about your back ground in Zen?
Warner: Background in Zen. Ok. I first came across Zen Buddhism, sometime in
1983 or 84. I was a student at Kent State University Ohio and I took a class
called Zen Buddhism which at the time I thought it was just an extra class I was
taking to fill out my schedule.
I was very
impressed by the class and by the teachers. This guys name was Tim McCarthy and
he was an American Zen teacher and I just started practicing right then. It
worked out really well and I just continued it as a daily practice. You know a
lot of people get into Zen because they are actively searching for it, but I was
not looking for it at all.
I had heard
the word Zen before but I didnít know what it was. In 1993, 10 years after this
I moved to Japan, not to study Zen but just to get a job. I got a job with an
English teacher. Then I got another job working for science fiction films that
made monster movies and things. And I wasnít in Tokyo first, but then I moved
to Tokyo and met this Zen teacher named
He impressed me as well and I kept going to his Zen class, which he did every
Saturday. I also went to his retreats. I had been hanging around him for maybe
seven years or something like that when he decided he wanted to make me his
dharma heir, which I thought was an hour at the time
(Iím sure I did not say ďI thought
it was an hour at the timeĒ but I have no idea what I might have said).
So it took me awhile to decide and I finally accepted it and he gave me what is
called dharma transmission, making me a teacher in his lineage. Then I also
went through the Soto shu which is a big organization in Japan. I registered
there as well. Thatís the short version.
great. So the next question would be about the first teacher you had, Tim
McCarthy. At any point did he charge you for the meditation or for the teaching?
Warner: In fact, no, Tim is really strict about that. He is much more strict
than I am. Although he doesnít dislike what I do, he wonít take money for
anything at all. I think a lot of people would like to give him money. Then, he
worked as a teacher at Kent State University which I figured payed his expenses.
Now, he works for Lakeland Community College up in Cleveland and he figures as
long as he has his living expenses covered, he doesnít need to take any money
for teaching. He feels really strongly that taking any money for teaching Zen is
tends to corrupt things.
he say why exactly? Was that what he was taught from his teacher or did he come
to this view on his own?
Warner: I get the impression that he came to it on his own mostly because his
teacher was a guy named Cobin Chino and I know Cobin Chino (he is dead now)
accepted money for retreats. He never got wealthy from it, but I know he would
get paid when he ran a retreat or something. I just went on one of
retreats last weekend and all the money went to a charity. He wouldnít take any
of it, so there you go.
How did this work with your second teacher in Japan? Did he charge you for a sit
(meditation), or was it a monthly fee that went towards the teacher? How did
that work with him?
roshi also did take money for the teachings. He had a job with the Ida Soap
Company and that paid his living expenses. He would charge when we met on
weekends, on Saturdays. The place that we met was rented so everybody had to
pay. I think it was 600 yen. You know which is maybe five dollars. Iím not sure
if itís more. I always forget the exchange rates; 5 or 6 dollars more or less.
did he determine that figure? Also, how many people were in the group and do you
know how much the rental fee was?
Warner: No I donít, but I would assume knowing what I know about the way things
work in Japan, the rental fee was higher than he was getting from us. It was
part of Tokyo University. There were usually ten or fewer people who showed up
on Saturdays. There could be between five and ten people on any given Saturday
and I would guess that somebody else probably other than him was covering the
short fall. But I never really knew how much was charged. The money as far as I
knew went to the room rental.
that comes to about 50 bucks if there are 10 people at 5 dollars each. So was
that like an hour sit (meditation)? How long was the sit?
Warner: It was a two-hour block of time. So it was half an hour of zazen
followed by an hour and a half of talking. And sometimes sit went all the way
for two hours and sometimes it didnít.
sounds very reasonable, five dollars for two hours.
Warner: Yeah, it was pretty good, especially in Japan where everything is more
expensive. For retreats, we all paid a fee that went directly to the temple for
the rental of the temple. I think it was a three day retreat and it was 15, 000
yen, maybe 5,000 yen per day so Iím just guessing from my bad memory, so it
might be in that range.
much is that approximately in dollars?
Warner: The yen value always fluctuates to about 100 yen to a dollar. So at any
given time it could be 50 dollars a day; so 150 dollars more or less or in that
neighborhood. And none of that went to him. In fact, he would treat us to a
lovely soba lunch at the beginning of every retreat at this restaurant that was
at the foot of the mountain where this temple was. And he always paid for that
which was a bit of a thing for me, because when I started he wanted me to take
over those retreats and a lot of people didnít understand that the soba lunch
wasnít just free. Because Nishijima had been covering it for so long and it was
expensive, (Laughter) and when I found out, I couldnít afford it. I couldnít
afford to treat 15 or 20 people to a lunch that was 20 dollars per person every
time we had these retreats. People had to start paying for their own soba.
when you took over for him, did he give you any instruction in the practice of
dana (giving) or charging? Was he explicit about that with you?
Warner: Yeah he thought that you should never take money teaching Zen because
that would lead to a kind of corruption of the practice, because you would start
to alter. Actually you know what, let me rephrase that. He actually said you
should never make it your living. He never explicitly said not to take money for
it, but if you made that your only source of income, that was when he felt the
trouble started because you would be worrying about how many people you could
get in and if a certain teaching was more popular you would most likely to do
that. Or alter the things you said to get more people in and more money. So he
was kind of strict about that. You know when I talk to him about making money
from writing books though , he had a completely different opinion which is you
should make as much money as you can from writing books because writing books is
a legitimate kind of work.
if they are books about Zen. (I donít think I
said this. It doesnít matter what the books are about. Writing is still a
legitimate form of work.)
Right, and that would also apply if you were into poetry or art work or music or
whatever else it would be?
Warner: Yeah and he was completely ok with that because that didnít enter into
the teaching aspect as far as he was concerned.
is a quote in the Pali cannon where the Buddha said the Dharma shouldnít be
traded. He also said it was the highest gift. How would you interpret this?
Warner: Well, I agree, I think it shouldnít be traded and it is a kind of
gift. On the other had itís a complex situation because if somebody devotes
their life to teaching Buddhism, they need to pay the rent somehow. And so there
is always some kind of economic aspect to it. And even in Buddhaís time, you had
the advantage of an established system of supporting spiritual teachers in India
in those days. So he took advantage of that. It existed and you could count on
people to support you. Which we do not have anymore. I canít walk down the
streets of Akron Ohio with a begging bowl in a robe and expect anybody to put
anything in the begging bowl. I would probably get arrested. So you have to come
up with something different and I can talk for hours on the subject of that
because itís actually something that interests me a lot.
does the word dana mean to you?
Warner: What does the word dana mean to me? This is a funny question because my
teacher Nishijima never used the word dana. He would talk about generosity and
free giving and the kind of thing which Dogen talked about, but thatís a bit
different from what people mean by dana these days which is a kind of donation
given to a teacher for his or her teaching. I donít know, I have seen the
concept of dana abused so Iím a bit skeptical of it. I was in Japan once and
someone had highly recommended this teacher. He was a Canadian guy who was
teaching in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and these people I met were so
enamored by this guy and thought he was so great. And I went along to one of his
sessions and he was one of these guys that follows a tradition which Iím sure
you are familiar with where the teacher refuses to touch money. But he said many
things that indicated to me that he was living a lot better than I was working a
five day a week job for a film production company. He was able to go sky diving
and thatís not cheap. The thing that really irked me was that when we all went
out after, there was a teaching thing, and I got invited somehow to go have
dinner with him at this Indian restaurant.
It was about 20 or thirty dollars a meal and he made this comment when the
check came around, he said I canít touch money. So his disciples all kind of
took a collection up for his food and I thought thatís how this works. (laughs)
So what I
saw from that little snippet or slice of life was that there are ways that you
can work the system so that you do not touch money, but you still live pretty
well and you are still getting other people to buy shit for you. (Laughter)
does that mean? When I was in Los Angeles I used to run across Orthodox Jews who
used to look for any Gentile looking to light their cigarettes for them. I saw
that happen, you know on Saturdays. So you are missing the point of the whole
idea of abstinence if somebody else indulges on your behalf and gives you the
fruits of that indulgence. I donít get it.
So I will
acccept donations when I give talks and things, because after I lost the job
with the film production company I had to pay my rent somehow. And so I do it
with a bit of reluctance, even now. It has become a substantial portion of my
income and Iím actually looking into ways where I donít have to do that anymore.
But the economic situation had a bit of a down turn at the very time when Iím
thinking I better quit this and get a job, and then I canít find a job, so Iím
stuck with the donation thing.
you ask for a suggested donation or kind of leave it open-ended? How does it
Warner: I tend to leave it open ended. If somebody invites me to do a lecture
out of town, or sometimes in another county, Iím trying a variety of ways to do
it. But I want to get my travel expenses covered and not lose money on it
because I have out of town speaking things and teaching things where it has cost
me money. And that was ok when it was at a time where I was working at another
job and I could afford to throw some money at it and support the dharma too. But
now I cant afford to that anymore so I try to at least get that covered and I
always attempt to make it fair to whomever is inviting me. If itís a university,
I know they have some money so I donít feel bad about asking for it. If itís
some Zen center in some far flung area, I try to make it so that nobody is
losing a bunch of money having me come out and talk to them.
What are your thoughts on integrating Zen with aspects of Jungian psychology and
trade marking Zen teachings? What do you think about this sort of
Warner: Well I find it to be disgusting, honestly. I understand where it comes
from to a certain degree because that was my job when I worked for this company
called Tsuburaya Productions in Japan. Part of my job was registering
trademarks. So I understand trademark registration and why you do it. Thereís a
lot of reasons: you donít want other people going around and claiming to be
teaching in your name. Then you want to trademark to keep that from happening
and keeping everything sort of pure. So thatís the up side of it. The down side
of it, what I often see, in being trademarked is often terms in common usage.
The one that springs to mind immediately is this thing called ďbig mindĒ which
is trademarked and that is something that comes from
daishin, which translates to ďbig mindĒ. Itís an ancient Buddhist
that this guy has put a little TM next to and says I own this
phrase now and if you use it, youíve got to pay me. It gets weird.
Suzuki also use it in a big way?
Warner: Yes. So to trademark that is odd. It gets into a funny area when
you say ok, I own this. I can understand why itís done but itís just not
traditional teaching style then. And if you claim to be a traditional teacher,
you shouldnít be doing that. If you claim to be a guy that developed a new
meditation system, then well, ok whatever, I just find it all bizarre.
do you see this heading in the future? Will it be more towards a business style
model of re-marketing and selling it or back to how it started 2500 years ago?
Warner: I think itís unavoidable that itís going to go into a kind of business
model direction, at least for a while because thatís the only way itís done.
Especially when you are talking about American society and particularly western
society in general where you have a society which is really economically
oriented. So everything has a kind of economic basis to it, so people will only
tend to understand things based on economics.
A lot of
things go into an economic model because we have a society now where it
understands the economic basis for dong things. It is considered to be more
clean in a sense. Everybody understands what they are putting into it and what
they are getting back and it doesnít become this kind of nebulous something when
youíre donating your time for a great cause. At the end of the day, if that
great cause doesnít turn out the way you expected it or wanted it to, then you
feel like you have been cheated or so on. That doesnít go.
getting back to what I said earlier about teachers supporting and even students
themselves, there has to be some kind of a support system. For example what I do
is kind of independent. I donít have an organization behind me. Thereís some
sort of organization called dogan sangha international but itís not really
enough to be anything.
did not bequeath something that would support me. For example, if you think of
the San Francisco Zen center, itís a big money making operation. I donít know if
they make a profit or how that works but they take in a lot of money and they
use that money to run all kinds of things. To pay for the rent on the various
buildings they own. To pay stipends for certain people so they have a system
thereby somebody who enters the San Francisco Zen center at a certain level can
expect to be supported economically by the San Francesco Zen center. So they
donít have to personally go out and raise funds, at least not in terms of
begging for their own individual meals and so forth. But somebody is going out
and raising funds and those funds are what buys them miso soup and whatever, new
robes. And they get a stipend for living and they can have a few nice things. I
have visited peopleís apartments and they have a video player and whatever, so
they are able to live in a modest lower income
they are not technically renunciates, they are not monks?
Warner: No, theyíre monks. The Japanese system allows for monks to do that so
they do consider them to be monks.
Like a householder type monk? They are not celibates are they?
Warner: No Iím thinking of the one person I know best, actually two people, who
are a married couple and they have worked for the San Francisco Zen center for a
long time and the center provided them a nice apartment.
So do they call themselves roshi
monk teachers; what do they go by?
Warner: Well they wouldnít go by roshi. I think they would consider themselves
to be monks at some level, but thatís very common in Japanese to be both a monk
and a house holder. Since the meiji restoration, thatís become more or less the
Yes thatís where it can get confusing. In some traditions someone can be a monk
and a house holder, like in the Tibetan tradition where you could be lama and
have a family.
Warner: I didnít know that about the Tibetan tradition. I know about the
Japanese tradition. Historically when the meiiji restoration happened, it
basically got rid of all its governmental laws regarding monks. Itís a funny
aspect of Japanese history. Japan has been a very stratified country and they
almost had a kind of caste system. Like they do in India too. They didnít call
it that but one of the ways of getting out of your caste was by becoming a
monk. But the powers that be back in the middle ages didnít want people
pretending to be monks so that they could move up in society and they made
various things that monks did as a matter of law. For example, there was a time
in Japanese history, a long time ago, where you could actually be executed if
you were a monk who had sex.
were caught having sex, this could be a capital punishment. That went away but
the laws making it illegal for monks to have sex were still on the books up
until the 1860s when the Japanese government was trying to westernize and as
part of the program of trying to westernize, they got rid of these laws because
they realized that other western countries did not have laws like that. Itís a
very complicated thing but once it became a matter of law, I suppose the temples
and monasteries said ok. Itís not just a matter of laws, but they expected you
to follow these rules, but they didnít. And from that time on monks were allowed
to marry and eat meat if they wanted to. They called them meat eating and sex
Did that change the system with respect to money and charging when they were
householders and had families?
Warner: Yeah and in Japanese Buddhism, particularly Soto which is the lineage
that I belong to, the way they make money is generally by funeral ceremonies.
They perform funeral ceremonies and they charge for those ceremonies and thatís
how they make their money. And they will do things that sound very much like
the Catholic system that Martin Luther was against like selling indulgences in
heaven or whatever it was called. As part of the funeral, they would charge
families for giving a person a posthumous Buddhist name and the better Buddhist
name cost more money. So itís a really corrupt system and my teacher was very
much against this and he was ordained through the Soto shu but he doesnít like
them and he is pretty vocal about the fact that he doesnít like them. And that
he thinks that they are doing a lot of corrupt stuff. Itís pretty common.