Brad Warner is the author of The Other Side of Nothing and numerous other titles including Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen, Don’t Be a Jerk, and Hardcore Zen. A Soto Zen teacher, he is also a punk bassist, filmmaker, and popular blogger who leads workshops and retreats around the world.
In addition to his books, his writing appears in Lion’s Roar, Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and Alternative Press. He lives in Los Angeles where he is the founder and lead teacher of the Angel City Zen Center.
In the West, Zen Buddhism has a reputation for paradoxes that defy logic. In particular, the Buddhist concept of nonduality—the realization that everything in the Universe forms a single, integrated whole—is especially difficult to grasp. In The Other Side of Nothing, Zen teacher Brad Warner untangles the mystery and explains nonduality in plain English. To Warner, this is not just a philosophical problem: Nonduality forms the bedrock of Zen ethics, and once we comprehend it, many of the perplexing aspects of Zen suddenly make sense.
Drawing on decades of Zen practice, he traces the interlocking relationship between Zen metaphysics and ethics, showing how a true understanding of reality—and the ultimate unity of all things—instills in us a sense of responsibility for the welfare of all beings. When we realize that our feeling of separateness from others is illusory, we have no desire to harm any creature. Warner ultimately presents an expansive overview of the Zen ethos that will give beginners and experts alike a deeper understanding of one of the world’s enduring spiritual traditions.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 092
Brad Warner 0:00
If you have a candle that's lit, and you have another candle that's not lit, and I use this candle to light that candle and then I blow out the first candle, then is is it the same flame? Or is it a different flame? So the the answer is it's not, it's not the same flame, but it's also it also depends on that that other flame for its existence so it's not a different flame either.
Alex Ferrari 0:36
I've been able to partner with Mindvalley to present you guys FREE Masterclass is between 60 and 90 minutes, covering Mind Body Soul Relationships, and Conscious Entrepreneurship, taught by spiritual masters, yogi's spiritual thought leaders and best selling authors. Just head over to nextlevelsoul.com/free
I like to welcome to the show, Brad Warner How you doing Brad?
Brad Warner 1:10
I'm doing all right. How are you?
Alex Ferrari 1:12
Good, man good. I'm excited to talk to you, man. I'm I'm, I'm a fan of your book. The other side of nothing. And I just love your take on on Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and I really haven't had anybody on who's an expert in that field. So I really have a ton of questions about Zen Buddhism and Buddhism in general, but love to hear your point of view and things. But before we get into all of that, what When? When did you? How did you start your spiritual journey? When was the awakening that you finally just said, oh, oh, this?
Brad Warner 1:47
Well, yeah, there's a there's a sort of a few things. I remember being a little kid and wondering, you know, what it's all about? And what's this this world for? And why am I here and all those things when I was like nine or 10 years old. And at the time we lived in Africa, we lived in Nairobi, Kenya, when I was between seven and 11 years old. My dad worked for Firestone Tire company, and they decided to send him out to Nairobi. And I wasn't raised with any sort of religion. But around in Africa and East Africa. There's a big Indian population. So I saw a lot of that religious iconography. And my dad had a close friend who was Indian, we would go over to his house and I could see this stuff. And I thought, oh, you know, God, I'd heard of God before. You know, even though I didn't have a religious upbringing, and I thought God as a forearm just, you know, blue guy dancing on whatever they dance on. And I just thought this is really interesting. And we came back when I go to Ohio, which is where we were from when I was 11. And there wasn't really anything in rural Ohio at the time, that where I could study any Indian religion. So when I got to college, I decided to find something, you know, I went to Kent State University, I'm looking through the catalog looking for anything on Eastern religions. And I couldn't find anything except a class called Zen Buddhism. And all I knew about Zen Buddhism was it was the Japanese version of an Indian religion. And that was, that's that that was as close as I was gonna get. So I signed up for the class. And during that class, the first day, it was the guy, the teacher was named Tim McCarthy. And he was a student of a guy named Covin Mochino, who says anti true came to America in the 60s. And Tim read out the Heart Sutra, which is a real famous sutra in Zen Buddhism that contains the line Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. It's usually kind of cited as the key come the key line in the sutra. Sutra is very short. It's only takes up one page when you print it out in English. And I remember hearing that line Form is emptiness, emptiness, this form and thinking, Ah, this is what I've been looking for. I have no idea what this means. But this is the thing I was looking for I was I was sure of it. And so from then on, I just practiced about 10 years after that happened. I got a job teaching English in Japan, did that for a year and then got a job for a company in Japan that made Japanese monster movies that made that we were founded by the guy who created Godzilla. But we didn't own the rights to Godzilla. We just made sort of Godzilla knockoff kind of shows and things. And during that time, I was living in Tokyo and I came across this teacher named Gudo, Nishijima Roshi, and, you know, I'm making a long story short, followed him around for a few years and he decided he wanted me to be a teacher in his lineage, and he made me his Dharma heir is what they call that. And so that's So that's what I've been doing ever since.
Alex Ferrari 5:03
So can you can explain to the audience what exactly Zen Buddhism is, what is it? How is it different? How is it different from traditional Buddhism?
Brad Warner 5:12
Well, I mean, it is one of the Buddhist traditions, and it goes back a long time. But let's see, what's, what's the characteristic, I would say that Zen Buddhism was an attempt, and this goes back, maybe 1500 or more years, but it was an attempt, because Buddha lived and died 2500 years ago. And after about 500 years or so, Buddhism had kind of, in the eyes of many people lost its way in meaning that its kind it kind of abandoned meditation as its sole as its core practice. A lot of people were doing rituals and things but weren't doing meditation. And the Zen lineage is one of a few other there were a few other lineages around the time. But Zen is one of the ones who tried to bring it back to meditation. So the word Zen really just means meditation that the original Indian word for meditation is Gianna and the Chinese pronounced that as Chon, and then the Japanese pronounced it as Zen. And so it's the same word. So Zen Buddhism literally means meditation, Buddhism, if you really want to parse it out. And like I say, they're not the only Buddhists who are focused strictly on meditation, but they're probably the ones who who take it as the furthest, you know, who, who really, really get into meditation as their main practice their, their, their core practice.
Alex Ferrari 6:43
So is it in please forgive my ignorance? So I've heard the concept of Zen, Zen master, or is that different than Zen Buddhism? Is Zen another kind of Frank, another kind of religion in its own right by itself? Or is it just a combination?
Brad Warner 6:59
Well, it's it the Zen Buddhists would tell you that they're the they're the original Buddhists. But that's sort of the way all sort of sects of religions go. And so as, as one of the Zen Buddhists, I guess, I have to say that can put just historically speaking, it's, it's a lineage within Buddhism. And one of the characteristics about Zen is that a lot of people who are involved in Zen don't like the word Zen, and so they don't like describing it as a as a sect. But when you say Zen master, that generally means somebody who there's an idea of lineage. So the idea is that, and this, historically speaking, is somewhat dubious. But this is the story that when Buddha was alive, he had this moment when he'd been teaching for a number of decades. And he recognized a student of his name, Mark Hashkafa, as being his sort of spiritual equal for want of a better term, and Maha Kassapa. And the Buddha sort of CO lead the group, and then the Buddha died in Makkah. Champa, carried on. And then Monica Shaba, did the same thing for another student. And that goes on and on and on. So that would be the the lineage of Zen masters. And for the first few 100 years, it was only a one to one thing. So there was always just one Zen master in the world, or I don't know how long that persisted, but at some point, and traditionally, at least the story goes that it was this guy named Bodhidharma. But it doesn't it was probably other people gave the same Dharma transmission is what they call it to more than one person, which is why now there's hundreds or 1000s of Zen masters in the world, instead of just one. So that I'm telling you the traditional story that Zen tells itself, if you went into kind of a historical reading of it, they probably tell you well, a lot of this is a little dubious, but at least that's that's what the story is,
Alex Ferrari 9:05
Would the original so the from what you're saying, the original concept of the Zen Master, is that equivalent to the Ascended Master in Hinduism, or in
Brad Warner 9:14
It's a similar concept. Yeah, it's supposed to be somebody who is, you know, fully enlightened in quotes. And the thing is, I, I did the Zen master ceremony, I did a ceremony with my teacher, which he, you know, did conferred upon me that, I wouldn't say title because we don't even use the word Zen master, but I take it with a huge grain of salt, though, the idea that I would be the equivalent of Buddha seems absurd, but it's, you know, that's kind of the I don't know the what do you call it? That's, that's the sort of bureaucratic way it's done. I don't know. Bureaucratic is not the word I'm looking for. So it's kind of the traditional way it's done.
Alex Ferrari 9:57
So should I ignore the lights that are coming out from behind your head, sir? I mean, yeah.
Brad Warner 10:03
Ignore those lights.
Alex Ferrari 10:04
Okay. Good. I was I was gonna ask you about this. Now the concept of the Four Noble Truths. Can you explain what the Four Noble Truths are? For everybody who doesn't understand it doesn't know those?
Brad Warner 10:16
Yeah, the initially, the Buddha is said to have come to his great awakening after he was a prince of a small kingdom up in northern India. And he rejected his, you know, he was on in line to become the king. And he rejected that and went on this spiritual quest, which was very arduous and difficult. And he ended up saying, Well, this is too difficult. And if I keep going the way I'm going, because the spiritual practices we're involved in, were really, really, you know, tough things. And he realized he was going to die if he kept doing the stuff. And if he started, he embarked on what he called the middle way. And when he did that, his main practice was a seated meditation practice, he sat under a tree on a rock, supposedly, and at some moment, he had this moment of great awakening. And after that great awakening, he decided to see if he could teach other people what he had understood. And so his first sermon is called the turning of the Dharma Wheel, he gave what's called the Four Noble Truths. And usually these are given as all life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, the way to end suffering is to get rid of desire. And the number four is the Noble Eightfold Path. And I can never remember all eight folds of the path, but it's basically a path of ethical action. So right speech, right livelihood, right meditation rights, Jesus, I can remember, I can't remember all of them, but it's basically a path of ethical action. My teacher didn't like that formulation of the Four Noble Truths, because he said, Well, you know, all life isn't suffering, there are good times, and there are bad times. And besides that, you can't ever get rid of desires. So the Buddha couldn't have meant that in a literal sense, like trying to get rid of all desire. And he taught it a different way. He taught that if you, if you have a kind of idealistic outlook, then you tend to, you tend to look at things one way. And if you have a materialistic Outlook, you tend to look at things the other way. And he, it's very convoluted how He reconciled these with the Four Noble Truths. But he, he thought of it that way. And he did go on to explain how that was related to what the Buddha actually said. But that's what the Four Noble Truths are in a kind of a nutshell.
Alex Ferrari 12:56
Well, I mean, I understand the concept of desire. And there's definitely a lot of pain and suffering that goes along with the desire of earthly things. Have in your journeys. And if you're in your teachings, in experience, is there any advice you could give the audience on regards to lessening that desires for earthly things less than desire for things because at the end of the day, this is all temporary, we are all temporary, the physical is temporary. So to be holding on to, I mean, I'll give you an example I held on to a comic book collection, probably about 25 years. And I lug that thing around with me, from state to state from cross country had it since I was a kid. And at a certain point, right before my last move, I just said, I haven't looked at these in about a decade, really? About 10 years. Why do I have these? What's the point of these? If I leave tomorrow? I can't take these with me. Should I should I sell them and take that money and go have an experience that I can take with me? Because those experiences with your family and loved ones and things are our memories? Those I think are things that you do carry with you that they don't have physical attributes to it. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
Brad Warner 14:16
Yeah, it's it's a difficult one because obviously desire is is something that is key to this path. But at the same time, you can't you're always going to desire something that the this is what Nishijima Roshi my teacher objected to because you're always going to desire food or shelter and things like this. So you can't you can't uproot every desire. I've I don't know if I can relate to the comic collection. I've never really read collected comics, but I collected a lot of other stuff I like I said, I worked for a company that made Japanese giant monster movies, so I have a whole bunch of memorabilia. Oh, yeah, some of it. A rare related to that, and I gave up a lot of that recently. But at the same time, it's, it's sort of, it's more a matter of attitude, I think then the actual stuff, you know, the stuff is sort of, in a burden yourself with a certain amount of stuff, and you're gonna, and you're gonna do that. But the attitude of being able to let go of it is the most important thing. And that's, that's where the meditation practice comes in that that as I've found, because if you're doing that the type type of meditation I learned is called shikantaza, which means just sitting. So the idea is that you're sitting there in your, in your proper meditation posture, and trying to do nothing, but that, you know, trying to do exactly sitting without doing anything else. And in order to do that without having a terrible time, because a lot of people look at meditators and think they're just sort of blissing out, but that's not really the case. Because your your desires are kind of attacking you from all sides. So it becomes a really good practice in letting go of desire, you know, specifically, usually, the the main one is the desire to not be sitting here anymore, you know, I just, I just want to finish this meditation, but you you sort of set a time for yourself to do it, and you just, you just keep at it. And the only way I've found to be able to do that, and not kind of go nuts on my cushion is to just keep letting go of the desire as the as it comes up, whatever it is. So the desire to get up and move around is the most basic one that comes up at, you know, in your meditation practice, and you just say, Okay, well, I'm not going to, I'm not going to get up and move around. And then you just keep doing it over and over and over. And it's, it's kind of a never ending process. So there doesn't come I don't think at least I haven't encountered it in all the years I've been practicing there doesn't come this moment when it just just like being okay, I got, you know, you just have to kind of train yourself to keep doing it. But the the, the upside of that is, as you're training yourself and doing it, it's like training yourself and doing anything, it gets easier to do it, you still have to keep doing it, but it gets easier to do it. I think that would go for I always think of it in terms of like exercise or being a musician myself, I think about learning an instrument, you know, you have to keep practicing. But if you've practiced a lot already, each practice session is a little easier and actually a little bit more enjoyable. So that's what I've discovered with meditation, too. It's the same thing. It's it's not when I first started, it was really, really difficult. And when I do it now, I still do the same thing. But it's not as hard.
Alex Ferrari 18:10
What Why is meditation such an important integral part of Zen Buddhism?
Brad Warner 18:15
Well, it's it's the practice that the Buddha actually did. I mean, this is again, traditionally the way it's framed within this Zen lineage. But it's it's what he did. And I don't think there's much argument about that he sat still and he sat on a rock, right? Well, we sit on a cushion, and because we've kind of gone beyond rocks. But it's, it's the it's the key practice that he did. And even the Buddha would say that there may be other practices. But he believed and my teacher actually used to always repeat this bit of advice that meditation was the easiest way. So for example, what my teacher, my teacher in Japan, came to this. He was a track runner, he was in his high school track team. And apparently he was pretty good. I don't know if he won any awards or whatever. But apparently, he was pretty good. And there came a time when track running was more than he could do, you know, every day. And he at that time, he's an adult. Now he discovered the Zen practice. And he thought, Oh, this is the same sort of thing that happened to me when I did these long, long runs. Only in this practice, all I have to do is sit down on a cushion. You know, it's much easier, doesn't mean it's the easiest thing in the world to do because it's not, but it's, it's, um, it's much easier. And so that's why it's been kind of accepted as kind of kind of the most universally applicable sort of practice at least that's, you know, the way the Zen Buddhists like to put it And so that's why it's important. My first teacher had this little formula he used to say is you should do zozen Every day, even if it's for just five lousy minutes. And I liked that. And that's kind of the way I did it. When I first started, I would just do a little bit every day. And I found that when I did design practices every day, I felt better than when I didn't. And these days, I sort of liken it to brushing my teeth, you know, people ask, you could ask people, why do you brush your teeth, but I think most of us don't think about that very much. We just do it. And that's kind of the way I do saws. And if I if I sat and thought about it, I could say, Okay, well, here's why I do a 123, whatever. But when it actually comes down, comes down to the actual practice of it. I don't think about why I do it, they just do it.
Alex Ferrari 20:53
So So I mean, I've been meditating now for probably six years or so. And I'm a heavy meditator. I do at least an hour or two a day. So I understand the benefits of it. But can you explain to people who might not know what we were talking about the practice and the practice and the practice? But what are the benefits? What is the end goal of all of this meditation for people who don't know?
Brad Warner 21:16
Yeah, this is the in from the Zen perspective, this is the difficult question, because I'll tell you the tradition, which is Kodo Sawaki, who was my goodness, Gemma's teacher, my teacher's teacher. His famous quote that everybody loves from him is Zen is good for nothing. So Zen meditation practice we do. So he would say it's good for nothing. And if people ask what the goal is, he would say there is no goal. And for a lot of people, when they hear that, it sounds like well, why am I going to do this practice, it's good for nothing that has no goal. But there is a reason to do a practice that's good for nothing and has no goal. And I think the best explanation I've seen from it of, of why that's good is what's his name, I'm blanking on his name, real famous of God, I can't think of his name. Anyway, this, this famous guy is an Englishman who taught Buddhism and Alan Watts, of course, just couldn't think of his name. So Alan Watts has this speech that he gave, and that that's on YouTube, where he talks about, we're taught that we go to first grade to get into second grade, and we go to second grade, in order to get into third grade, we do Elementary School, in order to get to high school, we do High School, in order to get into a university, we do University in order to get a job. But everything is done for the sake of something that happens in the future, or something that you anticipate happens in the future. That's the normal way that we are taught to live our lives, we're doing this now for the benefit that it's that it's going to give us in the future. But what the Zen practice asks you to do is forget about the benefit that you're going to have in the future. And just sink into this real moment right now. And the action of sinking into this real moment right now frees you up from all of that anticipation of the future, and all of that desire for something to happen on that goal, that's going to be you know, off in the in the future. So, in a sense, although Kodo Sawaki said, the practice is good for nothing, it actually is good for something. But the rest of that quote by Sawaki, is that in order for the practice to be good for anything, it has to be good for nothing, you know, which is the kind of twist on it, you have to be able to give up any idea of what you're going to get out of the practice. But the good news is, even if you can't give up any idea of what you're going to get out of the practice that that's still no reason not to do it. You know, you just you just recognize that you have a desire for something else. And, you know, the secret, I guess is that there is there are benefits to it, you know, you can end the literature these days, it's full of, you know, reduced blood pressure, and sure, focus and all of this other stuff. But the way the best way to get any of those benefits, ironically, is to forget about trying to get any of those benefits. You know,
Alex Ferrari 24:33
Right when I got my bloodwork done a little while ago, doctor was like, Oh, you meditate, don't you? And I'm like, How do you know that like these these numbers don't make any sense for for a man of your age. So you must be doing something different and you're not taking any medication. So there's a reason why those numbers are down. So I'm like, Oh, that's nice. Like I didn't even think about it. So for my for my understanding your explanation. It's you know, it's the simplified it's almost enjoy the journey. and not the destination, as opposed to just enjoy going to the gym and working out, don't don't think about the six pack that you're going to get or the weight you're going to lose. You're just doing it for the enjoyment of the process of the moment of being there and doing it, as opposed to what am I going to get out of it six months from now a year from now 10 years from now and so on.
Brad Warner 25:20
Yeah, yeah. And that's really the way you gotta approach anything. I mean, I approach writing the same way. While you're writing, I couldn't get I couldn't get a book, you know, if I, if I focused. It, my nephew recently decided he's in his 30s. And he wants to write a book, but he's all focused on the sales of the book and all this done. So you can't you can't think about that you have to actually just enjoy writing the book, because that will come through to the reader if the readers can instantly tell a book that's been written just to for a goal in
Alex Ferrari 25:54
The cash out. Exactly, exactly. Now, the concept of non duality, can you explain? Can you explain that because I know that's a part that's a big part of Buddhism.
Brad Warner 26:08
Yeah, and this is a hard one to to explain. I mean, I think a lot of people have heard that whole idea of all is one and everything is one. And you know that the oneness of the universe, and the oneness between the self and the universe are kind of common things that we hear a lot. But I think when I first encountered those concepts, I thought of them as kind of ideas, or just poetic ways of framing something or something like that. And it took me years of practice, just to start getting a glimmer of the idea that oh, no, this is actually a good description for the way things actually are, there is no separation. So we commonly see ourselves as being separate units that act independently. And that can, you know, do pretty much autonomously do what we want. But I think a better way to picture what we are, is like pieces in a puzzle. This is this is the analogy I've been using for a few years, which I think if you if you're working on a puzzle, and there's an individual piece, it has to be a certain size, a certain shape and a certain color, or colors in order to fit the puzzle. And if if the puzzle piece had some kind of agency and decided it wanted to be the biggest piece of the puzzle, maybe it could do that, but it wouldn't fit the puzzle anymore, it would interrupt the puzzle, or if it conversely, was a very sort of spiritual puzzle piece, just to stretch the metaphor too far, and wanted to be a perfectly round perfectly white, you know, small piece of the puzzle is still wouldn't fit. So it has to be what it is. And I think as individuals, our sort of duty is to try to discover that and and be that, you know, be what, what we need to be in order to complete this big picture. So we do have an individuality. But the big picture is actually, that that's what's really going on. And our individual part of it is, is crucial to make the big picture happen. It's absolutely essential. But it's also it also has a certain need to be what it is, and finding out what that is, is part of what the meditation practices is all about, you know that I don't want to talk in terms of goals, because I just said all that stuff a few minutes ago, but it's, but that's kind of the goal of it is you strip away a lot of what you think you should be or what you think you want, you know, it's the going back to the thing of desire and desire in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. But we kind of tried to manipulate desire into something that it doesn't need to be so, you know, we we learned to kind of let go of that.
Alex Ferrari 29:27
Now, in your perspective, is there a way that we can stop dwelling on the past as much as we do and worrying about the future as much as we do and living more in the moment?
Brad Warner 29:43
Well, yeah, I think there is there's a, there's one of the precepts one of the Buddhist precepts is no speaking of past mistakes, and the original form or at least an older form of that is don't talk about the future. also Buddhist monks and lay people. But I never liked that version. And actually, I said that was older. But but it turns out, the one that says don't speak of past mistakes is probably just as old, as just as ancient as that one. And the idea is don't don't dwell on past mistakes. Well, that's easy to say, but how do you do it. And the only way I've found to do it is the same thing that I that I've said a few times is you just the meditation practice, kind of when you're sitting there, in the quiet, especially if you do a retreat or something like a long version of meditation, there comes a point when every possible, thought you could have has been thought, you know, after a few days, you've thought of everything. And at that point, you kind of realize that it's all just one thing, there's just this sort of action going on in your brain and your brain has. One of the ways it was described by the Send Message in in Kosho. Gianna is that just like your stomach secretes stomach acid, your brain secretes thoughts. So just thoughts happen. And that's, that's what the brain does. That's what it's built to do. But you can learn to ignore it in the same way that you learn to ignore your stomach doing its thing down there digesting, you know, your stomach just digests things. And as long as nothing is going wrong in your digestion, you don't even pay any attention to it. And we're trying to learn to do that same thing with thought. So any any thought of regret or desire for the future, all desires are just thoughts. And if you can learn to treat them as just thoughts. That's the way to transcend it. But it's easier said than done. So it's just a matter of habit. And this is why we do the meditation practice daily, you're just building up a new sort of habit, building up the habit of just letting go of whatever comes up. The hard part is, sometimes what comes up is just bliss, or you know, you know, wonderful happiness. That's often the sticky part that meditators find themselves in where that comes up. Because then that becomes another object of desire, you start to desire the bliss that you had this happened for me, in a major way, at least, you know, one time and in a minor way, at least a 10 million times, I suppose, since I've been sitting is just you, you start wondering, you start wanting that bliss, that that happened during meditation again. So you have to learn to even let that go. And I think that's often the hardest part is just once you finally got the, you know, your little hitter bliss, then to learn to let that go to becomes the next challenge. But it's, you learn to do that, too. And it's not impossible.
Alex Ferrari 33:15
It's very difficult because I mean, as a, as a meditator, when you do get hooked on the bliss, as they say, it is something physiology like there's, there's there's something physically happened inside your brain, there's certain chemicals being released, that give you this this kind of this blissful feeling as well. So it's almost a I mean, I hate to use the terminology, almost like a drug. But many, many meditators do consider it that it is something that pulls me back to it, but it is not the main thing that pulls me back to it. And I don't get it all the time. When I meditate. Yeah, it's not it's not like an automatic like I sit down for five minutes later on, like, it's not like you just taking a shot of, you know, you're doing a drug or something like that, or popping a pill and getting, you know, five minutes later you feel it. It happens. It's come days you have it some days you don't. So when you do have it, some days are like, amazing. Other days is like a little bit of a lighter bliss. And in some days, there's just no bliss at all. Because the mind the monkey brain is just on full alert that.
Brad Warner 34:20
Yeah, and it probably is somewhat similar to an addiction. I never actually thought about that, that and that terms, but you know that what those drugs do usually is the drug is only stimulating your body to release certain chemicals that are already there. So if you can do that without having a drug involved, well, that's certainly a better way to do that. But it can also become addictive in in a somewhat similar fashion. But I don't think it's as insidious of an addiction because it's not based on on acquiring some chemical
Alex Ferrari 34:59
I've never seen In the meditator you know cracked out on an alley somewhere going, I need to meditate I need to meditate like, that generally is not not a thing that happens, it is something that draws you back to it. And when you feel it for the first time, you just like, oh, this is what they're talking about. And depending on how deep you get, and how long you can stay in it, if you can do a two or three hour session or longer, you can stay in that blissful state. And I found that in that blissful state is when you are there's, I call it dipping your toe in the universe. It's like you've you really, you're seeing things that are a little bit, you're opening to open to things that normally you're closed off to being been in this form at this time and in your in your journey. So it just opens things up a little bit, and you see insights, I've always, if I have a problem or a question, I ask it at the beginning of my meditation, and many times in the meditation, the answer pops in. And you're like, oh, okay, great. That happen. Oh, I needed that. Thank you needed. So it's, you're almost tapping into something when you're meditating. That's much higher than you.
Brad Warner 36:11
Yeah, I think it's a really wonderful practice. I mean, obviously, I must, since I've been so dedicated for a long time. But yeah, I mean, what you're saying is correct. It's, it's really, you can really tap into a lot. It's just like, like, I keep, you know, I keep coming back to what Kodo Sawaki said about it being good for nothing, it's the lineage I come from is you were kind of taught to be cautious about claiming too much. I remember, there was some point in which I had a really kind of can't even remember exactly what the experience was, but it was a really an amazing experience that I'd had through the meditation practice. And I told my teacher about it. And he kind of said, yeah, you shouldn't tell you shouldn't talk about that. And, and the reason he gave is because that sets up a kind of desire for getting it again, or, or it can sound kind of sound like a claim, like, you're gonna, if you do this practice, you're gonna get this. And a lot of people practice Don't, don't get it. And that that will make people give up on it. I mean, I didn't get much out of it for the first like, five or 10 years that I was practicing, I didn't get, you know, it was really kind of, there wasn't that much happening. But I was lucky enough to have a teacher around who would say, Well, yeah, that's normal, you know, just keep, just keep going. You know. And so, you know, I learned to enjoy it for just just the enjoyment of it, the way I enjoy writing or something that they, you know, I just do it, to do it. And even when I don't enjoy it, I try to, there's a, I forget which episode of it's in an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, and there's that character data, who's an Android, you know, he's a mechanized, being, whatever. And so he doesn't have any likes or dislikes, but he ends up getting some kind of a chip put in his electronic brain. Like things you know, and dislike them. Yeah, so you probably know that. So he takes, he takes a drink, because apparently, you can now drink things. So he takes a drink of some drink and goes, I hate this, give me another one. Because, because he never, he never hated anything before. And it's just so fascinating to him to hate this drink. And, and I think that's an interesting kind of approach, you know, you sort of learned to enjoy hating things, even, you know, enjoy, you enjoy the things that you don't enjoy, because that's still the process of being alive. You know, that's part of what being alive is, is having these sorts of unpleasant experiences and you sort of go, Okay, I'm having this unpleasant experience. Let me fully experience this, the unpleasantness of it, that can be extremely freeing.
Alex Ferrari 39:13
It's kind of an I always use the analogy of going to the gym, when you go to the gym for the day one you start, you work out, you're like, I'm not bigger. Why haven't I lost? Why haven't I lost weight, what's going on? And it's just such a gradual, gradual thing that if you just enjoy the process and go to it, you will eventually see progression, you will eventually see other things and I look at meditation like that as well. When I first started meditating, I was just like, I tried for decades, I tried to meditate and I'd go like this is ridiculous and then the mind's telling you this is stupid. Why are you here you're not doing anything, the egos and like doesn't want you to meditate because if you meditate, it starts lessening the ego and all that kind of good stuff. So I finally decided just, I'm just gonna stick it out and that's when when you start sticking it out is when you start seeing These benefits that we don't claim that there any, but you know what I mean? Now, from a Buddhist perspective, can you define karma?
Brad Warner 40:12
Yeah, I'm laughing because it's such a hard one to define.
Alex Ferrari 40:15
I mean, every question I've asked you, it's been fairly hard to find a job, sir.
Brad Warner 40:22
It's a tough one, because I think karma is often misunderstood. I mean, most people these days are familiar with that idea of, you know, what comes around goes around, or what goes around comes around, I guess that's how you normally say it. So, you know, that is one aspect of the karma. But that tends to be the only one that that people know about when they hear the word. But karma just means action, you know that it's just a Sanskrit word that means action. So actually, karma vichara, I think usually it's paired with another word. And I'm, I'm not remembering I just said something. But I'm not even sure that's right. But often in literature, it's paired with another Sanskrit word, and it just means action reaction. So often, that's how it's put, but people kind of just put the first one in there. And it's just the idea that anything, because of this unicity, or universal oneness of everything, there's nothing you can do to somebody else that you're not ultimately doing to yourself. So and the most of us are, myself included, too thick headed to notice it. But if you start becoming very quiet, you can start seeing karma working in your own life, or at least this is what's happened to me, I started seeing it working in my own life, and then just accepted that this was actually true. So it's not that I worry that if I do this bad thing that I'm going to be have a bad reincarnation in my next life or something like that, I can kind of see it happen in action. The The one thing about karma, though, that I think is is important, is that you should only point it at yourself, I only think of karma in terms of what happens to me, I don't look at other people and go Well, he's, you know, homeless, and on the street, he must have done something bad in his past, and that this is his karma. It's unfortunate, but I've met some people who've been to I've never been to India, myself, but I've met some people who've been there, and three or four people have told me the same thing, which is that it's often understood in that culture that because of karma, you shouldn't try to help anybody, you know, because they're, they're just living through their, their karma. I don't know how widespread this is in Indian culture. But apparently, this is this is an undercurrent over there. And I think I think that that's happens to a lot of people here too, they start thinking in those terms, but I think if you put it in terms of yourself, well, there's there's karma to be had in helping somebody still. So whether or not that person is living out his special karma. It's also your karma to offer help to the person who's had who's struggling. So I think that's why I only think of karma in terms of myself. Don't worry how other people might have gotten themselves into the whatever situation they find themselves and you just try to do whatever you can for them when you can, but it's a very complicated sort of idea of karma. Right? Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 43:36
And if you you knew wrong somebody, you know, you steal money from somebody, eventually that money is going to leave your pocket, whether in this lifetime and other things like that. No, I I agree with the your, your your perception of karma, karma, it is not an easy question.
Brad Warner 43:55
There's all kinds of the Buddhist literature is dedicated to understanding karma. And there's, there's some there's some stories, I won't try to tell any of them because they're all kind of long, but there's, there's a lot of teaching stories within Buddhism, tons of them that are trying to express something about karma. And usually when you read one of these teaching stories, it's initially at least for me, they're terribly confusing, and you go What the hell is this story about? But it's, it's it's trying to give a lesson about about karma. And the point is that it's very complicated and even when you think you know, what it's all about, you probably don't
Alex Ferrari 44:35
Now you mentioned the concept of reincarnation. Again, another easy softball question. Reincarnation, sir, from a Buddhist perspective, I mean, I've, I think, I think the concept, it's really interesting, though, like in the last 50 years, these concepts that you and I are talking about so freely, were very esoteric back in the 70s people didn't really, you were hippie, or you were in See some weird stuff that you probably were smoking something. There was things going on when you if you understood the concept of karma and reincarnation and meditation, but now it is in the zeitgeist. So like, my kids, my kids, talk about me, it's my fault. But my kids were young. They'd be like, Oh, that's Instant Karma. Like, oh, he's like, if you heal, they'll see something bad happened to somebody like, oh, that's instinct, karma. So these concepts are in the zeitgeist. So reincarnation is also one of these concepts that's in the zeitgeist, but I think also misunderstood. So I'd love to hear your perspective from a Buddhist perspective on it.
Brad Warner 45:35
Yeah, it's a tough one. You know, when you talk about how long it's been around, I'm a big fan of The Three Stooges. And there's actually one of the later Three Stooges shorts in when they were in the 50s when they were getting a little older, long in the tooth is about reincarnation though. So and I'm like, wow, that three stooges even did a reincarnation thing. So it's, you know, it's that they were kind of picking up on on the culture in, in Hollywood, it's sort of got there quicker, but yeah, so so people are kind of seduced often by this idea of reincarnation. And often Buddhism is presented in mainly in terms of reincarnation, a lot of it is a lot of the people I encounter, the only thing they know about Buddhism is reincarnation. My teacher was kind of a bit of an iconic class. This is the Japanese teacher who ordained to me. And he would say that there's no reincarnation in Buddhism. That's just a story that came out of Hinduism in it, and it got grafted onto Buddhism, just forget about reincarnation. And he's not the only one who teaches it this way. But it's a kind of a minor sub genre of Buddhism, where it's taught that way. And in in knowing Nishijima Roshi, I, I kind of had one to one conversations where I realized that he, he wasn't that much of a hardliner about reincarnation, when you actually sat and talked to him one on one, but publicly, he would say, he would kind of deny it. And I think the reason is, because people get so interested in it. And the idea of reincarnation, though is, is the idea that there is only one is sort of, for want of a better word consciousness within the universe, you know, and this is, this is hard for most of us, myself included to follow along when we first encounter it, because you think, Well, you got your consciousness, and my wife's got her consciousness, and you know, whoever, everybody else, everybody's, and we can't read each other's minds. I don't know what you're thinking, et cetera, et cetera. So it's, you think, well, they're all separated. But actually, there's just one thing experiencing all of this, you know, that's, that's the non duality aspect of it. And one way to understand it is, what the way my first teacher, who's not the Japanese teacher, who was denouncing reincarnation, but my first teacher was more open to talking about it. And the way he would talk about it is if you had if you have a candle that's lit, and you have another candle that's not lit, and I use this candle to light that candle, and then I blow out the first candle, then is it the same flame? Or is it a different flame? So the the answer is, it's not. It's not the same flame, but it's also it also depends on that, that other flame for its existence, so it's not a different flame, either. In the Buddhist teachings, reincarnation is sort of like that, like the next life isn't, isn't necessarily me living another life. But it's, it's like the dominoes falling in a certain way. So this, this life kind of influences everything that comes after it. That would be the idea. So it's not it's not exactly that I live forever, but it's also a bit of a misnomer to talk in terms of death because as an individual, yeah, I guess you could say death happens. But there is an overall something that that never dies, and that is more fundamental than than the individual and the individual is an expression of that thing that never dies too. So that's, you know, that's where it gets very complicated and convoluted.
Alex Ferrari 49:33
You think we should put a T shirt says death happens I think it would sell like hotcakes. But But I love the analogy of the candle and the flame because the flame you can you can say is an analogy for the soul, but without the first candles experience. You can't light the second candle. You need that first candle in order to move it over to the so this light It dictates the next life dictates the next life and so on to kind of the lessons that you're supposed to learn and experience as an entity. So it's, it's really interesting and it gets, it gets into, you know, I'm not very dogmatic in anything I am, I'm a very free flowing, I listen to everything, this whole show is about talking to different perspectives and different teachings and different masters and spiritual leaders and so on. So I always try to understand as much as I can, there is a lot of common notes in this music, there is no question from Hindu to, you know, to a yogi to a rabbi to Catholic priests to, to a Buddhist like yourself, there are concepts that are are very similar, might be a little bit by bit tweaked a bit here or there. But generally, the general ideas are, are all there. And that's one thing I'm noticing, as I continue this journey on the show, because it's one of the reasons why I started this show is because I love to have these kinds of deep conversations with people from different perspectives on spirituality, from people who had near death experiences, people, you know, all sorts of things, because it's, I'm just curious about this whole
Brad Warner 51:12
Well, yeah, and there's a there's a lot of commonality. One of the things I think is really interesting is the Christian mystics who, if you read the Christian mystics, they sound like Buddhists, right? You know, but they're but they're using they're using words like Christ and God and, you know, crucifixion or whatever, all the all the words from the Christian tradition, but they use them in a way that's really different from the mainstream. And I feel like there's a mystical segment in every religion, at least every religion I've ever
Alex Ferrari 51:43
Oh, the Jewish, the Jewish mystics, I had it I had I had a rabbi on the other day, who's I mean, consider, I mean, I consider him a mystic in the way he talks and he speaks when he was speaking. I mean, there was a there was a picture behind him of oh, God, please forget the Hindu god the Shiva, Shiva.
Brad Warner 52:05
Shiva. Yeah, she was a destroyer. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 52:09
The other one, the Vishnu, Vishnu, a picture of Vishnu with the hands, but the hands were going into a menorah. Oh, it was this beautiful artwork. I was like, what is that? And they're like, Oh, it's a combination. So it was it was a Jewish Hindu artists, then she put both of her experiences together to create this art. I was like, see, that's what I'm talking about. Like, that's this beautiful interaction of, but the concepts are all there. And at the end of the day, I always tell people, what's true to you? What made what is your truth? What makes you like when you heard, emptiness, emptiness is nothing, nothing is emptiness.
Brad Warner 52:49
Emptiness, emptiness is form. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 52:51
When you heard that, you're like, Oh, that's it. So for you, that was the path, you know, as opposed to going down the Catholic path, or a just a non traditional spiritual path. And there's many different paths to get to the same, we're all going to the same place, we're all going to the same goal. We're trying to find the one the source, whatever you want to call that and connect with that. It's, it's been fascinating. Now, Brad, I'm gonna ask you two questions as all of my guests. What is your mission in this life?
Brad Warner 53:21
Sometimes I don't know. Sometimes I wonder that. Like that, that's seen in Rick and Morty, the cartoon where they got the robot that's made to pass the butter. And he says, What's my what's my mission in life to pass the butter robot that just does that. And so sometimes I think that my mission in life is just to do what is x? What is necessary at this moment? So like, the moment right now, it's, I'm doing the interview. And so that's, that's my mission in life is this is this interview, and then when it's when it's over? My mission in life will be to go and I don't know, get some groceries or some lunch, right? Yeah. So it's all so. So I tend not to think in terms of an overall sort of mission. It does seem though it's fallen to me to do. I never thought I'd be doing this. You know, I was the bass player in a punk rock band. And I worked in the entertainment industry, and I did you know, all these things that have nothing to do with spirituality or Zen or anything. And I practiced saws and for many years, without any intention of ever teaching it to the point where when my teacher wanted me to become a teacher, I was like, oh, there's no way I can't do that, you know, but then it's sort of, you know, fallen on me to do that. And I think well, I can just kind of accept that as what I do. So you know, I do this you know, I talk to people about these kinds of deep issues and this seems to be the seems to be what, you know, the universe or whatever wants from me, so I'll just keep doing it. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 55:00
What is the ultimate purpose of life? Another easy question.
Brad Warner 55:05
You know, it's the, the ultimate purpose would be just to do the thing that comes up at this moment, you know, because I think these things are interconnected, we tend to think of any individual thing we do as being a small thing, and it is in some terms, but even those small things that we do, you know, going out and taking out the trash or something, it's something that has huge influence, you know, you don't know how far those ripples go out. In anything that you do. So I think the ultimate purpose is just to kind of do what is what is called for at this moment.
Alex Ferrari 55:51
And where can people find out where to purchase your amazing book and find out more about what you're doing in your work, sir?
Brad Warner 55:58
Well, I've got a blog, which is hardcorezen.info. So that's dot nfo, and we got one of those dot info domains, hardcorezen.info. And that has links to everything that I do. And also I've been doing this YouTube channel, which is, which is going pretty well it's youtube.com/hardcores in or you just look up Brad Warner on YouTube, and you'll find me because I'm, I do between three and five videos a week. So so those are also a good place if you want. If you don't want to spring for the book right away. What I do,
Alex Ferrari 56:36
Brad, man, thank you so much for coming on the show. It has been a it's been a pleasure talking to you, man. It's been really fun getting into the world of Zen with us, my friend. So I appreciate you and thank you for the work that you're doing and trying to help the world become a little bit of a better place.
Brad Warner 56:50
Thank you for having me.
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Links and Resources
- Brad Warner – Hardcore Zen Official Site
- The Other Side of Nothing: The Zen Ethics of Time, Space, and Being
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