I was sorely tempted to use either “crap” or “sucks” in the title of this post because I have a feeling those words translate into lots of blog hits. However, it seems sort of juvenile to me and I am not that desperate for hits, or attention. Sex, sin, and some spicy photos, should suffice.
Like a number of other Buddhist bloggers, I was contacted by Kim Corbin, Senior Publicist at New World Library, who inquired if I was interested in a free, advance copy of one of their books. Now, I understood she was not sending me a free book out of the goodness of her heart, but rather with the expectation that I would review or at least mention it, which doesn’t bother me since I also know that’s how the publishing business works. Despite the fact that I need another book like I need a hole in the head (I have over 1000 in my living room alone), I am such a book nut that I said yeah, sure, send it.
Bloggers and professional writers far more skillful than I at reviewing will no doubt subject this tome (Sex, Sin, and Zen by Brad Warner) to their scrutiny over the coming days and weeks. I am going to muddle through anyway, partly out of a sense of obligation, but mainly because it gives me an excuse to also discuss Mastering the Core by Daniel M. Ingram, which has created some buzz in recent years, although I had not heard of it until a couple of months ago.
I want to talk a little about the authors, and I have to tell you that I don’t know either of them, never met them or heard them speak. So while I don’t have any first-hand knowledge, neither do I have any preconceptions. I’m just calling it as I see it, from afar.
Warner and Ingram may not want to be grouped together, but they both identify themselves with “Hardcore” Zen (a term I think Warner coined), which is perhaps only tangential to “Dharma Punx,” I’m not sure. From what little I’ve been exposed to (strictly on the net), this hardcore/punx approach strikes me as mostly striking an attitude which may resonate with some, and might have with me years ago, but not now.
My impression of Brad Warner, though, is that he’s probably a sincere guy. At least, that’s what many people say. But a personality cult of sorts has sprouted up around him, and I feel he might regret cultivating this rock star like persona later on when, and if, he finds a real voice, because I think ultimately it will interfere with his message.
What is his message? Well, in this book it seems to be: sex is good, porn is cool, it’s okay to masturbate, remember to be responsible, be compassionate. Speaking only for myself, I don’t need a 282 page book to tell me that.
I’m glad I got the book for free, because I would sure regret forking over $14.95 to read something like this passage, where he discusses Gene Simmon’s sex tape:
Don’t get me wrong, I love Gene Simmons, and I’ll be a KISS fan till I die. And its really not for me to comment on Gene’s personal life. But I will anyway, because it’s fun. That video is just sad. I mean, the guy moistens his lady friend up by licking his fingers and then rubbing them on her. What is that world-famous seven-inch tongue for? If I had a tongue like that you better believe I’d put it to good use every chance I got! Plus, he is chewing gum throughout the proceedings.
Heavy stuff. I hear he’s tackling Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika next. Can’t wait. Also coming soon, the inevitable Brad Warner sex tape. It’s just a matter of time because I’m willing to bet the farm that this guy is getting laid like crazy. Which brings up another point. He calls himself a monk. He’s not. Monks are monastic, which he isn’t, and they are usually celibate, which he . . . well, I already covered that.
I am being facetious. Actually Warner has a pretty good handle on Buddha-dharma, and there are sections of the book that aren’t bad. The problem is that there are too many sections that are, which makes for a very uneven read. He has been called “a refreshing new voice,” but that’s only because he is looser with his language and his style is very informal, almost to the point of being rather juvenile at times. Too many exclamation points, too!
Seriously, if he had concentrated on being more explicit in a meaningful way, rather than in a titillating one, or his editor had trimmed it, removing the high school like passages and asides, this would be a much better book.
I think Brad Warner has potential. I don’t know if he needs to get over himself, grow up, or whether it has something to do with the role he’s put himself into, the drama, or what it is, but something is missing. Even when he tries not to take himself too seriously, it comes off as a contrivance.
For me, the best part of Sex, Sin, and Zen is the interview with Nina Hartley, a porn actress who was big in the 1980’s and is still going strong (Both of her parents were ordained Zen priests). In fact, if I had been his editor or publisher, I would have suggested an entire book of interviews. I think dialogues with Buddhist teachers, practitioners and others with Buddhist connections about this subject would have been far more interesting and illuminating. Sex is personal. Once you have handled the few big issues, it gets pretty subjective.
By the way, the best book on sex I’ve ever read was The Hite Report on Female Sexuality by Shere Hite (1976), a nationwide study that contained many interviews with women discussing their feelings and thoughts about sex. For a typical self-involved male who at that time really didn’t have a clue about women, it opened my eyes.
In martial arts there is a maxim that a true warrior does not go around telling everyone what a great warrior he or she is. This is something you either get or you don’t. Daniel M.Ingram, author of Mastering the Core, apparently doesn’t. And I need to make a correction, that’s The Arahat Daniel M.Ingram. He claims to be enlightened and what raises red flags for me is a) he claims he became enlightened at the age of 15 and b) his enlightenment is something outside of any traditional spiritual context. that he claims to have had an intense spiritual/meditational experience which corresponds with an early stage of enlightenment without an formal training, which I feel is a subtle way of suggesting that ultimately his “enlightenment” is something outside of any traditional spiritual context.
Ingham says “I crossed the Arising and Passing Away when I was about 15 and did it again about 4 more times by my recollection over the next 10 years without formal practice, technique or guidance.”
I’ve seen this before. Messianic gurus often claim to have had an intense spiritual experience or awakening at a very early age, and without the aid of a prescribed spiritual discipline. They did it on their own, because they’re special, unique, and teachers like themselves come along only once or twice in a millennium, so come with them, they will take you higher, etc. This way, later on, they can take their followers out of the tradition they have initially taught in and establish their own tradition. Nothing wrong with that per se, but they usually end up becoming cults.
Now, I am just an average person with average intelligence, talents and so on. One thing I feel I have that is above average, however, is a BS meter, and what also sends this meter all the way into the red is the question of Ingram’s credentials as a dharma teacher. From what I can tell, he has none. Zip. Zero. He attended a few meditation retreats. He mentions Sayadaw U Pandita, Junior but doesn’t indicate the nature of the relationship. One would think if it was a teacher-student relationship, he would not hesitate to say so. This vagueness is just another warning sign. He doesn’t say so in so many words, but the implication is that he doesn’t need any credentials or qualifications, because he is a self-empowered teacher and his enlightenment is superior .
Mastering the Core is subtitled “An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book.” Yet, all he offers here is fairly standard stuff. Most of this ideas are based on Mahasi Sayadaw’s Progress of Insight, with a little watered-down Ken Wilber thrown in. Ingram paraphrases a lot of traditional Buddhist teachings. That’s fine. We all do that to a certain extent. But I think you need to try a little harder when you are writing a book, especially one that claims to be revolutionary or ground-breaking.
He says that you can become enlightened in this lifetime. Well, Mahayana Buddhism has been saying that for at least a thousand years, so nothing new there.
Ingram also tries to couch his book as some sort of generational manifesto:
It is the unrestrained voice of one from a generation whose radicals wore spikes and combat boots rather than beads and sandals, listened to the Sex Pistols rather than the Moody Blues, wouldn’t know a beat poet or early ‘60s dharma bum from a hole in the ground, and thought the hippies were pretty friggin’ naïve, not that we don’t owe them a lot. It is also the unrestrained voice of one whose practice has been dedicated to complete and unexcelled mastery of the traditional and hardcore stages of the path rather than some sort of vapid New Age fluff or pop psychological head-trip. If that ain’t you, consider reading something else.
This seems to have been lifted directly from Tom Hayden’s Port Huron Statement and JFK’s Inaugural Address, and I don’t buy it. The generations that have followed the boomers have been on a quest to find something to be about, only to find that meaning has eluded them. I have run across quite a number of younger people who have echoed this sentiment, so I don’t think I am off base. It reminds me of Marlon Brando in The Wild One: “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whaddya got?”
I don’t know how old Ingram is but I have some news for him: the Sex Pistols were my generation. I was 23 when the Sex Pistols were formed in 1975. By that time I had already been through my teenybopper period, my hippie period, my anti-hippie-pre-punk-Velvet Underground period, my heavy metal period, and my glitter period. My post-Velvet Underground-Patti Smith-Clash-punk period was fairly short. By then I had realized there was more to life than affecting an attitude and trying to be cool.
I don’t mind anyone appropriating icons from my generation so much, but Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious? Being rude, odious and vile is not that cool. And even at their mushiest, the Moody Blues were ten times the musicians the Sex Pistols ever were.
In my opinion, the future of Buddhism in the West is something that is going to unfold naturally. Movements will come and go, that’s natural too. Trying to force things in a certain direction just because the direction is different is a shallow approach, and to me, at this stage of the game, rather boring.
Hedy Lamarr once said, “I can excuse everything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way.”
And like I said, Warner has potential. Ingram: Proceed with caution.