Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner – Book Review

Hardcore Zen – Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality by Brad Warner

Book Title: Hardcore Zen – Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Realityhardcore zen by brad warner
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Pages: 202
Amazon Price: $13.12
Rating: 5/5

This is definitely a unique, entertaining, and informative book.   This book takes us from the dingy bathrooms of punk rock clubs in the ‘80s to his adventures in Japan making monster movies and studying Zen with Zen master Gudo Nishijima from whom he received Dharma Transmission.

Book Summary

The author Brad Warner was a part of the ‘80s American punk rock music scene and played bass for a hardcore punk band named Zero Defex before recording a few albums as a solo musician under the name “Dimentia 13”.

Eventually Brad’s path led him to making monster movies and he received an opportunity to travel to Japan to pursue this opportunity.  At the same time, he started studying Zen under master Gudo Nishijima of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism.  He experienced a kind of enlightenment or satori while meditating and after years of meditation he was given the Dharma Transmission (permission to teach).

hardcore zen by brad warner

Brad Warner Image: Huffington Post


I think the text on the back of the book sums up the spirit of this book nicely:
“Question. Question authority. Question Society. Question Reality, Question yourself.  Question your conclusions, your judgement, your answers.  Question this.  If you question everything thoroughly enough, the truth will eventually hit you upside the head and you will know.  But here’s a warning: It won’t be what you imagined.  It won’t even be close. This is not the same old crap you’ve seen in a thousand books you don’t want to read.  This is Zen for people who don’t give a rat’s ass about Zen.  This is the real deal.”

My Critique

This is definitely a unique book with a very conversational and engaging writing style that makes it easy to relate to and fun to read.  He explains complex Buddhist concepts in simple terms that anyone can understand.  After all it’s a book about Zen for people who don’t care about Zen.  His simple (and very Zen, so to speak) explanations of the Heart Sutra are worth the price of this book alone.

His very humorous personality shines through in his writing style, which makes this book a very entertaining read.


I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about Zen Buddhism.  The Soto sect of Buddhism is a very pragmatic school of Zen that promotes a direct experience of reality versus risk becoming attached to pleasant meditative states as is taught in the competing Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism.

This book is a refreshing read, and reinvigorates the Dharma and reveals its interesting connections to the mindset prevalent among hardcore punk rockers.

Thanks for reading my review of Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner, and I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.  Feel free to leave your thoughts and/or questions in the comments below.

Click here to get your copy today!  Also check out Brad Warner’s blog for some entertaining and informative articles on Zen Buddhism and how it relates to our modern world.

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10 Responses to Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner – Book Review

  1. Bimmerguy says:

    Outstanding review! Your critique makes me want to read this book ASAP! I absolutely love your website!

    I’m definitely interested in Zen Buddhism and look forward to picking up a copy of this book in the near future.

    This is a very well done, thorough book review for sure! Keep up the great work!

  2. Joon says:

    Did that scuffle really happened? lol. I remember seeing this book at the bookstore along with “Sit down and shut up.” I used to be a fan of hardcore and punk rock music. I still listen to them from time to time. Also I was very interested in Zen Buddhism. I wanted to buy a few books on Zen for my speech class presentation and saw this book. I wanted to really read it but I thought it wasn’t going to provide information I needed for the speech class presentation so I skipped it.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Joon,

      Sit down and shut up is another great book by Brad Warner. I also listen to hardcore and punk from time to time as well. Surprisingly there is a lot on Zen teachings including a great breakdown of the Heart Sutra (which includes the text of the sutra).

  3. Maria says:

    Hm, well I admit I’m probably one of those that didn’t give a rat’s ass about Zen, but this definitely piqued my interest. I think most people attract to zen because things are so NOT-zen in their lives and all around them and in their heads. So it makes sense to practice something that would offer some relief. I find it fascinating that Warner got into monster movies – because punk rock, loud loud music pounding in your ears all the time, and monster movies speaks of certain aggression and living out loud and yet zen seems like the opposite sort of thing. Now I gotta pick this book up just out of curiosity.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Maria,
      Yes, it does sound counter-intuitive doesn’t it? I think you would love this book. You’ll definitely see why Warner makes that parallel. 🙂

  4. Derek Marshall says:

    Hi There my friend,

    Great review and sounds like a really interesting book to read.

    You certainly have Sparked my curiosity, what is the difference between Zen Buddhism and other types of Buddhism? I am very intrigued by that.

    Thank you kindly in advance for any reply, response. Keep up the great work as I love this site

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Derek,

      The difference between the various schools of Buddhism are not in its teachings but in its applications of the teachings. Zen is a minimalist form of Mahayana Buddhism which de-emphasizes the importance of studying the sutras and uses meditation as the path, using riddles called koans which challenge the student to break through their delusions.

      Other forms of Mahayana have more religious trappings such as Tibetan Buddhism which has clear devotional practices and rituals. Mahayana is the type of Buddhism you find in Tibet, China, Korea, Japan.

      There is also Theravada Buddhism which hold to the original teachings of the Buddha and reject such Mahayana thinkers such as Nagarjuna and Shantideva. Here it’s just a matter of interpretation and what scriptures they consider to be canon.

      You can find some more information on types of Buddhism here.

  5. Tamara says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review on book Hardcore Zen. I would love to learn about Zen Buddhism and it seems that this book could be the answer. Do you like Punk Rock?
    I must say that I had a good laugh when I read the text on the back of the book. Yeah, definitely this book could be very interesting. Thank you for a suggestion. Kind regards, Tamara

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Tamara,
      Yes, I also like punk rock and enjoy listening to the band Zero Defex whom the author played bass for in the 80s. The text on the back pretty much sums up how punk rock and Zen are similar in that both are asking us to question everything even the nature of self and of reality itself.

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