On Monday, April 12, students, seekers, and those just plain curious packed Ekoji Buddhist Sangha’s Grove St. temple to hear Zen priest Brad Warner speak. A half-hour period of zazen kick-started the evening, with so many people present that attendees filled rooms downstairs and upstairs.
Kevin Heffernan, coordinator of the Richmond Zen Group, arranged Warner’s visit. He also emceed Monday night’s event, ensuring a smooth flow of activity.
Warner’s dharma talk took the form of a discussion, with Heffernan questioning the itinerant monk on his background. Warner responded easily to the questions, frequently delighting the audience with humorous answers. When remarking on the advent of his existential curiosity, Warner said that he had investigated a number of spiritual paths prior to studying Zen. He even revealed that he “hung out with the Hare Krishnas for a little bit to see what they had to offer, which was mostly good food.”
Halfway into his two hour discussion, Warner opened the floor to questions from the audience. Richmond Zen Group participant Chad Majewski fired the first volley, asking “What do you think it is about people wanting to put teachers onto pedestals?” Warner answered that he had done this as a beginning student, noting that many people want teachers to take responsibility for their lives.
Warner went on to answer questions regarding the relationship between Zen and art, the necessity of correct posture in zazen, and the importance of working slowly and patiently with one’s practice. “If you get your insight too fast, it can be like psychosis,” he said, further explaining that the context cultivated through years of persistent zazen is essential to truly understanding a kensho experience.
Warner finished his talk with conversation revolving around the structure of his sesshins, or meditation retreats. Issues of form and ritual procedure brought him to comment on the differences inherent in many centers’ practices of chanting, bowing, and the direction of their services. He intimated that such a situation underscores how important it is for Zen to take on an organic, artistic form that eschews the traditional Japanese quest for procedural perfection. He prefers that the Zen community consist of a loose association of “performance artists” whose cushions comprise their pallets, their zazen their art.
Brad Warner is a Soto Zen priest who has published three books: Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up, and Zen: Wrapped in Karma, Dipped in Chocolate. For information on his ideas and thoughts, check out his popular blog.