Book review

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate

by Brad Warner

Picked this book up at random in a bookshop, based the cover, the title, and my patented method of opening at a random page about 1/3rd of the way through, reading the page, and seeing if I wanted to continue. I did, and, with some mild caveats, I’d recommend it to you, too.

Brad Warner is a teacher of Zen Buddhism. I practice (and to some small extent, teach) a secular version of Tibetan Buddhism, which is rather frowned upon by some of the Zen Buddhists as being a corruption of the original teachings. But Brad (I’m sure he won’t mind me calling him Brad) ain’t that guy. As well as being a Zen teacher, he is a punk rocker from the 1980s (one of the chapters describes him hanging out backstage at Ozzfest – a giant heavy metal festival), still plays with his band, lived in Japan for 11 years, worked for a movie company, has a bit of a crappy relationship with his wife, and so on. He’s a real person, living his real life, just like the rest of us.

This book is a brave attempt to show a true view of a couple of fairly crappy years in Brad’s particular life, and how he coped with them. The subtitle says it all: “A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity”. He does this not by “being all Zen” about it, but by being a real, genuine, fully-engaged, human being.

Ultimately, that’s the message of this book: we’re all genuine, complex, brilliant, screwed-up, happy, sad, flawed, self-contradictory, human beings. He’s no different from the rest of us. He’s just perhaps a little bit more aware of it than some – thanks to his 25 years of practice. In the end, this is what Buddhism tries to show you, I think.

I did enjoy this book, and it’s definitely entertaining enough to be worth your time to read. I was hoping, perhaps, for a little more on the Zen stuff, and a little less of the autobiography, so I’d give it three and a half stars, rounded down to three for lack of core content. Still, I’ll look out for others of his – they sound like a blast!

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