Being Into Zen

I write you this entry on an intercity train bound for Amsterdam Centraal calling at Wageningen and… Jeez I don’t know. Some other places. Utrecht, I think, and a few other Dutch towns.

I just finished two days of talks in Nijmegen, Netherlands at a place called Jewel Heart, which is a Tibetan Buddhist center. It was a good venue.

It’s been beastly hot here. It was around 35 degrees Celsius yesterday, which is like 90-something in real degrees. And yet twenty-some courageous souls braved the heat to listen to me say things about Zen. It was hot and sweaty in the room we had the first day and less hot and sweaty in the other room we had on the second day.

Several people came from far away. Some from parts of Germany, others from various corners of the Netherlands. I don’t get large audiences, but I get enthusiastic ones. I guess that’s how it is for cult artists in music. Although in my profession the word “cult” has a somewhat different meaning.

The Q&A session last night got especially deep. One guy wanted to know if I see myself as part of the Buddhist tradition or as an outsider.

In some ways it’s both. I didn’t get into Zen because I was particularly… um… “into Zen,” as people like to say. I see a lot of folks for whom being into eastern spirituality is a big part of their public persona. They have the little beads, the orange t-shirt with an OM on it, the patchouli scented hair, the fair trade tennis shoes made of organic hemp, the whole bit. 

I was never like that. I mean, in some sense I was waaaaaayyyy into Zen. But I never made being “into Zen” something I advertised to the world. In Zen groups I always felt like a little bit of an interloper, or even a spy. 

And yet, I took dharma transmission from a fully authorized Zen teacher who wanted me to carry on his lineage. It’s a big responsibility and I take it seriously.

But, for me, “taking Buddhism seriously” manifests in a somewhat different form than it does for the majority of people who’d describe themselves as people who take Buddhism seriously. Often people question whether I take it seriously at all. But I do.

Maybe I’ll do a better article or a video about this later. I think there are a lot of ways to manifest the Buddhist tradition. They don’t all come out looking quite the same. 

Another audience member asked if Zen was truly part of Buddhism or if it was something else. Every religion has its mystical wing. There are Christian mystics, Islamic mystics, Jewish mystics, and so on. The difference is that the mystical traditions in most religions are generally small and unknown, and don’t exert a whole lot of influence on the mainstream versions of those religions.

But Zen became popular for a time in China and in Japan. Thus, the mystical wing of the prevailing popular religion went mainstream for a brief period in both countries. It’s not mainstream in either anymore. The Cultural Revolution pretty much wiped Zen out in China — although it’s now starting to reemerge. In Japan, Zen still has a lot of adherents, but the actual practice of zazen is pretty rare over there. It’s much easier to find a Zen temple in Japan than in America or Europe because there are so many Zen temples in Japan. But if you want to find a Zen temple where you can practice zazen, you’re more likely to find those outside of Japan these days.

As far as Zen being part of Buddhism, you could make the claim that Zen arguably has more in common with Christian mystical traditions or Sufiism or Kabbalah than it does with other forms of Buddhism. Certainly the writings of some Christian mystics sound a lot like Zen — even those that come from the time before most Christians had even heard of Buddhism. It’s an interesting topic that deserves further study.

The lovely Adriana Leon has now joined me on my journey. She’s sitting next to me bored while I write you this. So I’d better get back to her.

There are still a couple more events in England that you can join. There’s a talk on the evening of the first day of the retreat at Hebden Bridge that is open to the public, and my talk in London on the Fourth of July is also open to anyone who wishes to join. See below for further info.

The London talk will be the very first recording of my new podcast Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen: the Podcast (as opposed to Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen the book). The podcast will launch shortly after the book hits shops in October. In fact, if the London event goes well, I may put that one out even before the book goes on sale as a little teaser for the podcast and the book. We shall see. I’m still working out the technical details.

See you in England!


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IT CAME FROM BEYOND ZEN and SEX SIN AND ZEN are now available as audiobooks from! You can also get Don’t Be a JerkHardcore Zen,  Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You in audio form — all read by me, Brad Warner!


June 29-July 2, 2019 HEBDEN BRIDGE RETREAT, England

July 4, 2019 TALK in London, England

October 5-6, 2019 RETREAT in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

October 11, 2019 ZERO DEFEX at Jilly’s Music Room, Akron, Ohio with The Tufted Puffins and The Psyclones

November 8-10, 2019 ZEN & YOGA RETREAT Mt. Baldy, California



Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 2526 Kent StreetLos Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 2526 Kent Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

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