Cover Story: Reality Bites

Ohio native is an ultra-man searching for Hardcore Zen

Ohio native Brad Warner says working on Ultraman products in Tokyo is "actually a fairly boring job."

If you look in your local New Age book store or browse the philosophy/religion section at the nearby Book-a-Doodle mega mart, you'll notice that there are very few books with toilets on their covers. If you find one, however, there's a very good chance that it's Brad Warner's new book, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality.

Warner, a native of Wadsworth, Ohio, now living in Tokyo, displays quite a bit of knowledge on all of the above in the down-to-earth and funny Hardcore Zen. It's rare to encounter someone who can claim authority on such a wide variety of the useless and profound, but Warner has the résumé to back it up.

His first qualification is that he's a Zen priest who regularly leads classes and retreats in Zazen meditation. His second is that he was the bass player for Hardcore Punk band Zero Defex and later the mastermind behind Garage/ Psychedelia legends Dimentia 13.

But best of all is his day job. Warner works for undoubtedly the most powerful figure — action figure, that is — in Japan: Ultraman.

"It's actually a fairly boring job," Warner says of his work with Tsuburaya Productions, the maker of Ultraman and other cheesy, guys-in-monster-suits productions. "Most of what I do on a day-to-day level is product approval.

If somebody in Hong Kong wants to make an Ultraman doll, I look at it and make sure the eyes are the right color and this and that."

Warner details some of his more memorable experiences at Tsuburaya in Hardcore Zen. By getting a job with the makers of Ultraman, he figured he'd found the secret to happiness. But after donning a hot, smelly monster suit for a dance sequence in a production of Let's Learn English With Ultraman, Warner felt that he might have higher aspirations.

Although Warner continues his work at Tsuburaya (where his best friends are, he says, "energetic young guys who wear monster costumes and do back flips all day"), he found that his real dreams lay in the study and teaching of Buddhism. He first became interested in Buddhism while in college. It was, he stresses in the book, a vital step in his lifelong search for truth.

"I was thinking just the other day about why I first got interested in Buddhism," Warner says. "In my late teens and early 20s, I was looking at all these religions. I went to Christian churches and to the Hare Krishna. But then I took a class called Zen Buddhism at Kent State, just because it was the only class about Eastern religion I could find. But when I heard what the teacher had to say, I was just so amazed because it was coming from someplace profoundly different.

Every other religion teacher had tried to convince him of something or tried to get him to join a group, he says.

"Tim, my first (Buddhism) teacher, didn't care," Warner says. "He was just telling you what it was and wasn't going to back down from what he said. But on the other hand, he didn't care whether I believed it or not."

By writing Hardcore Zen, Warner isn't looking for converts. Rather, he sees Buddhism as a truth-seeking method, a means of confronting reality.

"It doesn't really matter what your religious beliefs are," he says, "because Zazen is not a religious practice in the way that you normally think. There are Buddhists who say Buddhism is a religion, and there are Buddhists who say it's not a religion, and I'm one of the ones who say it's not a religion. It's as much of a physical practice as it is a spiritual practice, because it's a physical thing you do. You put your legs in that position and you sit there."

Hardcore Zen might or might not further pique your interest in Buddhism, but if nothing else it will probably make you reconsider how you spend your time. Warner's message, in very simple terms, is that there's no time like the present.

In fact the present is all we ever have, so there's no point in wasting your life in anticipation of a better future. Now's the time — it's a very optimistic philosophy.

And what about the toilet on the cover? Warner has a simple answer.

"The reason that it has that cover was to keep it from being stocked in the Buddhism section of the bookshop," he says. "It's written more for people who don't have any interest in Buddhism. I kind of feel that there's something in the philosophy that could be useful to people that would never come upon it if it's presented the way it always is: 'This very bland, stoic, arcane, academic philosophy.' I wanted to get it out of the Buddha-nerd ghetto." ©

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