Brad Warner

‘Here’s my personal opinion. If you’re going to call yourself a “Zen priest” in the Soto tradition, then you had better know some “priest craft.” You’d better know how to do all the different roles in a standard chanting ceremony — like ringing the bells, offering incense, hitting the mokugyo (wooden drum shaped like a fish), chanting, and so on. You’d better know how to do a standard Zen ceremony by yourself (one person doing all of the different roles — there is a way to do this). You’d better know your tradition very well. You’d better know enough about Dogen’s philosophy to be able to explain it to someone who asks about it, or to give a lecture about it. I don’t think you have to be the greatest expert in the world about this stuff. You don’t have to know every ceremony perfectly. You don’t have to memorize all 95 chapters of Shobogenzo. But you need to know enough about this kind of stuff that you can at least do it reasonably well.

Furthermore, I’d say you also need to be able to have difficult conversations with people who come to you wanting to talk about difficult things. You need to be able to listen to their problems without judging them.’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I enjoyed reading Brad’s recent post about priest craft. The ceremonial stuff is the bread and butter of new priests’ training at Zen Center. I remember hearing that Brad’s teacher wasn’t very bothered about services, and he ended up learning most of the forms from Greg at Tassajara when he would come and stay in the summers. Personally, much as I can be a total geek about that kind of stuff (read this post if you need proof of that), I think the Dogen stuff is more important than the ceremonial stuff, and the difficult conversations are really where it is at – though having a good grip of Dogen can be very important in being able to listen to people without judging them. And if the reason for that isn’t clear, you can search through some of the many Dogen posts over the last four plus years (not to mention all the wonderful teachers who offer commentary on him) to find answers to that.


2 thoughts on “Brad Warner

  1. Other than Shohaku Okumura, can you suggest some other Dogen experts to check out? I need all the help I can get in order to get any kind of grip on Dogen (let alone a good one!). Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the question, Dave. Brad himself does a great job with Dogen, especially in recent books like ‘Don’t Be a Jerk’, where he translates the ideas into modern idiom. It’s also worth reading Suzuki Roshi in the same vein – when I read him these days, I hear him channeling Dogen extensively, in a way that was trying to get the essentials through to complete beginners who had no context for what he was talking about. Scanning my bookshelves, I have a book by Kosho Uchiyama called Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom, which is his commentaries on a few fascicles. I haven’t read that yet, but his way of talking about things is usually accessible. Frankly though, I think Shohaku is head and shoulders above everybody else.

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