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Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between [Tapa blanda]

Brad Warner

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Opiniones de clientes más útiles en (beta) 4.2 de un máximo de 5 estrellas  29 opiniones
18 de 21 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Smart, funny, and HELPFUL advice by the Punk Zen Master 30 de agosto de 2010
Por Martin Z. - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa blanda|Compra verificada
A big fan of Brad Warner's other three books, I was a bit skeptical about this one. I worried that it might have too much sex and too little of Brad's take on Zen Buddhism. I was wrong. There is a great mix of sexual specific content and Zen, as well as how one trying to live a better life through zazen practice might approach sex. For me, the book's main focus was how to deal with doing and thinking 'bad' things. Since this is a book about Zen Buddhism, the answers (well, maybe suggestions) all touch on how to use zazen practice and Zen precepts to manage the normal crazy experiences and choices that life brings.

For those how haven't read a Brad Warner book, article, or blog, his writing style is crisp. For someone writing about philosophy, this should be commended. The book is peppered with anecdotes from his life as well as from the cast of characters he has encountered in his times as a Zen student and Zen teacher. He is almost always self-deprecating about himself, even though he has accomplished a great deal and has an international position as a Soto Zen Buddhist monk.

He also makes a point to cover Zen basics in his usual accesible way. Thus, if you've never read a book about Zen Buddhism there is lots of great information here. That said, if, like me, you've read books on the subject before, Brad Warner's explanations of Zen concepts are fresh, funny, and insightful and I finished the book with a better understanding of Zen Buddhism than I started.

Finally, to reference the title of my review, the book has been helpful in that I have already applied some of the things I read in the book and avoided a situation that looking back would have been trouble!
23 de 28 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
1.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas A Factually Inaccurate and Mean-Spirited Book 16 de marzo de 2013
Por Heather Trahan - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa blanda|Compra verificada
The only reason I am taking time out of my life to write this review is because I want to save at least one person from feeling the total frustration I have felt. Don't waste your money on the book I am about to review!

Let me further preface this review by saying that I pride myself on usually seeing books to their bitter end--no matter what. Sometimes it happens that a book looks super awesome: perhaps this book got great reviews on Amazon, or maybe a friend said "you just gotta read it!" But, as it sometimes happens, a few pages or chapters in, I realize that the book is causing more confusion, stress, anger, irritation or some other negative emotion rather than helping me gain insight. Yet, even when this happens, I often force myself to finish the book. Why, you ask? Why would I torture myself in that way? Well, because I'm a writer. Thus, I have this complex feeling of empathy for other writers; I finish their books because I hope that, one day, when I get a book out there into the world, that my readers will be as gracious as I am. Also, another reason I often finish books that I don't like is because I think it's a good practice not to insulate myself from ideas that I might find wrong, stupid, annoying, misguided, etc.--so I finish the books because I want to keep an open mind...and one of the ways to do that is to practice considering other viewpoints, to not keep feeding myself words that I already agree with. What I am trying to say is that I have thought long and hard about why I think it's important to read books in their entirety, and why I often do so.

But, for the love of all that's holy, I had to stop reading Brad Warner's Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between by page 66. I just had to stop. Here's why.

Warner is...well, he is misguided, to say the least. He warns his readers straight up that he has absolutely no personal experience with polyamory (except that he read a handful of books, such as The Ethical Slut) and that he has no experience with the spiritual-erotic path of Tantra, except to attend, "for research," what seemed like a single visit to some sort of daylong workshop in San Francisco, where they teach OM (orgasmic meditation). Yet, despite his repeated frank admissions that his experience and wisdom/knowledge level with these practices are next to nothing, he goes ahead and starts to mercilessly mock both. His tone is condescending, snarky, bitchy, and, at times, downright cruel. I realize that his book is attempting to be humorous. But he's seriously NOT funny, because what he's doing is making judgments about what he knows barely anything about--and then those judgments are wrong! Repeatedly, he gets his facts wrong. For example, he writes about how tantric/sensual practice is all about chasing the highs of orgasm and about escaping the world, which is seriously not what Tantra is about. Then, on top of presenting the wrong information, he places his knee-jerk condescending judgment on it, in attempt to gain a laugh: For instance, he writes, "I've never seen a single person advocating tantric sexual meditation who didn't strike me as mainly just wanting to get his or her rocks off" (62).

There were so many things I underlined, out of pure shock. I really don't understand his ethos as an author. Consider this mean-spirited passage about polyamory: "Just because you think you're so cool that you won't have any notions of commitment or betrayal or jealousy or any of the rest of that stuff doesn't mean your partner(s) won't" (42). Um, WHAT? Being poly doesn't mean running from commitment or denying that commitment can be a good thing, in certain times and with certain people. And, poly people talk CONSTANTLY about how jealousy comes up! How it's totally going to happen, and that that's ok. After a lot of snipes, Warner presents his conclusion on polyamory, writing that poly is basically too utopian--that it's a great concept in theory, but that he can't imagine how it could ever work in real life for real people, because, unlike pair bonding (about which he says: "I'm fully convinced that human beings are basically pair-bonding animals" [40]), polyamory is far too "unstable" (43) of a way of being, but then he doesn't really explain how he has come to this conclusion; he just tosses around vague warnings about jealousy and instinct and...bla bla bla...

It's seriously weird how much he mocks practices like Tantra and polyamory, yet then he (often in the same paragraph) dares to write things like "I have no interest in trying to convince anyone to live the way I think is best" (42). Really, Brad??? REALLY? On top of all these problems, too, when he talks about Zen Buddhism, he does so in a way that, to me, comes off as extremely dogmatic. In one instance, for example, he writes how one should "never" do guided meditation. I'm not kidding. He writes "never." To quote him, he writes, "I'm not a fan of guided meditation. Mediation should never be guided" (60). In the 66 pages I read, Warner repeatedly praises the specific practice of zazen meditation--in a way that borders, to me, on obsessive and preachy.

Like I said, I only read to page 66. I did flip ahead at one point and noticed that he makes fun of BDSM culture, too. I just scanned it, but I can feel pretty safe guessing that, along with polyamory and tantra, he probably has little to no experience with that either. And, I can tell his stance on it pretty easily, as his chapter is called "BDSM and Cult Behavior." Really, Brad? You are going to compare BDSM to being in a cult?

I bought this book because I assumed (silly me!), that any write who would put the term polyamory in the very title of their book would mean that they had at least a modest level of experience with it, at least in theory if not practice. But, no. Despite the title of his book, there are only six measly pages devoted to the topic. Six! And Warner, despite knowing virtually nothing on the topic (again, at his own admission!), he obviously takes great relish in trying to knock it down and call it out as being foolish and unrealistic, and, even dangerous. Again and again, Warner cautions his readers, asking them to think of sex as a risky business. In his ramblings about how dumb tantra and other mystical approaches to sex are, he writes, "my problem with sex as meditation is that, as a method, it's much too prone to abuse and danger" (63). Basically, Warner is a person who clearly has not much experience with alternative sexualities and then writes his fear onto the page. The fear I can handle and empathize with! Sometimes the power of sex does seem scary! I know that the first time I attended a workshop on Tantra, I felt a bit dizzy, a bit overwhelmed--and not in a good way! I felt like I was stepping into something very deep, something very...otherworldly. And, frankly, I didn't know what to expect.

I write this review as both a Buddhist, a polyamorist in both practice and theory (I have two partners and I am writing a dissertation on polyamory), and I have a moderate knowledge about Tantra both practical and theoretical (I've attended workshops, read books, and talked to others about the topic--a lot!). I want to stand up to Warner and put my 2 cents out there, as a way to perhaps allow people to know that this book is not for them if they don't want to engage a writer who uses humor in sarcastic, mean ways. And, like I said, I only read to page 66. It is always possible that the rest of the book somehow gets better, that he stops being so dang mean. I don't know. If you want to find out, I'll give you my copy. Have at it.
21 de 26 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
4.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Warner hits the mark again 3 de octubre de 2010
Por Nate DeMontigny - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa blanda
Sex, Sin and Zen answers the question that everyone has been asking Brad for a long time, how can sex and Buddhism come to some sort of reconciliation? As a guest writer for Suicide Girls many questioned his choice to join their writing team. And I think we should have, because if anyone had the answer, it was Brad.

We know of all the vows we take, and accept in our lives, but as Brad explains, never do any of them say do not have sex. Brad breaks this misconception down, simplifies in the easiest of ways. It's not the act of sex, but how we act about sex. Like any other attachment, it is our grasping at sex that can cause us, and others, damage.

What I really loved about this book is Brad's brazen explanation of mindfulness:

"I'm not sure what most people in the West these days mean when they say "mindfulness." Near as I can tell, the general population uses the word to mean something like "thinking really hard about stuff." Or at best it's sometimes a synonym for paying attention to what you're doing. But if that what you mean, why not just say "pay attention"?

Another high point is his points about sex being one of the most immersive acts we partake in. And what he says makes perfect sense, minus a few people out there, when one is engaged in sexual activity, are we thinking about anything else really? No, we are just being there, having sex. Of course there are emotions within that, but for the most part, sex is just sex. Sex is not what we were doing at work, the plans we have later, or anything else, it's sex.

He makes the case, from my understanding, that if we could harness that ability to pay attention to one thing, the goals we are hoping to achieve may be that much easier. Who doesn't want to be able to pay attention all the time, to be mindful of every moment, as it is? I know that's part of it for me. Because yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, right now is it!

His interview with the original "porno Buddhist" Nina Hartley is funny and engaging. They match wits, and humor, enlightening us to not take this whole thing so seriously all the time. I'm not sure I'm 100% in agreement with everything he's got to say, but it's great to have someone break things down in a way that is readable, and at times, laughable.

That only things that bugs me sometimes, is the over the top swearing and almost mocking tone. Other than that minor detail, this book was necessary, completely necessary. Sex and Buddhism does not have to be taboo, it just needs to be understood in a context that is healthy and helpful.
11 de 14 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas It's (always) about how you do what you choose to do 3 de septiembre de 2010
Por Donna Quesada - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa blanda
You either like his irreverence or not. He has been described in other reviews as iconoclastic, snarky, in your face, critical, and even egotistical (but that would be the ultimate form of irreverence in Zen). As he himself admits, he takes a certain pleasure in being oppositional. You'll either find it humorous and refreshing, or off-putting.

But who says he's got to be soft and mushy? Faux mushiness is just one more thing he's got a gripe with, anyway. The point is the book; In it, Warner explores the place of sex within the context of Zen and whether normally suspect transactions like prostitution are reconcilable within genuine Buddhist practice as a whole.

The real intent of the Buddhist vows are often missed. With funny personal anecdotes as a vehicle and mature responsibility as an anchor, he navigates easily through issues like pornography and stripping and braves the waters of abortion, revealing the truer sense and subtler flavors of those precepts (does Zen approve of such things?).

The peripheral question has to do with why he even needs to be addressing these questions in the first place. And the answer lies partly in our own inbred assumptions about the notion of sin and what constitutes evil. In the end, I appreciated his casual, no-nonsense treatment of these kinds of grandiose issues, which are so often needlessly convoluted.

The absence of an all-encompassing, universal ideal that applies in all times and all places, for all persons and in all situations, doesn't mean anything goes. As Warner himself - clearly liberal and comfortable in the domain of such discussions - admits, (the sex industry) is "a cesspool of nastiness that needs reform." But as he cleverly and humorously reveals, condemnation is trickier.

He doesn't necessarily encourage our participation in such activities as pornography (because who would he be to tell us, anyway?); he accepts it as part of the world, like the rest of the 10,000 things, some gross and some beautiful, that exist around us - the umpteen things we can either take or leave behind. But whatever it is, if we choose to take it, we best consider the effects of our actions, because it's always more about "how we do what we do," than it is about what we do.
14 de 19 personas piensan que la opinión es útil
5.0 de un máximo de 5 estrellas Speaking of (and meditating on) "hardcore Zen"... 3 de septiembre de 2010
Por John L Murphy - Publicado en
Formato:Tapa blanda
Punk bassist and Zen priest, columnist at the Suicide Girls website, and marketer of Japanese monster movies, Brad Warner's resumé's not the Dalai Lama's. His "Hardcore Zen" replaces the material-spiritual, body-mind split, reincarnation and mantras, and "cheesy" or "drippy" Buddhism marketed as pop culture. However "dubious" may seem to earnest adepts his four books, they articulate an existential, realistic approach to dharma. They also feature his raunchy, erudite, self-deprecation. He blends philosophical ruminations with raw memoir, confessional admissions, and textual explication.

"Hardcore Zen" (2003; see my review) narrates his coming of age, his move to Japan working for the company who gave us Godzilla, and his understanding of zazen, "just sitting." It confronts the mess we're in. This approach, shorn of exotic trappings or false hopes, resembles Stephen Batchelor's recent "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist" (reviewed by me). Both authors free Buddhism from its own delusions, as peddled in pop culture.

Warner's follow-up to "Hardcore Zen" reveals in its subtitle what's happened since: "Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma" (2009; see my review). His struggles resonated with his intuitive code that demanded truth-telling. He takes us on his global and interior journeys while he tries to sort his real destiny out from his false desires.

Warner's collaboration with the Suicide Girls website in explaining Buddhism beyond a New Age fringe or earnest do-gooders deepened his determination to articulate how his philosophy addressed sexuality. In his slightly more traditional 2007 "Sit Down and Shut Up" (see my review), he blends the founder of his Soto Zen school's iconoclastic attitudes into his own "punk rock commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death."

Again, as the book's subtitle promises in its consideration of verities as constructions of our minds and predicaments of our bodies, Warner stresses the everyday as the only enlightenment we will obtain. He emphasizes the "eternal now" as all we can grasp, as the past and future stretch beyond our control. Coming from the Straight Edge punk scene of the early 1980s that advocated freedom from intoxicants or "meaningless" sex, Warner found its tenets compatible with his youthful Zen interest. Even if, as he adds, the sexual temptations for his band, Zero Defex, appeared as illusory as the "materialism" overcome in the precepts preached by old Dogen.

His chapter on "Sex and Sin" in "Sit" anticipates, in advocating a "Middle Way" for those not celibate, and in denying "sin" as a Buddhist conception, his contributions to Suicide [...]. These in turn led to this newest work. As his début surely marked the first time a toilet graced the cover of a Buddhist primer, so "Sex" claims, unsurprisingly, to sit on its own crossover shelf, the first mass-market paperback about sexuality from a Buddhist perspective.

Sex brings attachment; Buddhism resists attachment. Warner counsels moderns to not cling to anyone. That is, to enjoy each other's company while we can, but not to turn despondent if he or she leaves, if we're rejected, if they die. His own divorce and his own sober grappling with intimacy deepen his insights. His own fears growing up that he would inherit what killed his mother very slowly, Huntington's Disease, matured Warner early on. He brings a seasoned sensibility to his reflections. He investigates how the transports of sex may bring many people the closest they may come to leaving behind the senses and merging with a greater oneness, the same direction a practitioner may contemplate upon a cushion while meditating. Some who scoff at a higher realm may be those who long most for intimacy.

He resents the incense-scented whiff of self-righteousness peddled by many Buddhist colleagues, and reminds us how "mystical serenity" has nothing to do with true wisdom. The very lack of fulfillment we suffer, Warner avers, presents us with Dogen's hard-nosed enlightenment breakthrough. Zazen offers us, he insists, incompletion. This humbling message can be compared to "leaving home" as the Buddha departed his palace, his sleeping child, and his longtime wife. That is, "the pursuit of the truth is more vital than the pursuit of what society--your home--tells you is important."

Considering his modest role as a spokesperson for punk-Buddhism, he suggests why spiritual leaders may succumb mid-life to scandals. His reasoning that these serious men, for many years devoted to study and solitude, when brought into a position of acclaim and power, give in to the fame and lusts that they were long denied makes sense. He also wonders if the jealousy engendered within certain Buddhist experiments in America with coed monastic living (never attempted in Asia) bring on competition between celibate followers of a guru revered as a chaste "father figure" and those who seek to become his more physical partners, as if akin to a sort of "incest" as perceived by the chaste, self-denying brethren.

I am not sure if for many more texts, Warner can sustain his relentless pace. His four books tend to leap from topic to topic; he includes transitions and connects a dizzying array of subjects, but he may run the risk of repetition. This in punk as in Zen's not a flaw, all the same, even if for publishing he may find himself telling the same old stories to the same devoted fans. I hope his audience keeps growing, and that he keeps his balance off the mat as well as his many hours on it, this quarter-century.

Warner's most inventive technique taught here? He interviews Nina Hartley. For twenty-five years, she's been in the adult entertainment industry. She grew up in 1970s Berkeley as a "Zen kid," the daughter of parents who became prominent Buddhist teachers. This "sex activist" and "registered nurse" expounds about pair-bonding as opposed to lifelong monogamy, the pressures of performing with actors, the responsibility for morality among polyamorists (see my review of "Sex At Dawn" for more on this issue), and the difficulties of matching one's own libido with that of partners. She explains, in short follow-up discussion, a connection between "power balance," zazen, and "ungulate animals" in a scientific rather than "kinky" manner that shows how well she has reflected upon such disparate material.

As their conversation proves, this book roams far from the expected topics, for sexuality as well as meditation overlap with Buddhism. So does pop culture and life itself. Study this and you may find your expectations upended. The cover may convince you of a wacky jaunt through the wreckage of an Asian fraternity's lost weekend in Vegas, but as with all of Warner's writing, the subtlety and seriousness despite the incessant footnotes and goofy asides remains longest with a patient reader. A poignant account of a young student's abortion after being date raped segues into the Japanese tradition of venerating Jizo, a goddess adopted by those who have aborted and seek reconciliation with the deceased. Warner for all his bluster knows when to step back and listen to the pain and hope of others.

He pivots between the punk concert and the Zen platform, the silent sittings for weeks on end in a remote hideaway and the press of a sweaty moshpit below where he pummels his instrument. "If I'm in a room full of pompous wannabee Buddhists all trying to be pure of heart and mind, I just want to rip my clothes off, plug my Stratocaster into a stack of Marshalls, and blow the fake-ass beatific smiles off their faces. All that lovey-dovey good-vibes s{--]t makes me gag." But, he goes on to muse over his own lovey-doveyness divvied out at Suicide Girls. Both venues enable him to reach those seeking compassion and questioning emptiness beyond the mundane. He may wander far in his writings, but "Sex, Sin, and Zen" attests that for all its stage stances, an ethical and sane Warner's as rooted in the everyday as are you and me.
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