Everybody has their own idea of what paradise consists of. Freedom from the confines of the labor force, a tropical vacation with endless beaches and relaxing afternoon naps, a spending spree with no bill in sight, and streaming chocolate with an edible rowboat have all been described to me as "paradise" by different people. My own vision of it just so happens to consist of one week without a single obligation; location and other details are of no concern to me. Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality challenges this concept of paradise with Buddhist insight, instead suggesting that utopia is never satisfying, as it can never be realized. The Beat writers, notable for their Buddhist and spiritual themes, have much to say about ideal existence and their own versions of paradise.
[...] Unlike Warner's various encounters and being intrigued by spiritual leaders, I have always been profusely turned off by them. Beat writers like Kerouac sought guidance from more experienced friends in spiritual matters, much like Ray Smith in Dharma Bums. Warner befriended his Buddhist professor, and sought out new leaders in Japan. This is one aspect of both the Beats and Warner's life that I cannot identify with at all. My times spent at church services with friends were awkward at best, and I've never been attracted to any other proposed spiritual guidance thrown my way in the past. [...]
[...] Shattering my concept of paradise is a pretty powerful thing to accomplish ten pages into a paperback. Buddhist belief is not something I can wrap my head around very quickly, especially in the context of a Kerouac novel prior to Hardcore Zen. Warner manages to make a single, succinct statement that had me nodding my head, thinking that this is starting to fit together” after some mild frustration. only thing Buddhists believe in is the reality of the world in which we are all living right (18). [...]
[...] “Maybe you can go to a paradisaical island, far away from your boss and your bills and anything else you want, but pretty soon you'll be complaining that you've got sand up your ass, or the snack machine ate your dollar, or hermit crabs stole your thongs” While my own immediate thought of a paradise being a single week without liability seems attainable, Warner speaks the truth in suggesting that this would never be paradise even if it happened. I can acknowledge that I am perfectly incapable of relaxing for seven straight days without constantly thinking about other things that I should be doing. [...]
[...] Warner destroys my concept of utopia, and introduced my good friend hermit crab. This little guy is out to mess up everything I've ever thought about paradise and lovely, perfect dreams, only to be replaced with the scathing notion that this crummy reality is paradise. The great thing is that Warner is perfectly fine with me questioning this (which is a little unsettling, given that I'm not used to an arguer allowing flexibility within his own point.) His beliefs are laid of in a brutally honest fashion on paper, and he often challenges the reader to question these, to question society, to question how they feel about every point he makes. [...]
[...] To date, that has never exactly been the case, so I can relate to his disappointment. Hardcore Zen is the author's own intimate account of his quest to find meaning in life as he lives it. Like some Beat writers, Warner's search for spirituality is not always an explicit objective, rather, something that comes to him in bursts over time, often furthered by specific experiences. Some of Warner's biggest draws to Buddhism or spiritual exploration in general were brought about by specific people. [...]
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