The punk monk

Kaysea Thomas

Brad Warner never aspired to become a Zen Buddhist monk. Looking at him now, sporting a Godzilla T-shirt, jeans and a youthful gait, a passer-by would never peg Warner for the ordained priest type.

When he elected to take a course in Zen Buddhism at Kent State in 1983, Warner didn’t subscribe to any particular religion, let alone have an aspiration to be ordained. While in college, Warner was more focused on deciding on a major and supporting his punk band, Zero Defex (0DFX). Driven by his untraditional views about society, the long-haired bassist made a name for himself in the Kent punk scene.

“I got into punk rock because I thought the prevailing culture at the time was really shallow and really useless,” Warner said. “I wanted to find something more true and more real, and punk was sort of my way of doing that.”

But even within the rebellious scene, Warner recalled receiving negative attention for not looking the part. Warner began to feel like the punk movement “wasn’t taking its own attitude seriously enough.”

Enter Tim McCarthy, Warner’s Zen Buddhism professor at Kent. While the class was merely an elective, Warner’s new found knowledge about the spiritual religion appealed to him more deeply than punk.

“It (the class) profoundly changed my life,” Warner said.

Warner drew inspiration from Zen Buddhism.

“It seemed to be a religion that was open to questioning its own doctrines, which I found really interesting because I didn’t find that in other religions,” he said.

Although Warner completed his last year in college at the University of Illinois in Chicago, what he learned in Kent State stayed with him. After graduation, he moved to Japan, where in addition to teaching English and working on monster movies, he continued to practice Zen Buddhism.

After seeing many of his Buddhist friends become monks, Warner was not convinced that priesthood was right for him despite the persuasions of his teacher in Japan. Only after some inspired advice from McCarthy did Warner decide to become a Monk.

After ordination, Warner published his first book entitled “Hardcore Zen.” Being the first of four previously written novels to be published, Warner didn’t anticipate the book to be picked up by a publisher.

“I was shocked when somebody wanted to publish it because I thought, ‘This is the most un-publishable book ever.’ It’s Zen and rock and monster movies. Nobody ever puts those three together in a book,” Warner said.

Since then, Warner has published three more books, the latest entitled “Sex, Sin and Zen,” released in August.

After travelling all over the world, teaching Zen Buddhism and promoting his books, Warner came back to Kent to play with Zero Defex on Sept. 24 for the Kent Debacle, a reunion of 17 bands from the local ‘80s alternative scene.

Mick Hurray, drummer of Zero Defex, was happy to see Warner back.

“It was just like old times, like no time had elapsed,” Hurray said.

While on the stage sporting his very first mohawk, Warner personifies the alliance of punk and Zen. He manages to give the impression of both a calm, focused, wise adult and a free-spirited teenager.

“Once we start playing,” Hurray said, “I can tell he gets into a meditative state.”

Playing with Zero Defex on the Kent Stage, no one would guess that he’s recognized by complete strangers for his books.

Despite all the things he’s done and the places he’s been since his college years, Warner’s punk rock roots remain intact.

Kaysea Thomas is a senior psychology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].