Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen

New World Library. Oct. 2019. 256p. ISBN 9781608686018. pap. $16.95. REL
Zen teacher, blogger, and punk rock bassist Warner (It Came from Beyond Zen!) presents an approachable introduction to Zen. Framed as letters to a friend who recently passed away, the work explains the basics of Zen and Warner’s coming to terms with the grief he’s experiencing. For the author, Zen is an attitude that strives for honesty and realism, providing the tools that help us to understand the truth. Because of this, Warner is unafraid of sharing his own beliefs and doubts and freely questions Buddhism itself. While loaded with pop culture references and dark humor, his explanations of Zen philosophy is steeped in tradition, well researched, and ultimately respectful of the practice. All the expected points are addressed: the life of the Buddha, the evolution of Zen in Japan, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and koans. The author also addresses contemporary issues such as drugs, cultural appropriation, and scandals in the Zen community.
VERDICT Warner’s voice is much needed in American Buddhism. Readers seeking a straightforward explanation of the religious aspects with a critical eye toward the mystical will be grateful for his insights.

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