Way back in early 2022 I wrote an article about famous Zen teacher Brad Warner.
And I regret it now.
Here’s how it happened.
Brad Warner has been a famous Buddhist teacher for nearly 20 years. His books have inspired many people who thought Buddhism wouldn’t be for them. I wanted to be a Zen Buddhist for many years mainly because of his books “Hardcore Zen” and “Sit Down and Shut Up”. He even has a Wikipedia page.
He founded Angel City Zen Center in 2016 because he thought there was a need for Soto Zen in the Los Angeles area.
And in a throw away line on his blog he mentioned that he had left this center that he started. The article is called “So You Want to Be a Dharma Teacher”
He said, “The Zen center I attempted to establish ended up being a big drain on my personal finances, and the Board of Directors treated me more like a mascot than a teacher. Maybe someday I’ll start a little sitting group, but I’m finished with trying to run a Zen center.”
That was it. In January of 2022 that was all that was available regarding Brad Warner leaving the zen center he started. I wanted to find out what happened and I tried to do research but there was no information out there. So I decided to try to be a journalist and write the first story about it. The problem is that I’m not a journalist. Well, that’s one of the problems.
I made a big assumption when I wrote about it. You can read it here:
The assumption I made was that this was about politics. Brad has been critical of American Buddhist teachers getting too involved with things like political activism. I don’t think that played a role anymore. And, actually, he hasn’t made those kinds of statements in a while. I think he just had to get something off his chest about it and he did. I’m a subscriber to his YouTube Channel and I think a lot of what he has to say is really good.
Since then he has, slowly and cautiously, started addressing what happened in little bits of his videos. I’m going to share the ones I’m talking about.
Please watch all of these if you’re interested in this stuff at all.
The bottom line is that the Sangha didn’t treat him as a person. They treated him as *the teacher* the one who can give power but also they made him feel trapped in that role. Some shady stuff can happen if people think you have a singlehanded ability to give them credibility and power (whatever that even means)
I don’t know if it’s because the title ‘Zen Master’ has really taken hold in the popular imagination or if it’s for some other reason but I’ve seen this unique problem myself. People show up in the margins of Zen communities because they want the teacher to give them approval of one kind or another, a certificate, an ordination, transmission, whatever. Clearly that can be an unpleasant experience for the teacher if they’re feeling pressure. And the question can always come up, are they here for teachings? Or just for some kind of certification to prove they are important?
When I was ten years old I was the first kid in my neighborhood to get Super Mario Bros 3. And suddenly I had more friends coming to my house. Is that because they wanted to be my friends or because they wanted to play the cool game I had? I think you know the answer. This sort of reminds me of that. Being a Zen Master sounds hard. (Brad doesn’t call himself a Zen Master but I’m calling him one).
People with more experience than me can say if this is common in Zen circles. I can only say I’ve seen it more than once myself. Some people show up, not because they want to study and practice Buddhism, but because they think the teacher can give them something. I think I may have felt like a teacher could give me something once, so I’ll have to reflect on that.
So, that’s it. I’m sorry my prior article had bad information and wild speculation. I think I wanted a big complicated answer and the truth is there’s not one. I felt like I had to put together a follow up.