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Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  144 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The night Brad Warner learns that his childhood friend Marky has died, Warner is about to speak to a group of Zen students in Hamburg, Germany. It's the last thing he feels like doing. What he wants to do instead is tell his friend everything he never said, to explain Zen and what he does for a living and why he spends his time "Sitting. Sitting. Sitting. Meditating my lif ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 8th 2019 by New World Library
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“Zen Buddhism, to me, is an attitude. (…) It’s an attitude that strives for honesty and realism. It rejects superstition. It rejects any kind of rigid belief system. It strives to be ethical because it understands that we are all intimately connected with each other and that hurting others only hurts ourselves. It accepts that rituals are useful but doesn’t believe any ritual has magic powers.”

Is it ironic of me to say, “Amen!” right here?

Brad Warner was in Germany, about to lead a meditation r
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Possibly one of his best books. Even though it's fictionalized, there's a real, personal quality to the letters, and it works as a great medium for explaining the concepts he covers. One of the thinks I like most about Brad Warner is that he doesn't try to be an authority - he's just sharing his experience and interpretations, and I think that works much better for getting the message across than ... well, to name a couple of things I've encountered in other people's books, playing word games an ...more
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I had recently left Shambhala and a Zen group. (I found Shambhala to be a big shit sandwich of deceptions founded by a coke addict child molester) I was very tired of reading Buddhist books and listening to Buddhist teachers. I feel like walking my dogs and picking him up their crap tells me more about the dharma at this point. That being said and having taken time off of reading, I picked up Brad’s books on a whim. I am very glad I did. He has a no nonsense and fun way of explaining Zen. This b ...more
Peter Clothier
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
(This is a review that imitates the author's epistolary style)

Dear Brad Warner,

I have a few thoughts about your new book, “Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen.” (They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope you’ll forgive this clumsy appropriation of your letter-writing style!) The dead friend of the title and the one you write to, Marky, is---well, was—a punk rocker like yourself, a black musician who died of cancer at much too young an age. Your letters build an endearin
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have read all of Brad Warner’s books and I am a fan so my opinions of this book probably won’t be surprising, I liked it. I do prefer his deeper dives into Zen/dharma geekery like “Don’t be a Jerk” and “It came from beyond Zen” but “Letters to a Dead friend about Zen” is something special. This book is a great way for Brad to write a book on the basics of Zen without feeling like he is covering the same ground that many others have.

“Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen” is a series of essays wr
Tristy at New World Library
“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 are steeped in tradition, well researched, and ultimately respectful of the practice. . . . Warner’s voice is much needed in American Buddhism.”
— Library Journal

“Warner provides an intimate, candid reflection of his Zen practice and his career as a writer and speaker in this touching work. . . . Ho
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't write many reviews of non-fiction books, but in Brad Warner's case I always make an exception. He has done a great job in introducing very complex ideas about zen to English readers, in particular about Dogen.
In this book, he writes a series of letters to a recently deceased friend, in which he goes about introducing a lot of basic information about what Buddhism and Zen in particular are really like, in a way that is not contrived, not preachy, and definitely not boring.
If you haven't r
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
No unbiased or fair review here, I love Warner’s work. This is a great addition to his body of work.
Mark Robison
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I read Brad Warner, I think of myself writing it because I could've been him: Just an average straight white kid from the Midwest into punk rock, studying Japanese, and having a curiosity about Zen. There is absolutely nothing special about Brad. His writing is plain yet conversational. He says awkward things about bodily functions and shares questionable taste in pop culture. One big difference between him and me is that he gets paid to take deep dives into Buddhist teachings. In this book ...more
Matthew James Herny Barram
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this book. I have read Brad's other books and this is the most intro one. I could recommend it to someone interested in Zen who hasn't done much or any sitting and I think they could get a sense of it. ...more
Danny Martin
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another nice piece of writing by Brad Warner. This one is an interesting approach to taking a look at Zen, and is done in a creative way, as Brad discusses what Zen's all about to a composite of a couple of dead friends. A unique enjoyable approach to the subject. ...more
Kirsten D
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Every time I finish another Brad Warner book, it becomes my new favorite. That’s the case with this one, too. I highly recommend listening to the Audible audiobook versions of Brad’s books; he records them himself and really brings them to life. This book contained a lot of insight and humor, as Brad’s books always do. It made me laugh out loud often. I love the no-nonsense, straightforward way Brad explains mystical concepts and philosophical ideas. It’s very accessible for anyone. I made many ...more
Jim Thompson
Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This may be my favorite Brad Warner book yet.

I've enjoyed all of Warner's books. They're useful and engaging and thought-provoking while also fun to read.

This one covers a broader range of topics than most of his others. Where some books take a deep dive into Dogen's writing or sex and Zen or whatever, this touches on a lot issues, all of them interesting, and does more to present something like a complete worldview, an all around understanding of Warner's Zen. I like that.

The approach (letter
William Berry
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I just finished Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen. I thought generally it was a good book. In the afterword he explains how he had started writing it as a Zen 101 book, and that is evident. As I’ve read all but one of his previous books, I did find it basic in material, but not in writing. Because I have a reasonable understanding of Zen from his (and others) previous writing, I found most of the material to be review. This is not to say that is bad. Sometimes you need a review, and it seems I ...more
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen, spiritual, warner
If you know nothing about Zen, know this, it is the easiest thing and the hardest thing to understand. That said, this book is great for everyone from novices to advanced practitioners. Brad Warner avoids all the "zen" slogans, dogmatic presentations, obscurity, and "feel good" afflictions found in a great many modern books on Zen. He explains things as clearly as anyone ever could I suspect, is willing to say "I don't know" and is an excellent teacher. The approach of explaining it all to his d ...more
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
I ended up really liking this book. Lots of topics in the second half that have currency and the beginning had some kind of zen talk. There's a good chapter on koans. I liked the chapter on crazy wisdom. Thought provoking and I came to quite like his writing. I ordered another one from the library. The first book of his I tried to read was his book about god, and I wasn't into that, but I did try it until I couldn't go on. He only says, "thank god," once in the book and doesn't talk god. Anyway, ...more
Jennifer Munn
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
A bit ironic how judgmental and elitist this Buddhist could be perceived to be based on the language he chooses to use... but then, now I too am being judgmental and labeling him... but this is just a reminder... we are all human and fall into the human condition even as we attempt to break free from attachment... we cling to the ease of labels and a desire to be heard and understood. I still found it an interesting read.
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Brad’s original title for this was Zen 101 and it lives up to that billing, being a sort of introduction to Zen and Buddhism in general. There’s no shortage of such books around and even as introductions go it’s not particularly deep, but the format, the engaging writing style and the humor make for an enjoyable read. Reader’s of Brad’s other books might not find much new here but for those who’ve never read him, it could make for a good first book to tackle.
Marv H
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is written in a very interesting style, reading it doesn't get boring, it's educational and entertaining at the same time. I'd recommend it for people with a new interest in Zen-Buddhism, but also for those who already know a fair bit about it, its not your typical bore about basic stuff other authors have already written about. I think the author is a unique character that produces unique books that are all worth reading. ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book! As always Warner brings his irreverent style and voice to a topic which could be very stuffy. If I had to recommend one book to introduce a friend to Zen, this would be breaks up practice, belief, other Buddhist beliefs in contrast to zen into easily digestible letters. I highly recommend you listen to this one and you can catch Warner’s tone of voice to go along with his smart ass words!
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I believe this is Warner's best work to date. It definitely draws on the experiences of his previous works, but they aren't prerequisite reading here (although I still heartily recommend them).

I'd recommend Letters as an earnest and intimate introduction to some fundamental Buddhist ideas. I found it very affecting.
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the author's more enjoyable books. That being said, it seemed to mostly rehash Zen Buddhism 101 material ...more
Chrissy Poo
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism, non-fiction
A funny, easy to read zen book.
Paul G Campagnoli
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After 2 very nerdy books on Dogon it’s back to basics with an engaging epistolary format. It’s Zen 101–102 with enough meat for even the most seasoned zennie.
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, moving, useful. Great, great book.
Ron Semerena
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Liked the book very much. I’ve read all of Warner’s books and feel this one to be among his best. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a basic understanding of Zen Buddhism.
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really really good!

Very easy to read and entertaining as well as informative. Also very unique. I've read all of Brad Warner's books and this is probably my favorite!
Tapani Von
rated it it was amazing
Dec 01, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Apr 23, 2020
Daz Saunders
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Dec 29, 2020
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Brad Warner is an ordained Zen Master (though he hates that term) in the Soto lineage founded in Japan by Master Dogen Zenji in the 13th century. He's the bass player for the hardcore punk rock group 0DFx (aka Zero Defex) and the ex-vice president of the Los Angeles office of the company founded by the man who created Godzilla.

Brad was born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1964. In 1972, his family relocated

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“Even if the whole world is nothing but a bunch of jerks doing all kinds of jerk-type things, there is still liberation in simply not being a jerk.” 0 likes
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