Ways to Respond to a Review...

I know that I pick on Brad Warner a bit but he sets himself up so much for it.

For those that don’t know, Warner is a Zen teacher, a priest, who has written two books, Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up. A number of people, including me, have taken him to task in his blog before because of his unabashedly critical way of attacking people that he doesn’t like, especially other Buddhist teachers, and his general attitude.

Normally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what someone’s attitude is like or if they swear, etc. I swear plenty and have a bit of a potty mouth at times. I have lots of opinions and I’m often not shy about sharing them. The difference here is that, generally, I don’t attack teachers in Buddhism, especially not as a regular and public thing, and if I do, I generally don’t defend having done so after the fact and act proud that I did it. We all have our failings and anger, irritation, and frustration with people are common ones so I really can sympathize.

The difference here is that Warner is a priest within a Buddhist lineage and a teacher of others. I expect priests, who take on as a voluntary action a certain set of precepts when they become priests, and teachers in general to try to exemplify the virtues of the traditions that they represent. They are role models, whether they like it or not, for others in the tradition, most especially their students. If you don’t want to fulfill that role, don’t become a teacher, don’t take vows concerning right speech and behavior, and just stick to your own practice. When you take on the mantle of a priest and teacher, expectations come into play whether you are comfortable with it or not.

To go to what prompted my post today, Warner noticed in his blog today that he had received a negative review in the magazine, Buddhadharma. I happen to subscribe to this magazine and think it is one of the best Buddhist magazines out there because it focuses on actual practice and is non-sectarian, so it brings in teachers from many Buddhist traditions. Brad’s comment on the review is as follows:

"Yesterday my publishers sent me a copy of the latest issue of a rag called Buddhadharma in which there is a negative review of my new book by some blockhead named Benjamin Bogin. Who can bite me, by the way. I suppose I should be happy just to get reviewed at all. But it's common practice for book reviewers to actually read the books they write about rather than just skim the chapter titles and pick quotes from the press release as Mr. Bogin has done. Whatever."

Is “bite me” a way to respond to a reviewer? Is criticizing the reviewer personally really the way to go about things? At a guess, I would think that Bogin did read the book. The quality of reviews in Buddhadharma is generally pretty good and I value them. But, obviously, the problem isn’t with the book or the author but with the reviewer…

Anyway, another example of Warner’s equanimity when dealing with criticism and his version of right speech. At some point, I’ll just give up on bothering to point it out. Since he’s getting a lot of press in some quarters, it should be mentioned that I don’t really see him as a positive example within Buddhism unless being an asshole is a virtue, which I suppose it is in some quarters.

Addendum: Someone posted the review in question to Warner’s blog:

"Surely one of the most unusual books on Buddhism to appear in recent memory, Brad Warner’s Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death & Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye (New World Library, 2007) will likely appeal to a rather select audience of readers. The book alternates between the author’s memories of a trip to Akron, Ohio, for a reunion concert featuring his old punk rock band Zero Defects and his idiosyncratic reflections on Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Although Warner’s colloquial style is refreshingly unpretentious, many readers will quickly tire of phrases such as “some book by some old dead Japanese dude” and chapter titles such as “Buddha Never Metta Man He Didn’t Like.” Too much of an adolescent rant for most Zen readers and too much of a middle-aged strut down memory lane for most punk readers, Sit Down and Shut Up will likely get an enthusiastic reception only from the small group of readers who already identify as Zen punks."