The new book by Brad Warner is titled There Is No God and He Is Always With You: A Search for God in Odd Places. Here is my formal review of† There Is No God and He Is Always With You. Consider this post the short and informal review.
This is a lovely book. I enjoyed reading it. It is engaging and funny and moving. I even agreed with most of it.
Here's a caveat -- Brad Warner and I both practice in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. So his perspective on many aspects of dharma is familiar to me. Most of the references to Dogen were familiar to me, also. It's possible that a reader with a different background might have more trouble "getting" this book. But maybe not.
Also, Warner says something on page 79 that I think is wrong. He writes, "I'm really not very bright." To which I say, Oh, get over yourself, Warner. You are too very bright. I can see that. The brightness shined through this book, no matter how hard you pretend otherwise. What you are not is scholarly. This is OK with me. In my late so-called career I edited university press books and scholarly journals, and I've had scholarly up the wazoo. And, believe me, there are plenty of scholars who really are not very bright.
So, why mix up God and Zen? Fellow Zennies and other students of†Mahayana will recognize Warner's God as the†unity of absolute and relative, or†enlightenment, or†Buddha Nature, or all of the above plus some other stuff. So, why God?
I normally advise people who come into Buddhism from an Abrahamic tradition to try to kick God out of their heads as soon as possible. But it may depend on your background. I grew up in a church-going family in the rural Bible Belt. Warner says his was a non-church-attending family from Akron, Ohio. The God in my head probably was a lot more demanding than his.
The fact is, I see people stuffing God, or something like God, into a lot of Buddhist teachings. People often speak of the Absolute or Suchness or Buddha Nature in ways that strike me as worshipful. Or, they go in the other direction and sort these teachings into a neat intellectual filing system. And over the years, I've done both of the above. But Warner writes,
"The word God, on the other hand, is much more immediate and richer. Rather than asking you to ponder its meaning, the word God just punches you in the face, after which you have to deal with how to respond. It has all kinds of messy layers of meaning and connotation. It sparks emotions and tangents. Sometimes it makes people feel settled and happy. Sometimes it makes them angry. Or it makes them confused. Or it makes them frustrated. Or all of the above at the same time. It's a dangerous word.
"That's what I've encountered in my practice. Zen is not something dry and orderly. It cannot be easily fit into premeasured boxes. It's very messy, because it is alive. The universe we inhabit is a dynamic, living thing. God†is a good word to use for what Zen is about because shoving the word God into a tidy intellectual container would be like trying to shove a live octopus into a Kleenex box."
I have no experience with live octopii, so I must assume they resist being shoved into Kleenex boxes. But I do like what Warner says here about messiness and danger and being punched in the face. I say if your practice isn't occasionally pushing your buttons and shoving you out of your comfort zone, you aren't trying.