By Brent R. Oliver
If you’ve read Shozan Jack Haubner’s first book, Zen Confidential, you know he’s an unorthodox figure in modern Buddhism, especially considering he’s a monastic. If you haven’t read it, you’ll just have to trust me on that.
And also, you should read it because it’s fucking great.
His follow up, Single White Monk: Tales of Death, Failure, and Bad Sex (Although Not Necessarily in That Order), is further proof that his approach and habits are anything but usual. But don’t think his twisted tales and odd tendencies obscure his spiritual insights. Mr. Haubner is a genuine person, unafraid to both explore and share his obviously flawed humanity. From this exploration, he comes to pertinent realizations about himself, the world and spiritual practice in general. Sometimes he learns from these; sometimes he doesn’t. Either way, he maintains his often painful authenticity, staring deeply and brutally at himself and his motivations. He often goes to lengths and depths that would make Zen radicals like Ikkyu and Hakuin smile and slap a hooker’s ass.
Single White Monk is not an uplifting spiritual journey or a primer on Buddhist practice (but you probably guessed that from the second half of the title). It’s totally about Death, Failure and Bad Sex, and not in how they relate to humanity at large but how they personally affect Shozan Jack Haubner.
Despite being a Zen monk tucked away in rural California, Mr. Haubner’s adventures range far beyond the monastery walls and, occasionally, beyond the pale. But no matter what he’s going through, whether voluntary or not, he manages to be a fully human being, honest, sometimes abashed, always himself.
These are fun, uncomfortable, curious, quirky tales of a spiritual life off the beaten track and Mr. Haubner is an excellent teller. His voice is casual, yet educated; humorous, yet sad; direct, yet nuanced; salacious, yet not filthy.
It’s impossible to tell whether it would be better for readers to do as he says and not as he does, or the other way around. Would it be easier—wiser—to learn from his errors without committing them, or to give fewer fucks and make mistakes with wild abandon? I honestly don’t know, but I had a blast reading this book.
Furthermore, by the end, I felt like I’d gleaned something important from it—a glimpse inside one man’s truest nature which echoes all of our own (maybe). Or the understanding that our warts are just as important to our spiritual practice as our more attractive features.
I felt refreshed by Mr. Haubner’s insistence on presenting his holistic self, rather than just the carefully cultivated, holy and sweet side so many Buddhist authors rely on. It seemed like I was hearing from a comprehensive person, integrated into real life, not just a saccharine spiritual persona sequestered from the world, writing about his best nature.
Single White Monk is a great book. In a genre dominated by calm voices urging kindness, compassion, and gratitude, often at the expense of real instructions to accomplish them, Jack Haubner is a barbaric yawp in the wilderness.
His life isn’t tidy and pretty, yet his response to the disorder is truly beautiful. Because it’s real.
Photo: (Shambhala Publications)
Editor: Dana Gornall