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The Way of Zen

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  11,495 Ratings  ·  359 Reviews
The Way of Zen begins as a succinct guide through the histories of Buddhism and Taoism leading up to the development of Zen Buddhism, which drew deeply from both traditions. It then goes on to paint a broad but insightful picture of Zen as it was and is practiced, both as a religion and as an element of diverse East Asian arts and disciplines. Watts's narrative clears away ...more
ebook, 1st edition, 256 pages
Published February 16th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1957)
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Alrik Ken Wilber might be an interesting read, for example No Boundary. It incorporates a lot of Eastern as well as Western philosophies, from meditation to…moreKen Wilber might be an interesting read, for example No Boundary. It incorporates a lot of Eastern as well as Western philosophies, from meditation to psychoanalysis.(less)
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Apr 12, 2014 Leonard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
In The Way of Zen, Alan Watts introduces us to Zen Buddhism and to some extend Taoism to the average John and Jane. The history and background of Zen and Taoism in part one helps us understand the cultural contexts behind these philosophies: how Taoism developed in China, how Buddhism spread to China and how Zen developed in China and spread to Japan.


Watts explains Zen, to the extend that it can be explained, so that we can understand it, to the extend we should try to understand it. Though Zen
Worthless Bum
Aug 29, 2008 Worthless Bum rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I see the Way of Zen not so much as an exposition of a secularized version of Zen Buddhism (or Eastern thought more generally), explained in a manner easily understood by Westerners (which it is), but more as an accoutrement to Eastern spiritual practices like meditation and other numinous experiences derived from Eastern thought. This book is easily as good as anything I've read on spirituality, and probably the very best. It is important to read between the lines in this book if the full benef ...more
Dec 01, 2007 Ruth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There ought to be a special star (green? purple?) for books that meant something to you a long time ago, but which you know you would hate today.
Khashayar Mohammadi
Great book for an introduction to Zen.
I picked this up on a whim whilst searching for books on Buddhism at the library. Actually, an online friend years ago had mentioned Watts among several other recommendations on the subject of Buddhism, so as I was searching this one immediately popped out. I wasn't interested in reading about Zen specifically, but then it's not something I know a ton about and the book was a pretty reasonable length, so why not?

I'm glad I got this book, because now I feel much more knowledgeable and conversant
Jan 25, 2008 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhadharma
Written in Watts' eminently readable attractive prose style, concise and provocative, The Way of Zen has annoyed American practitioners since its 1957 publication. Philip Kapleau went out of his way to denounce it in the introduction to his Three Pillars of Zen for downplaying zazen.

Watts' critique of zazen does in fact have merit, to the extent that Buddhadharma is reduced to sitting and nothing else. The other very interesting point he makes in his chapter on meditation is the introduction of
Dec 30, 2012 Rein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It might be that I am a little too generous with my stars here, but this was the first book on Japanese (and Chinese) philosophy that I ever read. I was very much taken with Watts' attitude - respect without too much enthusiasm, no effort to convert the reader into anything, but also no self-inflicted distance that would view the subject matter entirely as a topic of purely academic interest. Of course, Japanese studies have advanced considerably from those days, important texts have been transl ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Johanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I have read this book in the hopes of gaining some background knowledge on Zen Buddhism, to help me in my studies of Japanese Art. Although the book is indeed very thorough and supplies a wealth of knowledge of the origin of Zen and of Buddhism as a whole, before moving on to the specifics of its appliance to the arts in China and Japan, it is written in such a way that is often hard for the uninitiated to follow and understand. Buddhism being as it is foreign to most Westerners, the Indian voca ...more
Chintushig Tumenbayar
Зен буддизмийн талаарх анхны гадаад ертөнцөд зориулан бичигдсэн бүрэн хэмжээний гэж хэлж болох энэ номонд зен буддизмийн үүсэл гарал энэтхэгийн буддизм, хятад дахь таоизмийн хамаарал болоод хэрхэн зен японы арлуудад хүрсэн түүхэн баримтуудийн дурдсан байна. Шашин бус ямар нэг итгэл үнэмшил дээр тулгууралдаггүй өөрийгөө чөлөөлөх арга замд хөтөлдөг зен буддизмийн талаарх чанартай бүтээлүүд өдий хэр нь ховор. Сузуки багшийн эссенүүд төдий л олны хүртээл болоогүй нь дээр ихээхэн ойлголт тэвчээр шаар ...more
Rick Goff
Oct 05, 2013 Rick Goff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! This little book is amazing in its efficiency. It takes a philosophical topic that is in every way foreign to the modern Western mind. It provides history, philosophy, practice and art criticism - in 201 pages total! The book is easy to consume but satisfying in its content. p.s. I love the topic.
Teo 2050
Jun 11, 2014 Teo 2050 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in a witty interpretation of Zen for the West
Recommended to Teo 2050 by: Koi
[Update after listening to Patrick Horgan's unabridged narration (5h @ 1.5x):

(view spoiler)

This felt to me like medicine when I first read it, and it did the same when re"read" in audio form (July28-Aug
Camille Stein
Jul 05, 2013 Camille Stein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Ensō – The Art of the Zen Buddhist Circle |


Cuando todos reconocen la belleza como bella, ya hay fealdad;
cuando todos reconocen la bondad como buena, ya hay mal.
'Ser' y 'no ser' surgen recíprocamente;
lo difícil y lo fácil se realizan recíprocamente;
lo largo y lo corto se contrastan recíprocamente;
lo alto y lo bajo se alternan recíprocamente;
antes y después están en recíproca secuencia.

Jianzhi Sengcan (鑑智僧璨) - Xin Xin Ming (信心銘)


El Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵) dice:

Cuando un pez nada
Bob Nichols
Watts provides a good history and summary of Zen's origins and its practices.

According to Watts, Zen involves the breaking of the egoistic will (by letting go of its attempt to control) and following the principle of non-grasping to experience liberaion, "the aimless, self-sufficient life of the 'eternal now,'" and "seeing reality directly, in its 'suchness.'" One does not seek this end, for seeking is just another form of "grasping." "To put it another way," he writes, "one does not practice Z
Steve Woods
Sep 23, 2010 Steve Woods rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a lot about Zen over the years, beginning during my Asian Studies degree at university 40 years ago. I have always had a good intellectual grasp of what was being put to me but somehow I didn't really have a sense of connection. This book delivers that sense of connection. It may be the wider reading I have done recently or my daily "practice" of meditation or Watts' incisive and distinctive style of writing or a combination of all and other factors. Whatever! Who cares? This is a grea ...more
Nov 14, 2009 Bradley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the first books that taught me how to think philosophically about the world around me. Watts has been an inspiration to me and I turn to his work to gain perspective when times are tough, or even when times are going well and I need something to focus my mind again. I love how he can synthesize complex philosophical topics in a way that anyone, even the uninitiated could really feel comfortable discussing.
"We have come to feel ourselves as centers of a very, very, tender, sensitive, vuln
Feb 18, 2011 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although some people have criticised Watts' take on Buddhism -specifically his understanding of the role of zazen, "The Way of Zen" is still an excellent overview for the Western reader. Concepts in Buddhism such as karma, emptiness and rebirth are notoriously elusive for those used to the Judeo-Christian black-white good-bad dichotomies, and Alan Watts has a true gift for coming up with clear, concise illustrations to explain these ideas.

The book is divided into two sections: The first is Backg
Nico Vlaming
May 14, 2015 Nico Vlaming rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great insights can be obtained while reading this book which is why I think it is worth a lot. The beginning of the book I found a little hard to get trough because I had a hard time reconstructing the historical narative of Watts in my own mind, but fortunately it is sprinkled with clear toughts and great lessons. The rest of the book was very readable to me. A great many points of pause to reflect upon the given information or on the experience the words evoke makes me value this book very muc ...more
Oct 10, 2016 julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
aaaaaaaaaaaaa yes this book right here
Jul 03, 2016 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's amazing how many books have been written about Zen in the West, since almost all of them admit right off the bat that Zen cannot be explained, at least in words. It might seem like a futile endeavor, and yet we can't help both writing and reading them. But if Zen, and Buddhism in general is about avoiding extremes, then it's not the heresy it appears to be. We just have to remember that a book, like anything else, is not the thing itself. It's a measurement, an aspect of "conventional" wisd ...more
Egor Chaparyan
Mar 04, 2017 Egor Chaparyan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Буддизм, Будда, Самсара, дукха, карма, тришна, нирвана, дхарма, дхьяна, атма яджна, Дао, даосизм, конфуцианство, Дзэн, Дза-дзэн, сатори, саби, ваби, у-вей, у-ши, таковость, аваре, Гочики, Банкей, Догэн, хайку, коан. Кажется, эти слова лучше всего могут объяснить, какой мне новый мир открылся.
Dimitris Hall
Alan Watts is considered by many as the bringer of eastern philosophy to the west, a Marco Polo or Carlos Castañeda of Zen and Buddhism. This honour is by no means unwarranted; I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on the subject which was this clear or in which the author read as if he really knew what he was talking about. Raymond Smullyan and Ray Grigg come close but Alan Watts takes the cake if only because he did it decades before anyone else. I honestly can’t think of anyone else who has n ...more
Ankur Banerjee
Jan 13, 2013 Ankur Banerjee rated it it was amazing
"Zen is like YOLO for pretentious people" is what I found myself thinking - as a joke - when reading this book. I'm being flippant here, but I think that thought captures the joyous celebration of spontaneity that Zen indulges in while at the same the negative connotations that "YOLO" has in Western culture also succinctly captures how spontaneity or "action without thought" is looked down upon in Western culture.

In that sense, Alan Watt's book is excellent, because what many other books on Budd
Elwood D Pennypacker
Here's Elwood's Way of Zen on a given day:

-Breakfast: home cooked One large jumbo egg, cooked sunnyside or over easy. Sometimes scramble with cheese, vegetables, and spices.
-Coffee, lots of it. Alternate between cups of black and cups of heavy cream (use half n half as an alternative)
-Public Radio and podcasts of public radio-like quality
-Water all day until 3:00 tea ceremony (tea may also be coffee)
-If working in an office, play very loud punk music
-If working at home, play public radio
May 19, 2013 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Be prepared to read this 'instruction' manual a few times. There is great wisdom to be had here but it is a little bit like listening to Bertrand Russel teach about common sense. What starts out as a historical overview of Zen ends up becoming a philosophical explanation and investigation into the various forms of Zen and how they logically work and don't work. It is all there, all the information needed, but you might spend a lifetime decoding it. It will take you several lifetimes learning to ...more
Roger K.
Aug 09, 2014 Roger K. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Way of Zen is a great read, whether you know nothing about the topic or are an expert. Alan Watts was not only a remarkable philosopher in his own right (The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are), he also explains Eastern philosophies in a clear, simple manner. This is the best example of his ability to teach history in an accessible way.

Watts summarizes the history of Buddhism and details the origin of Zen. Throughout the book, he takes great pains to show ways of thinking through
Dec 09, 2015 Lydia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is frustrating to read this book by a highly regarded, prolific Asian/Buddhism expert, and to enjoy parts and find other parts incomprehensible. Watts starts by describing the origins of Zen Buddhism from India, through China to Japan. The second half of the book is about principles and practice. The second half is more difficult to follow with a chapter on the empty mind or "no mind." There is also a chapter on meditating or "zazen," one on the tests, or "koans" and one on zen and the arts. ...more
Great exposition of Zen Buddhism, its history, philosophy, practice, and cultural/artistic influences. Alan Watts is definitely an awesome writer who's capable of not only clearly explaining the intricate concepts foreign to Western sensibility but also respecting and handling fine linguistic and conceptual differences between cultures. Aside from his gripes with Soto and Rinzai Zen practice resembling boarding school discipline, I loved it, especially Zen's Chinese and Indian philosophical root ...more
Sep 18, 2015 Adi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who would have thought that a relatively short book like this one could be so precise, efficient and interesting in introducing the history, philosophy and traditions of Zen while even putting all of it into context and comparison. What I really like about Watts's style is that he is not trying to convert anyone to anything. He is rather sharing his knowledge and wisdom in a direct manner without righteousness, which helps in understanding the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies ...more
Anthony Buckley
Jan 09, 2009 Anthony Buckley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Alan Watts's book is, I think, a masterpiece. What I admire about him is his lack of pretentiousness and his entirely matter-of-fact approach to Buddhism and indeed to life. He gives an example of boats standing in a nearby marina. It is not that the owners are too materialistic, but rather that they are not materialistic enough. It would not be so bad, he says, if the owners actually enjoyed the physicality of sailing the boats, but unfortunately they have been taken in by the idea of sailing a ...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
from the reviews I see this book as classic . a nice introduction of Zen. I'm now interested in a book about the life of monks and comparison of their practises. Reason being that spirituality of humanity is artistically expressed on their rituals. otherwise I love the way he positions Zen as not philosophical, not theological but rather as simple as "the way" since one cannot see if not chosen to follow the path....and there the self biased and self make believe program starts.....I keep search ...more
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Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker, who held both a Master's in Theology and a Doctorate of Divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher con ...more
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“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.” 208 likes
“We feel that our actions are voluntary when they follow a decision and involuntary when they happen without decision. But if a decision itself were voluntary every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide - An infinite regression which fortunately does not occur. Oddly enough, if we had to decide to decide, we would not be free to decide” 57 likes
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