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The Way of Zen

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  8,823 ratings  ·  245 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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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
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
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
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.
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
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
Jan 11, 2015 Teo rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in a witty interpretation of Zen for the West
Recommended to Teo by: Koi
My first enthusiasm with Watts was through this book recommended to me by a friend who had first liked him as a speaker. There seems to me to be a lot of interesting ways and modes of thinking and being in the Eastern traditions the exploration of which would enrich ~Western bubbles of analytical loops and especially deep self-absorption/observation that can lead to heavy blocks and paralysis in deciding and reacting. One of the ideals in the mentioned traditions was (as should be read from the ...more
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
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
Rick Goff
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.
Roger K.
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
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
Steve Woods
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
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
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
Ankur Banerjee
"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
Daniel Gonçalves
An incredibly informative book on the western philosophies. By reading it, you will become aware of the differences between the "occidental" approach to life, and the "oriental" way to see the world. They differ a lot, and most human beings are really nor aware of the disparity in perception.

By the end, you will realize that this capitalistic society is built upon greed and evil, and the zen way of life is constructed in peace and connectivity.
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
David Ranney
Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world. Absence of hurry also involves a certain lack of interference with the natural course of events, especially when it is felt that the natural course follows principles which are not foreign to human intelligence. For, as w
Anthony D Buckley
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
Alan Watts sometimes gets unfairly maligned in Zen circles as having "watered down" Zen practice a bit, given that he provided one of the first mainstream western accounts of Zen. That would be a mistake. "The Way of Zen" is both a great account of Zen practice and a great work of philosophy. Particularly, his discussion early in the book about how errantly we in the west view words and concepts was one of the best expositions on that I've seen. Only criticism is that he perhaps unintentionally ...more
Nestor Leal
Wonderful book on the origins and practice of Zen. Watts was a skillful master. He explained rather clear the buddhist and taoist concepts to the westerner minds.

While studying Tibetan and Indian Buddhism, I found it overwhelming to understand all the rituals, traditions, allegories, images and apparent complexity of the Madhyamaka method. Not until I discovered gems like Watts' books on Buddhism where he explains with clear concepts and examples what all that means to someone raised within the
"The Way Of Zen" is one of the most clear explanations of Zen Buddhism for westerners. Because it was written by a european mind, it is detached from the sino-japanese cultural background specific to classic Zen books, which makes it easier to understand and removes many doubts and misapprehensions.

I highly recommend this to Zen students.
Alex Kenjeev
I want to say I loved it, but in the spirit of the book itself I should say something like "there is no book, nor is there a reader to love or hate it." Haha.

I thought it struck the right balance between historical context, history, explanation, narrative and thoughtful commentary by its outspoken author.
I am a Zen Buddhist , and i always want to be able to help people understand my religion.Because so often i've been told i'm going to hell and i think to myself wow some people can be unexcepting. BUT the point i'm trying to make to find an easy understanding of Zen Buddhism please check out this book
Reading this book is a lot like having a nervous breakdown, but in a good way.

I love these dotty zen monks. Ask them a question about zen and their best answer is to slap you in the face or put their shoes on their head and walk out of the room. They are some cool dudes.

I found this book really fascinating anyway. I had been a fan of the dao de jing for a while. I kinda felt something when I read it but couldn't really make sense of it. This book has helped me understand what the whole Daoist/Ze
Good overview, one of the most accessible I've read. The first half is the history, which isn't terribly important in my view. The gold in this book can be found in the chapters "Empty & Marvelous" and "Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing."

Biggest takeaway is that it's somewhat automatic to extrapolate events out into the future and get so wrapped up in that that you forget the present. The present is real, the future, as we view it, is an abstraction. This isn't going to make you quit your job
Jeanne Johnston
I lovelovelove Alan Watts, but he is best ingested as the spoken word. His books somehow come off much more dry, even when they're relating the same stories. Really, who isn't enraptured by a lovely Brit accent?

Definitely one of my big influences but it will be years before I even make a dent in the library I have (even more so, my audio collection of his lectures). If you're looking to expand your mind in a more permanent way than a good hit of acid, this is your guy.

If you need some proof of
Will Conley
The late foremost Western authority on Eastern thought Alan Watts spells out the Zen way of thinking, without reducing it to rote mechanics. This book ruined my life, for better or worse.
Troy Rutman
Love that this book focusses not on practice or doctrine, but on the ways that Eastern thought differs fundamentally: non-duality, the void as relief rather than despair, the illusion of linear time, the vicious circle of self-contemplation, the futility of trying to control (especially to manage emotions that are a logical response to the circularity of the human condition: "If I did not dislike fear, it would not be fear," etc.), the point at which words and intellect become hindrances.

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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.” 131 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” 38 likes
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