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Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  646 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
“[Hagan’s] book will appeal to readers interested in what true Zen practice is supposed to be about beyond all the popular images and colorful stories.”

—Robert M. Pirsig, New York Times bestselling author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Buddhism is Not What You Think is a clear, direct, and engaging guide to the most essential elements of spiritual inquiry: att
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by HarperOne (first published October 7th 2003)
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Pooja Kashyap
Simple and free flowing book, Buddhism Is Not What You Think written by Steve Hagen talks about what reality is as per Zen Buddhism. The author resonates one central point in the entire book and that is, reality is about direct experience of the real time than mere feelings and thoughts, which happen to be in constant flux in conscious and subconscious level in human mind.

Through various real life examples, Hagen illustrates the point of perceiving awareness of the current instances that is taki
Apr 25, 2014 Roisin rated it it was amazing
"Whatever you hold to, let it go.
Step into this moment.
Come back to just this.
It takes some effort.
But come back, come back, come back to just this.
Just see
what you've been ignoring for so long".

This is how Steve Hagen ends this immensely comforting and insightful book. I picked up this book during 2013 after some personal struggles that left me feeling a lot of things, both physical and emotional, none of which were comfortable, or pleasant or things that I wanted to be experiencing. Earl
Apr 05, 2016 Mic rated it really liked it
I prefer quites over reviews:
According to Bodhidharma (and to Zen), if we make enlightenment—or enlightened people—into something special and set them apart from others and from ourselves, we abuse them. In the process, we also abuse ourselves. Thus enlightenment becomes remote, otherworldly, mysterious, and (seemingly) virtually impossible to realize.
Zen is about freeing ourselves from such deluded thinking.

Try to nail down what anything is. You can’t. It’s like trying to answer the qu
Mar 25, 2016 Rochelle rated it it was amazing
Buddhism is Not What You Think-Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs by Steve Hagen
In his clear and conversational style, much as he did in Buddhism Plain and Simple, Steven Hagen tackles what is a thorny issue for most people coming to Zen practice hoping to "get enlightened" "feel blissed out by Nirvana" or those who come to Zen practice hoping to "get" anything at all. As he so simply states through 43 chapters, there is no getting what all beings innately possess (Buddha nature) and no becoming wha
Jan 26, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing
I really like this book; in fact, I reread it this fall.

The concepts behind Buddhism are so elegantly simple, yet I find them difficult to absorb and digest. I guess that's the challenge, right?

Hagen writes in a clear and straightforward way, illustrating major points of the religion with everyday examples to which the average Western reader can relate. I find him to be an inspiring and thought-provoking teacher, and I would recommend this book as a good place to start if you are interested in
John Wenck
Jan 31, 2016 John Wenck rated it really liked it
Well written and straightforward, as straightforward as the subject allows. A bit of practical advice is offered:
"Continuously examine what you're doing, what you're thinking, what you're saying. Observe what you believe, what you say. Do this over and over again, without supposing that a time will ever come when this activity will stop. Let logic and authority drop away under their own weight. What remains is what has been right here all along: Reality, before we try to make something of it."
Jan 15, 2015 Fan rated it really liked it
Hagen writes about abstract and philosophical subjects in simple language. I found it quite an enjoyable read. Much of the book is devoted to ideas such as impermanence, oneness, and enlightenment. Compassion, on the other hand, receives relatively little attention. This markedly differs from many other Buddhist books where compassion is often a big focus (compassion itself is also more compatible to western values and Christianity, whereas emptiness and impermanence might appear counter-intuiti ...more
Andy Hickmott
Jul 31, 2013 Andy Hickmott rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
This is one of those popular books on Buddhism which seeks to come at its subject from an original angle, presumably so that wisdom that has survived millennia can be commercially viable. In this case, the angle is revealed by the ambiguous title: easily misinterpreted as meaning 'Buddhism is not what you think [it is]', but properly explained in the book as meaning 'Buddhism is not [about] what you think' (but actually about letting go of thought). Yes, it's a clever smart-ass title, but a very ...more
Dec 27, 2012 Louis rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those interested in Buddhism, philosophy, & religions.
I picked up this book for a couple of reasons. General interest in "what is Buddhism", a few times my behavior has elicited a question from a friend if I was studying the subject because of a comment or action on my part. (e.g. not being upset at someone because I felt, how can it hurt me if I choose not to have an ego about it…)

I have to laugh that this book tried to explain Buddhism and being “fully awake and aware of reality” without being able to state how one does it, or what it really is l
Mar 28, 2011 Eric added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zen
I'm surprised I didn't jot this down, but in one of the chapters Steve Hagen makes a distinction between Belief and Knowledge.

If I remember correctly, there are two insights packed into this distinction.

First that Science is about Belief, which maybe something materialists like me may not be comfortable with at first glance... but actually kind of makes sense. It just so happens that Science has a very good way of controlling belief so that we're not just believing any old thing, but the bits a
John Ladeur
Jun 02, 2015 John Ladeur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honesty and clarity

This is an absolutely beautiful book, written in direct and simple language, that points the reader back to explore the simplicity of what is. In its essence, Buddhism is about reality, and that's what I enjoyed about this book. It's not a book on historical Buddhism, it's about a naked looking at right here right now. I very much recommend this book.
Mar 13, 2016 Brad rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf, buddhism
The book didn't seem to deal with what Buddhism is, nor what I might think it is.

It didn't seem to offer anything that isn't in the author's other book Buddhism Plain and Simple and that book is clearer and simpler. In addition, Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught does a better job of dispelling myths about Buddhism (which is what I expected this book to do). I'd recommend either or both of those rather than this.
Oct 24, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
One of the best books you will find on Buddhism. Hagen gives clear descriptions of Buddhist thought and in a way that gives the reader a clear understanding of the fundamental concepts that are key to understanding the Buddha's message. Highly recommended.
Mar 31, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
I've been studying with Sogyal Rinpoches RIGPA foundation now for two years. This past year in class they introduced us to the notion's of how we use concepts to explain that which is beyond concepts, which kinda makes it hard to write a review with any obvious (concept based) value.
This book really does a beautifully direct teaching of the above. How it makes the point over and over about what reality is and isn't, is the absolute take out from the book for me. I think if I hadn't had 2 years w
Aug 16, 2011 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the ideas put forth in this book, especially those concerning various Zen conceptions of life and reality, are pretty nice thoughts and have even been pleasant and helpful in everyday life. However, Hagen is unclear at best on a number of important philosophical ideas and claims. Often he falls back on the claim that if we could "just see" reality for what it is in this moment, we would know the truth of Zen teaching.

As an overview of Buddhist teachings and beliefs, this book is useful I
Feb 19, 2014 Jolene rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, self-help
Hagen melds science with the philosophy of buddhism. Great and easy to understand read!
Pieter Dubelaar
Jul 25, 2007 Pieter Dubelaar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in getting rid of excess worries and thoughts
"Buddhism is not what you think" refers to the view of Zen Buddhists on how we all look at the world around us and ourselves in it. This flawed view of everything consists of seeing the world, and our minds immediately applying countless moulds - our concepts like "cat", "book" and "rain" - on this view. Steve Hagen goes to great lengths in his book to teach us that the reality does not consist of the concepts we use, but merely is the way it is. All we need to do is to just see the world, and n ...more
Jun 16, 2014 James rated it really liked it
Good book. Very clear.
Tonya Green
Jan 25, 2014 Tonya Green rated it liked it
I don't think this was a very good "intro to Buddhism" read.... If anyone has a different suggestion, please let me know! TIA
Aug 29, 2008 David rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Athiests curious about buddhism
Shelves: zen
Perhaps a slightly less metaphor-heavy alternative to Charlotte Joko Beck's books, this is probably a great introduction to zen.

Some of the examples he uses verge on the gimmicky, and feel at odds with the rest of the work. I also wasn't convinced by the latter sections which call upon rather speculatory science - yes, it's really pretty interesting, but also mostly irrelevant, I would have thought, detracting from the major themes of the book.
Apr 27, 2013 Rubina rated it liked it
Shelves: spiritual
This is a book that's half-and-half for me. Hagen explains many teachings of Buddhism, however, he does get repetitive, and his constant emphasis on concept of "reality", "truth" and "seeing" is difficult to comprehend. The book might be more suited for practitioners, rather than for someone just getting into understanding Buddhism.
Mar 31, 2007 Kim rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Religious and non-religious alike.
Shelves: favorites
This book absolutely blew my mind. It didn't make me become a buddhist but it changed the way I look at the world and the things that happen around me. The chapter that talks about the vibrations of atoms and how the past/present/future is literally all happening at once was the best thing I've ever read.
Sep 07, 2010 Beth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is poorly writen and highly repetitive. I was very annoyed at the end of reading it. It felt almost as if the author took two or three basic tenants of Buddhism and beat them over your head until you couldn't think of anything else. I don't recommend this as an intro to Buddhism!
Elly Sands
Aug 02, 2011 Elly Sands rated it it was amazing
This is a no-nonsense book on Buddhism and perhaps the most exceptional one I've ever read. The subtitle "Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs" is why I chose this particular book. I believe that beliefs are sometimes so unbelievable that they are hard to believe.

Dec 23, 2009 Marion rated it it was amazing
The next Buddhism book for me after "Living Buddha Living Christ" - this book goes into depth on the way Buddhism works in practice. Alternatively, reading this book and thinking deeply about the concepts in it is one excellent exercise to develop skills of critical thinking.
Aug 30, 2013 Derrick rated it it was amazing
This is easily one of the best books about Zen - and life in general - that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Steve Hagen is able to write about these topics in a way that makes it clear and easy to absorb what he's talking about. This is a life altering book, read it!
Rich Neal
Apr 14, 2012 Rich Neal rated it really liked it
Beautifully written - I'm learning a lot. A very detailed deposition of modern Buddhism that debunks the western-hemisphere initiated misunderstandings and biases towards the ONLY life philosophy that Albert Einstein mentioned as being worthy of further consideration.
Mar 16, 2007 Lewis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Humans
Steve Hagen has done another great job of making some of the very intangible aspects of Buddhism (specifically Zen) much more tangible. Using duality to talk about non-duality is tricky business, but as shown here just like a well given dharma talk it can be done.
Jan 28, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Nicely presents concepts in everyday terms without advocating (or disparaging) any religious viewpoints. The discussion of reincarnation, which differs significantly from what might be found in a more "traditional" Buddhism text, is particularly interesting.
Feb 12, 2013 Maja rated it liked it
He repeats himself so many times that it becomes a bit boring after a while. The choice of words should have been a bit more precise - this lack of care for the exact "name" is really a pity because the general ideas are quite interesting.
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Stephen Tokan "Steve" Hagen, Rōshi, (born 1945) is the founder and head teacher of the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a Dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri-roshi.

He is a published author of several books on Buddhism. Among them, "Buddhism Plain & Simple" is one of the top five bestselling Buddhism books in the United States.

He has been a student of Buddhist thought and pract
More about Steve Hagen...

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“See confusion as confusion. Acknowledge suffering as suffering. Feel pain and sorrow and divisiveness. Experience anger or fear or shock for what they are. But you don't have to think of them as evil - as intrinsically bad, as needing to be destroyed or driven from our midst. On the contrary, they need to be absorbed, healed, made whole. (15)” 14 likes
“What makes human life--which is inseparable from this moment--so precious is its fleeting nature. And not that it doesn't last but that it never returns again.” 13 likes
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