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What Is Zen?

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  340 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
What Is Zen? examines Zen's religious roots, its influence on Eastern and Western culture, its transcendent moments, and the methods of Zen meditation that are currently practiced.
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Published December 20th 2009 by New World Library (first published September 10th 2000)
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Sanjay Gautam
Dec 21, 2013 Sanjay Gautam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Any book by Alan Watts is a gem. And this another one of them.
Zen is an experience. It is a special transmission outside scriptures which does not stand upon words. Zen teachings can be likened to "the finger pointing at the moon". And do not confuse the finger pointing at the moon, for the moon itself (actually that's the mistake most people commit), because that is absurd, isn't it? Similarly don't confuse words (or the sound of it) for the teaching. Words, just like the finger, are the pointe
A lifelong student and practitioner of Zen, Watts late in his life gave a series of seminars on Zen that were compiled in this slender but clear and wise volume. Over the years I have read the book a number of times and always appreciate being reminded of its insights. It is always beneficial to go back to the beginning, and one always grows by doing so.
Aaron Maurer
Jul 20, 2014 Aaron Maurer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This is a short fast read of seminars conducted by Alan Watts. I love listening to his audio online. I am getting into his reading and books to further dive deeper into Zen. I don't want to be a Buddhist and am not changing faith. What I am doing is trying to find that sense of living in the now and being more present in my life. This book is a great starting point. It is not too deep, but deep enough to give pause to think about how you view things in your own life. A great read to slow down an ...more
Scott Bell
Dec 09, 2010 Scott Bell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The authority on ancient eastern religions, Alan Watts, presents a conversational approach to zen buddhism while providing a historical overview. Great book to own and reread. You'll be surprised at the ending.
Jul 16, 2012 Lachlan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can you even say about a book like this? Watts is an excellent teacher and lecturer. Thanks to him I have a fairly solid conception of Zen. The hard part is working to obtain such a state or awareness.
Rebecca White
Apr 26, 2011 Rebecca White rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential information, clearly and cleverly explained.
Beatriz Andrea Fernandez
Once again, I love Alan Watts. This volume is short and in no way encompasses every facet of Zen tradition. However, it does, in my opinion, cover the most important ones. I don't know how it would read to someone with no prior experience with Zen however. It may appear to rush through explanations and leave the reader dissatisfied and more curious than when she or he began. But then again, maybe that is the point. Either way, it is a wonderfully cogent little book.
Jul 24, 2009 Belle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested at all in Zen Buddhism, I would recommend this book. I am becoming a fan of Alan Watts and just started another Zen book by him afterwards because this one was so good. It will make you think.
Nov 13, 2014 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intro to zen for westerners. Nice.
Bpw White
May 15, 2012 Bpw White rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best way for western minded folk to intro to zen
May 30, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a nice little introduction to zen perspectives.
Nov 23, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faith
a simple, easy to read book, but left me with some good thoughts to ponder.
Jan 08, 2010 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book on zen. Explains everything in his Watts way. The best way it can be explained.
Apr 08, 2012 Misha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book right after finishing Shogun by James Clavell. I was so impressed by samurai attitude towards life and death so I had to know more.

This book is a nice start for someone who wants to understand what zen is all about. Some parts (specifically the chapter on space) are more difficult to comprehend then the others but in overall you get the gist.

It's quite short too so you don't get lost as I would usually do in such types of books. Although there definitely are some len
Susan Urbuteit
If you've ever listened and enjoyed any of Alan watts' lectures, then you will probably enjoy this book, as it was compiled from some of them. As I read it, I could hear his voice and since I know his style of speaking, I found it easy and pleasing to follow. But I found myself wondering how this book might read to someone who has not heard him lecture. Would it seem not so well written? I also think the title may mislead, although it is a book about Zen, i believe it only touches the surface. I ...more
Julian Summerhayes
I read this is keen anticipation, having heard so much of Alan Watts. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed that it didn't really tell me much about Zen - the philosophy or the practice. I think even for a novice (me), you need to understand the journey of Zen and what it is different to some of the other Buddhist traditions. The trouble is with all the information that now exists on the Web this book feels quite shallow. It would have nice to have had a follow up too - something where the ...more
Matthew Ciarvella
Nov 23, 2016 Matthew Ciarvella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
There's a lot of wisdom packed within this little book. I'm still not entirely sure I can answer the question "what is Zen," despite what the title says, but that might be part of the point of what Zen actually is (I think). If you're curious about Zen, or like me, you're a person who is often described as having a "zen-like attitude," this book will give you a brief tour of Zen thought, as well as some intriguing things to consider. Highly recommended.
Apr 16, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I checked out a few books by Alan Watts after seeing the movie "Her," in which he is visited with and quoted from. I really like the metaphors he uses to help Westerners understand Zen Buddhism. A great book for discussion if you're curious about the simple meditation practice of "sitting" and where it could lead you.
Jun 30, 2014 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I pulled this book off of my mother's book shelf out of curiosity. I had no pre-existing knowledge on the topic of Zen and this book conveys the basics perfectly in an easy and concise way. Watts gave me a completely different perspective and made me a lot more curious. I definitely recommend this.
Nov 17, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not much new here, but a fine little introduction, by the always enlightening, entertaining & elucidating Mr. Watts. Actually found many of the insights clearer and more compelling on this re-reading.
Jan 22, 2009 mikeyO rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Digging it so far, or is it digging me?

Pretty good intro to the concept of Zen philosophy, some of its teachings, and its history. You will definitely come away knowing whether or not Zen would be the right philosophy for you.
Sep 13, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A powerful little book. It will take many more readings to get all the wisdom it offers.
Shane rated it it was amazing
Dec 19, 2014
Alain Larochelle
Alain Larochelle rated it really liked it
Nov 30, 2013
Tractatus84 rated it it was amazing
Feb 08, 2016
Caroline Wheeler
Caroline Wheeler rated it it was amazing
Jul 11, 2015
Dorsa rated it it was amazing
Jan 02, 2013
Collin rated it really liked it
Jan 26, 2017
Alex Ballard
Alex Ballard rated it it was amazing
Jul 16, 2014
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Apr 29, 2010
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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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“We think that the world is limited and explained by its past. We tend to think that what happened in the past determines what is going to happen next, and we do not see that it is exactly the other way around! What is always the source of the world is the present; the past doesn't explain a thing. The past trails behind the present like the wake of a ship and eventually disappears.” 28 likes
“Here's an example: someone says, "Master, please hand me the knife," and he hands them the knife, blade first. "Please give me the other end," he says. And the master replies, "What would you do with the other end?" This is answering an everyday matter in terms of the metaphysical.

When the question is, "Master, what is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?" Then he replies, "There is enough breeze in this fan to keep me cool." That is answering the metaphysical in terms of the everyday, and that is, more or less, the principle zen works on. The mundane and the sacred are one and the same.”
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