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The Way of Zen

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  19,146 ratings  ·  722 reviews
In his definitive introduction to Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts explains the principles and practices of this ancient religion to Western readers. With a rare combination of freshness and lucidity, he delves into the origins and history of Zen to explain what it means for the world today with incredible clarity. Watts saw Zen as “one of the most precious gifts of Asia to the wo ...more
Paperback, 236 pages
Published January 26th 1999 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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In terms of immediate perception, when we look for things there is nothing but mind, and when we look for mind there is nothing but things. For a moment we are paralyzed, because it seems that we have no basis for action, no ground under foot from which to take a jump. But this is the way it always was, and in the next moment we find ourselves as free to act, speak, and think as ever, yet in a strange and miraculous new world from which “self” and “other,” “mind” and “things” have vanished. I
Dec 01, 2007 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.
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 Ze
Worthless Bum
Aug 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion-zen
Alan Watts' "The Way of Zen" influenced me in my 20's. If there's nothing better out there, this is a useful book for everybody. But you don't have to go from where you are to Zen Buddhism to find "the Way". Sufism includes a lot of Zen principles, especially the Mullah Nasr-ad-Din stories. Also African folk tales like Ananse Tales, Ananse being a clever spider, with an upside down interpretation of things like a spider would naturally have.

I would think Jesus himself might have been influenced
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Way of Zen [1957] – ★★★★★

“…the true practice of Zen is no practice, that is, the seeming paradox of being a Buddha without intending to be a Buddha” [1957: 95, 96]. “The basic position of Zen is that it has nothing to say, nothing to teach. The truth of Buddhism is so self-evident, so obvious that it is, if anything, concealed by explaining it” [1957: 163].

This non-fiction book by a British philosopher and writer illuminates one of the least understood concepts in the world – Zen. Patiently,
I’ve long been fascinated from afar by Zen Buddhism, while knowing essentially nothing about it. (I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance years ago, but that’s about it.) I heard good things about this book, so I thought I’d read it to give myself a beginner’s education about Zen.

The Way of Zen is a good short introduction to Zen. In the first half of the book, Watts explores the Taoist and Buddhist roots of Zen and describes how Zen developed from those roots. In the second half, he tr
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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 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
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Amirtha Shri
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Zen tangles, paintings, sayings, haiku, made me ever so curious about Zen. Also, a few books I read recently set in China and Bhutan, and a few non-fictions gave a glimpse of the liberal and understanding religion of Buddhism. Alan Watts has cleaved the book into two halves, the first half explains the (possible) origins of Zen and the second half is about practices, forms, masters, and art. Both the parts were equally critical and with this thorough introduction through the eyes of a westerner, ...more
Juraj Holub
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
“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.”
সালমান হক
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Took me a long time to finish but it was worth it.
Mohammad Sadegh Jazayeri
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-read-again
For close to ten years I had had the question of what consciousness is on my mind and been looking for a satisfactory answer. Far from finding a satisfactory answer, I hardly ever even found a satisfactory question! It is all too common for those who make attempts at this question to (intentionally or unintentionally) replace what is commonly called ``the hard problem of consciousness" with something that conveniently omits the core of the problem, namely how subjective experience comes to be, p ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
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
Dec 30, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Wayne Sutton
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not going to lie, a lot of it was over my head. I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
Teo 2050
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in a witty interpretation of Zen for the West
Recommended to Teo 2050 by: Santtu Heikkinen

2020: This is still one of my favorite books on Zen. I loved the narration by Sean Runnette.

Another quote from this time around:

The problem of “what” the mind is can now be seen to be the same as the problem of “what” the real world is. It cannot be answered, for every “what” is a class, and we cannot classify the classifier.


Update after listening to Patrick Horgan’s unabridged narration: This felt to m
David Franciscus
Alan Watts. What a guy.

This was a fantastic introduction to Zen and a complete paradigm shift in thinking. Although it was written 64 years ago, his writing is so contemporary.

It’s a bit of a mindfuck, really - a way of thinking that one couldn’t possibly fathom without this kind of instruction. It’s really given me a lot to think about and it’s set me on a journey of discovery.
Mack Hayden
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, religion
This is the first real exposure I've had to Alan Watts. I've read a few books about Buddhism this year and I feel like this was, far and away, the best. He covers a lot of ground in a little bit of time and he's a really gifted communicator. Heady concepts become really understandable in his hands. Considering most diehard fans of his I've met can be pretty head-in-the-clouds and/or dogmatically New Agey, I really appreciated how his treatment of Zen Buddhism was done in a down-to-earth, open-pa ...more
Michael A.
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
My impression of Watts before reading this book was he was sort of this weird guy who just said deep-sounding things that appealed to stoners. Maybe he is, but in this book I didn't really get that feeling. This is a fairly serious scholarly work, it seems, on Zen Buddhism, both theoretically and practically. I felt like the first part was better than the second part, but both parts are good and worth reading.
Very interesting stuff, and helped re-ignite an interest for Buddhism and Eastern philo
Rick Goff
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Saachi Rajiv Devnani
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An experience of sitting in the presence of Alan Watts, feeling his passion for Zen along with the beautifully described essence of other Eastern cultures. I brushed through quickly the parts where there was mention of historical dates , names and events though majority of the content has the potential for unwinding the mind through seemingly complicated expression of invaluable wisdom. He twists the usual way of psychological functioning to ironically arrive at a simpler perspective of ideas/co ...more
Mar 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Not a mere transcription but a translation/adaptation of eastern concepts to the western mind.

From taoism, brahmanism, confucianism, buddhism to zen, The author arranges the history and background of these philospohies in order to understand the way of zen.

As a novice, this book is an excellent and enjoyable first approach to eastern philosophies.
Ali M.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: soul-food
The historical overview of Zen's origins was immensely helpful. I've never been clear on how the various strains of Buddhist thought interrelate—the cultural forms/expressions of it in India, China, and Japan are each so nuanced—but Watts makes the puzzle pieces easier to see, even if scholars may still disagree on how exactly they fit together during certain time periods. ...more
Sarthak Raina
Oct 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
I always wanted to understand Zen and how it influenced arts. The history and heavy concepts in all the chapters but last, led to appreciation of my favorite and the final chapter - Zen in arts.
Jeffrey Howard
Eastern philosophy has been a great struggle for my grasping western mind. I have read small amounts of Eckharrt Tolle, and others, like Joseph Campbell, who distill Asian thought to the West. This has been the best introduction I have encountered to this point, as far as one can intellectualize and make abstract the way of zen. Watts cautions that "Zen, is above all an experience, nonverbal in character, which is simply inaccessible to the purely literary and scholarly approach. To know what ze ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Aside from a few generalizations I'm not very knowledgeable about Buddhism, Zen, or any of its other manifestations. With that in mind, I thought Watts' relatively short book was a good introduction to Zen. The first part is a learned examination of its history and relationship with other strains of Buddhism, and the second a closer look at what makes up a Zen approach to reality.

At the heart of Zen is a realization that our world is a made up of processes, of movement, especially in time, rat
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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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