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The Way of Zen

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  14,630 ratings  ·  537 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 ...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. In
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
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 ...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
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ...more
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
Khashayar Mohammadi
Great book for an introduction to Zen.
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" ...more
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...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 ...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.
Wayne (The Room Note)
Not going to lie, a lot of it was over my head. I still thoroughly enjoyed it.
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,
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.
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: Koi
[Update after listening to Patrick Horgan's unabridged narration (5h @ 1.5x):

This felt to me like medicine when I first read it, and it did the same when re"read" in audio form (July28-Aug4, 02015).

My 5/5 is based less on the history&characters and mostly on the first and last ~thirds of this book, which felt most relevant to process and personally implement to the extent that I view few (or no) people I know as "overdoing WoZ's message", and many people overdoing the "Western cybernetics"
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, ...more
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.
Bob Nichols
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Steve Woods
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Nico Vlaming
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
aaaaaaaaaaaaa yes this book right here
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Every now and then, I feel guilty about reading so many comic books, so I throw myself into something hard. And this one is freaking hard! Written in the mid-1950s by a man who would become a bit of a guru in the 1960s, this book is about the philosophical and historical origins of Zen Buddhism. There are a lot of words in Hindi, Chinese, and Japanese, as well as in-depth discussions of philosophical musings on the self in cultures that are alien to me, where people spoke and wrote in languages ...more
Ronin Winter
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, religion
“For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.”

Alan Watts attempts to weave together a fathomable introduction on Zen Buddhism, he does this quite brilliantly given the almost impossibility of defining what exactly Zen is. The seeming mentality of Zen Buddhists: if you must ask, then you do not know; don't think, just act. Zen describes the world and
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The kind of book that really enraptures the participant; and yes, I feel that if you are reading this book you are actively engaging and participating in the ideas and thoughts coming from Alan Watts. An amazing and immersive experience, I feel that I comprehend at least the aims of Zen Buddhism better than I ever have and I have this nagging desire to continue down that path of mindfulness, compassion and awakened living that is therein described. I took my time with this book; savoring many ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to Zen Buddhism that starts strong but loses its momentum by the final few chapters. Watts is a far better orator than he is a writer; even though this book is considered a classic for historical reasons, I feel that readers are better off listening to Watts' lectures instead.
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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 ...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.” 271 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” 73 likes
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