Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Way of Zen” as Want to Read:
The Way of Zen
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Way of Zen

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,407 Ratings  ·  298 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, 256 pages
Published January 26th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1957)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Siddhartha by Hermann HesseThe Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIVZen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu SuzukiWhen Things Fall Apart by Pema ChödrönPeace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
A Buddhist Reading List
16th out of 681 books — 845 voters
The Bhagavad Gita by AnonymousThe Art of War by Sun TzuThe Way of Zen by Alan W. WattsThe Metamorphoses of Ovid by OvidThe Tao of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Joseph Campbell Reading List
3rd out of 47 books — 24 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 13, 2014 Leonard 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 Zen
Worthless Bum
Sep 18, 2008 Worthless Bum 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
Dec 01, 2007 Ruth 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.
Camille Stein
Apr 17, 2016 Camille Stein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Ensō – The Art of the Zen Buddhist Circle |


Cuando todos reconocen la belleza como bella, ya hay fealdad;
cuando todos reconocen la bondad como buena, ya hay mal.
'Ser' y 'no ser' surgen recíprocamente;
lo difícil y lo fácil se realizan recíprocamente;
lo largo y lo corto se contrastan recíprocamente;
lo alto y lo bajo se alternan recíprocamente;
antes y después están en recíproca secuencia.

Jianzhi Sengcan (鑑智僧璨) - Xin Xin Ming (信心銘)


El Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵) dice:

Cuando un pez nada
Feb 07, 2008 Richard 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
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
Dec 30, 2012 Rein 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
Rick Goff
Oct 09, 2013 Rick Goff 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
May 06, 2016 Teo 2050 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):

(view spoiler)

This felt to me like medicine when I first read it, and it did the same when re"read" in audio form (July28-Aug
Nov 14, 2009 Bradley 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
Steve Woods
Feb 07, 2012 Steve Woods 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 grea ...more
Bob Nichols
Nov 02, 2013 Bob Nichols 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 Z
Feb 18, 2011 Dave 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 Backg
Dec 30, 2011 Johanne 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
Nico Vlaming
May 14, 2015 Nico Vlaming 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 muc ...more
Sep 18, 2015 Adi rated it it was amazing
Who would have thought that a relatively short book like this one could be so precise, efficient and interesting in introducing the history, philosophy and traditions of Zen while even putting all of it into context and comparison. What I really like about Watts's style is that he is not trying to convert anyone to anything. He is rather sharing his knowledge and wisdom in a direct manner without righteousness, which helps in understanding the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies ...more
Elwood D Pennypacker
Here's Elwood's Way of Zen on a given day:

-Breakfast: home cooked One large jumbo egg, cooked sunnyside or over easy. Sometimes scramble with cheese, vegetables, and spices.
-Coffee, lots of it. Alternate between cups of black and cups of heavy cream (use half n half as an alternative)
-Public Radio and podcasts of public radio-like quality
-Water all day until 3:00 tea ceremony (tea may also be coffee)
-If working in an office, play very loud punk music
-If working at home, play public radio
Roger K.
Aug 09, 2014 Roger K. rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 19, 2012 Dimitris Hall rated it really liked it
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
Aug 15, 2013 Martin rated it really liked it
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
Ankur Banerjee
Jan 13, 2013 Ankur Banerjee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mar 30, 2015 Daniel Gonçalves rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
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.
Minh Giang
Aug 07, 2015 Minh Giang rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Đọc xong như được dội nước. Nước trôi hết cả, nhưng thấy rất mát.

"Con người đứng ngay trên bóng của mình, rồi tự hỏi tại sao trời tối"
Mengran Xu
Jun 09, 2015 Mengran Xu rated it really liked it
Finished in a hurry, I am feeling perplexed now. This is a fairly short book with merely 200 pages, in which a comprehensive introduction of Zen Buddhism and its history was offered. Two parts were included, first about Taoism, Buddhism and oriental culture, and second on Zen teachings, practices and arts. I enjoyed the first, but hardly grasped the excellence of the second, which resulted in my agitation. This illustrated a core assumption or purpose of my reading—to “understand” the content wi ...more
David Ranney
Apr 16, 2015 David Ranney rated it 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. 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 Buckley
Jan 09, 2009 Anthony Buckley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
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
Oct 02, 2014 Jonn rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen, philosophy
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
Feb 16, 2015 Nestor Leal rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 25, 2012 Marian rated it it was amazing
"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
Nov 29, 2012 Alex Kenjeev rated it it was amazing
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings
  • The Three Pillars of Zen
  • Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings
  • Everyday Zen: Love and Work
  • The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma
  • Zen in the Art of Archery
  • Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen
  • Moon In a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen
  • Taking the Path of Zen
  • The Science of Enlightenment: Teachings and Meditations for Awakening Through Self-Investigation
  • Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
  • The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation
  • The Heart Sutra
  • Zen Training: Methods And Philosophy
  • Essential Zen
  • What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada
  • A Buddhist Bible
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
More about Alan W. Watts...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“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.” 168 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” 48 likes
More quotes…