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The Spirit of Zen

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  527 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Alan Watts’s The Spirit of Zen was one of the first books to introduce the basic foundation of Zen Buddhism to English-speaking audiences. This volume still stands as one of the most lucid and concise explanations of the origins and defining principles of Zen, from its beginnings in ancient India and its later transmission to China and Japan, to Watts’s revealing portrait ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published January 14th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1936)
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Jera Em
Alan Watts is always a joy to read. He has a way of elucidating any subject he puts forth and Zen is one of them, thankfully. I'd previously read The Way of Zen, and Tao: The Watercourse Way and this book fits in very well with those two. Having said that, it's been several years since I read those (it's time for a revisit), so this was a good refresher on the subject!

This book gave a good overview of Zen's origins, how it's influenced Eastern society, and of course its basic philosophy. Lots of
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: occult, favorites
This one made the coveted favorites list.

"The drinking of tea had always been associated with Zen, and from the earliest times the monks used it to keep themselves awake during long periods of meditation. There is a gruesome legend as to its origin which tells that Bodhidharma once fell asleep during his meditations and was so furious that he cut off his eyelids. Falling to the ground they at once turned into the first tea-plants, and ever afterwards the drink made from its leaves has kept off
Johnny Cordova
Sep 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
This introduction to Zen Buddhism is Alan Watts' first of many books on Eastern religion. It's a very satisfying read, written in the eloquent and lucid style that Watts would come to be known for. Watts had a way of simplifying the most complex concepts, as well as capturing the elusive. Here, he captures the elusive spirit of Zen.

The book itself is elegantly designed and a pleasure to hold in one's hands.
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who has interest and little information in buddhism and zen
A very basic (and yet worthwhile and informative) introduction to Zen and Buddhism, recommended for those with some curiosity and little knowledge on the subject.
Dennis Littrell
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Precocious and very readable

The Spirit of Zen, written in the early thirties by Watts when he was still a teenager, is not to be mistaken for his strikingly accomplished The Way of Zen, written some years later. It is to be treasured however for those who admire Watts and his unique and highly influential body of work because it was his first published book on Zen Buddhism.

It is clearly a young man's book. When it was reissued some twenty-four years later, Watts was asked to revise it, but he
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
AMAZING. My copy is not from 2006, more like 1966. It's tattered and sections are falling apart. I keep it together pushed together by other books. It's a BIBLE. It's a better codex than the bible!! Although it's not really a code to live by, it explains Buddhism SO SIMPLY that it exemplifies the philosophy of buddhism in the explaining of it. BRILLIANT. And truly underrated--READ IT!...just don't try and borrow my copy. Sorry.
Kaleb Phillips
Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully written introduction to the world of Zen, covering everything from the history of Zen, to the Tea Ceremony, the arts of Ju-Jutsu and Kenjutsu, and the ancient code of Bushido. This book gives a lot of information while giving very little, which is perfect when trying to describe the art of Zen, for Zen is life, and so it can never be truly described or contained, even on paper.
Peter Bourdeau
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Zen is for the few.
Watts helped popularized Zen Buddhism in the West with the publication of this seminal work. Easy to read, the book is an excellent primer in the subject of Zen Buddhism.
May 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: spirituality
More history/academic than I like
Jeremi Doucet
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
*Recommended by Zen Buddhist Dhruba Lama. Pokhara, Nepal.*

So. Zen Buddhism. This unique, mind-boggling breed of Buddhism which is both profound and absurd, serious and playful, defined in all things but altogether undefinable, is a way of life that distinguishes itself from other religions and 'philosophies' by being so intrinsically intwined with Life that trying to capture it with abstractions taints its essence and distances us from the true meaning of Zen. The Zen masters are renowned for
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Libro introduttivo allo Zen disciplina complessa nella sua apparente semplicità, ma forse proprio ciò che è semplice e sotto gli occhi di tutti i giorni non viene mai preso nella giusta considerazione e ci neghiamo volontariamente tanta parte di bellezza che ci circonda.
Un modo di approcciarsi alla vita molto lontano dall'ottica occidentale.
Cynthia  Glissadevil
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, religion
4.1 stars!
Watts the young man delves into The Spirit of Zen. Spirit as art.

“The heaven and earth afford me no shelter at all; I’m glad, unreal are body and soul. Welcome thy weapon, O warrior of Yuen! Thy trusty steel, That flashes lightning, cuts the wind of Spring, I feel.”
― Alan W. Watts

Welcome addition to any mystical quest.

Jon Bash
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
What it points at is fantastic. But the paragraphs are overly long and the explanations overly academic. Can't help but feel he's taken short of the task. Still, I got a ton out of this book and an really glad I bought an old used copy on a whim.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helpful for any westerner who would like to see where to start with eastern philosophy. I knew most already so it was just refreshing
Bett Correa-Bollhoefer
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The most clear explanation of zen that I've heard.
David Cornelius
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
From what I have learned of Zen Buddhism, the notion of putting its core tenants into writing is a bit paradoxical, but, as with any subject, a bit of studying is required in order to begin down the path towards understanding. Watts' treatise of Zen is a wonderful place to start for the westerner just beginning to expand his or her pallet to the wisdom of the East. Whether you are a spiritual seeker disenfranchised with the monotheistic traditions of the West or a student of the world's ...more
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Segundo livro do Watts, leitura concisa e prazerosa. Introdução do Zenbudismo para leigos. Abordagem intuitava de conceitos como Koan, Satori, Wu-wei(taoismo), Tao, Dharma, Karma, Samsarra, Nirvana, Budismo Mahaiama. Zen budismo é apresentado como filosofia em que o signo e significado devem estar harmonizados, por isso Watts deixa claro que ele apresenta alguns signos mas a busca do significado dependerá do leitor. E ainda aponta o rumo para isso desapego, observar o fluxo, não oferecer ...more
Arturo Javier
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Como una introducción al budismo zen, me parece que el libro tiene éxito. Por supuesto, yo no puedo ser el mejor juez de esto, porque mi entendimiento del budismo es más bien estrecho. Sin embargo, el libro posee varias virtudes de una obra introductoria, como claridad en la exposición, y el recurso a una serie de analogías que iluminan bastante bien las ideas más extrañas del zen. Por supuesto, como el autor enfatiza a lo largo de la obra, el lector no puede esperar obtener un entendimiento ...more
Mar 22, 2009 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I found this book on the sidewalk in New York. Since somebody left it there to be picked up and i love it when books find their own miraculous way into my lap, now it seems has come the time for learning about Zen.
Elizabeth Schlatter
Feb 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Good. Thorough. But put me to sleep so quickly that it took me a few weeks to finish.
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great introduction to Zen. Allan Watts offers great insights into the practice of Zen. This book is a very good start for someone interested in Eastern philosophical thought.
Evan Cordes
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well-written (Mr. Watts always is…) and easy-to-read introduction to a lot of aspects of Zen.
Nov 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
Worth a read to get a head start into the world of Zen..
Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
The way of all Watts.
Oct 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen
A good basic introduction to the history and practice of Zen. Watts was a salient writer and deserves his reputation.
Ebenezer Ken-lewis
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. So many overlaps with astronomy.
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Good overview of the influence of zen on different aspects of eastern culture. A good read for anyone interested in zen.
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book back in the mid-1970's when I was exploring Zen & eastern religions generally. An excellent introduction to its subject, although hardly the last word on Zen.
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Oct 13, 2011
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine two editions 2 16 Apr 21, 2015 05:38AM  

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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
“Briefly, this doctrine is that man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep for ever things which are essentially impermanent. Chief among these things is his own person, for this is his means of isolating himself from the rest of life, his castle into which he can retreat and from which he can assert himself against external forces. He believes that this fortified and isolated position is the best means of obtaining happiness; it enables him to fight against change, to strive to keep pleasing things for himself, to shut out suffering and to shape circumstances as he wills. In short, it is his means of resisting life. The” 0 likes
“The heaven and earth afford me no shelter at all; I’m glad, unreal are body and soul. Welcome thy weapon, O warrior of Yuen! Thy trusty steel, That flashes lightning, cuts the wind of Spring, I feel.” 0 likes
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