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Buddhism Plain and Simple

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  8,408 ratings  ·  514 reviews
This book offers a clear, straightforward approach to Buddhism in general and awareness in particular. It is about being awake and in touch with what is going on here and now. When the Buddha was asked to sum up his teaching in a single word, he said, "Awareness." The Buddha taught how to see directly into the nature of experience. His observations and insights are plain, ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Harmony (first published October 1st 1997)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  8,408 ratings  ·  514 reviews

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Sean Barrs
Is Buddhism really plain and simple?

I think not. The more I read on Buddhism the more I find I need to read. This book has led to a spiralling off of an entire arc of spiritual texts I feel I need to get to grips with. I have loads sat on my shelf, and I have loads I need to learn.

Last month I almost signed up for a Buddhist meditation class in part because of this book. It pushed me further down the road of perhaps one day living this belief system fully. Unfortunately life got in the way and
Reading I quickly began comparing this to Buddhism without beliefs from the reviews of those books on this site the impression is that that book is controversial and this one conventional however they struck me as strikingly similar in tone and approach. If Buddhism without beliefs threw out the Buddha with the bathwater then Hagen goes further and throws out the bath too indeed he eventually describes existence as a stream in which we may be present and so distinctions between bath, Buddha and ...more
Dec 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Beginners in Buddhism
This is a favorite Buddhist book of mine. Steve Hagen keeps the subject matter extremely simple and focused on mindfulness and our misperceptions of reality. I wouldn't say this would be a very good first book to read but it should definitely be the second or third book you read as you are beginning to explore zen buddhist thought.

I especially love his take on exploring the afterlife. He essentially says it doesn't matter, that it's an ancillary concern. I couldn't agree more and it was nice rea
aPriL does feral sometimes
I highly recommend 'Buddhism Plain and Simple' to those who want a short brief explanation of the basic precepts (mind[fully] you all, these are guiding precepts only, not Commands or Rules! Commands and Rules would not be very Buddhist at all) of a very old philosophical religion (2,500 years or so). The author of this 160-page book, Steve Hagen, has stripped out all of the history, beliefs added by different cultures, ceremonies, and rituals with which the various flavors of Buddhism has accru ...more
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I return to this book every once in awhile because I will forget what I ahve learned the first time. I do not want my 'star' review to indicate that it isn't a good book. It is written with enough anecdotes and simply enough to acheive what I think the purpose is; to explain the basic tennants of Buddhism. My problem is with Buddhism as he explains it. All life is pain and we just have to learn to deal with it so we don't experience so much dissatisfaction in our life. In this reading of the boo ...more
Renee Amberg
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The only reason I rated this a 4 rather than a 5 is because this is such a deep thought provoking book that I don't think I could truly grasp everything that this book has to offer. That said, I will definitely be rereading it again in the future to do so. There are so many deep philosophical concepts in this one. I understood a lot in the beginning but towards the end, it got a bit too deep - to the point where I was a bit confused. Something at the end that gave me a sense of understanding and ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, psychology
This book is a good overview of the core of Buddhist thinking. It can be difficult for many Westerners to explore Buddhism because many sects are built around particular Asian cultures and philosophies. Steve Hagen distills Buddhism down to its core philosophy, making it practical and accessible for all.

I still struggled with some concepts, however. For example, the concepts of constant change and elimination of the self. While I understand that nothing is static in the universe, I still find t
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I received this book from a longtime family friend as a Christmas present last year, and really enjoyed it. Hagen makes mention of two other great books, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi and Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. I read both of these in 2008 and agree with Hagen that they are must-reads for those interested in Buddhism or meditation.

This book also falls into the must-read category, in my opinion. I have read quite a few books on the subject, but this one is uni
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed it at first. It was very straightforward and simply stated. Quite nice. Then it gets deeper into Buddhist teachings and starts repeating itself and getting bogged down in nonsense. I found myself less and less interested in reading. It felt like he lost the thread of his own arguments.

It also gets a little condescending and pompous. And it tries to tell me what I'm supposedly feeling, which always makes me angry.

Here was my breaking point:

Hagen starts lecturing about how there is no
Deb Jones
Oct 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Author Steve Hagen explains that what he has done in the book is to strip away the arcane language that sometimes accompanies Buddhist text/thoughts and the cultural aspects of the movement to bring to the reader Buddhism in plain language. In addition, Hagen essentially boiled the meat off the bones of basic Buddhism principles to provide the reader access to the very essence of Buddhist thought.

This book I borrowed from the public library, but it requires more than light reading to fully grasp
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I implore everyone to read this book. Especially those who are struggling mentally or going through a rough patch. Regardless of your religion, give this book a go. Buddhism has no doctrine, it's simply a way of life, a means to mindfulness. And in this day and age, I think that mindfulness is something we can all do with. It's 'plain and simple' indeed. ...more
Morgan Blackledge
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you’re a western Buddhist, there’s a little ‘high moment’ happening right here and right now!

Starting about 15 years ago, his holiness the Dali Lama (or ‘HH’ as hipster in-the-know Buddhist’s are apt to refer to him) began his now legendary ‘Mind and Life’ meetings with western psychologists and neuroscientists including; Richie Davidson, Paul Ekman, Daniel Goleman, Daniel Siegel and the likes.

This, in addition to the foundational (and incredibly boring) work of Jon Kanan-Zinn, and the (spec
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
Buddhism Plain and Simple was, perhaps, too "plain and simple" for me. Not really. I just found it uninspired and uninspiring. I think I'd be a better judge of its value if it were my first or second introduction to Buddhism and I was able to approach the book with a "beginner's mind." Since that's not the case, if you're looking for an introduction to Buddhist thought, take my luke-warm rating with a grain of salt and decide for yourself.

Hagen does do a nice job, in my view, of explaining no-se
Daniel Roy
Nov 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daniel by: Farshad
This is a book about the roots of Buddhism, specifically the teachings of the Buddha, purged of 2,500 years of tradition, culture, and worship that followed his life. As the title promises, it states its case in clear language, directly and simply. At the same time, the concepts are deep, thought-provoking, even perhaps life-changing.

I got a lot of out this book. At its core, it's a plea to consider the Buddha's teachings, and to consider the urgency of the task of awakening that all of us shoul
Gail Testa
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was surprisingly wonderful.

Many books on Buddhism are really a very complex dissertation of someone else's view on what Buddhism is. Hagen, a Buddhist Priest, gave, "just the facts." Buddhism is not complicated --- it is "plain and simple" and he emphasized that throughout the book.

This doesn't mean, however, that the book was boring or uninspiring. We often want to make things more complicated than they really are. Hagen reminds us to stick to the basics, to the present, to just be.
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faves
I don't think all life is about pain, but a large part of it is. I'm attracted to Buddhism. I've never lived in the present, I'm always thinking for the future and I think that's a flaw. I am drawn to this philosophy of life. It is why I read the book.
It is definitely worth reading to get a different perspective on Buddhism and pain. Happy enlightened reading!
Jason Schofield
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hagen's little primer on Buddhist philosophy is tremendously concise and clear as a bell. Even if you have read many works related to this topic before, I think you will still find something fresh and interesting (and useful) in this terrific book. ...more
Oct 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
I'm not sure if it's that I disagree with the approach of Buddhism or if this book is poorly written, or both. But I had a number of issues with this.

For one thing, nothing ever seems to be fully explained. There aren't any well-defined methods for incorporating Buddhist principles into your life. I mainly felt like the book was telling me all the things I was doing wrong in my life without offering any solutions. That made me frustrated.

Additionally, the book was riddled with contradictions, fa
Peter Neiger
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to me to pinpoint exactly when I started to have an interest in Buddhism. I remember learning about it in a high school religion class, but that introduction was little more than “it isn’t really a religion but it kind of is”. I was a hardcore Christian at that time and I have no doubt that I saw Buddhism as simply another Satanic ruse to steal souls from Heaven.

In the decade and a half since high school, my interest in Buddhism has bubbled in my subconscious. I’ve purchased several b
Aug 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Plain and Simple? Anything but. I really don't understand what I'm supposed to see, or the nature of the types of reality I might realize. Also, he claims that if I pay attention to my feelings, my feelings will become less "urgent" (but not less "vivid"), and that then my feelings won't influence my emotions so much.

Also, all those thoughts you've been having? You know, your whole life? Well, there's your problem right there.

I think my point is, if this is what life is like in the buddha dhar
Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

I just finished re-reading this gem for the fourth time. It's amazing every time; the act of reading it itself becomes a form of being meditation. For specifics see my review below.

One of the best books about Buddhism out there. Just re-read it in two days. Its subtitle, "Plain and Simple" doesn't just describe the Buddhist mentality, it says much about Hagen's approach; I love this book because it is Buddhism shorn of all the bizarre cultural extranea that got attached to it later--gods, flags,
E.j. Kay
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book that de-mystifies Buddhism and explains both what it is, and what it isn't. Very few books I've read have had such a profound impact on my life. Steven Hagen is a great writer - I'm currently reading "How the world can be the way it is" - a blend of a Buddhist world-view and physics that is a fascinating read and gives a fresh perspective on the nature of things. ...more
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: wannabe buddhists
I am going to have to reread this book, 'cause it was so dense with stimulating ideas. It cuts through a lot of the stuff of Buddhism and gets to some pretty core ideas around our existence. Well worth the read for me! ...more
Jen Serdetchnaia
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
As the admittedly guiltiest of reacting to the world based on vast assumption and sweeping generalization, man do I have a long journey to enlightenment.

In Buddhism Plain and Simple (which I read twice in short succession—would Hagen say I’m “holding on to the raft”?), Hagen excels at repeating his main message in a million different ways throughout the text to get his readers to really start understanding.

And here is what I’ve understood:

Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to no
Christine Kenney
Jun 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Maybe my rating will improve as I digest this and sort out ways to test the ideas against my lived experience more?

The "man reclining" picture stumped me (even with the help of the hint) and left me worried that I was incapable of seeing the world as it actually is, despite Hagen's encouragement that we all intrinsically have this capability.

He says Buddhism isn't about taking a bunch of positive actions to achieve a specific outcome, but I would have loved to see or be pointed toward more con
Feb 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I already want to reread this one! Works surprisingly well on audio.
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an easy read and, I think, an excellent introduction to Buddhism or, as the author likes to put it, the buddha-dharma. According to Hagen:

"Real Buddhism is not really as "ism." It's a process, an awareness, an openness, a spirit of inquiry-not a belief system, or even (as we normally understand it) a religion. It is more accurate to call it "the teaching of the awakened," or the buddha-dharma." (p.9)

This book makes Buddhism feel approachable for the average person, and is a good place t
Apr 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
An interesting read for a new comer to Buddhist ideas like myself. Hagen tries to distil the Buddha's teachings to as few essentials as possible, ignoring all the bells and whistles that have attached themselves in the centuries since the Buddha's life.
A book teaching ideas that claim by their nature to be unteachable is always going to be a bit of a brain-melter, but this is definitely an interesting and relatively easy introductions to the buddha-dharma.
Terry Noel
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good guide to the basics of Buddhism

This is one of the better books I have read on Buddhism. The author speaks plainly and makes understandable the fundamentals of Buddhist practice. Occasionally, his exhortations to "just see" are tiresome, though they are consistent with Buddhism's caution not to go chasing after ideas. The reader will not regret allowing this author to point a finger at the moon.
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Stephen Tokan "Steve" Hagen, Rōshi, (born 1945) is the founder and head teacher of the Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a Dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri-roshi.

He is a published author of several books on Buddhism. Among them, "Buddhism Plain & Simple" is one of the top five bestselling Buddhism books in the United States.

He has been a student of Buddhist thought and practice

News & Interviews

Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
25 likes · 11 comments
“The buddha-dharma does not invite us to dabble in abstract notions. Rather, the task it presents us with is to attend to what we actually experience, right in this moment. You don't have to look "over there." You don't have to figure anything out. You don't have to acquire anything. And you don't have to run off to Tibet, or Japan, or anywhere else. You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here.

So you don't have to do the long search, the frantic chase, the painful quest. You're already right where you need to be.”
“We're never called on to do what hurts. We just do what hurts out of ignorance and habit. Once we see what we're doing, we can stop.” 10 likes
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