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Buddhism Plain and Simple

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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, practical, and down-to-earth, and they deal exclusively with the present. In Buddhism Plain and Simple, Steve Hagen presents these uncluttered, original teachings in everyday, accessible language unencumbered by religious ritual, tradition, or belief.

165 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1997

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About the author

Steve Hagen

16 books90 followers
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 since 1967. In 1975 he became a student of Dainin Katagiri Roshi in Minneapolis and was ordained in 1979. He has studied with teachers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and in 1989 received Dharma transmission (endorsement to teach) from Katagiri Roshi. He is currently head teacher at Dharma Field.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 560 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,109 reviews44.3k followers
October 4, 2016
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 I didn’t go to the group. Next year when I have more time I will actually go to it. Buddhism is more than just you and I. It is about the universe and positive energy; it is about making the most out of existence and understanding that all life is precious no matter what form: it is about peace and happiness. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all word powers relinquished power to a ruling body of Buddhist monks? I speak of idealism, but these men understand the human mind more than most.

“It’s called enlightenment. It’s nothing more or less than seeing things as they are rather than we wish or believe them to be.”

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Profile Image for Justin.
9 reviews3 followers
December 7, 2008
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 reading a book that doesn't feel the need to explore the unknowable in order to justify Buddhism as a complete religion.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,793 followers
Read
August 21, 2019
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 bathwater are not merely unhelpful, but the cause of the pain of conscious awareness. If you meet the Buddha upon the road - kill him! As the saying goes. So if Batchelor argues that you don't need to believe ,only to practise and indeed to practise as a rational act of self-liberation, so in turn Hagen says yes do that and you don't even need to call yourself a Buddhist, indeed, he tells us, since practising as a monk and being ordained as a Zen Priest he doesn't regard himself as a Buddhist at all, indeed monastic life and ordination are for him processes that teach the self-harm involved in defining yourself and others into categories, in short he says : let there be no nouns in your thinking, only the broadest acceptance of reality with a smile on the face.

I noticed that while he talked about his experience of going on a road trip with a friend in a soft top car during which a passing raccoon broke into the car and stole his friend's biscuits and on a separate occasion that he had cancer, that he felt the need to explain to his readers what a soft-top car is, however he assumes that his readers will know what cancer is

Perhaps both this and Buddhism without beliefs are examples of conversion literature, designed to make something foreign and alien appear to be comfortable and safe, you don't, Hagen tells us, need to eat weird things, wear funny clothes or even give yourself a fancy designation you just do it, the stress both put upon, what is effectively empiricism - try it as an experiment and observe its effectiveness or otherwise for yourself. The claim that this approach is fundamental to Buddhism perhaps tells the reader more about the convert trying to graft the new branch on to the established root stock of their own culture than about the new branch itself, or perhaps not, I am in no position to judge, though it does strike me that maybe a different diet, changed clothes, fancy hats and esoteric beliefs, can be part of the attraction or meaning of a religion or philosophy. In any case I only paid three English pounds for the book and nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,865 reviews421 followers
June 24, 2018
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 accrued in its journey through Time and communities. He only discusses the basic tenets and ideas of Buddhism.

For the record, I believe I have infrequently experienced a sense of my 'self' being gone, my perceptions only being activated, and I was "seeing" and being "awake", which the author says is the point of Buddhism. It happens during the first minutes of waking up from being unconscious for me. I have epilepsy. Having an epileptic 'fit' isn't hardly ever an event which happens to me anymore, especially since I figured out how to avoid epileptic 'fits' - stay hydrated, eat regularly, exercise moderately, avoid drugs and, especially, never mix alcohol and drugs. I have a single erratic brainwave apparently, or so the results of an Electroencephalograph I was forced to have after an incident in a restaurant, the fifth incident.

I will describe a particular epileptic incident which represents how all such incidents felt to me, although exterior circumstances varied.

Once, at a party, when I was 19 years old, I was sitting on a couch. Two of my friends at the time came up and offered me a joint. I had not much experience drinking alcohol at this point, but I had had a drink or two, here and there. I had tried pot here and there as well, but it made me feel weak, dizzy. I told my friends I thought I should not smoke a joint AND drink because I wasn't sure I could handle it. The man friend was disgruntled. Everybody else was drinking alcohol and smoking joints. There was a lot of hilarity and joking. I already had had a small drink. But there were twenty or so people there, everyone was high, having fun, so I took the joint. I remember taking three tokes....

This is where I suddenly was no longer a self. I was 'seeing'. I was a streaming moment. I did not know where I was, who I was, what I was - and I did not care. I did not know I did not care, or have any worries or concerns. I remembered nothing about anything - past, present, my life. I felt marvelous, without weight. I slowly became aware I was floating in a dark blue place with a light above me, as if I was swimming underwater looking up at the sun. Then I opened my eyes, and feeling slowly came to me - awareness of my body bits, piece by piece, awareness without a single thought in my head. To this day I can vividly recall every second of that being 'awake'. I looked around, slowly recognized the living room, the fact I was on a couch - but I was blissfully at peace, weightless. For many minutes. I think. Time did not exist. Then I became aware my two friends were panicked, and while they had been talking to me, I had been not tracking what they were saying. I was still feeling weightless, which lasted a long time, actually. However my friends believed I was dead and everyone had run. The room had emptied of all the people who had been there except my two friends. Later I realized how brave this was, and why everybody else, who also were my supposed friends, had split. I was underage, I apparently had died, there were illegal drugs everywhere, the cops would arrest everyone - jail, lawyers, losing job, angry parents, etc. So they all had left me there, maybe dying, without calling for help or trying to help me. Except for these two people.

Please gentle reader, take a moment to reflect on this, and on any situations similar to this which you may unthinkingly have been taking part in your own past.

*Ahem*

I had a couple more 'learning experiences' about my epilepsy. So, by the time I was 22 years old, I no longer did ANY drugs, and I drank alcohol in small sips. And yes, it meant I was accused of being a 'narc' at parties in the 1970's, and a party pooper by many many many many many many many many people. Btw, for those of you who, for whatever reason, feel disgruntled when people refuse to drink or do drugs - BACK OFF.

*Ahem*

Anyway, this state I enter whenever I inadvertently trigger an epileptic attack is evidently what the endgame of Buddhism is about, except with a lot of philosophy. And note Buddhism doesn't recognize the existance of the concept of 'endgame.'

P.S. I do not recommend inducing epilepsy as a shortcut to a Buddhist peace of mind. For one thing, bruises. For another concussions from hitting sharp and hard objects when you lose consciousness. And lastly, people are terrified, not blissed out over your 'achievement'. It turns out the Body is painfully streaming in realtime, HD and ephemeral as life may be.
Profile Image for Bill.
2 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2013
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 the concept of the self has a very real meaning. I don't deny that my body and mind are changing from moment to moment, but there is also significant continuity. I have trouble understanding how acknowledgment of such changes can be applied to my daily living. I do, however, understand the broader points about non-attachment, so I may be taking his words too literally. I may have to re-read some chapters.

Overall I think this book is a very good primer for those interested in learning more about Buddhism.
Profile Image for Bill.
10 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2009
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 book I have come to the conclusion that Buddhism is not a religion, it is a philosophy. It has very usefull componants but regardless of how much duhkha I feel in my life my experience that is that there is a lot more out there. I think that this book is a good, and quick, read but that it did not feel satidfying to me or convincing as a belief system.
Profile Image for David.
227 reviews32 followers
March 8, 2009
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 unique. Hagen effectively describes Buddhist concepts, focusing more on real-world application than definitions. This makes the book easy to understand and relatable.

Buddhism: Plain and Simple is broken up into three sections: I) The Perennial Problem, II) The Way to Wake Up and III) Free Mind. Each section flows into the next, the way good writing should, while also standing on it’s own. I would easily suggest this as essential Buddhist literature, or even as a meditation practice manual to my closest friends. Hagen’s humility can be found on each page, and as a reader I got the sense that he wrote the book in an effort to really reach people and help improve our current situation. After all, we’re all stuck together for the time being, so why not make the best possible world that we can?

5/5 Stars. 159 pages. Published in 1997.
Profile Image for Nikmaack.
623 reviews18 followers
September 24, 2017
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 self. To make some point about this, he describes a "little boy" who has broken his arm and is now faced with an X-ray machine. The boy flinches, scared by the machine. The technician, seeing this, says, "It won't hurt you. It's just going to take your picture."

"We're afraid in much the same way as this little boy," Hagen writes. "We don't understand consciousness, just as the little boy didn't understand the X-ray machine. Naturally we're terrified that whatever it is we're about to confront, it's going to hurt. But I'll speak the X-ray technician's part here and tell you it won't hurt."

When I reached this point in the book, I'd been skimming. When I saw this passage, I was annoyed as all hell. I'm a scared little boy, and you're going to tell me it's okay? Screw you, buddy. You're not my guru, my teacher, or my goddamn parent. For me, this moment crystalized a feeling I have with a lot of Buddhist texts.

"I, who have deeply explored Buddhist doctrines, shall now impart to you my wisdom. Oh, but I will never put it that way, for we are all enlightened already. We simply need to wake up. I will never actually say that I am more awake than you, but I am writing this book after all, so I must be more awake, right? Now take my hand, little boy, and let me explain to you how there is no self."

Somehow these books never come across as an author saying, "Here's my perspective, based on my experiences and interpretations." Instead, there's this god awful sense that their shit does not stink.

The Buddhist ego is buried in the Buddhist bullshit. Buddhists supposedly strive to be egoless, selfless, detatched little clouds of insufferable wisdom. But I always get the feeling the ego is just repressed, under the surface, and the real motivations are always just a game of who has the most dharma filled life. Which of us is wisest.

The lesson about the lack of self, which pops up in a lot of Buddhist books, typically goes something like this. Hey, remember when you were six? You're not that person now. All your atoms and stuff have changed. Can you really say you're that person? Can you look at a photo of you at that age and really say, "That's me"?

Of course I'm not still that person. I have changed. But that kid is still very much a part of me.

If I was around when you were six and I chopped off your little finger, you would now be whatever age you are now, and you would still be missing your little finger. That experience carries forward. And less violent and simpler experiences also carry forward in some manner. To suggest there is zero connection between who we were and who we are is insane. We get programmed by our earlier experiences. We can look at that programming, question it, recognize the programming no longer makes sense, and change the behaviour. But to simply say, I am not that person at all and I live in the now, and the future is an illusion and the past is an illusion? Utter nonsense.

I guess I'm supposed to respect Hagen and his wisdom because (the back of the book tells me) he "has studied Buddhism for thirty years, including fifteen years with Zen Master Dainin Katagiri, from whom he received Dharma Transmission (endorsement to teach)."

But that insufferable tone is probably something you pick up when you've studied this stuff for 30 years. Oh, he'll tell you no book can teach you the truth, and you need to find it for yourself. But he'll also tell you the truth you're supposed to find when you finally find it. Blah.
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
557 reviews1,912 followers
September 28, 2018
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 (spectacularly lovable but vanilla as all get out) baby boomer era Buddhist icons, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharen Salzburg and (that wild thing) Pema Chodren basically launched the NüBü2 (New Wave Of Buddhism 2.0) renaissance were currently experiencing.

Yeah!

Anyway, the Mind and Life crowd have issued tons and tons of ‘sciencey’ books that frame Buddhist philosophy, practices and phenomena in terms of their (snap-crackle-pop) psychological constructs and neurological concomitants.

This book is not (yet another) one of those.

At this point we probably have enough of those.

So good.

NOTE: if I sound snarky about all of this, it’s just an 80’s era, insecure adolescent ‘to cool for everything and everyone’ defense mechanism that I haven’t entirely outgrown.

Mea culpa.

I’m actually a BIG BIG fan of the ‘Neuroscience meets Meditation’ trend.

Not only is it fascinating AF to hear about how meditation changes your brain, affect, cognition and behavior.

It’s also super assistive in traversing the enormous dung heap of irrelevant religious nonsense that the Buddhist, and other eastern contemplative wisdom traditions are mired in.

Go ahead and hate me for saying that. But please bare in mind, that I’m a long-time practitioner, and I have extensive training and experience in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Additionally, I have extensive training in the social sciences and I’m a working licensed therapist.

If I bag on the eastern traditions, and popular psychology, it’s pretty much from an insiders perspective.

I’m at least a ‘prosumer’ i.e. professional consumer of these books and ideas.

So rest assured, I’m not that run of the mill, board IT guy in a gamer chat room, sub-readdit dwelling, myopic, blowhard, tiki torch, golf shirt and khakis sporting hater type.

In other words, I’m not your average shitty atheist skeptic. I am a shitty atheist, but I’d like to assure y’all that I’m not one of those guys (I hope).

Anyway.

This is all a round about way of saying (a) there are tons of good ‘this is your brain on Buddhism’ books available, and (b) this is not one of those books.

This book is good, and useful for a whole different and equally important reason. But it’s not one of those.

This book is useful because it translates some of the frequently overwrought and subsequently confusing as hell Buddhist ideas into fairly down to earth, smart enough, plain ol’ English.

Not as easy as it sounds, and this book does a respectable job of it.

Buddhism has changed every culture it has encountered, and conversely, every culture Buddhism has encountered has changed it.

Buddhism is hitting our western, materialistic, dualistic culture, and we’re hitting back, to everyone’s benefit, with some systematic, hard nosed methodological clarity.

In addition to grounding Buddhist practices in a systematic, materialist, monistic framework, the west is also in the process of squaring the Buddhist world view with western philosophical traditions.

For instance:

Heraclitus’s doctrine of eternal change is oft summarized with the phrase; no man can step into the same stream twice, for it is not the same river and it is not the same man.

This notion is frequently cited as a western philosophical analog to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence (Anitya) which asserts that everything in existence, without exception, is transient, evanescent, inconstant and thereby fundamentally unsatisfying.

In other words.

The world is falling apart and it makes us all feel crappy.

Cool right?

Anitya (impermanence) is intimately associated with another Buddhist doctrine of Anatta (no-self) which declares that things (including you and I) have no essence, or soul or no permanent self.

In other words, there is no such ting as a soul, and that self ‘ego’ thing you’re identifying with is simply psychological smoke and mirrors.

Don’t make me quote Niche.

Cuz I will.

Dukha (human suffering) stems from obsessively and compulsively (an necessarily unsuccessfully) trying to find lasting satisfaction in this churning, changing impermanent and illusory world/self stuff.

Sartre and Camu anyone?

Buddha, Dharma and Songha (roughly translated as self knowledge and mastery, effective training, and community of likeminded individuals) is our only reliable refuge in this shit storm of suffering also known as the human condition.

Now we’re talkin’ Bill W (and friends) if you catch me.

But please, please don’t get me started!

Anyway.

I don’t know about y’all, but so far, none of this is counter to my experience. And if I was religious, this would definitely be the one!

This book does a nice job of expanding upon these concepts and bringing them to life in a way that won’t insult the intelligence and intellectual training of an educated contemporary western reader.

However.

Some of the poopy Buddhist bath water is still on this baby.

Unfortunately, some of the more cherished Buddhist ideals depend on magical thinking.

These are hard to discuss in this limited format, but in a nutshell, Buddhist’s frequently conflate phenomenologically derived epiphany i.e. cathartic meditation experiences, with scientific methodology and fact.

In other words, they often confuse experience with experiment, and make baseless truth claims about the fundamental nature of things derived from meditation experiences that were emergent from indoctrination in the Buddhist world view to begin with.

Thought Experiment: if I tell you that the universe is one big ‘conscious’ entity, and that we can merge with that ‘big universal consciousness’ by mediating, and you believe me, and then you sit down and ‘experience’ something like a non personal awareness, does this constitute proof of the initial hypothesis?

Answer: no.

But a-lot of Buddhists would claim yes, and even go so far as to claim this as a scientifically valid experiment.

It’s not.

It’s actually like, um, how do you say, ummmmm...... the opposite?

It’s a valid ‘first-person’ observation, but it’s not a reliable ‘third-person’ experimentally valid, double blind, randomly assigned, placebo controlled, replicated, peer reviewed finding.

No it is not!

So stop.

Please.

It’s embarrassing.

In a time when it is increasingly evident, the it’s bad news to become siloed in divisive ‘red verses blue’ world views, due to clever and well intended algorithmically derived personalized news and information feeds that ALWAYS obey your preferences, and ONLY confirm your biases.

The problematic nature of an uncritical approach, to taking as fact, a quasi religious, magical truth claim, based on first-person experiential observation, of an intrinsically ambiguous phenomena, conditioned (i.e. psychologically primed) by a compelling (however nonsensical) notion, floated on top of other comparatively reasonable philosophical presuppositions, should be self evident.

Just think of; every religious cult, or cockeyed, half baked, well meaning but actually disastrous political or cultural anything for examples.

Any way, some of this type of nonsense is alive and kicking in this text.

So buyer beware.

If I were to take the middle path, I’d say I ‘like’ this book.

But that would be an unsatisfying synthesis of my actual moment to moment experience of this text.

70% of the this book rocks.

25% is squishy but useful.

5% is poopy effluvium (great word, look it up RN if you don’t already know it).

That being said, the author seems like a mensch, and I really did enjoy this book and benefit from it immensely, and I’d say the world is a better place because of this nifty lil’ text.

So bring your inner shitty, skeptical, curious, open, accepting and loving self (or no-self if you want to go there) to your one, wild, first person experience of this (largely awesome and at times sort of squishy, and at other times even a little intellectually bio-hazardous) real good read.
Profile Image for Deb Jones.
695 reviews78 followers
October 4, 2019
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 and appreciate this very different way of thinking. I'm adding to my Christmas wishlist on Amazon.
Profile Image for MrsNightRead.
159 reviews158 followers
May 28, 2019
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.
335 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2012
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-self and interdependence plainly, without undue complication. There's nothing particularly wrong with the book; it's simply that there are other introductions, or books that, although not introductions per se, get the principles across in more compelling ways.
Profile Image for Daniel Roy.
Author 4 books68 followers
February 6, 2017
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 should face. At the same time, and perhaps on purpose, it eschews a lot of the historical context and controversies of Buddhism. That's fine for an introduction, but it left me with many questions.

Halfway through the book, I became increasingly frustrated with the material. It was no fault of the author, really, but I felt like he was trying to describe the color purple to a blind man. A lot of his writings is about how we need to see if we are to understand the true nature of things. There's a lot of italics to indicate these concepts that are impossible to grasp with a simple explanation.

That makes this book more of an appetizer than a mental meal. It points to an interesting, important path. So I guess I'll stop analyzing the finger, and be on my way.
Profile Image for Gail Testa.
37 reviews
January 16, 2011
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.

I found the book to be very interesting, well-written, and inspiring. His insights and explanations of the Eight-fold path was probably the best I've ever read.

Highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Mo.
346 reviews24 followers
August 6, 2016
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!
Profile Image for Jason Schofield.
41 reviews24 followers
April 11, 2015
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.
Profile Image for  هدير الشيخ.
244 reviews132 followers
May 16, 2019
اوله كان جميل سلس بسيط لكن مفيد
من بعد كام شابتر تحول لكتابتنمية بشرية بكلام مكرر ممل
يمكن كملت الكتاب لسبب واحد بس هو تمرين على القراءة السريعة بالانجليزية
Profile Image for Alex.
113 reviews
October 12, 2017
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, fallacies, and leaps in logic. Consciousness is presented as an illusion, but I must somehow have enough consciousness to take in that information. Putting forth effort to try to see "the whole" prevents you from actually seeing it. No object is separate from another - in fact, distinct objects don't actually exist - yet somehow I can be "awake" while others can't.

The writing in the book was mediocre, at best. The book could have been much shorter - maybe just a few pages long. It felt like the same phrases were repeated over and over: "to awaken, you must experience the here and now", "you are part of the whole", "the truth is waiting to be seen", "your mind must stop leaning". For 150 pages, there was very little content, most of which wasn't really meaningful. Not to mention, nearly every other word was capitalized or italicized, seemingly randomly.

I thought, at the least, it would be interesting to read a book about Buddhism published in 1997, before the first-world addiction to technology and media really skyrocketed. I wanted to think about whether Buddhist principles as presented in 1997 would hold up today, with so many things demanding our attention. Alas, I wasn't even able to do that.
Profile Image for Peter Neiger.
92 reviews7 followers
February 15, 2017
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 books about it but rarely finish them. As much as I am interested in Buddhism the works I’ve read seemed unnecessarily vague and complex, I felt like the authors were playing tricks with words instead of just coming out and saying what Buddhism is.

Buddhism: Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen is the opposite of that....

http://peterneiger.com/buddhism-plain...
Profile Image for Sharon.
709 reviews21 followers
December 27, 2007
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 dharma, I don't quite understand why a person would choose that. No pain or discomfort, because you've realized that everything there is is irrelevant. Might as well just give up the ghost.

Profile Image for Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett.
579 reviews29 followers
June 8, 2016

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, statues etc...the book is a description of the core worldview of the buddha-dharma. It's not often I find a book in which I agree with almost everything the author says, but this is one of them.
Profile Image for E.j. Kay.
Author 4 books3 followers
April 6, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Anthony.
32 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2007
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!
Profile Image for Jen Serdetchnaia.
121 reviews46 followers
September 7, 2015
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 nothing.

Perception over conception. Fluidity over crystallization. Don’t chase anything. Don’t get attached to particular outcomes. Just allow yourself to be open to take things in.

Reality is just this moment, without ideas or explanations. Base your actions on what you see rather than on what you think. Beliefs and ideas lead to dukha (discomfort, pain and discontent), while seeing leads to peace. What you believe actually doesn’t matter, only what is happening in this moment does.

Don’t improve, just be. We’ve improved ourselves right into a disconnected, war-torn world headed into a climate apocalypse.

Forget the self. We don’t have control and we never really did. The impacts of our actions don’t stop where it looks like they stop—they never stop. What we say about someone says more about us than the person we’re talking about. Buddhism is not nihilistic.

Stop desiring an end to desire (oh, soooo familiar).

For the purposes of an introduction to Buddhism (buddha-dharma), Hagen could have finished the book after Part Two. Part Three kind of lost me in the nihilism of self and the twelve-link chain to enlightenment.

My favourite quote
“The Buddha said that the human condition is like that of a person shot with an arrow. It is both painful and urgent. But instead of getting immediate help for our affliction, we ask for detail about the bow from which the arrow was shot. We ask who made the arrow. We want to know about the appearance and background of the person who strung the bow. We ask about many things—inconsequential things—while overlooking our immediate problem. We ask about origins and ends, but we leave this moment forgotten. We leave it forgotten even though we live in it.”


Quotes on: What is Buddhism (buddha-dharma)?
• “The point of Buddhism is just to see.”
• “The practice of Buddhism is about awareness.”
• Buddhism is “nothing more or less than seeing things as they are rather than as we wish or believe them to be”.
• “Authentic Buddhism, therefore, begins with fact. It starts with perception—direct experience.”
• “When you actually see that putting your hand in a flame is painful, you don’t need to strain to keep yourself from doing it.”
• “Attend to immediate experience.”

Quotes on: Reality
• “Belief may serve as a useful stopgap measure in the absence of actual experience, but once you see Reality, belief becomes unnecessary.”
• “Reality doesn’t need to be explained.”
• “Reality is simply thus—immediate, direct experience, prior to any ideas or explanations at all.”
• “To make matters worse, we often identify with our thoughts, as if substantiality could somehow be found in what we think or believe.”
• “The real problem is that we are caught by our concepts. We don’t have to grant them power or accuracy or validity that they don’t have.”
• “Learn to take note of our actual experience, and see just how it differs from our thoughts and concepts about it.”
• “What we have to do is see what’s happening in each moment, and base our actions on what we see, not on what we think.”

Quotes on: Dissatisfaction (dhukha)
• “Human life is characterized by dissatisfaction.”
• “Our ignorance is such that most of us don’t realize we’re thirsty.”
• “It’s imperative to recognize that our dissatisfaction originates within us. It arises out of our own ignorance, out of our blindness to what our situation actually is, out of our wanting Reality to be something other than what it is. Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us.”
• “The first truth of the buddha-dharma likens human life to [an] out-of-kilter wheel. Something basic and important isn’t right. It bothers us, makes us unhappy, time after time. With each turn of the wheel, each passing day, we experience pain. Of course there are moments of pleasure. But no matter how hard we try to cultivate pleasure and keep it coming our way, eventually the pleasure recedes and the disturbance and vexation return.”
• “Consider how, even in getting the wonderful things we long for, we tend to live in want of something more, of whatever might come to us next.”
• “When petty choices occupy the mind necessity is forgotten, and wanting and craving, picking and choosing take over. The mind is ill at ease and dissatisfied for want of the next petty thing.”
• “This is the deep end of duhkha—existential angst.”

Quotes on: Effort
• “Usually we make an effort to control, or be different, or try something new, or improve the situation, or improve ourselves. Human history is filled with this kind of effort. And here we are with our improved human world that we’ve spent a great deal of time and energy working on. We’ve improved the rivers and the lakes and the land and our society and our ways of living to the point where we wonder if the human race will survive.”
• “There’s absolutely nothing to go after.”

Quotes on: Impact
• “My point is that the energy, or action, doesn’t stop at all. Ever. Through innumerable transformations, it just continues on and on.”

Quotes on: Change
• “We long for something permanent, something that doesn’t change. Yet our actual experience provides nothing but change…. If we’d only relax, we’d notice that, because of change, what we love continues to appear, and what we hate never lasts forever.”
• “You are nothing but change itself.”
• “This desire to hold on, to somehow stop change in its tracks, is the greatest source of woe and horror and trouble in our lives.”
• “All aspects of our experience, both physical and mental, are in constant flux and change.”
• “Normally, a view of the world is nothing more than a set of beliefs, a way to freeze the world in our minds.”
• “Right view is fluid and flexible, constantly in motion.”
• “By our very attempt to grasp an explanation, we leave things out. In just such a manner, to take any frozen view is to leave out a piece of Reality.”
• “If only we’d stop embalming life, freezing it into a view, we’d experience life as it is, and at its fullest.”

Quotes on: How to wake up
• “First, you must truly realize that life is fleeting. Next, you must understand that you are complete, worthy, whole. Finally, you muse see that you are your own refuge, your own sanctuary, your own salvation.”
• “You are already enlightened. All you’ve got to do is stop blocking yourself and get serious about attending to what’s going on. You are not lacking a thing. You only need to stop blocking or interpreting your vision.”
• “You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here.”

Quotes on: Being Present
• “Life is only lived in this moment, which is fleeting, changing constantly.”
• “Just put your effort into being awake in this moment.”

Quotes on: Being Centred
• “Look not for refuge to anyone beside yourself.”
• “Nothing’s lacking; nothing’s missing.”

Quotes on: Attachment
• “This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set things up for the future. It does mean that we would do well not to become attached to particular outcomes. We’d do better focusing our effort on being present rather than on insisting on what the future must be.”

Quotes on: Speech
• “Whatever someone says to you about another person is skewed from the start. It comes through their filter, their likes and dislikes, their education, their ambition, and the leanings of their own mind.”
• “Furthermore, when we speak about people based on what we think, feel, or hope rather than on what we observe and experience, we deprive them of their humanity. We have replaced what they are, in all their fluid vitality, with our own crystallized ideas, opinions and beliefs.”


Profile Image for Christine Kenney.
351 reviews6 followers
June 20, 2020
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 concrete details about the practices he or his students have adopted as they learned to be awake. For instance, his description of his not-strictly-vegetarian approach to diet was thought provoking.

I found myself thinking revisiting Drawing from the Right Hand Side of the Brain might be a way to "meditate" or at least shut off some of the evaluative filters we put on reality, even if that author in no way claims to be affiliated with any sort of spiritual or philosophical movement.
Profile Image for Ella.
17 reviews
January 7, 2022
4,5 – muito bom de verdade!
apesar de ser um livro de não-ficção, a leitura flui muito fácil (o que geralmente não acontece comigo). gostei mt da forma que o autor aborda os ensinamentos do buda, apesar de eu ter ficado meio confusa com algumas coisas.
recomendo bastante pra quem tem vontade de conhecer o budismo e além disso tb quer um pouco de iluminação.
só acho que algumas coisas ficaram meio vagas (?), ou talvez o budismo seja assim mesmo e eu que precise descobrir sozinha como posso Ver a realidade como ela é de fato.
1 review
February 5, 2010
"Attend to immediate experience. Cultivate your mind in meditation. Become familiar with the workings and leanings of your own mind." This was the most influential piece of information I took from this break down of the buddha-dharma by Mr. Hagen. The book was a very fast and easy read, however once I'd completed it I was left with a plethora of questions. I think the book did a very good job of providing an overview of the buddha-dharma. This is the first book I've read on the subject and it was a thorough introduction because it focused on the teachings of Buddha--dealing exclusively with here and now and reaching awareness--and not the beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, and practices that have become attached to the religion of Buddhism over the years. It examines the 'nature of existence' and details the eightfold path to put the buddha -dharma into practice: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.
The book repeatedly re-inforced the importance of seeing in order to awaken and reach enlightenment. "Simply by seeing your state of mind, by seeing your inclinations toward this and away from that, you are awake. All you have to do is to continue bringing yourself back to seeing." Which is important when realizing what is/isn't within our locus of control and where our efforts and energies should/shouldn't be expended. The one criticism that I have of the book is it's section on meditation: I wish that there was more information on the different types of meditation, a comparison and how they all differ (or are similar) in helping one achieve awareness.
While I was left with many questions after reading the book, I feel like that is a great thing because it provided me with the basic information I need in order to form questions to be explored further as I continue to read more about the buddha-dharma. As I stated before, it is a great introductory book that whet my appetite about the basic teachings of Buddha. I will continue to explore my curiosity on the subject matter which Hagen states is 'about examining our lives, our behavior, our speech, and the means by which we earn our keep on this planet- and how all these activities connect with everything else. '
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dreamybee.
212 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2009
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 to start for anyone who is curious about Buddhism or even just for someone who is feeling unsettled in his or her life.

For me, the most profound revelation of this book hinged on an optical illusion of sorts that the author uses to illustrate a point. There is one of those, "What do you see here?" type of pictures in the book that isn't very clear when you first look at it, but once you see the image within it, it is very clear, sort of like those 3-D pictures that were all the rage for a while in the...'90s(?) where you stare and stare and stare at a bunch of dots, not seeing anything, and then all of a sudden it all comes into focus and you see fighter jets or the Empire State Building or something. Once you see it, you see it. So, I saw the picture that was in the book, and that example worked out great for me. Granted, I had to flip to the back where the author tells you what's in the picture, but I was still able to see it. Unfortunately, for anyone who doesn't ever see the picture, this is not a great gimmick. So, my advice for anyone reading this book is to make sure you see the picture, even if you have to have somebody else point it out to you.
Profile Image for yangkhama.
75 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2022
What started as a borrowed read from a friend for the train ride home ended in a month long reading slump lol.
With a self-evident title that says it all, this read is a simple guide to Buddhism. It was expectedly reassuring albeit repetitive at times. The writing explores the four truths of Buddhism which may sound like dogmatic absolutes but isn't. It consequently lays out the eight fold path of Buddhism. This read offered very many lyrical gems & wisdoms alike & a comfort in the impermanence & flux that Buddhism is fundamentally rooted in.
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