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Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,060 ratings  ·  82 reviews
“[Hagan’s] book will appeal to readers interested in what true Zen practice is supposed to be about beyond all the popular images and colorful stories.”

—Robert M. Pirsig, New York Times bestselling author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Buddhism is Not What You Think is a clear, direct, and engaging guide to the most essential elements of spiritual inquiry: at
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by HarperOne (first published October 7th 2003)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  1,060 ratings  ·  82 reviews

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Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Whatever you hold to, let it go.
Step into this moment.
Come back to just this.
It takes some effort.
But come back, come back, come back to just this.
Just see
what you've been ignoring for so long".

This is how Steve Hagen ends this immensely comforting and insightful book. I picked up this book during 2013 after some personal struggles that left me feeling a lot of things, both physical and emotional, none of which were comfortable, or pleasant or things that I wanted to be experiencing. Earl
Pooja Kashyap
Simple and free flowing book, Buddhism Is Not What You Think written by Steve Hagen talks about what reality is as per Zen Buddhism. The author resonates one central point in the entire book and that is, reality is about direct experience of the real time than mere feelings and thoughts, which happen to be in constant flux in conscious and subconscious level in human mind.

Through various real life examples, Hagen illustrates the point of perceiving awareness of the current instances that is taki
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I really like this book; in fact, I reread it this fall.

The concepts behind Buddhism are so elegantly simple, yet I find them difficult to absorb and digest. I guess that's the challenge, right?

Hagen writes in a clear and straightforward way, illustrating major points of the religion with everyday examples to which the average Western reader can relate. I find him to be an inspiring and thought-provoking teacher, and I would recommend this book as a good place to start if you are interested in
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I prefer quites over reviews:
According to Bodhidharma (and to Zen), if we make enlightenment—or enlightened people—into something special and set them apart from others and from ourselves, we abuse them. In the process, we also abuse ourselves. Thus enlightenment becomes remote, otherworldly, mysterious, and (seemingly) virtually impossible to realize.
Zen is about freeing ourselves from such deluded thinking.

Try to nail down what anything is. You can’t. It’s like trying to answer the qu
Erjon 7
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the best ways to be introduced to the Dharma.
Masum Hasan
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Buddhism is REALLY not what I thought!
The author beautifully sheds light what being enlightened really is not. You might be asking what it is then? The answer is: that is the wrong question to ask!

Here are some key points I've found most important,
First thing first, Buddhism is not a belief system, a follower is not required to believe in anything supernatural. Buddha was a human, who found out that our suffering is caused by our craving to get happiness.
Imagine our life as a beach, there are t
Tom Blacklock
Nov 21, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thinking
This could have been interesting if he hadn't reiterated his only message on every single page. Instead it was just incredibly boring.

The message is in the title - don't bother reading the book.
Heather Yockey
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Liked the tempo of this book.
Chris Bassett MD
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
If there’s one thing Hagen has taught me, it’s that you can only get so far by reading. Perhaps the best thing you’ll get from his books is a sense that you’ve read enough, that you’ve read it all before and it’s time to just do it. That doesn’t speak well for his writing - or does it?
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Buddhism is Not What You Think-Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs by Steve Hagen
In his clear and conversational style, much as he did in Buddhism Plain and Simple, Steven Hagen tackles what is a thorny issue for most people coming to Zen practice hoping to "get enlightened" "feel blissed out by Nirvana" or those who come to Zen practice hoping to "get" anything at all. As he so simply states through 43 chapters, there is no getting what all beings innately possess (Buddha nature) and no becoming wha
Elly Sands
Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a no-nonsense book on Buddhism and perhaps the most exceptional one I've ever read. The subtitle "Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs" is why I chose this particular book. I believe that beliefs are sometimes so unbelievable that they are hard to believe.

Rich Neal
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written - I'm learning a lot. A very detailed deposition of modern Buddhism that debunks the western-hemisphere initiated misunderstandings and biases towards the ONLY life philosophy that Albert Einstein mentioned as being worthy of further consideration. ...more
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books you will find on Buddhism. Hagen gives clear descriptions of Buddhist thought and in a way that gives the reader a clear understanding of the fundamental concepts that are key to understanding the Buddha's message. Highly recommended. ...more
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Buddhism for the pragmatic American. Explained well with none of that as-soon-as-you-try-to-explain-it-you-fail stuff.
Dec 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Terrific book. A lot of practical sense and getting to grips with real Buddhism. I like Steve Hagen's books and have a couple of others—they're all worth reading. ...more
Buddhism is not what you think. It took me almost this entire book to realize the title is a pun. I can think of nothing so Buddhist as a title which holds a more fundamental truth than the obvious one. About the only think I can think of as more Buddhist is to abstain from rating the book because doing so is delusion and it obscures truth.

At its core, the book argues Buddhism holds that perception is truth and our conceptions of reality are delusion. Being awakened means perception unencumbered
Tyson Adams
Enlightenment or your money back!

How can we see the world in each moment, rather than merely as what we think, hope, or fear it is?
How can we base our actions on reality, rather than on the longing and loathing of our hearts and minds?
How can we live lives that are wise, compassionate, and in tune with reality?
And how can we separate the wisdom of Buddhism from the cultural trappings and misconceptions that have come to be associated with it?

Steve Hagen's Buddhism is Not What You Think is pretty
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A handful of months ago, I went on a meditation/mindfulness/Buddhism reading bonanza. I tore through quite a few books on the subject and feel like I got a lot out of them. This book came highly recommended as a good beginner's primer on the subject, and I mostly agree. There's plenty of good information here, and I found myself underlining and marking pages to return to regularly.

For some reason, though, this book took me forever to finish. I would pick it up, read a chapter, put it down for th
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It presents a broad range of topics and discusses them from a Buddhist/Zen perspective.
However, I do not agree with the author that Buddhism is not a "belief system". It is, but couched in different terms, riddles, and obfuscation. It does not share the extensive dogma of the Judaeo-Christian model but does proffer a belief system regarding life and the cosmos.
While reading the book, I began to reflect upon the Seinfeld episodes that promoted the idea of selling
Mattheus Guttenberg
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen, buddhism, liberation
Enjoyable and introspective. Hagen discusses the spirit of Buddhism from a Zen perspective: the illusion of ego, the breaking of subject-object dualism, the nature of sudden enlightenment, the art of manifesting wisdom in the world, and more. Many of his comments reflected perspectives/attitudes I had already discovered in myself through reading the primary sources (Yuanwu, Huangpo, Huineng, etc.) - but he delivers them in a holistic and polished manner, inspiring the reader to practice Zen more ...more
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
There are some fine insights, interesting lore and personal stories, and candid explications here. Unfortunately there is also a lot of tiresome repetition that is doggedly on the nose, and somewhat homely prose that frequently seems to lose track of itself. The really good bits, and there are many, throw the breezy bromides into starker relief, and make me wish the author had taken more care to emulate some of the laconism so reverently featured in so many tales about zen monks. I would still r ...more
Ellen Rennels
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
And this book was not what I thought it was either. It is interesting and worthwhile but sometimes hard to follow. Of course, that is part of his overall point (I think) - that Buddhism isn't linear and isn't something you actually get a handle on. At least I think that is his point. The writing is lovely, the flow is mostly circular, kinda like a whirlpool. Keep going round and round, touching on similar points from a slightly different depth. ...more
Pieter Seuntjens
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book of Steve Hagen I have read. Just like the first one, I am immensely grateful to have read it. I remember being stuck on a boat in Indonesia for half a day, reading his first book and having multiple 'kensho' experiences while reading and gazing up around me. The wisdom that these books provide... Thank you Steve for deepening my Buddhist and overall life knowledge. Wish you all the best. 🙏 ...more
Mamta Mittal
May 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Couldn't understand half of it.. Particularly after reading conversation with God -1 , I feel it's boring in comparison. It seems to carry the same message but isn't presented well. I am quiet disappointed . ...more
Daniel Pasternak
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm no Buddhist but this was the best book I've read all year. There are so many thoughts and viewpoints explored in this book anyone would be able to walk away with something. My view on life has been changed forever after reading, i can see now lol! ...more
Francisco Lozano
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book, it definitely clears a lot of doubts regarding Buddhism and it makes you understand a lot and yet at the same time it can make you understand even less. Zen is complicated yet at the same time so easy.
Mark Edwards
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly inspiring and enlightening book. Boiling down the concepts of Buddhism to their most basic and fundamental.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
more self help than history, but good insights into zen practice and awareness.
Michael Bird
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Great book. Very clear, incisive and accessible. Really good on difficult ideas like non self and emptiness
Michael G
Here we find what Steve Hagen refers to. Nothing in particular.
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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

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“See confusion as confusion. Acknowledge suffering as suffering. Feel pain and sorrow and divisiveness. Experience anger or fear or shock for what they are. But you don't have to think of them as evil - as intrinsically bad, as needing to be destroyed or driven from our midst. On the contrary, they need to be absorbed, healed, made whole. (15)” 14 likes
“What makes human life--which is inseparable from this moment--so precious is its fleeting nature. And not that it doesn't last but that it never returns again.” 14 likes
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