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On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,654 ratings  ·  175 reviews
Headlessness, the experience of "no-self" that mystics of all times have aspired to, is an instantaneous way of "waking up" and becoming fully aware of one's real and abiding nature. Douglas Harding, the highly respected mystic-philosopher, describes his first experience of headlessness in "On Having No Head," the classic work first published in 1961. In this book, he conv ...more
Paperback, 123 pages
Published April 1st 2002 by Inner Directions (first published 1961)
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Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This cult classic is refreshingly different - but that’s regrettably only as far as it goes. I read it in my thirties and now regret the wrong-headed direction in which this, and other books like it, led my attitude back then.

But this book especially!

For Harding - like other Dharma Bums (no slight intended - that’s only Kerouac’s humorous moniker for them) appears to have made a living from this, and numerous other Sunyata Redux titles!

For what he did was make Emptiness gimmicky - and yes, this
Dave Schaafsma
My doctor wants to put me on high blood pressure medication, which would not be surprising for someone of my age, but I asked for three months time to see what I could do without meds, and so 1) started running in earnest again, 2) bought a Fitbit to obsessively track my stats (see David Sedaris’s latest book where he makes fun of his own Fitbit obsession), 3) began my own (very mild) chemical intervention to see if I could get calmer and to try to sleep more AND 4) began meditation with the hel ...more
Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zen
Made me high reading it.
Like many modern readers I was introduced to this short book by Sam Harris in his book ‘Waking Up’. Were it not for the credibility I place in such a recommendation I probably wouldn’t have lasted much beyond the fifth page. Writing in 1961, Harding has attempted to convey a raw first-person experience in terms that can be easily misunderstood for a third-person description. He is attempting to eff the ineffable, and if the reader isn’t attune to this (or hasn't yet experienced any kind of trans ...more
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The way of headlessness is the way I believe we all see the world when we are children. This is the key to the wisdom we all once possessed, as children, and this is the wisdom we lose when we "grow up", become "mature" and join the "real" world of jobs and money and the pursuit of "things" out there. I read this book at about age 40, and it was as if I had discovered a long lost friend. It made me recall a time when I too frolicked about without the burden of this thing called a head.

I had the
Rob Adey
Despite Harding's protestations, I think his first satori experience had something to do with being on holiday in the Himalayas rather than, say, being in the conditions in which I read about it i.e. in a train underground between Tooting Bec and Balham. ...more
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: gods
This book will blow your head. A succinct and obvious perception of self. Enlightening, terrifying and unavoidable.

I have just finished re-reading this, and it strikes me as even more profound than before. If you have a desire to know what all of "this" is, and you are only going to read one more book in your lifetime, this should be the one.
The premise of this little book is set of simple techniques that anyone can use to achieve instant enlightenment about who you really are. I got more results in 10 minutes from using Harding's methods that I have from countless hours of meditation. Some of the book is repetitious, because once you try the technique and "get it", that is really all you need to know. ...more
William Arsenis
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, spiritual
ON HAVING NO HEAD is a short, funny, and down to earth book—literally pointing at who we really are.

It is simple without being at all simplistic. People with a non-dual background would likely find this book easy to understand.

Direct Path inquiry uses direct experience exclusively, disregarding the thoughts that explain and interpret. From this perspective, no one has direct experience of actually having a head. That is Mr. Harding’s initial point, but it is not the essence of the message.

Darren Berg
May 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Douglas Harding states in a couple places in the book, that sometimes things come into your life, just when you need them to. This book is no exception. An amazing read. The first half of the book drew me in with it's playfulness. Its nearly Seuss-ian banter on the idea, the amazing thought, that this man has no head.

It's beautiful, thoughtful and written with such a love for the material that it's simple to understand, to feel what the author is trying to convey.

In an area that can get very d
Elyza La
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A great book recommended by Sam Harris in his L.A lecture on Waking Up.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

That's the sound of this book going over my no-head.

I picked this one up after meditating with Sam Harris' app and books. The concept of no-head isn't something that I yet comprehend at the level I believe they intend, and I hoped this book would help. It did not.

That isn't to say it's a 2-star book. It's a 2-star book to me, right now. I plan on revisiting it in the future as I try to grasp this idea. At that point, perhaps it will be 3 stars, 1 star, or 5 stars.
Richard Peters
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
Douglas Harding created a simple way of "seeing". His mission was to help people experience what is really "here", right where they thought their head was!

On the face of it this is a strange concept, but in fact it is incredibly simple!

Most people think that they have a head sitting on their shoulders, just like all the other people that they see, have one on their shoulders.

What Harding does is suggest a series of personal experiments that anyone can do, to help them realise that what they expe
This book interests me because of a song written by Mike Heron

Douglas Traherne Harding
by Mike Heron

When I was born I had no head
My eye was single and my body was filled with light
And the light that I was, was the light that I saw by
And the light that I saw by, was the light that I was

And many's the time that I've passed by the river
And saw no tollman and needed no ferryman to cross
And I enjoyed the world aright
For the sea itself floweth
And warm I was and crowned

But one day walking by the river
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
"... the very suggestion of headlessness is for many people profoundly offensive, and there's no end to the objections they will raise. Never mind: headlessness is for living always, for sharing occasionally, for arguing about never."

What wise words! Had I read this book years earlier, I would have been saved many awkward encounters in which I tried to convince friends, relatives, and even one or two strangers of the profound fact that you are not inside your head - rather, your head (and all of
Nathan Schwartz
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
A strange little book. Starts with a simple idea – you can’t directly see your own head, progresses to a still pretty simple idea, that you have a unique first-person view of your world, and then leaps to some sort of strange zen you-are-one-with-the-universe sort of thing. If you follow that leap then I guess this book may be pretty amazing (at least some people have told me it was), but for me it did nothing.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that takes its place next to Alan Watts's 'The Book'- a little pamphlet of sorts that contains a set of words that have the potential to shift your perception of everything, including perception itself. Harding has literally zero guru blood in him. He writes not as a teacher, but as a friendly man who has discovered something that he just can't keep to himself. It's a lovely thing he's done here, a unique yet ubiquitous path of self-inquiry that is worth checking out. I had to take my tim ...more
James Q. Golden
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zen, spirituality
Poetically Majestic in the most literal sense of the "word" book on Zen,

but one of the Dullest and Droniest audiobooks I've ever listened to.

So here the question comes:

(hm, yes, my little padawan)

how do you rate this?

And now a koan arises:


Can you find it?

PS. Where are you Peter Coyote, and why the hell did you stop narrating books?
Aug 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Where to begin? Perhaps to quote from - and of - the book itself (which may or may not exist) I can best explain my Perception of this piece of writing: "...there's no ego-trip to match the spiritual ego-trip!"

Not that this book is entirely without merit as there are glimpses of Emptiness, however, Harding primarily equates Emptiness with Nothingness, and seems to think (or present in such a way that I can only assume this was his thought) that he Invented Solipsism. But if Emptiness meant Nothi
Sep 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's actually a bit of zen genius and, as a result, I've been walking around headless all day.

You will, undoubtedly, begin to understand the void and empty yet expansive space that spiritual leaders have long talked about.
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on Zen you can find. Short, succinct, spot-on.
A bit "out there" for me. I get the concept but I'm too much of a scientist and rational thinker to buy into this, or any religious thought for that matter. Interesting read, however. ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very poetic read (which is not my style)
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espiritualidad
The no-book.
Sam Ritchie
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book grew on me by the second half, but only after thinking hard about Harding's repeated claim that the insight he's presenting is perfectly obvious. I'd recommend reading this and giving it a chance, not trying to rip it apart. After all, Harding's not there to defend himself. Why would you read a book for the experience of beating up on an argument you haven't taken the time to understand?

I'm going to give this a re-read in a few months; that may be the way to get through, with a quick i
Ioana Ioana
The face of the Void (is not a pretty one)

Whenever you are reading one of these books about ‘enlightenment’, do yourself a favor and ask if there is any, and I mean any bliss that, in the end, the book doesn’t promise you?

Harding promotes ‘the way’, to be more exact the ‘headless way’ or ‘headlessnes’, an odd little compilation of Zen teachings, mysticism and self-reflection. Those who know me would know what I think of anyone promoting ‘a way’.

But let me at least be fair to one point he mak
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"[This unknowing] is ceasing to take everything and anything for granted. It is the re-discovery of the obvious as very strange, the given as wonderful and precious, before we bend it to our purposes. It is admitting the glory that was there all along. It is actually looking at the “meanest” stone and fallen leaf, at the “nastiest”piece of garbage, at “irrelevant”things like the shape and colour of shadows and the reflection of coloured city lights in wet roads at night (which we’ve ceased to se ...more
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
I don't know if I was not ready for this book or if I was. But it felt rather unreadable and/or incomprehensible to me. I'll be looking for some people who can talk to me about these concepts in a contemporary way...

It feels like Harding is trying hard to make it fun, but it feels like it beats around the bush. At least for me it does not touch anything I can relate to. At least not as much as I would like it to.
Selar Majak
May 23, 2021 rated it did not like it
I think I'm too old for spiritual books....
this is the first time that I see a spiritual book go too literal that I'm almost convinced this is satire..

It doesn't delve into any of the zen teachings, but rather goes on about 90 pages to try to convince you that the author has no head without taking the time to explain the spirituality or what it actually means to have no head. to go into such a state of mind that you let go of everything.

And boy the pretentiousness! I felt like I just wanted to
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Kind of a quirky approach to mindfulness, but I liked it! I think Harding's headless construct helped me think about spacious awareness in a different way. And I really love the idea of offering to be "space" for someone else. I heard Angel Kyodo Williams recently say that she thinks about love as space, and that we become more loving as we make more space for others. Hardings ideas fit nicely with that notion. ...more
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“What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. [...] Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.”
“We suffer because we overlook the fact that, at heart, we are all right.” 5 likes
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