Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs

ISBN: 0060730579
ISBN 13: 9780060730574
By: Steve Hagen

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About this book

Bestselling author and renowned Zen teacher Steve Hagen penetrates the most essential and enduring questions at the heart of the Buddha's teachings: 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?Drawing on down-to-earth examples from everyday life and stories from Buddhist teachers past and present, Hagen tackles these fundamental inquiries with his trademark lucid, straightforward prose. The newcomer to Buddhism will be inspired by this accessible and provocative introduction, and those more familiar with Buddhism will welcome this much needed hands-on guide to understanding what it truly means to be awake. By being challenged to question what we take for granted, we come to see the world as it truly is. Buddhism Is Not What You Think offers a profound and clear path to a life of joy and freedom.

Reader's Thoughts

Stephanie Keyton

Great book on Zen Buddhism. I thought his ideas on enlightenment were interesting, however the book was a bit repetitive. I do intend to re-read it again in the future.


Buddhism for the pragmatic American. Explained well with none of that as-soon-as-you-try-to-explain-it-you-fail stuff.


Perhaps a slightly less metaphor-heavy alternative to Charlotte Joko Beck's books, this is probably a great introduction to zen. Some of the examples he uses verge on the gimmicky, and feel at odds with the rest of the work. I also wasn't convinced by the latter sections which call upon rather speculatory science - yes, it's really pretty interesting, but also mostly irrelevant, I would have thought, detracting from the major themes of the book.


While it seemed basic and simple to start, and in many ways stayed that was throughout, I found a lot of interesting concepts to ponder. This is a good book to read slowly. Zen.


I'm surprised I didn't jot this down, but in one of the chapters Steve Hagen makes a distinction between Belief and Knowledge. If I remember correctly, there are two insights packed into this distinction.First that Science is about Belief, which maybe something materialists like me may not be comfortable with at first glance... but actually kind of makes sense. It just so happens that Science has a very good way of controlling belief so that we're not just believing any old thing, but the bits and pieces that are left behind when we've ruled out a bunch of our other beliefs in a good way.The second insight is that Science and Religion are often fighting in the Belief category, which is stupid. Science is an excellent tool for managing Belief (eg. we can rule out that the sun goes around the Earth because X), and Religion has no business trying to interfere, particularly since it's got its own territory to tend to (Knowledge). This is a bit like that irritating Science-says-Why/Religion-says-How thing that people use (which sounds really trite to me), but somehow a bit more satisfying.I hope that without a copy of his book and many months after reading it, this interpretation of his statement is correct.I kinda like this distinction, but something which bugs me is the word choice "Knowledge". It sounds like this could lead a lot of people to confusion because "Knowledge" for many people is just very strong belief (I don't Think it's true, I Know it's true -- well, actually, you don't Know it's true, you think very fervently that it's true). I wish there was a better word than Knowledge, something that better conveys the orthogonality with Belief.Hope somebody knows what I'm trying to get at and can run with it...


This is easily one of the best books about Zen - and life in general - that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Steve Hagen is able to write about these topics in a way that makes it clear and easy to absorb what he's talking about. This is a life altering book, read it!


Very well written and somewhat helpful to me - a person who does not practice Zen Buddhism. Of my recent reading on Buddhism, this was the most helpful.


Some of the ideas put forth in this book, especially those concerning various Zen conceptions of life and reality, are pretty nice thoughts and have even been pleasant and helpful in everyday life. However, Hagen is unclear at best on a number of important philosophical ideas and claims. Often he falls back on the claim that if we could "just see" reality for what it is in this moment, we would know the truth of Zen teaching.As an overview of Buddhist teachings and beliefs, this book is useful If a little repetitive. I would now be interested in examining the philosophical presumptions of Buddhism in more depth in another book should I find one more focused on them.

Courtney Rinker

Good read. Sometimes confusing. You need to be open to the reading for it to be worthwhile.


I've been studying with Sogyal Rinpoches RIGPA foundation now for two years. This past year in class they introduced us to the notion's of how we use concepts to explain that which is beyond concepts, which kinda makes it hard to write a review with any obvious (concept based) value.This book really does a beautifully direct teaching of the above. How it makes the point over and over about what reality is and isn't, is the absolute take out from the book for me. I think if I hadn't had 2 years worth of teachings from Rigpa, I'm not sure if I would have been able to get what was being said. Simply an outstanding book to help decode the teachings and apply them.


Never finished it, but it's one of those books that I'm glad to have as a reference on my bookshelf in case I need a quick dose or a life lesson.


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.


Nicely presents concepts in everyday terms without advocating (or disparaging) any religious viewpoints. The discussion of reincarnation, which differs significantly from what might be found in a more "traditional" Buddhism text, is particularly interesting.


A good basic intro book into Buddhism teaching how to get out of our thinking & overly analytical minds and how to just observe and be in the moment, be in the now.

Andy Hickmott

This is one of those popular books on Buddhism which seeks to come at its subject from an original angle, presumably so that wisdom that has survived millennia can be commercially viable. In this case, the angle is revealed by the ambiguous title: easily misinterpreted as meaning 'Buddhism is not what you think [it is]', but properly explained in the book as meaning 'Buddhism is not [about] what you think' (but actually about letting go of thought). Yes, it's a clever smart-ass title, but a very well-written book by a knowledgeable practitioner of the Zen school. Although written in a plain accessible style, Hagen has drawn on plenty of authorities both from the Zen school and from Pali scriptures. And whereas some popular books on Buddhism get drawn into mystical mumbo jumbo, Hagen avoids this entirely, presenting Buddhist ideas and practice in an intelligent way that steers clear of all supernatural speculation. He even clears up the misunderstanding that the Buddha taught, and his followers believed in, reincarnation of the soul - easily done once it is understood that all things are impermanent, and that for the Buddhist, there is nothing like a soul that might survive death to be reincarnated. An enjoyable book from a very wise teacher.

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