Buddhism Plain and Simple

ISBN: 0767903323
ISBN 13: 9780767903325
By: Steve Hagen

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts


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.

Marsha Graham

I've read this book at least 20 times - cover to cover - and added annotations. Of all the material and books on Buddhism I've read - everyone from HH the Dalai Lama to Thich Nhat Hahn to Stephen Batchelor to the Pali Canon itself - this one book stands out from all the rest. Don't get me wrong, I love Pema Chodren, but Hagen is the one who actually says it like it is. This book is truly Buddhism that is plain and simple and it is the book I recommend to all persons who want to undertake Buddhist study. I'm very hard of hearing and have been almost all of my life. As such, I have learned to observe as much as I can about the world around me. I can't really listen to it very much, so I'm primarily a watcher. There is a story told by the author about going on a walk and seeing birds coming in right over the head of another person who was otherwise engaged (listening to a walkman, I think) and she missed this impressive moment of being. I relate that to the time when I was kayaking all on my own on the Charles River near sunset, headed back to the dock, when a flight of waterfowl came over my head to land for the evening. What awsomeness. What oneness with the universe. Right there in the moment. Pure being - pure meditative being. The quiet enabled me to hear the sound of flapping wings right overhead and I could feel the movement of the air. Everything was there - the water, the boat, the movement of my muscles, the birds flying in - pure existence in that eternal moment. I think I got an idea of what nirvana might be. :)I've studied Pure Land with an awesome teacher I can often hear (not always), been to presentations by Monks and Nuns I often can't understand because they speak softly and with a thick accent, and yet with all the materials to hand, and what little I can glean from actual teachers - the best resource I've ever had was this book. Sadly, it got lost in a move. Someday I'll replace it. Thank you, Steven Hagen. I've often wished I was where you are.

Joe Wroe

First book I've read on Buddhism and it was really interesting and quite easy to follow. Sometimes I did find it difficult to focus on however as theories got a little vague in an attempt to simplify them, I think.


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.

Nick Scott

I read this for improv, as recommended by improv master Dave Razowsky. As with many things in improv I found it helpful both on stage and in life. Not stressing over possible outcomes that you can't control, being in the moment, and not ruining things by conceptualizing and labeling them are some of the big things I took away from this. It's all written very plainly and succinctly, so it's easy to read and comprehend. For improvisors, I recommend this for the more advanced improvisor, as the ideas might be a little abstract and confusing to someone who is just starting out. For people interested in Buddhism, this book is a great example of why I like Buddhism. Mainly, because it's not really a religion, it's just a good life philosophy. All the dogmatic craziness with reincarnation, monks, Lamas and such was added later as it traveled from region to region and people added their own stuff to it. This book sheds all that and focuses on the original Buddhism, which was relatively plain and simple.


I took this book out at the library renewed it two times , read it about 3 times and I still feel like there's so much to lean about buddhism . The book explained so many questions that I'd always wanted answers to. I grew up religious going to church and you realize how much Dogma you have engrained in you at such a young age. Also how much of it is very contradictory. "Seeing" is a big focus in Buddhism and although the explanation seems easy having a life time of "this is right,this is wrong" makes it difficult to change the thought process right away. It does however make me want to learn more about buddhism . I've always felt organized religion brought about so much doubt, people referring to themselves as a certain religion but only following the rules they feel like, or only what suits them. This book also talks a lot about duhkha (suffering, feeling out of kilter) and how to get out of it. Also it explains right view(not being caught by ideas,concepts,beliefs or opinions.) It seems almost impossible though, to not be affected by certain views considering since "birth" our morality and belief systems have been taught to us by our parents. I think this is a book worth buying , and reading a few times. For me it just seems like it makes sense. It may take me awhile to fully grasp everything but being "awake" seems way better than a lifetime of duhkha.

Chadwick Von Lexington

Extremely great book for those who want a simple intro into the world of Buddhism. Great for experienced followers of the practice as well. Steven Hagen basically gives you the low down on everything from the the 4 truths, to the benefits of practicing meditation. When I first became interested in Buddhism, I've tried reading other intro books but found some of the jargon to be too overwhelming and tough to follow. Steve puts everything in plain english and even though he does dip into the related jargon, he explains it to you in a simple way that makes it easy to follow. Overall, a great book and it further stimulated my interest to pursue a life of non-suffering, mindfulness and enlightenment! A must read!


How does one review a book like this?"Too long. I achieved enlightenment on page 97, so the rest was dross.""Complete nonsense. No mention of the Great Creator Squirrel."I kid, of course. If I didn't like ideas like those presented here, I wouldn't have picked it up in the first place. It is clear, calm, and, best of all for me(yes, I still speak of a "me" so, yeah, I've still got some awakening to do), it makes the path appear doable.Fewer repetitions and more inspiring imagery and I'd have given it 5 stars. (But "I" and "stars" don't "exist," so...)


I have never read an entire book on Buddhism so I decided to read Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Like discussions about any religion, people have so many opinions on what Buddhism actually is. I wanted to understand the core concepts of Buddhism without all of the things that have been added to its teaching over time. Hagen's book is very insightful and to the point on every page. I literally felt enlightened by reading it. His explanation of Buddhism gives that reader a clear understanding of what Buddhist teachings consist of without clouding the reader with an over abundance of theological terms. I highly recommend this book to those who want to understand the core concepts of Buddhism and for those who have been Buddhist for a while but wonder what it is Buddha actually meant in his teachings.


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.


This is a very good book, and probably the best primer on Buddhism that I have read. It details in direct, plain language the basics of Buddhist philosophy, and gives useful real world examples and analogies. I have a much better understanding of Buddhism in general, and for the western mind raised in a primarily Christian culture, this book gives valuable insight into the reasons Buddhism is a major force in the world. I have read books by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, but I found the language in those to be more difficult to understand and access. Mr. Hagen, on the other hand, acknowledges this very difficulty up front and lays out the teachings of the Buddha in a way that inspires as well as informs. One area where he does a particularly good job is where he explains the Buddhist rejection of dualism, i.e. good vs evil, bad vs. good etc. The "middle way" makes much more sense now, and especially as it pertains to the self. He spends a lot of time comforting the reader that the lack of a permanent "self" is not a bad thing and is not to be feared.His constant use of italics with the word "see" or "saw" gets tiresome to be honest, and the latter part of the book gets repetitive. However, these are minor drawback.

Daniel Roy

This is a book about the roots of Buddhism, specifically the teachings of the Buddha, purged it 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.

Carlos Mestre

I don't feel like rating this book, seems difficult, I just can recommend it to someone that does know nothing about Buddhism and specially zen. Hagen is a buddhist monk so all his writing is really focus on zen, right view, right mind, the nature of self - no-self. Tries to explain conceptually what cannot be explain that way, that, funny enough is what the book implies, the awakening. He goes to explian the 4 noble truths and The Eightfold Path. Seeing is the most important skill, seeing can only be achieve by yourself, the reality can be known, but not by learning from a master or just believing in it, you have to see it.


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.

Jason Schofield

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.

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