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


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 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!


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.

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!

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.


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.

Tim Niland

After watching the PBS documentary on the life of Buddha, I became curious about his philosophies and found this small book which lays out some of the basic ideas of the Buddhists in a plain spoken and non dogmatic way. According to Hagen the main idea of Buddhism is the concept of truly seeing the world without any prejudices or preconceived notions. I like that the Buddhists are encouraged to test out the teachings of the Buddha and others, not just following them blindly. Hagen discusses the idea of viewing the self as part of the whole instead as part of a discreet entity which is interesting but hard to do. It seems that rather than a religion that Buddhism is a way of life or philosophy, one that seems to advocate peace and moderation rather than the mix of threats and cajoling that makes up traditional religions. His overall message is that if one can "wake up" and truly see the Universe as it is rather than making conceptual frameworks that alter it, that people can find peace and contentment.

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.


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.


An interesting read for a new comer to Buddhist ideas like myself. Hagen tries to distil the Buddha's teachings to as few essentials as possible, ignoring all the bells and whistles that have attached themselves in the centuries since the Buddha's life. A book teaching ideas that claim by their nature to be unteachable is always going to be a bit of a brain-melter, but this is definitely an interesting and relatively easy introductions to the buddha-dharma.


This book ultimately wasn't for me. I think by the time I read this, I had read a few other texts which acted as introductory grounding.I didn't dislike this book, but I just didn't feel the inspiration that I did from reading others.It is clear and concise and matter of fact, but herein lies the problem for me. Perhaps I was spoiled and should have left this book alone!

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.

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.

David Buckley

This is an excellent, clear-sighted account of buddhism. It clears away all the extraneous nonsense that has clung like barnacles to this most misunderstood religion. Hagen, like many others, thinks it is not a religion, simply because it is not god-obsessed. But, Buddhists sure act funny for non-religious types!! Hagen puts the emphasis on what he rightly describes as the buddha-dharma, the teaching of the 'awakened'; rather than on the 'historical' Buddha, Gautama. And Hagen rightly points out that the ups and downs of life remain despite 'awakening'. Life remains what it is regardless of who you are or what your faith. But, as Hagen points out, Buddhism doesn't ask you to have faith. Buddhism asks you to see. Nothing more; nothing less.

Cynthia .

I was born a Roman Catholic but has never been devout. I never quite understood its doctrines and thus never been a faithful disciple. Religions set out laws and each devotee is to embrace them. They recite the Holy Rosary everyday, they go to church every Sunday but when asked why they do so, what for they repeatedly say a set of prayers, they could never give an answer. That is for me rather vague and what I cannot fully understand I do not fully adopt. But for the record, I tried to give Roman Catholicism a chance to grow in me, but I reckon, I did not render a good soil. Now, I am watering the seeds of this new faith. I was moved by the serenity of the present Dalai Lama - his words are overflowing with goodness - that I felt in my heart, this is the faith I will plant and cultivate in me. This book is my rudimentary road map to Buddhism. I'm looking forward to learning more about this beautiful philosophy.

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