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


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!

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!


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


Buddhism Plain and Simple was, perhaps, too "plain and simple" for me. Not really. I just found it uninspired and uninspiring. I think I'd be a better judge of its value if it were my first or second introduction to Buddhism and I was able to approach the book with a "beginner's mind." Since that's not the case, if you're looking for an introduction to Buddhist thought, take my luke-warm rating with a grain of salt and decide for yourself.Hagen does do a nice job, in my view, of explaining no-self and interdependence plainly, without undue complication. There's nothing particularly wrong with the book; it's simply that there are other introductions, or books that, although not introductions per se, get the principles across in more compelling ways.

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.


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!


Steve Hagen, author of "Buddhism Plain and Simple," studied Buddhism for thirty years and is a Zen priest who teaches at the Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis. His book is a good introduction to Buddhism and a somewhat simple way to begin to understand the basic principles. He writes about the four noble truths of Buddhism—Buddha-dharma truths and the eightfold path. The first truth is called duhkha (doo-ka)—life means suffering, the second truth is the rising of duhkha, the third truth is the cessation of duhkha, and the fourth truth is the eightfold path. The eightfold path includes: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. Hagen’s book is a no-nonsense introduction to Buddhism. It is pretty straightforward and most of the time easy to follow, although at the end of the book he seemed to wrap everything up quickly without the clear explanations he starts off with. "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" (9). He uses an optical illusion to illustrate the challenge of really seeing something. It took me forever to figure out what the drawing really was, but once I saw it was clear. That’s his point about reality and really “getting it.” I can’t say all of what he wrote about Buddhism was crystal clear, but I can say I understood how we need to be awakened, and even if you do become awakened or aware, life still has its challenges. Buddhism merely asks that you see and are aware, that’s it. Know what you know.


This is a favorite Buddhist book of mine. Steve Hagen keeps the subject matter extremely simple and focused on mindfulness and our misperceptions of reality. I wouldn't say this would be a very good first book to read but it should definitely be the second or third book you read as you are beginning to explore zen buddhist thought.I especially love his take on exploring the afterlife. He essentially says it doesn't matter, that it's an ancillary concern. I couldn't agree more and it was nice reading a book that doesn't feel the need to explore the unknowable in order to justify Buddhism as a complete religion.

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 read Buddhism Plain and Simple years ago, and yet still, every now and then, it wheedles its way into my consciousness; which is exactly why this morning I bought a Kindle edition, and added the book to my GoodReads profile.I bought the first edition I read at www.audible.com . Author Steve Hagen was the narrator of the abridged version offered by Audible; but unfortunately the book is no longer available at Audible. I hope they bring it back, unabridged the next time. Hagen did a good job as narrator. His voice was clear and expressive with 'right nuance' for communicating the truths about which he wrote.Now it's time to re-read Buddhism Plain and Simple. In the broadest sense, this book for me is 'a keeper.'


This is my second book on Buddhism and another from Steven Hagen who is himself a Zen priest.Plain and Simple, plain and simple… or so he says. This book’s focus is on telling the reader to awake, to be aware of true reality itself. There are some very interesting points made in the book on how we are wired to categorize and view everything as a separate and distinct entity. He makes some great points on how everything we observe is skewed by our “mental leanings” (opinions, beliefs, …) either towards or away from an idea or concept in what we think of as the external world. That’s one of my frustrations with this book, okay in actuality it’s more a reflection that “I” (big no-no, right there, there is no “I” I’m part of the whole…) have not awakened and while I can “understand” what’s he’s saying he can’t really explain how to do it. It’s like looking at one of the 3D images that were popular a few years back and you try and explain to your friends, just relax and don’t focus on any one point, when you get it, you’ll see a 3D image!You can give pointers, but you can’t give the exact instructions on what to do.Now the author states you can just do it, now. You don’t need a specific teacher or book, but you have the power in your to attain this. Unfortunately power-wise I may need a fresh set of batteries to make it all the way. Joking aside, I do understand what he’s saying and one can’t just slough off a life time of perception to become awakened very quickly. One has to work at it. I will say, this area of the book I enjoyed, how our “viewpoint” twists what we see. Funnily enough, one can see this if you are on a social media site (e.g. Facebook) and a politically charged topic is being discussed, or just wait till the next elections. Everyone will state adamantly how it “really is” but while respecting a friend’s position you can see that their view is filtered through their personal “baggage”; their background, their religious (or lack thereof) position, etc… No one views anything the same because of all the clutter in their head. I view this as everyone is walking across the darkened room with objects of their own making that cause them to take a different path to get to the exit. But if everyone was awakened, could see true reality, it would be like a lit room and you could all follow the same path out. I did have a big disagreement with his view that once you see you’ll understand there is no beginning and end, no birth or death. I understand this from the “ultimate” connections sort of view. I know my atoms were created in a star, they are momentarily riding together to make me, till they all cast off once I “die”. But to say there is no death because there never was anything concrete as I lived (my skin flakes off, new cells are created, atoms come and go, etc…) misses some people’s concern of dying.When people state a fear or desire to avoid death, they are saying they want consciousness, they want (however you define what makes them, I’ll use the shorthand here of the soul) to continue with their thoughts and memories. If the author is implying that it’s okay because there is no end by the mental game of looking at us as beings that really are part of the "whole" and were never concrete at any point (always in flux, every changing...) I think he is missing the point.At this point, I’ll stop because if I’m lucky enough to have him read my review he may smile and think that “Louis needs to re-read my book to see what I really said”. I may have missed something. I did enjoy this book very much. I love the way he (and the Buddhists) see the world and I think there is a lot of value in it. While I may never be fully awaken, I hope I can go from sleep walking to groggy in the morning…

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