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

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.


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.

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.


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.


Hagen is incredibly gifted in the art of explanation. Of the books I’ve read on Buddhism, this was by far the clearest and most concise. He packs the essence of the religion into a tidy 150 pages.The book helped clear up many of my misconceptions about Buddhism. Hagen lays out the buddha-dharma view simply: “An ordinary person is simply one who is not awake in this moment; a buddha is a person who is. That’s all.”Throughout the book, Hagen italicizes every use of the word “see.” This seems to be core. “Right view,” he writes, “is simply seeing Reality as it is, here and now, moment by moment.” And again, “The point of Buddhism is to just see.”While this sounds poetic, as I continued to read I started to wonder how (within Buddhism) a person would know if what he was “seeing” was reality or not. Those who aren’t awake, aren’t seeing--but aren’t seeing what? Who or what distinguishes between what is real and what isn’t?In fairness, this book aims for explanation, not persuasion. Still, while some of the points Hagen makes can hold water, others leak like a sieve. Hagen’s description of Gautama (or “Buddha”) is only two pages. (I did appreciate this, as I’ve gotten confused following other books’ extensive description of the religion’s history.) But to trace all the ideas backward and see that ideas of “seeing” come from this one man’s experience under a tree is unnerving at best. For all the Buddha really knew, instead of awakening, he may have fallen into a yet deeper sleep.Hagen left me unconvinced, yet more informed. With minimal lingo and talented writing, Hagen's work is best for those looking to learn the basics. Buddhism Plain and Simple is a perfect title.


This is one of my favourite books on buddhism that I have. It's not in-depth covering every angle, it's not full of deep insights into the history of the philosophy / religion, it's not a manual on how to meditate. What it IS, however, is a neat, easy to understand, succinct summary of how Buddhism matters: mattered in 600BC in India, matters in Tibet, matters in Scarborough. It's one of very few books that discard the trappings of religion - that tries to draw a line where buddhism begins and eastern culture begins. The only other book I know that does this is "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor, which I'd also recommend. If you want an introduction to the buddha-dharma for someone living in western culture, you could choose an awful lot worse than this little book. If you're interested in buddhism, this will never give you everything you need or want, but it's an excellent introduction.

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.


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.


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...)

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!

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.

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.


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.

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.


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!

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