Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Buddhism: Plain & Simple'

by Steve Hagen

Non-Fiction/Religion, 1997
Broadway Books, paperback, 152 p.

(Book #24 for 2007, Book #2 for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge)
One day, soon after the Buddha’s enlightenment, a man saw the Buddha walking toward him. The man had not heard of the Buddha, but he could see that there was something different about the man who was approaching, so he was moved to ask, “Are you a god?”
The Buddha answered, “No.”
“You’re a magician, then? A sorcerer? A wizard?”
“Are you some kind of celestial being? An angel, perhaps?”
Again the Buddha said, “No.”
“Well, then, what are you?”
The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”
Having visited many beautiful Buddhist temples in Japan, I’ve been wanting to learn a little bit about the religion behind them. From the title, and the fact that it’s not too long, and because the author has studied Buddhism for over 30 years and has received the endorsement to teach, I thought this would be a good start. How wrong was I? If it wasn’t putting me to sleep at night, it was certainly the most annoying book I’ve read in quite some time. Why? Because after introducing the key ideas and the key words he proceeded to simply rearrange these same words and ideas and repeat them over and over and over for the rest of the book. Worst of all was the italicized 'see' used numerous times on almost every page. (Italics as in the book)
Simply by seeing your state of mind, by seeing your inclinations toward this and away from that, you are awake. All you have to do is to continue bringing yourself back to seeing. To see is to heal an otherwise fragmented mind and to prevent further scattering of mind from occurring. (p. 97)
To see doesn’t mean to initiate a program of inaction. People often misunderstand this. To act, or not to act, is not the question. The question is whether or not we’re awake.
What we have to do is see what’s happening in each moment, and base our actions on what we see, not on what we think. (p. 148)
I did make a note of a few quotes I liked from the beginning before his repetitive style started driving me crazy.
The teaching of the Buddha does not take what is set down in writing too seriously. Buddhist writings (including this book) can be likened to a raft. A raft is a very handy thing to carry you across the water, from one shore to another. But once you’ve reached the other shore, you no longer need the raft. Indeed, if you wish to continue your journey beyond the shore, you must leave the raft behind. (p. 9-10)

We think we have to deal with our problems in a way that exterminates them, that distorts or denies their reality. But in doing so, we try to make Reality into something other than what it is. We try to rearrange and manipulate the world so that dogs will never bite, accidents will never happen, and the people we care about will never die. Even on the surface, the futility of such efforts should be obvious. (p. 18)
Otherwise though, besides having the fact that I need to learn how to 'see Reality' hammered home incessantly, I didn’t come away with too much else from this book. Overall, it was an extremely disappointing introduction to Buddhism. I’m still interested in trying to learn a bit about Buddhism though and I have a couple more books here so hopefully they’re written in a more informative, less grating style.

My Rating: 1/5


  1. I'm sure there are about 14 zillion books about Buddhism that you'll like better than this one. I don't know any of them, having never read a word on the subject, but I'm confident you'll find something. :)

  2. Like you, I was interested in finding out more about Buddhism. I read two books last year that I really enjoyed.

    The Way to Inner Peace: Buddhism, Science & Uncommon Sense for Daily Living - A Practical Guide, by Kingsley Rajapakse

    Buddhism: An Introductory Guide to the Buddhist Tradition, by John Snelling

    If you like I can email you my reviews. :)

  3. actually, if the title's anything to go by, I think the author hit the nail on the head by the sound of it. Buddhism (very generally I know) involves revisiting life until you reach a state of enlightenment. In other words, it's the same stuff over and over again until you suddenly just "get it"

    Looks like you didn't get it.

    You and me both!

  4. MyUtopia,
    Oh, I'd be curious to know what he thinks of it. The reviews on Amazon tend to both extremes so maybe he'll think it's excellent.

    Thanks for your confidence. :)
    I'm not put off the subject (although a really bad book can do that to me for a while at least), and will try again soon.

    Thanks for those titles, I'll check them out. I'd love to read your reviews if you don't mind.

    LOL! No doubt I'm a perfect example of the poor confused souls he's trying to guide towards enlightenment! :P

  5. If you see a book on Buddhism that you like better, please give me the heads-up. I've visited a few temples in Korea and I'd also like to learn more about the religion behind them.


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