Buddhism Is Not What You Think

Buddhism Is Not What You Think

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by Steve Hagen

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Bestselling author and renowned Zen teacher Steve Hagen penetrates the most essential and enduring questions at the heart of the Buddha's teachings: How can we see the world in each moment, rather than merely as what we think, hope, or fear it is? How can we base our actions on reality, rather than on the longing and loathing of our hearts and minds? How can we


Bestselling author and renowned Zen teacher Steve Hagen penetrates the most essential and enduring questions at the heart of the Buddha's teachings: How can we see the world in each moment, rather than merely as what we think, hope, or fear it is? How can we base our actions on reality, rather than on the longing and loathing of our hearts and minds? How can we live lives that are wise, compassionate, and in tune with reality? And how can we separate the wisdom of Buddhism from the cultural trappings and misconceptions that have come to be associated with it?

Drawing on down-to-earth examples from everyday life and stories from Buddhist teachers past and present, Hagen tackles these fundamental inquiries with his trademark lucid, straightforward prose. The newcomer to Buddhism will be inspired by this accessible and provocative introduction, and those more familiar with Buddhism will welcome this much needed hands-on guide to understanding what it truly means to be awake. By being challenged to question what we take for granted, we come to see the world as it truly is. Buddhism Is Not What You Think offers a profound and clear path to a life of joy and freedom.

Editorial Reviews

If you think of Buddhism as an esoteric discipline of Eastern thought, think again. That's the clear, precise message of Steve Hagen's Buddhism Is Not What You Think. Hagen, a practicing Zen Buddhist priest, maintains that Buddhism is about being awake, about becoming fully human by breaking obstructive patterns and behavior and moving toward compassion and wisdom.
Publishers Weekly
Zen Buddhist priest and longtime teacher Hagen makes his central point emphatically and repeatedly throughout this book: Buddhism is about direct experience, not about the thoughts people habitually entertain about experience. A student of Japanese Zen master Dainin Katagiri authorized by his master to teach, Hagen cites the Buddha's one-word summary of the goal of Buddhist teachings: awareness-awareness of whatever is taking place in the ever-changing present moment. Hagen's Buddhism is oriented toward big questions, strongly ontological and epistemological, and concerned with reality and how reality is ordinarily perceived (or, as he argues, habitually misperceived, because it is overlain with hopes, desires, concepts and other delusions). So the author is not given to a lot of specific examples or stories from present life, though the book is peppered with the ancient-master stories that Zen teachers always draw on. The tone of the book is strongly didactic and abstract. Unlike Zen writers given to simplicity or poetry or startling paradox, Hagen relies on typographical conventions-italics and capital letters-to articulate and underscore his central point about Buddhist awareness ("to see Reality"), which contributes to a ponderous tone. His Zen exegesis of Emily Dickinson is provocative, and the book would have benefited from more such surprises and re-readings of the lessons of everyday experience. That Hagen isn't a poet of prose doesn't detract from the worth of his content, but it does make his book harder to read. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Zen teacher at the Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis, Hagen (Buddhism Plain and Simple) here presents 43 short chapters dealing with various aspects of Buddhist practice in a way that cuts to the heart of the matter. In the prolog we're told that this is "not a feel-good self-improvement book about how to become more spiritual," and indeed it is not. The double-edged title sets the tone, and throughout Hagen reminds us that whenever we're grasping, aspiring, analyzing, judging, or in any way adding to the simple experience of the present moment, we are missing the point. In fact, he'd be likely to say that even thinking there's a point to be missed misses the point. The book is clearly based in Hagen's own experience of Soto Zen and will appeal to readers interested in what true Zen practice is supposed to be about beyond all of the popular images and colorful stories. For practitioners it is also a book that will reward multiple readings over time. Recommended for any library with an interest in Eastern thought and modern Buddhist practice.-Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Buddhism Is Not What You Think
Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs

Chapter One

Paradox and Confusion

If you visit a Buddhist temple in Japan, you'll likely encounter two gigantic, fierce, demonlike figures standing at either side of the entrance. These are called the guardians of Truth, and their names are Paradox and Confusion.

When I first encountered these figures, it had never occurred to me that Truth had guards -- or, indeed, that it needed guarding. But if the notion had arisen in my mind, I suspect I would have pictured very pleasing, angelic figures.

Why were these creatures so terrifying and menacing? And why were the guardians of Truth represented rather than Truth itself?

Gradually, I began to see the implication. There can be no image of Truth. Truth can't be captured in an image or a phrase or a word. It can't be laid out in a theory, a diagram, or a book. Whatever notions we might have about Truth are incapable of bringing us to it. Thus, in trying to take hold of Truth, we naturally encounter paradox and confusion.

It works like this: though we experience Reality directly, we ignore it. Instead, we try to explain it or take hold of it through ideas, models, beliefs, and stories. But precisely because these things aren't Reality, our explanations naturally never match actual experience. In the disjoint between Reality and our explanations of it, paradox and confusion naturally arise.

Furthermore, any accurate statement we would make about Truth must contain within itself its own demise. Thus such a statement inevitably will appear paradoxical and contradictory. In other words, statements about Truth and Reality are not like ordinary statements.

Usually we make a statement to single something out, to pin something down and make it unambiguous. Not so if our business is Truth. In this case we must be willing to encounter, rather than try to evade, paradox and confusion.

Our problem with paradox and confusion is that we insist on putting our direct experience into a conceptual box. We try to encapsulate our experience in frozen, changeless form: "this means that."

Ordinary statements don't permit paradox. Rather, they try to pin down their subjects and make them appear as real and solid as possible. Ordinary statements are presented in the spirit of "This is the Truth; believe it." Then we 're handed something, often in the form of a book or a pamphlet.

But all statements that present themselves in this way -- whether they're about politics, morality, economics, psychology, religion, science, philosophy, mathematics, or auto mechanics -- are just ordinary stuff. They're not Truth; they're merely the attempt to preserve what necessarily passes away.

When we claim to describe what's Really going on by our words, no matter how beautiful, such words are already in error. Truth simply can't be represented.

We want Truth badly. We want to hold it tightly in our hand. We want to give it to others in a word or a phrase. We want something we can jot down. Something we can impress upon others -- and impress others with.

We act as though Truth were something we could stuff in our pockets, something we could take out every once in a while to show people, saying, "Here, this is it!" We forget that they will show us their slips of paper, with other ostensible Truths written upon them.

But Truth is not like this. Indeed, how could it be?

We need only see that it's beyond the spin of paradox that Truth and Reality are glimpsed. If we would simply not try to pin Reality down, confusion would no longer turn us away.

What we can do is carefully attend to what's actually going on around us -- and notice that our formulated beliefs, concepts, and stories never fully explain what's going on.

Our eyes must remain open long enough that we may be suddenly overwhelmed by a new experience -- a new awareness -- that shatters our habitual thought and our old familiar stories.

We can free ourselves from paradox and confusion only when we set ourselves in an open and inquiring frame of mind while ever on guard that we do not insist upon some particular belief, no matter how seemingly well justified.

If it 's Truth we're after, we 'll find that we cannot start with any assumptions or concepts whatsoever. Instead, we must approach the world with bare, naked attention, seeing it without any mental bias -- without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations.

Doing this is the subject of this book.

Buddhism Is Not What You Think
Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs
. Copyright © by Steve Hagen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Steve Hagen is a Zen priest, a longtime teacher of Buddhism, and the author of the bestselling Buddhism Plain and Simple and Buddhism Is Not What You Think. Hagen began studying Buddhism in 1967. In 1975 he became a student of Dainin Katagiri Roshi, and in 1979 he was ordained a Zen priest. Steve lives in Minneapolis, where he lectures, teaches meditation, and writes. He is currently head teacher at Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis.

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Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had to write something after reading the review here. He did not state buddhas believe in coming back as mineral. He said some Hindus do. I have reread this book many times,understanding the concept of we make our own hell more and more. The first read is like a seed. After experiencing life a little more,I come back and understand what the author is trying to say. Then go experience life more. This and his other book has changed the way I see the world,and how I interact with it. I wish he had 20 more books but then,if ever awaken,I wouldn't need them. I am finding a piece with myself and the world around me like I have never before. Not a religion ,a path to be awaken is what he tries to describe. It has changed my life. People around me has noticed and even had some say they wish they could be more like me. They can. They just need to start on the path to cold mountain.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books on Buddhism and this is my first disappointment. His messages are redundant and sometimes he still doesn't seem to get to the point. Buddhism is not rocket science, but he struggles to explain the plain and simple. Other things seem like complete misrepresentations, such as when he says Buddhist believe that you could be reincarnated as a plant or a mineral. I would not recommend this book to a beginner, and the only way to understand what he's trying to say is if you have already read a bit on Buddhism, which makes reading this book obsolete.
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