Buddhism Is Not What You Think by Steve Hagen


Simple and free flowing book, Buddhism Is Not What You Think written by Steve Hagen talks about what reality is as per Zen Buddhism. The author resonates one central point in the entire book and that is, reality is about direct experience of the real time than mere feelings and thoughts, which happen to be in constant flux in conscious and subconscious level in human mind.

Through various real life examples, Hagen illustrates the point of perceiving awareness of the current instances that is taking place in the ever-changing present moment. The author tries to delve into ontological and epistemological dimensions by referring how masses or common people generally perceive reality.

In the most articulate manner, Hagen has been successful in bringing about the concept of understanding of emptiness, impermanence, and nonduality. Very deftly, he has been able to present the flaw of human mind that fabricates ‘reality’ by past thoughts or experiences in a way that we tend to accept them as actual reality, which essentially is not the case.

The book is interspersed with teachings of ancient Zen teachers, some of them are Huang Po, Shunryu Suzuku, Suzuki Rosi, Dogen Zenji, Ju-ching, Hakuin, Linji (Rinzai), Foyan, Kuei-shan, Ts’ao-shan, Nagarjuna, Kanadeva, Keinzan Jokin (the second of the great founders of Zen sect in Japan, had compiled stories of ancient Zen ancestors) to name a few.

I liked the way Hagen has spun his interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s This Will Never Come Again and transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics in different sections under the third segment of the book.

My curiosity towards Zen Buddhism compelled me to buy this book, and I find this book extremely helpful in ways of understanding the thought process of Zen Buddhists. I enjoyed it thoroughly, recommended for those who want to take a dip into the thought ocean of Zen Buddhism.

I’d also like to add some of the profound quotations that I came across while reading:

“Nothing stands on its own. Nothing has its own being. Each thing is inseparable from, and inter-identical with, all that it’s not.”

“Thus perception is an objectless Awareness since, when we just see, what is truly seen involves not objects but the Whole. Nothing actually forms as an object; nothing stands apart. No matter where we look, there’s just this.”

“We think there only has to be sound for there to be sound. We overlook that there must also be silence for there to be sound. And because of sound, there is silence. Were there no sound, how could there be silence?”

“What makes human life–which is inseparable from this moment–so precious is its fleeting nature. And not that it doesn’t last but that it never returns again.”

“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.”

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