Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen Book Review

Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware, Right Now, Every Day

In this article, I will be reviewing a book named “Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware, Right Now, Every Day” by Steve Hagen.  Steve Hagen is a Zen priest residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota who has studied Buddhism for more than 30 years. buddhism plain and simple

Half of these years were spend under the tutelage of Zen Master Dainin Katagiri from whom he received the Dharma Transmission (endorsement to teach). Katagiri Roshi is himself the author of a book on Zen Buddhism named “Returning to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life“.


He also teaches Buddhism at the Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis and much of this book is actually based on his lectures on various Buddhist topics.  He is also the author of a few more Buddhist books:

buddhism plain and simple

Book Summary

This book “Buddhism Plain and Simple” strips away all of the religious trappings that Buddhism has adopted in the various Asian countries where it took root and looks at the teachings of the Buddha themselves and what they mean for us in the present.

The book is composed of three sections as outlined below:

Part One: The Perennial Problem

This first section of this book focuses on the main teachings of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, and Eightfold Path.

Chapter 1:
The Human Situation
Chapter 2: A Wheel Out of Kilter
Chapter 3: Coming
Chapter 4: Going
Chapter 5: The Art of Seeing

One amazing trick is found in Chapter 2 where the author asks you to name what is in the following image:

buddhism plain and simple

Can you tell what this picture is depicting?

The author uses this as a way to illustrate the kind of “Aha” realization that we’ll get once we attain enlightenment and we experience a shift in perception.  Once you can see the image in the above picture, note that you’ll be able to recognize it after you see the answer (I will include the answer at the end of this post) as it really is and not what your brain wants to make it.  And all right under our noses, as is Nirvana itself the awakened mind.

Part Two: The Way to Wake Up

The second section of this books focuses on the Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold path which is the path by which we can understand and deal with the world as we find it.

Chapter 6: Wisdom
Chapter 7: Morality
Chapter 8: Practice
Chapter 9: Freedom

Part Three: Free Mind

In the third section of this book there is a focus on the first two aspects of the Eightfold path (Right View and Right Intention) which comprise the Buddha’s wisdom teachings.

Chapter 10: The Way We Are
Chapter 11: Can’t Pin “Me” Down
Chapter 12: Interdependence

Also included are resources on Dependent Arising (sometimes called Dependent Origination) and the two ways to view the Twelvefold Chain of Dependent Arising.

buddhism plain and simple

Zen by Flickr user Erich Ferdinand

Book Critique

This is a great book since it explains Buddhism without getting into the terminology too much, which can be confusing for many beginners.  Instead he presents the teachings of the Buddha simply and in plain language as the title suggests.

I would recommend this book to all who are looking to get a better understanding of Buddhism.  After I read this book, I was left with a very profound understanding of Buddhism, much deeper due to the accessible and simple language without the religious and linguistic trappings.  And I still use it for reference purposes or as a refresher as a Buddhist myself.

Conclusion / Rating

This is by far one of the best books on Buddhism that I have ever read that was written for lay Buddhists, so my rating for this one is:buddhism plain and simple

Thanks for reading my review of “Buddhism Plain and Simple” by Steve Hagen, I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you enjoy the book as well.

Click here to get your copy today!!!

Buddhism Plain and simple

Mysterious Figure Solution

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12 Responses to Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen Book Review

  1. nlincoln712 says:

    Thanks for doing this review! I’ve always found religious books fascinating, but so many of them get so in depth into the teachings and trying to convert me to that religion that they end up losing me. I’m glad that Steve Hagen strips away all of that and tries to be informative about Buddhism rather than trying to make me a Buddhist. Thanks again!

  2. Derek Marshall says:

    Hi Ian,

    Great book review but you have not yet revealed what the image depicts (as you promised you would in the comments section). I know what I see, not sure how I would describe it or put it into words though.

    Love reading this blog, glad it comes up in news feed! It is one of the few blogs I eagerly await updates on.

    Please do keep up the excellent work.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Derek,

      Thanks for reminding me. The solution to the image is now at the very bottom of the post.

      Thanks for all the great feedback! I’m glad that it’s engaging enough. And there’s lots more to come so stay tuned. 🙂

  3. Jess says:

    It sounds like this book really encompasses the basic and not-so-basic principles of Buddhism. I have always loved researching other religions, but have not gotten to Buddhism yet. Would this book be the best way to introduce myself to this religion and it’s practices? Or would you recommend something else? I am curious how long you yourself have been studying and/or practicing Buddhism? I will definitely be poking around your site more, thanks for sharing!


    • Ian H says:

      I would definitely recommend this book as a beginners intro to Buddhism. I have been studying and doing my best to practice Buddhism for the past 15 years or so. I personally prefer Tibetan Buddhism but it’s also important to take a look at Zen (Steve Hagen’s book is from the Zen perspective), Theravada, Pure Land, and others. The Dharma (teachings) are the same across all sects but there are subtle differences in practice and perspective. For example in Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism we have tons of iconography representing the various Buddhas (like Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Infinite Compassion) and they teach that we are constantly surrounding by the loving embrace of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that are imperceptible to the human eye. Then there is Theravada which looks only at the core teachings and emphasizes meditation. They reject the Mahayana sutras since many of those came from enlightened masters after Buddha’s time, the Theravadans can almost be seen as having an orthodox viewpoint. But at the end of the day these teachings do not contradict each other and I think the richest expression of the Mahayana vision of love and compassion is that even if we attain enlightenment we will still return (whether in this life or another) to help all other sentient beings attain enlightenment.

  4. Erin says:

    I really liked your use of images in this post. The addition of the mystery picture was a great way to draw readers to the end of the article.

    I have always been interested in reading about Buddhism but the one book I tried was over my head with vocabulary. I like that you put this review on your site as a way for people with no background knowledge to start.

    You have a nice flow when you write. I only wanted a little bit more on the critique. Was there anything you did not like about the book?

    Great writing,

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Erin,

      Thanks for the comment! Yes, the vocabulary and some of the philosophical stuff can be quite tricky to understand.

      I can’t think of anything bad to say about the book, it really makes the teachings more understandable to the Western mind.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Hi Ian, great review on Buddhism Pain and Simple. I can certainly appreciate simple. After all, I’ve always looked at Buddhism as complex. I appreciate you taking the time to do your reviews, they all seem quite thorough. I have been thinking of learning a bit about Buddhism and now thanks to you and your recommendations, I know which book will be the easiest to read to learn it. Thanks a lot!

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for the comment and for the feedback. Buddhism can be daunting at first especially some of the philosophy. This book really cuts through the complexity and gets down to the essence of the teachings.

  6. Sergio says:

    Hi Ian. What I love of Buddhism is that it focuses a lot on what we can do as men to have a life worth living, while most of the other religions are centered on the separation between men and a God who gets angry if we don’t do what he wants.
    The terminology, though, can be a bit challenging, especially for people in the Western world, so it’s great that this book is staying clear of that.
    Thanks for the review, maybe I’ll give it a try.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Sergio,
      I totally agree. Buddhism is focused on the now and gives practical advise on how to be compassionate, while other religions require blind faith. I’m glad you enjoyed my review.

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