Categories AdvocacyIssuesMental IllnessOpinion

Book Review: “Buddhism Plain & Simple”

(This is an aside from the music-related posts that are the focus of this blog.)

As some of you may know, I am not a religious person.  But, I do seek relief from mental illness.  In addition to taking my meds, seeing doctors, and working hard in “the battle”, I also turn inwards to philosophy.

One work that has really helped me recently is a text about Buddhism, but if you remove the Buddhist front it really is a text about being in the moment, regardless of your belief system.  The author does indeed distance himself a bit from Buddhism as a religion, and that fits.  This book is about seeing each moment, and is not confined to a particular religion or philosophy.

The book, “Buddhism, Plain & Simple” strips the Buddhist philosophy down to something we all can practice, day in and day out, in each moment: being aware.

That’s it.  The main message is, “be aware.”  This seems incredibly easy to comprehend at first glance, and an overly-minimalistic basis for a 160-page book.  But, whether you understand the message on the first or the last page, or years after reading it, the message is incredibly powerful.  All you have to do is be aware.  See how things are, for the sake of seeing them.

The author, Steve Hagen, ensures that we get the message.  The book explores (in ways that I cannot aptly do) how you do not need anyone to tell you what to do, or what to think–even yourself.  Just observe things.  The act of observing, seeing, viewing, taking in, being aware, etc. is all that you have to do.  Everything else is up to you.  There is no magic potion, and please do not treat awareness as a magic potion either; being aware means not trusting someone like me to tell you that this works.

The book is incredibly easy to digest.  Within each chapter there are countless paragraphs that may form larger sections, or may be interesting thought points to intake.  Moving mini-section by mini-section, you can progress at your own pace.  In fact, it took me a few months to finish this simple book because I kept on putting it down and returning to it a few days later, questioning things and trying them out.  No matter the time spent away: the reinforcement Hagen provides, the clear message, and the layout make it very easy to resume where you last ended, and to not miss anything.

Hagen provides questions the reader can ask themself, simple diagrams and pictures, and a bit of quotation (usually from Buddhist texts) to illustrate the one central point.  The author does not overwhelm the reader with information, sources, or dogma.  The reading is light to take in, but deep to realize.  It really did not sink in for me until I was on the final pages of the book.

You may ask how all this talk of “seeing”, “awareness”, and “observing” helped me with my mental illness.  To be honest, I cannot verbalize it.  But, if I had to qualify it, I would say that becoming more and more aware each day makes me see my habits, my pitfalls, my successes, and who I am.  In addition, the act of awareness is simply fulfilling.  Being totally involved in the moment is rewarding; it makes life feel much more vivid and vibrant.  And, this is not due to dogma, religion, philosophy, or anything else.  All that this book has exposed me to is the act and practice, day in and day out, of being as aware as I can be.

The main drawback to this text is that talking about it makes one sound dogmatic, mystical, or confused.  In addition, the very idea that the practices in this book should not be taken on faith, and that they should be questioned, seems to defeat the book’s need to exist.  But, the intent of the author is not to tell you what to think, even if it is what books typically do.  The intent is to show the reader the practice of awareness, but that’s it.  It will not tell you what to do.  That is entirely up to you.

Take a look at the book here (a good price for a paperback).  My copy will soon be loaned to a friend who expressed interest in reading it.

All my best, musically and mentally,



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Tagged Tagged Book review, Buddhism, , philosophy, plain and simple, Psychology, self-help