Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen – Top 10 Ideas

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen



If we cling to Buddhist teachings, or any teachings, sooner or later they will become obstacles on our path. Buddhist teachings and books can help you, but you won’t attain Truth in them. The Buddha himself encouraged people to test him:

“Don’t believe me because you see me as your teacher, don’t believe me because others do. And don’t believe anything because you’ve read it in a book, either. Don’t put your faith in reports, or tradition, or hearsay, or the authority of religious leaders or texts. Don’t rely on mere logic, or inference, or appearances, or speculation.”

The buddha-dharma, the teaching of the awakened, suggest us to focus not on the pointing finger, but on the experience of Truth itself.

The buddha-dharma does not demand you to believe in certain rules. Truth does not
need any interpretation. It only needs to be seen.

Buddhism is not a belief system. It’s not about following certain doctrines or accepting a set of dogmas. In reality, it’s quite the contrary. It’s about perceiving the universe without preconceptions, about verifying everything and every idea. Buddhism is about seeing. It’s about realizing rather than accepting or trusting or assuming. It’s also about not being
scared to explore anything and everything, including our own actions.


“Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.” (The Buddha)

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 51


There are four main truths in the buddha-dharma

a. Human life is characterized by dissatisfaction (duhkha).

b. Dissatisfaction originates within us.

c. We can recognize the cause of our dissatisfaction, and therefore we can end it.

d. In order to end the agitation of your spirit, all you have to do is realize that there is nothing in the outside world you need to get because the present moment is perfect as it is. (The buddha-dharma’s fourth truth contains eight
aspects, which is why it’s also called the eightfold path.)


“It’s imperative to recognize that our dissatisfaction originates within us. It arises out of our own ignorance, out of our blindness to what our situation actually is, out of our wanting Reality to be something other than what it is. Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 19


The first truth of the buddha-dharma is called duhkha and states that human life is characterized by dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction in our lives is due to our confusion, we hope to experience bliss by believing, having ideas or concepts about Reality and Truth but we can trust only our direct experience. The only way in which we can achieve Truth is by seeing not by labeling it.

Have a look at the picture below:

Cow Buddhism Plain and Simple Steve Hagen

You are going to project different objects in the picture. As long as you don’t see and realize what it is you will feel confused and frustrated, the same condition in which we usually live. Enlightenment means stopping to see what isn’t and starting to see what is. Once you see you are going to have a shift in perception and all doubts are ended. Try to discover for yourself what the picture is to experience what seeing means. (solution at the end of the paragraph)

Duhkha comes from a Sanskrit word that refers to a wheel out of kilter.

We feel that something essential and relevant isn’t working. It annoys us, makes us constantly sad. Every time the wheel turns, each passing day, we feel discomfort. Obviously we experience pleasure as well. Regardless of our efforts to experience consistent joy, sooner or later our happiness decrease and the pain and irritation return. We can’t extinguish them completely.

There are three different kind of duhkha:

a) straightforward pain; both physical and mental.

b) change; everything we see is constant flux, we want Reality to stay the same.

c) duhkha of being; we are unable to answer the primordial questions: What are you? Where did you come from? What is going to happen after you die?

The mysterious figure is a cow.


“In the Buddha’s time the accompanying image may have been of a cart with an out-of-true wheel being pulled along. You can imagine how uncomfortable it must feel to ride in
such a vehicle. The repeated wobble, rise, and drop starts out as annoying, then becomes steadily more distracting and disturbing. Maybe there’s a little pleasure in it for the rider at
first-a little bounce, perhaps-but after a while it becomes more and more vexing.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 25


The second truth of the buddha-dharma states that dissatisfaction is our own making.

There are three different ways in which we perpetrate duhkha:

a) Sensual desire; We believe that this is entirely physical, but is mental as well. Clearly we wish enjoyable and appealing physical sensations, but we also want nice mental interactions: conversation, a balanced emotional life, art and entertainment, and so on. Our sensual desire is, in fact, mostly mental.

b) Thirst for existence itself; We hope somehow to live forever.

 c) The thirst for non-existence; We want to be relieved from a life of pain and harassment once and for all.


“Name what afflicts you and you will ultimately find it linked to your craving, your wanting, your desiring.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 34


The third truth of the buddha-dharma states that whatever is subject to arising is also subject to ceasing.

We are able to stop our constant experience of pain. The buddha-dharma provides us two ways of doing it:

The practice of less desire

We have the ability to know when we are slipping into an unhealthy situation. We need to bring awareness in the present moment to change our direction, but we are able to direct the course of our life only when we are honest with ourselves.

Forgetting the self

Whenever we Point the focus of our desires away from ourselves we recognize that we don’t exist alone, but in relation to the whole universe. We should be aware of how our lives are interconnected to others and to Nature.

Our desire for control is caused by the sense of self. But once we see this feeling diminish. What ends is the false sense of self. We stop attaching to something that was never there in the first place.

Our most basic fear is that the “I” will cease to exist. But death is not possible for something that was never born.


“Just as a man shudders with horror when he steps upon a serpent, but laughs when he looks down and sees that it is only a rope, so I discovered one day that what I was calling “I” cannot be found, and all fear and anxiety vanished with my mistake.” (The Buddha)

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 52



Right view is the awareness that there is something problematic and painful about human experience. It starts with the realization of what we are searching; we stop to look for objects in our mind and in the outside world as if Truth were a form, a concept or an opinion.

Right view discards nothing, cling to nothing in particular because “The only way we can be free in each moment is to become what the moment is.”


“Right view isn’t in the eyes of the beholder. There is no beholder of right view.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 72


Right intention is the willingness to be present in the moment without ideas of gaining something out of it. It means that your mind is not dividing the Now in what you want and don’t want, as long as your mind wishes to move toward or away from things and situation, pain and suffering are present. It is not passivity is acceptance of reality.

If you try to stop your mind from dividing reality into categories it will do it even more instead bring the focus into the present moment and be aware of your thought process doing so you will reduce resistance.


“We just do what hurts out of ignorance and habit. Once we see what we’re doing, we can stop.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 75


From the words of the Buddha:

“They speak the truth, are devoted to the truth, reliable, worthy of confidence…. They never knowingly deceive others for the sake of their own advantage…. What they have heard here, they do not repeat there, so as to cause dissension there…. Thus they unite those that are divided, and those that are united they encourage. Concord gladdens them, they delight and rejoice in concord; and it is concord that they spread by their words. They avoid harsh language and speak such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, going to the heart, courteous and dear, and agreeable to many. They avoid vain talk and speak at the right time, in accordance with facts, speak what is useful, speak about right wisdom and right practice; their speech is like a treasure, at the right moment accompanied by arguments, moderate and full of sense.”


“When we talk about others, we should be very careful to observe our motive–especially if we’re talking about a person who isn’t present. Are we trying to knock the person down and raise ourselves up? Or are we trying to raise up or inflate the other person? Either way, we’re not speaking in a way that is conducive to awakening, because we’re following the leanings of our mind rather than what we see.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 81


We don’t align ourselves with the natural pattern of nature. Instead, we resist the situation and don’t accept Reality for what is. All we get out of these efforts is duhkha. The release from duhkha comes from the realization that we are the stream of change and flux, not a separate element of it.

Right action is selfless action,  you act from that perspective when you are free of the sense of self. You don’t see yourself as an entity separated from the rest. You don’t have a scheme through which you must obtain a  particular goal, right action is being free from the outcome, you are not attached to the results of your actions.


“Here’s the basis for right action: to refrain from all that is divisive and contentious, to do what promotes harmony and unity. In short, it’s to act out of seeing the Whole. It’s to live as a falling leaf-as the streaming wind itself.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 91


Right livelihood, the fifth aspect of the eightfold path, involves earning a living without causing pain to yourself and others.


“See what produces entanglements, desire, suffering. See what produces harmony, joy, goodwill, cooperation, and peace of mind. If you have trouble sleeping at night, look at how you earn your living. This is often where the problem resides. You must learn to see clearly, and thus do what is most conducive to awakening.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 93


Right effort means merging with the present moment without resistance and accepting what is, it means becoming one with the Now. It’s not something you try to force or control either, is your natural state and when you take your false self from the equation it’s going to happen spontaneously.

We need to focus wisely on what we can influence and stop wasting energy in areas in which we have no control. Stop trying to manage events, people and things over which you have no control.


“We must first see what we can control and what we can’t. Otherwise we’ll waste our effort in trying to do the impossible while ignoring what is easily within reach.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 96


Try to imagine you are an astronaut on the moon whose ship is damaged. You can see the Earth with all his beauty but you can’t go back to it because your ship is not working. All you can do is to gaze at our planet and yearn to get back. Suppose you managed to fix your spacecraft and landed back on Earth. How would you feel? How would you experience a sunset or the barking of a dog, how alive your senses would be? This is how Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we should walk every day on Earth.


“When you realize you haven’t been mindful, don’t scold yourself. There’s no need for it-in fact, it gets in your way. It’s only necessary that you notice that you were not mindful although, of course, in doing so, you are being mindful. Just watch your mind. When you learn to see what is painful and not conducive to awakening you’ll stop doing it, very naturally.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 103


Zen Master Dogen on meditation:

“For meditation, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. Meditation has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down. At the site of your regular sitting, spread out thick matting and place a cushion above it. Sit in a crosslegged position with your knees directly upon the mat. You should have your clothes and belt loosely bound and arranged in order. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left palm facing upwards on your right palm, thumb tips touching. Thus sit upright in correct bodily posture, neither inclining to the left nor to the right, neither leaning forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are on a plane with your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel. Place your tongue against
the front roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips both shut. Your eyes should always remain open, and you should breathe gently through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, rock your body right and left and settle into a steady, immobile sitting position.”


“The mountain need not be perturbed by clouds. The clouds pass on, and the mountain continues to sit observing all, grasping at nothing.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 106


When you finally see there are no more fears, you don’t have any more existential questions because it becomes evident that such questions and worries are based on the belief in a separate self.


“Ultimately, if we truly seek a free mind, even this eightfold path-even Buddhism itself-must not be clung to. We shouldn’t make the buddha-dharma into something holy, something to put up on a gilded pedestal in a prominent place. This path simply reminds us of how we’re engaged in the world. It’s like the raft that carries us to the opposite
shore. We use it to a point, then leave it behind. Once the stream is crossed, we leave the raft for someone else. We don’t need to lug it around. It will only burden us.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 116


The Buddha spoke of individuals using the term: “stream.” Imagine a stream in constant transformation eternally different from the previous moment. We tend to see ourselves as corks floating in a stream, different individuals advancing in time. Using this interpretation, all is changing in the stream but the cork. We accept the idea that our bodies, thoughts and belief change but still assume that, ” I am the cork that never changes in a constantly moving stream”. This is exactly what we think the self is, something that doesn’t change. In reality there are no corks at all in the stream. There is only stream. What we perceive as “cork” is also the stream. We don’t exist as a particular thing.


“If we are the stream, what is it that experiences the flux,the flow, the change? The Buddha saw that there is no particular thing that is having an experience. There is experience, but no experiencer. There is perception, but no perceiver. There is consciousness, but no self that can be located or identified. We experience duhkha because, not seeing the true nature of things, we long for something permanent, something that doesn’t change. Yet our actual experience provides nothing but change.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 129


Obviously, realizing that there is no self is a difficult task. The only way to realize this illusion is to be aware of our experience and notice its difference from our thoughts and notions. When you understand that the “I” doesn’t exist your mind cease to be in pain. Do you remember when you were a child and used to believe in the boogeyman? Finally you realized that the horrible creature was just a creation of your mind and stopped being afraid.


“If we see the fleeting nature of all things without overlaying what we see with concepts, then the notion of a permanent self doesn’t occur. Though there’s still thought and sensation, there’s no notion of a permanent self-only peace of mind and fearlessness.”

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 136


Listen Joseph Campbell explaining this concept:


“When we actually see what’s happening, when we see the natural order of things-how things are interconnected, and how events unfold-we’ll cease to act in defiance of

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen page 148

Purchase Buddhism Plain and Simple on Amazon.com