The Way of Zen Book Summary - The Way of Zen Book explained in key points
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The Way of Zen summary

Alan W. Watts

The history and core principles of the Eastern philosophy of Zen

4.5 (699 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

The Way of Zen by Alan W. Watts explores the history and philosophy of Zen Buddhism. It explains how Zen can help us achieve inner peace and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

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    The Way of Zen
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    Chinese Taoist philosophy laid the original foundation for Zen Buddhism.

    Do you know how to breathe? Sure, you feel as if you know how to breathe – after all, you’re doing it constantly. But if you had to explain the exact physiological processes that allow you to breathe, you might be quite lost.

    What Westerners think of as knowledge is concrete and fact-based. Yet few people anywhere in the world would say that they don’t know how to breathe, see, or move their legs. So, in fact, what you know constitutes a multitude of things about whose precise workings you have no idea. As soon as you realize this, you'll understand the concept of knowledge in Taoism, one of the major forebears of Zen Buddhism.

    The key message here is: Chinese Taoist philosophy laid the original foundation for Zen Buddhism.

    The earliest source of Taoist thought is an important book called the I Ching, or Book of Changes, written in China sometime between 3000 and 1200 BC. The book outlines a method of divination by which an oracle first “sees” a hexagram pattern somewhere in his environment. He then matches the hexagram’s characteristics to those in the I Ching to predict his subject’s future.

    Now, you may not believe in making decisions based on an oracle’s prediction of your future. But is your method of decision-making any more rational? You may want to say yes. But how do you identify the exact point at which you've collected enough information to make a decision? Isn’t there always more information you could gather in order to make an even more “rational” decision?

    To make a truly fact-based decision would take a very long time – so long that the time for action would have passed by the time you’d gathered all the data.

    Our decisions ultimately come down to a feeling about which choice is right. Good decisions depend on good intuition – or, as a Taoist would say, being in the Tao. If you’re in the Tao, your mind is clear and your intuition is at its most effective.

    Think about it this way: There’s no amount of work you can do to force the muscles in your tongue to taste more accurately. You just have to trust them to do their job. Similarly, you must be able to trust your mind.

    Clear-mindedness, and trust in the mind’s natural abilities, would later become central to Zen. But before we get there, let’s look at the origins of Buddhism.

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    What is The Way of Zen about?

    The Way of Zen (1957) is a classic work that lays out the historical origins and core principles of Zen Buddhism. Our world is changing at breakneck speed, and it often seems that the old rules cease to apply as soon as we’ve gotten used to them. The Eastern philosophy of Zen can help us find the mental stillness and the joy in uncertainty we desperately need.

    The Way of Zen Review

    The Way of Zen (1957) is a profound exploration of Zen Buddhism, offering valuable insights into this ancient philosophy and its relevance to modern life. Here are three features that make this book a worthwhile read:

    • It presents clear explanations of Zen concepts and practices, making it accessible to both beginners and seasoned practitioners.
    • With its in-depth analysis of Zen teachings and their applications, the book offers a comprehensive understanding of Zen philosophy and its transformative potential.
    • Through engaging anecdotes and personal experiences, Alan W. Watts brings Zen to life, making the book an engaging and enlightening journey.

    Best quote from The Way of Zen

    If the ordinary man is one who has to walk by lifting his legs with his hands, the Taoist is one who has learned to let the legs walk by themselves.

    —Alan W. Watts
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    Who should read The Way of Zen?

    • Newcomers to Eastern philosophy and history
    • Those who want to challenge their minds to see the world differently
    • Fans of Alan Watts

    About the Author

    Alan Watts was a writer, speaker, and Zen philosopher who played a major role in popularizing Eastern religion in the West. He wrote several highly influential books, including Psychotherapy East and West and The New Alchemy.

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    The Way of Zen FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Way of Zen?

    The main message of The Way of Zen is to free ourselves from conceptual thinking and experience direct, non-dualistic perception.

    How long does it take to read The Way of Zen?

    The reading time for The Way of Zen varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Way of Zen a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Way of Zen is a thought-provoking book that sheds light on the essence of Zen. It's definitely worth reading for those interested in Eastern philosophy.

    Who is the author of The Way of Zen?

    The author of The Way of Zen is Alan W. Watts.

    What to read after The Way of Zen?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Way of Zen, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno
    • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra
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    • Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life by Wayne W. Dyer