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Zen Explained Paperback – 25 Nov 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (25 Nov. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1481063804
  • ISBN-13: 978-1481063807
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 0.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,070,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Hathaway is the pen name of an author who firmly believes the message is more important than the messenger. As such he prefers to remain anonymous.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy on 14 Feb. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
In 128 Kindle pages, this aligns with its aim: demystification and clarity, rational presentation of what's often occluded. Richard Hathaway favors a scientifically and psychologically enriched introduction that rewards today's Westerner seeking a no-nonsense approach. He takes the novel cognate "eu zên" in Aristotle's "living well" virtue ethics and shows how it compares (harmony, satisfaction, idealization) and contrasts (impermanent, elusive, unstable) with the Zen meaning.

Early on, he investigates the "checksum" parallel of two-signal computing, and decision making based on neural chemistry that is pre-cognitive or before volition, despite our tendency for our brain to shout over our impulses. Thoughts themselves are shown to be all we are: "if there are thoughts and we are aware of these thoughts, then what we are is that which is aware of thoughts, You and I; we are consciousness." Read this section and this will make more "sense" than my concision may present this intricate but accessibly conveyed food for thought.

As to our "apparently hard-wired propensity that people have to infer that entities with plans and intentions cause the things they observe around them," I needed more. Hathaway cites Stephen Pinker about this supposition that we create a "theory of mind" to attribute causality to someone (often a God to punish us), but this section was under-explained. He appropriately turns to Daniel Dennett regarding the ego as narrator, a character in our own work of fiction--we write not our autobiographies but our biographies, Hathaway avers. Our self-identity rests on our imagination.

Of improvement, no rational system can totally please the one looking for answers. Looking within ("know thyself" and the examined life) for answers may fool us.
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The title initially made me a bit sceptical, but I was intrigued by the chapter titles. I am glad I took the time to read it. Once I started I found it hard to put down. This is one of the most if not the most readable books on the subject I have come across. The author avoids an academic approach particular not really going into the historical context of some of the themes raised - this can be considered one of the books strengths or weaknesses depending on your inclinations. I think the greatest strength of the book is it's informal and conversational tone. The author looks at Zen in a philosophical and psychological context and through the experiences of contemporary 'practitioners'; neuroscience is also considered. But ultimately it is the personal, practical experience that is the primary focus. I highly recommend this book.
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By Jenny on 15 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was a bit concerned that I'd find this book a bit banal but in fact it is one of the most inspiring books I've read, even though I'm more of a Theravada than a Zen practitioner. Very useful, very inspirational, clear and lucid writing.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jingle on 10 Dec. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Loved this book. Zen Explained is a real joy to read. The stunning thing about this book is that everyone who is interested in zen will relate to it, and, thanks to the authors emotive description, will I'm sure realise they have experienced enlightenment at sometime in their lives without being aware of it. For the novice like me, Zen Explained did what it said on the cover. It actually explaines Zen!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Finally someone tackled this sub-topic of Zen 23 April 2013
By The Brane - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This book would get 5 stars if it was written by a professional author. It could have benefited from an editor. However, it is very much worth reading since it is the first book I've seen that tackles the subject of Buddhist enlightenment & spirituality from a non-specialist Western / secular / scientific perspective... not to explain it neurologically, but to explain the actual DOING of it in practice from a stripped-down simple analysis of the common techniques without all the Buddhist "baggage" of motivational metaphors, stories, etc. (though the author does reference these to point out how they are applied).

The first half of the book is a very good walk-through of the various Zen techniques and analysis of why (or why not) they work. This entire section is very refreshing and loaded with good points. My only problem with it is that it could have easily been generalized to include the "enlightenment" experiences of non-Buddhist traditions, which would have made the arguments all the more powerful to show how the mechanics of enlightenment are common across different practices.

The second half of the book tackles 2 topics: the "one mind / one consciousness" realization related to current scientific knowledge, and the practice of spiritual compassion. This 2nd half is not as reasoned as the first, meaning it lacks the step-by-step logical arguments and feels more like a rushed list of the authors opinions and quick references to "authoritative sources" to support those opinions.

The book really should be split into 3 books, and I REALLY HOPE the author will consider doing this with the help of an editor. It is obvious that the author is well educated, has practiced and experienced what he's describing, and has a great ability to "connect the dots" in a logical way that allows him to pull back the curtain on the workings of the practices (which is SO refreshing). But he bites off more than he can chew in the last half of the book by quickly covering two huge topics which need their own measured and well-developed arguments (again from that Western scientific / secular perspective) to be effective.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A little enlightenment! 20 Mar. 2013
By Paul Poore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This book lives up to its title, Zen Explained. As a student of Zen, I often find books about Zen--a philosophy ultimately centered on the notions of clarity and insight--to be almost purposefully confusing, abstract and esoteric. Not so Richard Hathaway's book!

He starts at the heart of the matter looking at the statistically low success rate of enlightenment and cuts to the core of the meaning of Zen clearly explaining in a new light so many of the terms that surround Zen philosophy: nirvana, karma, ego, self, etc. He connects Zen and Tao and draws the distinctions between Zen as a spiritual practice and Buddhism as a religion.

What's unique about this book is that its author succinctly connects the proverbial dots only to conclude that Zen must be experienced to be understood and that nirvana is the realization that what you were doing to attain nirvana was nirvana all along. So, the clarity of his approach provides a little "enlightenment" of its own and Zen Explained does just what its title purports to do.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Tao of Zen: in-depth review 24 Jan. 2013
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
In 128 Kindle pages, this aligns with its aim: demystification and clarity, rational presentation of what's often occluded. Richard Hathaway favors a scientifically and psychologically enriched introduction that rewards today's Westerner seeking a no-nonsense approach. He takes the novel cognate "eu zên" in Aristotle's "living well" virtue ethics and shows how it compares (harmony, satisfaction, idealization) and contrasts (impermanent, elusive, unstable) with the Zen meaning.

Early on, he investigates the "checksum" parallel of two-signal computing, and decision making based on neural chemistry that is pre-cognitive or before volition, despite our tendency for our brain to shout over our impulses. Thoughts themselves are shown to be all we are: "if there are thoughts and we are aware of these thoughts, then what we are is that which is aware of thoughts, You and I; we are consciousness." Read this section and this will make more "sense" than my concision may present this intricate but accessibly conveyed food for thought.

As to our "apparently hard-wired propensity that people have to infer that entities with plans and intentions cause the things they observe around them," I needed more. Hathaway cites Stephen Pinker about this supposition that we create a "theory of mind" to attribute causality to someone (often a God to punish us), but this section was under-explained. He appropriately turns to Daniel Dennett regarding the ego as narrator, a character in our own work of fiction--we write not our autobiographies but our biographies, Hathaway avers. Our self-identity rests on our imagination.

Of improvement, no rational system can totally please the one looking for answers. Looking within ("know thyself" and the examined life) for answers may fool us. "We have made of ourselves the author, and the author knows if the story is over he or she is finished, out of a job. There must always be a new chapter to write." That impels us to strive for goals, progress, or achievement. What Zen counters: an end to such ideals. Instead, an acceptance of one's mortality, and the freedom from grasping to what will vanish or decay. "Unhappiness stems from not accepting life as it is and instead clinging on to an image of what we want it to be." Rather, Zen offers enlightenment from within, not from without "to walk a path of quite [sic] joy, of serenity and inner peace that is always underfoot, and, as walked in the present now, lasts and does not fade in the murk of the remembered past or anticipated future." This passage demonstrates the calm with which Hathaway conveys himself.

Despite this very Buddha-dharma perspective, the treatment's light on the message attributed to the Buddha. He keeps the Asian vocabulary to a minimum. Hathaway stresses rather Taoist influence in its depths as the teaching passed through China. He elides this (saying it can be looked up elsewhere), but emphasizes that "wu wei" or "do nothing/ going with the flow" fits better with the Dao's spirit than with its superficial gloss of dharma. Whatever its derivation, it's not a system but an attitude: Zen lets us let go of our own burden, as if waking from a nightmare to find we're safe in our own bed. Wu wei encourages us to act without will or intention, to kill the ego and to stop needless striving.

Yet, we cannot seek our own release. It's a Catch-22: we cannot aim for the target we want to hit. While his chapter "Not Catholicism" disappointed by its facile caricature of that faith as teaching that one can do whatever harm one wishes as long as confession absolves the sinner, and then it's back to dirty deeds, Hathaway tries to teach, if via that poorly chosen example, how Zen demands commitment without time off during the week: it's not as if one does one's duty once on Sunday.

Reading on, I understood slightly more why Hathaway may have stereotyped Catholicism: his passion, after a "kensho"-like experience that hit him one day in Portsmouth, England, changed him from a rational skeptic--apparently non-religious and very fact-oriented--to an advocate for Zen. That term's stripped here, notably, of "Buddhism" as common qualifier or accompaniment. "In Taoism, just as God is an invention we made up between ourselves to explain nature, so the SELF [he capitalizes this as EGO to show its dominance] is an illusion we have spun into existence to explain our inner nature to ourselves. Enlightenment is realising this is so."

While I would have liked more on Taoism's influence on a more purely anarchic (in the positive sense), liberating Zen, Hathaway reminds the reader to stop reading about it. "Don't believe in Zen. Don't intellectualise and rationalise it. That is anti-Zen. Experience Zen yourself, directly. Practise zazen. Be mindful. Just that. Only that." He goes on to observe how religions are "ex vivo" (out of the living") in that they affirm an afterlife or reincarnation; Zen remains "in vivo," tethered to the here and now, yet not bound by it within the ever-present, eternal moment. Out of its creative anarchy, its creative principle moves everything.

Tricky, as this expands into a challenging take on Zen's analogous affinity with quantum physics and our own creation of our own perceived universe. He lost me a bit with this partial koan: "the universe would exist only as a probability wave if there were not living beings around to make it real." I anticipated this might lead to Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere, and a few pages later, there it was. Later, Hathaway ties such a derivation to a link from ancient Greek for moral dimensions of Zen. This material proved rewarding, if for a small book too compressed at times to take in; with about a dozen typos, sometimes the casual style mixing with lofty concepts needed clarification and editing.

He concludes by encouraging us to take on Zen with the practical, experienced integration of it not as merely "dianoia" or book-learning, but "noesis." As a lived knowledge become understanding that goes beyond words, he promises that if we sit and we then practice mindfulness not as an activity but as within our spirit, the transformation will be telling, if beyond verbal expression: "Very soon all your questions will be answered."

(I was provided a copy by the author; I found this a stimulating and provocative book worth reading.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Zen Explained, a review 28 Mar. 2013
By Sandy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Zen Explained by Richard Hathaway

I started reading the introduction to this book, and was quickly put off by the authors statement in the introduction that Zen's ancestral home is ancient Japan. It is well known that Zen's home is China (not to mention Buddhism in general, whose home is India). From that point on I was looking for other egregious errors from this Zen neophyte who obviously knew nothing about it. But page by page, I was won over. It turned into a really enjoyable read, one that has a lot to offer. The author approaches Zen from a similar angle to my own position, namely a skeptical, science based one, one which at bottom emphasises the fact that the Self (and the self, a distinction made in the book) is an illusion.

The author introduces Zen to a Western audience by using the language of Western (and ancient Greek) philosophy, of how to lead a good life. He calls Zen an ethical theory in the sense of Aristotle. He then points out that Zen says that the Good Life is attained through not trying to attain the Good Life, the opposite of Aristotle. To quote: "Happiness is all about giving up, letting go and abandoning the causes of unhappiness; the idea - and that is all it is - that life is a story with an author, a hero and no ending". Nice!

This leads him on to the underlying idea of Zen: that the `self' is an illusion - there is no self. He presents scientific backing for this, for example the experiments of Libet, who showed that there is EEG activation some 300 milliseconds before one is `consciously' aware that one has made a decision. This is one of several characteristics commonly ascribed to a `self', or consciousness, that have been called into question recently by, for instance, Dan Dennett in "Consciousness Explained" and Susan Blackmore in "The Meme Machine". Other questionable characteristics which these authors deal with, apart from consciousness being the decision maker as above, are temporal and spatial continuity, unambiguous temporal sequence, and clear distinction between what is inside vs outside consciousness. There is some confusion here in Zen Explained: the meanings of `self', `ego' and `consciousness' seem to shift around somewhat. In the early part of the book he seems to bundle consciousness, ego and self in together, later on consciousness underpins the world!

The author then goes on to put forward his own theory of how the `self' arose: that thoughts and intentions have `checksums' (similar to unique labels) to verify to the system (the brain) that the thought is valid. Its a sort of `blackboard', to use the computer science metaphor. The brain then confuses the causality of the process, coming to believe that the `checksum' causes the thought, rather than the thought growing out of the brains circuits. Then the habit of ascribing agency to the causes of the events in life results in the invention of the agent `I'. This sounds plausible to me. It is similar in some ways to Blackmore saying that the self is a `memeplex', and Douglas Hofstadter calling it a `strange loop' (in his eponymous book).

In his next chapter (5) he tells stories of enlightenment, and draws distinctions between the concept as described in various traditions, ie, satori, kensho, wu, advaita and nirvana. He then explains the derivation of the word `zen'. He tries to relate enlightenment to experiences the reader might be familiar with, like `flow', but also points out the huge difference between the two, ie, there is no ego in enlightenment.

In the middle portion of the book, he gives an excellent exposition of the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen, albeit betraying a predilection for the latter, calling Rinzai the way of frustration. He gives an excellent summary of traditional Buddhism, leading from the four noble truths to right livelihood, and one chapter deals with the practicalities of sitting zazen. Chapter 10 traces the history of Bodhidharma, leading on to how Zen is mystical not religious, calling it a "creed" rather than a religion. An interesting distinction.

The best chapter in my opinion is Chapter 11 in which he summarises some of the important concepts in Taoism, relating these to Zen. Actually it is stronger than that, he says that Zen is Taoism. I found this really interesting, especially since one of the attractive things about Zen for me is the experience of oneness with nature; this emphasis on nature in Zen he says is from Taoism.

But then in the following chapter 12 he comes a cropper. Here he relates Zen to quantum mechanics, making the claim that the Copenhagen Interpretation implies that consciousness is necessary for wave functions to collapse, thus effectively making consciousness necessary for the existence of the world. I have a number of problems with this. Firstly, I am not convinced that this is an implication of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (although Roger Penrose would think it was). Secondly, I am of the opinion that the Many Worlds interpretation of QM is more realistic than Copenhagen - the mathematics is more consistent (no messy wave function collapses), Google "everett faq". It is also in my opinion entirely consistent with Zen. Thirdly, in earlier chapters, the author appears to say that, along with Self and Ego, consciousness is an illusion, something that Dan Dennett would agree with. But in this chapter he implies that consciousness is at the heart of the world. Sorry, that doesn't sound Zen to me. Lastly, the author glowingly cites the Princeton Global Consciousness Project, which rings alarm bells for me (and for skeptics, Google "skepdic global consciousness").

This book is a worthy addition to the Zen library, a book with a somewhat unusual take on Zen, namely from a modern, scientifically literate perspective. I do have some quibbles, apart from those mentioned above, there are a large number of typos, at least in the digital copy I read. But overall, an illuminating and interesting read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Nice intro to Buddhist concepts, offered in familiar terms 24 Mar. 2013
By Andrew Furst - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Disclosure: I was provided a copy of the book by the author to review. That said, there was no other incentive to review the book in a positive or negative light.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It challenges the conception that Buddhism and Zen in particular is fundamentally an eastern cultural phenomenon. While Zen's "self imposed" image is probably one of the prime villains supporting this misconception, it does not need to be so. Mr. Hathaway builds the foundation of his book firmly in western terms familiar to the reader. He constantly brings us to personal experience to reinforce the universality of the Buddha's message.

In my opinion he draws some strained connections to western psychological concepts, but overall the book is well constructed and serves to lift the veil of mystery from the practice of Zen.

A personal pleasure I took from the book was the confirmation of the commonality between Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, my personal practice. Buddhism's message of no-self is difficult to understand, but crucial. Pure Lands reliance on other power versus self power is the path we take. Zen's approach is different but shares the goal of shattering the illusion that our individual efforts will ever lead to sustained contentment.

Mr. Hathaway's book is a friendly read and I recommend it.
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