Religious Studies Paper on Buddhism Plain and Simple

Steve Hagen’s Buddhism Plain and Simple is an interesting book because it provides the reader with the basic concept that defines Buddhism as a religion. The only interaction that I have heard with Buddhism is through films and books. This book provides a new experience because it gives details about the fundamental principles that define Buddhism in practice and in theory. From the book, it is evident that Buddhism is one of the oldest religions and its foundation was based on the desire to ensure that those practicing the religion live moral and better lives. Through Hagen’s assertions and ideas in the book, I understood that Buddhism could be summarized in one word, awareness. According to the teachings of the Buddha, professing and possessing self-awareness is critical in life. Awareness from the Buddhist perspective does not focus on something in particular but it asserts the essence of being alert, awake and in touch with the activities that are happening in an individual’s surrounding.

A critical approach to the study of Hagen’s book reveals that he was a Zen priest, who has been studying Buddhism since 1967. He understands the basics that underlie the value of experience over theory. This is evident from the content of the book, which does not seek to teach the reader material that can be added to preconceived ideas about Buddhism. Instead, through this book, Hagen subjects the reader to an experiential approach to understanding the religion through the concept of awareness.

One thing that I understood throughout the process of reading Hagen’s book was that for Buddhists, the concept of awareness is the most important part of the religion (6). This is unlike other religions and even my religious denomination. In Christianity, the concept of awareness revolves around an individual’s ability to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the savior. The recognition of Jesus requires acknowledging his role as the creator and this is authenticated through the process of baptism. Awareness from my perspective as a Christian entails surrendering oneself to a higher power, God and his son Jesus Christ. This is not the same in Buddhism because according to Hagen, awareness entails “…examining and exploring the most basic questions in life” (4). The idea sounds practical and accurate when applied in the life of an individual. This is because it recognizes the essence of being conscious of an individual’s environment. From this definition, I got the understanding that Buddhism is about embracing life as a short journey and the only way through which an individual can reap the benefits that accompany life is by understanding him or herself and living 100%.

The concept of awareness as espoused in Buddhism is applicable in everyday life because it provides individuals with the opportunity of reflecting about their actions or behavior in terms of their impact in their lives and that of others. Living to the highest potential of an individual’s life entails developing some sense of awareness about his or her capabilities (7). This will ensure that an individual directs his or her strengths towards certain objectives while at the same time recognizing his or her weaknesses by seeking ways of improving.

Buddhists are great observers of nature and through a meditation process, they seek to absorb all the beauty that it generates. Embracing nature and the beauty that it generates means that an individual must learn to accept and appreciate the things that nature provides in life. I think that the meditation process that defines Buddhism provides the followers of this religion with the ability to develop attributes such as patience and empathy (10). I need these attributes because I have this tendency of judging people based on their actions, conversations, and appearances. By reading Hagen’s ideas, I now know that it is the wrong way of judging people. This is because as Buddhism teaches, it is important to develop compassion for each other. This means that it while perceiving other members of the society it is important to engage in an objective understanding of their needs and desires instated of judging them base on some preconceived ideas.

Buddhism unlike other religions such as Christianity does not seek to present its followers with preconceived ideas about the rewards that they are to be given for acting in certain ways. Instead, through the concept of awareness Buddhism focuses on the desire to ensure that an individual’s experience and self-reflection provides him or her with a platform for making compassionate, objective, and moral decisions. According to Hagen, “Buddhism is sometimes called a non-historical religion… it does not tell a story of creation, or speculate that we are heading toward a heaven or afterlife of some kind” (10). This assertion presents the notion that a Buddhist follower should not subscribe to this religion based on certain rewards that are to be given after death. The promise of life after death seems to be the determining factor in some religions especially Christianity. I must confess that this was one of the most difficult aspects of Buddhism to understand. This is because throughout my life and socialization into the Christian doctrines I have always believed in the concept of life after death. This is what gives me the hope in life. Imagining that life ceases to exist after death does not seem to make sense and it negates the relevance of religion in my life. From my understanding of the role of religion, as a Christian, one of my greatest desires is to be in heaven. I want to meet righteous individuals who I did not get the opportunity of interacting with on earth. I am enthusiastic about heaven because I know that I will see my grandfather who died more than 20 years before I was born.

Despite my disagreement with Buddhist teaching, I must agree that it I objective enough considering that it does not promise impossibilities. An in-depth study of the role of meditation as an essential part of practicing Buddhism led me into believing that the journey of embracing and understanding life begins now. This is evidenced when Hagen says, “The Buddha-dharma will have you start with what is given in your direct experience…the Buddha-dharma does not ask you to accept particular explanations of how things are. Truth does not need any explanation. It only needs to be seen” (12). According to this assertion, it would be important to shift focus from seeking explanations to embracing the truth that is presented through individual experiences. From my understanding, this assertion seeks to nullify existing doctrines of belief. This is because it rejects belief in the unknown and considers embracing the prevailing conditions in an individual’s environment to facilitate the decision-making process. Acting according to an individual’s environment not only improves his or her awareness but also increases the possibility that he or she will develop compassion that is integral in establishing peace (13). Buddhism is, therefore, a religion that stresses the essence of realizing the inner peace and transmitting this peace to other members within the surrounding.

There are aspects about Buddhism that agrees with my religion as a Christian. For example, Hagen asserts that whenever an individual is experiencing any problem it is important to get “immediate help for our afflictions….we ask about many things-inconsequential things-while overlooking our immediate problem. We ask about origins and ends, but we leave this moment forgotten…even though we live in it. We must first learn how to journey into now” (13). Buddhism in the view of Hagen stresses the essence of living in the moment. Buddhist followers must learn how to overcome their present challenges through a reflective process that facilitate the development of lasting solutions. This is similar to Christianity, which stresses the essence of addressing problems that exist without procrastination. The differences in the approaches used in solving problems between Buddhism and Christianity are that the former does not seek the authority of an external supernatural power. Christianity perceives God and his son Jesus Christ as the only way through which individual problems can be addressed. In addition, for Buddhism, learning to journey into now provides an individual with ways of co-existing with other members of the society while at the same time preventing the possibility of similar problems occurring in the future (20). This is different from Christianity, which perceives addressing the current problem in an individual’s life to be critical in preparing him or her for life in heaven.

From my reading of the topic, The Perennial problem  I developed an in-depth understanding of the four noble truths that define Buddhism and how they can be related to human life. I agree with the four noble truths because they seek to elaborate that human life is characterized by numerous problems. It is the responsibility of each individual to recognize the problems that exist and to develop effective ways of addressing these problems. It is not possible to find solutions to a problem without identifying the problem. The truth of Dukkha recognizes that human life has numerous challenges that must be fixed. The Dukkha arises because of the inability of human beings to appreciate life as it is but instead they allow these cravings to overcome them. Self-reflection and self-meditation processes can ensure that the Dukkha ceases and in its place, an individual experiences nirvana. The process of bringing out this cessation is through an eightfold path.

From my understanding of the four truths, Buddhism is not just a religion that is based on imagined impossibilities of deities who will punish a believer for his or her transgressions, it is based on the concept of personal responsibility. This is unlike Christianity where all responsibility for human transgressions was given to Jesus who had to die on the cross for his followers to be forgiven. Such sacrifices are not part of Buddhism. Instead, the teachings of this religion recognize that human beings will always be swayed towards the wrong path. However, to overcome such difficulties an individual must undergo certain corrective steps that will require self-sacrifice and dedication towards realizing an unintended objective. To explain the essence of recognizing weaknesses and seeking solutions, Hagen uses an analogy of a feast in which those attending the feast are not eating and they have been seated on the banquet for a long time until they are starving to death yet there is food on the table. According to Hagen, “they are starving not because they cannot partake of the wonderful feast or because easting is forbidden, or difficult or harmful. They are starving because they don’t realize that food is what they need” (17). This leads to an understanding that realizing what you need and how to get it is the only way towards living a happy life.

By demystifying the commonly held beliefs about Buddhism, the book succeeds in providing an in-depth insight of the religion to be highly tolerant and objective. I do not agree with most of the author’s sentiments about the afterlife. However, by asserting the inability of Buddhism to focus on the unknown does not make it a lesser religion. This is because Buddhism is more of a process of awareness that is defined by openness and the spirit of inquiry. This makes it less of a belief system or a religion. It would be more effective if it was perceived as the teachings of awakening that are derived from Buddha-dharma. Inasmuch as most of life is about pain, there are aspects of life that infer happiness. Despite this disagreement, I think the teachings of Buddhism about living in the present are relevant in life.



Works Cited

Hagen, Steven. Buddhism Plain and Simple. New York: Tuttle Pub, 2011.