Book review: The Grand Delusion.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an excellent read for anyone interested in digging a little deeper into this consensus reality of ours.

  • What does it mean to exist?
  • What is consciousness?
  • What is reality?
  • What is the nature of truth?

It is written by Stephen Hagen, Rōshi, a Zen teacher and author. But don’t be put off, this book is not about Zen Buddhism, instead, it is an exploration of the thing that Zen is pointing at.

By using a conversation with an imaginary interlocutor named ‘Anyone’, Mr Hagen argues that this material, physical world we inhabit (and take for granted) is not what it appears.

The conversation moves through philosophy, science, quantum physics, and world history, it draws on sources including he draws on sources that include Huang Po, Richard Feynman, Sir Arthur Eddington, Hui-Neng, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Dennett, Joseph Campbell, Dogen, Emily Dickinson, Nagarjuna, Ikkyu, William I. McLaughlin, Sam Harris, and Henry David Thoreau.

Again, do not be put off, this is not an academic work, it is very readable and there are copious footnotes to help explain the more difficult concepts under discussion.

Ultimately, Mr Hagen shows us that this old reality of ours can not be understood by thinking, or talking, or ‘sciencing’, or ‘religioning’. The true nature of this world can only be directly seen. The entire book is an attempt to show you what that means.

ANYONE: So . . .

Slow down.

ANYONE: Yeah, but how do I . . . .

You keep thinking, jabbering, grasping, expecting that you need to do something, or get hold of something, or figure something out. Drop all that. Just settle down and notice what’s going on. Notice your busy mind — all the chatter.

ANYONE: I am aware of it.

Sit down. Straighten your back. Put your hands in your lap and cast your gaze downward.

ANYONE: And now what?

Just follow your breath. Pay attention. Be aware of breathing in as you breathe in; be aware of breathing out as you breathe out.

ANYONE: So, I should . . .

Stop! Just stop.

ANYONE: But my mind keeps going!

Notice that. Don’t add to it.

ANYONE: How do I stop it, though? Isn’t that what you’re telling me to do?

I’m not telling you to do anything in particular. Just Awareness. No words.

ANYONE: You mean . . . ?


As I said, would highly recommend this book to anyone with a nagging feeling that there more to the world than meets the eye.
It is also an excellent accompaniment to anyone with a meditation practice (from any discipline).

Main photo credit: Mahendra Kumar

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