Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up

by Koshin Paley Ellison

An inspiring book that will help readers rediscover their values and discover a way to truly live life to the fullest.

Each of us has an enormous capacity for love—a deep well of attention and care that we can offer to ourselves and others. With guidance that is both simple and wholly transformative, Koshin Paley Ellison, Zen teacher and psychotherapist, shows us how to uncover it: pay attention, be of service, and be with others.

With this inspiring and down-to-earth book, drawn from the Zen precepts and illustrated with anecdotes from Koshin’s own life and practice, you’ll learn how to explore and investigate with your own core values, identify the mental habits that could be unconsciously hurting yourself and others, and overcome isolation. Each chapter closes with a contemplation to help integrate the teachings into your life.

This book is about getting back in touch with your values, so you can live energetically, authentically, and lovingly. This is an invitation to close the gaps we create between ourselves and others—to wake up to ourselves and the world around us.

It’s time to live wholeheartedly.

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Wholehearted Endorsements:


“Koshin Paley Ellison’s teachings share the way forward into a path of connection, compassion and intimacy.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama


“It seems that in the 21st century, more and more people are spending their lives in isolation from each other, not the isolation which comes from living alone, though this seems to be a growing problem in some societies, but the isolation which is the result of creating artificial barriers between ourselves and others.

Koshin Paley Ellison has written a manual for personal growth and change based on a contemporary interpretation of Buddhist refuge and precepts, making it accessible to everyone, not just those interested in or practicing Buddhism. Using anecdotes, quotes and reflective questioning, he prompts us to become aware of the barriers we have erected around ourselves and suggests ways by which we can dismantle them. His message is one of hope: that through personal transformation we can develop courage, open-heartedness and compassion in our relationships with others and enrich our own lives.”

His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje


“I absolutely loved reading Wholehearted. It’s such a clear presentation of Buddhist precepts as well as an extremely practical and provocative workbook. Koshin Paley Ellison draws on many sources from the most esoteric sentences of Dogen to his kindergarten slogan “Stop. Look. Listen.”

Using stories, theories, parables and the insights of an eclectic group of poets, teachers, philosophers and activists. (Allen Ginsberg, Albert Camus, William Blake) he encourages the reader to discover the meaning and personal relevance of Buddhist precepts and then to translate this understanding into action.
Full of lively stories about bed bugs, Sing Sing, Iphone lust, and anecdotes from the lives of his friends the author also tells stories from his own life as a practitioner, counselor and listener-some funny and endearing, some unsparing. Self-described “gay Buddhist monk” he’s insouciant and light-hearted even as he sustains the ability to be refreshingly honest about his own efforts to generate awareness and empathy.

His powerful message Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up. has many corollaries “The zombies are here and they are us” and the Dalai Lama’s answer to hopelessness “Serve others!”

Wholehearted is also full of nuance, humor and tenderness. I found it such a useful guide to the profound teachings and it left me with lots to think about and to try to activate in my own life.”

​​​​​​—Laurie Anderson, avant-garde artist, composer, musician and film director


“To meet Koshin is like being embraced by hope. If you never get a chance to meet him this book is like having the best long lunch conversation ever, where you leave with a new best friend. I love Koshin and now I can take him with me wherever I go. Great teachers inspire and stir curiosity to explore. Koshin shares his experience and journey with infectious enthusiasm. His ability to connect his life experiences with the action of his practice is inspiring. The simple beauty of how important and how possible it is to be awake. He makes it feel like you have gained a partner on this journey. I want to read it over and over to keep my life fresh and my heart full with the possibilities of this practice of being present.”

Anthony Edwards, American actor and director, a Golden Globe awardee and six Screen Actors Guild Awardee


“I am so grateful for the light Koshin brings to the world. His wisdom teachings, in Wholehearted, will transform your heart, mind and soul.”

Donna Karan, fashion designer and founder of the Urban Zen Foundation


“Koshin Paley Ellison shares his extraordinary compassion and bright wisdom with pithy advice that can help any of us cultivate a richer and more nourishing life. Whole-Hearted gives a vibrant wake-up call from a Zen mensch.”

Daniel Goleman, co-author Altered Traits: How Meditation Changes Body, Mind and Brain.


“It is difficult to be honest and simple, and in today’s world it is so necessary and healing. Koshin uses the Buddhist precepts to keep real and available which makes his writing valuable and crucial. His commitment to transparency makes it possible for me to show up as my true self so that pure communication is exposed as the recipe for being alive and joyful.”

Rodney Yee, Yoga Teacher and author of Moving Towards Balance


“The subtitle of this wonderful book says it all: “Slow down, Help Out, Wake Up.” In a writing style that is elegant and eminently readable, Koshin Paley Ellison illuminates a path of connection, care, and love. The depth of his experience as a Zen teacher and practitioner reveals itself throughout this work, showing us how to live a wholehearted life.”

Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening


“Koshin Paley Ellison writes with authenticity, vulnerability, and depth. In Wholehearted, he prescribes connection, inspiration, and love to heal us as individuals and as a society. I consider this very good medicine.”

Dr. Andrew Weill, Founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona Medical School and author of 8 Weeks to Optimal Health


“Koshin Paley Ellison’s conversational tone is clear and flowing. Wholehearted feels like sipping cool water during a visit with a good friend. With examples from personal experiences that reveal his unpretentious humanity and good-natured humor, Koshin makes the ancient wisdom of Zen feel intuitive for our contemporary minds.”

Ira Byock, MD, author of Dying Well and The Best Care Possible, Active Emeritus Professor of Medicine, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth


“Koshin writes with the clarity of a bell. Taking everyday moments he applies timeless wisdom. With elegant language he blesses ordinary annoyances with breath and insight. And with simplicity he uncovers the complex heart of human stories.”

Pádraig O’Tuama, poet and theologian, author of In the Shelter


“Wholehearted is good medicine for a healthy life. Inspiring, heartfelt and wise it offers a fresh, personal and authentic integration of Buddhist fundamentals. A kind guide for meeting life’s challenges with more equanimity, resilience, and compassion.”

Frank Ostaseski, author, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully


“This book is aptly named as Koshin Paley Ellison has clearly put his whole heart into bringing this gem into the world. Seamlessly weaving together stories, teachings and wisdom, Wholehearted serves to open and transform the reader’s heart and mind, moving more and more into service of and a deeply and connected relationship with the world.”

Judson Brewer MD PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Research and Innovation of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University and author of The Craving Mind


“Wholehearted is wonderful guidance for the 16 bodhisattva precepts we receive in the Soto Zen tradition written by an American Zen teacher for American people.
Without using many Buddhist technical terms, this is an excellent work to make Buddha Dharma available for people living in the modern society. I hope this book is introduced to Japan and other Buddhist countries to help people understand the significance of the Buddha Dharma in the modern human world.”

Shohaku Okumura, Roshi author of Living By Vow


“Koshin Paley Ellison, a monk living in New York City, reinterprets the timeless teachings of Zen Buddhism in a contemporary way that is conversational, insightful and unexpectedly irreverent! Each chapter invites the reader into self-reflection through Paley Ellison’s personal stories that are smart, witty and vulnerable, often showcasing his own mistakes. Wholehearted is a beautiful, mystical piece of work that is also timely, offering important solutions as we live through a deeply polarized time in history.”

Shakil Choudhury, Author of Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them


“There are SO many books about Zen and Buddhism. This is one I would recommend. Wholehearted is different—in a very good way. It makes you smile in self-recognition. It flows in directions you don’t expect. It pulls you forward into the next chapter, with its perfect seasoning of accounts of the author’s own times of learning—the way we all do, through his mis-steps along the path. It makes the precepts intriguing. Give it as a gift. It will make someone happy. Like I said, I really recommend it.”

Jan Chozen Bays, Roshi, MD, Teacher at Zen Community of Oregon and author of Mindfulness on the Go and Mindful Eating


“It is becoming increasingly clear that the practice of the sixteen bodhisattva precepts — more than meditation — is the essence of zen. In Wholehearted, Koshin Paley Ellison offers his personable and creative approach to the precepts, making it clear that compassion and unselfish caring are at the heart of zen.”

Norman Fischer, poet, senior Zen priest, author most recently of The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path


“This jewel of a book is packed with inspiring and timeless wisdom, pointing us toward freedom. Practical and delightful, each page is nourishing, leaving you more tender and more connected to humanity. This is a book for everyone.”

Ruth King, author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism From The Inside Out


“A master storyteller, combining profound spiritual wisdom with irreverent humor and captivating life lessons, Koshin Paley Ellison’s WholeHearted takes us on a grand tour of the human soul’s journey to being fully present, one simple step at a time. Every page of this well paced treasure radiates compassion, challenging us with humor and humility to pick lentils out of our ashes and to finally come home.”

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, Founding Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul


“This thoughtful book will take you on a journey through the practice of the Zen Buddhist precepts. Wholehearted weaves the heart of Zen with ways to question, and apply those approaches in ones daily life.”

Charles Tenshin Fletcher, Roshi, abbot of Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and co-author of the Way of Zen


“Koshin Paley Ellison generously extends a hand of spiritual friendship in this account of his open-hearted investigation into living upright. Readers will find the nourishing sustenance of wisdom and kindness in this excellent rendering of the Zen Buddhist precepts.”

Egyoku Nakao, Roshi, abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles


“Wholehearted generously presents and elucidates, via charming and lucid daily life examples, the core foundations of spiritual practice: how to establish a state of ease in a life that’s filled with responsibilities; how to attend to inconvenient experiences with acceptance and compassion; how to relate to aggression or suffering; how to process and express emotional states; and so, so much more. The writing is natural, the pages turn effortlessly, as Koshin finds great wisdom in oh so relatable interactions with others. This is a book to return to again and again for support and encouragement to show up for life; and most of all to enjoy!”

Josh Korda, Buddhist teacher and author of Unsubcribed


“Sweet. Intimate. Inviting. Genuinely a call to a wholehearted way. I recommend this book to anyone seeking clarification on this mysterious and difficult path we call our lives.”

James Ishmael Ford, Author of Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons.


“It was a delight to read Koshin Paley Ellison’s book Wholehearted. The common view of precepts is that they are rigid commandments about how to lead a virtuous life. Koshin’s take on the Zen precepts is illustrated with many examples from his life and from Zen literature that show how nuanced the precepts can be. Although the book is serious in content, Koshin’s lightheartedness shines through. Precepts do not have to be a heavy subject, but can be viewed as joyful guiding lights as Koshin demonstrates.”

Gerry Shishin Wick, Roshi, abbot of Great Mountain Zen Center and author of The Book of Equanimity


“Never before have the precepts been expressed so with so much love and compassion, flowing through the pages like music from beginning to end. Expressed eloquently as Koshin shares personal experience with many beautiful references to poetry, literature and history. A real penetration of the human condition, and the Buddhist teachings to reveal who we really are.”

Dorothy Dai En Friedman, Sensei, Zen teacher at the Ocean Zendo


“The best dharma talks and books offer stories that gently subvert our usual ways of understanding the world and ourselves — that make us pause, maybe even wake up a bit. Wholehearted is full of them.”

David Loy, author of The New Buddhist Path