Books hold a very special place in my heart.
Since I was a young teen, books have affected my life in significant ways. From making me look at the entire world differently to opening my eyes up to places and things I never knew existed, becoming a vegetarian (that was because of Ismael), and finally to introducing me to Zen Buddhism. Books have orchestrated some of the greatest changes in my life.
A long time ago, it was a book recommendation that led me to buy the book that first introduced me to mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhism. I hope one (or more) of these books can be of value to you in your own life and daily practice.
1. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
The Zen book (at least of the 20th century) if there ever was one. This is Shunryu Suzuki's classic. Well, technically it's a collection of his lectures and not a book actually written by him, but nonetheless.
This isn't necessarily a great beginner's book, unless you intend on re-reading it 20-30 times over the course of a year (which I don't necessarily recommend against...), but it's still an incredibly beneficial book for those new to meditation or mindfulness practice, or for those interested in following a Buddhist practice (particularly Zen).
Technically, the book takes you through the basics of Zen meditation. But the wisdom that rings throughout the book shows you just how profound the simple act of sitting in meditation is considered in Zen practice, so there's so much more to it than just that. And yet, that's all there is to it...
This is one of my favorite books ever, so highly recommended for anyone and everyone.
2. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps &Nyogen Senzaki
"It has stayed with me for the last 30 years, a classic portraying Zen mind to our linear thinking."
- Phil Jackson, former NBA Coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers and author of Sacred Hoops
The Zen stories book. A total classic and definitely one of my favorite books of all time. I can easily see myself coming back to this book for decades to come given the book's material.
The author of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones aptly begins the book with an old Zen story explaining that the heart of Zen (true Zen) can't be transmitted in words, only the "flesh" and "bones" can. That's because the entire book is made up of Zen stories, which are essentially parables intended to unlock a direct realization (satori, or awakening) in the practitioner.
The stories can't be understood at face value, but that makes this book all that much more valuable, and easily one of the books I'll come back to the most over the coming years.
3. The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh
To me, this is the single greatest book that exists for anyone looking to get a clear and straightforward introduction to Buddhism. Period.
I know that's a big statement, but this book by Thich Nhat Hanh delivers.
In it, he breaks down each of the major as well as minor universal Buddhist teachings, translates them for modern understanding, and even starts the book off with a detailed explanation of the lineage and history of the Buddha's teachings in writing.
For anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism, or deepening their Buddhist practice, this is an amazing book.
4. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
This was really the book that introduced me to mindfulness. At this point, I've probably read it 20-30 times (seriously).
The Miracle of Mindfulness greatly inspired me. The book's structure is unorthodox because the book was originally a detailed letter written by Thich Nhat Hanh to someone else, so it's not particularly well-organized, but it's simply powerful nonetheless.
There are few books I have, and will, suggest more than The Miracle of Mindfulness. It's definitely worth picking up.
5. The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism by Jean Smith
For me, this is really the book that started it all.
In my second book, Zen for Everyday Life, I talk about how this book sat in my Kindle for somewhere around a year before I read anything past the first page. But once I did, I was taken on an amazing ride.
Keep in mind, there's nothing particularly mind-blowing about this book, and it definitely stays on the surface as far as Zen and Buddhist principles go. It's simply what it says it is: a beginner's guide to Zen Buddhism.
But it was precisely that which made it so significant for me because Zen and Buddhism was significant for my life in general.
For anyone looking to get a really simple and straightforward introduction to Zen Buddhism, Smith does a great job here.
6. The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh
This is one of the largest books I've read by Thich Nhat Hanh. In fact, it might be his largest (at least one of his largest).
The Art of Power is all about discovering your true power. Outside of money, holding power over others, and puffing up the ego.
Nothing more needs to be said. Definitely a book worth reading as it can make it reevaluate where you derive your sense of self-worth (among other things).
7. Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh
To me, this is the quintessential book on living deeply and finding the dharma (teaching) in all spiritual traditions of the world.
In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a personal example of courage and compassion when confronting spiritual traditions and beliefs other than your own.
Nhat Hanh shows clearly that peace is possible between all traditions, and that makes this book priceless.
For anyone interested in seeing clearly how Buddhism and Christianity intersect, this is a great starter book.
8. Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh
This was my very first time reading Thich Nhat Hanh.
Being fascinated with religious history when I was younger, it was Thich Nhat Hanh's books on the Buddha and Jesus Christ that interested me the most at first.
This book goes deeper than the last, but for that reason, it serves well as a good follow-up.
I'd suggest this book to anyone who enjoyed Living Buddha, Living Christ, or simply anyone who's enjoyed Thich Nhat Hanh's other work.
9. Making Space by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book inspired me, despite it being so small and simple.
Those who have read and followed Buddhaimonia for a while know I like to break things down simply and clearly and make them as straightforward and applicable as possible.
This book does a great job of doing just that within the arena of establishing a home meditation practice.
I'd suggest this book for anyone just beginning their practice, or even anyone looking to deepen their home meditation practice.
10. The Third Jesus by Deepak Chopra
I haven't read much Deepak Chopra, and frankly, he tends to be very confusing and not all that clear and concise in his explanations and teaching. But regardless, I still very much enjoy some of his work and he serves as a wealth of knowledge and wisdom for many people throughout the world today. And that's a very good thing.
The Third Jesus is the very first book I read by Chopra, and it still serves as a source of inspiration for me.
To me, the book is really just about taking an Eastern spiritual perspective on Jesus teachings. Something many could do, but few actually have. But it's for that very reason that it's so significant. Chopra does a decent job of showing how the Buddha and Jesus Christ's teachings intersect here.
For those interested in Thich Nhat Hanh's books on the Buddha and Jesus Christ, this is another great addition to make a nice little reading list.
11. Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives by Alan Watts
I'm breaking the rules again with this one, but with how many audiobooks I've listened to, I sometimes blur the lines between audio and text. Nonetheless, this is worth mention again, and again, and again.
I consider Alan Watts one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century. I also consider him one of my major teachers. He had a way of explaining and breaking things down simply and clearly that I greatly admire, and strive to emulate.
In this audio collection, Watts breaks down Western psychology and covers Hinduism, Buddhism, and especially Zen in great detail and shows how it all connects in a very clear (but very comprehensive) way.
Forewarning: This audio collection is a hefty one. But it's broken down into separate CD's/lessons and it's so worth it.
12. Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
This is a classic in the ways of 20th-century Buddhist literature. Mindfulness in Plain English breaks down mindfulness in a very thorough and comprehensive way.
I would be careful, though, because despite its title it can be a bit of a confusing and repetitive read at times, but nonetheless, it's a book I suggest everyone read at some point (sooner than later) because the knowledge and wisdom presented pertaining to mindfulness practice is so valuable.
13. What is Zen by Alan Watts
This is Alan Watts simply and clearly. I just mentioned this, so I won't go into detail again, but Alan Watts has an incredible ability to break down a topic in a simple and straightforward way.
One thing about Watts is he's not generally a good place to start, though, in my opinion. For that, I'd begin with The Beginner's Guide to Zen or with one of the Thich Nhat Hanh classics.
Once you get to a certain point of comprehension, though, introduce yourself to Alan Watts because you'll quickly find immense value in all of his books. And this is a great example.
14. Not Always So by Shunryu Suzuki
This is a little "hidden" gem I discovered over the past year.
OK, it's sitting on Amazon.com (only comes in paperback though), but still it's a little-known book I've never heard mentioned elsewhere. It's quickly grown to become one of my favorite books. Especially great for any regular meditation, especially Zen or other Buddhist, practitioner.
Comprised of lectures/dharma talks by Shunryu Suzuki, the very same author of the mega-classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (that was also composed entirely of his lectures in the same way), Not Always So is a book filled with simple wisdom from someone who's devoted a lifetime of dedication to Zen practice.
This is a book that's extremely difficult to describe, because it doesn't really have a central essence (probably why it didn't catch on, unlike Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind which is very focused). But don't let that fool you, many people will find this book both beautiful and incredibly insightful.
15. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
Being Peace is perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh's most well-known work, and therefore it's no surprise that the message is classic Nhat Hanh. I titled Part I of Zen for Everyday Life in honor of Being Peace.
The book is all about just that- being peace. It's what Thich Nhat Hanh has become so well-known for: simple teaching for finding and living in peace.
This is one of the books I'd most recommend out of every other book on this list.
16. Meditation in Action by Chogyam Trungpa
Chogyam Trungpa was an eclectic figure who was sometimes controversial, but his teaching was always clear and direct.
Meditation in action covers a number of very important subjects in a level of detail unlike that of just about anything I've ever read.
For those who have read a few of the more entry-level books on this list, this is a great book to deepen your practice and gain greater clarity.
17. Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Zen Master Seung Sahn
Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is an insightful book by someone who had an uncanny ability to explain (and transmit) the wisdom of Zen.
Like Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, this book is a compilation of lectures, or dharma/Zen talks, given by the Zen master of subject. In this case, Seung Sahn.
For anyone looking to get a very clear explanation of the basic principles of Zen, this is an amazing book that stands aside classics such as Zen Mind and Zen Flesh.
18. Zen Keys by Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Keys is another hidden gem of sorts. In the world of Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and Living Buddha, Living Christ, Zen Keys gets overlooked.
Zen Keys is one of Thich Nhat Hanh's earlier works, but it's the only piece of work I've found by him where he actually breaks down a number of specifically Zen teachings which he doesn't talk about elsewhere.
Like Not Always So, this book only comes in paperback. But I'd highly suggest it. It's one of my favorite books from the past year.
19. The Essential Rumi by Jalal al-Din Rumi (Translators: Coleman Barks &John Moyne)
I've cheated a couple of times on this list, I know. Oh well, couldn't leave out Rumi! In all seriousness, though, Rumi is a great compliment for anyone looking to deepen their mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhist practice.
Rumi was a 13th-century Sufi mystic (Sufism originating from Islam), and for those with some introductory knowledge of Zen, Buddhism, or universal wisdom of some kind, Rumi's words ring like the voice of an old friend.
I'd suggest anyone and everyone read Rumi at some point in their lives, if for no other reason than to see what I really mean when I say much of what I talk about here on Buddhaimonia is universal. And of all books published on Rumi's writing and poems, this is the book I'd suggest to start with.
20. Moon in a Dewdrop by Dogen Zenji
Moon in a Dewdrop is classic Dogen, and a great book for those interested in Zen or Buddhism (but not as a starter, suggested that you read a few books on Buddhism, most importantly Zen specific topics, first).
For those that don't know, Dogen Zenji was a Japanese Zen master who lived between 1200 and 1253. Zen master Dogen founded the Soto school of Zen, still one of the two major sects of Zen in existence today.
For those just starting out, Moon in a Dewdrop may fly over your head. But if you're familiar with Zen teaching, language, and its use of parables, this is an amazing piece of work that can help deepen your practice.
What I'm reading now: True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart
Currently, I'm reading a book called True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh.
As you can tell, I've read a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh. But up until a few weeks ago, I had never seen nor heard of this book before. It's a very short and simple book (about 100 pages, larger-ish font), but so far it's great.
In the book, Nhat Hanh covers practical ways you can find true love, based on the 4 immeasurables, sometimes called the 4 aspects of true love, in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy.
I'll make sure to let you know what I think when I finish it (moving very slowly right now due to a lot of writing and our little girl coming soon, though...), until then you can check out the book here.
eBook, audiobook, or paperback: Which do you prefer?
I've recently become obsessed with paperback. I've listened to audiobooks and read Kindle books for years now, but recently I've really begun to love the feel of a physical book in my hands. As my mindfulness practice deepens, I feel that it deepens my connection to the work, and overall I just really enjoy the experience of sitting down with an actual book.
I'd love to hear what you prefer: eBook, audiobook, or paperback.
Let me know!