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Many folks I speak with say their first taste of Buddhism came from a book they read out of curiosity. This was the case with me in 1972 when I found What The Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula in my high school library. I must have read it six times, cover to cover, each time gleaning a new insight into the remarkable teachings of the Buddha.
The suggestions I offer below are personal ones of books I have read and which have been a tremendous support over the years.
If you purchase any book from this list, as an Amazon Affiliate I will earn a tiny commission–and you don’t pay anything extra. This helps me keep the website up and running. Thanks.
I. Books for Beginners or the Simply Curious
Start Where You Are, by by Pema Chödrön
Everyday Zen: Love & Work by Charlotte Joko Beck
Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up by Koshin Paley Ellison
That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, by Silvia Boorstein
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema
Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen
Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright
Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
The Issue at Hand, by Gil Fronsdal
Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists, by Sumi Loundon Kim
Buddhism: An Introduction to the Buddha’s Life, Teachings, and Practices by Joan Duncan Oliver
The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hahn
If you could choose only 1 book from the above list and you didn’t want to spend much money–I would suggest Mindfulness in Plain English. The author, A Sri Lankan monk his Western students call “Bhante G.” offers straightforward, accessible and inspiring meditation guidance. Highly recommended.
The issue at Hand, by Gil Fronsdal, is a s short, clear and helpful introduction to Buddhist meditation. The author has made it available as a free download in seven languages here–> The Issue At Hand.
The number 1 recommendation in this section, Mindfulness is Plain English, is also available in an early version as a free download from the excellent online library at A Handful Of Leaves –> Mindfulness in Plain English.
II. Guidance in Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, Sharon Salzberg
The Experience of Insight, by
A Wise Heart, by Jack Kornfield
Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation, by Larry Rosenberg
The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation, by Richard Shankman
Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook, by Ajahn Brahm
Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta, by Bhante Gunaratana
A Heart As Wide as the World: Stories on the Path of Lovingkindness, By Sharon Salzberg
Mindfulness For Beginners, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, by Sylvia Boorstein
Focused and Fearless, by Shaila Catherine
III. The Theravada, or Early Buddhist, Tradition
What the Buddha Taught, by
Theravada Buddhism, by
The Noble Eightfold Path, by
The Buddha Before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings, by Gil Fronsdal
Unlimiting Mind: The Radically Experiential Psychology of Buddhism, by Olendzki, Andrew.
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere,
by Ayya Khema
Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield
Being Dharma, by
The Dhammapada, by Gil Fronsdal
How Buddhism Began: The conditioned genesis of the early teachings, by the respected professor Richard F. Gombrich. Well-written and authoritative, it presents the Buddha’s ideas in their historical context.
Another celebrated professor, Rupert Gethin, has made his imminently readable book The Foundations of Buddhism available as a PDF. This volume was on by bed-stand for many years.
The late professor J. N. Jayatilleke, of the University of Sri Lanka, wrote a clear and thorough introduction the the Buddha’s teachings–>The Message of the Buddha.
IV. The Suttas of Early Buddhism
This section presents what I consider are accurate and readable translations of the suttas–an immense collection of about 10,000 discourses by and narratives about the Buddha.
Only about 1,000 of these texts are currently available in English translation–see Befriending the Suttas Tips on Reading the Pali Discourses for an introduction to this fascinating literature.
The discourses of the Buddha offer a vast range of practices, from ethical guidelines for wise daily life and relationships, instructions for meditation and inner cultivation, all the way to descriptions of the deepest truths of reality. As a general introduction see–> Introduction to Sutta Central.
Here are a few timeless and priceless suggestions to get you started:
In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed.
Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy, by various editors.
V. Secular Buddhist Wisdom
Going on Being: Buddhism and the Way of Change, Mark Epstein, MD
You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, by Thich Nhat Hahn
Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life, by Sylvia Boorstein
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, By Sharon Salzberg
Three Steps to Awakening, by Larry Rosenberg
VI. People of Color and Buddhism
Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out, by Ruth King
Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, by Lama Rod Owens & angel Kyodo williams
Sanctuary: A Meditation on Home, Homelessness, and Belonging, by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
VII. Books for Children
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean
A Pebble for Your Pocket: Mindful Stories for Children and Grown-ups, by Thich Nhat Hahn
Peaceful Piggy Meditation, by Kerry Lee McLean
My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing, by Nick Ortner
Listening to My Body, by Gabi Garcia
Meditation Is an Open Sky, by Whitney Stewart
VIII. Buddhism/ Mindfulness and Parenting
IX. Books of Interest to Teens and Youth
X. Women and Buddhism
XI. Socially Engaged Buddhism
XII. Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue
XIII. Buddhism and Popular Psychology
XIV. Mindfulness Approaches to Issues in Medicine, Neuroscience and Psychology
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