July 12, 2011

Books That Brought People To Buddhism

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
-Dr. Seuss

Currently we are hosting a community discussion titled, What Led You to Buddhism? In this discussion, I ask participants to come share the stories of how they came to the dharma and I am overjoyed that so many people have contributed. If you haven't stopped by yet, please feel free!

While reading through the posts from people of many different backgrounds and traditions, one common theme became immediately apparent: Books. For so many, the major life decision to enter the Buddhist path was born of the simple act of sitting down to read a book one day. Some people speak of reading a dharma book while looking for answers to life's deeper questions and others of just being mildly curious, stumbling on a random book in a library or picking one up because there was a word they had never heard in the title. As I continued to read through the posts, it occurred to me that I should compile all the books mentioned into a list, and that such a list, comprised solely of personal accounts of life altering realizations, could be quite special. Here it is:

Zen mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (*posted by seven different people in the discussion)
The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trunga
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Awakening Compassion by Pema Chodron
Awakening to the Sacred by Lama Surya Das
Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das
The Tao of Sobriety by David Gregson
Dharma Punx by Noah Levine
One Breath at a Time by Kevin Edward Griffin
The Buddhist Path to Simplicity by Christina Feldman
Peace in Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Cow in the Parking Lot by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps
In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bhodhi
The Middle Discourses by Bhikku Nanamoli
The Long Discourses by Maurice Walshe
The Connected Discourses by Bhikkhu Bhodhi.
The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh
Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en
Life of Milerapa by Lobsang Jivaka
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aitken Roshi
The Three Pillars of Zen Philip Kapleau Roshi
Zen Training by Philip Kapleau Roshi
Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide by Christmas Humphreys
Everyday Zen: Love & Work by Charlotte Joko Beck
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, Fourth Edition by Richard H. Robinson
Shōbōgenzō by Dogen
The Sound of Silence by Ajahn Sumedho
The Tibetan Book of the Dead as translated by Gyurme Dorje
Indestructible Truth by Reginald A. Ray
Secret of the Vajra World by Reginald A. Ray
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald
If the Buddha Got Stuck by Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D.
No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron
Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen
Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists, edited by Sumi Loundon
Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women by Ellison Banks Findly
Getting Unstuck by Pema Chodron
Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron
Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts
Manual of Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
How to Solve Our Human Problems by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Awareness by Anthony DeMello.
Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
Myth of Freedom by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Way of Meditation by Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche
A Still Forest Pool by Ajaan Chah
Mindfulness In Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet by Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan
Buddhism at Work
by George Bond
The New Social Face of Buddhism
by Ken Jones
World as Lover World as Self
by Joanna Macy
Everyday Suchness
by Gyomay M. Kubose
Returning to Silence
by Dainin Katagiri
The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri
by Dosho Port
The Wisdom Of No Escape
by Pema Chodron
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert M. Pirsig.
Eight Steps to Happiness
by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
The Way of the White Clouds
by Lama Anagarika Govinda
A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life: a commentary on Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara
by the Dalai Lama
Buddhism for Beginners
by Thubten Chodron
A New Earth
by Eckhart Tolle
Mindfulness in Plain English
by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness
by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere
by Ayya Khema
"Golden Wind
Zen Talks by Eido Shimano Roshi
Comfortable with Uncertainty
by Pema Chodrom
Not Always So
by Suzuki Roshi
Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche
Zurchungpa's Testament
with commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
The Supreme Source
by Namkhai Norbu
"The Art of Happiness"
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Dhammapada  by........
The Buddha! (not orginally a book but it is printed as one these days so I thought it qualified)

 

 

 

Have one you would like to add? Post it here or join the discussion! I am going to keep updating this list as the discussion continues.

 

 

 

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rameshgadiraju's picture

I am a Hindu by birth. I became atheist in High School after learning Viruses can be living and non living. I did not see any need for praying god. One of my cousin introduced me to Vipassana. I attended 11day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Hyderabad, India. Growing up in India, I know the general story of Buddha. I don't know anything about the principles of Buddhism. The retreat was the real introduction to Buddhism for me though the retreat is secular. I read articles in Wikipedia about Buddhism. The first Buddhist book that I liked the most is Dalai Lama’s The Stages of Meditation. I took the reference of Mulamadhyamakarika by Nagarjuna from The Stages of Meditation book. I read the translation of Mulamadhyama Karika but, I did not like the translation as some of the words that I know were translated with wrong meaning. This motivated me to learn Sanskrit to get the real meaning. Now I am reading and practicing Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. I like S.N. Goenka’s Discourse summaries.I started of with Mahayana and settled in Theravada.

preacher010's picture

You're missing Brad Warner's HARDCORE ZEN. HUGE oversight.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks everybody! The list has been updated again.

buddhabrats's picture

The supreme source by Namkhai Norbu

MS_1's picture

"Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living" by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh brought me to the Dharma in a most unexpected way. I've written extensively about it on my blog, but short version is I picked up the book because it caught my eye at my highest weight ever (349 pounds). In one year since then, I have lost 102 pounds and found Buddhism!

dflynn221's picture

I'm going to add to the seemingly most popular book so far: Zen Mind, Beginner's MInd by Shunryu Suzuki.

I also want to mention The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche and Zurchungpa's Testament, with commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Now my practice follows a Kagyu lineage, but I've read books from many other schools and they've all taught me a great deal.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks everybody, this list has been updated again.

trivers.joseph's picture

Thinking about other books in addition to the three I posted yesterday. I didn't read them at the start, but I think they're excellent for getting a good grounding in the Dharma.

1) Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana
2) Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, Bhante Gunaratana
3) Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, Ayya Khema

Tharpa Pema's picture

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

aspeed's picture

Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron was the start for me.

khrystene's picture

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac was certainly influential, but also the classic Journey to the West/Monkey by Wu Cheng'en.

alalaho's picture

the first book i read was, "A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life", a commentary on Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara by the Dalai Lama. i think this commentary or Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara is a must on any list of Dharma books.

thanks for putting together a great list!
cesar

eka's picture

Years ago, I was given a used copy of "The Way of the White Clouds" by Lama Anagarika Govinda and I just fell in love with it. It was my first encounter with Tibetan Buddhism and since then, I have been consistently drawn to books and teachers from the Tibetan tradition.

kelsang.longku's picture

Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso! Loved that book when I first started practicing. Great, practical instructions for training the mind from the Lojong lineage.

ladybetta's picture

Can't believe nobody has mentioned Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.
;>
Dharma pamphlet online:
Life's Challenges:
Greed vs. Generosity
Hate vs. Lovingkindness
Delusion vs. Awareness

jshanson's picture

Everyday Suchness by Gyomay M. Kubose
Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri - I just love his writing
Keep Me In Your Heart Awhile - The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri by Dosho Port
The Wisdom Of No Escape by Pema Chodron - haven't read it in years but it really touched/triggered something dormant in me 9 years ago
Erotic Haiku - just to keep grounded :)

BTW, a Buddhist I respected once said that at some point in your practice you should whittle your library down to 2 or 3 core books - read just them - and practice. What do others think of that? I like to read dharma books so that is a tough one.

aewhitehouse's picture

jshanson...I only wish I could excercise that discipline. The body of work on Buddhism in the west has grown so vast. I am more a student of Buddhism than a practioner, so I am probably going to want to access more books. A practitioner and adherent on the other hand could really benefit by trimming down his or her core liturgy.

jshanson's picture

Same here, I haven't reached that point though I did after reading this blog and responding start reading "The Wisdom of No Escape" again for the first time in years. Pema wrote it in 1989 and part of me thinks "first book, best book" or at least the seed of her later work.

Richard Dillon's picture

A Path with Heart Jack Kornfield
Buddhism at Work George Bond
The New Social Face of Buddhism Ken Jones
World as Lover World as Self Joanna Macy

lorenharmon's picture

I had given up on religion, but was very interested in learning about the physics of the universe at the time. I picked up "The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet" by Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan. As I read it, I realized that I had always been Buddhist... I just didn't know that was what the term for my beliefs! I didn't have to change my beliefs, I just learned and grew in them.

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks for commenting everybody. I just updated the list again.

Brian Kearns's picture

Spirit of Zen, Alan Watts
Manual of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki

gassho

colleen's picture

Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron. I wandered by it on a friend's bookshelf about ten years ago when I was in a total mid-life wreck: trying to leave an abusive spouse, caring for small child, too far from home - no supports to speak of and talking myself out of driving off the bridge on a weekly basis. I read it everyday for at least a swear it saved my life. Years in the mud gave me many rich opportunities to deepen my practice!

shauna.olsen's picture

My path looks like the eternity knot. Subconsciously I knew the principles, but I couldn't rationalize or explain it to myself or family. I went around and around looking for something that could tidy up the loose ends of my thoughts. I would meditate and go to yoga, but performing the actions never opened up a cohesive philosophy for me. There was always something missing or unscientific when I looked into other religions.

After randomly picking up Pema's audiobook "Getting Unstuck" at the local library, I had my aha moment and knew I was home. Her stories are my stories too!

They key tenet that sold me on Buddhism? Knowing that it is so vital to ask questions and find my own truth...

Kat's picture

I would also add The Four Noble Truths. The slim volume lived in my bag for 8+ months when I first started practicing. The Middle Way is also an important volume on our shelves, as is the Lotus Sutra and Women's Buddhism, Buddhism's Women. My daughter has fallen in love with the book Blue Jean Buddha (which I would recommend for any teen practicing).

tomokeefe's picture

"If the Buddha Got Stuck" by Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D.
"No Time to Lose" by Pema Chodron
"Buddhism Plain & Simple" by Steve Hagen

I've described "If the Buddha Got Stuck" to friends as a kind of Buddhist Self-Help book and I mean that with love. For someone was rather unfamiliar with Buddhism, it was a revelatory book for me. I wish I could remember who recommended it to me so that I could thank them. I think Hagen's book opened the door to Buddhism a bit further for me, or at least showed me the possibilities of other doors. I also like his writing style. As far as Pema - I hope to read everything that she has out there. I connect with her style of teaching.

OK, those are three suggestions from a newbie.

karladiane's picture

The book How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald has been a treasure to me for almost 25 years now - picked up out of curiosity when I was a teenager, alone and lost in England, and visiting a show of Buddhist Art at the British Museum.
peace!

Monty McKeever's picture

Thanks trivers.joseph and aewhitehouse, your contributions have been added!

trivers.joseph's picture

You're welcome. Thanks for this blog post. Having a list of good books and resources is invaluable, especially for those who don't live near a teacher, centre or monastery.

aewhitehouse's picture

You're welcome, Monty. In my experience, Indestructible Truth lays out basic Tibetan Buddhist cosmology better than anything I have read to date.

Monty McKeever's picture

Indeed aewhitehouse. Indestructable Truth is great. I actually read it and Secret of the Vajra World while taking Reggie's Tibetan Buddhism class at Naropa. It was quite a class!

aewhitehouse's picture

My Buddhist studies began around 2003 with The Tibetan Book of the Dead as translated by Gyurme Dorje. Since that time my pursuit has been more academic than devotional but has branched off into the study of Dzogchen, Bon, and the individual schools of Tibetan Buddhism -- particularly Nyingma and Kagyu.

My library is stocked full of books on Tibetan Buddhism but I must credit Reggie Ray with helping round out my early understanding with the books Indestructible Truth and Secrets of the Vajra World.

Edit: My glaring omission was having read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind back in 1988. I took a long break before I picked up the studies again, albeit with a different lineage.

trivers.joseph's picture

Two books and one essay at the start really opened up Buddhism for me:

1) What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
2) Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, Fourth Edition by Richard H. Robinson
3) Sansuikyo (Mountains and Rivers Sutra) from the Shobogenzo by Dogen

In the former, I loved the intellectual rigour given to the explanations of the four noble truths and co-dependent orgination and the history of Buddhism. In the latter, I loved the rigour given to the style of the writing itself.

Finally, at the moment I'm enjoying reading and re-reading The Sound of Silence by Ajahn Sumedho.

imdharma's picture

This list can't be complete without Everyday Zen Love and Work by Charlotte Joko Beck

Monty McKeever's picture

Added! thanks imdharma

jshanson's picture

Thanks, one of the best - love and work - the 2 big ones and aren't her CDs wonderful too?

ToonForever's picture

Awesome - thank you for making this list. As I was reading through the comments last week (after adding my own) I started writing down and wish-listing some titles I do not yet own. Very nice to have them all in one place. Hope to see more added soon.

groucho27's picture

My deepest gratitude for introducing me to the dharma as a guide to life rather than as an intellectual curiosity must go to Thich Naht Hahn. First, I had little knowledge but much curiosity about the Lotus Sutra--an unknown stranger's name on the cover of Peaceful Action, Open Heart opened the door. After, in walking through the door it was Master Thay's other introductory books, such as Heart of the Buddha's Teachings led me to the classic sutras, especially the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. The commentaries of Red Pine on these great teaching I highly recommend as almost required reading to truly experience the way. I also must thank Red PIne for pointing me toward the Gateless Gate and the Blue Cliff Records and the many spiritual ancestors who now speak across time. One last thought, wouldn't a Red Pine commentary on the Lotus Sutra be welcomed by all?

Dave

groucho27's picture

My deepest gratitude for introducing me to the dharma as a guide to life rather than as an intellectual curiosity must go to Thich Naht Hahn. First, I had little knowledge but much curiosity about the Lotus Sutra--an unknown stranger's name on the cover of Peaceful Action, Open Heart opened the door. After, in walking through the door it was Master Thay's other introductory books, such as Heart of the Buddha's Teachings led me to the classic sutras, especially the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. The commentaries of Red Pine on these great teaching I highly recommend as almost required reading to truly experience the way. I also must thank Red PIne for pointing me toward the Gateless Gate and the Blue Cliff Records and the many spiritual ancestors who now speak across time. One last thought, wouldn't a Red Pine commentary on the Lotus Sutra be welcomed by all?

Dave

sedmiston's picture

Dear Toon,

I believe that you are the person who said that "The Cow in the Parking Lot" brought you to Buddhism. Unfortunately, I was never able to bring up your original post on the subject. I would love to see it (being the person who wrote it). Can you possibly send it to me at sedmiston@gmail.com?

Also, are you the person who posted a review of the book on Amazon?

Thanks very much,

Susan

ToonForever's picture

Hi, Susan:

I am indeed that same person :) I'll happily send you a copy of the entry I posted here. Your book has had an incredible impact on my life!

Thanks

Monty McKeever's picture

Hello Susan,

Thanks for joining us!

The original post is indeed by ToonForever and is on the first page of comments at: http://www.tricycle.com/community/what-led-you-buddhism

Monty McKeever's picture

you're very welcome ToonForever. There are a few on the list that I want to start on soon as well...

sedmiston's picture

Dear Monty,

Thanks ever so much for listing "The Cow in the Parking Lot." However, I was never able to read the original post mentioning it, although a reference to it came up in a Google search.
I believe that ToonForever is the person who mentioned the book, of which I am coauthor with Leonard Scheff.

Can you possibly send me the original post? Or edit that post in a way that the reference to our book appears?

Thanks again,

Susan Edmiston