Buddhist Books Everyone Should Read

10 Buddhist Books Everyone Should Read

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

by Jack Kornfield (Bantam, 2000)“Enlightenment does exist,” internationally renowned author and meditation master Jack Kornfield assures us. “Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the divine … these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away.”

But even after achieving such realization — after the ecstasy — we are faced with the day-to-day task of translating that freedom into our imperfect lives. We are faced with the laundry.

Drawing on the experiences and insights of leaders and practitioners within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions, this book offers a uniquely intimate and honest understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds — and how we can prepare our hearts for awakening.

Through moving personal stories and traditional tales, we learn how the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss, and death.

Filled with “the laughter of the wise,” alive with compassion, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry is a gift to anyone who is seeking peace, wholeness, and inner happiness. It is sure to take its place next to A Path with Heart as a spiritual classic for our time.

~ Jack Kornfield

Being Peace 

by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax, 1987)

A bestseller with over 250,000 copies sold, Being Peace is the seminal founding work by Zen Master and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh. With a new introduction by Jack Kornfield and the first update since its release over fifteen years ago, this eloquent meditation on “being peace in order to make peace” is more relevant than ever. A book for everyone concerned about the state of the world and the quality of our lives, it has lost none of its timeliness since it was first published in 1987. It is filled with practical suggestions about how to create a more peaceful world “right at the moment we are alive.” Contains Thich Nhat Hanh’s key practices, including a guide to the practice of reconciliation which has become a peacemaking tool in many other religious traditions.

This beautiful, newly revised edition is the perfect starting point for those who are getting their first introduction to Buddhism as well as a must-have for those already engaged in the tradition.

With illustrations by Mayumi Oda.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism 

by Chögyam Trungpa (Shambhala, 1973)

In this modern spiritual classic, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa highlights the commonest pitfall to which every aspirant on the spiritual path falls prey: what he calls spiritual materialism. The universal tendency, he shows, is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement—the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essentially empty. “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use,” he said, “even spirituality.” His incisive, compassionate teachings serve to wake us up from this trick we all play on ourselves and to offer us a far brighter reality: the true and joyous liberation that inevitably involves letting go of the self rather than working to improve it. It is a message that has resonated with students for nearly thirty years and remains as fresh as ever today.

This new edition includes a foreword by Chögyam Trungpa’s son and lineage holder, Sakyong Mipham.

Happiness Is an Inside Job 

by Sylvia Boorstein (Ballantine, 2007)

How can we stay engaged with life day after day? How can we continue to love–keep our minds in a happy mood–when life is complex and often challenging? These are questions that Sylvia Boorstein addresses in Happiness Is an Inside Job. In more than three decades of practice and teaching, she has discovered that the secret to happiness lies in actively cultivating our connections with the world, with friends, family, colleagues–even those we may not know well. She shows us how mindfulness, concentration, and effort–three elements of the Buddhist path to wisdom–can lead us away from anger, anxiety, and confusion, and into calmness, clarity, and the joy of living in the present.

Mindfulness in Plain English 

by Bhante Gunaratana (Wisdom, 1992)

“A masterpiece.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn
With over a quarter of a million copies sold, Mindfulness in Plain English is one of the most influential books in the burgeoning field of mindfulness and a timeless classic introduction to meditation. This is a book that people read, love, and share – a book that people talk about, write about, reflect on, and return to over and over again.
Bhante Gunaratana is also the author of Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, and his memoir Journey to Mindfulness.

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation 

by Rod Meade Sperry and the editors of Lion’s Roar
(Shambhala, 2014)

A practical, accessible guide to the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation, with pointers from some of today’s most respected Buddhist teachers, including Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh, Cyndi Lee, and Sharon Salzberg.

As countless meditators have learned firsthand, meditation practice can positively transform the way we see and experience our lives. This practical, accessible guide to the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation introduces you to the practice, explains how it is approached in the main schools of Buddhism, and offers advice and inspiration from Buddhism’s most renowned and effective meditation teachers, including Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Sharon Salzberg, Norman Fischer, Ajahn Chah, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Sylvia Boorstein, Noah Levine, Matthieu Ricard, Judy Lief, and many others.

Topics include how to build excitement and energy to start a meditation routine and keep it going, setting up a meditation space, working with and through boredom, what to look for when seeking others to meditate with, how to know when it’s time to try doing a formal meditation retreat, how to bring the practice “off the cushion” with walking meditation and other practices, and much more

What Makes You Not a Buddhist 

by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (Shambhala, 2008)

So you think you’re a Buddhist? Think again. Tibetan Buddhist master Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, one of the most creative and innovative lamas teaching today, throws down the gauntlet to the Buddhist world, challenging common misconceptions, stereotypes, and fantasies. With wit and irony, Khyentse urges readers to move beyond the superficial trappings of Buddhism—beyond the romance with beads, incense, or exotic robes—straight to the heart of what the Buddha taught.

When Things Fall Apart

by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala, 1997)

Pema Chödrön’s perennially best-selling classic on overcoming life’s difficulties cuts to the heart of spirituality and personal growth–now in a newly designed 20th-anniversary edition with a new afterword by Pema–makes for a perfect gift and addition to one’s spiritual library.

How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart—when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind 

by Shunryu Suzuki

(Weatherhill, 1973; fortieth anniversary edition, 2013, Shambhala)

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

So begins this most beloved of all American Zen books.  Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line.  In a single stroke, the simple sentence cuts through the pervasive tendency students have of getting so close to Zen as to completely miss what it’s all about.  An instant teaching on the first page.  And that’s just the beginning.

In the forty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern spiritual classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics—from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality—in a way that is not only remarkably clear, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page.

Real Happiness 

by Sharon Salzberg (Workman, 2010)

Thousands of years prove it, and Western science backs it: Meditation sharpens focus. Meditation lowers blood pressure, relieves chronic pain, reduces stress. Meditation helps us experience greater calm. Meditation connects us to our inner-most feelings and challenges our habits of self-judgment. Meditation helps protect the brain against aging and improves our capacity for learning new things. Meditation opens the door to real and accessible happiness.

There is no better person to show a beginner how to harness the power of meditation than Sharon Salzberg, one of the world’s foremost meditation teachers and spiritual authors. Cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, author of Lovingkindness, Faith, and other books, Ms. Salzberg distills 30 years of teaching meditation into a 28-day program that will change lives. It is not about Buddhism, it’s not esoteric-it is closer to an exercise, like running or riding a bike. From the basics of posture, breathing, and the daily schedule to the finer points of calming the mind, distraction, dealing with specific problem areas (pain in the legs? falling asleep?) to the larger issues of compassion and awareness, Real Happiness is a complete guide. It explains how meditation works; why a daily meditation practice results in more resiliency, creativity, peace, clarity, and balance; and gives twelve meditation practices, including mindfulness meditation and walking meditation. An extensive selection of her students’ FAQs cover the most frequent concerns of beginners who meditate-“Is meditation selfish?” “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” “Can I use meditation to manage weight?”

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