Image is from "Zen Shorts" by Jon Muth

This is just meant to be a list of my favorite books on Buddhism, Zen or somewhat related Dharma topics.  It is, in no way, meant to be exhaustive.  If you have a particular opinion on one of the books listed or would like to include your own then please comment!

General Buddhism

Zen Practice

For the Kids

Random Dharma(ish)

Reader Recommendations


25 thoughts on “Books

  1. While many of these titles are lovely books, I only recommend “Zen Shorts” to lighten up– then put the reading aside. Reading keeps us engaged in analysis and thinking. Best thing I was told by a teacher: “Quit being so hard on yourself–just go back to awareness again and again.” I donated most of my dharma library to my sangha.
    Then I gave up trying so hard for enlightment and just started being more childlike. I’m much happier now.

  2. The book I started with when really digging into meditation for the first time was “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana. The title really says it all – it was a great start for a somewhat skeptical, cut through the frilly bullshit westerner such as myself.

    Available free here:

    Or download the PDF

    Or buy it

  3. Long time reader, first time commenter, but I had to jump in with one of my favorites.

    Along with many already mentioned, I got a lot out of “To meet The Real Dragon” by Gudo Nishijima. He delves (as deeply as one can in a couple hundred pages) into some fundamental concepts and compares/contrasts Western and Eastern philosophical traditions in the first half, before moving into more specifically Buddhist content.

    It’s basically a collection of Dharma Talks that have been translated and put into book form. The translation can be a little goofy at times, but overall I found it to be a good way to start sort of un-learning a lot of the basic assumptions many of us are stuck with due to the Judeo-Christian slant of our culture on the whole.

  4. This section of your blog is like the helping hand that assists you into the vehicle that gets you to the other shore. Great work and it seems to stem from the motivation to help others. Wonderful!

    I’m very glad to see ‘Zen Flesh Zen Bones’ in your recommended reading list. I read that in high school and it was a profound introduction to spirituality, even though I understood very little of it at the time.

  5. Pingback: Buddhist book recommendations « Namaste Book Club's Blog

  6. Best begginer book for me was Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen He also has another good one called Buddhism is not what you think.

    Thoughts without a Thinker was decent too.

  7. Fabulous list here, many of my favourites and I’m glad to see you have included Trungpa’s ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’ a real classic for me. I just completed a blog post on ‘7 True Thinkers’ and he is listed, particularlly because of this book.
    I’d also include Dzongsar Khyentse’s ‘What Makes You Not a Buddhist.’ This is a contemporary no frills reminder of what it actually means to be Buddhist. I think it’s a must for all newbies and oldies (who may have forgotten!) 😀
    Kindest Regards

  8. I reccomend “Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. He answers a lot of questions that you don’t necessarily hear very often about Buddhism. Great for newbies like me or people who have been raised Buddhist.

    I also recommend “Hardcore Zen”. I don’t remember the author right now. I recommend it for those who like the rocknroll or punk rock lifestyle or attitudes they portray.
    It doesn’t go insanely deep into Buddhism as it is a lot like an autobiography. Its still a very good read for those who like crude humor and aggressive music.

  9. My favorite Dharma book is, “How to Raise an Ox,” by the late Dr. Francis Dojun Cook. His essays on Dogen’s Zen are easy to understand, practice-oriented, and very encouraging.

  10. Zen Shorts and I Once Was A Monkey are favorites in our house.

    The Tao of Pooh is a reminder of an increasingly distant youth.

    Agree with Kyle about Steve Hagen’s Buddhism is Not What You Think. Need to go back and read that again actually.

    A Path With Heart is a current favorite and suggested addition to your excellent list.

    3 books that are not “Dharma books” but have something interesting to say are:

    How The Swans Came To The Lake by Rick Fields

    Dirty Laundry: 100 Days in a Zen Monastery by Winson and Sagan

    Crooked Cucumber by David Chadwick

    I am not clever enough to say this succinctly but there is something important about seeing the teachings in the context of history and human lives with all our struggles, mistakes, and limitations.


  11. A few of my favorites I didn’t see on your post:

    Dhammapada: Shambhala Pocket Classics Edition

    You have to say something; Manifesting Zen Insight: Dainin Katagiri

    Only Don’t Know; Selected Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn

    Buddhism From Within; An Intuitive Introduction to Buddhism: Rev. Daizui MacPhillamy

  12. Certainly reading isn’t practicting Buddhism, but reading and studying Buddhist texts is an important part of our practice … or we wouldn’t have Buddhist texts at all. Why did Dogen go to so much trouble to write the Shobogenzo? To throw it away?

    Enjoy your books. Enjoy your sitting. Enjoy your life!

    • I always try to communicate my reading as silent chanting. More than just an armchair leisure (although there is nothing wrong with that). My general understanding of Zen and written works is that they do play an important role and should not be thrown away but shouldn’t be clung to either.


  13. Try some of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s books. He was the first Korean zen master to teach in the west. Compasss of Zen is great as is Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. Korean zen gets short thrift against Japanese zen but actually predates Japanese zen, mainly I think because Korea is a lot closer to China.

    • Very true. I have recently tried to read more of the Seon and Ch’an masters (Sheng Yen and Seung Sahn seem to be the most prominent). Many of the people I communicate online with have had their first experiences with Kwan Um or other Korean Zen schools and in researching a possible move I found that the most prominent centers were Korean.

      Thanks for your comment!


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