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What are some good Buddhism books for a beginner?

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Posted on Jan 31, 2011 12:51:46 PM PST
J. Riley says:
Enlightenment, by Jim Riley. Available at You should not need anything more than this book if you seek illumination.

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 12:58:13 PM PST
J. Riley says:

Above is the book I just mentioned.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2011 1:07:05 PM PST
sbissell3 says:
Zen Master Li Yuansong states that enlightenment can come only after humility

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2011 11:10:49 PM PST
P Presta says:
My favorite has always been What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. It provides a nice perspective different from the avalanche of Tibetan/ Mahayana books out there.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2011 6:08:06 PM PST
The new book on Rebel Buddha gives a good insight into how Buddha became enlightened, the problems and questions he and we all have on the path. The book reminds us that Buddhism is not a religion and explains the traps and importance of being on the path. Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2011 6:53:33 AM PST
L A Braun says:
I too found Steve Hagen's "Buddhism: Plain and Simple" one of the most accessable introductory books on the subject.

Posted on Mar 8, 2011 3:35:18 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 8, 2011 3:52:08 AM PST
W.Kim says:
I started meditating a year ago, and despite the inevitable ups and downs of practice, I'm glad to say that I've gotten a lot out of it - so much so, I'm thinking of, "taking the precepts" and becoming a lay buddhist. These are the books and authors that inspired my efforts and keep me chugging along:

Venerable Henepola Gunaratana,

This book is exactly what the title says it is: a succinct, no-nonsense manual that clearly lays out the nuts 'n bolts of vipassana meditation (as taught in the Theravadan buddhist tradition), enlivened by the author's, "straight-shooting," writing style - .

Ken McLeod.

A comprehensive, demystifying, "plain english," introduction to meditation and the Buddhist path, by a western teacher trained in the Tibetan tradition, .

Jack Kornfield,

Tara Brach,

Two books by leading buddhist writers/teachers (who are also practicing clinical psychologists) on the therapeutic possibilities of practice, and the application of buddhist principles to the spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face in life - - and - .

Thich Nhat Hanh,

Two books by prolific author, nobel peace prize nominee and Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh; one on practices that help healing childhood trauma, the other on the application of buddhist ethics (the five precepts) in everyday life.

Stephen Batchelor,

A thought-provoking and controversial memoir of one westerner's life-long dedication to the practice of meditation and the study of the dharma (an ex-monk twice over, he was ordained in both the Tibetan and Korean Zen traditions) as well as a revisionist take on the life of the Siddhattha Gotama, the spiritual seeker who became the Buddha. Love it or hate it, Batchelor's "Confessions," makes for fascinating reading - .

Posted on Mar 8, 2011 2:54:13 PM PST
KV Trout says:
I think the answer to the question, "What should I read as an introduction to Buddhism?" can only really be answered by you.

As I read the many suggestions here, I find that I am influenced by my own views and am drawn to say, "No, not that, this". Or "yes, that!".

But as in any spiritual path one has to find one's own way to it and stop and learn what is of interest and importance to oneself along that path.

Let me recommend some of my favorites and explain why they may or may not be of interest to you. But in the end I think the best way for you to choose is for you to go to a well-stocked bookstore - one of those where they have chairs and don't mind you taking a few books over to a chair and sitting and looking them over - and choose one that APPEALS TO YOU.

Here's some ideas and comments:
Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha This is a very introductory work, and it contains many of the "stories" or "parables" of the Buddha with beautiful illustrations and put together by one of today's few "enlightened Masters", Thich Nhat Hanh. Now to me, some of the stories about how the Buddha was born etc. are pure myth and not what the Buddha taught. And many of these stories are just that: stories, probably fiction. Yet if you take the mythical aspects with a grain of salt most of these parables do teach the basic fundamentals of Buddhism. I think this book is great but it's rather "light" in the sense it does not go into great detail about meditation or how to meditate, and to me meditation is the key teaching of Buddhism.

The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering - This is both an introduction (though a much meatier and "more dry" one, if you will, than the above) and a deep study of the basic teachings of Buddhism. I highly recommend this one to all Buddhists and would-be Buddhists. Yet it does not spend enough time on meditation.

One way - though a more difficult one, admittedly - to learn Buddhism is to go right to the source. For this I recommend In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha) and/or The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya (Teachings of the Buddha) . Both of these books have the actual translations of the orally passed down words of the Buddha, and it's always good to get it "from the horse's mouth". Remember that these words were remembered by chants and the manner of speaking is a bit hard to get used to but it's worth the effort to see "where all of this came from".

As to meditation, I am partial to the books Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook and Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. While the former can probably be used by a beginner the latter is more of an intermediate guide. But before jumping into either of these I would just start meditating and for that you don't need a book so much as you just need to read some basic guides that you can find on the net. Here's one:
And here's another:
As mentioned above, I recommend that once one is committed to meditation, one buy the Guide "Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond" by Ajahn Brahm. But to start, the first 60+ pages of his book are available as a download he made available for free in pdf format. Once I read this, after having already started meditating, then I was ready to buy the book here at amazon, and the rest of the book goes into much more detail and is worth buying.
I also like an intro to meditation with cd by Jack Kornfeld that your library might have Meditation for Beginnerswhich includes a cd re meditation.

I also like Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. This book is not just for those who tend towards anger but for all humans who have to learn to deal with their emotions in a more positive way.

But in the end just look at the books and read parts of them and see if they "reach out to you". The right teacher (book) will find you if you let it.

Posted on Sep 28, 2011 10:29:03 AM PDT
James H. says:
I'm currently reading "The Buddha in your mirror" it's pretty good thus far. Imo

Posted on Nov 8, 2011 11:07:56 PM PST
Marcus Lewis says:
I've read Steve Hagen's "Buddhism: Plain and Simple", Olcott's Buddhist Catechism, and the Dali Lama's "Ethics for a New Millennium". I found them interesting, but too vague to feel I really understand Buddhism well. I've also read Bachelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist", which I enjoyed, but its more a biography and I get the feeling he's pretty outside mainstream Buddhism.

Is there a book that is more philosophical, precise, and uses less 'new-agey' language than Hagen or the Dali Lama's books? The way my mind works leads me to need a more concrete justification and explanation for Buddhism. I own Thich Nhat Hanh's 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching', would that be a better book to start next, or should I buy something else? Thanks for your help.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2011 8:52:35 AM PST
sbissell3 says:
The issue might be that you are expecting some single coherent 'mainstream' Buddhist message. Buddhism like most old, wide spread, religions has many branches and many messages. To expect a single message from American Insight Meditation (a form of Theravada Buddhism) and Tibetan Buddhism is sort of like expecting a single message from Mormonism and Catholicism (I'm only being illustrative here; there is no message 'Mormonism = Theravada Buddhism or anything like that).

Maybe the big issue is that unlike Christianity or Islam, Buddhism has no dogma associated with it, no 'single central truth' as it were.

I'll probably get beat up for this, but have you read Goldstein's One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism? It at least addresses some of what you are thinking. . .I think.

Posted on Nov 9, 2011 10:27:24 AM PST
Martin Zook says:
Marcus - There are a couple of books I can recommend. First and foremost is Thich Nhat Hahn's biography of the Buddha based on the central body of his teachings. It's called Old Path White Clouds. It obviously includes the core teachings that also are in Hanh's book that you have in hand. But it goes beyond listing the teachings and puts their development, and the development of other teachings, in the context of his life as he taught others.

But, if you want to understand Buddhism, which translates awakening of the mind, you need to meditate. For that, I recommend The Attention Revolution, by B. Allen Wallace. It's the best meditation 101 instruction I've come across.


In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2011 4:00:56 AM PST
Marcus Lewis says:
My issue is mostly that the language in the couple books I've read is a little too vague and mystic, not necessarily that it might be different from book to book. It's like the issue I have when reading some of the more liberal Christian theologians (like John Haught or Paul Tillich) where they use poetic, flowery language, but when I try to understand precisely what they are saying it isn't clear. Perhaps I'm a bit too analytical, and am expecting something like a David Hume-esque explanation of Buddhism when that is not the nature of Buddhism, but I'm sure there is something out there for me. Thanks for the recommendations, I'll check them out. And any more suggestions would be great too.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 4:52:07 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2011 5:43:12 AM PST
Martin Zook says:
If you're looking for a straight forward explanation of the Buddha's core teachings, then the Hanh's Heart of the Buddha's Teaching may be the book for you, or his biography of the Buddha (it's a little less dry).

I use Heart of the Buddha's Teaching as a reference. But it is accessible and informative.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 26, 2011 6:11:40 PM PST
R. Coffey says:
Zen Mind Beginner's Mind was the first Buddhist text I bought and I still find it refreshing and profound even having read it several times over 20 years of studying and practicing Buddhism.

The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind

Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening

Becoming Enlightened <= this is the best book His Holiness has done yet.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 26, 2011 6:13:44 PM PST
R. Coffey says:
I second your position - sounds like a troll to me.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 26, 2011 6:17:08 PM PST
R. Coffey says:
The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind

Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2011 3:47:36 AM PST
Dear Sharbysyd,
There are many books for one to get initiated in Buddhism. The internet is a great help in that sense as there are many wbsites such as the "accesstioinsight" . Good book for a beginner would be the "What the Buddha taught by Walpola Rahula, ", " The Buddha and his Teachings by Narada" They have been written by Buddhists Monks who had studied and paracticced Buddhasm all their lives.

My own book "Mind-Matter and Meditation" covers an important aspect of the teachings- the mind, which is what is developed into final exit from the cycle of births and deaths. It may come useful after introducing your self to the Buddhism.

with metta,

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2011 7:06:49 PM PST
I could recommend you a lot of books, but I believe you should first read a book written by Karen Armstron called "Budda". I believe you can find this book in Amazon.
Claudia from Brazil

Posted on Dec 10, 2011 5:27:31 PM PST
I agree that Lama Surya Das' book is a great introduction to anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism. If you are a woman, you might check out my book: Buddha's Daughters: Spiritual Journeys of Early Women of the Dharma, historical fiction, fifty stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha in the sixth century BCE to the twelfth century CE, with introductory material to introduce Buddhism and the evolution of attitudes toward women.

Posted on Dec 10, 2011 5:37:23 PM PST
John says:
THE NEW MANDALA - Eastern wisdom for Western Living, by Christian minister John Lundin, in collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A perfect introduction to Buddhism for Westerners raised as nominal Christians or Jews ...or raised as nothing, for that matter..!

Posted on Dec 11, 2011 8:18:31 AM PST
Martin Zook says:
Kate - speaking of gender in Buddhism, there is a sutra that deals with this very subject essentially from the perspective of a woman who points out to her male interrogators that there is no inherent difference between the sexes. Among the points she makes is that over the course of many lifetimes we have crossed over sexual distinctions many times, blurring that boundary. Do you know the sutra? I read it online some time ago, thought I'd saved it, but it is proving itself to be yet another lesson in impermanence.

Posted on Dec 14, 2011 10:05:03 AM PST
I've been meditating for over twenty five years and I practise Vajrayana Buddhism. My guru is the Abbot the Samye Ling here in Scotland. I'm on this forum because I'd like to encourage more folk to meditate and also to help market my books. To do this today I had to buy a book off (I'm already allowed into discussions on and the book I wanted in my collection, which I've read but haven't got is The Essential Mahamudra by Thrangu Rinpoche. I looked at my emails before doing this and discovered there that he's been taken into hospital with a stroke. Prayers from anyone who's ever read his books would be welcomed, I'm sure.
Anyway, that might be a bit strong for a total beginner. I'm here because I've just been allowed to join in these discussions and I'd like to say something about several of the ten books I've uploaded onto kindle this year, all at one dollar. The first two I'm going tell you about are first person, semi-autobiographical books which are humourous and are partly about how I started to get into meditation and Buddhism. The Buddha and the Big Bad Wolf is about how I got started in meditation and about going on a chaotic and funny Buddhist pilgrimage to Nepal and India. It got a lot of stuff about, basically, the hinayana vehicle, the Four Noble Truths, etc., but isn't in the slightest bit academic, and should be very easy to read. The same goes for TheBlissBook which is about meditation again and the Six Yogas of Naropa, raising inner heat and such like, and is also a comic satire about working in a school library in Edinburgh whilst practising this.
Also, if anyone knows of 10 to 14 year old with a Kindle, a great book is In the Land of the Demon Masters which is based loosely on the writings of Alexandra David-Neel and is a great adventure subtly based around the Chinese invasion of Tibet. It started selling when I told the Free Tibet folk about it. I'm just retired as a school librarian and this book was read and loved by an awful lot of kids. The difficulties I had in getting it published are relayed in TheBlissBook
I'm so pleased to find a buddhist forum here! There isn't one on
I've had two novels published previously by three publishers and eight plays produced by the likes of BBC Radio Four, The World Service of the BBC, the Traverse Theatre here in Edinburgh, etc. I can write and the books for grown ups are funny. Also they're at a dollar each because I'd rather these books were read. It's not about the money. Kindle won't let you upload them for free.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:16:09 PM PST
Anne Rudloe says:
Butterflies on a Sea Wind: Beginning Zen is a good introduction to Zen practice, particularly as it it in the Korean derived international Kwan Um School of Zen. The author, Anne Rudloe, received Inka, or formal authorization as a teacher, in 2011.

Posted on Feb 20, 2012 8:15:49 AM PST
treddie says:
I would recommend Modern buddhism (free ebook down load) or eight steps to happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. To get a real understanding of Buddhism I suggest you attend a local class or teaching. Search New Kadampa Tradition to find a local class other traditions are available.
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