A member of our weekly meditation group asked for book recommendations to support her practice, so I compiled a list of some of my favorite books on Buddhism, meditation, and contemplative practice. Here it is:
Books by monastic scholar-practitioners:
- My favorite commentator is Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American-born monk who lived in Sri Lanka for thirty years before returning to the US in 2002. His The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering (pdf) reads like a transmission to me, and his compilation of suttas and insightful commentary, In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon, is indispensable.
- Bhikkhu Analayo, a German-born monk who also lived in Sri Lanka, turned his Ph.D. dissertation into Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization (pdf), a remarkably lucid explanation of the Buddha’s most extensive and detailed teaching on mindfulness practice, the Satipatthana sutta.
- Ajaan Geoff, or Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is an American-born monk who lived and ordained in Thailand before returning to the US in the 1990s. He has written dozens of books on various aspects of practice. His explanations are deep, precise, and reliable.
- Ajahn Sumedho is an American-born monk and the dharma heir of Ajahn Chah, a Thai master who influenced many contemporary teachers, including Jack Kornfield. He is the founder of Amaravati Monastery and was its abbot until 2010. His The Sound of Silence is a beautiful book on dharma and practice.
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a collection of talks from the incomparable Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese master who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and served as its abbot until his death in 1971. His writing is clear and deep. The West is lucky to have had him.
- Although Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk, not a Buddhist, his spiritual IQ transcends such divides and his New Seeds of Contemplation is the best book on contemplative practice I have ever read.
Books by Western lay teachers:
- My abiding favorite book on meditation is Jack Kornfield‘s A Path With Heart. Its broad scope and accessible wisdom make is appropriate for practitioners at all phases of practice. Jack is a rare bird, my most influential teacher, and his books are a gift.
- Gil Fronsdal, a remarkable teacher with a background in both Zen and Theravada, wrote a lovely little volume of essays covering various aspects of mindfulness practice called The Issue at Hand.
- Phillip Moffitt‘s Dancing With Life is a thoughtful and nuanced contemporary treatment of the four noble truths, the one teaching central to all sects of Buddhism.
- Joseph Goldstein‘s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening is an incredible book — an extended commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta inspired by his close reading of Analayo’s Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization (see above).
- My new favorite is by Culadasa, a neuroscientist and meditation teacher with a long history of both Tibetan and Theravadin practice. His book The Mind Illuminated describes meditation in ten classical stages, with wonderfully lucid explanations of how the mind works.
Next on my list:
- Rabbi David Cooper‘s Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude: A Complete Guide to Spiritual Retreat, about the importance and mechanics of self-retreat.
- Swallowing the River Ganges by Matthew Flickstein is a digestible guide to the Visuddhimagga, the fifth-century tome laying out the Buddhist “path of purification”.
- Taming the Ox is a collection of stories and essays by Charles Johnson, one of my favorite fiction writers with a decades-long Zen practice (his novels Middle Passage and Oxherding Tale are replete with Buddhist themes and wisdom).