Posted March 4, 2010 & updated from time to time.
This reading list is more introductory than in-depth, though many of the books listed here are classics that can be referred to again and again over a lifetime of practice and study.
The list aims to offer works that represent the major, important areas of Buddhist teachings and major Buddhist traditions, yet are accessible and approachable.
For a more in-depth and comprehensive reading list, the “Study Guide” at Everyday Zen is highly recommended.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. One of the most enduringly popular and beloved books on Buddhism, this collection of talks by the founder of San Francisco Zen Center is a classic. Beginners and seasoned practitioners alike return to it again and again for inspiration.
A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfeld. Gentle, insightful, heartfelt; touches on a wide range of issues that arise in spiritual practice. Jack Kornfeld is a psychologist and one of the key teachers to introduce Vipassana Buddhist practice to the West.
Basic Buddhist Teachings
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. An early book written to present Buddhism to Westerners (1950s). Covers the basic teachings very well and emphasizes how Buddhism differs from Christianity. Often recommended as a first book on Buddhism.
Entering the Stream by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chödzin Kohn. A collection of translations or original commentaries by a variety of teachers from various traditions. “Intended as a primer for newcomers as well as a reference for those familiar with Buddhism.” Interesting variety.
Taking the Path of Zen and The Mind of Clover by Robert Aitken. A ‘patriarch’ among Western teachers passionate and compassionate. Both are good introductory books, and for those studying the precepts or Buddhist ethics, The Mind of Clover is essential reading. Aitken’s lineage is Japanese Rinzai Zen and the koan tradition, and an emphasis on engaged Buddhism runs throughout his teachings.
Dogen is extremely important to Zen practice and Zen understanding, and his radically non-dual teaching pervades our Suzuki Roshi lineage. Inexhaustible richness and essential study for any Zen practitioner.
Moon In a Dewdrop, ed. by Kazuaki Tanahashi. Twenty essays from Dogen’s most important work, the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo) plus additional works and poems. Co-translated together with numerous long-term practitioners of Zen in Dogen’s lineage.
Enlightenment Unfolds, ed. by Kazuaki Tanahashi. A follow-up to Moon In a Dewdrop, includes a further selection of Dogen’s writings, including additional essays from the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shobogenzo).
Buddhist Ethics and the Precepts
The Mind of Clover by Robert Aitken. For those studying the precepts or Buddhist ethics, The Mind of Clover is essential reading. An emphasis on compassion and engaged Buddhism runs throughout his teachings.
Waking Up to What You Do, by Diane Rizzetto. A dharma heir of Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Rizzetto’s presentation of the precepts is contemporary and accessible.
Contemporary Western Teachers
This category grows daily: the following is a selection of some that have stood the test of time and/or have become standards (or that I particularly like).
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa. Incisive teachings by the charismatic and influential Tibetan teacher.
Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. Zen practice basics for Western practitioners. Psychologically astute and no-nonsense.
When Things Fall Apart and The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön. Student of Chögyam Trungpa and author of several popular and psychologically insightful books. Encouraging teachings that emphasize practicing with emotions and in everyday life situations.
Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. This guy understands Zen. He swears a lot; don't read if you don't like that.
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. A clear and thorough meditation manual in the Vipassana (“Insight meditation”) tradition.
The Issue At Hand by Gil Fronsdal. Gil is a teacher both the Zen and Vipassana lineages. Clear, logical, accessible presentation of mindfulness practice.
Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Popular presentation of Buddhist teachings by a Western teacher in the Tibetan tradition.
Bring Me The Rhinoceros by John Tarrant. Witty, poetic, this book points directly to our own life as a koan, one that doesn’t need to be solved but that nevertheless can be understood and delighted in. “Mysteriously like koans.”
The Blue Cliff Record tr. Thomas and J.C. Cleary. For those who want to become familiar with and work with the classic koans, this translation of the revered 12th-century Chinese compilation of koans and commentary is subtle and profound. Work your way through it! See what intrigues & moves you... Another classic koan collection, The Book of Equanimity, is equally recommended.
Sutras and Classics
The following are the recorded words of the Buddha, either his original teachings or later developments and elaborations of his teachings, which are at the very foundation of Buddhism. As these are not really introductory texts, only a very brief description is provided
In the Buddha’s Words, tr. by Glenn Walls. New and accessible translations of some of the Buddha’s talks to his students.
Buddhist Wisdom Books, tr. by Edward Conze. Translation and commentary on the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, both Prajnaparamita texts.
Heart Sutra, and Diamond Sutra, both tr. by Red Pine
Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Sattipatthana Sutta), various translations available.
The following are not sutras, but classic Buddhist poems.
Dhammapada, tr. Gil Fronsdal. A new translation of “the most beloved of all Buddhist texts.” Core teachings in verse form, traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself.
A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, by Santideva, many translations available. Traditional teachings in verse form written in 8th-century India.