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Recommendations and Reviews of Books on Buddhist Subjects

Members of The Refuge: A Sangha for the Skeptical Buddhist represent a wide variety of viewpoints from many different countries and backgrounds. These are among the books we’ve found to be useful. Please let us know if you have additional recommendations. Books that are particularly well-suited for those beginning a study of Buddhism are highlighted in red.

Please don’t buy books from Amazon.  Buy them from your local independent.  If you’d like to see the Sangha get a little money, donate using the PayPal button on the left.  Thank you.
Access to Insight A Handful of Leaves: Readings in Theravada Buddhism. 1998: A CD-ROM which used to be available from Access to Insight. It is now out of print. The page now notes that “You may, however, download a copy of the entire Access to Insight website at any time.”
The best-edited translation of Theravada Buddhist scripture available in English today. A masterful work useful for both beginners and scholars.
Asma, Stephen T. Buddha for Beginners 1996: Writers & Readers Publishing. 155 pages.
I’m not sure the drawings add much to the simple text, but this is perhaps the clearest and most straightforward book I know about the Buddha and his teachings. It is ideal for beginners, even more so than Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It is the book I give to my friends who want to know a little bit about Buddhism.
Buddha for Beginners
Baker, Ian The Heart Of The World: A Journey To The Last Secret Place (preface by HHDL) 2004: Penguin, 511 pages.
Ian Baker, a mountaineer and student of religion and literature happened to learn about the "beyul" tradition of Tibet secret places that can only be—reached by a combination of mental discipline and practice and exploring dangerous and unpleasant places. The Shangri La myth is derived from this. At the same time he was intrigued by the discussion regarding the bent north where the Tibetan river Tsangpo crosses the Himalaya to become the Bramaputra in India. For a long time it has been thought that there could be major falls here, but there seems to be no way in to discover this.

The book is a travelogue with details of leeches and lamas and Tibetan women who seduces and robs, and the Mong women who kill for ritual reasons. There is months of meditation in caves, Chinese officers who are trying to make all the trouble they can, and Tibetans of all types - the spiritual and the materialist, the old-fashioned and the modern. And, like a mystery book, you only get to know the truth regarding the falls close to the end of the book, and in a race with the Chinese. There is the lonely hermits, and Buddhist hunters in what could be a paradise.

At the same time it is about mental change and growth; guided by Tibetan masters and extensive discussions with the Dalai Lama. It is about pursuing goals ... and letting go. There is even a holy number at the end, and it is not 42.

I like the book - there is deep Buddhist understanding hidden in a modern package.

The Heart of the World
Batchelor, Stephen Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening 1997: Riverhead Books. 128 pages.
This may as well be a manifesto for many members of our group. Batchelor’s formal training as a monk along with his thoughtful and committed Buddhist practice have inspired us. He is the director of studies at Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiry in Devon, England.
Buddhism Without Beliefs
Beck, Charlotte Joko Everyday Zen: Love and Work 1989: Harper San Francisco. 224 pages. Everyday Zen
Beck, Charlotte Joko Nothing Special: Living Zen 1993: Harper San Francisco. 273 pages. Nothing Special
Boorstein, Sylvia It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness 1995: HarperCollins. 148 pages.
Sylvia Boorstein is a meditation teacher with an easy, accessible approach to the Dharma. Through stories and personal examples, Boorstein explains the fundamentals of The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path (or Eightfold Wheel as she sees it) and other basics of Buddhism, and she uses hardly a word of Sanskrit. Boorstein is a Dharma teacher at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center.
It’s Easier Than You Think
Byrom, Thomas (tr.) Dhammapada: Sayings of the Buddha 1993: Shambhala. 114 pages.
An excellent translation of the most familiar of all Buddhist scriptures. Pocket edition. Might be nice if they numbered the verses.
Downing, Michael Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center 2001: Counterpoint Press, 384 pages.
Has anyone read "Shoes at the Door" by Michael Downing, about sex, the numerous love affairs between former SFZC Abbot Richard Baker (who succeeded Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki) of the San Francisco Zen Center, bloated spending by former Abbot Richard Baker among other peculiarities? It’s a very good book. What is demonstrated to me was the “blind faith” so many Zendo (Sangha) members had and how long it took for people to rise up and say that what was going on was unacceptable. I recently read a new book on the issue that demonstrates SFZC members are still recovering from this and coming to terms with it and in their own ways, finding forgiveness and trying to practice compassion.
Shoes Outside the Door
Goldberg, Natalie The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth 2004: Harper, 208 pages.
Natalie Goldberg is an author who wrote about an experience similar in some ways to the SFZC experience, by the way - it’s a book that is about her emotional experience in coming to terms with the fact that her former Roshi “transgressed” his vows and responsibilities. It was very hard for her to come to terms with the fact this man was, in fact, human, and very capable of “making mistakes.” There is a great fall and disillusionment if we put someone so far up on a pedestal and believe they can do no wrong, which, upon reflection, Goldberg realizes she did. It’s also a good read!
The Great Failure
Haskel, Peter Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei edited by Yoshito Hakeda 1984: Grove Weidenfeld.
Bankei was an uncompromising and unconventional 17th Century Zen master in Japan. His teaching of the Unborn Buddha Mind was particularly well-received by the common people of Japan and is still rings true with students of Buddhism today.
Bankei Zen
His Holiness, The XIV Dalai Lama The Four Noble Truths: Fundamentals of the Buddhist Teachings 1998: Thorsons Publishers, 166 pages.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a series of lectures at the Barbican Center in London (1996), and these have been transcribed into a nice little book that will fit easily into a shirt pocket. In the introduction he puts Buddhism into context; a religion, not THE religion, all people of faith have a responsibility to respect all others of faith, and when he speaks with passion and conviction of the “correctness” of Buddhism, that is just his view of what is right and proper for him alone. All others can consider what he says and apply their own standards of how appropriate what he says is to them.

In addition to the Four Noble Truths (which I think are all too commonly taken as “Fully understood, so we don’t need to go into them yet again,” there is additional material on compassion. I’ve spent the weekend in Cincinatti at the Fly Pig Marathon (I’m on the injured reserve list—maybe next year) and after watching everyone start I went to breakfast with one of the wives. At the end of day I left her my copy, as she needs to deal with issues of compassion, control, past, present and future.

We often get asked “What’s A good book on Buddhism?” I think that I’ll start to recommend this little book.

The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths
Kornfield, Jack A Path With Heart 1993: Bantam. 350 pages. A Path with Heart
Kornfield, Jack (ed.) Teachings of the Buddha 1993: Shambhala. 220 pages.
Jack Kornfield is a well-known American Buddhist teacher trained in the Thai forest tradition. His concise (and rather small) book comprises an essential summary of Buddhist teachings, complete with source references.
Teachings of the Buddha
McIntyre, Joan Mind in the Waters: A Book to Celebrate the Consciousness of Whales and Dolphins 1975: Encore (Hardback); Scribners (Paperback). 240 pages.
Maybe whales and dolphins have big brains in order to meditate with them?  I say the same thing about this book as about Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:  If you haven’t read it, do so.  If you have, read it again.  Buy extras; give them to your friends:  I have given away at least a dozen.
Mind in the Waters
Merton, Thomas Zen and the Birds of Appetite 1968: New Directions. 140 pages. Zen and the Birds of Appetite
Moore, DintyThe Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment and Sitting Still 1997: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 208 Pages.
Penn State writing professor Dinty Moore details his personal investigation of Buddhism as a scholarly exercise, leading to his embrace of Buddhism as a personal spritual practice. A very easy, accessible and personal book.
The Accidental Buddhist
Mipham, SakyongTurning the Mind into an Ally 2004: Riverhead Books. 256 pages.
I’ve been going through my stacks of Dharma books and pamphlets and found one that I started re-reading ... Mipham is the son of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and has taken over his father’s duties at Shambhala. I got to thinking this should really be on the list for everyone’s benefit.

This book is Buddhist meditation and Shambhala approach in a nutshell and in layman’s English. It’s really a concise primer to Buddhadharma and primarily meditation. There’s very little jargon, so anybody can pick it up and learn right away. That said, the re-read is giving me some new insights and a couple of “a-ha” moments.
The book’s not by Pema Chodron, it really is by Sakyong Mipham; Amazon’s wrong, she only wrote the forward.

Turning the Mind into an Ally
Ogui, Sensei Koshin and Mary Gove Zen Shin Talks by Sensei Ogui 1999: Zen Shin Buddhist Publications, 268 pages.
The Salt Lake Buddhist Temple has guest speakers do the dharma talk (“sermon”) from time to time, and Rev. Ogui gave the most entertaining talk we’ve had in years. He was funny and personable; the insights he presented have found their way into this book, which offers methods of combining Zen practice with Jodo Shinshu teachings.
Zen Shin Talks
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values 1974: Harper Perennial, 464 pages.
I suspect many people who came of age in the sixties and either spent time in Việt Nam or were hippies (or were simply sympathetic to hippie ideals), and who are now Buddhists, became the way they are now because of this book. As Pirsig says, it’s not very factual about Zen or motorcycles, but one of his points is that facts are often not very factual.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Di Santo, Ron, and Tom Steele Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 1990: Perennial Currents, 408 pages.
I bought this, but haven’t used it yet. Looks good, though.
Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Powell, Andrew and Graham Harrison Living Buddhism 1989: University of California Press. 200 pages.
Graham Harrison’s photographs reveal Buddhism as a living faith around the world while Andrew Powell explains not only how Buddhism evolved as a world religion but how it motivates millions of people today.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky Touching Feeling:  Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity 2003: Duke University Press. 196 pages.
This volume of essays by a pioneer in queer theory and literary studies is fascinating in its own right, but for Buddhists, the final chapter is a delight.  “Pedagogy of Buddhism” begins by discussing our misperception of why our cats bring us small wounded animals.  Sedgwick is a dense and difficult writer, but immensely rewarding.
Touching Feeling
Snelling, John Buddhist Festivals 1987: Rourke Enterprises. 47 pages.
If someone who’s not Buddhist asks, "What do Buddhists believe," this book contains one of the best and most concise answers to that question ever written. (See the Snelling Sutra on this site.)
Buddhist Festivals
Snelling, John The Buddhist Handbook: A Complete Guide to Buddhist Schools, Teaching, Practice and History 1991: Inner Traditions International. 332 Pages.
John Snelling’s encyclopedic reference work on Buddhism in the West.
The Buddhist HandBook
Suzuki, Shunryu Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind 1973: Weatherhill, 132 pages.
Does this book need an introduction? If you haven’t read it, do so. If you have, read it again. Buy extras; give them to your friends.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Suzuki, Shunryu and Edward Espe Brown Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen 2003: Perennial, 176 pages. Not Always So
Sogyal Rinpoche The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. 1993: HarperCollins. ~400 pages. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Soho, Takuan The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master 1988: Kodansha, 101 pages. The Unfettered Mind
Stevens, John The Art of Peace 1992: Shambhala, 126 pages. The Art of Peace
Thanissaro Bhikku The Wings to Awakening Request a copy from the Dhamma Dana Publication Fund, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, 149 Lockwood Road, Barre, MA 01005 USA. Donations accepted.
This is a complex, multi-layered requiring-all-concentration read, but it’s worth all the effort. The author, a monk in the Thai Forest tradition, basically organized it around what the Buddha said was the most essential part of his teachings: The seven "lists," or sets of this and that. The architecture of the whole is mind-boggling in its intricacy and subtlety.
—Daniel Anderson
Thich Nhat Hanh Being Peace. 1987: Parallax Press. 116 pages. Being Peace
Thich Nhat Hanh The Miracle of Mindfulness. 1976: Beacon Press. 139 pages.
Thich Nhat Hanh is among the leading teachers of Buddhism in the West. He won worldwide respect as an advocate for peace in his home country of Vietnam, although he lives in exile from that country today. His view of Buddhist practice is both accessible and profound, compassionate and uncompromising.
The Miracle of Mindfulness
Thich Nhat Hanh Old Path White Clouds.
This book has been of unprecedented usefulness to me in my fledgling interest in Buddhism. It presents a powerful "atheist" Buddhism via stories of the life of the Buddha. Its advantages over other books I have tried (including books by the same author) include: It is interesting. Being narrative, it holds my interest better than expository writings. It is fat. I tend to read thin books quickly, then put them down and forget about them. It has a feeling of "scripture." I suspect Dharma has traditionally been taught with the interweaving of stories with lectures, rather than mere lectures.
—Stephen Canner
Old Path White Clouds
Toynbee, Arnold and Daisaku Ikeda Choose Life 1976: Oxford University Press (Paperback 1989).
This is a record of a broad-ranging dialogue between Arnold Toynbee, the late British scholar, and Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the Nichiren Buddhist Soka Gakkai International. Reading the book enabled me to see how Western and Eastern philosophy both converge and diverge and how, by synthesis of the best of both Western and Eastern cultures, humanity may yet not only survive but create a new era of world peace and humanism.
—Yana Davis
Choose Life
Tsunetomo, Yamamoto Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai 1992: Kodansha, 180 pages. Translated by William Scott Wilson. Hagakure
Tulku, Ringu Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness : The Three Vehicles of Buddhism 2005: Snow Lion, 280 pages. Forthcoming, September 2005
Nils says that some material he transcribed to the editor might appear in this book.
Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness
Tulku, Ringu Lazy Lama Books Bodhicharya Publications
There is also, in June, a new Lazy Lama available: Ringu Tulku: Lazy Lama Looks at Living Without Fear and Anger. These small booklets are among my favourites, because they are so to the point. As the other LL-books have been available at Amazon, I guess this one will be too. —Nils

You can’t after all get them from Amazon, but you can order them directly from the publisher: —Ivan
The Lazy Lama Looks at Refuge
The Lazy Lama Looks at Buddhist Meditation
Walpola Rahula What the Buddha Taught 1974: Grove Press, 151 Pages.
This is a cogent, accessible and surprisingly deep and affecting work on most aspects of the Dhamma. And all the Pali terms come defined — the guy’s a monk and a scholar, after all, in the Sinhalese tradition (that’s Sri Lanka).
—Daniel Anderson
What the Buddha Taught

Books by Sangha Members

Eckstein, Bronwen In Touch with Venerable Man Ya

It should have been called “In Touch—Relationships and Life” because it’s about using simple Buddhist practices to make a western life less stressful, but people in Malaysia, China, Taiwan, know the Venerable, so they recognise her name. It’s the first book she has published in English. It’s written for people approaching Buddhism for the first time, advice to improve relationships. It’s based on a series of interviews with the ex-Abbess of the Ch’an Buddhist Temple at Bronkhorstspruit, Mpumalanga, South Africa. But it’s not available from, sadly. It’s available from Exclusive Books in South Africa and from some places in Malaysia I think.

There is an online review available, which shows a picture of the Venerable. I was unable to find an online store selling her book.
However, Bronwen has said that anyone wishing a copy can order one directly from her. Write to her for details: beckstein at

Cover of Bronwen's book, In Touch
Van Laningham, Ivan Teach Yourself Python in 24 Hours 2000: SAMS, 510 pages.
I modeled this book explicitly on Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. My friend Howard Lin did some wonderful calligraphy for the real title, which should have been Python Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Visit the book’s website to see the calligraphy.
Python Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Wilson, Jeff The Buddhist Guide to New York: Where to Go, What to Do, and How to Make the Most of the Fantastic Resources in the Tri-State Area 2000: St. Martins, 261 pages. Illustrated by Mike Taylor. The Buddhist Guid to New York
Wilson, Jeff Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America 2009: Oxford University Press, 272 pages. Mourning the Unborn Dead
Wilson, Jeff Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner Togetherness 2009: Wisdom Publications, 176 pages.
The review at B&N says, ”Wilson evokes the warmth of Robert Fulghum and the nonjudgmental spiritual struggling of Anne Lamott in this accessible, affirming work for the modern seeker.“ I agree. This is a terrific book.
Buddhism of the Heart

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