Buddhism is widely viewed as a world religion, but most Buddhists – including the Dalai Lama – would describe the tradition as a “science of mind”. It has been around for over 2,500 years and has been expressed in many different forms that can be broadly grouped as either Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest school, and Mahayana Buddhism, which embraces later schools. In this post for the Building a Spiritual Library series, I will recommend some of the key Buddhist Books for spiritual seekers that I have found most helpful.
Note: Each recommended title is presented with a link so that you can purchase it from Amazon if you wish to do so. These are affiliate links, and by using them to make a purchase you will be helping to support this website without paying a penny or cent more than you usually would for the books. With that said, let’s get started.
1 – Buddhism for Dummies by J Landaw, S Bodian and G Bühnemann
Buddhism for Dummies is a great book for anyone who wants to get a broad overview of Buddhism that includes both its teachings and its various traditions. After covering The Basics of Buddhism, this title takes you on A Short History of Buddhism and then discusses Behaving Like a Buddhist, which includes a whole chapter on meditation. Exploring the Buddhist Path covers everything from enlightenment to karma, and The Part of Tens dispels common misconceptions about Buddhism and explains how Buddhism can help you deal with life’s problems.
Running to over 350 pages, this is a book that will give you a solid foundation in the teachings of the Buddha as well as enough instruction for you to start practising, if you would like to do that.
2 – In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikku Bodhi
Buddhism differs from most other traditions in that it doesn’t have a single sacred text. Instead, the teachings of the Buddha have been preserved through a variety of canons each comprising many different sutras. In this book, In the Buddha’s Words, American monk and scholar Bhikku Bodhi has compiled a collection of discourses from the earliest Pali Canon that covers the broad spectrum of the Buddha’s teachings.
The book is divided into ten thematic chapters that discuss everything from The Human Condition and The Happiness Visible in This Present Life to The Path to Liberation and Mastering the Mind. If you’ve ever wanted to see what the Buddha himself taught on these and related topics, In the Buddha’s Words is a great place to start. And, if you want to continue with an even more serious study, check out the much longer Discourses of the Buddha series.
3 – Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Buddhism is all about practice, and one of the main practices that the Buddha taught was a form of meditation that we have come to know as mindfulness. First published in 1994, Mindfulness in Plain English is one of the best books on this type of meditation. It explains what meditation is, how it works, how to do it, and how to deal with common problems that you might encounter.
Now considered a classic text on mindfulness meditation, this is a book that belongs in every spiritual library. Also consider taking a look at the author’s other books, which include Meditation on Perception, Loving-Kindness in Plain English, and Impermanence in Plain English.
4 – The Dhammapada by Acharya Buddharakkhita
The Dhammapada is an anthology of 423 verses spoken by the Buddha that has been used by Buddhists for centuries as a handy compendium of teachings. In this book, which has the subtitle The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, Acharya Buddharakkhita presents his translation of each verse from the original Pali language. The book also features an extensive introduction by Bhikku Bodhi.
It can be very useful to have several translations of The Dhammapada in your spiritual library, and a couple of others that I can highly recommend are The Dhammapada by Gil Fronsdal and The Dhammapada by Thomas Byron.
5 – The Art of Happiness by HH The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of both the Tibetan people and the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. In The Art of Happiness, which was first published in 1998 and has remained in print ever since, the Dalai Lama provides advice and wisdom on how we can use the principles of Tibetan Buddhism to deal with problems and reclaim our innate state of happiness.
This book is ideal for anyone who wants to hear how the Dala Lama’s approach to life can be applied by those of us in the West. It reveals how Buddhism can help us with relationships, pain, suffering, anger, anxiety, self-esteem, and more.