I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s me. Here are my suggestions:
Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.
Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I’ve read the book about five times.
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.
Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.
Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)
I’ve studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are “spiritual materialism” and “idiot compassion.” You can google those.
Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield’s teacher.
Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.
Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.
Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)
Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.
This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search amazon.com or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I’ve found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha’s teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.
The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:
“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”
OM MANI PADME HUM
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