If you find yourself reading this, there’s probably a seed already planted that pulls you toward Buddhist teachings. Maybe you’re intrigued and don’t know where to begin. That’s a perfect place to be.
Even though I’m not a Buddhist, I often reach for the wisdom of Buddhist masters to help me cultivate peace, practice mindfulness and gain more self-awareness. You might feel called to explore Buddhist thought and are not sure where to start or maybe you feel in need of some high-frequency teachings to connect to at this moment in your life. These five books can offer a simple and approachable introduction to the thought of Buddhist masters. You can use them as guidance, everyday reminders or a map, helping you navigate emotions and experiences of being human!
1. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön
We couldn’t have asked for a better book title. Unsure where to start? Simply, start where you are, encourages Pema Chödrön, an American teacher and Tibetan Buddhist nun. This book makes us look at our discomfort and shame with a little bit more compassion. Yes, we’re all messy, assures us Chödrön. We all get angry and jealous and greedy. It’s a part of being human. What we do is sit with those feelings and soften. It’s a perfect book to be reminded of our imperfect humanness and befriend it. “Only to the degree that we’ve gotten to know our personal pain, only to the degree that we’ve related with pain at all, will we be fearless enough, brave enough, and enough of a warrior to be willing to feel the pain of others,” writes Pema Chödrön.
2. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book offers a beautiful introduction to the grace and wisdom of Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk. Throughout his life, he published over a hundred books in English, ranging from peace manifestos to poetry and children’s books. Peace Is Every Step is a great place to start our journey with the work of the Zen master. Firstly, it brings us closer to the world around us and to ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh’s way of writing encourages us to live a fuller, more present life: Notice. Be aware. Ask questions. Look deeply into the eyes of the person in front of us. He writes: “Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.”
3. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Nothing makes us a better beginner than being encouraged to be a beginner. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” explains Shunryu Suzuki, an Sōtō Zen master. This book gives our ego a break and makes us take a big breath and an ever bigger exhale. We learn to give our mind peace, learn to transform our way of thinking and our way of acting out of habit. In a way this book teaches us how to unlearn, so we can learn anew. We have a choice to step away from judgement, control, anger and fear and step into the beginner’s mindset. This book is a beautiful teacher, full of wisdom and wit, and reading it, you’ll feel like the teacher has known you your whole life!
4. The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV
We could all learn a little bit about happiness, especially when we’re learning from Dalai Lama. I remember reading this book while I lived in Myanmar. It was recommended to me and it changed my way of thinking and living forever. Think of this book as a manual, a happiness workshop. As a reader, you will feel like a student, amazed at the way the mind can be taught, or disciplined to be happy. Dalai Lama’s wisdom, charm and humor make it an incredibly pleasurable read, a one that leaves us transformed forever. It will change the way you think of your wants, needs, suffering and in effect, it will transform your relationship with happiness.
5. Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg
Sharon Salzberg is a Buddhist author and teacher who knows well how to speak directly to our hearts. In fact, each page is an invitation for heart-opening. Her book is a beautiful reminder of the power of faith and the understanding of suffering, where faith is born. “Whatever takes us to our edge, to our outer limits, leads us to the heart of life’s mystery, and there we find faith,” writes Salzberg. As we learn to cultivate faith in our life, we come closer to understanding our being, our essence, our true selves. As Sharon Salzberg shares her personal journey she invites us to look our own fear and pain in the eyes. Therefore, she brings us, readers, closer to the core of Buddhist wisdom.
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