Best Books On Zen

James Smith
• Wednesday, 13 January, 2021
• 7 min read

Some are personal stories, some are educative and contain tutorials, some are in-depth essay style publications, and some are novellas. In the list below, I’ve shared different works that together encompass a broad range of Zen teaching.

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Published more than 40 years ago, this read has grown to be one of the most highly regarded spiritual publications in the world. If you are a beginner, you will learn everything you need to know to get started, including posture and breathing techniques, as well as the most important practices.

Alan Watts is one of the true masters of Buddhist interpretation, and oh boy does he show it in this, one of the bestZenbooks ever written. In this title, Alan Watts takes us back to basics as he reveals the true interpretation of Buddhist philosophy.

He journeys all the way back to the birth of Buddhism as it rose from the concepts of Hinduism. From there we journey towards today and see how Chan has grown over the years, right up to the modern-day and a look at the symbolical representation of Buddhism in Japanese art.

What makes this one of the bestZenbooks of all time is the way in which Watt’s explains the core concepts for a Western audience. In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert M Persia shares the transformational story of a journey across America with his son.

The journey becomes a story of personal growth and transformation as Persia delves into the most fundamental questions of modern-day living. In it, Joshi Philip Tableau presents an examination of the three core pillars of Chan Buddhism: teaching, practice and enlightenment.

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What makes this one of the bestZenbooks ever is Tableau’s ability to merge his personal story in technical teachings on the practices and techniques. As we journey through Tableau’s time from student to master, we are led along our own path of spiritual development.

Revised to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the current edition features beautiful illustrations and photographs that are really just the icing on the cake. Originally published in 1957, this title immediately won the hearts of readers who were just beginning to learn about Chan Buddhism.

Subsequently, it has become one of the most influential publications on the subject, inspiring students and teachers alike. This title presents texts and challenges readers to make their own interpretations of the core philosophies of Chan Buddhism.

Let the whole thundering world come home booking Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home, Zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg shares a personal and inspiring story of how she overcame the trauma of cancer by practicing Zen. Natalie is a highly regarded Zen teacher whose words are captivating and enlightening.

It provides easy ways to start meditating and answers most of the common questions about the practice. Suzuki is one of the most prominent luminaries in the field, inspiring millions of people around the world.

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There’s depth and insight for the most ardent Chan Buddhist, and there are clear instructions and advice for newcomers. The best thing about this book is that it is very straightforward and offers clear guidance on various aspects of Zen.

The book covers the basics of Zen and shows you how to apply the concepts to your own life to create feelings of peace and happiness. The book focuses on playfulness and curiosity, which the author, Charlie Ambler, states is the key to being a happy person.

It’s a more light-hearted read compared to the other books in this list, and the illustrations are really cool (done by Brooklyn artist Iris Gottlieb). If you’ve been looking for a more playful book to help you get into Zen, I highly recommend Charlie Ambler’s read.

No Man Is an Island When we first start practicing Zen meditation, there is this voracious curiosity to learn more about this fascinating philosophy.

Luckily, there are several books that explore this vast subject in great detail. In this article, we’ve listed down our 5 favorite Zen books which should be read by anyone who’s passionate or wants to learn more about Zen.

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The book contains mindfulness advice from one of the greatest authorities on Zen, Which That Hand. It is full of useful guidelines and principles for leading a mindful, peaceful life and helping those around you do the same.

What’s truly wonderful about this book is that the author has lived by these guidelines and principles all his life. Exiled from his native country Vietnam for his participation in the peace movement, Which That Hand has since lived in France.

Though he has authored several books on Zen and on the life and teachings of the Buddha, Peace is Every Step deserves a special mention in this list because it presents mindfulness principles in the context of everyday life. Which That Hand acknowledges the sorrows and challenges of modern life, but draws our attention back to the power of the present moment.

While practicing Taken meditation, it’s important to approach the subject with a beginner’s mind. And that is the idea Suzuki presents in an eloquent style while demystifying a complex subject like Zen.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the history of Buddhism and Zen, this is the book you should read. Watts effectively outlines the history of Buddhism, its roots in Vedic philosophy, and its travel through China to Japan.

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Like Zen itself, Alan Watts’ style is simple, straightforward, and devoid of unnecessary jargon. Any Zen reading list would be incomplete without a book containing the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

This book is a series of interviews and meetings between Dr. Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, as His Holiness explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, and illustrates how one can ride through life’s challenges and obstacles to lead a more peaceful, mindful life. Though not as comprehensive and detailed as other books in this list, Tableau’s passion for the subject and his enthusiasm to share insights on Zen is remarkable.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Dec 6, 2016 and has been updated regularly since then for relevance and comprehensiveness. But this week, we’ve got something different for you: Cecum Auctions is selling the contents of a workshop, along with some books, papers and a rain suit.

At least, they thought they did; a lot of readers didn’t really understand its meaning, but it was fun to speculate on its themes, sort of like a Bob Dylan song. Persia wrote the book after a motorcycle trip in 1968, traveling from Minneapolis to San Francisco with his son Chris, two-up on a 1966 Honda CB77.

In the book, Persia relies on tools and their myriad uses as an allegory for the different philosophical approaches of romanticism and classicism in the pursuit of quality. From the seat of his Honda, Persia took in the world, noting that motorcycle travel demands full attention, and there is an intimacy in the intricate way of handling such a machine while cruising down the back roads of the United States.

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There’s a lot going on in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, but one major recurring theme is Persia’s discovery and exploration of his machine, and himself, through working on the bike himself. At that time, the Smithsonian said Persia’s favorite toolboxes, with tools for maintaining his bike and other vehicles as well as tools he made himself, are also part of the donation.” From the auction photos, it seems the listing would more-or-less line up with that description, as there’s smaller stuff like sockets, wrenches and even car manuals.

Along with the tools, the sale also includes a set of British laminated plate glass goggles and a rain suit, both referred to on page 38 of the book. The listing also includes signed copies of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance and Persia’s other, lesser-known novel, Lila.

All this stuff is for sale at Cecum’s upcoming motorcycle auction in Las Vegas on January 26-31, and there’s no reserve price. No doubt we’ll see smaller, individual bits from this collection auctioned off in the future, as not all of it will be interesting to a collector, who may want to recoup some investment.

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