Best Zen Authors

Paul Gonzalez
• Wednesday, 06 January, 2021
• 7 min read

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.

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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.

If you are a genuine beginner and don't know a Zebulon from zucchini, here are some books for you. But in the West, this seems to be the book that everyone reads before they show up at the Zen center.

Most of all, this book holds out the hope that practice can be integrated into anyone's life, no matter how bleeped up it is. This book is as close as you're going to get to a nuts-and-bolts explanation of formal Zen training.

His explanations of even the most vexatious koan can be wonderfully accessible. The difference is that Aiken's book might be better for someone who's already got a foot in the door at a Zen center.

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In the Preface, the author says “My purpose in this book is to provide a manual that may be used, chapter by chapter, as a program of instruction over the first few weeks of Zen training.” It does, however, provide a nice preview of what the first few weeks of Zen training are like.

We are ambivalent about Philip Tableau's Three Pillars of Zen. It's very good, but it gives the impression that the koan Mu is the be-all and end-all of Zen, which is very much not the case.

I’ve been trying (with varying levels of success, depending on my mood) to develop a meditation practice for the past several years. For the uninitiated, meditation can seem like it comes so easy to those who do it regularly, and yet for us normal people it’s almost like magic (i.e. it seems really cool but also impossible).

I have a group I meet with once a week (in theory… I often make excuses to not go because my life is just “SO BUSY”), but finding the time for a home practice is especially daunting. There are Book Riot articles to write, cats to pet, impending deadlines to fret over and do nothing about…the list of other things to do endless, rather than turning off one’s mind completely.

I know there are several of you reading this who also want to find easy, practical ways to work meditation and mindfulness into your everyday routines. The Miracle of Mindfulness shows up on a lot of lists for meditation books, and for good reason.

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For those interested in the more spiritual side of meditation, Trunk explores Buddhist philosophy and the ways in which our daily routines and preconceptions can chain us to unhealthy repetitive patterns. If you’re turning to meditation to deal with grief, anger, stress, or addictive behavior, this workbook is here to help.

Author Williams is a clinical psychologist specializing in addiction and recovery from mental illness, so she is coming at mindfulness and meditation from a less spiritual and more psychological perspective. Chevron is the author of a few popular books about meditation, including When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

This book is exactly what the title says it is, a simple guide to mindfulness in plain easy-to-understand English. The cover of this book is reminiscent of Google’s lettering, which gives you an idea of the type of reader author Chade-Meng Tan is attempting to reach with this guide to meditation.

So if you’re looking to build a practice perfect for a busy person in the technological age, this book is for you. In this book, Dwellings explores the reasons why a successful meditation practice can be so hard to maintain in the modern age.

This book directly addresses all the roadblocks standing between you and developing/maintaining a successful meditation practice. A lot of these books encourage you to develop a practice that involves committing to 20-ish minutes a day.

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These meditations cover ways to practice mindfulness in all sorts of situations from traffic jams to presentations. In addition to this, the guide includes 3 focused 28-day meditations plans, guidelines for overcoming typical roadblocks in your practice, and much more.

Saying Miriam has made a career out of presenting Buddhist principles in a way that Western audiences can easily understand. This introduction to meditation is a clear example of Miriam’s ability to infuse Eastern ideals with Western sensibilities.

Salzburg covers the basics of posture, breath, scheduling, blocking out distractions, and so on. This book is Dan Harris’s personal journey to discovering meditation and mindfulness.

Nightlife anchor Dan Harris had a televised panic attack, and that’s when he realized he had to make major changes to his lifestyle. This book covers the ideals of mindfulness without getting to deep into the spiritual side of things that might turn some Western readers off.

In this book, Roche recounts his own spiritual journey as he renounced his monastic vows to get married and start a family of his own. Balancing the needs of the heart and one’s spiritual needs is central to the author’s journey, and there’s a lot to learn from the ways Roche finds to bridge the gap between the modern world and the ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings.

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This book is a nice mixture of stories and practical advice, both with the intention of leading the reader towards mindfulness, wisdom, loving kindness, and compassion. This book is very much rooted in the teachings of Buddha, but Levine writes about Buddhism in a way that will interest even those who are the most disinterested in any form of organized religion.

Twenty years ago, finding resources on meditation was far more difficult. However, now you have the ability to jump online and find information on anything you’d want related to the practice within a matter of seconds.

Despite this, many of the greatest resources on meditation are still books, many of which were written long before the Internet was ever around. In this short read, Zen master Which That Hand breaks down (in a very simple way) how to best establish a home meditation practice.

With this, Which That Hand would introduce me to a practice that transformed my life and rid me of my constant anxiety. What’s great is that once you’ve finished the book, he has an accompanying podcast which just so happens to be one of my favorites.

Alan Watts is perfect for delivering this information as he has a way of explaining things that breaks them down so that they’re simple and easy to understand. Mindfulness in Plain English is a unique guide because it breaks down the topic of meditation in a way that none of the other books on this list do.

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Perhaps for this reason, it’s considered by many to be the quintessential mindfulness meditation guide. You’d think that a book with the phrase “in plain English” would be a great beginner’s book, but actually, it can be a bit complicated to understand at times if you’re new to meditation practice.

Another from Watts, this is the clearest and most straightforward explanation of the depth of meditation practice I’ve found. Like 10% Happier, this book is perfect for anyone who is a bit turned off by the heavier Buddhist-themed speak or anything with a “spiritual” perspective to it.

By no means is it shallow, as Kabat-Zinn is a deep meditator himself, but it’s more welcoming for a newcomer who might be turned off by such themes. Written by the late Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Program Trunk, Meditation in Action goes deeper into the practice of meditation in an interesting way that makes it stand out from the rest of the books on this list.

However, the depth of his wisdom and knowledge on the practice of meditation is without question; and his unique and intense perspective serves as a nice additional dimension to the other books on this list that any aspiring or experienced meditator would find valuable. These are all masterpieces, so whichever book you decide to go with know that you’ll be in good hands.

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