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Best Zen Texts

author
Earl Hamilton
• Monday, 26 October, 2020
• 8 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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Contents

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 best Zen books 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 best Zen books 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 best Zen books 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.

Radical Acceptance by Tara Branch The Art of Happiness, Dalai Lama The Power of Now, Eckhart Toll Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persia Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Bachelor The Tibetan Book of the Dead as translated by Gourmet More The Connected Discourses by Shikoku Bod hi Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and PRE- Zen Writings by Paul Reps and Neogene Sendai Everyday Zen : Love & Work Charlotte Joke Beck Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide by Christmas Humphreys How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald The Buddha, Geoff, and Me by Edward Canfor-Dumas Buddhism: What Everyone Needs to Know by Dale S. Wright Psychotherapy Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up by Kosher Paley Ellison Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein Zen as F×ck (Zen as F×ck Journals) by Monica Sweeney The Dude and the Zen Master, by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman The Three Pillars of Zen : Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment by Philip Tableau Joshi Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Change Denebola Narayana Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of by the Holiness the Dalai Lama Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in the Every day by Matthew Sociology Zurchungpa’s Testament with commentary by Diego Hyenas Roche Buddhism for Beginners by Tauten Chevron Awareness by Anthony Demerol Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women by Ellison Banks Finely Awakening Compassion by Pea Chevron One Teacher, Many Traditions by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tauten Chevron Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pea Chevron Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Was The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Angara Dorinda Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac Buddhism: An Introduction to the Buddha’s Life, Teachings, and Practices by Joan Duncan Oliver One Breath at a Time by Kevin Edward Griffin Eight Steps to Happiness by Ge she Kelsey Goats Zen Training by Philip Tableau Joshi Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism by Kittisaro and Honiara A Still Forest Pool by Again Chat In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pale Canon by Shikoku Bod hi 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. The book contains mindfulness advice from one of the greatest authorities on Zen, Which That Hand.

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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. Suzuki provides helpful and thought-provoking truths about meditation for anyone who wants to lead a more mindful life.

Best quote from the book: “What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.” If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the history of Buddhism and Zen, this is the book you should read.

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Watts effectively outlines the history of Buddhism, its roots in Vedic philosophy, and its travel through China to Japan. 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.

Interested to learn more about Zen philosophy, teachings, and practice? There are many, many great books on the subject of Buddha’s teachings, so we have compiled a list you may find helpful.

Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line. Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart, Edited by Sherry Chart.

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Maurine Stuart (1922–1990) was one of a select group of students on the leading edge of Buddhism in America: a woman who became a Zen master. Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Teachings and Translations of Neogene Sendai, edited by Dido Shaman.

Suzuki introduced the West to Zen philosophy, Neogene Sendai helped introduce it to Zen practice, becoming the first great Japanese meditation master to fully immerse himself in the everyday life of America. Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness by Robert Thurman.

No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen by Caruso Kong Joshi. Zen master Caruso Kong Joshi shows us how to treasure the ordinary activities of our daily lives through an understanding of simple Buddhist practices and ideas.

Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Solo Marinara and Belinda Ottawa Yamagata. Marinara’s voice is uniquely tuned to the truth of the condition of the human mind and spirit and his reflections and interpretations are unvarnished and succinct.

The Path to Bodhidharma: The Teachings of Shoo Hard Joshi, edited by Jane Ago. When studying ancient Eastern philosophies, it is a rare opportunity to learn the art directly from a living master.

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Being Upright takes us beyond the conventional interpretation of ethical precepts to the ultimate meaning that informs them. Red Anderson first introduces us to the fundamental ideas of Zen Buddhist practice.

Name Die Boss: A Transmission of Zen Buddhism to America, by Neogene Sendai, Seen Niagara and, Dido Shaman, edited by Louis Nordstrom. A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World by David R. Low.

Engage with a new vision of Buddhism and the modern world with the bestselling author of Money Sex War Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution. Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Seen Niagara, edited by Kazakh Takanashi and Shine Rook Sherry Chart.

Find an intimate, in-depth portrait of this great Zen master through his poems, letters, journal entries, and other writings, illustrated with his calligrapher. Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Akin, Norman Waddell, translator.

The Religious Art of Zen Master Akin, Mutsuhito Oshawa, with Norman Waddell. The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women, Florence Callow and Susan Moon, editors.

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This collection of one hundred koans and stories of Buddhist women from the time of the Buddha to the present day is a revolutionary book. Eloquent Silence: Neogene Sendai’s Dateless Gate and Other Previously Unpublished Teachings and Letters, Shine Rook Sherry Chart, editor.

The most comprehensive collection available of Neogene Sendai’s brilliant teachings, Eloquent Silence brings new depth and breadth to our knowledge and appreciation of this historic figure. It makes available for the first time his complete commentaries on the Dateless Gate, one of the most important and beloved of all Zen texts, as well as on koans from the Blue Rock Annals and the Book of Equanimity.

The strange verbal paradoxes called koans have been used traditionally in Zen training to help students attain a direct realization of truths inexpressible in words. The two works translated in this book, Mullikan (The Dateless Gate) and Hekiganroku (The Blue Cliff Record) are the best known and most frequently studied koan collections.

The Dhammapada is a collection of verses, gathered probably from direct disciples who wanted to preserve what they had heard from the Buddha himself. This book presents the major teachings of Mahayana Buddhism in a precise, dramatic, and even humorous form.

This supra occupies a central place in Zen (Ch’an) Buddhist instruction for students and spiritual seekers worldwide.

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