Walpola Rahula
Grove Press: New York, 1974

In this reliable and insightful introduction to the teachings of the historical Buddha, Dr. Rahula provides general answers to questions pertinent to Westerners. In addition to addressing Buddhist attitudes toward responsibility, attachment, nonviolence, and social justice, the author devotes a chapter to each of the four Noble Truths. A Buddhist monk and scholar, Dr. Rahula eases the reader over difficult hurdles of philosophical thought by placing explanations-the doctrine of nosoul, for example-in contemporary language. The highly readable text incorporates Sanskrit terminology in an accessible and unobtrusive way. Originally published in 1959, now revised and expanded with selections from the Suttas and the Dhammapada, this book remains a classic “textbook” used by dharma and academic teachers alike.

Shunryu Suzuki
Weatherhill: New York, 1970

This slim volume composed of informal talks by Shunryu Suzuki, one of the first Japanese Zen masters to teach Zen in the United States, is treasured by students of every Buddhist tradition. Suzuki Roshi was trained in the Soto Zen lineage, and his incisive, poetic commentary draws on the teachings of Dogen Zenji. The book itself, with its straightforward statements of things-as-they-are, embodies the discipline and clarity of Zen practice. It is divided into three sections-right practice, right attitude, and right understanding-which roughly correspond to body, feeling, and mind. There is no barrier of language in this masterful work; it’s a book that can be studied again and again for grounding and inspiration by practitioners with any degree of experience, from newcomer to adept.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press: Berkeley, 1987

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has become a legend in his lifetime. This concise text–a collection of talks given in 1985–serves as an excellent introduction to Nhat Hanh’s teachings on the intrinsic relation between external and internal peace. The author discusses basic tenets of Buddhist thought and grounds his understanding of practice in daily efforts to be mindful. His discussions move toward an examination of “Interbeing” or the interconnectedness of all beings and creatures, actions and motivations.

Robert Aitken
Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux: New York, 1982

In this classic guidebook, Robert Aitken details the beginning steps of Zen practice. As one of the first Western roshis (teachers) and head of Hawaii’s Diamond Sangha, Aitken speaks from considerable experience. The author gives specific instructions on how to begin meditation practice: sitting posture, counting the breath, and watching the mind. He follows these basic instructions with more philosophical information about the three treasures and ten precepts. Helpful drawings of sitting positions and stretching exercises, as well as a glossary, accompany the text.

Chogyam Trungpa
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1987

Adapted from talks given from 1970 to ’71 by the late Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, this hard-hitting, penetrating book begins with a discussion of the pitfalls for students on the path. According to the author, the main obstacle to attainment is “spiritual materialism,” or deceiving ourselves into “thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.” Trungpa Rinpoche’s approach derails spiritual pride and reminds practitioners of the importance of infusing practice with an effort to see both sides and the indispensable ability to laugh at oneself.

An Explanation of the Buddhist Way of Life
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Tharpa Communications: London, 1992

A highly accomplished lama who resides in the United Kingdom, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso makes accessible the basic tenets of Tibetan Buddhism. Initial chapters address questions such as “Who is Buddha?” and “What is karma?” and answer them in an informal and to-thepoint style. Later sections are tailored to more in-depth descriptions of the paths to liberation. While he does not offer specific instructions for breathing, chanting, and so on, the author does lay the philosophical groundwork for practice in simple language.

SEEKING THE HEART OF WISDOM: The Path of Insight Meditation
Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1987

Co-founders of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts, authors Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield teach in the Theravada tradition of vipassana, or insight meditation. This practice encourages the cultivation of mindfulness. Chapters are divided into three sections: “Understanding Practice,” which addresses meditation; “Training the Heart and Mind,” a discussion of enlightenment and compassion; and “The Growth of Wisdom,” which focuses on karma and service. The book is designed to be an meditator’s workbook; exercises follow each chapter.

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