There are a lot of books on meditation—too many. And it’s hard to tell which ones will actually be beneficial to your practice. If you find yourself lost in a stack of books with buzzword-filled titles, Tricycle is here to help.
The following is a selection of our staff’s go-to readings for practical meditation advice that you can actually use.
Taking the Path of Zen
For Zen students, one the best how-to books is Robert Aitken’s Taking the Path of Zen. Aitken (1917–2010), one of the early pioneers of Zen in America, teaches us not only how to sit but also why we do. Replete with practical instructions and advice, including stretching exercises that make sitting easier, there’s no more comprehensive a guide than this. For Zen beginners, it’s a great place to start.
North Point Press, $14
—James Shaheen, Editor and Publisher
Mindfulness in Plain English
You can’t write a list about favorite meditation books without including the classic Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. I have a distinct memory of eating momos [Tibetan dumplings] and reading it by candlelight in my guest house in Nepal, when I was studying there. Bhante G.’s instructions are no less inspiring than they are accessible. He makes meditation seem like magic, and then succeeds in convincing us that we’re all capable of wizardry.
Wisdom Publications, $16.95 (or $12.99 as e-book)
—Emma Varvaloucas, Executive Editor
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
I’m cheating here, but I have to go with Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. It’s cheating for a couple of reasons. First, it’s actually more like four tiny books. And second, it’s not really a straightforward meditation how-to but a collection of koans, stories, and teachings. Still, it does the trick for me. I have two versions: a Kindle edition and a pocket-size print copy. Whenever I’m having a hard time getting myself to actually sit down and meditate, I grab this book, flip to a random page, and start reading. It’s never long before I feel inspired to return to the cushion. (I’m aware that a Rinzai traditionalist might scoff at this flippant use of koans.) For meditation instruction, turn to the final section, called Centering, which is a pre-Buddhist text listing 112 ways to reach enlightenment.
Tuttle Publishing, $18.95
—Matthew Abrahams, Web Editor
Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion
American Buddhist pioneer Pema Chödrön has written dozens of books about how to bring Buddhist values into your daily life. Her 2002 title Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion makes an ideal accompaniment for anyone on the path, providing short teachings on core Buddhist ideas that can be read before your morning sit and carried with you throughout the day’s journey.
Shambhala Publications, $16.95
—Marie Scarles, Associate Editor
Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love
In Tibetan Buddhism, the words mind and heart are used interchangeably. For Tsoknyi Rinpoche, beloved teacher and co-author of Open Heart, Open Mind, therein lies the key to one of the tradition’s most cherished concepts, bodhicitta [awakened mind or heart]. What was once required reading on a college course syllabus is now a staple on my bookshelf—and one that I revisit often for down-to-earth teachings on Buddhist philosophy and psychology as well as practical meditation tips, including a seven-point method for establishing a solid base to anchor you in your body. Other exercises involve contemplating simple yet incisive questions, such as What is the mind? Where is it? Does it have a color? A size? A shape? A location? In following the practices Rinpoche spells out, you may soon find yourself more curious, engaged, and receptive.
Harmony Books, $20 (price point varies)
—Julia Hirsch, Web & Online Learning Manager
Never Turn Away
Named for his teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s lesson to “turn toward everything,” Rigdzin Shikpo’s Never Turn Away introduces the dharma as the path of complete openness. As the dharma director of the Longchen Foundation, a community of Dzogchen practitioners, Rigdzin Shikpo offers thorough and profound observations about practice that address the numerous challenges we face. Never Turn Away encourages us to embrace an attitude of relaxed openness toward our lives, both on the cushion and off.
Wisdom Publications, $14.95
—Danya Spencer, Web & Online Learning Assistant
Creation and Completion: Essential Points of Tantric Meditation
Tibetan Buddhist translator Sarah Harding once noted that despite their best intentions, many Westerners who engage in Vajrayana Buddhist practices don’t actually understand the nuts and bolts of how these practices work. To fill that gap, she translated 19th-century luminary Jamgon Kongtrul’s Creation and Completion: Essential Points of Tantric Meditation. In this book, which also features a commentary from contemporary teacher Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Kongtrul explains the meditative states that are meant to occur beneath the ritualized and explicit actions of body, speech, and mind. For those committed to the path of tantra, Creation and Completion‘s practical guidance is indispensable.
Wisdom Publications, $18.95 (or $12.99 as e-book)
—Gabriel Lefferts, Editorial Assistant
The Issue at Hand
When friends ask me for a starting place to learn about Buddhism and meditation, The Issue at Hand, by Gil Fronsdal, is my go-to recommendation. But this slim volume is more than just an introduction, offering gems of insight that continue to stimulate and deepen your practice as it unfolds. Fronsdal’s training in Zen and Theravada, along with his PhD in Buddhist Studies, have provided him with a thorough grasp of dharma, which he presents clearly and accurately for a modern audience. The sparkling short essays discuss topics from generosity, metta, and karma to working with anger and fear. My dog-eared and heavily underlined copy travels the world wherever I go, like a friend by my side.
The Issue at Hand is distributed freely as a dana [the practice of generosity] book and is available as a free PDF online.
—Eliza Rockefeller, Editorial Intern
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