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.
5 of the Best Zen Books
1. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step is considered one of the best Zen books of all time. The book contains mindfulness advice from one of the greatest authorities on Zen, Thich Nhat Hanh.
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, Thich Nhat Hanh has since lived in France. He is revered around the world for his teachings and writings on mindfulness.
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.
Thich Nhat Hanh acknowledges the sorrows and challenges of modern life, but draws our attention back to the power of the present moment.
Truly a remarkable book which is a must-read for those who’d like to learn the basic principles of Zen.
Best quote from the book: “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5 (28,000+ ratings)
Soulful Arogya Rating: 5/5
Other recommended titles by Thich Nhat Hanh:
- The Miracle of Mindfulness
- The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
- You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment
2. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Possibly the most recommended Zen book these days, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a compilation of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki, a renowned Zen master from Japan and the founder of San Francisco Zen Center.
While practicing Zazen 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.”
Goodreads Rating: 4.2 (36,000+ ratings)
Soulful Arogya Rating: 4.5/5
Recommended resource: A detailed review of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
3. The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
One of the best books on Zen Buddhism is The Way of Zen by Alan Watts.
Alan Watts saw Zen as “one of the most precious gifts of Asia to the world” and in his groundbreaking book, he introduces Zen philosophy to the world.
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.
He also covers the influences of Confucianism and Taoism on Zen and moves on to the growth of the Zen monastic tradition.
Like Zen itself, Alan Watts’ style is simple, straightforward, and devoid of unnecessary jargon.
Best quote from the book: “When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”
Goodreads Rating: 4.2 (16,000+ ratings)
Soulful Arogya Rating: 4/5
Other recommended titles by Alan Watts:
4. The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
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.
The Dalai Lama discusses in detail the concept of happiness and how happiness is determined by one’s state of mind than by one’s external conditions and circumstances.
Best quote from the book: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Goodreads Rating: 4.2/5 (92,000+ ratings)
Soulful Arogya Rating: 4/5
5. The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau
A Zen classic by Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen explores three main tenets of Zen — teaching, practice, and enlightenment.
This book was published way back in 1965 and was one of the few books at the time to examine Zen as a way of living rather than a philosophy.
Though not as comprehensive and detailed as other books in this list, Kapleau’s passion for the subject and his enthusiasm to share insights on Zen is remarkable.
Best quote from the book: “If you fall into poverty, live that way without grumbling – then your poverty will not burden you. Likewise, if you are rich, live with your riches. All this is the functioning of Buddha-nature. In short, Buddha-nature has the quality of infinite adaptability.”
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 (6,000+ ratings)
Soulful Arogya Rating: 3.5/5
A Few More Zen Books to Add to Your Reading List
Zen is a complex subject and as is the case with all complex subjects, you simply can’t get enough of them.
So here are a few more books we’d recommend you read:
- An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki
- The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo by Kodo Sawaki
- Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Toole
- Zen: The Path of Paradox by Osho
So these are the books we’d recommend to people who are interested to learn more about Zen.
What books would you recommend?
Do you have a favorite that we missed out in this list?
Let us know in the comments section.
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Dec 6, 2016 and has been updated regularly since then for relevance and comprehensiveness.
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