you started meditating, for whatever reason. perhaps it is a way to relax a little more, to release stress, or to make the suffering you have experienced more bearable. perhaps the meditation is driven by a sense that there is more to which we can access, or it is part of an investigation of reality.
It could be that at some point you want to supplement your meditation with a little wisdom from books. Although it’s not absolutely necessary, every once in a while a book can be motivating and inspiring and can help you put experiences into perspective.
You are reading: Best buddhist meditation books
so you’ve decided to read a book on meditation or Buddhism (or both). but where to start?
Choosing the right book at the right time is not that easy. many different authors have dedicated many words to the buddha and his teachings. there are books that may be easier to read first and books for people who want to go even deeper, books about Theravāda, about Zen, about Tibetan Buddhism, books that contain translations of ancient writings, and books that mainly contain the experiences and opinions of the authors . or interpretations. And with all books, the question always arises as to whether the author really knows from his own experience what he is writing about and whether the content can really be trusted (at least to some degree).
You may even be wondering if it isn’t better to start with the Pali Canon (the ancient writings that contain the direct teachings of the Buddha). the answer to that is yes and no.
ahba has indicated that when you read the Pali canon you are at least sure that the content is good, this cannot always be said with certainty for many other works by modern authors. however, ahba also gives warnings to delve into both the sutta and the abhidhamma.
the reason for his caution is that the sutta (teachings of the buddha) depend on the context. that is, the buddha was a master at adapting his message to his audience so that his teachings would have the best effect. this also means that the wisdoms in the suttas depend on the context. Without knowledge of the context and the nuances that go with it, one can arrive at misconceptions or misinterpretations.
ahba indicates that it is like trying to catch a fish in a very cloudy pond. the fish cannot see you, but you cannot see the fish either. all you can do is move your hand randomly from side to side in the water, hoping to find a fish. maybe you’ll catch a fish, but maybe you won’t, and who knows how long it will take.
Of course it’s fine to read the suttas, just be careful thinking you got all sorts of true knowledge from them.
when it comes to studying abhidhamma (the teachings on ultimate reality), ahba also makes it clear that wanting to dive too deeply into abhidhamma, i.e. reading the seven abhidhamma books themselves, is meaningless without a trained abhidhamma. professor. otherwise, the potential for confusion and speculation is too great.
this warning given by ahba actually also applies to the abhidhammattha sangaha, the summary of the abhidhamma.
It’s like trying to catch a fish in a very clear pond. you can see the fish very well, but they can also see you. every time you think you can catch a fish, it’s gone before your hand has reached it.
It is the same with a deeper understanding of abhidhamma, just when we think we can grasp it, it slips away. if we think we can understand it just by studying it, we are fooling ourselves.
read to inspire yourself, to guide you during practice, to calm down or confront you with your own concepts and ideas, perhaps just to form a small crack in your notion of “I”. don’t read with the intention of gaining wisdom, that only leads to misplaced arrogance.
True wisdom only comes through direct personal experience, through meditation, practicing every day. always keep that in mind.
With that note we are going to venture into some books.
With these 16 recommended books on Buddhism and meditation, we hope to show (in our experience) a reasonably safe path through the morass of options. of course the list is not a definitive work. it’s just advice from someone who has read a lot.
This is also just the beginning, if you want more advice (or personal advice) afterwards, you can always contact us.
Note that there is an order to the list. we start with more accessible works and gradually move on to works that can offer more depth to the experienced student. if the book exists in pdf format we will place a link.
There are almost only Theravāda Buddhist books on this list because that’s where buddho meditation comes from. That said, we find this list a good starting point for practitioners of other traditions as well.
When it comes to books from other lineages, for example, we can warmly recommend Venerable Shunryu Suzuki (not to be confused with Dt. Suzuki) for Zen and Venerable Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche for Tibetan Buddhism.
have fun reading!
1. happiness – matthieu ricard
what is happiness? And how can you develop happiness? The title may give the impression that it is a somewhat superficial and confusing work, but nothing is further from the truth.
matthieu ricard, a monk in the Tibetan tradition for many years and a long-time translator of the Dalai Lama, was a scientist before he became a monk and that is clearly shown in this book. he writes in a very clear and accessible way on one of the most important but also complex topics possible.
Some readers may find the book uses too many quotes from other scientists and philosophers, but as far as we are concerned, this is one of the best books to get an idea of the essence of Buddhism.
2. a quiet forest pond – ajahn chah
ajahn chah is one of the best buddhist meditation masters of the last century. We wholeheartedly recommend all the books with his teachings.
His way of teaching actually resembles the way he teaches there.
with simple, loving, humorous examples and lessons, often surreptitiously confronted, it always makes you think. just like ahba, emphasize over and over again that it is really you who, through your own desire, cause all your troubles.
at the same time he knows how to convey the feeling of true freedom and inner peace, based on his own experience.
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We have placed this specific collection of his teachings in this guide because it is a very good introduction to a contemporary teacher’s way of teaching, as a counterpart to the more “theoretical” works on this list.
– This specific book is not available online, but you could, for example, read Flowing Stillness to get a better picture of Ajahn Chah.
3. the word of the buddha – nyanatiloka mahathera
nyanatiloka mahathera was a predecessor of bhikkhu bodhi in sri lanka and one of the first western monks of modern times.
his book, the word of the buddha, is exactly what it says, a cleverly chosen small collection of quotes from the buddha’s own teachings (sutta), with a few explanations here and there.
here you can read the dhamma in the words of the buddha himself, and we think that after the books mentioned above, now might be a good time to start with that.
– read the word of the buddha online
4. the noble eightfold path – bhikkhu bodhi
bhikkhu bodhi is one of our favorite authors and, in fact, we can recommend all of his books. he is also one of the few authors that ahba has approved as trustworthy. even so, many of his writings are very detailed and more suitable for the more advanced reader.
This work is an exception, as it contains content relevant to both the beginner and the more advanced practitioner. as the title suggests, it describes the noble eightfold path, the path to liberation as taught by the buddha.
but, as already mentioned, don’t think that accessible means superficial, because bhikkhu bodhi knows how to weave his deep knowledge and experience into his writing.
– read the noble eightfold path online
5. dependent origination i t/m iii – ron wijewantha
this book, or rather this series of three books, is one of the lesser known gems of the bps (buddhist publishing society). In this series, Ron Wijewantha writes about Paṭiccasamuppāda, dependent arising, one of the cornerstones of the Buddha’s teachings.
Although it seems to be a theoretical book, this is not the case. the book is written from the practitioner’s point of view and emphasizes useful knowledge for daily practice.
The author knows how to mold this complicated subject into a useful framework for everyday life.
6. satipatthana: the direct path to realization – bhikkhu analayo
We could certainly have included this insightful discussion of satipaṭṭhāna, the foundation of mindfulness, later on in this list. in fact, it is a deep and detailed exposition of a single teaching, the satipaṭṭhāna sutta.
however, because the practice of sati (mindfulness) is of great importance for the development of concentration and understanding, and because unfortunately there are many wrong views on this subject among practitioners , we have chosen to recommend this book here, in the hope that the reader can develop a clear theoretical understanding of mindfulness early on in the journey and apply it in practice.
– read satipatthana: the direct path to online realization
7. meditation – ajahn chah
this gem of ajahn chah’s collected teachings is again a beautiful complement to previous theoretical works.
It’s included here because it’s especially nice to read when you’ve done some more thinking and maybe even participated in a retreat. in that case, the content will connect even more with your experience.
As far as we’re concerned, this is a book with insights that you can benefit from in many subsequent meditations and retreats.
– read meditation online
8. mind overcoming its cankers – acharya buddhrakkhita
this book is another gem possibly a little less known of the bps. acharya buddharakkhita highlights the deleterious states of mind we find ourselves in almost continuously from different angles and provides concrete directions for dealing with them.
It is a book to read and reread again and again.
– read minds by overcoming their cankers online
9. in the words of buddha – bhikkhu bodhi
now we have come to the second work of bhikkhu bodhi. he is known for his very good translations from Pali, the language in which the original texts have been preserved. this is a collection of sutta organized into ten thematic chapters.
in this work, bhikkhu bodhi not only quotes but always includes the full sutta with explanations.
The work gives a good overview of the scope of the suttas and thus offers even more insight into how the words of the Buddha have been passed down through the centuries.
10. the life of the buddha – bhikkhu nanamoli
this work is a “biography” on buddha written by bhikkhu nanamoli. bhikkhu nanamoli only uses original texts from the pali canon to describe the life of the buddha.
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The book does not describe the usual legend, but only what is actually preserved in the sutta and vinaya (the collection of rules and monks’ stories about these rules).
With this work, the reader can also become familiar with the great disciples of the Buddha and the time and environment in which they lived. as far as we are concerned the best ‘biography’.
– read the life of buddha online
11. just watching – cynthia thatcher
This book is an introduction to the theory, or rather the way of thinking, of abhidhamma, the teaching about ultimate reality. Cynthia Thatcher, a meditation teacher and a disciple of the renowned Mahasi Sayadaw, uses this book to explain how Abhidhamma views the process of consciousness.
is a good springboard for those who want to learn more about abhidhamma later in this list because a sense of how the process works brings more life to the dry theoretical framework of abhidhamma.
– read only viewing online
12. abhidhamma in daily life – nina van gorkum
This is a true abhidhamma textbook, complete with questions at the end of each chapter to check if you understood the content.
However, it’s not an exasperatingly dry read. nina van gorkum knows how to keep content accessible and deep enough.
The art of reading this book, as with most theoretical works, is to test and validate the information you read against your daily experiences, both during meditation and in everyday life.
– read abhidhamma in daily life online
13. abhidhamma studies – nyanaponika mahathera
nyanaponika mahathera is the direct predecessor of bhikkhu bodhi and equals the latter when it comes to understanding the deep layers of the Pali canon.
This is a truly phenomenal work explaining the first salutary citta (moment of awareness) from the first abhidhamma book.
For those who already have some knowledge and experience with Pali texts, it can be humbling to see how much more wisdom can be gleaned from the Pali canon than initially seems possible. we recommend that you read the book if you already have some knowledge about Buddhism, especially abhidhamma, so that you can enjoy it to the fullest.
for those who can’t wait and want to read it sooner, please do so and read it again a few years later! will be worth. the introduction alone is worth reading repeatedly.
– read abhidhamma studies online
14. the lighting requirements – ledi sayadaw
ledi sayadaw is one of the greatest Theravāda monks of the last century, praised for both his vast knowledge and insight. he was one of the first Burmese monks who was convinced that attaining enlightenment was still possible today and stands at the foot of the modern vipassanā method of meditation for both lay practitioners and monks.
but be careful, this work is not suitable for the faint-hearted. this work requires courage. not so much because of the enormous density of information that can certainly be found in this relatively short work, but mainly because of ledi sayadaw’s rock-solid style from which emanates enormous energy that cannot be escaped.
even more than the content, it is this energy that gives the work a place on this list. there really is no escape, the time to practice is now, the time to break free is now, there are no excuses. period.
– read lighting requirements online
15. a complete abhidhamma manual – bhikkhu bodhi
We have reached the first Buddhist standard work on this list, a translation of Bhikkhu Bodhi with brief explanations of Achariya Anuruddha’s Abhidhammattha Sangaha.
is a summary of the seven abhidhamma books written between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. today this is the standard text when one begins to study the abhidhamma.
This is an ahba-approved translation and according to him incorporates just the right amount of knowledge to be useful for meditation without being too overwhelming.
– read a complete abhidhamma manual online
16. visuddhimagga: the path of purification – trans. bhikkhu nanamoli
The second standard work on this list and also the last book we will recommend is Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s translation of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga.
the visuddhimagga is an epic summary of the entire Buddhist teaching in three chapters, namely morality, concentration and wisdom. ahba has sometimes said that reading the visuddhimagga is very, very good.
This is because the essence of the Pali canon is explained in (sometimes agonizing) detail. it’s a largely dry work, so we don’t recommend reading this book before bed, unless you’re having trouble falling asleep.
but if you work hard, it will be worth it in the end.
– read visuddhimagga: the path of purification online
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