5 of the best Buddhism books for beginners

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Buddhism sometimes seems mysterious. Other times it seems simple. Sometimes it seems like it’s unreachable. Sometimes it sounds like something we all do, whether we are aware of it or not. The following selections help demystify Buddhist principles and philosophies – some have pictures too!

Buddhism (World religions) by Madhu Bazaz Wangu

Here is an overview of Buddhism from its roots in India. The book tells about how Buddhist ideas crossed the world and how they continued to grow over time. In addition to history, Wangu’s account presents the fundamental teachings of Buddhism and breaks down its three great schools (Tehravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana). I like this book as a good starting point because it is mostly an overview without looking like a textbook.

Intro-to-Zen-Buddhism-coverAn introduction to Zen Buddhism by DT Suzuki with a preface by Carl Jung

Dr Carl Jung opens this introduction to Buddhism from a psychiatric point of view. It sets the stage for the intriguing explanation of Zen beliefs. He has philosophy. There is ethics. It contains all the teachings in simple terms. This introduction can be read as an informative exploration of Buddhism as well as a wealth of tips for living a Zen life through enlightenment.

Buddhism-for-Bear-blanket-Buddhism for bears by Claire Nielson, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Bears can be adorable! Buddhism can be fun! Nielson invokes very simple Zen ideas and shows how bears can easily follow them. The book breaks philosophy down into sections for wisdom, self-control, techniques, and truth. Then we have a Buddhist thought like, what is power? Next, we see a very beefy bear meditating on power and finding its way to answers. If a bear can do it, so can we!

Side note: If bears aren’t for you, you can try Chris Riddell’s Buddhism for sheep. If the sheep can do it, so can we.

Tea-and-Cake-with-Demons-cover-Tea and Cake with Demons: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy by Adreanna Limbach

I love the affable personal style that Limbach brings to Buddhist conversation. Plus, I’m a huge fan of tea, which I always associate with Eastern beliefs (which may or may not make sense). The focus of this book is self-esteem. He offers advice through traditional and modern tales. Then there is a section that explains the Four Noble Truths in understandable language. Limbach acts like a cheerleader so that we can all find our confidence, create our own happiness, and achieve whatever goals we hope for.

Guide-to-Boddhisattvas-Life-poem-cover-Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: A Buddhist Poem for Today by Shantideva, translated by Neil Elliot with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

If you prefer your Buddhist teachings in verse, we’ve got that too. Some versions of this book have the caption “How to Enjoy a Meaningful and Selfless Life”. It gives me the impression that this poem contains the answers to all of life’s great mysteries. Pretty powerful stuff. Shantideva was an Indian Buddhist monk. In the 8e Century he wrote this epic poem about happiness, love, enlightenment and peace. The reading of the poem parallels an act of meditation, which is a foundation of Buddhism. Throughout the contemplations, a glimpse of the Mahayana Buddhist path emerges. And if you have read Buddhism as stated above, then you already know what Mahayana means!

While we are discussing Buddhism, Dinty Moore has a fabulous creative non-fiction piece called “Fear and Craving in Disney World”. The essay explores Buddhist koans in light of the theme park pop culture society.

Another side note: I slept under a bodhisattva at the Rubin Museum once. This. Was. Uh. May. ZING!

To learn more about meditation, a large part of Buddhism, check out these suggestions. If you want to do yoga to accompany your meditation, try these readings.