Are you interested in learning more about Buddhism? Here’s our pick of the best Buddhism books for beginners!
Short Background of Buddhism
Founded in ancient India by Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha), Buddhism is currently the 4th largest religion in the world with more than 520 million adherents.
There are several branches of Buddhism, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, among others. Yet, despite some variation, most of these traditions deal with issues of suffering, death / rebirth, and the aim of leading a joyful life.
Buddhism builds upon a few core concepts, such as the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. Of these, the Buddha believed his teachings are not to be taken as abstract philosophy, since they emerge from direct experience. Buddhism is also a practice, not a faith to religiously hold onto or worship.
If you’re keen to learn more, I suggest you try reading these great introductory books on Buddhism. I wish you well on your personal journey of mindfulness.
Note: The books included in this list are about general Buddhist teachings, not the nuances of specific branches. In addition, listings are also not ranked in any particular order.
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Great Buddhist Books To Start With
1. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching is a long-time bestseller. This great introductory text is by Thich Nhat Hanh – a prolific zen master who’s written many of the best Buddhist books for beginners.
Inside, he covers most of the key teachings of the Buddha. This includes the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Dharma Seals, and much more. In addition, you’ll never feel overwhelmed, since everything is expressed in easy-to-follow language suited for those just starting out.
Thich Nhat Hanh also makes the effort to relate all the teachings to everyday life. You’ll thus come away with a much clearer grasp of Buddhism and its pertinence to your own day-to-day activities.
Now in its 4th edition, Buddhism is a great overview of the Buddha’s core teachings. It also brings to light the related practices of meditation, yoga, and more.
The book is written for true beginners of Buddhism. You thus won’t find much in the way of detailed philosophical discussions. However, it serves as a good road map that traces key areas of Buddhism which may further pique your interest.
You’ll find Buddhism extremely insightful if you’re searching for a guide on reducing stress in your life in a lasting manner.
3. What the Buddha Taught
Popular in many Buddhist and scholarly circles, What Buddha Taught is a concise and faithful sharing of the Buddha’s main teachings. This classic book was written by Walpola Rahula, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk and accomplished academic.
What Buddha Thought flows in logical sequence as it illustrates key concepts via translations of Buddhist scriptures. You’ll also find the writing highly accessible – yet, profound in the core ideas it presents. Overall, this book is a great read for beginners in Buddhism.
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4. How To Practise: The Way to a Meaningful Life
Written by the Dalai Lama himself, How to Practise addresses a crucial and profound question: “How can I lead a meaningful existence?”. Like many of the best Buddhism books for beginners, you’ll be introduced to a lot of pragmatic – rather than preachy – advice.
The book focuses on helping you lead a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. You’ll be invited to reflect on your relationship with others, and with yourself. In this regard, How to Practise is an insightful self-help book, grounded in Buddhist practice.
There’s also a deep warmth in the way the book is written. The Dalai Lama’s words flow with deep empathy as he shines a light on the complex nature of human existence.
5. Open Heart, Clear Mind
Open Heart, Clear Mind is an easy-to-digest intro to Buddhism. It is filled with useful everyday advice based off many of the Buddha’s main teachings.
You’ll be introduced to the psychological – rather than mystical – benefits of Buddhism in practice. In addition, Thubten Chodron injects a welcomed amount of humor into his writing. This makes Open Heart, Clear Mind a fun yet educational read.
The Dalai Lama also offers a glowing Foreword, endorsing the author’s teaching method.
6. The Buddha and His Teachings
This beginner’s book tackles one simple question: “What did the Buddha teach?”. Drawing upon texts from Indian, Japanese, Tibetan, and Chinese masters, you’ll find The Buddha and His Teachings to be full of practical and philosophical info for beginners.
There’s also a good balance of cited classic and modern sources. In addition, many discussions are fairly in-depth, going further than most other Buddhist books for beginners. However, you’ll notice the language is always kept simple for easy understanding.
7. No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners
No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners offers answers to many burning questions about Buddhism. For example, you’ll be shown how ‘awakening’ differs from ‘enlightenment’, or how agnostics and atheists can also benefit from the Buddha’s teachings.
The book is divided into four parts. These cover the Buddha’s background, his key concepts, teachings, and how to practice Buddhism on a day-to-day basis. In addition, there’s a full Q&A section that helps you further reinforce what you’ll learnt.
8. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction
As the title suggests, this book is a very short, pocket-sized intro to key Buddhist concepts. For its succinct length, author Damien Keown also manages to cover a fair bit of Buddhism’s history as he explores the Buddha’s life, the origins of main concepts (e.g. karma, reincarnation), and so on. You’ll absorb lots of useful info in just a few hours.
Overall, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction is the great starting point if you want a quick overview of the religion / philosophy. You’ll thus likely be inspired to read other books to deepen your grasp of Buddhism and all its nuances.
9. When Things Fall Apart
Written by American Buddhist Pema Chödrön, this bestselling book helps you deal with issues of anxiety, pain, and suffering. Using Buddhist teachings, she presents a lot of practical advice on how to better cope with challenging moments in your life.
This is also not a ‘hand-holding’ feel-good book. Instead, you’ll read many blunt truths contained within. Yet, Chödrön shares these Buddhist-inspired reality checks with the best of intentions. In particular, her aim is to help you find inner strength and acceptance, grounded in a Buddhist path to healing.
10. A Path With Heart
You’ll likely enjoy A Path With Heart if you’ve grown up exposed to a lot to Western cultural norms. In particular, Buddhist monk / PhD psychologist Jack Kornfield contextualizes classic Buddhist concepts in an effort to help you develop mindfulness amid the stresses of a modern, fast-paced life.
The book is full of rich storytelling, shared with you with a touch of human warmth. Above all, it’ll inspire you to lead a life that stays true to your heart as you flourish with greater inner-peace and spiritual purpose.
Other Best Buddhism Books For Beginners
The Book of Joy
Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets the Dalai Lama. This book contains their transcribed conversations filled with joy, friendship, and religion-transcending wisdom.
Turning Confusion into Clarity
A great starter’s guide if you want to start practicing Buddhism via meditation and other mindful techniques.
In Love With The World
A true story written by Mingyur Rinpoche, a renowned Buddhist monk. In this book, you’ll discover his spiritual journey in which he left everything behind (including his monastery robes) only to come face-to-face with a near-death experience – and survive.
You’ll discover that In Love With The World carries a very different tone from other best Buddhism books on this list – and is most definitely worth a read!