Books on Buddhism
November 8, 2007 3:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a book that will serve as a good introduction to Buddhism.

Not looking for the "Idiots" or "Dummies" series; nor am I looking for pop psychology section books with cutesy little meditations for people with short attention spans.
But I DO want something accessible that explains the basic principles of Buddhism.

Where do I start?
posted by freetheyams to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Wake Up To Your Life is very clear and thorough. I have been basing my practice on it for years. The author's talks are also very helpful.

I'm also very fond of The Feeling Buddha, but that might be too far into "pop psychology" for you (the author is or has been a psychotherapist, but is now a Pure Land monk), and it's quite heterodox (see the passage and comments in this thread.)
posted by Coventry at 3:51 AM on November 8, 2007

Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha is an excellent book for newcomers to Buddhism.

It is mainly comprised of accessible excerpts from the Pali Canon, interspersed with commentary for the beginner.

I know you want to shy away from 'Dummies Books' - But Teach Yourself Buddhism is not to be underestimated. I have seen it frequently recommended on other sites as an good introductory text.

There are also some great places on the web to find out more. I would recommend Access to Insight as a good place to start (If you have not come across it already.)
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:17 AM on November 8, 2007

An End To Suffering: The Buddha in the World is a good historical intro to Buddha and Buddhism.
posted by extrabox at 4:27 AM on November 8, 2007

For a concise and intelligent introduction, which uses very little jargon, read Stephen Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs. Batchelor writes for the agnostic who gets a little creeped out by spiritual rhetoric.

For a somewhat longer and more personable introduction, try Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart. I find myself returning to it frequently for guidance and reference, despite the growing number of Buddha books I've become attached to.
posted by lumosh at 5:12 AM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

The most no frills, hardcore and yet solid introductory work would have to be The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation by Chogyam Trungpa. The other books listed here are fine but if you want a high-octane entry into Buddhism that's simple and direct this would be your book. I love his no bullshit style of writing.

Happy trails!
posted by zenpop at 5:22 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the recommendations of Access to Insight, A Path With Heart, and The Myth of Freedom. Especially A Path With Heart.
posted by Coventry at 5:26 AM on November 8, 2007

Buddhism Plain and Simple.
posted by malaprohibita at 5:43 AM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second lumosh's recommendations above. I would add Pima Chodron's Start Where You Are.

I pointed out some online sources for (free) dharma talks, lectures by experienced practitioners in my post on the one of the shorter teachings attributed to the Buddha, the Metta Sutta
posted by shothotbot at 5:45 AM on November 8, 2007

Consider What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. Library Journal says, "Rahula is a scholar monk who trained in the Theravadan tradition in Ceylon. His succinct, clear overview of Buddhist concepts has never been surpassed. It is the standard."
posted by Shoggoth at 5:46 AM on November 8, 2007

The best intro to Buddhism is Walpole Rahula's What The Buddha Taught.

Chapter headings are as follows:

The Buddhist Attitude of Mind
The First Noble Truth
The Second Noble Truth
The Third Noble Truth
The Fourth Noble Truth
The Doctrine of No-Soul: Anatta
Meditation or Mental Culture: Bhavana
What The Buddha Taught and the World Today

The doctrine of Conditioned Genesis is touched on briefly in the chapter on Anatta; it is explained more fully in Chapters 4 and 5 of Ayya Khema's When The Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West; I strongly recommend that those who wish to understand Buddhism read this as well.

These books, especially Rahula's, will explain the basic principles of Buddhism. What they won't do is explain the difference between the different types of Buddhism (e.g. Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan). Huston Smith's The Religions of Man (or whatever its updated title is) is probably your best bet for that if you're interested.

Here's a link to a good online source of information for Theravada Buddhism (the school of Buddhism based on the earliest teachings): Access to Insight.

I only read Batchelor's book briefly when it first came out, but I didn't think it displayed a good understanding of Buddhism. I think Kornfield's is better for those with an understanding of Buddhism who want to deepen their practice.

I have some more links to Buddhism here.
posted by Amy NM at 5:46 AM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

A Short History of Buddhism by Edward Conze - as well as a complete historical outline it provides an insightful introduction to the basic philosophy of the major schools, and is very well written by a serious and learned scholar and practitioner.
posted by Abiezer at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2007

As recommended by Van Morrison:

"I went home
And read by Christmas Humphreys book on zen"
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2007

Sorry if this goes without saying, but just in case:

Read the Sutras. Not to be underestimated.

I'm continually shocked by the number of Buddhists (those not brought up in the faith) or Buddhist studies people who still have never read the Buddha's own (attributed) words. Commentaries are immensely helpful, of course, and key to most Buddhist's introduction to the faith; but we're talking primary source versus secondary (and so on) here.

Also, it depends on what aspects of Buddhism you want to know about, but studying the context in which the religion is practiced is absolutely necessary to understanding how diverse Buddhist practice can be: country, region of that country, class of the practitioner, sect, particular teacher etc. are all going to produce widely varying interpretations on the original words of the Buddha. Hope that helps :-)
posted by ibeji at 6:58 AM on November 8, 2007

Which Buddhism are you interested in? The principles are different depending.

What I've heard in the trenches:

1. Big wheel - we only get there if we all get there.
2. Little wheel - get there yourself, and then help others.
3. Zen - there is no self, there is no wheel. What was the question?

Different principles for each. It's a little like asking for a guide to Christianity, but not specifying Jesuit or Pentecostal.
posted by ewkpates at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2007

I am unclear whether you want to learn about the religion, in a historical/theological (academic?) sense, or as other people have been providing introductions to buddhist concepts/ as practiced by people.

You've gotten the latter from lots of people but, if you're looking for the former: I recommend Rupert Gethin's Foundations of Buddhism. It's an introductory book yet goes deeper than most books (including What the Buddha Taught) into Buddhism the religion, (in both theological and historical senses).
posted by stratastar at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2007

I second Buddhism Plain and Simple.

I've been a Buddhist for almost ten years and, when someone asks me for more information, I give them my copy as a starting point.

Works by D.T. Suzuki are also worth reading, although they focus on Zen rather than other branches of Buddhism.
posted by Nugget at 7:32 AM on November 8, 2007

In terms of a a good popular introduction to Mahayana Buddhism, I enjoyed Robert Thurman's Inner Revolution From the review: "Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman (yes, he is the father of Uma) was named one of Time magazine's 25 most influential people in 1997. Here's why: Thurman has a knack for helping laymen understand the teachings and history of Buddhism while also explaining why it has taken root in the West." I'm biased because he was a professor that I loved in college, but this book certainly provides a great introduction, though it can get a bit self-helpish at times.
posted by cal71 at 7:46 AM on November 8, 2007

seconding buddhism plain and simple.

this really helped get me on track and begin to start a new life several years ago. i havent looked back since.
posted by kneelconqueso at 8:38 AM on November 8, 2007

Go straight to the source: The Dhammapada
posted by nasreddin at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2007

I've been listening to A Buddhist Podcast recently which is serializing "The Buddha Geoff and Me" which I'm finding to be an enjoyable listen, though I'm not a beginner. It's got good buddhist practice in real life kind of content, though the protagonist is pretty resistant to buddhism.
posted by phearlez at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2007

I've bookmarked 4 of the works from the list of recommendations above. Thank you all SO much for your input!!
posted by freetheyams at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2007

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