There are numerous spiritual works in the catacombs of literature that are capable of changing our lives while we digest their wisdom and bring the teachings into our experience of daily life.
While some books strike us deeply, others pass us by, moving on to reach out to those who make a better match. Like puzzles, books and humans come together. If there’s a fit, then there’s a chance for a deep and sincere transformation of the heart and mind.
Here are 10 books that have changed the course of my life over the years and laid the groundwork for a budding mindfulness practice:
1. Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life by John Tarrant
In this life changing work, Zen Roshi and Jungian psychologist John Tarrant uses personal accounts, poetry and humor to help the reader through 15 koans. The author does a remarkable job bringing the koans to life through providing the reader with an intimate glimpse into the minds of the masters and pupils who slowly unraveled themselves into openness and freedom. It requires a few delightful reads, but when you put the book down, you won’t be the same person.
2. Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
In this classic American Zen work, Roshi Shunryu Suzuki provides Western mindfulness enthusiasts with a glimpse into the way of the Zen mind. Easy to read and full of great teaching points, the heart of Suzuki’s life will be in your hands when you are done.
3. Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das
For someone who is just starting out on the mindful path, there may not be another book that so thoroughly addresses the lifestyle as Awakening the Buddha Within. Lama Surya Das takes us through his beginnings in New York before embarking on a forty year love affair with Tibetan Buddhism. The book is centered around Buddha’s Eightfold Path, providing the reader with more than enough background on Buddhism to begin bringing Buddha’s practice into this life. I highly recommend Awakening the Buddha Within to anyone who’s just taking their first mindful steps.
4. The Blue Cliff Record translated by Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary
Incredibly dense—yet full of light-hearted life-changing wisdom—The Blue Cliff Record is a, well, beast. Whether you’re just starting out or you have been practicing for decades, this work should be resting on your bedside table.
5. You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh
Arguably the most influential Zen teacher of our time, the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh speaks with the kindness and straightforwardness of a Buddha. Taking the reader into how to deal with anger and follow one’s breath, the author goes on to explain some of the foundations of Buddhist thought.
6. Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a fictional account of a University of Califonia, Berkeley student’s encounter with an elderly gas station attendant who he discovers is a profound spiritual teacher. Millman works his magic through powerfully describing the trials, pitfalls and overall enthusiasm that comes with questioning the direction of your life and then heading out into the wilderness of the now. This is a great read for anyone, but it may strike the 18 to 25-year-old readers the most.
7. The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant
One of the most evocative works there is, Tarrant’s Light Inside the Dark bears numerous, thoughtful readings. Leaning on his background in Jungian psychology, Tarrant takes the reader on a journey: the descent into night—darkness, depression—and then the natural rebirth that comes with sitting in the realms of demons. Using Greek mythology, Dante’s Inferno, the personal accounts of some of his patients, and Zen teachings, Light Inside the Dark is certainly capable of handing you a new pair of eyes to see the world and quite possibly, a fundamental transformation of the heart.
8. Tao te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell
A timeless classic, this five-thousand-some-odd-word book holds just as much (if not) more power and wisdom than any work or articulation of freedom in the history of writing.
9. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki
If you want to dabble in Zen and share some tough whacks and hardy laughs with the old masters, then Zen Flesh Zen Bones is your ticket to ride.
10. Zen Keys by Thich Naht Hanh
Once again, Thich Nhat Hanh reaches out to touch the reader through a thorough explanation of Zen Buddhism that’s easy to understand and full of beautiful teaching points.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger