[Summary: By Cittasamvaro – Marcus tagged me for a list of five Buddhist books – so my personal list such as it is]
I have been ‘tagged’. I am still not quite sure what it means (I was googling it up thinking it to be a tech computer term, which frustratingly it is) but I guess it is something like the child’s game of tag. Marcus was tagged and fulfilled his duty in his blog: and he has tagged Will and I in turn.
My top five Buddhist Books
I find myself suddenly realising that I have not read any Buddhist books for years and years. Most of my enduring inspiration comes from Hindu or Christian books, not Buddhist. Interesting. I feel I have long outgrown the Ajahn Chah books or Forest Sangha teachings that got me on the Theravada path in the early days.
Number One Spot goes unquestionably to …
The Majjhima Nikaya – Bhikkhu Bodhi
The suttas are really the only place I consistently go to for guidance. Every time I pick up any of the suttas I find fresh insight and inspiration. I don’t consider the suttas to be ‘Buddhist’ so much as the ‘Buddha’, even though I know that there has been a lot of adaptation and change since 2500 years ago. I still believe the record we have is pretty reliable. They are not always easy to read – ‘stodgy’ one western Abbot called them, but most serious monks keep going back to this original source. The Majjhima is one of the nicest translations, with footnotes to match. The subject material stays more in line with practise than some of the other parts of the Suttas, staying away from the miracle stories or overly lengthy descriptions of the Digha Nikaya. In fact I usually advise people who want to approach the Suttas, that the Majjhima (aka Middle Length Sayings) is the most accessible, and there is not a lot in the other sections that cannot be found in it.
The Experience of Insight – Joseph Goldstein
I had to dig in my distant memory for this one, but it was one of the early books I read that got me started. It is a bit unfair to disclude Ajahn Chah books and include this … but there it is. Included as an early inspiration. I don’t know if I would be equally impressed with it today or what I would feel about the plethora of other books that have tumbled from Goldstein’s pen every year. I remember it as very pragmatic and systematic.
Altitude – Phra Terry Magness
Ajahn Terry’s books are rather special. Not dhamma as you know it, but insights from a real meditation master. Perhaps the appeal is not to the wider world wide Dhamma community, but he is my own teacher and is always lucid and direct in discussion of the issues in the books. Somewhat reclusive Ajahn never put himself forth as a contemporary teacher and abbot. Though a westerner by upbringing he has only ever lived in Malaysia and Thailand, the last 40+ years as a monk. He wrote some 14 or 15 books, all on an old style typewriter with impeccable, if somewhat colonial English. Most of them have been printed at some point and they are becoming available as PDF as and when his followers get time to type them into electronic format. The most recent addition is an examination of the Buddhist constituent to Tolstoy and Shakespeare – still in error correcting phase. LINK to website
The Outsider – Albert Camus
I gather that Camus studied Buddhism in the latter part of his life, and his last two books reflect his growing disillusionment with the world. In The Fall he examined the emptiness of ambition, and his final work The Outsider was a big influence for me. It put down in print so much of what I had felt but never heard discussed or identified in the lonely secular cage I grew up in. It is not a book that has much to offer to the practicing meditator, but as a timeless classic it should be on everyone’s bookshelf nonetheless. It captures the feeling of disenchantment with the world that many feel before they find that there is an alternative.
Cloud of Unknowing – Authorless
I stayed away from non-Buddhist books, but had few options left for the number five slot. In that it is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read I feel it deserves a place on the list, despite it being a Christian classic. It’s inspiration makes a big dent on the sense of self that holds the soul earthbound. Wrapped up in Christian terminology it might not be too accessible to Buddhists, but to me it is utter delight.
Honourable mention to some of the others … the great Zen masters Bodhidharma, Haukin, Bankei etc… Saint Teresa D’Avila and Saint John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel) … Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Punjaji … Eckhart Tolle, and other contemporary figures.
Oh, and I Tag Cindy, Holly,Audwin and David Holmes for their list of top 5 Buddhist books.