Top Five Buddhist Books

 [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.

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About Cittasamvaro

Auto blogography of an urban monk
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7 Responses to Top Five Buddhist Books

  1. curiousholly says:

    OK, I’m it, but my readings tend too bleed together, so i could be a year or so off.
    “The Gods Drink Whiskey,” a wandering seeker experiences Buddhism in Cambodia.
    Buddhadhasa Bhikkhu, “Handbook for Mankind,” “Mindfulness With Breathing,” “The Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree”
    “Soul Mountain,” Giao Xiang, Nobel Prize winning novel
    “A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society,” by Sulak Sivaraksa

    Not all were read with the same level of attention or thoroughness, but all are memorable and, with the exception of the first mentioned, all would be good to read again.
    But one can find Buddhism in almost any reading. For instance, I’m finding Nietsche almost clairvoyant on some of today’s issues as well as the workings of the mind, very loosely comparable to Buddhist teachings. Of course, that’s my projection onto it but he, too, studied Eastern philosophy.

  2. Gerald Ford says:

    I am guilty of tagging Marcus in the first place. Actually I was tagged by someone who in turn was tagged as well, and I too don’t understand 100% what it means.

    In any case, I like Bhikkhu Bodhi. He has a good way of explaining Theravada Buddhism without getting bogged down in dour, dry detail, and has a pretty sharp wit too. I will probably pick up that book at some point in the near future.

    Thanks and take care! 🙂

  3. Cittasamvaro says:

    Yes I saw your name there in Marcus’ psot Gerald. I think the real intention behind the ‘tagging’ thing is that all those who have been tagged going back 5 layers of referral are supposed to send me a bar of chocolate.

  4. marcus says:

    Excellent! 🙂

    (But mind it doesn’t melt!)

  5. cindy says:

    Okay, I guess it’s my turn…hmmmmm it’s not easy to choose just 5, but I’ll try.
    My top 5 Buddhist books of the moment are as follows, iin the order in which they appeared in my life:
    1) No Boundary, by Ken Wilber, and though it’s not a Buddhist book per se, it was the first place I ever came across the idea of no-self.
    2) The Dhammapada, which is full of pure wisdom and a joy to pick up and open to any page at any time. My current favorite version is by Glenn Watts. I am especially inspired by verses 153 and 154.
    3) The Heart of Buddhist Meditation By Nyanaponika Thera, an excellent scholarly classic that explains the finer points of mindfulness meditation.
    4) Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana Mahathera, another approach to discussing mindfulness but in a more down to earth way.
    5) In This Very Life by Sayadaw U Pandita, a book which skillfully guides meditators in a very detailed way during the course of their practice.

  6. Cittasamvaro says:

    The Ken Wilber book looks interesting … I will look out for that one.

    In This Very Life by U Pandita (great name! 😀 ) is available online in full : http://web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism/pandita9.htm

    David Holmes – who gave a talk for us before at Baan Aree, added his list, which I have pasted in below. The Self made Prison is a great title, and looks like an interesting book…

  7. Cittasamvaro says:

    David Holmes sent in his list:


    I see that Littlebang has “tagged” me to recommend some Dhamma books. While what may seem my “favorite” always depends on arising conditions at the moment, here are some books that I am always happy to go back to:

    1. The Word of the Buddha
    The Path to Deliverence
    by Venerable Nyanatiloka
    2. The Budda’s Teaching in His Own Words
    by Venerable Nanamoli
    3. The Noble Eightfold Path
    Transcendental Dependent Arising
    by Venerable Bodhi
    4. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation
    by Venerable Nyanaponika
    5. The Budda and His Teaching
    by Venerable Narada Thera

    Some other books which are also reliable and beneficial and which might just-as-well be in such a list are:

    i. Dependent Arising
    by Venerable Piyadassi Thera
    ii. The Self- Made Private Prison
    by Prof. Lily de Silva
    iii. The Message of the Buddha
    by Prof. K. N. Jatatilleke
    iv. The Noble Eightfold Path
    by Ledi Sayadaw
    v. To the Last Breath
    by Ajaan Maha Boowa
    vi. Directions for insight
    by Ajaan Kor Kau-Suan-Luang

    The Buddhist Publication Society website also has reliable readings on its On-Line Library from which one might choose depending on what one wants to know next.

    In particular, I would like to recommed the books in the BPS Wheel Series, which was origionally edited by Venerable Nyanaponika and Bhikkhu Bodhi and is now slowly, book by book, being digitalized and processed to be put on the BPS website :
    http://www.noblepath.info/
    http://www.bps.lk/

    Most of the above-mentioned books in this list may also be found on the Internet by searching under title and author.

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