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The Best Buddhist Books to Read for Enlightenment

Updated July 17, 2020 | Charise Rohm Nulsen

Buddhist Reading

What do I need to know about Buddhism, and why should I consider reading Buddhism books?

Buddhism is a religion followed by over five million people. It is most often associated with concepts and practices like enlightenment, meditation, Nirvana, and a cycle of death and rebirth. Many people choose to look at Buddhism as more of a spiritual philosophy that can be practiced in addition to subscribing to a formal religion other than Buddhism, while others see it as a practice that is not mixed with religion of any kind. Mindfulness and meditation are Buddhist practices that appeal to many and attract people to read books about Buddhism with the hopes of developing daily mindfulness practices.

There are many books that explain Buddhism or Buddhist practices. Some books are better than others depending upon where you are in your journey of understanding. We have reviewed the best books on Buddhism and categorized the top seven books according to varying needs.

Our top choices

Here are our top choices for the best books about Buddhism in 2020:

Infoplease’s research process for the best Buddhist books

We at Infoplease have a stated mission to help people find accurate, reliable information. We usually fulfill that mission by offering reference data, or by presenting educational articles. One area where there's a lot of confusion and misinformation on the internet is consumer reviews. So, we've decided to offer some useful tips and some reliable data for consumers.

As always, we want to give you the information you need. We’ve considered the experiences of people who have bought books on Buddhism and existing reviews on top websites. But, we aim to focus on expert opinions about each product.

We are not sponsored by any book publishers or retailers, But, if you make a purchase through one of the links on our site, we may earn a small commission for it.

Our top books on Buddhist ideas and practice for 2020

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are

A simple and straightforward introduction to mindfulness

Wherever You Go, There You Are has been a bestseller for well over a decade. The author, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, is a well-known teacher, scientist, and speaker regarding the practices of mindfulness and stress-reduction. He is also the founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and is known for highlighting the benefits of mindfulness in the medical world.

This book is an excellent refresher or introduction to bringing the practices of mindfulness into your life. It is also the kind of book that you can leave by your bedside and work through in bits and pieces.

A review to consider:
Amazon reviewer: "One of my very favorite books about Mindfulness and the Zen of living. This is a great book. I have had probably 5 or 6 copies of this book over the years as it's one that I consistently give to other people. It is a perfect, easy to read, practical book that demonstrates the underlying principles of mindfulness in a very down to earth way. It was certainly one of many "gateway" books for me many years ago, and others have told me that they have had similar experiences. Truly one of my favorites and one that I recommend to many."

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No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: Clear Answers to Burning Questions About Core Buddhist Teachings
by Noah Rasheta

No-Nonsense Buddhism

Clear answers for beginner Buddhist questions

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners presents information in plain English for beginners in a question and answer format. The author, Noah Rasheta, is a renowned Buddhist teacher. He is also the host of a podcast called Secular Buddhism. This book focuses on explaining the fundamentals of Buddhism while also providing information on how you can apply these fundamentals to your daily life.

No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners is a good book broken up into four parts to make answers easy to find. The four parts include The Buddha, Core Concepts, Core Teachings, and Core Practices. This book makes difficult concepts as simple and easy to understand as possible.

A review to consider:
Book Review Universe: "The language of Buddhism can be difficult, in part, because there are so many exotic terms used in its ancient teachings. But these terms are not exotic so much as they are merely unfamiliar and I suggest you largely ignore them. And Mr. Rasheta will help. He doesn’t ignore them but he does marginalize their importance for native English speakers."

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The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation
by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings

Explanations of Buddha’s teachings for those beginning their enlightenment journey

Thich Nhat Hanh is a world renowned Buddhism teacher. He is a Vietnamese monk, a poet, and a peace activist. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1967. This book presents Buddha’s teachings in a poetic way that many say sounds like the voice of Buddha himself.

This book is beautifully written in a way that helps the reader not only understand the teachings of Buddha, but also to get a feel for the wisdom and experience of a Buddhist lifestyle.

A review to consider:
Inspirationfeed: "The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching introduces the core teachings of Buddhism including the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Dharma Seals, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and the Three Doors of Liberation. Thich Nhat Hanh offers insights on how we can transform suffering into peace, joy, and liberation. He illuminates us on the nature of suffering and the role it plays in achieving enlightenment. He also points out how accessible the teachings of Buddha are and how they can be applied to our day-to-day living."

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The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams

The Book of Joy

A way to see the concepts of Buddhism in action

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is a Buddhist monk and is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. His conversation with Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Southern Africa and prominent leader in the crusade for justice, brings the best of Buddhism and the concept of joy into action. Both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are survivors of extreme hardship and oppression, so their conversation and philosophies are incredibly inspiring.

The conversation in this book reflects a visit from Desmond Tutu to the home of the Dalai Lama in India in 2015 to celebrate His Holiness’s 80th birthday. They deeply discuss how they have managed to find joy throughout lives of suffering.

A review to consider:
Publishers Weekly: "Throughout, Abrams skillfully incorporates information about each leader's life and work, basic Buddhist principles undergirding the Dalai Lama's perspectives, and current scientific research. The dialogue intentionally focuses on areas of common ground accessible to readers of any faith or none, though Christians can be assured that Tutu's contributions are infused with his deep love of God. This sparkling, wise, and immediately useful gift to readers from two remarkable spiritual masters offers hope that joy is possible for everyone even in the most difficult circumstances, and describes a clear path for attaining it."

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Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
by Pema Chodron

Start Where You Are

Practical advice on understanding and applying the Buddhist slogans

Pema Chodrom is an American Buddhist nun and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners. She takes the essential aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and uses this book to apply them to advice focused on transforming the pain and challenges in life into joy and personal growth. Chodron takes the reader through various stages to work towards this and focuses on how to know yourself and your heart.

A review to consider:
Spirituality & Practice: "Start Where You Are is an essential resource for anyone on the spiritual path. It offers manifold insights and many practices that awaken compassion and soften the heart."

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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
by Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

A beautiful introduction to Zen Buddhism

Shunryu Suzuki was one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the twentieth century and is a founding father of Zen in America. He was a Japanese priest, Zen master, and the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Shunryu Suzuki created a modern spiritual classic which still maintains popularity over 40 years after its original publishing.

The basics of posture and breathing in zazen and other Buddhist traditions are taught in a clear and concise way. This book is based in simplicity but will leave the reader full of knowledge.

A review to consider:
Inquiring Mind: "Through this book, Shunryu Suzuki’s way became more widely accessible. It added a balance to Buddhist teaching in the West, like a weight placed firmly on the side of "you are perfect as you are," while encouraging us to adjust our physical and mental habits to accommodate an acceptance of "things as it is," not seeking for mind outside of mind."

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What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada
by Walpola Rahula

What the Buddha Taught

A thoroughly comprehensive review of Buddha’s teachings

Walpola Rahula is a scholar monk who trained in the Theravadan tradition in Ceylon. He is known for his succinct, clear overview of Buddhist concepts and for walking the Buddhist path. His Buddhist perspective is very popular at the university level, and the target reader for this book is definitely a well-educated reader.

The information presented in this book is very straightforward. This is a good choice if you are looking for the facts and not interpretation.

A review to consider:
Grove Atlantic: "A classic introductory book to Buddhism, What the Buddha Taught, contains a selection of illustrative texts from the original Pali texts, including the Suttas and the Dhammapada (specially translated by the author), sixteen illustrations, and a bibliography, glossary, and index."

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