Zen in Plain English by Stephen Schumacher. If you only read one book about Zen Buddhism, and you want the historical approach…this is the book for you. It’s an easy read, it covers all the major figures in Zen, it distinguishes Zen from other sects of Buddhism and distinguishes between the schools of Mahayana Buddhism without being judgmental at all. (For anyone from 12 years old and up.)

Namu Dai Bosa: A Transmission of Zen Buddhism to America by Senzaki, Nakagawa and Shimano (Edited, W/Introduction by Lou Mitsunen Nordstom) This book deals with the experiences of three Zen giants who had the foresight to migrate to America and teach the Dharma. I have a copy, but haven’t found it still in print. I have a feeling that those who own it, hang onto it. Good luck. [1/2/14: Good news! Copies now available on Amazon!]

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. This is a book that truly lives up to its name. Not a “self-help” book about one subject, but a survey in simple, good prose, about all the basics of Buddhism.

The Dhammapadha This book presents the summation of Buddhist ethics. It’s known, memorized and loved all over the world wherever the Dharma is taught. With the preceding link you can order your copy, or read the Illustrated Version here online!

The Gateless Gate, A classic book of Zen koans, translatedwith commentary by Koun Yamada

Eloquent Silence by Nyogen Senzaki, which contains his commentary on The Gateless Gate and several previously unpublished works–letters, satsangs and poems. and other things edited by Roko Sherry Chayat and the introduction by Eido Tai Shimano [Was $18. Currently you can get a copy of this book online for $4.50!! What a bargain!]

Shobogenzo-Zuimonki the sayings of Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo. Shohaku Okumura’s translation. We own Book I of the Shobogenzo: The Eye and Treasury of the True Law (collection of discourses to monks) The Zuimonki is a bit more accessible, but anything by Dogen should be tackled. I’d like to get the other volumes, but they are costly.

The Ox and His Herdsman and many other books can be found online free at The Internet Sacred Text Archive. If you’ve never been there…go now! It’s an incredible site full of classics & curiosities from around the world. There are a great many poems and commentaries about the “10 Ox Herding Pictures” and I would recommend that you read more than one or two. When you are thinking about “getting enlightened” all in one go–in one big flash of super knowledge, please consider why Prince Shakyamuni worked so long before he became the Buddha, and why there are 10 Ox Herding pictures, not just one big one.

The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi, Burton Watson (translator) This is one of my favorite books. Rinzai (Ch’an or Zen) is the school of Buddhism most often found all over the world. Soto Zen and Tibetan Zen are far more popular here in the USA–or at least in Northern California–but if you’re looking for pure Zen, this is it.

Introduction to Buddhism: An Explanation of the Buddhist Way of Life  by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This is non-denominational Buddhism….always a good thing to look into. It’s written by an elderly monk of the Tibetan School of Mahayana.

What Makes You Not a Buddhist? Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse [This book is about the “Four Seals.” Very useful for the beginning student.] The Tibetan master above, and this one, give very readable and useful information on the basic Zen beliefs.

The Three Pillars of Zen and the follow up book–even better!! Zen: Merging of East and West by Philip Kapleau

Grist for the Mill The reissue of an older book by Ram Dass. I just put this here because I love the book by an old-hand spiritual writer.

Hakuin on Kensho: The Four Ways of Knowing, ed. and with commentary by Albert Low of the Montreal Zen Center (see Blog listing) Dr. Low introduces Hakuin Zenji’s text “The Four Ways of Knowing of an Awakened Person” , and then does a line-by line commentary on this important subject.

The Tree of Enlightenment by Peter Della Santina. This is a Dharma publication that you can pick up at your local temple. The fundamentals of Buddhism and the schools of Buddhism. Not too long or short…not too hard or easy. Very fine introduction for adults.


Trust in Mind by Hsin Hsin Ming. The link takes you where you can read or get the pdf of this fine old poem.

The Sutra on Impermanence Once again, I direct you back to Chung Tai Sunnyvale. I have the paper copy. You don’t need one.

The Six Dharma Gates to the Sublime by Shramana Zhi Yi. This was our text for April ’12 Retreat. This book shows how to apply shamatha and vipasshana meditation techniques.

The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra find that and other things at the Chung Tai  Zen Center of Sunnyvale website

Sutra of the 8 Realizations of Great Beings Here’s the direct link.

The Vimalakirti Sutra,  Burton Watson (translator) Here’s a talk about it. And an online version by another translator, Robert A. F. Thurman There are three important translations of this popular work: Thurman, Burton Watson, and John R. McCrea. The Thurman [linked here] is based on Tibetan translations of the text.

The Sutra of 42 Chapters by Buddha. You can read it here. This is what we’re studying at present in Zen Buddhism, Level III. We’ve spent two semesters on it & will finish it up next semester.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Bhante Gunaratana. This is a book I got as a perfect attendance award. In fact, this month I got 2 of them…and a digital candle (also for perfect attendance.)

The Diamond of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, Chung Tai Translation based on Kumarajiva’s version. You can find this through the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale link. We’re on the second semester of study at this writing (6/16/15) and only on Ch. 10. Here’s something of interest about the summation verse in the last chapter.


A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working With a Spiritual Teacher, by John Kain. I checked this out from Santa Clara Library, forgot the title, wanted to find it, and eventually ordered it…twice. Once for my old teacher and once to keep. A small book that ranges far and wide; fine scholarly work and interviews. It’s almost unbelievable that you can buy this–one of my very favorites–on Amazon for four bucks used.

The Way of Liberation: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Adyashanti. PDF. Or, you can buy it on Amazon for ten bucks.

The Enlightenment Trilogy: Spiritual Enlightenment, the Damnedest Thing, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, and Spiritual Warfare by Jed McKenna. These can be ordered through Wisefool Press. Please consider this series as possibly the most important work written in the 21st century. All “seekers” now have the opportunity to inoculate themselves against the spiritual frivolities of our age. You will either slam the book shut and run screaming the other way, or get the other two. Right away.

The One Thing Holding You Back: The Power of Emotional Connection by Raphael Cushnir Dealing with emotion and its effects is something all Zen students must eventually tackle. Avoidance is not the key. This book gently leads you to connection, understanding and transformation.

Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke. This is a famous older book by a psychiatrist. I feel ambivalent about it because of the author’s being totally in love with or worshipping Walt Whitman! Still & all…he has some interesting theories.

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. We have this 8-book manga in our monastery library, but it’s available to read online! Now this is not exactly a sutra, as you will soon notice, but the basic story is quite entertaining and more or less accurate. Serious material mixed with many random in-jokes.

The Four Doors by Richard Paul Evans. A novelist’s first nonfiction work. This is a fine example of the many elements of the Dharma being taught outside of the religious structure of Buddhism. (This elegant little book would make a great high school or college graduation present.)

Cleansing the Doors of Perception by Huston Smith, a respected professor of religion (now retired.) Psychoactive plants, brain chemistry and world spirituality.


Thank You and Okay!, by David Chadwick (Japanese Zen country monastery)

What the Buddha Never Taught, by Tim Ward (Strict international Theravadin monastery in Thailand)

Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, by Palden Gyatso (Life in a Tibetan monastery–by the first monk to talk before the UN about his imprisonment & torture by the Chinese who took over Tibet.


I add this because they need our prayers and good thoughts more than any people on the face of the earth right now. Please don’t forget them even for one day! Here are some books…

The Orphan Master’s Son Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction, by Adam Johnson. This is about North Korean life…pretty accurate in most details.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, Shin Dong-Hyuk is the only known escapee from Labor Camp 14 that we know of who was born in the camp. An American writer, Blaine Harden,  helps him tell his story. Use his name to look for YouTube videos. He was on 60 Minutes too. Will this man ever feel truly free, ever be a normal person? Born and Raised in a Concentration Camp (Google Tech Talks. Mr. Shin’s story.)

The Aquariums of Pyongyang Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Kang Chol-Hwan with Pierre Rigoulot. This book, translated from French, is the first (1990) inside dope most of us got about labor camps in North Korea. Kang was incarcerated with his family at the age of 9. He was in Yodok Prison. This is an enormously difficult book to read.

Long Road Home by Kim Yong with Kim Suk-Young. This is the most detailed treatment of how someone got out of North Korea…into China…into Mongolia…into Seoul. Also, in some ways, it’s the most heart breaking–because Kim Yong was doing just fine in NK, and because of a trumped-up charge of “anti-Communist activity” against his…grandfather (!!) which was discovered when he was being considered for a job promotion, he had to separate from his family and flee to the West.  Stalinism is alive and (somewhat) well there.

Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea Barbara Demick. This book is available in a wonderful audio edition which I highly recommend. Ms. Demick follows the lives in narrative form of a hard-working doctor, a young couple in love, an orphan boy, etc. all of which eventually get free of the dictatorship. It truly gives you a feeling for being there during the hard economic times and the death of Kim Jong Il.

Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee–A Look Inside North Korea Jang Jin-Sung.This is the most recent book I’ve listened to about NK. This one gives an artist’s POV.  And cadre POV. The writer was brought up in privilege in Pyongyang, trained as a writer and musician, and ultimately put to work writing propaganda poems while impersonating…well, I’ll let you discover that surreal detail. When his friend misplaces a book, they both decide to flee the country and get to SK. Exciting escape story. Also many inside details about how Kim Jong Il came to power. A good history of the Kim family.

Want to see North Korea…or part of it? Here is The Vice Guide to North Korea in three parts. TV show. These guys put in the work!

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