• 11min

Written by Buddho.nl


You started meditating, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a way to relax a bit more, to let go of stress, or to make suffering that you have experienced more bearable. Maybe the meditation is driven by the feeling that there is more we can access, or it is part of an investigation of reality.

It could just be that at some point you want to complement the meditation with some book wisdom. Although absolutely not necessary, from time to time a book can be motivating and inspiring and can help you to put experiences into perspective. So you have decided to take a book with you. But where to start?

Choosing the right book at the right time is not that easy. Many different authors have dedicated many words to the Buddha and his teachings. There are books that might be easier to read first and books for people who want to go even deeper, books about Theravāda, about Zen, about Tibetan buddhism, books that contain translations of ancient writings, and books that mainly contain experiences, opinions or interpretations by the author. And with all books, the question always arises whether the author really knows from his own experience what he/she writes about and whether the content can really be trusted (to some extent).

You might even wonder if it is not just right to start with the Pali Canon (the ancient writings that contain the direct teachings of the Buddha). The answer to that is yes and no.

Ahba has sometimes indicated that when reading the Pali Canon you are at least sure that the content is good, something that can not be said with certainty for many other works. However, Ahba also gives warnings for delving into the sutta’s as well as the Abhidhamma.

The reason fort his caution is that the sutta’s (teachings of the Buddha) are context-dependent. That is, the Buddha was a master at adapting his message to the audience so that the maximum effect could be achieved. This also means that the wisdoms in the sutta’s are context-dependent. Without knowledge of the context and the accompanying nuances, one can arrive at wrong insights or interpretations.

Ahba indicates that it is like trying to catch a fish in a very cloudy pond. The fish can’t see you, but neither can you see the fish. All you can do is move your hand haphazardly back and forth in the water, hoping to meet a fish. Maybe you’ll catch a fish, but maybe you won’t, and who knows how long it will take.

Of course it’s fine to read the sutta’s, just be careful with granting yourself all kinds of insights.

When it comes to studying the Abhidhamma (the higher doctrine), Ahba also makes it clear that wanting to dive too deeply into the Abhidhamma, i.e. reading the seven books of the Abhidhamma itself, makes no sense without a trained Abhidhamma teacher. The chance of confusion and speculation otherwise is too great.

This warning given by Ahba actually also applies to the Abhidhammattha Sangaha, the summary of the Abhidhamma.

It is like trying to catch a fish in a very clear pond. You can see the fish well, but so can she see you. Every time you think you can catch a fish it is gone before your hand is there.

It’s the same with deeper knowledge of the Abhidhamma, if we think we can grasp it it slips away, if we think we can actually understand it through study only we fool ourselves.

Read for inspiration, for pointers during practice, for reassurance or confrontation with one’s own concepts, for perhaps a small hairline crack in your notion of a ‘self’’. Don’t read with the intention of gaining wisdom, that only leads to misplaced arrogance.

Wisdom comes only through personal experience, through meditation, every day.

With that note we’re going to venture into some books.

With this reading advice we hope to show a (in our experience) reasonably safe path in the swamp of choices. Of course the list is not a definitive work. It is just an advice from someone who has already read a lot.

This is just a start, if you want more advice (or personal advice) afterwards you can always contact us.

Please note, there is a loose ordening in the list. We start with more accessible works and gradually deepen our knowledge. Many of the books are unfortunately only available in English, if available the Dutch translation is mentioned. If the book exists as a pdf we will place a link.

There are almost only Theravāda Buddhist books on this list because that is where buddho meditation comes from. That said, we consider this list a nice starting point for practitioners of other traditions as well, as far as we are concerned.

When it comes to books from other lineages, for example, we can warmly recommend the Reverend Shunryu Suzuki (not to be confused DT. Suzuki) for Zen and the Reverend Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche for Tibetan Buddhism.

Have fun reading!

1. Happiness – Matthieu Ricard

What is happiness? And how do you do that? The title might suggest that it’s a somewhat woolly, superficial work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Matthieu Ricard, although a monk in the Tibetan tradition for many years and often translator to the Dalai Lama, is originally a scientist and it clearly shows in this book. He writes in a very clear and accessible way about one of the most important but also complex subjects.

It could be that some readers might consider the book uses too many quotes from other scientists and philosophers, but as far as we are concerned this is one of the best books to get a feeling for the essence of Buddhism.

2. A Stil Forest Pool – Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Chah is one of the greatest Buddhist meditation teachers of the last century. We can recommend all works of this teacher. His way of teaching resembles the way Ahba teaches.

With simple, loving, humorous, often surreptitiously confronting examples and lessons, he always makes you think. Just like Ahba, he emphasizes time and again that it is really yourself who, through your own desire, causes your problems.

At the same time he knows how to convey the feeling of freedom, based on his own experience.

We have placed this collection of lessons here because it is a very nice introduction to the way of teaching of a recent master as a counterpart to the other more ‘theoretical’ works.

– This specific book is not available online, read for example Stillness Flowing to get a better picture of Ajahn Chah.

3. The Word of the Buddha – Nyanatiloka Mahathera

Nyanatiloka Mahathera was a predecessor of Bhikkhu Bodhi in Sri Lanka and one of the first Western monks of modern times.

His book The Word of the Buddha is exactly what it claims, a small, skillfully chosen collection of quotations from the Buddha’s own teachings (sutta’s), with some explanation here and there.

You can read the Dhamma in the words of the Buddha himself, and we think this is an appropriate time in the list to get in touch with it.

4. The Noble Eightfold Path – Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhikkhu Bodhi is one of our favorite authors, and actually we can recommend all of his books. He is also one of the few authors that Ahba has approved. Still, many of his writings are very detailed and more suited for the more advanced reader.

This work is an exception in that it contains relevant content for the beginner and the most advanced practitioner. As the title suggests, it describes the Noble Eightfold Path, the path to liberation as taught by the Buddha.

But, as already mentioned, do not think that accessible means superficial, because Bhikkhu Bodhi knows how to weave his profound knowledge and experience into this work.

– Read this book online

5. Dependent Origination I t/m III – Ron Wijewantha

This book, or rather this series of three books, is one of the lesser-known gems of BPS publishers. In this series, Ron Wijewantha writes about Paṭiccasamuppāda, depending on appearance, one of the cornerstones of Buddha’s teaching.

Although it appears to be a theoretical book, it is not. The book is written from the practitioner’s point of view and emphasizes useful knowledge for practice.

The author knows how to make this very complicated subject a useful framework for everyday life.

6. Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realization – Bhikkhu Analayo

We could undoubtedly have included this sharp analysis of Satipaṭṭhāna, the foundation of mindfulness, later in this list. Indeed, it is a profound and detailed exposition of a single doctrinal statement, the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

However, because the practice of sati (conscious attention or mindfulness) is of great importance for the development of concentration and understanding, and unfortunately there are many erroneous views on this subject among practitioners, we have chosen to advise this book now, in the hope that the reader will be able to develop a clear theoretical understanding of conscious attention early on in the path and apply it in practice.

– Read this book online

7. Meditation – Ajahn Chah

This gem of collected teachings of Ajahn Chah is again a beautiful complement of the previous theoretical works. It is listed here because it is especially nice to read when you have already meditated a bit more and maybe even participated in a retreat. In that case, the content will appeal even more to your imagination. As far as we are concerned, this is a book with insights from which you can benefit in many meditations and retreats afterwards.

Highly recommended!

– “This specific book is not available online, but read for example Clarity of Insight to get an idea about the style.

8. Mind Overcoming its Cankers – Acharya Buddhrakkhita

This book is another, possibly slightly lesser-known, jewel of BPS publishers. Acharya Buddharakkhita highlights the unwholesome states of consciousness in which we almost continuously find ourselves from different angles and provides concrete pointers to deal with them.

It is a book to read and reread.

– Read this book online

9. In the Buddha’s Words – Bhikkhu Bodhi

Now we have arrived at the second work by Bhikkhu Bodhi. He is known for his very good translations from Pali, the language in which the original texts have been preserved. It is a collection of sutta’s arranged in ten thematic chapters.

In this work does not just give quotes, but always includes the entire sutta with explanations.

The work gives a nice overview of the scope of the sutta’s and thus offers even more insight into how the words of the Buddha have been passed down through the centuries.

10. Life of the Buddha – Bhikkhu Nanamoli

This work is a ‘Biography’ about the Buddha written by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Bhikkhu Nanamoli only uses original texts from the Pali Canon to describe the life of the Buddha.

The book does not describe the usual legend, but only that which is actually preserved in the sutta’s and the Vinaya (the collection of monk rules and stories about these rules).

With this work the reader can also become acquainted with the great disciples of the Buddha and the time and environment in which he lived. As far as we are concerned the best ‘biography’.

– Read this book online

11. Just Seeing – Cynthia Thatcher

This book is an introduction to the thinking, or rather the way of thinking, of the Abhidhamma, the doctrine about the ultimate reality. Cynthia Thatcher, a teacher herself and pupil of Mahasi Sayadaw, uses this book to explain the way the Abhidhamma looks at the process of consciousness.

It is a nice stepping stone for those who want to learn more about the Abhidhamma later on in this list because a feeling of how the process works breathes more life into the dry theoretical framework of the Abhidhamma.

12. Abhidhamma in Daily Life – Nina van Gorkum

This is a real Abhidhamma textbook, complete with questions at the end of each chapter to test whether the content was understood.

Yet it is not an exasperatingly dry job. Nina van Gorkum knows how to keep the content accessible and yet go into depth.

The art of reading this book, as with most theoretical works, is to test and validate the information read against daily experiences, both during meditation and in regular life.

– Read this book online

13. Abhidhamma studies – Nyanaponika Mahathera

Nyanaponika Mahathera is the direct predecessor of Bhikkhu Bodhi and is equal to the latter when it comes to understanding the deep layers of the Pali Canon. This is a truly phenomenal work in which the first wholesome citta (moment of consciousness) from the first book of the Abhidhamma is explained.

For those who already have some knowledge and experience, it can be humbling to learn how much more wisdom can be extracted from the Pali Canon than initially seems possible. We advise you to read the book if you already have some knowledge about Buddhism, especially the Abhidhamma, so that you can enjoy it to the fullest.

For those who can’t wait and want to read it sooner, do and also read it again a few years later! The introduction alone is worth reading repeatedly.

– Read this book online

14. The Requisites of Enlightenment – Ledi Sayadaw

Ledi Sayadaw is one of the greatest Theravāda monks of the last century, praised for both his enormous knowledge and practice. He was one of the first Burmese monks who was convinced that attaining enlightenment is still possible today and stands at the foot of modern Vipassanā meditation for both lay and monks.

This work is not suitable for the fainthearted. This work requires courage. Not so much because of the certainly enormous information density of the relatively short work, but mainly because of the rock-hard tone of Ledi Sayadaw from which an enormous energy emanates.

Even more than the content, it is this energy that gives the work a place in this list. There really is no escape from it, now is the chance to practice, now you have to go to jail. Period.

– Read this book online

15. A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma – Bhikkhu Bodhi

We have arrived at the first Buddhist standard work in this list, a translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi with short explanations by the Abhidhammattha Sangaha of Achariya Anuruddha.

It is a summary of the seven books of the Abhidhamma written around the 11th to 12th centuries. Today this is the standard beginning for studying the Abhidhamma.

This is a translation approved by Ahba and, according to him, embodies just the right amount of knowledge useful for meditation.

– Read this book online

The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) – transl. Bhikkhu Nanamoli

The second standard work in this list and also the last book we will recommend is Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s translation of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga.

The Visuddhimagga is an epic summary of the entire Buddhist teaching in three chapters, namely morality, concentration and wisdom. Ahba has sometimes said that reading the Visuddhimagga is very good.

This is because the essence of the Pali Canon is explained in (sometimes agonizing) detail. It is a largely dry work, so we do not advise to read this book before going to sleep, unless you have trouble falling asleep.

– Read this book online

Over Buddho

Avatar Sinds 2017 werken we eraan om mensen de kans te geven om via het internet kennis te maken met samatha-meditatie op buddho, een meditatiesysteem dat ons veel goeds heeft gebracht. Naast het verspreiden van dit meditatiesysteem hopen we een waardevolle bijdrage te leveren aan de kennis over het boeddhisme en meditatie in Nederland. Hiervoor schrijven en vertalen we regelmatig teksten en plaatsen we andere inhoud die we van hoge kwaliteit achten of die direct gerelateerd is aan onze leraar Ahba.

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