Ever since the times of Buddha, there have been inspiring meditation teachers who have spread mindfulness around the world. There are spiritual gurus like Deepak Chopra, some are traditional Buddhist masters like Thich Nhat Hanh, and some are more modern scientific educators like Jon Kabat Zinn.
As a private meditation teacher myself I can honestly say that some of the thought leaders in this list have changed my life. Let’s take a look.
Thich Nhat Hanh
In my opinion, Thich Nhat Hanh has one of the most beautiful minds ever. He is the Vietnamese Thien Buddhist monk and activist who founded Plum Village, a global community of mindfulness schools.
Hanh wrote many of the world’s best mindfulness books, including the absolute must-read Peace In Every Step.
One thing I always loved about him is the way he translates profound and life-changing wisdom into words that are so simple a 5-year-old could understand them. It’s something I try to replicate in my own lessons.
If you follow our newsletter, you’ll notice that I often mention him. That’s because he is such an inspiration to me personally.
I feel like Nhat Hanh could teach anybody in the world to meditate. He just has that ability to communicate important points in layman’s terms. In my opinion, he is the best Buddhist meditation teacher since Buddha himself.
Jon Kabat Zinn
Let me be straight about this. If it were not for Jon Kabat Zinn teaching meditation, the practice would not be as popular or important in the West as it is today.
An American professor emeritus of medicine and the founder of Mindfulness-Based-Stress Reduction, Zinn changed the way we approach mindfulness in the West. He was one of the pioneers who made meditative practices scientific and brought them into the healthcare field.
Plus, he authored several of the best meditation books, including Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Overall, he made meditation accessible in the West and introduced us to new techniques like Body Scan.
If you use mindfulness to stop stress, you should probably go ahead and thank him. Because without him the Western world would not have taken meditation as such a serious treatment for stress reduction.
Sharon Salzberg has a truly enlightened approach. She basically travels around the world and gives meditation lessons to everyone and anyone. Perhaps that’s because she is known for Loving-Kindness, which is a Buddhist method used to cultivate compassion for other people.
Salzberg studied in numerous forms, ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to Theravadin. And she co-founded the Insight Meditation Society , a non-profit organization for the study of Buddhism located in Barre, Massachusetts.
She is best known for her work in the loving-kindness movement. And for her exceptional books, including one of my favourites, The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.
American Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron is a very well known teacher of Buddhist meditation.
Chodron is an ordained nun, the former acharya (instructor) of Shambhala Buddhism, and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Her numerous books include the frankly sublime When Things Fall Apart.
What I love most about Pema Chodron is her warm personality and the absolute mastery in which she teaches Buddhist meditation. Truly a leader in the field.
Jack Kornfield is a bestselling American author and Vipassana meditation teacher in American Theravada Buddhism.
Kornfield trained in Buddhist meditation as a monk living in Thailand, Burma, and India under Thai Forest master Ajahn Chah and Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma.
My favourite book by Jack Kornfield is The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.
Satya Narayan Goenka
For me, Satya Narayan Goenka is one of the most important people working in the meditation field. He is known for giving ten day meditation retreats and for his work on Dhamma.
Satya Narayan Goenka is regarded as the absolute authority on Vipassana Meditation, one of the most important and most popular meditation techniques in the world.
Eckhart Tolle was the inspiration for many of the new wave of meditation teachers. His works usually revolve around overcoming the ego through mindfulness practices.
Both The Power of Now and A New Earth were phenomenal successes that launched Eckhart Tolle onto the world stage.
As well as his books he also is an excellent speaker and works at spiritual retreats.
Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and a highly regarded teacher of traditional Buddhist meditation. She is also the founder of Insight Meditation Community of Washington D.C.
Tara Brach uses a combination of traditional meditation teachings, interwoven with stories and jokes. As well as her vast knowledge of meditative practices and Buddhist philosophy she has an endearing personality that has made her something of a celebrity in this field.
She also live streams meditation talks and has a meditation podcast.
Roshi Joan Halifax is a Zen priest, activist, Buddhist educator, and the founder of Upaya Zen Center, a Buddhist monastery.
Joan has done extensive work around the area of dying, and in 1994 launched the Project on Being With Dying. She also does numerous videos on the Upaya Zen Center Youtube channel.
Diana Winston has more than twenty years’ experience as a meditation teacher, having started in 1999.
She was a major influencer in the rise of meditation in the United States. Plus, she is a founding member of the International Mindfulness Teachers Association and the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre (MARC).
Ram Dass (Richard Alpert)
Ex Harvard psychologist Ram Dass is a spiritual guru and meditation teacher who has inspired millions of people around the world.
Ram Dass started as a research psychologist at Harvard University.
At Harvard, Ram Dass was exposed to all sorts of mind training techniques including mindfulness. He also studied the mental health benefits of psychedelic experiences. He states that his own psychedelic experiences led to his spiritual awakening.
Ram Dass then journeyed to India to study under the tutelage of Maharajji, which led to him becoming a meditation instructor.
If you’d like to learn more about Ram Dass, I recommend the Netflix documentary Ram Dass: Going Home.
Thubten Chodron is a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher, and founder of one of the first Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the U.S., Sravasti Abbey.
Chodron has also written many wonderful books on Buddhist meditation and philosophy, such as The Library of Wisdom and Compassion, which she wrote with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
I couldn’t put everyone that I wanted to in the list above for various reasons. But there are some other teachers that I’d like to tip my hat to.
Deepak Chopra is one of the most influential spiritual gurus of the past 100 years. His books and videos have helped millions of people to get into spirituality. I felt I couldnt put him in the main list because he’s not strictly a meditation teacher, per say, but more of an all-around spiritual guru.
Barry Boyce is the guy behind the highly popular blog and magazine Mindful. Recently he has started to earn a reputation as a meditation teacher. And his work on Mindful earns him a mention.
Kristin Neff is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s department of educational psychology. She is known for her work on compassion, and co-authored the book Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
New York Times writer Susan Piver is highly regarded for her work on mindfulness. She has come into the mainstream through appearances on The Tyra Banks Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN and more. She studied traditional Buddhist meditation and recently launched The Open Heart Project where she teaches meditation online.
I will note that although I didn’t mean to do so I have leaned slightly in favour of meditation teachers with Buddhist backgrounds. Perhaps that is because there simply are more of them and because of the popularity of Buddhist methods in the West.
That is changing, however, as more and more people are becoming meditation teachers.
I will say, however, that there really is no such thing as the best meditation teacher because it is a personal thing. What truly matters in a guru is their ability to communicate with you and to inspire you, as an individual, to live mindfully. And it can be impossible to measure that until you get an actual meditation teacher.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.