10 Best Zen Books You Cannot Miss Out On

best zen books

 In this guide: All the best Zen books for beginners to read in 2022.

As a meditation teacher and author, I’ve read a ton of Zen books. And I’ll be honest. Some suck. Some are okay, maybe worth a read but not worth buying. And then, every once in a while, you stumble upon a real gem, an undeniable masterpiece. 

 This list is all about the latter. It’s all about the very best Zen books of all time. You will love them. And while you’re reading these, you might want to read my guide to Zen meditation.

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The Very Best Zen Books For Beginners

best zen books

Totally shocking self publicity: My own book

You can read my book here. 

In my book, pictured above, you will learn all the best Zen meditation techniques, like Zazen, Zinkin (Zen Walking), and more. Plus, many other meditation techniques. Indeed, this book covers more types of meditation than any other. Read it today.

1: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (Get it here)

This is arguably the best book on Zen ever written. It’s only a small title, but oh my goodness is it packed full of wisdom and insights. I love it.

Published more than 40 years ago, it has become one of the most highly regarded spiritual publications in the world. It is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in learning the philosophy of Buddhism.

It is written by master Shunryu Suzuki.

If you are a beginner, you will learn everything you need to know to get started, including posture and breathing techniques, as well as the most important practices.

But what I love most about this book is the clarity with which it is written. Remarkable.

2: The Way by Alan Watts (Get it here)

Alan Watts is one of the true masters of Buddhist interpretation, and oh boy does he show it in this, one of the very best Zen books. For beginners who want to learn about Buddhist philosophy, it’s a must-read.

In this title, Alan Watts takes us back to basics as he reveals the true interpretation of Buddhist philosophy. He journeys all the way back to the birth of Buddhism as it rose from the concepts of Hinduism.

From there, we journey towards today and see how Chan Buddhism has grown over the years. Oh yeah, and there’s a cool section about Buddhist symbolism in Japanese art.  

I love how eloquently Watts writes. His writing makes this one of the best.

3: Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (Get it here)

Yes, this book has the best title.

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert M Pirsig shares the transformational story of a journey across America with his son.

The journey becomes a story of personal growth and transformation as Pirsig delves into the most fundamental questions of modern-day living.

Through Pirsig’s story, we come to understand many of the deepest philosophical questions.

As personal as it is universal. You will be absolutely inspired to change your lifestyle and challenge your perceptions. This is also one of the most unique reads on this list. It’s unforgettable.

4: The Three Pillars (Get it here)

If you’re looking for spiritual guidance, read The Three Pillars. In it, Roshi Philip Kapleau [founder of Rochester Zen Center] presents an examination of the three core pillars of Chan Buddhism. That is, teaching, practice, and enlightenment.

This is a good Zen book for beginners because of the way Kapleau merges his personal story with Buddhist teachings.

As we journey through Kapleau’s time from student to master, we are led along our own path of spiritual development. The author’s story serves as inspiration, and the insights serve as a guide.

Revised to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the current edition features beautiful illustrations and photographs that are really just the icing on the cake.

5: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Get it here)

Originally published in 1957, this book immediately won the hearts of Western Buddhists. And it is now one of the most influential books on Buddhism.   

The book Includes 101 Zen Stories, a collection of real-life stories of Buddhist teachers across 5 centuries, including the classic tale The Gateless Gate.

6: An Introduction To Zen Buddhism (Get it here)

D.T Suzuki is one of the most well-known Buddhist authors. He’s written more than a hundred books.  And the very best one is this, An Introduction To Zen Buddhism.

What makes this one of the best of all time is that it is so easy to read and understand.  There’s depth and insight for the most ardent Chan Buddhist. And there are clear instructions and advice for newcomers.

7: Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir  

In Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home, practitioner Natalie Goldberg shares a personal and inspiring story of how she overcame the trauma of cancer by practicing Chan Buddhism.

Natalie is a highly regarded meditation teacher whose words are captivating and enlightening. Her ability to simultaneously be so open and honest inspires me. It makes for a truly insightful book.  

This is one of the most emotional books on Zen that I have ever read. And I am certain it will be enlightening for anyone fighting illness.

8: Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don’t

This is a really fun and engaging read by Sukey Novogratz and Elizabeth Novogratz, cofounders of The Well Daily.

It’s one of the most straightforward, no-nonsense books on Zen. The illustrations are fun and playful, and the writing is so easy to read you will breeze through it.

The book provides easy ways to start meditating. Plus, it answers most of the common questions about meditation.

This is definitely one of the best. It’s so fun that even skeptics will be motivated to start meditating. 

9: Zen For Everyday Life by Buddhaimonia (Matt Valentine) 

Zen For Everyday Life is an easy-to-read book about using the philosophy and practices of Chan Buddhismto cultivate inner peace, happiness, and spirituality. The best thing about this book is that it is very straightforward and offers clear guidance on various aspects of the philosophy.

The book covers the basics of Buddhism and shows you how to apply the concepts to your own life to create feelings of peace and happiness. It reminded me that I don’t need anything more than what I have. I can enjoy life precisely as it is.

10: The Daily Zen Journal

This one—the official book of the blog Daily Zen—is a playful, illustrated journal for learning all about Zen.

The book focuses on playfulness and curiosity, which the author, Charlie Ambler, states is the key to being a happy person.   

This one is more light-hearted than other books in this list, and the illustrations are really cool (done by Brooklyn artist Iris Gottllieb). 

More recommended reading:

  • Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
  • The Art of Happiness , Dalai Lama
  • The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
  • Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead as translated by Gyurme Dorje
  • The Connected Discourses by Bhikkhu Bodhi
  • Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki
  • Everyday Zen: Love & Worky Charlotte Joko Beck
  • Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide by Christmas Humphreys
  • How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald
  • The Buddha, Geoff, and Me by Edward Canfor-Dumas
  • Buddhism: What Everyone Needs to Know byDale S. Wright
  • Psychotherapy
  • Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up by Koshin Paley Ellison
  • Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening by Joseph Goldstein
  • Zen as F*ck (Zen as F*ck Journals) by Monica Sweeney
  • The Dude and the Zen Master       , by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman
  • The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
  • by Philip Kapleau Roshi
  • Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen
  • Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
  • Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner
  • A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of by the His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in the Everyday
  • by Matthew Sockolov
  • Zurchungpa’s Testament with commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
  • Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron
  • Awareness by Anthony DeMello
  • Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women by Ellison Banks Findly
  • Awakening Compassion by Pema Chödrön
  • One Teacher, Many Traditions by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron
  • Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chödrön
  • Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das
  • The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda
  • Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
  • Buddhism: An Introduction to the Buddha’s Life, Teachings, and Practices by Joan Duncan Oliver
  • One Breath at a Time by Kevin Edward Griffin
  • Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
  • Zen Training by Philip Kapleau Roshi
  • Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism by Kittisaro and Thanisara
  • A Still Forest Pool by Ajaan Chah
  • In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi 

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. "My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation" - Paul Harrison

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