The road to enlightenment requires patience and persistence.
It’s so easy to lose ourselves in ignorance, fear and greed. The inability to forgive those who wrong us creates an attachment to these worldly feelings. Sometimes to the point of obsession.
I believe that humans, by nature, crave powerful reminders that speak to the soul. They tell us who we truly are. Not as separate individual selves, but as extensions of a whole, divine existence.
What you’ll learn here…
You’ll get an inside peek at some great books about Buddhism. All of them had a significant impact on my journey.
They’re also great selections for beginners. Unlike so many texts that come off as esoteric or doctrine-like, these are comparatively simple to read and digest. With that said, let’s move on to the books!
The 5 Best Books on Buddhism
#1: The Diamond Cutter – The Buddha on Managing your Business and Your Life
This book is a gem of spiritually-empowering knowledge and practical business expertise. It will teach you how to focus and what it takes to turn your business aspirations into success.
Through his seventeen-years of experience as a co-leader of the Andin International Diamond Corporation, Geshe Roach saw the company expand to become a global powerhouse.
In this book, he describes a method for success using the Buddhist teachings from Tibetan lamas, spiritual teachers, he has encountered in his own life.
It begins with the Diamond Sutra, known in Sanskrit as the Arya Vajra-cchedika Nama Prajnaparamita Mahayana Sutra. The title roughly translates to “The Noble Mahayana Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom.” It was imparted by Lord Buddha himself to his disciple Subhuti.
The Sutra is almost 4000 years old and is one of the first books to be printed in Tibet. In Tibetan teachings, diamonds represent much more than a financial asset. They are a symbol of the hidden potential in all things.
Roach then includes some teachings from current-day Tibetan lamas he encountered before becoming a “geshe” himself. Commentaries from Tibetan Buddhist traditions are included as well.
In the third section of the book, Roach tells his personal story. How he grew from being a mere apprentice all the way to becoming a leader in the diamond firm that grew alongside him.
The most intriguing part of the book (in my opinion), is where he also talks about the Buddhist approach on starting and then leading a business that continues to prosper.
The first goal, making money, can actually be part of a spiritual process if that goal is kept with a healthy attitude and the money is made with a respect for customers and an acknowledgement of where that money comes from and how to keep it coming. Roach also elaborates upon how to find the diamond potential within us all and how to use it.
The second goal is to enjoy the money by maintaining the health of our minds and bodies, as well as a habit of meditation, while we earn.
The third goal is to lead a business that will have great value when you reflect upon how you have conducted yourself, what you have learned, and what you have been able to achieve for yourself and for the greater good. It concludes with a collection of success stories among the millions whose lives have been inspired by this book and the experiences of all the people recorded in it.
#2: Buddha in Daily Life – The Introduction to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin
For the past several decades, Buddhism as taught by Nichiren Daishonin has been embraced by millions of people from all countries and all walks of life. It can be practiced beyond religious identity or a specified way of life.
Started in the 13th century, the core of its teachings are that faith, religious study, and practice are the only things required to constantly reach higher achievements both spiritually and in the physical world.
Once a person is able to fulfill his or her greatest need (that of reaching the highest potential), the feeling of fulfillment and self-realization will naturally pour out to one’s family, community, and ultimately, the world.
The author of this book, Richard Causton, is himself a soldier who has served three years of active service in Burma during WWII. He was 25 years old then, and the war left him with a feeling that “the world of his early youth had gone forever.” This was a feeling soldiers, and civilians, with PTSD knew all too well.
His pain gave rise to an inner spiritual longing for an answer to the world’s suffering. After several years, he began a career in business in which he was destined to encounter Nichiren Buddhism. At age 51, he made a commitment to its teachings and imparting them to all.
The book speaks about working as an individual committed to world peace, protecting the environment, and serving humanity. It focuses on the issue of AIDs and how it can be alleviated.
The first chapter of the book speaks of the worlds which we transition or travel between each day:
- learning and realization
- and eventually Buddhahood
This stage is permanent and is reached only after one becomes a bodhisattva committed to one’s transformation. It also speaks of the meaning of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the sacred mantra taught by Nichiren to his disciples. It translates to “Respect to the Mystic Law of the Universe” and how to apply it to our daily lives.
The Gohonzon, a scroll on which this mantra is written, along with the words for the ten worlds, and Nichiren’s signature, is what Nichiren Buddhists look upon as they chant. Causton further details what faith, practice, and study mean in Nichiren Buddhism and about the lasting peace SGI is dedicated to creating.
#3: Zen Science – Stop and Smell the Universe
This is a light-hearted yet highly thought-provoking book suitable for children and adults alike. It is as spiritual as it is calculating, as much about the mystical aspects of life as it is with the physical. As such it inspires a striking amount of curiosity among those who have ever dared to ask questions about their existence and the significance of life.
The book contains over 120 maxims, stories, and bizarre facts provided alongside whimsical illustrations, all of which can simultaneously serve as meditations to reflect upon.
What all of the pages share is a unique ability to captivate the reader on seemingly mundane and “normal” events, observations, etc. about the world around us that are indeed much more miraculous than most perceive.
Take for example, the story featured on the first page:
Cleopatra’s breath…is still in the air
When Cleopatra took her last breath, she exhaled around 100 sextillion air molecules…So many were dispersed into the atmosphere that they’re still floating around…everywhere.
What’s the result? Every time you inhale, according to experts, you take in at least one that came from Cleopatra’s lungs, Julius Caesar’s, and George Washington’s. In fact, it’s likely that with every breath you take, at least one molecule breathed by every one of your ancestors all the way back to the first humans who started your family tree.
What we take for granted, usually, not only allows us to live, but connects us, literally, to all who live and who have ever lived. Now that’s amazing!
The aim of this book is to evoke the awareness that we are all capable of. It is a reminder that we are all connected in ways we might not even imagine.
One of the most bizarrely profound works I’ve ever read, this “philosophical fiction” book details the life of Siddhartha during the time of Gautama Buddha. However, this Siddhartha is not the Shakyamuni who found his Enlightenment in the woods.
After leaving his home in Kapilavastu, the Brahmin Siddhartha (along with his friend Govinda) takes to begging with the ascetics of the Shramanas in hopes of gaining spiritual enlightenment. Along the way, he loses his desires for worldly goods and masters self-denial.
Nonetheless, realizing the oldest Shramanas have not attained what he seeks, he moves onward, bringing his friend with him. Next, they heard of Gotama Buddha who had succeeded in attaining Nirvana. His friend decides to stay with the practitioners while Siddhartha does not, because of the contradictions he faces in Buddhism, which he feels, are irreconcilable.
This marks the point in which Siddhartha leaves his friend as well as Gotama Buddha, and enters a rather chaotic, materialistic, and pleasure-seeking (somewhat Western) world. He begins to take on a wife, befriends a carefree ferryman, owns a powerful business the likes which no one has seen, has a child, and even takes on an addiction to alcohol.
He does all these things consciously, however, all in hopes of spiritual advancement, rather than for the pleasures themselves. While he enjoys what the world would call a “perfect life” materialistically, he feels an emptiness in his life as he never before.
In this story, Siddhartha and Govinda are apt to gain Enlightenment, but you’ll need to read on in this book to learn how. The story is the artistic rendering of a Western man who made Buddhism a central part of his way of life and his literary works.
It is considered to be one of the greatest fictional books written about Buddhism and connects the teachings of Buddhism to the truth that everyone’s spiritual path will evolve differently but the same destination can be reached through each of these paths.
#5: Singing For Freedom
Tibetan Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma is known worldwide for singing Buddhist songs and mantras which transport the listener to a realm of inner peace. She radiates compassion and triumph of the soul not only in her voice, but in her story and her humanitarian deeds.
The book starts with her description of who she was before becoming a nun in a Nepalese monastery. Hers was a male-dominated world in which most women were married off against their will. Her home was a particularly chaotic one and finding peace was utmost difficult. There were no other options and for many, being a nun was unthinkable.
Yet it was through this way of life that nun Ani Choying transformed from a once bitterly angry girl into a divine being of “head and heart.”
Though she has never been formally educated herself, Choying has now opened a large school for girls in Nepal (the Arya Tara School) which never existed in her childhood. She has also started an NGO known as the “Nuns’ Welfare of Nepal.” Through it, she started the first kidney hospital in Nepal which made dialysis free for poor people.
Not having expected to be a singer, she sings in world concerts to fund her projects and to impart the blessings of Tibetan Buddhism upon all who listen. Her vision is to empower all people to take their sufferings as lessons from which they are able to improve, rather than submitting themselves to the negativities they face.
In “Singing for Freedom,” Choying speaks of her growth, experiences, and message which can be summarized in her song “Phoolko Aakhama”:
“In the eyes of a flower, the world is a flower
In the eyes of thorns, the world is thorn
The shadow is reflected according to the object
May my heart be pure
May my voice be Buddha
May my feet never kill an insect
In beautiful eyes, the world opens up beautifully
May I see the dazzling moon in the dark night
May I listen to the music of life in blissful moments”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, these are the 5 best books on Buddhism I’ve ever read. Studying Buddhism has left a profound mark on my life, especially as I advance in years. As a young man I was obsessed with worldly things and all the problems that accompany them. Aging with the help of Buddhism has moved me closer to an enlightened life that has brought untold amounts of happiness and tranquility to my days.
Remember, there’s no bad place to start reading about Buddhism…you just need to start reading!