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Beginners Buddhism Books

Beginner’s Books

Last week I mentioned that sometimes I get two of the same question at the same time. Well it happened again, this time regarding reading material:


Hi, I wanted to know if we are new to Buddhism what reading material would you suggest to start out. Thank you,

and also

I’ve been interested in Buddhism for quite some time and have done a bit of reading/meditation/study here and there. However, I was wondering if there are any books you can recommend on the basic foundations: the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, the five precepts. I’d really prefer something that’s easily understandable to someone new to Buddhism–something in layman’s terms, if you will.


My first recommendation is, of course, to read and subscribe to the Daily Buddhism. I did a series from February 2nd to Feb 6th called the “Foundations of Buddhism.” Go back and find the posts and read them, or listen to Podcast episode 43, the audio version of the same material. These are free and available to you immediately, so I see no reason not to start there. You can also purchase it in printable pdf format, and here are links:

Foundations of Buddhism by Brian Schell
Podcast/ MP3 Audio Show (Free):
Buy the eBook ($4.95):

Beyond that, here are a few good beginner books that I recommend:

Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
Amazon Link:
This is the book that “converted” me when it first came out. It explains all the basics of Buddhism without relying on mysticism and religion. I have long since given my copy away and it’s been years since I read it, but I’ll recommend it just for the impact it had on me.

Buddhist Scriptures by Edward Conze
Amazon Link:
This one has excerpts from all the major “scriptures” of Buddhism and will give a good overview of what all has been written in the past 2500 years. There are lots of stories, doctrines, and so forth here, but this is not a “What is Buddhism about” kind of book. This is a good book for when you have a grasp of the basics, but don’t buy this as a first book.

Meditation for Dummies by Stephan Bodian
Amazon Link:
I like this one because it’s not actually about Buddhism. It focuses on many different forms of meditation, allowing you to try various ways of meditating without “preaching” to you about which one is best for your sect of Buddhism. I think it is best to learn Buddhism and Meditation separately and then find a way to make the two mesh with each other in your own mind.

Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings by Thich Nhat Hanh
Amazon Link:
Thich Nhat Hanh is easily my favorite Buddhist author living today. You just have to like the guy, he’s warm, honest, gentle in the extreme, and possibly the biggest pacifist ever. Nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel prize, he’s written a gazillion books, and I’d recommend just about any of them. This one is a good starting point.

The Five-Minute Buddhist by Brian Schell
Amazon Link:
MY Book. Of course I’m going to recommend it here. It’s got all the best posts from the Daily Buddhism, as well as new material. If you like reading this web site, you should absolutely pick this one up.

I’ve also reviewed quite a few books here on the Daily Buddhism site, and I recommend most of them (I don’t like to write about the books I disliked).

16 comments to Beginners Buddhism Books

  • Jason

    Here is a book that changed my life and got me started on the Buddhist path a couple years ago.

    “The Feeling Buddha” by David Brazier.

  • My recommendations…

    If you want to learn about Buddhism, as opposed to practicing it as your own religion/philosophy:
    * The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism is an excellent bird’s-eye-view of Buddhism. It covers the essential history, different branches of Buddhism, etc. This is not a very good book for beginning your own practice of Buddhism — it’s more academic, and has very little hands-on content.

    If you want to integrate Buddhism into your life and lean more towards a Zen approach, or one less influenced by the “cultural trappings” of Buddhism:
    * Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen. This is a great introduction to the essential life philosophy of the Buddha’s teachings.
    * Buddhism is Not What You Think, also by Steve Hagen. This book is very Zen, focusing a lot on matters of self/no-self and how we fool ourselves with our minds — or put another way, how we think ourselves into a boxed-in world of suffering. A good book for pondering, but it does lack a bit in the compassion department.

    If you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, or other traditions that can mix in a lot of mantras, chanting, praying, Buddhist spirits, etc.:
    * Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. This is a great Westerner-friendly guidebook to the Buddha’s path, what it means for us as everyday folk, and how to gently apply Buddhism to your life.

  • Mike B

    Thank you as usual for a great post, and solid reference. Another great beginner-ish book is Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”
    I liked the depth of information, and the easy to digest comments.
    Also great is “Buddhism Plain and Simple” by Steve Hagen.

  • amy

    Thank you very much for this list! Although these obviously come from the Zen tradition, I’ll add that I have found Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki and Zen Seeds by Shundo Aoyama to also be excellent introductory texts.

  • A few observations on the above comments

    “Buddhism Plain & Simple” was one of my early favorites too. I wonder now if I’m not confusing it with my recommendation of “Buddhism Without Beliefs.” Now I wish I’d held onto it!

    “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism” was also pretty good, in a “lots of facts” kind of way. Surprisingly “Buddhism for Dummies” was kinda awful, and I usually like Dummy books; skip the Dummy and go with the Idiot in this case 🙂

  • Like the first commenter, I also like Lama Surya Das’ Awakening the Buddha Within. Although he is within a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, most of the material in this book is relevant to all Buddhist branches.

    Also, for any moms reading this, just have to throw in another recommendation – Buddhism for Mothers or Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, both by Sarah Napthali. These are EXCELLENT introductions to Buddhism, including all the basics (Buddha’s life, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold path, etc.), and they show you how to transform your life as a mother into your Buddhist practice.

  • Nathan Piazza

    I really like the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which I believe may be out of print. There’s also a really great book called What makes you NOT a Buddhist, which explains the main tenets of Buddhism that many would-be followers tend to overlook (such as the assertion that all emotions are inherently painful).

  • Abe Simpson

    You certainly can not go wrong with Surya Das or Thich Nhat Hahn or Bhikkhu Bodhi. None of the suggestions are bad ones.

    I found that just reading the Dhammapada was a great start.

  • I agree with Abe about the Dhammapada. Gil Fronsdal has a nice translation. Also two by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana: Mindfulness in Plain English and Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness.

  • steve

    I have alot of beginners books on Buddhism as mentioned above, lama surya das,thich nhat hahn,dalai lama etc.But the one that is just as good if not better as far as bringing Buddhism into daily life and explained in everyday language is the one that Spokane Buddhist Temple uses for people new to Buddhism :EIGHT MINDFUL STEPS TO HAPPINESS by the author Bhante Henepola Gunaratana it can be found at it is on sale now for $13.56 In the book it has the four noble truths ,the five precepts,the eightfold path etc.

  • The Galugpa lineage as taught my Geshe Michael Roach, Lama Christie McNally, Lama Sumati Marut, and their students has excellent curriculum for beginning Buddhists or anyone interested in a serious spiritual path.

    Geshe’s book “The Diamond Cutter” is quite vernacular and illustrates the concepts of Karma & Emptiness as they can be applied to a businessperson’s life – or anyone in a fast-paced lifestyle. It’s a quick and entertaining read, but I keep it handy for the extensive descriptions of Karmic correlations.

    Also highly recommended are the Dharma Essentials courses taught by Lama Sumati Marut. These are free audio teachings w/ PDF files to read along, and are all available through the Asian Classics Institute – LA website:

    Even more accessible than this are Lama Marut’s podcasts, taken from his extensive lectures: (iTunes: )

  • This is a wonderful site. A wonderland. Thank you.
    thank you for your support of my book, Brian, and Thomas. I originally pitched the dummies to do a book on Buddhism but went with complete idiots for various reasons, so they knew then they had to do one, (the two series are joined at the ankle). This week, Penguin brought out a revised, updated 3rd edition (Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism) so all can now read the 2nd edition for FREE.

    Ditto for my anthology, what book!? ~~~ Budda poems from beat to hiphop: online for free, or as inksmeared deadtree.

    Thomas, I added about 20 more meditations and exercises; there are dozens, from short to detailed, in all. I try to balance the theoretical with the practical, but of course it can’t be all things to all people.

    Since Pure Land’s not often in the discourse (yet is the largest school, in the world and arguably the West), I recommend Taitetsu Unno’s <A href=””River’s of Fire, River of Water.

    I also am fond of The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thay Nhat Hanh.

    For whatever it might be worth, I’d also comment [taking a big step back]: ever since movable type was invented to print the first book (400 years before Gutenberg) to promulgate dharma and generaete merit, books have been an important meme carrier of BuddhaDharma ever since; and lately, in the west, much so


    May all beings be well.

  • Hatter

    Falling to Pieces without falling apart is a good book
    so is going on being
    they are both by mark epstein

  • I do believe all of the concepts you’ve presented in your post. They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too quick for beginners. May just you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

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  • Mark

    Blistered Feet Bissfull Mind is the only book which moved me to pop a review on Amazon. At the time of this comment is has 18 reviews all 5 stars a truly amazing book about buddhism.