All the sects of Buddhism focus on studying books as an important activity to practice Buddhism. I know this because I attended a few Nichiren Buddhists’ meetings, met a Tibetan Buddhist, and have explored this topic for a few years now.
My problem with religious texts is that everyone reads texts from centuries ago without updating the teachings with a modern context. This doesn’t mean those old texts are fundamentally wrong; rather, we might understand it better if they are taught within the context of our social media world.
On my journey to explore Buddhism in a modern context, I read many books on Buddhism and related topics by contemporary authors.
Here are the four books I recommend you to read if you want to understand Buddhism in today’s world of social media and technological advances.
Note: Bear in mind that the links in this post may be Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small amount of compensation when you purchase from my links with no extra cost to you, which I’ll totally blow on buying and reading more books.
Book 1: To Understand the Basics of Buddhism
I met Karma Yeshe Rabgye in September 2020. He is a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Originally from England, he now lives in Northern India. He teaches Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness, and meditation in various countries around the world.
He has written a book, “The Best Way to Catch a Snake,” about the basics of Buddhism.
Because he comes from a western world, growing up in London, he understands the modern context and explains Buddhism’s basics with simple and easy language.
His book helped me sequentially understand the basics of Buddhism. The book is divided into three sections —
- The Four Seals
- The Four Noble Truths
- The Four Preliminary Thoughts
I was particularly intrigued by the book title. Here’s the explanation for this book title —
“If a wise person was trying to catch a poisonous snake in the wild, he would pin its head down with a forked stick first. That way the snake could not bite him. Otherwise, it could be dangerous to catch a snake in the wrong way.”
This analogy conveys the importance of learning Buddhism on your own. If we only go by the quotes we find online, half-baked knowledge about Buddhism can in fact be more harmful than being useful to us.
Book 2: To Understand Buddhist Teachings on Suffering
Buddhism talks a lot about suffering… so much that if you’re not going in-depth with Buddhist teachings, you may look at it as a negative thing.
Here’s a book I found that goes deep about Buddhist teaching on suffering — “No Mud, No Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a peace activist, and widely-known to popularise meditation in the west.
According to his Wikipedia page —
He has published over 130 books, including more than 100 in English which have sold over 5 million worldwide.
This is a small book, and it talks about how to transform suffering into happiness.
Here’s an insightful thought from the book —
“So if you have suffering in you and you don’t know where it comes from, looking deeply you may see that this is the suffering of your ancestors, handed down from one generation to another, because no one knew how to recognize, embrace, and heal it. It’s not your fault, nor is it their fault.”
Book 3: To Understand the Buddhist Teachings on Happiness
Because there’s a lot of talk about suffering in Buddhism, sometimes it feels Buddhist monks don’t talk enough about how to be happy.
For that, HH Dalai Lama, with Howard C. Cutler, has written a book, “The Art of Happiness.”
Tenzin Gyatso (The 14th Dalai Lama) is the current Dalai Lama, i.e., the highest spiritual teacher of Tibet. He travels the world to meet other leaders and teaches Buddhism.
He received Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his tremendous contribution to world peace. If he’s talking about peace and happiness, I would want to take his words seriously.
I am still reading the book, and it has kept me hooked since the introduction part.
The best part I liked from whatever I have read so far from the book, and I’m paraphrasing — “Your mental health comes even before your physical health. If you’re mentally ill, you’ll still be unhappy even if you have a muscular body. On the other hand, if you’re physically sick but mentally strong, you’ll be peaceful even in the worst situations.”
Another part I found interested is the argument Dalai Lama made about reincarnation. He mentioned that the Western world considers life as a start and an end, which is why the West is restless with so many unanswered questions.
Food for thought.
Book 4: To Learn How to Practice Buddhism With Daily Habits
The moment I read Mind Full to Mindful by Om Swami, I became his fan — so much that I went to his ashram for a weekend to meet him.
Om Swami is a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Technology, Sydney. His wiki page mentions — He started a software business in Australia and expanded its operations to the USA, Canada, UK, and India within six years.
From an entrepreneurial lifestyle to becoming a monk, I was so intrigued with his life story.
In this book, Om Swami talks about Zen philosophy and how to practice the Zen mindset daily with simple awareness activities. The book is short, witty, and an insightful read. I loved the simplicity of the language in this book.
Here’s a relatable passage from the book —
“It is all but apparent that every time and under any circumstances, we will have at least one difficult person in our life, we will face at least one big challenge and we will have to deal with at least one adversity, whether that is mental, physical, emotional, psychical, psychological or spiritual. This is very much a part of life. But in all this, to be able to flow is Zen.”
Before you pick these books
Here are three points to keep in mind before you start reading these books — -
- Keep an open mind while reading the books. There’s a good possibility you won’t agree to everything that’s written in the book.
- Google more information about the author. Check the source and its credibility.
- When you have questions, be brave to ask them in online communities, or better… go and meet a monk.
And last but not least, share what you learn, and you’ll learn it better.