Dear Sangha Friends:
We occasionally receive requests for readings to help get started in Zen practice. The following are books and Internet resources that I have found helpful, although the list is by no means exhaustive of the many helpful books and websites that are available.
Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak
A comprehensive definitional resource is Michael H. Kohn (Translator) (1991). The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen. Boston: Shambhala Press.
Shunryu Suzuki (2006). Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Boston: Shambhala Press.
This book, first published over 30 years ago, has become a classic in modern Western Zen literature. It is arguably the best single introduction to the beginning practice of zazen (Zen sitting meditation) and the path of Zen more generally.
Robert Aitken (1982). Taking the Path of Zen. New York: North Point Press: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
This is Aitken Roshi’s introduction to taking on the practice of Zen. It is very detailed regarding meditation posture; breathing; where, when, and for how long to sit; etc. It also contains guidance regarding precepts practice and other aspects of the path. This book, along with Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, were very influential in the earlier years of my own Zen path.
Katsuki Sekida (1985). Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. New York: Weatherhill.
This book is considered by many practitioners and teachers as the “handbook” of Zen meditation and training. Although having much introductory material, it is in some ways more advanced than Suzuki Roshi’s and Aitken Roshi’s books.
Taizan Maezumi & Bernie Glassman (2002). On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, & Mind. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Glassman Roshi was the teacher of Roshi Joan Halifax’ (my teacher), and Maezumi Roshi was Glassman Roshi’s teacher. This book is a collection of essays by these two teachers and a few others, and is the best single introduction to the Zen practice tradition of the lineage in which Upaya Zen Center is situated. It has plenty of good meditation instruction, including that of both the “open presence” sitting practice of shikantaza and Koan sitting practice.
Norman Fisher & Susan Moon (2016). What is Zen? Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.
This is a wonderful new introduction to Zen, written in a quite accessible question and answer format. Susan Moon, an experienced lay Zen teacher and writer (as well as a student of Roshi Norm Fisher) poses skillful questions to which Norm Fisher, Zen teacher, priest, poet and writer, provides clear, concise answers. This book is particularly helpful for someone seeking to understand how Zen differs from, and is similar to, other Buddhist traditions.
Jack Kornfield (2008). The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. New York: Bantam Books.
This is a terrific integration of all the fundamentals of Buddhism common to all of its schools, described in and blended with contemporary psychology. Kornfield is a distinguished Vipassana meditation teacher, trained as a Theravada Buddhist monastic and as a psychologist, and one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society. If someone were to read only one book, and was seeking an authoritative, highly readable, and very practical guide to Buddhist teaching, this would be it.
Sallie Tisdale (2006). Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom. New York: Harper Collins.
This is a very readable and well-researched examination of the critical contributions of women Buddhist ancestors, from ancient India through modern Western teachers. It is also a wonderful corrective to the often male-dominated view of Buddhism found in other sources.
Florence Caplow and Susan Moon (2013). The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women.
This is another very helpful resource on the contributions of women Buddhist ancestors, compiled in the format of koans (“public case”) teaching stories. It contains much wisdom.
Francis Dojun Cook (Translator) (2003). The Record of Transmitting the Light: Zen Master Keizan’s Denkoroku. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
The Denkoroku, written in the late 1200s by Master Keizan (generally regarded, along with Dogen, as co-founder of the Japanese Soto school of Buddhism) provides an account of the lineage transmission of Zen from Shakyamuni Buddha through Dogen. Although partly historical and undoubtedly partly mythical, it provides a sense of the long history of this tradition, and what each successive teacher instantiated. It is not an easy read, but one that I return to frequently.
The following are resources helpful in precepts practice and preparation for Jukai, the taking of lay Zen Buddhist vows. Specific information on Jukai preparation can be found at <http://www.upaya.org/
Diane Eshin Rizzetto (2005). Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion. Boston: Shambhala.
This is perhaps the most clearly written and practical book regarding Buddhist precepts, applicable to the various schools of Buddhism. It is filled with much wisdom.
John Daido Loori (2007). Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen. Boston: Shambhala.
This is a compact, concise, and very helpful discussion of the 16 Zen precepts, written by the recently deceased Daido Loori Roshi, another student of Maezumi Roshi and a central figure in modern American Zen.
Reb Anderson (2001). Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press.
Reb Anderson Roshi is a student of Suzuki Roshi, and a former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. This book is a thoughtful and extensive consideration of the 16 Zen precepts.
Thich Nhat Hanh (2007). For a Future to be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life. Berkeley, CA: Paralax Press.
This is Thay’s compact treatise on the five precepts, or as he calls them, “Mindfulness Trainings,” that are used in his development of Vietnamese Zen. Thay is another teacher of Roshi Joan Halifax (prior to Glassman Roshi), and Roshi Joan has written an introduction to this book.
David Loy (2008). Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
David Loy is an extraordinary Buddhist scholar and teacher who has written this examination of how a pervasive sense of “never enough” is at the root of many of our worldwide problems. It is my favorite book on bringing Buddhist perspective into contact with social activism. An excellent and lively read.
The following resources are helpful in understanding Zen liturgy and ritual:
John Daido Loori (2008). Bringing the Sacred to Life: The Daily Practice of Zen Ritual. Boston: Shambhala.
Another compact gem by Daido Roshi that demystifies elements of Zen liturgy, unpacking their meaning and purpose.
Another very useful resource on the liturgical practices of the Upaya Zen Center can be found at <http://www.upaya.org/