It’s a wonderful thing that there are so many books available on the practice of meditation, but having many choices doesn’t make it easy when you’re new to the practice and don’t know where to begin. If you want to learn more about meditation, look no further. Any of these can help you get started.
The Joy of Living
by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
While it must be said that we are not exactly unbiased critics when it comes to Mingyur Rinpoche and his teachings, this book truly is one of the best introductions to the basics of meditation practice. It’s rare to see a Tibetan lama write about his own struggles with meditation, and even rarer to see clear instructions on meditation practice couched in a discussion of the emerging scientific research on the topic. If you haven’t read it yet, this is a great book to start with.
Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love
This new book by Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche’s older brother, is filled with brilliant, heart-felt advice for all meditators. Rinpoche talks about his own experiences dealing with fear and insecurity, showing how the path of meditation helped him to embrace his vulnerabilities with what he calls “essence love.” His teachings range from profound discussions of the nature of pure awareness to practical instructions for beginning meditators…this one isn’t to be missed.
Peace is Every Step
by Thich Nhat Hanh
When the history of Buddhism in the West is written, Thich Nhat Hanh is sure to be listed as one of the most important figures. Given the sheer number of books he has written, it’s difficult to single one out, but this book is a particularly wonderful introduction to the practice of mindfulness, and to the author’s open-hearted approach to the path of awakening.
Why Meditate: Working with Thoughts and Emotions
by Matthieu Ricard
Matthieu Ricard is a rare breed, when he’s not meditating in a remote mountain hermitage in the Himalayan foothills, he’s either traveling the globe to raise awareness for one of his many philanthropic projects or being studied by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists in hopes of furthering our understanding of how meditation affects the brain. In Why Meditate?, Ricard gets straight to the point: why should we meditate and how do we do it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more straight-forward guide for the beginning meditator than this book.
Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
by Sharon Salzberg
This modern classic by Sharon Salzberg offers practical guidance on the art of loving-kindness meditation, one of the most essential practices in the Buddhist tradition. Drawing on her own ups and downs as a meditator and decades of experience in teaching others, Salzberg walks us through the practice of loving-kindness and compassion, showing how we can nurture an open heart not only for others, but for ourselves as well.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
by Shunyru Suzuki Roshi
This modern spiritual classic presents foundational teachings on meditation practice that are sure to be of interest to anyone who feels called to the contemplative life. Suzuki Roshi was one of the first and most beloved pioneers to teach meditation in the West. Ranging from the practical to the transcendent, his teachings are always humorous, down to earth, and direct. This gem is on the short list of many practitioners’ favorite books.
Meditation in Action
by Chogyam Trungpa
Here’s another modern classic, this one by a teacher who helped introduce the Buddha’s teachings in the West in an authentic and accessible way. Trungpa Rinpoche’s approach to meditation asks us to see what is, rather than to try to achieve a supposedly ‘higher’ state of mind. His teachings show that meditation is not a retreat from the world, but rather a practical way to build a foundation for compassion, awareness, and creativity in all aspects of our lives.
When Things Fall Apart
by Pema Chodron
Pema Chodron has a knack for showing how even the most difficult periods in our lives can wake us up. This book isn’t much of a how-to for the beginning meditator, but it will definitely inspire you to make meditation part of your life. Pema’s open heart is infectious. Once you read this book, you’ll soon find yourself buying more copies to give away to your friends and family.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Few people have done more to bring meditation into the mainstream than Jon Kabat-Zinn. The teachings he presents in this book are deceptively simple, but if you follow his advice, you will not only know how to meditate, you’ll know how to use whatever comes your way as an opportunity to transform your mind. This is a modern classic is an especially good pick if you’re not interested in Buddhism, but just want to know how to meditate.
Don’t Look Down on the Defilements, They Will Laugh at You [PDF]
by Sayadaw U Tejaniya
If your world is busy and your time is full, yet you still want to explore meditation, then this is the book for you. This delightful read demystifies meditation and is loaded with practical suggestions for practice. Sayadaw U Tejaniya learned to meditate as a shopkeeper and passes on tips that will aid us in bringing meditation into our lives. The best part is that this is book is free! You can download it here. If you find it helpful, Awareness Alone is Not Enough is a great follow up.
A Path with Heart
by Jack Kornfield
This isn’t the shortest book on the list, but if you give it some time you won’t be disappointed. Kornfield covers many key elements of the path of meditation, but he does so with a clarity and depth that is difficult to find. His teachings include practical advice for starting and maintaining a practice, insightful discussions of important principles, and pithy instructions for specific practices. Highly recommended.