Zen Book Reviews

Find reviews of Zen books I've read along the Way.

I got started by reading Zen books.  Some were very helpful; others I found difficult to read or they didn't help clarify Zen to my yen.  The eastern approach to Zen is kind of like throwing a kid in the pool and teaching them to swim if the can figure it out... my preferences have a strong western flavor with more description.  Since we each enter from unique starting points it is difficult to make the perfect recommendation so please view these reviews as information to help your personal exploration.  There are many good sources.

Favorite Zen Books

    Book Review of Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
  • "Everyday Zen: Love and Work" by Charlotte Joko Beck.  This is a "how to" book that is a collection of Zen dharma talks by Joko.  They were given during sesshin sessions that are typically week long sitting meditation sessions.  Joko is my favorite author because she is very clear and easy to understand.  I use this book and her other book as part of my daily practice.  I cycle back and forth between her two books reading a dharma talk each morning while drinking my coffee. This tends to knock out the morning cobwebs and prepare me for zazen (sitting meditation.)  If you are just starting Zen this can be a very helpful book.  Joko explains the basics of sitting meditation and Zen practice in plain English and gives many examples.

  • Book Review of Nothing Special, Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
    Nothing Special:
    Living Zen

  • "Nothing Special: Living Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck.  Sometimes I think I prefer "Nothing Special"; sometimes I think I prefer "Everyday Zen."  They are both fantastic "how to" books that are very similar in style.  They both are collections of Dharma talks.  I believe that "Everyday Zen" might be slightly easier if you are just starting a Zen practice.

"How To" Zen Books

  • "Everyday Zen: Love and Work" by Charlotte Joko Beck. (see description in "Favorite Zen Books")

  • "Nothing Special: Living Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck.  (see description in "Favorite Zen Books")

  • Book review of Making Space, Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh
    Making Space, Creating
    a Home Meditation Practice

  • "Making Space, Creating a Home Meditation Practice" by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Nhat Hanh has a great writing style and I will be reviewing a number of his books over time.  This particular book is a small, almost pamphlet, that describes wonderful ways to organize your home and some great practices.  There are definitely some elements I plan to incorporate in my practice.  To fully realize the elements presented in the book pretty much requires that the entire family has a Buddhist practice.  Since I'm the only one that practices in my family it limits then number of elements I can effectively practice.  However, anyone looking for a number of kindness practices to use on a daily basis will find some great suggestions in this book.

  • Book Review of Zen Heart by Ezra Bayda
    Zen Heart

  • "Zen Heart, simple advice for living with mindfulness and compassion" by Ezra Bayda. This is a great book by a student of Charlotte Joko Beck.  Ezra breaks Zen practice into 3 phases: The Me Phase, Being Awareness, and Being Kindness.  I'm still clarifying a lot in the Me Phase but it's great to have some sense of how practice evolves.  I believe that Charlotte Joko Beck probably does the best job at describing the Me Phase for the current work I'm doing.  However, her work seems to hit a fuzzy edge somewhere in the middle of the Being Awareness Phase.  It has always felt like there was some remnant puritanical fear lingering in her approach that prevented moving into Being Kindness. Ezra's book brings clarity to the heart and allows Metta and Being Kindness to play their natural role in allowing us to love whether or not the objects of love are inherently lovable.

    Book Review of Buddhism From Within, An Intuitive Introduction to Buddhism
    Buddhism From Within
  • "Buddhism From Within, An Intuitive Introduction to Buddhism" by Rev. Daizui MacPhillamy.  This is a great book about Zen.  Rev Daizui starts with an analogy to a country western song called "Faster Horses".  He goes on to describe Zen from its many aspects and uses these as an opportunity to explain Zen basics.  It's easy to read, entertaining and instructive.  The only downside is that it is currently out of print so check out those used book sources.  It's worth the search.

General & Hard to Categorize Zen Books

    Zen Architecture: The Building  Process as Practice
    Zen Architecture: The Building
    Process as Practice
  • "Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice" by Paul Discoe and Alexandra Quinn.  Paul Discoe spent 5 years studying Japanese woodworking in Japan. He brought that knowledge back to the US and has built a number of remarkable structures described in this book. One of the complexes took 10 years to complete. The book blends many Zen elements into the building process without trying to be another Zen in the Art of ...book. My only disappointment was that the Kindle edition has only black and white photos and the page breaks are sometimes a little weird. I thoroughly enjoyed the book but would consider getting the hard copy version.

Old Path White Clouds Book Review
Old Path White Clouds
  • "Old Path White Clouds" by Thich Nhat Hanh.  If you are looking for a historical telling of Buddha's life this beautifully written book is a great read.  Thich Nhat Hanh uses 24 Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese sources to weave the roughly 80 year story from birth, to enlightenment, to sharing the path and ultimately Buddha's death.  I found this gave me more appreciation for some of the "Zen Practices".  While it's not a "How To" book the story does paint the picture of Buddhas teaching which ultimately becomes practice.  The book has 572 pages.

Zen Confidential, Confessions of a Wayward Monk
Zen Confidential
Confessions of a Wayward Monk
  • "Zen Confidential, Confessions of a Wayward Monk" by Shozan Jack Haubner (sort of).  The author uses a pseudonym.  There has been a lot of controversy around this already so I'll ignore it.  Zen Confidential was fun to read.  It was much less lofty and formal than the other Zen books I've read including "Buddhism from Within" which uses a country western song as its backdrop.  The author takes you through a series of events that highlight the human elements of taking up Zen in a formal monastery setting.  He is very entertaining but keep a dictionary handy.  He has a large vocabulary and is not afraid to use it.  Like a lot of discussions around the zenner table, the touching parts are realizing how we share so much of the same cravings and fears... and how these cravings and fears make us hide our true self.  Shozan almost let's you see his true self but I found the book ended and I felt like I was still looking at a protective shell. Layers had been removed, but like all of us, Shozan seemed to struggle with sharing the most intimate parts...the ones that speak truth to the heart instead of entertainment to the head.

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