Whether it’s the mounting scientific research that shows the positive effects at a cellular level, or you’re just trying to feel less stressed, the main obstacle for many people trying to learn to meditate could be a case of not knowing where to start. A danger is that a practitioner may rely upon instruction that isn’t tried and true, and engage in a method that produces the precise opposite of ease and clarity. These five books will help you create the foundation for a genuine, disciplined, and fruitful meditation practice.
This classic text is largely responsible for the explosion of Zen practice in the Western world. Suzuki Roshi sharply communicates the foundational philosophy of the Soto School, elucidating the meditation practice of shikantaza, or “just sitting.” He transmits the teachings of his authentic lineage through a rhetoric that is simultaneously sparse and elegant, definitive and spacious. “To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind. It means your mind pervades your whole body,” says Roshi. If you’ve ever wanted to begin practicing Zen, this is the place to start.
Jack Kornfield has been teaching meditation internationally since 1974 and trained as a monk in Thailand, India, and Myanmar. This book is rife with the wisdom and meditation methods that he accrued throughout his years as a monk and teacher. He systematically walks the reader through some of the various challenges that arise in meditation. The teachings he presents have the flavor of Buddhism, but are more or less non-denominational. At the end of each chapter, Kornfield offers a technique that can be employed to experientially recognize what he has conceptually outlined. He presents several methods of attention training and offers exercises for cultivating sensitivity and kindness.
This book is primarily a manual for the application of mindfulness in daily life. It is realistic and frank about the various frustrations and difficulties that each of us encounters; and nonetheless courageously and secularly asserts the value of dropping into the present to recognize the richness within each moment of living. Meditation techniques are presented in a thorough, and accessible way. While working with this book, you will not have the thought, “Am I doing this correctly?”
Tsoknyi Rinpoche comes from an unbroken lineage of meditation masters revered throughout Tibet. An authentic teacher in his own right, Rinpoche manages to communicate the meditation methods of his tradition in a pithy and relatable form. These methods comprise breathing practices and awareness training techniques that lead to the dawn of natural ease and clarity. Rinpoche supplements his teachings with warm stories from his life as a young monk and his transition out of monasticism into the life of a householder. He also tells stories from the lives of his students in order clarify the misunderstandings that can arise when one begins meditating. The book is appropriate for advanced practitioners and newcomers alike.
Sharon Salzberg is the co-founder of the renowned Insight Meditation Society of Massachusetts, and has been teaching meditation for over thirty years. This book focuses primarily on the cultivation of what are traditionally known as the Brahma Viharas, or “Abodes of the Gods” — loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Training in these states of mind swiftly give rise to the recognition of our connectedness with all things, as well as a deeper more authentic love for self and other. Though some previous attention training might enhance the practice of metta, or loving-kindness, this book is absolutely accessible to beginners.