bu-review: great reads for budding buddhists

by vanessagobes

Buddhism is a lofty subject.  Or at least it can be.  Buddhist writing can be confusing, especially for someone who is new to the practice, like me.  I prefer not to translate riddles or resort to look-ups on Wikipedia while I read, but to focus on practical lessons.  For this reason, I’ve really enjoyed learning from teachers who write for the masses.  There are some really great authors out there who have an extraordinary ability to make clear and simple sense out of ethereal concepts like inter-being, oneness, karma, the here and now, macrocosms in microcosms and equanimity.  Here are a few:

If you are bu-curious and looking to learn more about the philosophy or if you are a new-bu like me, I encourage you to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay”).  My friend introduced me to him just last spring and I don’t know how I lived so long without his wisdom.  He reminds us that, while Buddhist texts and scriptures can be complicated, life is actually pretty darn simple.  One of my favorite teachings of Thay’s is looking into the eyes of our loved ones and telling them, “I am here for you.”  Simple yet profound, this sentence validates our loved ones’ needs while affirming our own loving commitment.  And it doesn’t require years of Buddhist training to understand or master.  It just takes the desire to love.  Beautiful.  He’s published numerous books (too many to list).  A lot of them are pretty short but the content will surely provide readers with many tiny shifts along the way.  The first shown above, Living Buddha Living Christ, might be his most famous.  The second, Planting Seeds, is an awesome workbook for moms and dads who would like to introduce children to meditation.

Another book that I’ve really enjoyed is one my sister loaned me a couple of years ago – The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Gred Martin and Ted Morino.  It’s an open door to Zen, the Japanese brand of Mahayana born in the 13th century.  Zen was introduced by a monk named Nichiren who saw that Buddhism could have a profound effect on ordinary people and offered folks a path to awakening that was understandable, manageable and downright doable.  In this book, the authors introduce bu-curious readers to the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which, if my interpretation is correct, is the giving over of oneself to the laws of karma, allowing oneself the opportunity to see clearly and compassionately into life’s troubles.  But of course the meaning runs much deeper than that, as does everything in Buddhism.

I’ve been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo quite a bit lately.  You’re supposed to chant it out loud for at least 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I do that, apologizing to my kids for the noise while they play nearby or inviting them to join me.  In fact, I like chanting so much that I’ve been whispering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to myself in half-pigeon pose during sweaty yoga…  or stepping to the beat of the chant when I’m out walking the dog.  I like the idea of discovering the natural rhythm of the world, and me in it, through chanting.  Although sometimes I’ve got to admit, I can’t help but think When did I become this person???  

Another really terrific, easy-to-read book is Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, another gift from a friend.  (Damn, I’ve got some good friends.)  I love this book for a lot of reasons.  Sarah never delves into nuts-and-bolts Buddhism.  Instead she sites practical examples of the ways she and other mommies use Buddhism to get through squeeze-y moments with their own BUBs.  She shares her shortcomings and triumphs, reminding readers that just because she’s a practicing Buddhist, doesn’t mean she’s always Zen.  But when she draws from her practice during tough times, she finds clarity, peace and patience with herself as a mother.


Okay, okay, last one.  Making a Change for Good by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is a self-help workbook.  My friend recommended this book to me because I wanted to break my lifelong habit of being a quitter.  In Making a Change for Good, Cheri teaches readers that through compassionate self-discipline, we can tap into the best part of ourselves.  And our nagging little voices that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t deserve success can be gently diverted away from the main stage of our minds.  The end of the book lays out 30 days of assignments from meditation to journaling that help readers beat bad habits and create lasting positive change.  I liked this book because I could DO something with it.  It was a great tool for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else who’d like to implement a little Buddhism to help make a change for good.

Well that’s a start.  My bookshelf is crammed with great reads that I’m excited to share, but we’ll start with these.  If you have a title that you’d like to offer, please post it here with a short description.  Hopefully it’s not one I’m planning to review!  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa