Here are some books I have read and recommend for beginners on the subject of Buddhism.
Theravada and the basic teachingsThe Illustrated Encyclopedia of Buddhist Wisdom, by Gill Farrer-Halls. Photographs.
A great book to read for beginners to Buddhism, this guide covers the principles of Buddhism, its history, meditation, and a look at the three traditions most well-known in the West (Theravada, Zen and Tibetan).
Another good book for beginners to Buddhism. This guide covers the principles of Buddhism, a history of how it spread eastwards, and details of all traditions and sects.
The Buddha's Teachings on Prosperity: At Home, At Work, In the World, by Bhikkhu Rahula.
The Buddha's teachings to the laity are scattered throughout the scriptures and often hard to find. Here, for the first time, is a book that brings all those teachings together and focuses on the moral and ethical foundations of Buddhism as applied in our daily lives.
The Mind and the Way : Buddhist Reflections of Life, by Ajahn Sumedho.
Practising Dharma, explained by an enlightened Western monk who trained in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. Easy to read and inspiring.
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere : Meditations on the Buddhist Path, by Ayya Khema.
Practising Dharma, explained simply and clearly by a well-known Western bhikkhuni (female monastic) who ordained in the Theravadin tradition of Sri Lanka. A good practice guide for beginners.
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness : Walking the Buddha's Path, by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.
An extremely clear and thorough explanation of The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path that form the core of Buddhist teachings.
Old Path, White Clouds : Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Illustrated.
A truly wonderful account of the Buddha's life and basic teachings by well-known Vietnamese zen monk, Nhat Hanh. The story, written in simple English and beautifully illustrated, concentrates on historical fact and for the most part avoids the mythology and folklore that has developed over two and a half millenia.
What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula. Photographs.
Explanation of the basic teachings of Buddhism, from a Theravada (School of the Elders) perspective. Clear and concise, this is the original and orthodox Buddhism that exists today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
The Foundations of Buddhism, by Rupert Gethin.
A five-star overview of the foundations of Buddhism from a leading scholar. Although the book is mainly concerned with what is now called Theravada Buddhism, it also compares the older tradition with Mahayana. A must-read for those new to Buddhism.
108 stories of Buddhist wisdom that anyone can appreciate. Makes a good present for non-Buddhists. It has also been published as Opening the Door of Your Heart.
Buddhism Explained, by Laurence-Khantipalo Mills.
A clearly written book for beginners with additional information about Buddhism in Thailand.
The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
A thorough explanation of the Eightfold Path written by a Western scholar-monk and based on the Pali Canon. A good book to read after one or two beginner's books.
Handbook for Mankind, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu.
A collection of Dhamma talks from Thailand's much-revered reformist monk, in which he describes his rational approach to the practice of Buddhism.
Buddhism without Beliefs, by Stephen Batchelor.
Buddhism as psychological approach to living a more satisfying life, rather than as a religion.
Mahayana and the basic teachingsOpen Heart, Clear Mind, by Thubten Chodron.
A very well written introduction to Buddhism from an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. The Mahayana equivalent to Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.
The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh's introduction to the core teachings of the Buddha, as seen from the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) perspective. Detailed, clearly written and accessible.
MeditationMindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.
Considered the most accessible guide to insight meditation in the Theravada tradition, this is the place to start for anyone without a meditation teacher.
Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook, by Ajahn Brahm.
A demystification of the mediation techniques used to attain jhana and enlightenment, written in a clear and compelling style by a Western meditation master of the Thai Forest tradition. This is an inspiring book written with both beginners and more experienced meditators in mind.
History of BuddhismThe Buddhist Tradition : In India, China and Japan, by William Theodore de Bary.
The definitive story of Buddhism's spread from India to Central Asia, across China and finally to Japan. The story is presented as a series of important Buddhist texts with linking commentaries and explanations, with India, China and Japan each taking up about one third of the book. Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land (Amidist), Zen and Nichiren schools and sects are all covered. Probably the best work available describing how and why Japanese Buddhism developed.
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk. Photographs.
The gripping true story of how a lost Buddhist civilization was discovered under the sands of Chinese Turkestan and its treasures dug up by Western explorers in the late 19th Century.
The Thai Forest TraditionTeachings of a Buddhist Monk, by Ajahn Sumedho.
Practising Dharma, explained by a Western monk who trained in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. Easy to read and written for Westerners.
A Still Forest Pool : The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter.
Short Dharma talks from the late Ajahn Chah, Thailand's most well-known teacher and meditation master from the Forest Tradition.
Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away : Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering, by Ajahn Chah, Paul Breiter.
Gems of wisdom from the late Ajahn Chah, Thailand's most well-known teacher from the Forest Tradition.
Being Dharma : The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, by Ajahn Chah, Paul Breiter.
Dharma talks from the late Ajahn Chah, Thailand's most well-known teacher from the Forest Tradition.
Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, by Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Amaro.
A comprehensive collection of Dharma talks given by Ajahn Chah, the Thai Forest Tradition master. Not a beginner's book.
Inspiring booksWheel of Life : The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist, by John Blofeld. Photographs.
The autobiography of a well-known Western Buddhist-scholar who spent years investigating Buddhism and Taoism in 1930s China. Blofeld asks sages the kind of questions any Westerner would ask - and the answers are illuminating.
The Way of the White Clouds, by Lama Anagarika Govinda. Photographs.
An autobiography of German-born Lama Anagarika Govinda, in which he recounts his travels in Tibet in the 1940s and the Buddhist practices he encountered there. Lama Govinda had a deep knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism from personal experience and this book is a classic.
Life as a Siamese Monk, by Richard Randall. Photographs. (Available at Amazon UK or Wisdom Books)
Experiences of the first European ever to be ordained in Thailand (in 1954). Guided in the Dhammakaya meditation technique by the legendary abbot of Wat Paknam, Luang Por Sodh, the British author makes amazing progress and gives his first sermon to an audience of 10,000 live on Thai radio.
Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand, by Kamala Tiyavanich.
The story of the Thai Forest Tradition and the wandering meditation masters who established it in the late 19th and early 20th Century. An inspiring account of monks who practised Dharma as the Buddha did, in the jungle and without scriptures.
The Buddha in the Jungle, by Kamala Tiyavanich. Photographs.
Real-life stories about 19th and early 20th century Buddhist monks in Thailand, how they practised in the jungle and what European missionaries thought of them.
Venerable Father : A Life with Ajahn Chah, Paul Breiter. Photographs.
The author's experiences as a disciple of Ajahn Chah, the leading figure in Thailand's Forest Tradition. Rightly considered an underground classic.
Magic and Mystery in Tibet, by Madame Alexandra David-Neel. Photographs.
The remarkable Frenchwoman, Madame Alexandra David-Neel, recounts her investigations into Tibetan Buddhist, mystical and shamanistic practices in the 1920s. Absolutely fascinating.
Bodhisattva of Compassion : The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin, by John Blofeld. Photographs.
A personal investigation into the tradition of worshipping Kuan Yin (the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, known as Kannon in Japan) and the Pure Land faith in China.
Phra Farang: An English Monk in Thailand, by Phra Peter Pannapadipo.
Autobiographical account of a successful English businessman, who at forty five, gave up his comfortable life in London to ordain as a Buddhist monk in Bangkok. Phra Peter didn't speak a word of Thai and seems to have had no aptitude for it, so there are misunderstandings aplenty in the often humorous of a Western monk in Thailand.
The Dhammapada, translated by Gil Fronsdal.
This classic of Buddhist literature is a summary of the core teachings in verse form. Of the many translations available, this new one is a favourite.
Tibetan religion and historyThe Dance of 17 Lives : The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa, by Mick Brown. Photographs.
The story of the 16th and 17th reincarnations of Tibet's oldest Buddhist sect, as told by a relatively neutral researcher/writer who is not a Buddhist. The 17th Karmapa's life is similar to the Dalai Lama's in that he has considerable political significance to the Tibetans and Chinese, and had to flee Tibet. While giving a good overview of the Tibetan religion, monastic politics and the country's current predicament, the story is surprisingly gripping, with quasi-supernatural events, an escape, a rival karmapa, a bad-guy lama and even a public rumble between two factions of monks.
The Search for the Panchen Lama, by Isabel Hilton. Photographs.
A journalist's account of the search for the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest spiritual authority of Tibet's ruling Buddhist sect, and his subsequent detention by the Chinese at the age of 6. Neither the boy nor his family have been seen or heard of since, and the Chinese have offered their own candidate for the post.
Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet, by Peter Hopkirk. Photographs.
A thrilling account of the Westerners who raced each other to be first to reach Lhasa, Tibet's forbidden city.
MoviesTravellers and Magicians, DVD directed by Khyentse Norbu. Butanese with English subtitles.
Two men embark on parallel, if separate, journeys. Their yearning is a common one - for a better and different life. Dondup, delayed by the timeless pace of his village, is forced to hitchhike through the beautiful wild countryside of Bhutan to reach his goal. He shares the road with a monk, an apple seller, a papermaker and his beautiful young daughter, Sonam. Throughout the journey, the perceptive yet mischievous monk relates the story of Tashi. It is a mystical fable of lust, jealousy and murder, that holds up a mirror to the restless Dondup, and his desire for a better life in another place.
The Cup, DVD directed by Khyentse Norbu. Tibetan with English subtitles.
Charming tale of novices in a Tibetan monastery who get World Cup fever.
Little Buddha, DVD directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
Bertolucci's engaging story of an American boy who may be the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama. Includes flasback scenes of the Buddha's life leading up to his enlightenment. Keanu Reeves plays the Buddha.
Kundun, DVD directed by Martin Scorsese.
Story of the Dalai Lama's life up to his escape to India.
Samsara, DVD directed by Nalin Pan. Tibetan with English subtitles.
A young monk disrobes to start a new life with a beautiful woman, but finds it is not as easy as he thought. Stars the talented Christy Chung.