The best books for an introduction to Zen

Why am I passionate about this?

Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison is an author, Soto Zen teacher, and Jungian psychotherapist. Koshin co-founded the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which offers contemplative approaches to care through education, personal caregiving, and Zen practice. He is the author of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up. And the co-editor of Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care. He is a recognized Zen teacher by the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, White Plum Asanga, and American Zen Teachers Association. 


I wrote...

Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up

By Koshin Paley Ellison,

Book cover of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up

What is my book about?

The Dalai Lama said this about Wholehearted: “Intimacy is based on the willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on common humanity. Koshin Paley Ellison’s teachings share the way forward into a path of connection, compassion, and intimacy.”

This book is about getting back in touch with your values, so you can live energetically, authentically, and lovingly. This an invitation to close the gaps we create between ourselves and others—to wake up to ourselves and the world around us.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Zen Meditation in Plain English

Koshin Paley Ellison Why did I love this book?

I love this book and find myself rereading it each year. It is the first book I recommend for my students and for anyone who is curious about the practice of Zen. Daishin has a depth of practice with a tenderness and love for the practice that is palpable. 

By John Daishin Buksbazen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zen Meditation in Plain English as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An excellent, practical introduction to Zen meditation. Written in a warm and easily accessible style, this book appeals to anyone with an interest in meditation, Zen, or, as is often the case today, a combination of the two. The book emphasizes the importance of receiving good instruction and of finding groups to practice with, yet it lays out the necessary steps to practice Zen meditation on your own. The book includes easily followed exercises to help the reader along. For anyone looking to uncover a clear and insightful path into the philosophy and practice of Zen meditation, this book represents…


Book cover of Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice

Koshin Paley Ellison Why did I love this book?

It's a perfect follow-up for after reading Zen Meditation in Plain English. Uchiyama Roshi’s clarity, warmth and rigor are a gateway into the practice. It is a jewel of a book that continues to illuminate Zen practice as an integrative life practice. I am so deeply appreciative for this book.

By Kosho Uchiyama, Shohaku Okumura (editor), Tom Wright (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Opening the Hand of Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over thirty years, Opening the Hand of Thought has offered an introduction to Zen Buddhism and meditation unmatched in clarity and power. This is the revised edition of Kosho Uchiyama's singularly incisive classic.

This new edition contains even more useful material: new prefaces, an index, and extended endnotes, in addition to a revised glossary. As Jisho Warner writes in her preface, Opening the Hand of Thought "goes directly to the heart of Zen practice... showing how Zen Buddhism can be a deep and life-sustaining activity." She goes on to say, "Uchiyama looks at what a person is, what a…


Book cover of Everyday Zen: Love and Work

Koshin Paley Ellison Why did I love this book?

Dharma successor to Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Charlotte Joko Beck, was a musician, mother, partner and a person deeply interested in the integration of deep practice in the midst of our ordinary lives. Through her warmth and clarity, this book explicitly explores love, relationships, work, dear, ambition, and suffering. It is a beautiful book about how to live fully.

By Charlotte Joko Beck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everyday Zen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charlotte Joko Beck is one of the most popular Zen teachers currently teaching in the West.

This beautifully written book is a Zen guide to the problems of daily living, love, relationships, work, fear and suffering. Beck describes how to be in the present and living each moment to the full.


Book cover of Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice

Koshin Paley Ellison Why did I love this book?

We need to learn from our ancestors. Taizan Maezumi Roshi (1931-1995), was one of the first Japanese Zen masters to bring Zen to the West and founding abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles and Zen Mountain Center in Idyllwild, California. This inspiring collection of teachings explore zazen and Zen koans, how to appreciate your life as the life of the Buddha, and the essential matter of life and death. As Maezumi Roshi says, this book is a companion to "be intimate with your life."

By Taizan Maezumi, Eve Myonen Marko (editor), Wendy Egyoku Nakao (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Appreciate Your Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of short, inspiring teachings on Zen koans, the Buddha, and more—from a leader in introducing Zen Buddhism to the West
 
Here is the first major collection of the teachings of Taizan Maezumi Roshi (1931-1995), one of the first Japanese Zen masters to bring Zen to the West and founding abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles and Zen Mountain Center in Idyllwild, California. These short, inspiring readings illuminate Zen practice in simple, eloquent language. Topics include zazen and Zen koans, how to appreciate your life as the life of the Buddha, and the essential matter of life…


Book cover of Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey

Koshin Paley Ellison Why did I love this book?

This book inspired my own integration of service and Zen. Issan Dorsey is a person who did not hold back. This portrait of a teacher whose creativity, love, honesty, joy, and compassion continues to awaken new possibilities for engaged Buddhism.

By David Schneider,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Street Zen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drag queen. Prostitute. Drug addict. American bodhisattva.

These words describe the unlikely persona of Issan Dorsey, one of the most beloved teachers to emerge in American Zen. From his early days as a gorgeous female impersonator to the LSD experiences that set him on the spiritual path, Issan's life was never conventional. In 1989, after twenty years of Zen practice, he became the Founding Abbot of San Francisco's Hartford Street Zen Center, where he established Maitri Hospice for AIDS patients. Featuring Bernie Glassman's foreword to the second edition, as well as a new foreword by Koshin Paley Ellison, Street Zen…


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Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

Book cover of Lightning Strike Blues

Gayleen Froese Author Of Lightning Strike Blues

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Communications officer Singer-songwriter Fan of all animals Role-playing geek Nature photographer

Gayleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

One summer night in a small prairie city, 18-year-old Gabriel Reece accidentally outs himself to his redneck brother Colin, flees on his motorcycle, and gets struck by lightning on his way out of town.

He’s strangely fine, walking away from his melted pile of bike without a scratch. There’s no time to consider his new inhuman durability before his brother disappears and his childhood home burns down. He’s become popular, too—local cops and a weird private eye are after him, wanting to know if his brother is behind a recent murder.

Answers might be in the ashes of the house where Gabe and Colin grew up, if Gabe and his friends can stay alive and out of jail long enough to find them.

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

What is this book about?

On Friday, Gabriel Reece gets struck by lightning while riding his motorcycle.

It's not the worst thing that happens to him that week.

Gabe walks away from a smoldering pile of metal without a scratch-or any clothes, which seem to have been vaporized. And that's weird, but he's more worried about the sudden disappearance of his brother, Colin, who ditched town the second Gabe accidentally outed himself as gay.

Gabe tries to sift through fragmented memories of his crummy childhood for clues to his sudden invincibility, but he barely has time to think before people around town start turning up…


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