The best Buddhist and yoga biographies and memoirs

The Books I Picked & Why

Cave in the Snow

By Vicki MacKenzie

Book cover of Cave in the Snow

Why this book?

This is one of my most favorite books ever! At the age of 18, Diane Perry — now known as Tenzin Palmo — decided she was a Buddhist and her commitment to this path has never wavered. Not even when she was on a three-year solitary retreat in a cave in the Himalayas and got snowed in. She did yoga to keep warm! Author, Vicki McKenzie, has written this fantastically compelling book about how Tenzin Palmo steadfastly held on to her meditation practice, through the unpleasant and challenging realities of being a Buddhist nun in India, (rats under the bed, noisy neighbors, bad food)  and ultimately became one of the most beloved dharma teachers in the world today.


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White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet's Lost Emissary to the New World

By Douglas Veenhof

Book cover of White Lama: The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard, Tibet's Lost Emissary to the New World

Why this book?

This book is as much fun to read as an Indiana Jones story! Theos Bernard, born in 1908, was a grad student at Columbia University in 1936 when he decided he needed to go to India to do research on Tantric Yoga. He eventually became only the third American to even be allowed to enter Tibet, where he finally was able to study with the highest Tantric masters. But he was still and always an American; a big, strapping, handsome guy with a great asana practice and so his story unfolds in New York, California, Arizona just as much as in India and Tibet. And then, in 1937, he disappeared. I would love to see this book made into a movie!


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Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist — One Woman's Spiritual Journey

By Jan Willis

Book cover of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist — One Woman's Spiritual Journey

Why this book?

Jan Willis is one of our most respected American Buddhist teachers and scholars. Like so many Americans who identify as Buddhists, Jan Willis’ story begins with a Christian background. Willis was raised in the Baptist church in Alabama where she endured Jim Crow racism and later marched with MLK, Jr. She writes about the obstacles she faced in her Ivy League education and how she eventually met her Buddhist guru in India. This story is so resonant for me because it reminds me that we can evolve and grow on our spiritual journey without rejecting any part of who we already are. I read this book when it was published in 2001 and it continues to inspire me as a Buddhist, an American, and a writer.


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The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West

By Michelle Goldberg

Book cover of The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West

Why this book?

You might recognize the author’s name – she is a regular contributor to the Opinion Page of The New York Times. In this book, she has used her journalistic skills to uncover the layers of Indra Devi, from her birth in Russia to her status in Hollywood as one of the first yoga teachers to the stars. Indra Devi was a longtime devotee of Krishnamurti, and the first-ever woman to convince the great yoga master Krishnamacharya to teach her yoga. I remember knowing about her back in the ’70s when I was a novice yogi/college student in southern California and Devi was still teaching privately in Los Angeles. But only through reading this book did I learn how much her work contributed to the current popularity and acceptance of yoga in western culture.


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Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

By Stephen Batchelor

Book cover of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Why this book?

This book is both a memoir of Stephen Batchelor and a memoir of the Buddha himself. Batchelor integrates these two life stories with his journey through India which followed the footsteps of the Buddha. Batchelor teaches us what Buddha taught, but in a way that inspires as many questions as it provides answers. In this way, the reader goes on her own spiritual quest and perhaps, transformation, just as did Buddha and Batchelor. I love this book so much that it is a re-read for me, a wonderful well of inspiration and contemplation. This is also an easy read and a great way to begin dipping into the story and teachings of Buddha through a contemporary lens.


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