The best Buddhist and yoga biographies and memoirs

Who am I?

I've been a practicing yogi and Buddhist for 50 years. For me these lifelong practices started with reading, or as my Zen teacher calls it, being a “Book Buddhist.” Buddhism and Yoga are not typically called “faith-based” practices, but there is an element of faith — it is faith in the process. But you can’t have faith until you have experienced the benefits of practice. The unconventional lives of the yogis told in these books illustrate for all of us how we, too, can develop wisdom, joy, and compassion. I found each of these books really, really fun to read and I’ve gained much insight and inspiration for my own spiritual path.


I wrote...

May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind

By Cyndi Lee,

Book cover of May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind

What is my book about?

This is the story of how meditation and yoga helped me to love myself again. Originally, this book was about my issues with physical self-esteem. Even though I was an accomplished and really fit yoga teacher I did not have a body-positive attitude. So I looked for inspiration from Louise Hay, Christian Northrup, Jamie Lee Curtis, and even my mom, who all gave me a lot of good pointers. But when I met with Tenzin Palmo, she pointed me back to the practices that had been there all along. Yoga helped me come home to my good body and meditation helped me take refuge in myself.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Cave in the Snow

Cyndi Lee Why did I love 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.

By Vicki MacKenzie,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Cave in the Snow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The biography of the Englishwoman who has become a world-renowned spiritual leader and a champion of the right of women to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Following Tenzin Palmo's life from England to India, including her seclusion in a remote cave for 12 years, leading to her decision to found a convent to revive the Togdenma lineage.


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

Cyndi Lee Why did I love 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!

By Douglas Veenhof,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An amazing, often overlooked story of the man who brought Yoga and Tibetan culture to America. Theos Bernard’s colorful, enigmatic, and sometimes contradictory life captures an intersection of East and West that changed our world.
 
After years of forcibly stopping foreigners at the borders, the leaders of Tibet opened the doors to their kingdom in 1937 for Theos Bernard. He was the third American to set foot in Tibet and the first American ever initiated into Tantric practices by the highest lama in Tibet. When Bernard left that sacred land, he was sent home with fifty mule loads of priceless,…


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

Cyndi Lee Why did I love 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.

By Jan Willis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jan Willis is not Baptist or Buddhist. She is simply both. Dreaming Me is the story of her life, as a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, dealing with racism in an Ivy League college, and becoming involved with the Black Panther Party. But it wasn't until meeting Lama Yeshe, a Tibetan Buddhist monk living in the mountains of Nepal, that she realized who the real Jan Willis was, and how to make the most of the life she was living.


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

Cyndi Lee Why did I love 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.

By Michelle Goldberg,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Goddess Pose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the woman who would become Indra Devi was born in Russia in 1899, yoga was virtually unknown outside of India. By the time of her death, in 2002, it was being practiced everywhere, from Brooklyn to Berlin to Ulaanbaatar. In The Goddess Pose, New York Times best-selling author Michelle Goldberg traces the life of the incredible woman who brought yoga to the West and in so doing paints a sweeping picture of the twentieth century.

Born into the minor aristocracy (as Eugenia Peterson), Devi grew up in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in human history.…


Book cover of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Cyndi Lee Why did I love 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.

By Stephen Batchelor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confession of a Buddhist Atheist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Does Buddhism require faith? Can an atheist or agnostic follow the Buddha’s teachings without believing in reincarnation or organized religion?
 
This is one man’s confession.
 
In his classic Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor offered a profound, secular approach to the teachings of the Buddha that struck an emotional chord with Western readers. Now, with the same brilliance and boldness of thought, he paints a groundbreaking portrait of the historical Buddha—told from the author’s unique perspective as a former Buddhist monk and modern seeker. Drawing from the original Pali Canon, the seminal collection of Buddhist discourses compiled after the Buddha’s death…


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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…


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