The best books on Zen from a Zen teacher

Who am I?

James Ford is a Zen teacher and the author or editor of five books on Zen history and spirituality. His history of Zen in the West, Zen Master Who? captured the personalities who formed our emerging Western schools, while the Book of Mu, which he compiled and edited with Melissa Myozen Blacker is considered essential for any contemporary student of koans, Zen’s arcane spiritual discipline.


I wrote...

Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons

By James Ishmael Ford,

Book cover of Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons

What is my book about?

An indispensable guide to koans, teaching the reader about the importance of lineage, the practice of “just sitting,” and koan practice as paths to awakening. The power of koans, these 'public cases' from China, has never ceased to enrich his own experience of Zen. They are a medium of exploration of the history, culture, and view of Zen, but most importantly are a medium of awakening.

The books I picked & why

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The Complete Illustrated Guide to Zen

By Seigaku Amato,

Book cover of The Complete Illustrated Guide to Zen

Why this book?

A delightful introduction to traditional Zen practice in the West. Seigaku Amato introduces us to the intricacies of monastic practice adapted into Western communities with humor, insight, and pictures?


The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World

By Barbara O'Brien,

Book cover of The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World

Why this book?

Journalist and long-time Zen student Barbara O'Brien offers the only readable, concise, and yet comprehensive survey of Zen's history, the development of its teachings from the beginnings of Buddhism to the dawn of the twenty-first century. She finds a genuine middle ground between an appreciation of the received tradition and the best of modern scholarship. A masterful accomplishment. 


The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics

By Robert Aitken,

Book cover of The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics

Why this book?

Robert Aitken was the first American born Zen teacher to be ranked an equal among the first generation of Zen missionaries from East Asia. Several of his books count as classics, but Mind of Clover stands out for its clarity while introducing Zen's ethical precepts as an essential container of Zen practice. 


Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen

By Eihei Dogen,

Book cover of Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen

Why this book?

Collecting and editing translations from a who's who of Zen scholarship, Kaz Tanahashi provides what has become the classic introduction to the writings of Eihei Dogen. The founder of Japanese Soto Zen, Dogen is considered one of the signal figures in the distillation of Zen's teachings. 


Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

By Shunryu Suzuki,

Book cover of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Why this book?

D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts introduced Zen to a Western audience. Shunryu Suzuki, no relationship to the scholar, was one of the first to show Westerners how to live Zen. He founded the San Francisco Zen Center as one of the first centers dedicated to offering authentic practice to Westerners. This book has become a beloved classic, arguably the first classic of American Zen.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in zen, Buddhism, and meditation?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about zen, Buddhism, and meditation.

Zen Explore 67 books about zen
Buddhism Explore 175 books about Buddhism
Meditation Explore 92 books about meditation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Four Agreements, Be Here Now, and The Wisdom of Insecurity if you like this list.