The best books about Zen awareness practice

The Books I Picked & Why

What Is Zen?

By D. T. Suzuki

What Is Zen?

Why this book?

As I began my search to make some kind of sense of my life, I started with philosophy and moved to religion. When I came across this book, I intuitively sensed that the author knew what I wanted to know. I had no idea what he was talking about but my heart sang with every page. This was my first experience of being taken to the “place” from which the author wrote. Reading it was like sitting at the feet of the Master, aware of a lack of comprehension while witnessing a living example of what the heart intuitively knows.


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Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings

By Paul Reps, Nyogen Senzaki

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings

Why this book?

This was my second foray into fascination with what I knew I didn’t understand but desperately sought to. The way this book is written is the method to the understanding it represents. It invites a practitioner to stay with it to receive its gifts and makes for an enduring companion. This book has traveled with me through decades. Each time I read it, it mirrors for me the depth of understanding that is current and what there is to look forward to.


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My Religion, What Shall We Do? & The Journal of Leo Tolstoi

By Leo Tolstoi

My Religion, What Shall We Do? & The Journal of Leo Tolstoi

Why this book?

When a clearly enlightened spiritual master speaks to us, our first reaction is often resistance because the message is designed to end the reign of egocentricity and return us to Authentic Being. To me, everything Leo Tolstoy wrote in his maturity offers the same possibility, but none so starkly as My Religion. As with reading Mahatma Gandhi, we have the opportunity to witness the deep practice of an aspirant grappling with transcending the suffering of the human condition, in much the same way John of the Cross describes the “dark night of the soul.” It illustrates every person’s spiritual journey and the uncompromising nature of the path to awakening.


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Self-Awareness Practice Instructions

By Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sankara, Annamalai Swami, Muruganar, Sadhu Om, Anonymous Awareness

Self-Awareness Practice Instructions

Why this book?

If Japanese Zen is best expressed through haiku, Bhagwan Shri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings are the Vedantic equivalent. Simple, direct, straightforward – just the bare minimum a person needs to practice to awaken. This little book distills his teachings and takes the practitioner into a process designed to, as D.T. Suzuki might say it, “grasp the ungraspable nature of the ungraspable.”


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A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

What originally drew me to spiritual practice was the desire to know that I would be ok if I were ever in a wheelchair or a concentration camp. If I were trapped without an ability to escape my circumstances, could I be happy? A Gentleman in Moscow is, to me, a beautiful exploration of the answer to that question. Count Rostov is given a life sentence: confinement to the hotel where he lives. His story is an articulation of how one, moment by moment, accepts, adapts, and thrives when one’s basic choices are removed. In essence, the book is a how-to manual for the transcendence of the spirit over circumstances.


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