The most recommended books on Tibetan Buddhism

Who picked these books? Meet our 24 experts.

24 authors created a book list connected to Tibetan Buddhism, and here are their favorite Tibetan Buddhism books.
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Book cover of Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West

Laurence Cox Author Of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

From my list on Buddhism and the West.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a street musician, set up kindergartens, worked in special needs education, and run wood-fired showers in a field for meditation retreats. I’m also associate professor of sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. I became a Buddhist partly out of interest in a very different culture and started wondering how Buddhism got from Asia to the West. I think about this through my own experience of teaching meditation, being an activist for 35 years, living in five countries, and learning ten languages: what do you have to do to make an idea come alive in a different culture? 

Laurence's book list on Buddhism and the West

Laurence Cox Why did Laurence love this book?

When my grandparents died they left small presents for their grandchildren, and in a way that many Buddhists would recognise I bought a book about Buddhism – a funny and sad one. Lopez’s book tells the story of how Western fantasies talk over actual Tibetans and their struggles, from what we think we know about the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” to Lobsang Rampa’s spurious The Third Eye, passing through how we talk about Tibetan art and what we say about the mantra “Om mani padme hum”. This is a deeply humane book about how Tibetans are trapped not only by superpower politics and colonialism but also by how they are represented to the West. 

By Donald S. Lopez Jr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prisoners of Shangri-La as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To the Western imagination, Tibet evokes exoticism, mysticism, and wonder: a fabled land removed from the grinding onslaught of modernity, spiritually endowed with all that the West has lost. Originally published in 1998, Prisoners of Shangri-La provided the first cultural history of the strange encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Donald Lopez reveals here fanciful misconceptions of Tibetan life and religion. He examines, among much else, the politics of the term "Lamaism," a pejorative synonym for Tibetan Buddhism; the various theosophical, psychedelic, and New Age purposes served by the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead; and the unexpected history…


Book cover of The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan

Lorne Ladner Author Of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

From my list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

Lorne's book list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition

Lorne Ladner Why did Lorne love this book?

For me personally, this book changed my life more than any other, opening me up to the inspiring possibility that a deeply imperfect person could become enlightened through sincere and mighty efforts. This work is one of the world's great stories. The name Milarepa has inspired people for a millenium throughout Central Asia, being almost synonymous with being a yogi and with redemption through heartfelt efforts. It includes Milarepa's life story and some of the many poems which he spontaneously composed to educate and enlighten others as he wandered through the Himalayas.

By Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Unknown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Life of Milarepa is the most beloved story of the Tibetan people amd one of the greatest source books for the contemplative life in all world literature. This biography, a true folk tale from a culture now in crisis, can be read on several levels: a personal and moving introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, it is also a profoundly detailed guidebook in the search for consciousness. It presents the quest for spiritual perfection, tracing the path of a great sinner who became a great saint. But it is also a powerful and graphic folk tale, full of magic, disaster, feuds,…


Book cover of The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Mimi Chao Author Of Let's Go Explore

From my list on picture books to inspire mindful curiosity in kids (and adults).

Why am I passionate about this?

I believe that creativity and mindfulness are critical qualities for a well-lived life. This is something I learned through personal experience as a former lawyer who returned to my childhood dream of creating art and stories. Mindfulness—a kind, nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment in and around you—helps people of all ages practice self-compassion, appreciate the world and others, and see life as an adventure. I write and illustrate picture books to share these concepts through storytelling, teach mindful creative classes, and am a certified meditation teacher through The Awareness Training Institute and the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.   

Mimi's book list on picture books to inspire mindful curiosity in kids (and adults)

Mimi Chao Why did Mimi love this book?

This book beautifully demonstrates the power of compassion, which goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. It tells the story of the Dalai Lama’s life, with a focus on how his mom helped him cultivate compassion and how that seed of compassion lives in all of us.

I think this book is great for kids who learn best through storytelling, and I like that it offers exposure to Tibetan Buddhism, Eastern culture, and the Dalai Lama as a historical figure for children and adults of all backgrounds and religions.

By Dalai Lama, Bao Luu (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Seed of Compassion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

For the first time ever, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama addresses children directly, sharing lessons of peace and compassion, told through stories of his own childhood.

One of today's most inspiring world leaders was once an ordinary child named Lhamo Thondup. In a small village in Tibet, his mother was his first great teacher of compassion. In everyday moments from his childhood, young readers begin to see that important lessons are all around us, and they, too, can grow to truly understand them.

With simple, powerful text, the Dalai Lama shares the universalist teachings of treating…


Book cover of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

Paul J. Zak Author Of Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness

From my list on happiness that will improve your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

In my view, there is no bigger quest than to understand how to live a long and fulfilled life. Most of my professional life has focused on running neuroscience experiments in my academic laboratory and developing technologies for companies I have started to understand and increase happiness. I have devoted 20 years to this quest and I continue to work to build a happier and healthier world. I am one of the most cited scientists in this area and also regularly communicate to the general public through TED talks, books, magazine articles, and public lectures.    

Paul's book list on happiness that will improve your life

Paul J. Zak Why did Paul love this book?

I like and dislike this book! Ricard is a scientist and a Buddhist monk, and is reported to be the happiest man on earth. I know, respect, and like Ricard, and this book harkens back to the Stoics by suggesting that moderation is the key to happiness. My research says yes and no to this.  Ricard is correct that spending too much time worrying about the past or future will drag down one's happiness. My research, and that of many others, have shown the positive effect of meditation on happiness and here Ricard is masterful in explaining how and why meditation is important. Calmness and self-insight are very important to avoiding depression and setting the conditions for happiness, but, as Ricard notes, we must be in communities of other people to truly thrive. A little wildness is awesome, go for it!

By Matthieu Ricard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Combining science and spirit, a cell biologist turned Buddhist monk blends new scientific research with traditional Western philosophy to reveal how readily attainable happiness is.


Book cover of Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations

Graham Priest Author Of The Fifth Corner of Four: an Essay on Buddhist Metaphysics and the Catuṣkoṭi

From my list on learning about Buddhist philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Initially trained as a mathematician, I have now been an academic philosopher for well over four decades—in the UK, Australia, and currently at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. About halfway through this time I was shocked to discover that I knew nothing of half of the world’s philosophy: that developed in the Eastern traditions. I set about educating myself—reading, travelling to India and Japan to teach and study, working with those who were specialists in the relevant areas. Nowadays in my philosophical writing and research I am able to draw on a much richer and deeper understanding of philosophy.

Graham's book list on learning about Buddhist philosophy

Graham Priest Why did Graham love this book?

Mahāyāna Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that emerges in India around the turn of the Common Era, and is the form that spreads into East Asia. (Only one of the earlier forms of religious Buddhism is still extant, Theravāda, which can be found in South East Asia.) Williams’ book traces the development of Mahāyāna philosophy from its beginnings in India into China, where Buddhist thought is influenced by the indigenous philosophies, in particular, that of Daoism (道家).

By Paul Williams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Originating in India, Mahayana Buddhism spread across Asia, becoming the prevalent form of Buddhism in Tibet and East Asia. Over the last twenty-five years Western interest in Mahayana has increased considerably, reflected both in the quantity of scholarly material produced and in the attraction of Westerners towards Tibetan Buddhism and Zen.

Paul Williams' Mahayana Buddhism is widely regarded as the standard introduction to the field, used internationally for teaching and research and has been translated into several European and Asian languages. This new edition has been fully revised throughout in the light of the wealth of new studies and focuses…


Book cover of The Heart of the Buddha: Entering the Tibetan Buddhist Path

Lodro Rinzler Author Of Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times

From my list on how to learn Buddhism.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lodro Rinzler has taught Buddhism for 20 years, starting when he was just 18 years-old. He is the author of seven meditation books including the best-seller The Buddha Walks into a Bar, and the co-founder of MNDFL meditation studios in New York City. His books Walk Like a Buddha and The Buddha Walks into the Office both have received Independent Publisher Book Awards. Named one of 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness by SONIMA, Rinzler's new book is Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times.

Lodro's book list on how to learn Buddhism

Lodro Rinzler Why did Lodro love this book?

Moving from the Zen lineages over to another branch of this tradition, Tibetan Buddhism, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was famous for making the esoteric accessible. In this book he covers a wide variety of topics ranging from the four foundations of mindfulness over to advanced Buddhist views around taking vows and maintaining sacred outlook throughout one’s day. Bonus: there’s a section devoted to a number of modern day issues where he offers Buddhist teachings on relationships, art, and money.

By Chögyam Trungpa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heart of the Buddha as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The basic teachings of Buddhism as they relate to everyday life—presented by the esteemed Tibetan meditation master
 
In The Heart of the Buddha, Chögyam Trungpa examines the basic teachings of Buddhism and places them within the context of daily life. Divided into three parts, the book begins with a discussion about the open, inquisitive, and good-humored qualities of the “heart of the Buddha”—an “enlightened gene” that everyone possesses. Next, Chögyam Trungpa moves to the stages of the Buddhist path, presenting the three vehicles—Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana—that carry the Buddhist practitioner toward enlightenment. Finally, he describes the direct application of Buddhist…


Book cover of After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age

Guy Claxton Author Of The Heart of Buddhism: Practical Wisdom for an Agitated World

From my list on Buddhism that get to the heart of the matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a long-time meditator and student of Buddhism, and a retired but still active academic. I am a cognitive scientist specialising in the learnable aspects of real-world intelligence. My meditation ‘career’ started when I was an undergraduate studying psychology at Cambridge in the late 1960s, and has since taken me to America, India, and Japan, as well as to many retreats in the UK with visiting teachers from all the main branches of Buddhism. In my academic life, I have a doctorate in psycholinguistics from Oxford and have been Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Bristol and the Research Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning in Winchester. My books on the crossover between Eastern and Western Psychology include The Psychology of Awakening, Wholly HumanNoises from the Darkroom, and The Heart of Buddhism.

Guy's book list on Buddhism that get to the heart of the matter

Guy Claxton Why did Guy love this book?

Stephen Batchelor is an old and dear friend of mine – partly because I love his radical ‘take’ on Buddhism. He knows his traditional Buddhist stuff all right: he was a Tibetan Buddhism monk for eight years, and studied in a Korean Zen monastery for four. To some, he is a heretic because his books peel away the cultural superstitions that have befogged the Buddha’s original teachings – such as karma and reincarnation - and reveal a message that is as relevant and insightful today as it was two and a half millennia ago. But his deep and lightly-worn scholarship shines through and – to me at least – he is bang on: both down to earth and utterly inspirational.

By Stephen Batchelor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A renowned Buddhist teacher's magnum opus, based on his fresh reading of the tradition's earliest texts

Some twenty-five centuries after the Buddha started teaching, his message continues to inspire people across the globe, including those living in predominantly secular societies. What does it mean to adapt religious practices to secular contexts?

Stephen Batchelor, an internationally known author and teacher, is committed to a secularized version of the Buddha's teachings. The time has come, he feels, to articulate a coherent ethical, contemplative, and philosophical vision of Buddhism for our age. After Buddhism, the culmination of four decades of study and practice…


Book cover of The Life and Teaching of Naropa

Lorne Ladner Author Of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

From my list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

Lorne's book list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition

Lorne Ladner Why did Lorne love this book?

Naropa was an important figure in Indian Tantric Buddhism whose lineages gained great popularity in Tibet. His life story beautifully embodies many archetypal elements of the spiritual journey in a way that has proved compelling, inspiring, and educational for Buddhist practitioners for well over a millenium. He goes from being a great scholar to a seeker who bears many hardships to an enlightened master. If you yourself are someone deeply committed to a spiritual journey, then it's likely that you'll find moments of your own experience reflected back for you in his remarkable story.

By Herbert V. Guenther,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the history of Tibetan Buddhism, the eleventh-century Indian mystic Nâropa occupies an unusual position, for his life and teachings mark both the end of a long tradition and the beginning of a new and rich era in Buddhist thought. Nâropa's biography, translated by the world-renowned Buddhist scholar Herbert V. Guenther from hitherto unknown sources, describes with great psychological insight the spiritual development of this scholar-saint. It is unique in that it also contains a detailed analysis of his teaching that has been authoritative for the whole of Tantric Buddhism.

This modern translation is accompanied by a commentary that relates…


Book cover of Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition

Lorne Ladner Author Of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

From my list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

Lorne's book list on biographies within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition

Lorne Ladner Why did Lorne love this book?

This book does a remarkable job of exploring the nature of spiritual biography itself. It compares and contrasts Western hagiographical traditions with the unique ways that Tibetans (and other Central Asians) use outer, inner, and secret biographies not only to share the stories of great Buddhist masters but also to share history, inspiration, and implicit teachings to apply to one's own practice of the path. Willis explores these themes in complex ways and also provides translations of the life stories of 6 Tibetan lamas of the Ganden tradition who combined profound scholarly and deep yogic pursuits in unique ways.

By Jan Willis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Here, for the first time in any Western language, are the sacred biographies of six great tantric meditators from the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. These life stories - or namtar - are actually tales of liberation. Part of a distinct tradition in Tibetan Buddhism, they are meant not only to inspire but also to instruct others on the path to enlightenment.

In Professor Willis's introduction and detailed annotations, you'll gain a wealth of information about how to read and interpret namtar texts, as well as some valuable insights into the religious and political worlds in which these early Tibetan…


Book cover of The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living

Chase Mielke Author Of The Burnout Cure: Learning to Love Teaching Again

From my list on making teaching suck a little less.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a veteran teacher, instructional coach, and speaker. I’ve dealt with the bull crap and beauty of education for a decade and a half. As such, I’m dedicated to helping educators find their love of this work, even amidst the struggles. I’m a columnist for Education Leadership and host of the Educator Happy Hour podcast. I travel all over the world to help teachers and school leaders learn the science of well-being so they can be at their best in order to give their best, even on full-moon, post-holiday, “WIFI crashed” days of student chaos.

Chase's book list on making teaching suck a little less

Chase Mielke Why did Chase love this book?

I was an angsty, trouble-making, “pain in the ass-essement” of a student. A mischief maker. A frequenter of the principal's office. Then junior year, I find myself at a rummage sale holding a book with a cheesy, smiley Buddhist on the cover about happiness. Maybe it was curiosity (or what I’d later realize was depression) but I felt I had to buy the book. No book has changed my life more.

Co-written by H. H. the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Dr. Howard C. Cutler, this book is a pragmatic, down-to-earth exploration of how our thoughts – our reactions to hardships – can shape our well-being. Not preachy, nor touchy-feely, this book can explain how to acknowledge the challenges of life while taking our happiness into our own actions. If you’re going to suffer (and in teaching, you will suffer), why not take a masterclass on how to find happiness within…

By Dalai Lama XIV, Howard C. Cutler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this unique and important book, one of the world's great spiritual leaders offers his practical wisdom and advice on how we can overcome everyday human problems and achieve lasting happiness.

The Art of Happiness is a highly accessible guide for a western audience, combining the Dalai Lama's eastern spiritual tradition with Dr Howard C. Cutler's western perspective. Covering all key areas of human experience, they apply the principles of Tibetan Buddhism to everyday problems and reveal how one can find balance and complete spiritual and mental freedom.

For the many who wish to understand more about the Dalai Lama's…