Embrace Enlightenment: A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness and Buddhism

Posted on June 3, 2024

by Amy H

The current mindfulness movement has evolved from a fundamental Buddhist meditation practice. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for living an authentic life, but it becomes dramatically less so as it becomes commercialized and evolves further away from its origins. It can be difficult to know where to begin if one wishes to learn about what mindfulness really means and where it comes from. Here are some great books for beginners along the path to enlightenment.

Book Jacket: If You're Lucky, your Heart Will Break

if you're lucky, your heart will break by James Ishmael Ford

Using anecdotes from his own life-as well as quotations drawn from sources as varied as the Bible, Yiddish aphorisms, and stand-up comedy-Zen teacher and Unitarian Universalist minister James Ishmael Ford shares the wisdom won over his lifetime of full-hearted engagement with the Zen path.

Book Jacket: Buddhism for Dummies

buddhism for dummies by Jonathan Landaw

Don't let the title fool you, this is a well-written, thoughtful introduction to Buddhism written by experts adept at making complex ideas understandable. What does it mean to be a Buddhist? What are the fundamental beliefs and history behind this religion? Readers gain an understanding of the origins of this ancient practice and how they're currently applied to everyday life. Whether you're a searcher of truth, a student of religions, or just curious about what makes Buddhism such a widely practiced religion, this guide is for you.

Book Jacket: Start Where You Are

start where you are by Pema Chödrön

We’re bombarded every day with false promises of ways to make our lives better-buy this, go here, eat this, don’t do that; the list goes on and on. Pema Chödrön shows that, until we get to the heart of who we are and really make friends with ourselves, everything we do will always be superficial. Here she offers down-to-earth guidance on how we can go beyond the fleeting attempts to “fix” our pain and, instead, to take our lives as they are as the only path to achieve what we all yearn for most deeply-to embrace rather than deny the difficulties of our lives. Chodron has a gift for writing highly accessible books on Buddhist principles. Any of her titles would be a good place to start.

Book Jacket: Why Buddhism Is True

why buddhism is true by Robert Wright

At the heart of Buddhism is a simple claim: The reason we suffer (and make other people suffer) is that we don’t see the world clearly and are constantly trying to reshape it to fit our predetermined expectations on how things should be. At the heart of Buddhist meditative practice is a radical promise: We can learn to see the world, including ourselves, more clearly and let go of the stories we tell ourselves about it. Wright shows how taking this promise seriously can change your life-how it can loosen the grip of anxiety, regret, and hatred, and how it can deepen your appreciation of beauty and of other people. He also shows why this transformation works, drawing on the latest in neuroscience and psychology, demonstrating how, in a time of technological distraction and social division, we can save ourselves from ourselves, both as individuals and as a species.

Book Jacket: The Miracle of Mindfulness

the miracle of mindfulness by Nhất Hạnh

In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercises as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness–being awake and fully aware. From washing the dishes to answering the phone to peeling an orange, he reminds us that each moment holds within it an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.

Book Jacket: Wherever You Go, There You Are

wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

To Buddhists, meditation is important because it brings about a state of “mindfulness,” a condition of “being” rather than “doing” during which one pays attention to the present moment rather than the past, the future, or the multitudinous distractions of modern life. In brief, rather poetic chapters, Kabat-Zinn describes different meditative practices and what they can do for the practitioner. The idea that meditation is “spiritual” is often confusing to people, Kabat-Zinn writes. He prefers to think of meditation as what you might call a workout for your consciousness. This book makes learning meditation remarkably easy (although practicing it is not), and also makes it seem infinitely appealing.

Book Jacket: Mindfulness in Plain English

mindfulness in plain english by Henepola Gunaratana

This helpful guide walks readers through how to meditate and deal with the many typical obstacles which arise in one’s practice. Bhante Gunaratana is from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, classically trained and ordained in the Vipassana form of practice, which places great emphasis on mindfulness. “Meditation is not easy. It takes time and energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline.” He goes on to emphasize that meditation should be rejuvenating and liberating, and most seasoned practitioners develop a good and deeply compassionate sense of humor, because the practice creates a calmness and relaxed perspective about life.

Book Jacket: Mindfulness for Beginners

mindfulness for beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn

We may long for wholeness, suggests Jon Kabat-Zinn, but the truth is that it is already here and already ours. The practice of mindfulness holds the possibility of not just a fleeting sense of contentment, but a true embracing of a deeper unity that envelops and permeates our lives. Kabat-Zinn invites readers to learn how to transform their relationships to the way we think, feel, love, work, and play-and thereby moving beyond one’s “story” into direct experience, to awaken and embody more completely who we really are.

Book Jacket: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

zen mind, beginner's mind by Shunryū Suzuki

Suzuki is one of the founders of organized Zen practice in the United States, and this is his fundamental work on the practice, nature, and basic attitudes of Zen meditation for Western practitioners.

Book Jacket: Finding the Still Point

finding the still point by John Daido Loori

Loori, the revered founder and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, distills his experience and wisdom for anyone looking to begin a Zen practice in this tiny but powerful book. Written in an easy-to-understand format, it is one of the best and most concise guides on how to meditate.

Book Jacket: Waking up to What You Do

waking up to what you do by Diane Eshin Rizzetto

Rizzetto presents an effective practice for meeting every moment of our lives with mindfulness, using the Zen precepts as tools to develop a keen awareness of the motivations behind our behavior-to "wake up to what we do"-from moment to moment. As we train in mindfulness of our actions, every situation of our lives becomes our teacher, offering priceless insight into what it really means to be happy. This practice enables us to break through our habitual reactions and to see clearly how our own happiness and well-being are intimately, inevitably connected to the happiness and well-being of everyone around us.

Book Jacket: Nothing Special

nothing special by Charlotte Joko Beck

Joko Beck shows how to awaken to daily life and discover the ideal in the everyday, finding riches in our feelings, relationships, and work. 'Nothing Special' offers the rare and delightful experience of learning in the authentic Buddhist tradition with a contemporary Western master's thoughtful guidance.

Book Jacket: Letters to A Dead Friend About Zen

letters to a dead friend about zen by Brad Warner

Warner learns of the death of a childhood friend and decides to write down everything he wishes they had talked about. Simply and humorously, Warner reflects on why Zen provided him a lifeline in a difficult world. He explores grief, attachment, and the afterlife. The result for readers is a singular and winning meditation on Zen - and a unique tribute to both a life lost and the one Warner has found.

Book Jacket: Mindfulness

mindfulness by Sarah Shaw

This clear, concise guide shares the foundations and breadth of the term "mindfulness", from its Buddhist beginnings to its present-day expressions in secular contexts. Drawing upon years of experience through practicing, researching, and teaching mindfulness and its history, Dr. Sarah Shaw offers a complete map that provides readers, whether seasoned practitioners or those more generally interested, a more grounded understanding of the world's most popular approach to meditation.

Book Jacket: What's Wrong With Mindfulness (and What Isn't)

what's wrong with mindfulness (and what isn't)

Zen teachers and psychotherapists Magid and Rosenbaum offer a collection of thoughtful essays from a variety of seasoned practitioners on the relationship between secular mindfulness practice and Zen Buddhist practice. They suggest that mindfulness is an ethical enlightened state of being in the world, where one is not only consciously aware of the present moment but is able to respond when needed to the conditions at hand. They argue that secular mindfulness is frequently presented only through a means-end dynamic without an ethical framework, and could easily reinforce one's self-centeredness or delusions of control. They hope to free the concept of mindfulness from its New Agey, self-transformative, goal-oriented perspective and return it to its essence, which is "effort without desire." This is the heart of the work: the ordinary awareness of doing nothing and being nothing while paradoxically being present in all things, at all times, to all persons.

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