Mindfulness and Buddhism 101

Posted on March 18, 2019

by Amy H

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

Library Resources

Zen Living / Buddhism

If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break: Field Notes from a Zen Life 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.

Zen Living by Domyo Sater Burk (Idiot’s Guides)

In today’s fast-paced, technology-laden society, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. People seek calm and simplicity, but have a hard time realizing a “Zen” life. Monk and Zen teacher Domyo Sater Burk illustrates how to get started on the path to peace and enlightenment, regardless of cultural or religious affiliation. You’ll learn the foundation and essential teachings of Zen practice, how to engage in meditation and mindfulness, and how to live daily within a Zen moral code.

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron

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. See also, Chodron’s “When things fall apart : heart advice for difficult times” and other works.

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright

At the heart of Buddhism is a simple claim: The reason we suffer—and the reason we 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 so gain a deep and morally valid happiness. 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.


The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercise 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. See also his “Peace is Every Step: the path of mindfulness in everyday life” and other works.

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 you pay attention to the 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). But it also makes it seem infinitely appealing.

Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life 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. With Mindfulness for Beginners you are invited to learn how to transform your relationship to the way you think, feel, love, work, and play—and thereby moving beyond one’s “story” into direct experience, to awaken and embody more completely who you really are.

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante 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.” But, then 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.

Zen Buddhism

Everyday Zen: Love & Work by Charlotte Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck offers a warm, engaging, uniquely American approach to using Zen concepts to deal with the problems of daily living—love, relationships, work, fear, ambition, and suffering.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu 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.

Finding the Still Point : A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation 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. This book also comes with an instructional CD.

Don’t Be a Jerk and Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master : A Radical but Reverent Paraphrasing of Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye by Brad Warner

The Shobogenzo (translated as The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye) by Zen Master Dogen is a revered but often intimidating 800-year-old Zen Buddhism classic. Zen priest Brad Warner seeks to make the writings of this highly influential thirteenth-century monk and Japanese Zen master accessible to a modern audience. Rather than a straight translation, Warner offers a chapter-by-chapter paraphrase, aiming to help modern readers capture its spirit and essence. Each chapter opens with a passage from the original, which is then carefully and often humorously unpacked. These ancient concepts of Zen practice are truly relevant in today’s world and Warner’s interpretation opens up these concepts to beginners everywhere.

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