Best Buddhist Books For Beginners Who Want A Better Life

Do you want a more peaceful and happier life? Read books on Buddhism or by Buddhist authors.

Even though I’m a “Buddhist” at birth, I’m not a strong practitioner of Buddhist philosophy or its lifestyle. My parents didn’t teach me anything about Buddhism. In fact, they know nothing about Buddhism.

I was first drawn to Buddhism when I recovered from depression or what I called “Dark Night of the Soul” in my early thirties. Mindfulness is the first thing that draws me to Buddhism and my favorite Buddhist author is Thich Nhat Hanh.

What I love about Buddhist books is that their writings are always kind and compassionate. I can pick any Buddhist book off the shelf and feel a sense of groundedness after reading it. However, not all books on Buddhism are that easy to read.

Below are the 10 best books on Buddhism for beginners. Some of them are more practical. They help you transform your suffering and live a happier life, while others focus more on what Buddha has taught.

Pick one that resonates with you the most.

Top 10 Best Books on Buddhism

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1. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is a great Buddhist book for beginners. 

Written by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, this book covers the core teachings of the Buddha.

In this book, the author uses simple terms and metaphorical explanations to help you understand the key concepts in The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path.

Whether you are a Buddhist or not, this book will help you transform your suffering into peace and joy, and help you find relief.

Even if you are a more experienced practitioner, it can serve as a great reminder for you.

Here are other great books by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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2. The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler

If you wonder what it is like to live a happier life that is filled with warmth and compassion, this classic book is for you.

Written by a psychiatrist, the author interviews the Dalai Lama extensively to find out what happiness is and how we can attain it. In the book, he also includes his own reflections based on his psychological background.

Combining both eastern and western perspectives, this book is accessible to anyone who wants to learn more about the Buddhist’s way of life. It helps you transform your sufferings and overcome obstacles to happiness such as anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement.

Here are other great books by the Dalai Lama.

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3. What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

If you want a comprehensive overview of Buddhist philosophy and know what the Buddha actually taught, this book is for you.

Unlike some books that contain too much of the author’s own opinions on how to apply Buddhist principles, this book gives you a straightforward, readable explanation of Buddhist concepts without distorting the meaning. 

This book contains a selection of illustrative texts from the Suttas and the Dhammapada translated by the author and he often references the source in his writing. Well-organized and clear, this book is suitable for intellectual readers or anyone who wants to discover Buddhism.

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4. Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das

If you want a pragmatic book that explains Buddhism from the ground up, this book is for you.

Written by one of the leading Western Buddhist meditation teachers, the author explains the main Buddhist concepts in a clear manner that Westerners can understand. 

Unlike other Buddhism books that are more theoretical or doctrinal, this book provides 8 practical steps to enlightenment. It teaches you how to meditate and find peace of mind. Based on the Noble Eightfold Path, this book provides training on three basic aspects of Buddhist life — wisdom, ethics, and meditation.

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5. Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana

If you are new to mindfulness and meditation or you find them confusing, this introductory book is for you.

Using simple and easy-to-understand language, the author teaches you how to deal with distractions when meditating and the differences between mindfulness and concentration. He also addresses the concerns you might have about where to sit and what to do with your body and mind during meditation.

Written by a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, this book is for anyone who wants a detailed guide on how to meditate. It focuses on Vipassana meditation (also known as insight meditation).

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6. No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners by Noah Rasheta

If you have burning questions about Buddha and Buddhist philosophy, this short book is for you.

Sometimes, reading Buddhism books can be overwhelming and difficult because of the vast information out there and unfamiliar terms used in the ancient text. Written in plain English, this book makes the core concepts, teachings and practices in Buddhism easy for everyone to understand.

This book is written by a Buddhist teacher and the host of the podcast, Secular Buddhism. The author organizes and presents the information in a conversational, Q&A format. This book is a great starting point for beginners to understand the big picture before reading other more advanced books.

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7. Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön

If you are interested in Tibetan Buddhist contemplative practice and meditation such as lojong and tonglen, this book is for you.

Written by an American Buddhist nun, the author explores 59 slogans found in the old Tibetan text by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. Organized into seven points of mind training, these slogans remind us how to awaken our compassionate hearts.

Instead of finding ways to make your life better and fix your pain, this book helps you get to the heart of who you are. In this book, you will learn how to accept yourself and relate directly to suffering without running away.

Here are other great books by Pema Chödrön.

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8. Happiness by Matthieu Ricard

If you are skeptical about the Buddhist view of happiness, read this book.

Written by a Buddhist monk who left his promising career in cellular genetics in France to study Buddhism in the Himalayas, the author shares his wisdom by drawing from his personal experience, Buddhist beliefs, and scientific research. 

This book tells you why happiness is an important goal to have and shows you the difference between conditional happiness and unconditional happiness. It helps you look at your current reality in a new, positive way and makes you reassess your life and your way of living.

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9. Open Heart, Clear Mind by Thubten Chodron

If you are interested in applying the Buddha’s teachings to your modern life, this book is for you.

Written by an American Buddhist nun, this book is a practical introduction to Buddhism. In this book, the author explains the essential points of Buddhist philosophy and psychology and how we can use them to improve the quality of our lives.

The book also teaches you how to work with your emotions and how to look at your current situation from a different perspective. It’s suitable for people who want to transform their habits and attitude and adopt a new way of life.

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10. Teachings of the Buddha by Jack Kornfield (Editor)

If you want the most popular collection of teachings from Buddhist literature all in one place, this small, pocket-sized book is for you.

Compiling Buddhist writings from Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese sources, this book contains essential verses, parables, and meditations that bring you to awakening. In this book, you will find ancient recorded texts of the Buddha and poetic teachings from bodhisattvas (or awakened teachers).

This book is suitable for readers who want to go deeper into Buddhism and do their own self-reflection. It is tiny enough for you to carry around and reflect upon at any time.

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Yong Kang

Yong Kang

Hey there, I’m Yong Kang, best known as Nerdy Creator. I’m an author of seven books. I write about spirituality, self-compassion, and mindfulness. I love reading books, especially non-fiction. The list above is a combination of what I have read and my research. Each year, I create a Top 10 list of my favorite books.