Recommended Book for Total Newbies to Zen: Simple Guides Zen Buddhism
We are all always beginners, and should always maintain a fresh 'beginners mind.'
But there is also a time when someone may really not know anything about this "Zen" thing, and not know Koan from Kesa from Kansas City, Bodhidharma from Bubblegum.
A lot of books and videos for new folks are out there, but are often very misleading or ill informed, extremely romantic, narrow in presentation or just poorly written! (I recently encountered such a well meaning, but still rather misleading in presentation film on another thread .... http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...l=1#post125225 )
So, I am quiet happy to recommend this book to folks who are completely new, puzzled and perplexed about Zen Buddhism's history and practices of various flavors. It is detailed in its explanation, balanced and quite comprehensive in the many topics it covers. I would not recommend the book for anyone who had been practicing for even a few months, but it may still answer some questions and be good to give to your dad or sister who is completely confused by what we are doing here ... and may think that we are wearing bed sheets while dancing in drum circles with the Dalai Lama during the Soltice. :) As with any book, it is not perfect (it could still do even a better job in explaining the various different approaches of Soto and Rinzai, Koan Centered Zazen and Shikantaza ... but they are touched upon). Compared to most other books on the subject, it is well researched, comprehensive, very balanced and gets it right.
Simple Guide to Zen Buddhism
by Diana St. Ruth
Another book to recommend even to folks who have been around the block for awhile, but would like an introduction to many of the different Lineages, Teachers and flavors of Zen found in the West is this. Zen Master Who? by James Ford (telling the story of the various Zen Lineages in the West, though mostly the U.S. Look for Jundo Cohen on page 140! plug plug). My only criticism is that the book is a few years dated now, and too focused on the United States alone.
I also recently recommended a similar book for absolute beginners that covers the whole Buddhist scene beyond Zen too ... though the name is silly ...
Buddhism For Dummies