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Thread: Recommended Books?

  1. #1

    Recommended Books?

    Being new to Soto Zen in particular, what books would be recommended? I'm familiar with the basic philosophy and history of Therevada and Mahayana branches and common Buddhist practices. Perhaps something about or by Dogen? Something with a mix of history and practice, at an intermediate level?


  2. #2

  3. #3
    Thank you for the suggestion, and the reminder!

    What is the opinion on the Platform Sutra? I've seen it variously described as an essential foundation or a false hinderance, even within Soto.


  4. #4
    Thanks for the recommendation Skye. I am actually not familiar with it. Although I have heard it mentioned.

    Here is a good article about the five styles of Zen:

    Gassho Will

  5. #5
    What is the opinion on the Platform Sutra?
    Sutras express various levels of understanding and various takes on the teachings. They are to be seen as tools, tools to understanding from many points of view.

    I would be cautious of any particular sect telling you which sutras to read and which to ignore.

    In order to remain viable, the teachings were (are) often re-expressed in the idiom of the times.

    Buddhism is not a monolithic entity. I can see no harm in reading from any sutras from both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. One can reach a better understanding of how Buddhism has evolved and continues to evolve from reading through the various sutras and their commentaries.

    Limit not your understanding. Be aware of the differences in understanding and the different perspectives of all the Buddhist sects. (naturally I'm talking about learned or intellectual understanding)

    A translation in English of nearly all the Buddhist sutras, both Mahayana and Theravada, can be found online. Remember, sutras are only tools, and they outline the teachings from the perspective of other people/sects/traditions - always draw your own conclusions and trust your own findings not merely the words or teachings of others.

    That's my 10 from a heretic practitioner.

    Some Mahayana sutras here with various translations/interpretations -
    For those of us who can read kanji they have kanji versions too.

  6. #6
    Agreed, I feel that reading parts of the Pali canon has helped my understanding immensely, and Nagarjuna helped me overcome my early confusion that emptiness was akin to nihilism.

    I guess in the end, being a newb, I'm curious if literary study is a part of the Soto tradition... or if it really is "just sitting" ( + some precepts :wink: )


  7. #7

  8. #8
    Hi Skye,

    I resurrected our old book recommendations thread, if you're interested.

    I don't know anything about the differing advice on the Platform Sutra, but I personally quite like it.

    There are a couple of different versions - the Ming is more popular, and longer, here's a link to the
    BTTS translation. The Tun-huang version is older, and shorter, here's a link to Yampolsky's Translation (PDF). The chapter on Prajna (Chapter 2 in the Ming) is the part I liked best, and re-read most often.

    Another place to look for Mahayana sutras in translation is this page from thezensite.

    Hope that was useful.

  9. #9

  10. #10
    This reminds me that I MUST make a reading list of suggested Soto Zen and other Buddhist books for here at Treeleaf. So many little things to do for Treeleaf since we started early last year, that this and some other things fell through the cracks. I will get on it in the coming weeks.

    Let me just say to newcomers to Treeleaf and to Buddhism, that it is good to read books from all schools and periods of Buddhism, and to have a wide exposure and learn from many sources. All teachings and teachers have value! But also know that different schools of Buddhism have different approaches, flavors and opinions on some things. So, for example, the teachings of the ancient Pali texts or the modern Dali Lama (or even other schools of Zen Buddhism such as the Japanese Rinzai school, or a Pure Land mix as seen sometimes in Chinese Chan/Zen) sometimes might be a good fit with the teachings of Master Dogen and Soto Zen, but sometimes might be teaching something different and not so compatible. So, sometimes I will have to say "We don't really teach that here".

    Of course, the Platform Sutra of the 6th Patriarch will certainly be on the list!

    Gassho, Jundo

  11. #11
    Not specifically Soto but a couple that have been important to me:
    The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma translated by Red Pine
    the Kalama Sutra
    and to echo the sentiment the Platform Sutra

    I'd throw in the Brahma Net Sutra (I'd mangle the Japanese) just because it's stuck in my head.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Skye
    Thank you for the suggestion, and the reminder!

    What is the opinion on the Platform Sutra? I've seen it variously described as an essential foundation or a false hinderance, even within Soto.

    Hey Skye!

    I think that Platform sutra was very good to read. One of the main thing in platform sutra was (i think) that reading many teachings and books doesnt make this wholeness any clearer. Dont lean on books, lean on yourself.
    this is only my opinion...



  13. #13
    Hi Skye,

    Quote Originally Posted by Skye
    I guess in the end, being a newb, I'm curious if literary study is a part of the Soto tradition... or if it really is "just sitting" ( + some precepts :wink: )
    Alledgedly in Dogen Zenji's time it was customary at Eiheiji for the Sangha to split up the day into 3 periods: Zazen, samu and sutra/commentary study. Incidentally, these periods roughly correspond to the threefold Buddhist practice of prajna (wisdom/study), sila (ethics/work) and samadhi (concentration/Zazen). Of course there really are no fixed boundaries between the three, wisdom isn't just study, ethics aren't only practiced during work etc., but you get the picture. :wink:


  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Rev R
    I'd throw in the Brahma Net Sutra (I'd mangle the Japanese) just because it's stuck in my head.
    Which one? There's a Theravada version and a Mahayana one (sorry for the purple background on the 2nd link!).

  15. #15
    both are probably worth the read, but I have read the Mahayana version many times over the past couple of months.

  16. #16
    This thread has been helpful. Thank you all for your recomendations and links! Jundo, a suggested reading list would be a great idea.

    Cheers and Gassho,

  17. #17
    I've read many Buddhist books that have been useful and inspiring, but the ones that come to mind are the ones that I've come back to multiple times.

    Two of my favorite Zen books are Joko Beck's books Everyday Zen and Nothing Special. I find that Joko Roshi has a particularly emotionally resonant style and one that is very practical and grounded in the day-to-day. Which isn't to say that she doesn't get into some "deeper," more abstract stuff too--she does, but she always grounds it in tangible experience. I think I've gone back to her books more than any other Buddhist books I own. I think they should be on any Zen practitioner's shelf, personally.

    Pema Chodron is another teacher I love and admire for her ability to locate the emotional resonances of the teachings and connect them to out experiences of day-to-day living in the modern world. I think it's wonderful that her books are as popular as they are, because they have some really hardcore Dharma teachings in them. Acharya Pema is particularly good at evoking and addressing the mind-state that accompanies painful and frightening mindstates like loss, fear, and uncertainty, which is powerful as when we are in those states of mind is often when we need a dose of the Dharma the most. When Things Fall Apart is a classic. I gave it to my mom when she was going through a particularly hard time. She started taking it to work with her every day. At some point, I wanted to borrow it back from her for a while, and she was like, "Hell no!" :lol:

    Chogyam Trungpa's books are also essential records of Buddhism's transition to the West. Trungpa Rinpoche nailed a lot of the particular problems and pitfalls encountered by Western Buddhists, in a way that seems to have gone unmatched since. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is an excellent book to refer to whenever you need a reality check, as it clearly delineates the kinds of fantasies one can get lost in along the way. His book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior is another favorite of mine. It's a Buddhist book stripped of many of the usual "Buddhist" buzzwords but also with unique material aimed at lay practitioners trying to be "warriors in the world."

    John Daido Loori's The Heart of Being features the best writing on the Precepts that I've ever encountered. It goes from the basics (what a precept is, what its main function is) to very subtle and profound examinations of morality. May not be everyone's cup of tea, as Daido Roshi has a bit of a mystical bent, but I find that his style is very helpful, inspiring, and profound. And I'm likely to get my pee-pee whacked for saying this here :lol:, but I think he's the foremost interpreter of Dogen currently teaching in the English language.

    John Tarrant's The Light Inside the Dark is a very unique book that stands out in the glut of "pop Zen" books. Tarrant is another excellent interpreter of Buddhist practice, and Zen practice in particular, as it meets the world of modern lay life. Tarrant gets bonus points from me for deftly tackling a topic close to my own heart, which, to use his terms, is the experience of wrestling with and trying to balance the twin inclinations to "spirit" and "soul" (the former referring to the spiritual, transcendent, otherworldly drive, the latter referring to the worldly, embodied, carnal drive). Another bonus is that it's unusually poetic.

    Ayya Khema's book Being Nobody, Going Nowhere is the book that really got me into Buddhism and is one I refer back to often. Ven. Khema's voice is unusually clear. She has a unique tone of voice that is stern but also kind. One of the best books on Buddhism's basic core teachings--the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

    Ajahn Brahmavamso's book Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond might be considered a 'heretical' book in a Soto setting :wink:, but it's an excellent resource on deep concentration states in meditation, as well as basic tips on stabilizing and calming the mind.

    Taigen Dan Leighton's book Faces of Compassion is a unique and excellent resource on half a dozen basic bodhisattva archetypes. A book of interest for those who enjoy wading through symbolism in a Jungian sort of way and also an excellent resource for those drawn to social action as an expression of the path.

    I'm sure that there's others I've forgotten for the moment...

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