The editors of Shambhala Sun recently listed the ten dharma books every Buddhist should have in their library (and I would assume have read at least once). Two of them (When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki) are in my library and I certainly would recommend them. With only 20% of Shambhala Sun’s editors’ recommendations, I thought I’d examine the ten dharma books that have influenced me. In chronological order, they are as follows:
This is not a Buddhist book, per se, but a classic for writers about writing. Goldberg is a Zen Buddhist, applying right off the bat the approach of the beginner’s mind. Through this book I discovered Zen.
This was the first book on Buddhism I read back in the 1980’s which covered the basics.
After reading Taking the Path of Zen, this came as a natural follow-up, as Roshi Aitken delved deeper into the precepts and their meanings.
Looking for a clear definition of The Eightfold Path, I found Jean Smith’s book to be a helpful examination of each step of the path.
In the fall of 2002, I discovered Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple in Detroit. It was the first opportunity to practice with others and with a guiding teacher. P’arang Geri Larkin was not only the guiding teacher, but also the founder of Still Point. Prior to Still Point’s birth, P’arang gave dharma talks at the Ann Arbor Buddhist Temple and the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, and wrote a few books on Zen. P’arang’s practical, accessible, and gritty approach is what grounded the roots of my practice. This book is another excellent, accessible introduction to the practice of Zen.
A collection of P’arang’s teachings to help your practice every day.
Prior to becoming a guiding teacher, P’arang was in the “real world” of business. A management consultant for Deloitte & Touche, her experience in the corporate world and her Buddhist studies combine in this guide on how to create a right livelihood business (Right Livelihood is one of the steps on The Eightfold Path). I found this book helpful both in creating the no-sweatshop clothing store I owned for eighteen months, and my law practice. A poster inspired by it hangs on my office wall.
8. The Still Point Dhammapada by Geri Larkin
The Dhammapada is a collection of over four hundred verses that Buddha is said to have spoken. Its a text lush with wisdom. P’arang, from her experience at Still Point, translates The Dhammapada with application and examples of living in today’s world, in the early years of this century in Detroit (The book was published in 2003).
Yes, P’arang Geri Larkin’s writings have been a significant influence on me, but they pale in comparison to Still Point Buddhist Temple. My practice has improved significantly by having a place to practice and a guiding teacher. My practice deepens moreso by sitting, chanting, and listening to the dharma talk on a Sunday morning than by reading a shelf full of books.
9. Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism edited by Susan Moon.
Turning Wheel: The Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship takes Buddhism into a social practice. This anthology of essays, as Susan Moon writes in the Preface, are “accounts of how ordinary people bring together in their own lives their dharma practice and their work for peace and justice.” It’s about putting spiritual practice to work on a personal, national, and global level.
Zen Buddhist teacher, Bija Andrew Wright, takes the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important and influential scriptures in Buddhism and interprets it as an instruction manual on how the lay person can be a Buddha in the 21st Century. Bija was ordained under P’arang Geri Larkin at Still Point.