15 Best Zen Books To Enhance Your Spiritual Journey (2024)

Discover our guide to learn about the Zen lifestyle and Buddhism by reading our recommended best Zen books.

Many people are looking for a path to enlightenment. Exploring Zen Buddhism is one way to learn about yourself and find inner peace. Zen meditation originated during the Tang Dynasty in China, and at that time, it was known as the Chan School. It developed into numerous branches and subsets throughout the centuries, and many are still practiced today. 

The central belief of Zen is that someone can free themselves from the construction of words and logic by exploring the nature of one’s being. If people get to know themselves better, they can find the true path to freedom and happiness. There are many ways to learn about Zen Buddhism, including reading the best philosophy books. But before you follow that link, take a leisurely perusal of our best books on Zen.

1. The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, 2009

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama via Wikipedia, Public Domain

If you are looking for the best books on Zen, reading anything by The Dalai Lama is an excellent place to start. The Art of Happiness, by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, was first published in 1998 and is still a much sort after book for anyone wishing to find inner peace.

This book is a series of interviews and meetings between Dr. Howard Cutler, one of the foremost authorities on the topic, and the Dalai Lama. It focuses on all aspects of life. Ultimately, happiness is determined by your state of mind instead of the conditions you find yourself in or your possessions, but it can be challenging to understand in the modern world.

“Although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you can suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.”

Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness
The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Lama, Dalai (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 10/01/2009 (Publication Date) - Riverhead Books (Publisher)

2. The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

Alan Watts
Alan Watts via Wikipedia, Public Domain

The Way of Zen is considered one of the best books on Zen. Watts intended that his groundbreaking book would introduce Zen to the world outside of Asia. The book discusses the history of Zen and the relationship between Buddhism and Vedic philosophy. It’s a straightforward book that doesn’t use jargon that might be hard for beginners to understand, helping to give everyone an overview of Zen that they can apply to themselves. 

“The centipede was happy, quiet, Until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?” This worked his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch, Considering how to run.”

Alan Wilson Watts, The Way of Zen
The Way of Zen
  • Watts, Alan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 01/26/1999 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

3. An Introduction To Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki, 1934

D.T. Suzuki
D.T. Suzuki via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Suzuki is one of the biggest names in Zen Buddhism, and An Introduction To Zen Buddhism is one of his most famous works. This book is arguably his best title, making Zen accessible to everyone. For newcomers, there are plenty of instructions and advice that allow you to follow the steps to practicing Zen daily. However, even if you are familiar with the basic concepts, you can still benefit from the teachings of an experienced professional like Suzuki. 

“The way to ascend unto God is to descend into one’s self”; — these are Hugo’s words. “If thou wishest to search out the deep things of God, search out the depths of thine own spirit;”

D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
  • Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 53 Pages - 01/28/2013 (Publication Date) - Lightning Source Inc (Publisher)

4. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, 1970

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is one of the most popular books on Zen, written by the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center. Suzuki believes that it’s critically important to approach the subject of Zen with the open mind of a beginner every time you sit down for a meditation session. The book reads like a guide for someone who wants to get the most out of each meditation session, providing supportive guidance at every step. Following this book, you can learn more about your mind and body to achieve happiness and inner peace.

“The true purpose [of Zen] is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes… Zen practice is to open up our small mind.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

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5. Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Golberg, 2018

Natalie Goldberg is an experienced Zen practitioner, and her book, Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home is a memoir focusing on how she overcame the trauma of a cancer diagnosis by following the teachings of Zen. In this captivating book, Goldberg speaks openly and honestly about her journey. It can be a challenging read at times as it touches on intense emotions, but it can help people interested in Zen or anyone going through the same life challenge as the author.

“Jump in, no excuses. Exert the force of your life. Persevere under all circumstances.”

Natalie Goldberg, Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir
Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir
  • Goldberg, Natalie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 06/05/2018 (Publication Date) - Shambhala (Publisher)

6. Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don’t by Sukey Novogratz and Elizabeth Novogratz, 2017

 Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don’t is a simple, fun, and playful guide to Zen practices that explains how to meditate correctly. Even if you feel like meditation isn’t for you or perhaps hasn’t “worked” in the past – this book will show you how to take a new approach that will open your mind to the incredible benefits of meditation.

Let go of stress and tune in to what is most important to you by following the advice in this book. It’s perfect for beginners and will pique your curiosity about Zen Buddhism.

“Myth – Meditation is religious and cultish. Reality – Meditation is about you getting to know you, finding your inner peace and goodness, and falling in love with the whole world. There’s no need to go to the ashram or shave your head (unless you want to).”

Sukey Novogratz and Elizabeth Novogratz, Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don’t
Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don't
  • Hardcover Book
  • Novogratz, Sukey (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 12/26/2017 (Publication Date) - Harper (Publisher)

7. Zen For Everyday Life by Matt Valentine, 2015

Zen For Everyday Life is a handbook for finding inner peace and happiness. It’s a direct read that will provide helpful guidance on different aspects of Zen Buddhism. This gentle guide will teach you how to apply Zen practices to your life with meaningful tips for navigating today’s fast-paced and demanding world.

“My breath became shallow. I didn’t know it then, but what I had just experienced was the effect of heavy stress and anxiety. Over the next few months I would slowly begin to become aware of what was causing it.”

Matt Valentine, Zen For Everyday Life
Zen for Everyday Life: How to Find Peace and Happiness in the Chaos of Everyday Life
  • Valentine, Matt (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 294 Pages - 02/15/2015 (Publication Date) - Matt Valentine (Publisher)

8. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1992

Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Another one of the best Zen books to consider is Peace is Every Step. It’s widely considered one of the most excellent Zen books of all time and was written by Thich Nhat Hanh, an authority on the topic. This book contains various principles and guidelines for living a peaceful life.

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam; however, he was exiled from Vietnam because of his beliefs and had to move to France, which colonized Vietnam during the 19th and 20th centuries. Even though he has a lot of misgivings about modern life, he believes it’s still possible for someone to find enlightenment by focusing on the present moment. This book will help you learn how to do precisely that. 

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
  • peace moment zen master spiritual leader positive true selves mindfulness present
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 134 Pages - 03/01/1992 (Publication Date) - Random House Publishing Group (Publisher)

9. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps, 1957

Paul Reps
Paul Reps via Wikipedia, Public Domain

If you are a beginner in Zen Buddhism, we strongly recommend reading Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Published over 60 years ago, it contains helpful information that will allow you to understand Zen lifestyle practices. Hundreds of stories have been passed down from century to century, allowing you to learn more about Zen Buddhism. If you want a book that will truly get you to the roots of Zen Buddhism, this is the book to read. 

“It is too clear and so it is hard to see. A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted lantern. Had he known what fire was, He could have cooked his rice much sooner.”

Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 211 Pages - 09/15/1998 (Publication Date) - Tuttle Publishing (Publisher)

10. The Daily Zen by Charlie Ambler, 2016

The Daily Zen, by Charlie Ambler, is a perfect way to get a daily dose of Zen mindfulness. Finding inner peace is easier if you have inspirational quotes to read to create moments of peace during the day, during difficult moments, or even as a focus point during meditation sessions.

You may not know which of these quotes will help you overcome your negative feelings, but looking at inspirational quotes that provide helpful tips is beneficial, and one will always speak to you.

“The desire to be right is nothing but another attachment, and it can ruin relationships. The ego is not real. Right and wrong are not real. All you have is yourself, the essential core of which cannot be communicated.”

Charlie Ambler, The Daily Zen Book of Wisdom
Daily Zen
  • Ambler, Charlie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 289 Pages - 12/21/2016 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

11. The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau, 1965

Philip Kapleau
Philip Kapleau via Wikipedia, Public Domain

To reach a state of Zen, you need to learn the basics, and that’s where The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau, can help. While it was published back in 1965, it’s still relevant to this day.

It focuses on Zen as a way of life instead of a philosophical teaching. Although it might not necessarily be as detailed as the other books on our list, it can still help you learn how to incorporate Zen into your life. Many of the books on Amazon, including this one, include an online sample so you can get a feel for the style before you buy. Have a look and see if this book if for you.

“If you fall into poverty, live that way without grumbling – then your poverty will not burden you. Likewise, if you are rich, live with your riches. All this is the functioning of Buddha-nature. In short, Buddha-nature has the quality of infinite adaptability.”

Philip Kapleau Roshi, The Three Pillars of Zen
The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
  • Philip Kapleau Roshi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 480 Pages - 02/27/1989 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

12. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig, 2006

Robert M Pirsig
Robert M Pirsig via Wikipedia, Public Domain

To reach Zen, you must find a way to incorporate the practice into all areas of your life. That includes something as mundane as motorcycle maintenance, which is not necessarily the focus of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. In reality, the book focuses on personal struggles involving daily tasks and relationships.

This book is unique, exploring some central philosophical questions everyone struggles with. Regardless of where you are on your journey with Zen, you will find this book helpful. Find creativity in moments of Zen by reading our guide to meditation for creativity!

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
  • Pirsig, Robert M (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 540 Pages - 04/25/2006 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books (Publisher)

13. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

The practice of Zen revolves around making space in life to slow down, enjoy quiet contemplation, and embrace slow living. In The Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down, Sunim describes how to approach life in a new way that focuses on slowing down and finding calm in life. 

Sunim is a famous meditation teacher who has become vastly popular in Korea. With insight and compassion gathered from a life of adversity, Sunim’s insights offer a unique perspective of slowing down and truly enjoying the life you already have.

“I hope that spending time with this book becomes an occasion to reflect on and meditate in your busy life. I hope it inspires you to connect with the kinder and wiser side of yourself. May you be happy, healthy, peaceful, and always protected from harm.”

Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
The Things You Can See Only When You Slo
  • Sunim, Haemin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 267 Pages - 01/01/2018 (Publication Date) - Penguin Life (Publisher)

14. Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno

Masuno’s Zen: The Art of Simple Living takes a modern approach to Zen, looking at Zen practice as the antidote to the stress and uncertainty of modern life. With clear and practical guidelines, this novel aims to teach readers how to apply Zen to their everyday lives.

Masuno is a renowned Buddhist monk who draws on centuries of Buddhist knowledge and wisdom to help others achieve a happy and peaceful lifestyle. Practices such as deep breathing, eliminating negative emotions, and decluttering your home are fundamental practices featured in this book.

“When a flower blooms, the butterfly naturally finds it. When trees have blossomed, birds flock to the branches on their own, and when the leaves wither and fall, the birds scatter. Relationships with people aren’t so different.”

Shunmyō Masuno, Zen: The Art of Simple Living
Zen: The Art of Simple Living
  • Hardcover Book
  • Masuno, Shunmyo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 04/04/2019 (Publication Date) - Michael Joseph (Publisher)

15. The Practice of Not Thinking: A guide to Mindful Living by Ryunosuke Koike

The international bestseller, The Practice of Not Thinking is a hands-on guide to refocusing and retraining our brains to eliminate distractions that create negative thought patterns and induce anxiety. Koike, a former monk, shows how simple Zen practices in our everyday lives can help us reconnect with ourselves and find peace.

Focusing on the physical sense, such as touch, sight, sound, and feel, this self-help guide to Zen lifestyle practices teaches us how to become present in the current moment. By following the practical steps outlined in this guide, we can think less, appreciate more, and manage the stresses of life by reconnecting with our inner-self.

“The more thinking that we do in our mind alone, the more useless thoughts we’ll accumulate. And when that happens, we become impervious to reality and the flow of our own thoughts.”

Ryunosuke Koike, The Practice of Not Thinking
The Practice of Not Thinking
  • Koike, Ryunosuke (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages - 06/10/2021 (Publication Date) - Penguin UK (Publisher)

FAQs About Best Zen Books

What is the purpose of everyday Zen practice?

Everyday Zen practice helps you find inner peace, spirituality, and happiness. Some people describe it as thinking about not thinking, which is more challenging than many realize. Some of the most practiced Zen masters describe it as eliminating external stress and quieting internal chatter. Reading some of the best self-help books can assist you when beginning your Zen discovery journey. 

What is the Zen philosophy?

Zen philosophy is all about finding enlightenment, peace, and oneness. It is a term used to describe a specific type of Buddhism where people use meditation to live in the present moment without passing judgment on anything happening around them. People practicing Zen Buddhism find a way to look beyond materialism and value themselves instead of objects or attachments. Are you searching for books to expand your knowledge of Buddhism? Check out our round-up of the best books for Buddhism.

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