John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
When doing background research for Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors, as well as in writing my book Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Eastern Thought (listed at the bottom of this page), I read quite a few works about eastern philosophy, Taoism, and especially Zen. Here are the ones that I would highly recommend.
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones - Paul Reps
Since it first appeared in 1957, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones has become one of the most popular books about Zen Buddhism. It includes 101 classic Zen stories; a collection of traditional koans that are designed to free the mind of dualistic thinking; the Ten Bulls commentary on the stages leading to enlightenment, and the 4000 year old Centering which is considered one of the roots of Zen.
This well known classic by Roshi Kapleau, former spiritual director of the Rochester Zen Center, is a comprehensive voyage into the fundamental aspects of what Zen teaches, how its followers practice meditation and other aspects of the Zen way, and what the experience of enlightenment means. It is widely considered to be one of the pillars of Zen literature in the west.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Shunryu Suzuki
Written in a deceptively simple, clear, poetic, and down-to-earth style, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind skillfully guides the reader into the profound realm of the Zen experience. His reference to the "beginner's mind" is his way of letting us know that our true nature and the true nature of all things is right in front of us. All we have to is learn how to open our eyes. If you were to read only one book about Zen, this would be it.
Zen in the Art of Archery - Eugen Herrigel
This classic by German philosopher Eugen Herrigel was one of the very first personal accounts of what it's like to study Zen, the ancient Japanese way. In his training with an archery master during the 1920s, Herrigel's goal was to learn how to release the arrow without thinking, or desire, or, in fact, without having any intention to release it. In tackling that seemingly incomprehensible and paradoxical challenge, he came to understand what enlightenment means.
The Method of Zen - Eugen Herrigel
When Herrigel died in 1955, he left behind copious notes about his archery training. Edited and revised by other respected scholars, including Alan Watts, those notes became this classic book. It clearly and succinctly summarizes four things that Zen is and is not. It is not an ideology or belief system. It is not about "God." It transcends rational, logical thinking. It is, above all, a method for freeing the mind of its illusions so reality can be experienced more fully and directly.
The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery - Janwillem van de Wetering
Along with Herrigel, only with an updated 1960s perspective, van de Wetering offers us one of the first personal accounts of what it's like to study Zen the traditional Japanese way. While contemplating the nuances of Zen teachings and training, he also gives us a down-to-earth and at times even humorous account of life in a Zen monastery, the people there, and the challenge of delving deep into meditation. Throughout the book he keeps us wondering whether he ever will attain even a glimpse of the enlightenment experience known as "satori."
A Glimpse of Nothingness: Experiences in an American Zen Community - Janwillem van de Wetering
In this 1975 sequel, van de Wetering continues the story of his search for satori, only this time in an American Zen community. In his usual style that is simultaneously reverent and irreverent, he talks about his experiences there while comparing it to his former training in Japan. If you read and enjoyed his first book, which I imagine you will, you'll want to complete the journey with van de Wetering by reading this follow-up and conclusion to his story.
Tao: The Watercourse Way - Alan Watts
Alan Watts was one of the most prolific writers, speakers, and advocates of eastern philosophy. There aren't many good books written about Taoism, but this is one of them. It does an excellent job of explaining the mysterious complexities of Taoism in a clear, concise way. As with the best of books about eastern philosophy, it is like a finger pointing, in a deceptively simple way, to a very profound understanding of the underlying force in the universe that is the "Tao".
Many books that discuss meditation and the "mindfulness" it cultivates offer wonderfully philosophical or poetic ideas, but not a whole lot of specific how-to suggestions. If you want to develop meditation to an extent where it can truly change your life, you'll need to go beyond many of the usual books on eastern philosophy. You'll need to develop some kind of mindfulness meditation practice. That's why I include here the classic, widely acclaimed Wherever You Go There You Are by the highly respected physician Jon Kabat-Zinn. He offers ideas about cultivating a meditation practice that will heal your mind and body, as well as elevate your spiritual understanding of life.
This book marks the culmination of my many years of research into how eastern philosophy and contemporary psychoanalytic theory compare, contrast, and enhance each other. It includes chapters on the history of east meeting west, concepts about the "self," the role of paradox in personal transformation, meditation, the relationship between students and spiritual teachers, the psychotherapist as a "warrior," the use of the Tai Chi images to understand psychotherapy, and the "vision quest" as a model of spiritual discover. Here is a page that summarizes these chapters of the book.