Bibliography of Key Texts of the Buddhist Tradition
A friend and fellow traveler on the path, recently asked, “What’s a good book to read on the Abhidharma?” Given that “What should I read?” is a very common question, I decided to put together a list of what I consider to be the best titles supporting the study and practice of Buddhism.
The list is organized primarily around the five main topics of the Shedra curriculum as it is presented in the RimeShedra.NYC with the exception of the topic on monk’s vows (Vinaya), which I left out, instead including a section on meditation. Traditionally, the Shedra curriculum supplements monk’s studies, which would already include the topic of meditation. I have added a few topics, and I have subdivided some so that each has no more than 20 titles.
The list grew quickly to nearly 200 titles, so in each category I selected my top 3 to 5 picks. These are in bold at the top of each section of the list
I favored translations of original Indian, Tibetan, or other indigenous languages because I was told by a good friend that when he asked Chöygam Trungpa Rinpoche what Buddhist texts one should focus on reading, Rinpoche said “translations”.
I have followed this advice in my own reading. However, when Rinpoche made this suggestion there were very few explanatory texts. Since then, many have been written in English, and I have explored them and found them very helpful in understanding the original language translations. I have included a number of these in the list.
The late Venerable Traleg Rinpoche remarked to me that he preferred to read a good translation because he learned so much from the notes and the introductions provided in these texts. It is taken for granted that he would have already read the original texts, but he expressed appreciation for what Western writers, primarily in English, have done to expand upon and make the teachings of those texts more accessible.
I tried to include a mix of both original texts and explanatory texts on each topic. The main focus is on the Buddhist tradition in India and Tibet, but I have included a few key works from the so-called Theravadin tradition (Sri Lankan and Burmese authors), as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean authors. Theravadin was actually one of the traditional 18 schools of Buddhism, which appeared in the few hundred years before the Common Era. It has become the common moniker to refer to a large number of schools of Buddhism from southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. I use it in this regard, but many of the schools it describes actually have roots in others of the first traditional 18 schools of Buddhism.
Some of the books on the list I have not read but aspire to. I base my recommendation of these on my knowledge of the authors, the topics, the texts, and of how these texts are viewed in the tradition.
We are aware there are mistakes and omissions in this list. We would very much like people to contact us with any they find so we can correct them. And by we I mean myself and my colleague, Mary Beth Kean, who has been incredibly diligent in helping me make this list a reality. By her own curiosity and intelligence, she has helped me flesh out this list in a way that it would not have happened otherwise. For that, I am extremely grateful to her.
Thank you and hope you enjoy this list!