Best "General Buddhism" Books?


Which books by modern authors are the best introduction to “general Buddhism,” the teachings common to both Mahayana and Theravada traditions? I have some friends interested in learning more about Buddhism.


Isn’t it the case that only the Pali Canon is common to both. From there on the differences between all branches emerge. :slight_smile:


With thousands of pages of suttas to read, it’s easy for someone new to Buddhism to get lost and overwhelmed.


If you don’t want the influences of anything that relates to specific branches of buddhism EBT’s are really the the thing to go to.

Perhaps a good place to start is Bikkhu Bodhi’s ‘The word of the Buddha’, which is an anthology of suttas :slight_smile:


Here’s a handy link:
In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon


I recommend Peter Harvey’s “Introduction to Buddhism”


For most enquirers:
Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism, OUP 1998.

For superficial enquirers with short attention spans:
L. S. Cousins’ chapter on Buddhism in The Penguin Handbook of the World’s Living Religions, John R. Hinnells (ed.), 1994.


Less academically, I usually point newcomers to “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and “Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu which are also both superb books. :slight_smile:


For those looking to explore buddhism for the first time, I recommend Dhamma talks! There are so many available. Two of my favorites are Ajhan Brahm and Thübten Chödron. These two great venerables, who also have written many books each, give very warm, funny, and relevant talks which are much less dry and technical than most books, and are a great way to get your friends hooked on buddhism. As a bonus, both traditions are covered by these particular teachers, and their talks tend to cover general buddhist principles as applied to everyday life.

You can find Ajhan Brahm here:

Venerable Chödron is here:


“The Tree of Enlightenment” is a good general introduction to Buddhism, you can download it from Buddhanet.
It provides a good overview of the main Buddhist traditions, rather than focusing on individual teachers.

  1. I like Hellmuth von Glasenapp’s “die 5 Weltreligionen” as overview and separation between the concepts and practices in that 5 religions, which helped me much to get a general scheme of reference. Well, it’s in german but I think likely it exist in english too (Glasenapp has also many nice-to-read english articles on buddhism and comparative religion)

  2. my most preferred introductory book for not-yet-informed people (as I was in the beginning) is Wolfgang Schumann’s “the historical buddha” about that what we know about the person, the dhamma and the sangha; a historical, sociological and as I feel sensical intro in that historical event now called “buddhism”.

  3. For people already nearer to buddhism I think the introductory book of Thich Nhat Hanh is a highly readable and sensical introduction into the arise of the buddha’s enlightening, the teaching and the life of the early sangha (I think “white cloud” or so, I’ve only the german version “Wie siddhartha zum Buddha wurde”)

After that I can only recommend to read occasionally and piecewise into the pali-canon to be able to feel the fresh air from that buddha’s person and his teachings personally, and to get the desire to continue reading and even begin practicing… :slight_smile:


I wondered if these publications deal with rebirth, etc. ?


“The Tree of Enlightenment” gives a traditional presentation of rebirth and kamma.


I found “The Heart of Buddhas Teaching” Was a great introduction and explains principles in common with Theravada and Mahayana.


I think Early Buddhist Teachings by Y. Karunadasa is very good.


For covering multiple traditions the classic A Buddhist Bible seems good.
For Theravada basics, I usually start people with T Y Lee’s Anyone Can Go To Heaven Just Be Good. Just be Good
(Confusingly, the English version comes up on the home page not with one click but by its chapters listed down the left column beneath the word Home.)