With so many books on meditation available, how do you pick the best one to suit your needs? Just listen to the advice of meditation and mindfulness teacher Ann Vrlak: she’s read most of them! Discover the four themes she suggests to help guide you in the right direction.
As a lifelong meditator and meditation teacher for ten years, I must have read a small library of books on meditation and spirituality. So, if you ask me, like many of my students have, “What’s the best book on meditation?” I would say, “It depends on why you’re interested in meditation.”
Would you like to know how you can make meditation part of a healthy, everyday routine? Are you tired of emotional patterns that hold you back? Do you have a yearning to understand the perennial spiritual questions such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”
With these questions in mind, I’ve divided this list of the best books on meditation into themes. Choose one that you feel fits you best right now with regards to what you’re currently looking for or interested in. You can come back to reading the other books as you progress on your meditation journey.
Lay back and discover the best books on meditation
These days there are many apps and podcasts about mindfulness and meditation out there to guide you through exercises step by step. They’re a wonderful way to get a taste of different meditation styles and practices. But if you want to have a fuller picture of meditation – what it is, how it works and how it is relevant to you and your life – books on meditation could be the best place to begin.
Firstly, what is meditation exactly?
Each of our pick of meditation books in this list will answer this question, in slightly different ways. But don’t let those differing perspectives worry you! The versatility of meditation is one reason it has been an enduring, worldwide practice for hundreds of years.
The best definition of meditation is: it’s a practice to help you see and understand yourself in an increasingly complete way. It’s a practice, that can have many forms, that invites you to closely and compassionately investigate your body, mind and spirit.
“This list of the best books on meditation is divided into themes. Choose one that you feel fits you best right now with regards to what you’re interested in.”
The central idea is that we are much more than our usual day-to-day stream of activities, plans, thoughts and emotions. Everyday living is always at the centre of true meditation, treated with kindness and respect, while going on a journey to discover what else we are. The journey is a loving, clear-eyed way to answer the age-old questions of your identity and purpose in life.
Big questions, aren’t they? And meditation teachers through the ages, who you can learn from in these books, will tell you it’s possible for each of us to find genuine answers that change us. And, though the journey may not always be comfortable, it is full of rewards.
The best books on meditation
In a way, I’ve manufactured the following themes. The unique thing about meditation is, when you understand and experience one of these themes in a new way, the others follow automatically. A bit more mental clarity will give you some emotional calm which will help you gain some life balance, and so on.
Still, if one of these four themes hits the mark for you, start with one of the books that focuses on your interest:
- The big picture: understanding core meditation principles and practices
- Clear thinking and balanced emotions
- Life balance and overall health
- Spiritual meaning and growth
The big picture: understanding core meditation principles and practices
Even though meditation has become much more mainstream in the last 20 years, it’s still something that causes confusion. Is it about stopping my thoughts? Or, being peaceful all the time? Or, will it conflict with my religious or spiritual beliefs?
There are many books written by experienced and caring teachers who can help to demystify meditation and explain how it can help you with the same everyday experiences that have troubled people for hundreds of years: worry, loneliness, depression, lack of meaning, dissatisfaction and more. I wholeheartedly recommend these two books:
1. Meditation for Beginners: Jack Kornfield
Jack Kornfield is a gentle, expert guide to meditation. In this book, Kornfield explains the what, how and why of a regular meditation practice in plain language. Meditation for Beginners is a jargon-free book that will take you step-by-step through a range of practices and how they can help you cope with challenging experiences and grow your sense of innate well-being.
2. Real Happiness: Sharon Salzberg
Sharon Salzberg is another teacher and writer who has a gift for describing meditation in simple, engaging language. Real Happiness… is a comprehensive overview of the principles and practices of meditation, centred around developing three key skills: concentration, mindfulness and loving-kindness. Each chapter offers a short discussion, practices or exercises, and often an answer to a common question about a meditation topic.
Meditation for everyday living and balance
How can meditation help me have a more balanced, healthy and positive life? Here are two books that answer this question in different ways:
3. Making Space: Thich Nhat Hanh
Making Space is a short, refreshing read from Thich Nhat Hanh about how to establish a meditation practice. It’s full of tips and insights on how to set up a routine that will be meaningful and inviting for you. I especially love the many creative practices the author includes for “outside of meditation” – a range of things you can do to bring meditative awareness to what you do in your day. These deceptively simple exercises will start to increase your MQ – Meditative Quotient.
4. The Book of Secrets: Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra has written countless books on meditation, spirituality and health. As a long-time spiritual practitioner and physician, he writes with authority about meditation as a core skill for self-awareness, growth and vibrant health.
Many of Chopra’s books could be on a ‘best books on meditation’ list, but I chose The Book of Secrets because of its many surprises! Chopra’s choice of topics and the creative ways he writes about them opened by mind to the ‘hidden dimensions’ of my own life. Chapters like ‘What You Seek, You Already Are’ and ‘You Are Truly Free When You Are Not a Person’ had a great influence on me and my teaching.
Clear thinking and emotional balance
Most of us become interested in meditation because we just want to feel better. It seems the same troubling emotions and ways of thinking have been with us our whole lives, and that they will never change. These two books are a great place to learn where and how change is possible:
5. Radical acceptance: Tara Brach, Ph.D.
Tara Brach is a popular Buddhist teacher because of her approachable, compassionate teaching. Brach is also a clinical psychologist who uses her in-depth experience with people’s day-to-day struggles to discuss the power of meditation. I recommend her first best-seller Radical Acceptance for its far-reaching look at emotional balance and health.
“Each of the books on meditation in this list is written by an experienced teacher trusted by people all over the world. You’ll be in good hands.”
The central idea of the book is that many of us have lifelong habits of self-criticism and perfectionism that leave us in a subconscious state of “I’m not OK.” Brach sees the healing of this core “mistake” as the way to release self-harming beliefs and emotions. As the misunderstanding falls away, so does inner conflict which increases our happiness and allows us to connect with others from a place of greater wholeness.
6. When Things Fall Apart: Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön is a beloved Buddhist teacher who has been writing and teaching for over 40 years. Her humble and humorous approach to teaching comes from a “we’re all in this together” perspective. She is a skilled translator of Buddhist philosophy and practices into understandable modern language. Chödrön is someone who has a deep understanding of unhappiness in all its forms: from day-to-day anxiety, to depression, to despair, and she is a master at kindly meeting you where you are.
In When Things Fall Apart there are many times where she describes my own mental or emotional confusion in a way that is so accurate, I know she must have travelled the same road and had found ways to respond and grow through meditation.
Spiritual meaning and growth
Meditation came out of people’s quest for answers to the perennial questions about identity and purpose. Indeed, people’s confusion and unhappiness are the same today as they have always been, as has our desire for clarity and happiness. These two books by modern spiritual masters take in-depth looks at these questions and how we can find the answers ourselves.
7. The Power of Now: Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now is a complete examination of why and how we experience confusion, doubt, fear, disconnection and unhappiness, and how we can uncover the part of us that is free of these difficulties. Eckhart Tolle explains the source of this unhappiness as the forgetting of our true nature, as spiritual beings. He explains how we can all rediscover the true nature, that we all share, by going fully into this moment – the power of now. This book on meditation could easily be in the ‘Classics’ section below!
8. True Meditation: Adyashanti
In a series of simple essays, Western teacher Adyashanti turns around the core misunderstandings about meditation. In True Meditation he describes how true meditation is less a practice of doing various techniques, than allowing who you already are to show itself.
Chapters like, ‘Allow everything to be as it is,’ ‘Ending the war with your mind,’ and ‘Our natural tendency is to awaken’ draw a picture of meditating as a letting go of effort – something that’s not usually associated with meditation! Adyashanti comes from a Zen Buddhist background, but uses clear, everyday language to invite you to investigate your experience with fresh eyes. The book comes with a CD of three core practices.
Bonus 1: books for kids
One of my favourite things to do in mindfulness classes with kids is reading a book. There are many wonderful books out there you can use at home with the children in your life. These are a few of my favourites – and kids’ too!
Peaceful Piggy Meditation; Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda; and, Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean. Awesomely cute, funny and heartwarming books with meditation themes.
Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community. A children’s book on meditation filled with love and respect for kids, and how to nurture them through simple, meditation practices. The paperback comes with a CD of guided exercises.
Bonus 2: classics
Would you like to read a meditation classic – a book that different teachers, across traditions recommend to students as a comprehensive discussion of meditation? They are written by people who teach from a place of lived knowledge, from embodying a meditative life. Here are five of the best:
- I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj
- Be As You Are: The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi by David Godman
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
The takeaway: best books on meditation
Each of the books on meditation in this list is written by an experienced teacher trusted by people all over the world. You’ll be in good hands whichever of these books best suits you most. Remember that a little can go a long way. When an idea or practice grabs you, stay with it, contemplate it and practice it, and notice what changes for you. These books on meditation will all help you experience meditation for yourself, rather than giving you concepts to believe. So, let these authors guide you to trusting yourself and being in awe of what you find! •
Main image: shutterstock/alexandre zveiger
Written by Ann Vrlak
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses and on their journey of self-discovery.