The 8 best books on meditation and mindfulness
Meditation is an age-old practice that has been studied and practiced for many thousands of years across widely different cultures.
Meditation has religious origins in India, ancient Egypt China and Japan; developing from Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism. Like many cultural traditions, meditation evolved and changed as it moved throughout Asia and transformed according to the different communities embracing it.
We’ve come a long way from the first documentation of meditation by the ancient Vedas of India to our current contemporary world full of podcasts, YouTube tutorials, and meditation apps. Or have we? Ultimately, the ancient practice of meditation is still something you learn by doing, and you can do it anywhere, you don’t need a special app to sit in silence.
However, some of the best books on meditation can help a newcomer or a seasoned practitioner to consolidate their understanding of meditation.
With such a plethora of information available and so many different traditions to explore, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. This is why it’s helpful to know which are the best meditation books for fostering the clarity and confidence needed to make meditation an essential part of your life.
Historically, we have learned about meditation from texts and books. Most people, whether they are regulars to meditation or not are probably familiar at least with the name Bhagavad-Gita, an epic poem written around 400 BCE and focusing on the spiritual philosophy of meditation and yoga. Many of us have also likely heard of Siddartha by Herman Hesse wrote in 1922 and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated into English in 1927.
However, it wasn’t really until the 1960s that meditation became popular among non-religious westerners. Before then and therefore really for most of history, mediation was unknown to the general population or known only as something practiced by monks, priests, and religious leaders. It was not part of everyday life for the masses.
The 60s saw a surge in interest to practices like yoga and meditation within its holistic health movement. People started to pay attention to the mind-body connection and explore different practices, also helped by celebrity interest from those like The Beatles who went to India in the 70s to study with guru Maharishi.
It was still not until the 1990s that meditation shed its hippie connotations and became something much more widespread and acceptable. This is in large part thanks to various authors who wrote books borne out of their own experiences with meditation to connect with the everyday readers who were yearning to understand more about the practice and its place in our modern world.
Authors Associated with the Best Books on Meditation
There are many who really helped to spread the word and make meditation ‘normal’’ by cementing some of the ideas of meditation in quantum physics and neuroscience.
Deepak Chopra is one such writer, whose books such The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and Ageless Body Timeless Mind as having made their way into diverse homes and thus Chopra himself became a household name for those interested in personal development through meditation and spirituality.
Jon Kabat Zinn is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts. He is also a prominent author and professor of medicine. His approach to mindfulness meditation has been through integrating the practice with science and findings that suggest meditation can greatly reduce stress and help with chronic illnesses.
He trained in the Buddhist tradition but frames his own teachings within the structure of science rather than religion. He was really one of the pioneers in helping to present meditation as a secular, science-based way to rewire your brain for happiness and appreciation.
Oftentimes these authors personally experienced a challenging life event that propelled them into the exploration of meditation and spirituality.
This was the case with the well-known teacher Eckart Tolle. Tolle has explained that he was deeply depressed for much of his life until he went through a miraculous transformation at the age of 29, which lead him to undergo a complete life haul to become the spiritual influencer he is today.
His best selling book The Power of Now was written 20 years after his epiphany moment and he spent the years between as a counselor and spiritual teacher. Tolle is well known for his teachings around the idea of the transformation of consciousness as the next step in our human evolution and the transcending of ego in order to live a happy life.
Reading books is still one of the best ways to really understand meditation. It is, after all, a practice that comes from 5000 years of tradition and evolution, there’s no shortcut to understanding and mastering it. A firm understanding of the philosophies and ideas it represents is so helpful in putting into practice and making it a lasting part of your life, not just a passing craze.
Best books to enhance your meditation practice
Here are our suggestions for some of the best meditation books to get started with:
Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat Zinn
Jon Kabat Zinn’s book is appropriate for advanced meditators or those coming to the practice for the first time who may be looking for signs of progress in meditation. The essential techniques he explores here focus on incorporating mindfulness into your daily life. It’s about appreciating the present moment in all moments of life and does not get bogged down in any religion or spiritual jargon.
This is a pure and simple guide to becoming mindful and rewiring your thoughts to become first aware of the present moment, and from that awareness being able to let negative, distracting thoughts come and go without fixating on them.
It’s a wonderful handbook for those wanting to learn daily ways to be more present and to accept and allow for every emotion, feeling and thought to just exist without forcing it to change. It’s also targeted to those with physical or emotional health issues, and aids in letting go of past grievances and bodily conditions in order to surrender to what is in the moment and visualize a happier state of mind.
Zen Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki
One of the seminal American books on Zen for beginners by one of the most well known and influential Zen masters.
This book was first published in 1970 and has stood the test of time. It works well to demystify Buddhism as a religion and philosophy and paints a clear and simple picture of clearing the mind for meditation and how to be fully absorbed in every action you are doing be it cooking, walking, washing, working etc.
It includes some amazingly coherent passages about not struggling and striving in the typical goal-oriented Western way and lays out an alternative, which is to realize that which you desire is already within you.
This book explains how practicing coming back to a state of peace means realizing that you do not need to achieve, and in fact, when you take action in your daily life without needing or thinking about achievements, you already have everything within you. It’s about returning to the wise inner self that already exists; it’s not about attaining something or striving. It is about doing – the Zen way.
Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda
A modern spiritual classic, this acclaimed book follows the life of one of the greatest spiritual figures of our time – Paramhansa Yogananda, a well-known yogi-swami.
It chronicles his life from childhood to his various life-changing encounters with spiritual masters and documents the miracles and wisdom he witnessed. This book is recommended to those wishing to understand Eastern mysticism and its connection with all religions.
Paramhansa Yogananda brought Kriya yoga to the USA, and it’s in this book that he lays down the teachings of it as a practical approach to spirituality. If you wish to have a mind-enhancing experience, read this book as many say it has transformed their thinking and approach to meditation and spirituality.
10% Happier, by Dan Harris
When Dan Harris had a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, he had the wake up call he needed to change his life.
This book is the result of his journey to self-discovery – an adventure that sees the author exploring everything from Buddhism to self-help gurus to neuroscience where he finally settled on meditation as the cure for his negative mind chatter.
A compelling read for those who are attracted to a modern writing voice who questions everything on the journey to self realization and refuses to swallow anything without scientific back up. The skills Dan Harris had developed as an investigative news anchor are apparent as he questions the validity and effectiveness of the spiritual practices he encounters. A fun and illuminating read for anyone wanting to dip their own toes into meditation in the modern world.
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
This book is a must for anyone exploring meditation’s bookshelf. It’s one of the most popular and well-loved books focusing on the importance of being aware of the present moment.
Eckhart Tolle is an interesting figure, whose own personal foray into depression sparked his life to turn around completely and propelled him to dedicate his time to spreading the word about living in the now. Tolle says that we are not our thoughts, and an awareness of them can help us live not with the regrets and worries of the past and future but with the perfect moment of the present.
The book puts forward spiritual philosophy from different religions and combines them for a clear understanding of his main point – the power of living in the now and not wasting thoughts on the uncontrollable. It will help readers to find a balance in life, moving past pain, stress, and anxiety.
A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
Tolles second book is a great follow up to those who enjoyed The Power Of Now. In A New Earth, he takes Eastern philosophy and presents it in simpler terms, showing us how complicated notions of enlightenment are actually incredibly straightforward.
It’s the kind of book that connects with the masses because Tolle has a gift in explaining ideas in such a way that resonates. He writes about non-attachment and the importance of doing things for the pleasure of doing them, and not for great ego-based gain. It’s the same idea that many spiritual leaders and authors refer to, the concept of letting go of results and instead focusing on the process. When you focus on the reasons you want certain things and come at them from an empowered, connected state you have the power to manifest them.
How to Meditate, by Pema Chodron
Chodron is an American born Tibetan nun, whose insight into meditation in this book, provides gentle, in-depth guidance to incorporating meditation into your daily life, including a look at how long you should ideally meditate for.
This is one of the best meditation books for beginners or those wishing to deepen their understanding of mediation as Chodron approaches the basics of cultivating a practice in a clear and compassionate way. In this book, you will learn methods to work through the wild ‘monkey mind’ that comes so often and easily to us, especially when first starting out in the practice.
There are clear chapters devoted to specific aspects of meditation such as working with thoughts, emotions and sense perception. Pema Chodron’s message is that meditation can teach us to be open to each and every unique moment of our life without judgment.
The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, by Robin Sharma
Described as a fable about fulfilling your dreams and reaching your destiny, this book is the story of a Western lawyer forced to deal with a spiritual crisis. In this merging of fiction with spiritual teachings, the character travels to an ancient culture to discover how to live a life of meaning.
Sharma has written a compelling tale to incorporate lessons on living in the moment, meditation, living a joyful life and happiness.
The story is simple but effective in its presentation of a spiritual philosophy. It consolidates and clarifies larger ideas into easily digested daily approaches to living a more meaningful existence.