16 Best Meditation Books in 2020

Amber Murphy
Amber Murphy

When meditation beginners attempt to learn how to meditate and deepen their practice, they often turn to research. One of the first things I see newcomers do is try to find the best meditation books they can get their hands on.

The problem (or good problem depending on your perspective) is that there’s a lot of information out there on meditation, especially when it comes to books written on the topic. So where does one start?

Should one start with books on Buddhism? Start with books on Zen? Start with books specifically about how to meditate?

I’ve read a lot of books around meditation, the science around meditation, the philosophy, mindfulness, Buddhism, and more. I’ve put together this list of the 16 best meditation books for beginners learning how to meditate and novices looking to deepen their practice. I’ve tried to diversify the selection by choosing a book that will attempt to cover a niche within meditation and philosophy, so that each book can serve different needs for any stage of your journey.

Best books on meditation

1. The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Average rating: 4.25/5 on Goodreads

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorite thinkers around mindfulness and is one of the most followed and loved figures in Zen. 

The book focuses on and talks about mindfulness outside of sitting down and meditating. Hanh’s focus is on living in the moment and giving your full attention outside of your practice, even during seemingly meaningless tasks such as chores.

This is an easy, straightforward, and short read for those looking to introduce themselves into mindfulness. If you’re looking for a book that introduces you to the idea of mindfulness in a plain and easy to understand way, this is a great place to start.

Quote from the book:

To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.

Thich Nhat Hanh
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2. What the Buddha Taught

What The Buddha Taught

By Walpola Rahula

Average rating: 4.20/5 on Goodreads

If you’ve been interested in Buddhism or learning more about the teachings in Buddhism, Walpola Rahula dives into what the Buddha teaches and the noble truths. Along with information, beautiful illustrations are included in the book to visually describe concepts.

The book’s approach is accessible to newcomers to Buddhism but highlighting the foundations of Buddhism in a way that’s not preachy or woo-woo. 

If you’re looking for a book that will introduce you to some of the most useful philosophies taught in Buddhism, that’s grounded in reality and practicality, this book achieves that.

Quote from the book:

Real life is the present moment—not the memories of the past which is dead and gone, nor the dreams of the future which is not yet born. One who lives in the present moment lives the real life, and he is happiest.

Walpola Rahula

3. The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness

By Dalai Lama XIV

Average rating: 4.16/5 on Goodreads

Who better to learn how to be happy than from the Dalai Lama himself? As the exiled leader of Tibet living as a refugee in India, the Dalai Lama remains a positive light despite the circumstances and his situation with China.

Happiness isn’t just about trying to be happy. It’s about managing the negative emotions that don’t allow us to be happy. Anger, fear, frustration, and stress are emotions that rob us of our happiness.

This book includes extensive interviews with the Dalai Lama and his philosophy on how to be a happier human being. Even if you’re not interested in Buddhism and its teachings, there are some practical and useful insights to be taken away in this book.

Quote from the book:

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

Dalai Lama XIV

4. Freedom from the Known

Freedom from the Known

By Jiddu Krishnamurti

Average rating: 4.34/5 on Goodreads

Jiddu Krishnamurti is a big influence on me. He’s not the most famous or well known philosopher but certainly one of the most underappreciated.

While Freedom from the Known is not specifically a book about meditation, it’s a book that will expand your mind. It will help make you more open-minded, more mindful, and just a little more humble. 

If you’re learning to meditate it’s likely you’re looking to improve yourself. It may be your mental health, it may be something else. What Krishnamurti offers here is an invitation to anyone interested to reclaim a sense of ownership of their own life. It’s an empowering and thought provoking book that I recommend everyone take some time to read.

Quote from the book:

If you start by saying, ‘I know myself’, you have already stopped learning about yourself

Jiddu Krishnamurti

5. Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

By Lao Tzu

Average rating: 4.31/5 on Goodreads

I included the Tao Te Ching on this list because even if you’re not interested in Taoism, this is a classic book that has withstood the test of time since the 6th century. There are so many nuggets of wisdom and timeless advice in here that anyone interested in meditation can apply to their life.

It’s a quick read of short, seemingly poetic, thoughts. It’s also a book that has influenced so many other books and thinkers.

Unlike other books on this list, it doesn’t offer answers or solutions. It differentiates itself by offering aphorisms and riddles. 

Quote from the book:

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

Lao Tzu

6. Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment

Awakening the Buddha Within

By Lama Surya Das

Average rating: 4.20/5 on Goodreads

Most books that talk about Buddhism are teaching the version most people would expect, the version from Asia, the origin of Buddhism. Lama Surya Das, an American-born lama teaches Western Buddhism in Awakening the Buddha Within.

The book puts forward a more spiritual lens than other books for meditation that we have recommended in this list but it still does a good job at not sounding condescending or preachy. 

If you’re looking for a Western take on Buddhism, this is the best book to start with.

Quote from the book:

Before speaking, notice what motivates your words.

Lama Surya Das

7. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

By Jon Kabat-Zinn

Average rating: 4.12/5 on Goodreads

This book offers a roadmap for how to practice meditation daily. It serves both newcomers to mindfulness, as well as people who have a lot of experience with meditation and mindfulness. 

I think what this book does a good job in doing is breaking down any preconceived notions around mindfulness. It lays out an easy to follow path along with practical applications you can begin to implement immediately.

If you’re looking at improving your mental health with mindfulness, this book offers a great guide.

Quote from the book:

Perhaps the most “spiritual” thing any of us can do is simply to look through our own eyes, see with eyes of wholeness, and act with integrity and kindness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

8. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

The Power of Now

By Eckhart Tolle

Average rating: 4.13/5 on Goodreads

It’s likely out of all of the books we recommend on this list, this will be the most popular and most recognized.

Despite Eckhart Tolle being a bit of a controversial person (controversial in the sense that people disagree on how authentic or useful what he says is), this is the book that catapulted him into the mainstream and the idea of “living in the present moment”. 

I think the reason this book became as popular and mainstream as it did is because of how well it captures people in the beginning. It says things that just feel instinctively true and I think a lot of people at the time of this book’s release really resonated with the messages.

At times, as some of the critics may point out, this book can be hard to read or understand. But it’s still worth giving a shot if you’re curious or haven’t read it yet. There may be a really profound line in it waiting for you.

Quote from the book:

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.

Eckhart Tolle

9. The Way of Zen

The Way of Zen

By Alan W. Watts

Average rating: 4.18/5 on Goodreads

Alan Watts is another one of my favorite thinkers and philosophers that brings his wit and humor into his musings on life, Zen Buddhism, and philosophy.

It offers a secular look at Zen Buddhism with some really meaningful passages about the self, life, and the mind.

While this isn’t a pure book on Zen Buddhism as it includes some of Watts’ original interpretations and ideas, it’s still worth a read if you’re looking to deepen your meditation practice.

Quote from the book:

When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.

Alan W. Watts

10. Everyday Zen: Love and Work

Everyday Zen

By Charlotte Joko Beck

Average rating: 4.20/5 on Goodreads

What I love about Joko Beck’s book is that it takes Zen and its ideas and applies them to the average everyday life. The average problems people face, the average things people do, and the average problems people need to solve.

The book presents Joko Beck’s lectures in one book that essentially share the same theme: the ego is in control of much of what we do and think in our everyday lives. 

Not only does the book call this out, it also provides some solutions and ideas. 

Quote from the book:

If we can accept things just the way they are, we’re not going to be greatly upset by anything.

Charlotte Joko Beck

11. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

Buddha's Brain

By Rick Hanson

Average rating: 4.06/5 on Goodreads

What if we took the wisdom of Buddha and combined it with the research in neuroscience? We’d get Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson.

Many of the best meditation books in this list are a little guilty of not backing up their claims with science. This book helps bridge the gap between the teachings in Buddhism and what scientists are actually discovering.

The good news is that these ancient teachings were on the money when it comes to what actually makes human beings happier. 

Fortunately, this book presents the science in a non-technical way that’s easy to digest and understand. It shows you the science of meditation, how it works, and why it works. It gives you a deeper understanding of what’s actually going on when you sit and meditate, as well as giving you some confidence that you’re not sitting and wasting 10 minutes of your day. There are real world benefits.

Quote from the book:

Nurturing your own development isn’t selfish. It’s actually a great gift to other people.

Rick Hanson

12. Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Why Buddhism is True

By Robert Wright

Average rating: 4.04/5 on Goodreads

In this book, Wright offers his own interpretation of some Buddhist teachings mixed in with scientific understands within psychology. 

Using evolutionary psychology and behavioral psychology, Wright shows us what actually is unhappiness and how and why meditation has the positive effect on people that it does. 

While this book will not fulfill someone’s interest in the philosophies and ideas taught in Buddhism, it takes the most practical parts of the religion and shows how it helps make people happier despite years of human evolution that has baked in mechanisms that makes it harder for us to be happy.

Quote from the book:

Natural selection didn’t design your mind to see the world clearly; it designed your mind to have perceptions and beliefs that would help take care of your genes.

Robert Wright

13. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism

By D.T. Suzuki

Average rating: 4.01/5 on Goodreads

Daisetsu Suzuki was one of the earliest pioneers of teaching Japanese Zen in the West and an influencer to many thinkers and philosophers including Alan Watts. In An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Suzuki offers a short primer on the insights shared in Buddhism and Zen.

While this is one of the shorter books on this list it’s likely one of the densest and most difficult to read. It requires a lot of patience and rereading but there are certainly some gems to be picked up in this book. 

This is due to the nature of trying to teach Zen, it’s a very difficult concept since teaching Zen as a way or philosophy kind of goes against the idea of Zen.

Either way, it’s a good short read if you’re looking for something a little older and rooted in religion and the abstract.

Quote from the book:

The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do so in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded.

D.T. Suzuki

14. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

By Shunryu Suzuki

Average rating: 4.23/5 on Goodreads

Shunryu Suzuki was a Zen monk who is known for founding the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia. 

Of the best meditation books on this list, this is one of the books that focuses a lot of meditation, the practice of meditation, and some thoughts around meditation that can help you deepen your practice or give you more insight into what you’re trying to do.

One interesting this is that the book even includes a guide on how to read and consume the book so that you actually take away the learnings it offers. 

While the book may be a bit repetitive at times, it’s trying to drill the core concepts into the reader so that they aren’t just remembered, they’re understood.

Quote from the book:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few

Shunryu Suzuki

15. The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness

The Mindful Way through Depression

By J. Mark G. Williams

Average rating: 4.06/5 on Goodreads

Of the meditation books we touched upon in this list, this book is more niche than the others. It touches upon mindfulness as a remedy for anxiety and depression.

I know many people turn to meditation as a way to support their management of their depression, and this book is a great guide on how to actually apply what you’re doing.

This book offers an easy set of instructions and exercises to begin using to help improve your mental health. It even offers insight into how depression works and what’s actually happening when you’re suffering from it.

Quote from the book:

Get out of our heads and learn to experience the world directly, experientially, without the relentless commentary of our thoughts. We might just open ourselves up to the limitless possibilities for happiness that life has to offer us.

J. Mark G. Williams

16. The Issue at Hand

Issue at Hand

By Gil Fronsdal

Average rating: 4.37/5 on Goodreads

The last book on this list is one of my favorites and what I consider to be a true hidden gem when it comes to the best meditation books.

When it comes to explaining meditation and its benefits, as well as the practice itself, in beautiful plain English, this is the book that does it. The way it wonderfully describes the practice and your potential when you practice often, is simply motivating. Even as someone who has meditated for years, this book offered new ideas that I haven’t considered before.

The wisdom packed in this short read is one that you will find yourself coming back to many times. There’s also practical advice such as meditation posture.

Quote from the book:

The intentions to be kind, compassionate, helpful, happy, and liberated are among the most beautiful qualities we have as humans.

Gil Fronsdal

Your turn

Your journey into deepening your mindfulness and meditation practice doesn’t need to include every book on this list. Find the few that resonate with you and help you, and absorb the information.

Have a personal favorite meditation book that we missed? Any recommendations or questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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