Buddhist literature either originates from or relates to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Better known as Buddha, meaning ‘the enlightened one,’ Siddhartha Gautama preached Buddhism somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries. Each religion has its own holy book as the main source of its teachings, but there is no such single source in Buddhism because reading, remembering, or even understanding the teachings is not good enough unless they are practiced. According to Buddha, ‘However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do if you do not act upon them?’ This, however, does not mean that the importance of books is diminished by any means in Buddhism. Some scholars opine that Vinya Pitaka and Sutta Pitaka are the main source books of Buddhism. His Holiness; the 14th Dalai Lama is an embodiment of Buddhism and the living enlightened Buddha to follow. The Nobel laureate Dalai Lama is like a beacon light for all those who seek truth through following Buddhism. Buddhist books were written on wooden tablets and the making of tablets as well as the calligraphy once used for writing upon them are dying arts now. With the advent of the Internet, e-books have opened new venues for students and all those who want to know or read about Buddhism. Many downloadable versions of famous Buddhist books are easily accessible on the Internet.
1. Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother’s Story
Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother’s Story, ISBN #9780140297119, is a famous Buddhist book written by Dikki Tsering, mother of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The book, comprising 200 pages, was published by Penguin in the year 2000. It is a great story of a great woman known as Grandmother of Tibet. She was born in 1901 in a peasant family, married at the age of 16, and was blessed to give birth to Dalai Lama, one of the most known figures of the world. The book is a great memoir of a mother who recalled and narrated events in chronological order. Written in the first person, the book unfolds the attractive features of the Dalai Lama’s childhood. It reveals the feelings of a mother who, belonging to a poor family, would be the mother of the H.H. Dalai Lama.
2. The Art of Happiness
The Art of Happiness is a famous Buddhist book written by H.H. Dalai Lama and a psychiatrist, Howard Cutler, who gathered information about the Dalai Lama’s point of view by asking many questions. Cutler has quoted the H.H. Dalai Lama in detail and added his views as well. The book was published in 1998 with its ISBN #1-57322-111-2. Happiness, according to this book, is not in someone’s external conditions or environment; it exists within one’s own mind and heart. However, it remains dormant unless explored to its full potential through proper training of one’s mental attitude and heart-felt sentiments. It may be called a ‘How to’ book on happiness.
3. The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Padmasambhava, the founder of the Nyingma-pa Buddhist order, introduced Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is his work, which he had buried on top of Mount Gampodar where it was found by Karma Lingpa in the time when it was needed most. The book deals with the events happening after death, and the Buddhist believer is encouraged not to become afraid when he hears thundering or sees lightening followed by the appearance of good deities as well the bad ones in hideous forms. The ugly forms are seen devouring dead bodies and licking blood and the brains out of them. One needs not become afraid because one knows that one owns no physical body after death. Gyume Dorje has translated the book into English and has been published by Penguin Classics.
4. The Vinya Pitaka
The Vinya Pitaka is a main Buddhist holy book written after the death of Buddha when the first council was held. The purpose of this council was to preserve the sayings, teachings, and rules of Buddhism. According to some scholars, the council was held in or around 400 BCE under the patronage of King Ajatasatura. The council was held at the Sattapanni, Rajgirha caves and was presided over by the monk Mahakasyapa. Buddha’s sayings are called Suttas, and the monastic rules are known as Vinaya. The main objective of the council was to preserve both the Suttas and Vinaya. Suttas were read by Ananda while the Vinaya was recited by Upali.
5. The Sutta Pitka
The Sutta Pitka is a collection of Buddhist writings in Sanskrit or Pali. It is the second of the Pali Canon. It includes more than 10,000 Suttas or teachings of Buddha or his close followers. It is considered by scholars that only very condensed prose or poetry texts relating to the teachings or rules of Buddhism were collected during the first council, and their details were added in the second council. The Sutta Pitka comprises five Suttas or Collections: the long, average, interconnected, short, and numerical discourses.
6. The Dhammapada
The Dhammapada is the most famous and most read Buddhist scripture comprising the sayings of Buddha in poetry. Each saying is related to some particular event or moment in the life of Buddha. Buddhaghosa is a scholar considered an authority on the interpretation of Buddha’s sayings. His commentary adds to the value of this book to the believers in Buddhism as it facilitates them in understanding the sayings of Buddha and enlightens them on the meanings of the sayings, which otherwise might not have been revealed to them fully. Dhammapada is considered a rich and reliable source on the life of Buddha.
7. The Way to a Meaningful Life
His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, is a multi-faceted personality like a diamond for common folk in general and for the Buddhists in particular. He is a beacon of light as a spiritual leader, a Nobel Laureate, and a best-selling author. According to him, as expressed in his book; The Way to a Meaningful Life, everyone is blessed with the inherent internal ability to find the true fulfillment, meaningfulness and happiness in life. Step by step he instructs about overcoming the negative feelings like; anger, greed, jealousy, insecurity, and negative thinking. Step by step he encourages and prepares the seeker to practice meditation, wisdom, and morality. The book is a panacea to cure counterproductive thinking and achieve physical, mental, and spiritual tranquility and happiness.
8. The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching
The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching; ISBN #0767903692, written by Thich Nhat Hanh and published by Broadway Books, is a Buddhist book revealing how to transform sufferings into peace and happiness. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and poet. The book is an excellent treatise on Buddhist practice. It enlightens the seeker on transforming suffering into happiness. The book enlightens on the core teachings of Buddhism including: Four Noble Truths, The Three Doors of Liberation, The Seven Factors of Awakening, The Three Dharma Seals, and The Nobel Eightfold Path.
9. The Buddhist Handbook: A Complete Guide to Buddhist Schools, Teaching, Practice, and History
John Snelling is the writer of The Buddhist Handbook: A Complete Guide to Buddhist Schools, Teaching, Practice, and History. It is a comprehensive guide book and, as evident from its title, reflects on the Buddhist schools, teachings, practice, and history. The book introduces the contemporary Buddhists of high renown and enlightens the reader on the relationship between Buddhism and psychotherapy. It also gives awareness on the role of women in Buddhism. There are many traditions in Buddhism, and this book offers an ample review of most of them.
10. In My Own Words: an Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy
In My Own Words: an Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy is a book written by H.H. Dalai Lama. He is one of the most pleasantly recognized figures in the world. He has inspired millions of people all around the world. The book is a mirror of some of his typical, attractive, and pithy writings. He reviews the Buddhist teachings in the modern scientific perspective. H.H. Dalai Lama is iconic to Buddhism, and this book gives an insight into Buddhism from his point of view for the benefit of all those who want to learn and practice Buddhism.
An ignorant one is like a blindfolded person, and the phenomenon is known as ‘Avidya’ in Buddhism. Buddha, the enlightened one, enlightens others to unfold the Avidya and achieve the ultimate objective, Nirvana, the highest achievable degree of light and happiness in Buddhism. When a young disciple at the side of Buddha’s death bed told him that he wept because the light of the world was going to be extinguished, Buddha uttered to him his last words, ‘Anan, Anan, be a light unto yourself.’ Buddha’s last words encompass his philosophy in nutshell.