Reading List

Reading List

It has been said that zen is the way beyond words and letters; and yet there are endless words and letters on Zen. The hand of a true master of the dharma can leap off the page to inspire and elucidate your practice. The trick is separating the smoke from the fire. Our teacher, Michael Kieran, has compiled this reading list for both new and experienced Zen students and it is a good place to start.

Clicking on the image of the book will take you to GoogleBooks, where you can find ordering information.


(In no particular order)

Taking path

Taking the Path of Zen; Aitken, Robert. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982.

This book is an introduction to Zen Buddhism as practiced by the Honolulu Diamond Sangha as told by Aitken Roshi, the founder of our temple. He discusses correct breathing, posture, routine, teacher-student relations, and koan study, as well as common problems and milestones encountered in the process. All participants at the Palolo Zen Temple are encouraged to read this book. It is available for purchase at the temple.

On zen practice

On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, Mind; Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Bernard Glassman, 2002, Wisdom Publications.

Conceived as an overarching primer on the practice of Zen, chapters in this volume address every aspect of practice: beginning practice, shikantaza, chanting, sesshin, working with Mu, and the nature of koans.

Appreciate your life

Appreciate Your Life – The Essence of Zen Practice; Taizan Maezmui Rōshi, 2001, Shambhala Publications.

These short, inspiring readings illuminate Zen practice
in simple, eloquent language.

Mud and water

Mud and Water – A Collection of Talks by the Zen Master Bassui, Translated by Arthur Braverman, Originally published 1989 by Northpoint Press, recently re-published by Wisdom Publications.

The fourteenth-century Zen master Bassui was recognized as one of the most important Zen teachers of his time. Accessible and eloquent, these teachings cut to the heart of the great matter of Zen.

Encouraging Words

Encouraging Words – Zen Buddhist Teachings of Western Students, Robert Aitken, 1993, Pantheon

This is a collection of short talks and brief essays that Aitken Roshi has offered his students at sesshin. They are arranged according to themes — attention, emptiness, coming and going, diligence, death and the afterlife, the sacred self, and the moral path. This book is available at the temple.

Morning Star

The Morning Star, Robert Aitken, 2003, Shoemaker & Hoard

The Morning Star includes writings from Aitken Roshi’s first book, A Zen Wave, and from eight collections of essays and poems published over the last three decades. This volume offers Robert Aitken’s presentation of Zen practice, addressing the Great Matter from a historical and personal perspective. This book is available at the temple.

Mind of Clover

The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics; Aitken, Robert. San Francisco: North Point Press, 2000.

This book addresses the world beyond the zazen cushions, illuminating issues and complexities of Zen ethics. The opening chapters discuss the Ten Grave Precepts of Zen. Subsequent chapters address corporate theft and oppression, the role of women in Zen and society, abortion, nuclear war, pollution of the environment, and other concerns. This book is available at the temple.

Three Pillars

The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment; Kapleau, Roshi Philip, ed. New York: Anchor Books, 2000

The book is a collection of texts which describe Zen Buddhism as encountered by Philip Kapleau in Japan in the 1950’s.
It includes Yasutani Roshi’s Introductory Lectures on Zen Training, his Commentary on the Koan Mu, and records of his Private Encounters With Ten Westerners (in dokusan). First-person descriptions of 20th century enlightenment (kensho) experiences are described. This book is available at the temple.

Zen Mind Beginners Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind; Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (originally Weatherhill, ISBN 0-8348-0079-9,
now Shambhala, 2006)

Every page breathes with joy and simplicity. The book originated from a series of talks given by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki to a small group in Los Altos, California. Says the author, “The world is its own magic” — a feeling that pervades the entire book.


Roaring stream

The Roaring Stream, Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, 1996, Ecco Press

A groundbreaking, immensely readable anthology drawn from the vast corpus of Ch’an and Zen Buddhist literature, this book offers readers a tour through more than a millennium of writing, presenting one masterpiece after another in chronological progression. “You can dip into the waters of this stream, again and again, at any point finding refreshment and perspective, ” notes Robert Aitken in his introduction. This book is available at the temple.

Blue Cliff Record

The Blue Cliff Record Translation by Thomas and J.C. Cleary, 1992, Shambhala Publications in three volumes.

A collection of 100 Zen koans accompanied by commentaries and verses compiled in the twelfth century, this work is considered one of the great treasures of Zen literature and essential study for serious students of Zen. This book is available at the temple.

Record of Linji

The Record of Linji, Translation & commentary by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, edited by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, 2009 University of Hawaii Press

“The Linji lu” (Record of Linji) has been an essential text of Chinese and Japanese Zen Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. A compilation of sermons, statements, and acts attributed to the great Chinese Zen master Linji Yixuan (d. 866), it serves as central source of material for Zen koan practice. The notes, nearly six hundred in all, are almost entirely based on primary sources and thus retain their value despite the nearly forty years since their preparation.

Entangling Vines

Entangling Vines, Translated and annotated by Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, 2013, Wisdom Publications

This translation of the Shumon Kattoshu is one of the few major koan texts to have been compiled in Japan rather than China. Most of the central koans of the contemporary Rinzai koan curriculum are contained in this work.

Record of Tung-shan

The Record of Tung-shan, Translated by William F. Powell, 1986, The Kuroda Institute

Tung-shan originated the Soto lineage which Dogen brought to Japan from China. He was regarded as the founder of the Ts’ao-tung lineage, one of the Five Houses of Ch’an.

Master Yunmen

Master Yunmen: From the record of the Chan Teacher “Gate of the Clouds”, trans. by Urs App, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994.

This 9th century master gave birth to a fresh approach to Buddhism, eschewing traditionalist sermons in favor of straight talk, shouts, even blows. Yunmen is the most frequent protagonist in the koans that Zen students work on, even today. This is a good translation of this old work.

Moon in a Dewdrop

Moon in a Dewdrop – Writings of Zen Master Dōgen, Various translators, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, 1985, North Point Press

Kazuaki Tanahashi, collaborating with several other Zen authorities, has produced sensitive and accurate translations of Dogen’s most important texts. Moon in a Dewdrop contains the key essays of the great master, as well as extensive background materials that will help Western readers to approach this significant work.

Sounds of Valley Streams

Sounds of Valley Streams – Enlightenment in Dōgen’s Zen of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō Essays, translated by Francis Cook, 1989 SUNY Press

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Dogen (1200-1253) in the history and practice of Zen. His many-levelled and multi-faceted works are essential reading for Zen students. Dr Cook rises above the intellectualizing and speculation which limits so much contemporary Zen scholarship.

Swampland Flowers

Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui, J.C. Cleary, (Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 2006)

These writings of the twelfth-century Chinese master Ta Hui are immediately accessible. This book of letters to lay practitioners and others was first issued in the 70’s and is now available again.

Cultivating the Empty Field

Cultivating the Empty Field – The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, Translated by Taigen Dan Leighton, 2000, Tuttle

First to articulate the meditation method known to contemporary Zen practitioners as shikantaza (“just sitting”), Chinese Zen master Hongzhi is one of the most influential poets in all of Zen literature. This translation of Hongzhi’s poetry is the only such volume available in English.

Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin

The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, Translated by Norman Waddell, 1994, Shambhala Publications

A fiery and intensely dynamic Zen teacher and artist, Hakuin (1685–1768) is credited with almost single-handedly revitalizing Japanese Zen after three hundred years of decline. This book offers an excellent introduction to the work of this extraordinary teacher.

Undying Lamp of Zen

The Undying Lamp of Zen – the Testament of Zen Master Torei, Translated by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications, 2010

The Undying Lamp of Zen is a distillation of Zen practice written by Torei Enji (1721-1792), a Zen master and artist. Torei is best known as one of two “genius assistants” to Hakuin Ekaku. Torei was responsible for much of the advanced work of Hakuin’s later disciples and also helped systematize Hakuin’s Zen teachings. No other English translations of this classic are available.

What the Buddha Taught

What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula, New York: Grove Press, 1989

This is a comprehensive, compact, lucid, and faithful account of the Buddha’s teachings.

Chuang Tsu

Chuang Tzu – Basic Writings, Translated by Burton Watson, 1964, Columbia University Press

Chuang Tzu (369?-286? B.C.) was a leading philosopher representing the Taoist strain in Chinese thought. Central is the belief that only by understanding Tao (the Way of Nature) and dwelling in its unity can one achieve true happiness and freedom in both life and death.

Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius – A Philosophical Translation, Roger T. Ames & Henry Rosemont Jr., 1998, Ballantine

Confucius is recognized as China’s first and greatest teacher, and his ideas have been the fertile soil in which the Chinese cultural tradition has flourished. Eventually, his philosophies came to dictate the standard of behavior for all of society–including the emperor himself. Based on the latest research and complete with both Chinese and English texts, this revealing translation serves as an excellent introduction to Confucian thought.

Confucius - The secular as sacred

Confucius — The Secular as Sacred, Herbert Fingarette, 1972, Waveland Press (Harper Collins)

This book is an ideal way to discover the teachings of Confucius. Fingarettes’ primary aim is to help readers discover what Confucius taught, and to learn what he can teach us.

Dao De Jing

Dao De Jing – A Philosophical Translation “Making This Life Significant”, Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, 2003, Ballantine

In this volume, Ames and Hall feature the original Chinese texts and translate them into crisp, chiseled English that reads like poetry. This new version is a compelling introduction to Daoist thought.


Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o

Selected Poems of Su Tung-p’o, Translated by Burton Watson, 1994, Copper Canyon Press
Mountain Home

Mountain Home – The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, Translated by David Hinton, 2005, 1999, New Directions Books
Poems of the Masters

Poems of the Masters, Translated by Red Pine, Copper Canyon Press, 2003
Great Fool

Great Fool, Zen Master Ryōkan, Poems, Letters, and Other Writings, Translated by Ryūichi Abe and Peter Haskel, 1996, UH Press
Zen Wave

A Zen Wave, Bashō’s Haiku and Zen, Robert Aitken, 1978, recently republished by Shoemaker & Hoard
zen sand

Zen Sand – The Book of Capping Phrases for Kōan Practice, Victor Sōgen Hori, 2003, UH Press
Shadow of Sirius

The Shadow of Sirius, W.S. Merwin, 2008, Copper Canyon Press


Dogens manuals of zen meditation

Dōgen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, Carl Bielefeldt, 1988, University of California Press
Dogen Kigen Mystical Realist

Dōgen Kigen Mystical Realist, Hee-Jin Kim, 2003, Revised third edition, Wisdom Publications
Butterfly as Companion

The Butterfly as Companion – Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the Chuang Tzu, Kuang-Ming Wu, 1990, SUNY Press
Philosophical meditations on Zen Buddhism

Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism, Dale S. Wright, 1998, Cambridge University Press
Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft – An Inquiry into the Value of Work, Matthew B. Crawford, 2009, Penguin
How Zen Became Zen

How Zen Became Zen, Morten Schlutter, 2010, UH Press


Abstract Wild

The Abstract Wild, Jack Turner, 1996, University of Arizona Press
Practice of the wild

The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder, 1990, North Point Press
Unsettling of America

The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture, Wendell Berry, 1977, Sierra Club Books