Reading Zen books can inspire your practice. Great books to start off with are Robert Aitken's Taking the Path of Zen and Joko Beck's Everyday Zen. Here is a suggested reading list:
Taking the Path of Zen
Keep this book close to hand and refer to it often. It is a many-layered and detailed overview of Zen training. Even after years you will find new treasures each time you re-read it.
Mind of Clover
This book deals with the ethical and moral teachings of Zen. If you are planning to do Jukai, the ceremony of taking the precepts, this book is a must.
Dip into it again and again. It is the kind of book that rests comfortably on a bedside table, waiting for your last read at night. Let this great teacher inspire you with his wisdom, dry wit and decency.
The Ground We Share
If you come from the Christian tradition and struggle to find a way to Zen without betraying your religion's heritage, this book is very helpful. It is a dialogue between Robert Aitken Roshi and Brother David Steindl-Rast which explores the common ground of both religious streams.
Dongshan's Five Ranks: Keys to enlightenment (2014)
"Ross Bolleter Roshi assembles and provides commentary on all of the core texts of the Five Ranks, including the precursors that inspired it and works inspired by it. Approaching the Five Ranks from a rich and sophisticated koan perspective, Bolleter Roshi augments his explanations of the works with liberal doses of humour and storytelling, bringing this esteemed classic to life."
The Crow Flies Backwards and other New Zen Koans (2018)
"The 108 modern koans offered within address sexuality and childbirth, family, parenthood, work, money and even the nature time itself. These koans are drawn from a variety of modern sources: Western philosophy, the Bible, contemporary and classic literature from Proust to Lewis Carroll and Mary Oliver and Anne Carson, as well as stories provided by author's encounters with his Zen students. "
Red Thread Zen: The Tao of Love, Passion and Sex (2014)
"Some of us have arrived at this particular point in our spiritual journey with a little extra baggage about passion, love, and sex, and I have noticed that many people on the spiritual path have a tendency in the mind to create a polarisation or a separation between the spiritual path and the sexual life. So what is the Tao of love, passion, and sex? This very body is the lotus of the true law, linking human beings to birth and death by the red thread of passion. This approach was closely related to Tantric Buddhism, that used sexual union as a religious ritual."
Upside-down Zen: finding the marvelous in the ordinary (2007)
"Concentrating her gaze on the particular - the lived moment - she delivers Zen's timeless wisdom in a voice that stimulates and sustains the interest of the contemporary reader. She illuminates Zen koans, the often misunderstood teaching stories of the tradition, by drawing on diverse sources such as literature, folk-tales, modern cinema, and Australian aboriginal spirituality."
Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis (2014)
"In the tradition of Thomas Berry, using this spiritual opportunity to change the very nature of our crisis, Susan Murphy offers a profound message, subtly presented with clarity and assurance, showing that engaged Buddhism provides a possible path to the necessary repair and healing."
Charlotte Joko Beck
Joko Beck, a woman Zen Master, talks eloquently about bringing practice into ordinary, everyday life. Reading this book, you will get a taste of how Western Zen is developing its own flavour.
Zen Mind: Beginners Mind
A classic. Its short articles are pithy and forceful.
Kazuan Tanahashi and Tensho D. Schneider
A delightful collection of Zen stories, ancient and modern. Thoughtful, funny, inspiring – a book to treasure and enjoy.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Miracle of Mindfulness
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Master in the Vietnamese tradition. His style of writing is exquisite, using simple, everyday language that can be enjoyed by anyone. This book is a lovely introduction to mindfulness.
The Heart of Understanding
If you want to deepen your understanding of sutras, this is a lucid account of the Heart Sutra.
Phillip Kapleau (Ed.)
The Three Pillars of Zen
Many Western Zen students have been inspired by this book over the last twenty years. It is a compilation of writings by Yasutani Roshi and sports a collection of realisation reports that make for an exciting if rather misleading read.
Return to Silence
Katagiri Roshi's shining sense of humour and warm wisdom make this an inspiring read.
The Way of Everyday Life.
Maezumi Roshi was one of the most influential Zen Masters in the West. His untimely death left a big gap in the landscape of Western Zen. In this book he comments on Master Dogen?s Genjokoan, teaming up with John Daido Loori Roshi, one of his Dharma Heirs who contributes photographic images that form a counterpoint to the words of Dogen. An exquisite book.
Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker
The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader
This is a must for serious Zen students with its wonderful collection of stories from the great Zen Masters. A biography of each Master form a treasure chest of background information.
The Revolutionary Art of Loving-Kindness
Sharon Salzberg is a teacher in the Insight Meditation tradition. This warm and delightful book outlines in good detail practices of the Four Noble Abodes.
Zen Flesh - Zen Bones
A classic collection of short Zen stories.
A Path with Heart
Pack this book for a desert island. Jack Kornfield is an Insight Meditation teacher and his words ring true for all Buddhist practitioners. This truly is A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. A book to savour.
Long Quiet Highway
Natalie Goldberg is a writer and was a student of Katagiri Roshi. You will find it heartening to read about the struggle and joys she experienced on her Zen journey.
Nine-headed Dragon River
Peter Matthieson is a writer and Zen teacher and his language is rich and imaginative. This book is a narrative of his Zen journey and brings to life many of the colourful Japanese teachers that have formed Zen in the West. A book to take on holiday.
Good Life: A Zen Precepts Retreat with Cheri Huber, Lake Junaluska , North Carolina:
Present Perfect Books. 135 pages. Cheri Huber teaches at A Centre for the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation in Mountain View, California.
John Daido Loori
The Eight Gates of Zen: Spiritual Training in an American Zen Monastery,
Mt. Tremper, New York: Dharma Communications. 267 pages. John Daido Loori is abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery, in Mt. Tremper, New York, and founder and director of the Mountains and Rivers Order.
The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism, Boston: Charles E. Tuttle Co. 267 pages.