Recommendations by Sangha Members 2019

Image of Buddha

In the list below, individual members of San Jose Insight Meditation make recommendations about resources that have helped their practice. There are books, teachers, websites, songs and courses listed. Many entries include a personal comment describing why a member values the resource. The list is in no particular order. Our hope is that others will find inspiration here.

I found that Pema Chodrin was incredibly down-to-earth in her teachings and she is the one who inspired me along my journey. I find that listening to her CD’s is much more helpful than reading, because when she teaches a class she is funny, endearing and so expressive... I get more out of her talks every single time I listen. Lately I have been listening to her series “Fully Alive” (over and over again!) In her 2nd cd of the set she leads us through the most amazing meditation on patience, forgiveness and equanimity. This particular section is so profound, I feel like a new person every time I listen to it. It touches my heart and soul.

I have also been listening to Brene Brown’s talk called “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice”. She is not Buddhist, I think she is Episcopalian but her talks are centered on empowering people to have a strong voice, yet be loving, open and compassionate in the manner that they use their strength. Those talks are also entertaining, humorous, and very meaningful and so applicable to daily life.

Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth by Thanissara. This is a very rich, complete offering of the Buddha's life and message through feminine eyes. A very insightful and refreshing read.

Zen Driving by K.T. Berger (the Buddhist philosophy & principals applied to an everyday activity)

Mindfulness in Plain Englishby Henepola Gunaratana (an easy-to-read introduction to Buddhism)

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Henepola Gunaratana (a wonderful explanation of the eightfold path)

A Walk in the Wood -- Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh
Authors: Dr. Joseph Parent and Nancy Parent.
Body and Mind Chapter:

"The Past is History,
    The Future's a Mystery.
        Being Here and Now is a precious gift.
        That's why they call it the Present!"

"This helped him to stay in the here and now more of the time. And it helped Pooh to notice more quickly when he wandered into the past or future, so he could come back to the present."

Siddartha Author: Herman Hesse
"Indeed, he had never been able to lose himself completely in anyone else, give himself completely to another person, forget himself, commit follies of love for someone else. . . . this had struck him as the great gap between him and the child people. But now that his son was here, now he, Siddartha, too, had become a child person, suffering for someone else, loving someone else, lost in a love, a fool for love. Now he too, at this late time, felt this strongest and strangest passion, suffered from it, suffered woefully, and yet he was blissful, was somewhat renewed, was somewhat richer."

Two fiction books by Roland Merullo, Breakfast With Buddha and Dinner With Buddha. These 2 novels tell the story of a man, Otto Ringling, who has a “pretty good” life. However the sudden loss of his parents in a traffic accident and the need to sell the family homestead leave him with big questions about life. While traveling with his brother-in-law, Volya Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk, Otto loses his skepticism and opens to Volya’s teachings.

The books inspire me to take the time to sit, breathe, and be open to possibility.

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, Netflix Original series
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, book 2014, Marie Kondo
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, paperback 2017, Marie Kondo, in Japanese manga format

Marie Kondo's method called “tidying up” is “the act of confronting yourself.” It is not so much about eliminating stuff, though that will happen. “You'll be surprised at how many things you possess that have already fulfilled their role. Acknowledge their contribution and let them go with gratitude.” She teaches letting go by guiding you to see “how you feel about each and every item you possess.” She believes the reason we get and keep so many things is “attachment to the past or fear for the future,” and suggests “the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now.” Tidying up this way can be a liberating practice.

Culadasa's book, The Mind Illuminated. This book is so lovely in that it guides someone from day 1 to deeper practice. It's got a lot of technical material and might not appeal to everyone. The book is set up in ten stages, and each stage has defined characteristics. That may be too tight for constant use day-to-day, but it helps me align my practice and expectations.

The lion's roar website - I love reading this on the bus!

I also read Waking Up by Sam Harris. He gives some pointers to "pointing out instructions" from Dzogchen and also from Advaita Vedanta. That book was my gateway to starting practice again after a pause of some years. Culudasa's book got me into regular daily practice after I realized that once every couple days just did not serve as enough anchor in more committed practice (in the mind illuminated a daily practice is stage 1 of 10 and it took me a few weeks to get the message!)

I also work with Francis Bennett. I meet with her her online every week. She has an interesting background. She trained as a Trappist Monk for 20 years and was ordained by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana for a few years. Although she is rooted in the Christian Mystical tradition she teaches in a very open, and direct way. I find her to be very authentic, and her personal story underlines this (she recently transitioned publicly). She also has a lovely book, I Am That I Am: Discovering the Love, Peace, Joy and Stability of the True Self in paperback. She worked a lot with Adyashanti and Loch Kelly and is found on youtube both in years before she transitioned and more recently.

A GUIDE TO THE BODHISATTVA’S WAY OF LIFE, Shantideva, 8th century C.E. There are many translations available. Stephen Batchelor’s is quite good. Other’s probably are too. Shantideva was a Buddhist master at the monastic university of Nalanda in northern India.

The Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation, Professor Mark W. Muesse, Rhodes College. Also available as Audio tapes, but way more interesting and effective in the DVD.

Leigh Brasington’s Web Site:
A wide ranging web site by this former student of Ayya Khemma contains instructions and insights on Concentration, the Suttas, the Jhanas, side-by-side comparisons of different translations of several suttas, study guides, and much more. In addition there is a free database of over 2000 sutta translations.

Various websites below:

Wake-up and other Plum Village songs on youtube. - A very good collection of teachers represented, mostly Vipassana. Not audio talks, but transcribed dhamma talks. - An Interactive tour of the “Wheel of Life,” a Tibetan Buddhist Mandala depicting the Six Worlds and the 12 interdependent causes and their effects, overseen by the Monster of Impermanence. Waiting in the corners are the Bodhisattava, Avalokiteshvara, and the Buddha. - Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley. Top notch content. The online course, The Science of Happiness, is highly recommended. - The Greater Good Science Center in Action: More good stuff.
Scroll down and click on the video.

Chade-Meng Tan, author:
Search Inside Yourself
Joy on Demand
How To Master Your Mind in 100 Minutes

The book of Awakening by Mark Nepo (2000).
In his book, Mark Nepo dedicates a theme, poem or a quote for each day of the year, which is followed by his thoughts and interpretation, and then he rounds it up with a brief list of inquiries, suggestions, or exercises. It is also very useful that this book has an index which can help you find a specific theme you might be looking for. For me this book is like a companion throughout the year and also very helpful when you don't have time to read a complete or long book.

Aaron Lee (aka Arunlikhati):
Aaron Lee called himself an "Angry Asian Buddhist", you may also find his writings under his pen name Arunlikhati. His blog, according to Lion's Roar, "was born out of anger about under-representation of Asian Americans in American Buddhist media." Sadly, Aaron died in 2017 at the age of 34. The hope is that those who followed him will continue his very important work.

I first was introduced to Aaron's writings in this powerful and touching post regarding his battle with cancer.

Other related links:
Aaron's blog:
A moving obituary written by Sam Littlefair for Lion's Roar at

Old Path White Clouds, book by Thich Nhat Hahn (two recommendations)

Walking Meditation, DVD, Thich Nhat Hanh

Taming the Tiger Within, Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions, Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004.
This 295p book of one page quotes from some of his other books can be opened to any page for good stuff, but is organized to help the reader work through their anger. Part I, From Anger to Compassion, has three sections – Recognition, Care of Anger, and Mindfulness of others. Part II, No Birth, No Death: From Fear to Love, also has three sections – Fear and Time, Finding Refuge- Knowing Freedom, and The Love That Springs from Insight.

THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS, A Manual on Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, 1975. And what a miracle it is.

In looking over the list, I was happy to see much by Thich Nhat Hanh but surprised not to see his Heart of the Buddha's Teaching listed yet! So, I would like to nominate that book for inclusion. Here's my squib on it:

This book gave me the faith to tell people, "I am Buddhist". Thich Nhat Hanh elegantly expounds and clarifies the basic Dharma teachings, from the Four Noble Truths to the Eightfold Noble Path. He also covers less famous but equally august teachings such as the Six Paramitas, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and perhaps most importantly, co-dependent origination or, in TNH's classic turn of phrase, "interbeing".

What I love about this book, which I fell in love with through listening on audiobook rather than reading, is how accessible he makes the teachings. One does not get the sense of simplification or loss of nuance that can accompany summaries or introductory texts in some cases. The teachings simply become clear through his words. It is very beautiful, without question the product of an enlightened being. I listen to or read it every day, and it continues to unfold new meanings for me. When I am in contact with his book, it is like I can share in Thay's enlightenment for a little while, and it gives me the strength to practice diligently through the day. If I were forced to pick one book for every person to read, Buddhist or not, this would be it.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s final mindfulness lesson: how to die peacefully”: An article in Vox after Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam to live out his last days on earth:

A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives by Thupten Jinpa

Thupten Jinpa used to be the translator for his holiness the Dalai Lama. He helped to develop the CCT course (Compassion Cultivation Training) at Stanford University in the CCARE program: The first part of the book is his story and the benefits of compassion. The second part of the book is practical instruction about how to cultivate compassion.

Podcast: Tara Brach talks and meditations:

Kelly McGonical did this series on The Science of Compassion that is awesome-but not free. It includes talks and meditations. You can find it on


Last Updated 04/14/2019