What Buddhist book should I read?

Kenneth Leong
3 min readNov 9, 2023

A Buddhist friend recently posted on Facebook about what a Buddhist must read in order to establish a foundational knowledge in Buddhism. He recommends reading the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (Treatise on the Foundation for Yoga Practitioners). There is one big problem–this treatise has multiple volumes. Each volume has about 600 pages.

The Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra is known for its extensive and detailed discussions on meditation, the nature of consciousness, the workings of the mind, and the stages of spiritual development. It is considered one of the foundational texts for understanding the Yogācāra tradition.

It is fine for someone to prefer a detailed and systematic approach to Buddhism. But Yogacara is just one of the Buddhist schools of thought. It has no monopoly on Buddhist truth. To make the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra a required reading for the new comers creates a formidable barrier for young people who are interested on Buddhism. Who would have the time and intellect to read such an extensive piece of work? It would have to be people who are both affluent and highly educated. Needless to say, time is a luxury that most people cannot afford. Those who have the time to engage is such reading activity belong to the elite class. Most of us are busy working and making ends meet.

I have surveyed the various Buddhist traditions. My conclusion is that for most Buddhist traditions, the reading of books and scriptures is not the top priority. Rather, the top priority is to understand our own mind. The following is just a cursory selection of quotes from various masters:

Walpola Rahula on the Buddha: “Thus, the germ of their (thirst’s and wisdom’s) arising as well as that of their cessation are both within the Five Aggregates. This is the real meaning of Buddha’s well-known statement, ‘Within this fathom-long sentient body itself, I postulate the world (i.e. the realm of dukkha, Samsara), the arising of the world (dukkha), the cessation of the world (dukkha), and the path leading to the cessation of the world (dukkha).’ This means that all the Four Noble Truths are found within the Five Aggregates, i.e. within ourselves… This also means that there is no external power that produces the arising and cessation of dukkha.”

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human