Good Books on Early Buddhism

| March 27, 2017 | 6 Comments

Here are the books mentioned in the video:

Bhikkhu Bodhi: In the Buddha’s Words

Rupert Gethin: The Foundations of Buddhism

Williams, Tribe, Wynne: Buddhist Thought

Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha Taught

Richard Gombrich: What the Buddha Thought

Richard Gombrich: Theravāda Buddhism, 2nd Ed.

Johannes Bronkhorst: Buddhist Teaching in India

Anālayo: Satipaṭṭhāna, the Direct Path to Realization

Please feel free to include your own favorites in the comments section!

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Category: Book Reviews, Videos

Doug Smith

About the Author ()

Doug is Study Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. He has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year-long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the BCBS and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipiṭaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma. He posts videos at Doug's Secular Dharma on YouTube. Some of his writing can be found at

Comments (6)

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  1. Kevin K. says:

    This is a superb list – thank you!

    Here are a few additional resources I’ve found valuable: is the fantastic project from Bhikkhu Sujato and associates providing a wealth of sutta translations and study guides. His two key books “A Swift Pair of Messengers” and “A History of Mindfulness” (both available from Santi Forest Monastery online) are the best treatment of samatha-vipassana in the suttas vs. modern vipassana techniques I know of.

    Bhante Dhammika (.net) is another great resource, and I particularly recommend his short booklet “Good Kamma, Bad Kamma, What Exactly is Kamma?” as the single best discussion of the Buddha’s views on karma vs. later pervasive misunderstandings. It was a recommended text in the year-long online course on Bhikkhu Sujato taught awhile back and was for me the highlight of the course. Ven. Dhammika’s book “Broken Buddha” isn’t on his own site but can easily be found with a web search and while it isn’t directly related to Early Buddhism gives a vivid sense of why modern Theravada is so far removed from what we find in the suttas.

  2. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    A couple of books that helped me when I started to take Buddhism seriously – neither is exclusively about Early Buddhism, but about 2/3 of both are devoted to pre-Mahayana Buddhism. Both have some controversial ideas, but have, I think, a flavour similar to Gombrich and Rahula:

    A.K. Warder, Indian Buddhism (1970)
    tries to explain Early Buddhism in its historical context, and is very good on “Buddhism and Society” (title of one of his chapters).

    David Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis (1984) ) views Early Buddhism from a point of view most Secular Buddhists will find attractive, as a philosophy of experience rather than dogma.

    And I have to add a book I only came across a few years ago:

    Thomas Rys Davids, Early Buddhism (1908)
    A very clearly written little book, intended as a popular introduction, it was published as part of a series on ”Religions Ancient and Modern.” Despite the flaws to be expected from its age (most significantly, devaluing meditation), still very much worth reading.

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Thanks for the comment, Michael, and for your additional book selections. I was also thinking of including the Warder book (I actually have the 3rd Ed. from 2000), but the pile was getting a bit high!

  3. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    “the pile was getting a bit high!” Well, the Warder book is rather big 🙂

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