Best Lam Rim Introduction Books

Recommended books on the Lam Rim

Katinka Hesselink 2012

When you come into contact with the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism you'll find yourself confronted with the Lam Rim. This is good: it's a great introduction to the whole Buddhist path and is so central to Buddhist meditation that it includes all sutra meditations you could need. I do mean Theravada as well as most of the Lam Rim is taken up with topics that are common to all types of Buddhism.

However, that doesn't mean the Lam Rim is 'easy'. It contains a lot of nuance and material that is foreign to our Western cultural sensitivities. Geshes teaching this material take this into account in varying degrees. It can't hurt to read up on material written (or edited) by Westerners sensitive to the issues we have to deal with in trying to digest this material and incorporate it into our lives.

After all: the goal isn't to become a good Tibetan Buddhist. The goal is enlightenment. We can't get there ignoring our own baggage and assessing it as to it's value. With a proper understanding many issues aren't as foreign as they seem at first, however, it takes a very good teacher to help us bridge that gap. 

The following are some books that, to various degrees, fit the bill. Some are classics, others classics in the making. I'll start with the simplest and move up to the more complicated.

Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path (with 15 hour mp3 meditation CD)

Thubten Chodron has just the voice to create guided meditations. Her guided Lam Rim meditations are really excellent for anyone who wants to include analytical meditations (aka contemplation) in their daily meditation regimen as the Geshes advise.

Thubten Chodron provided just what I needed when I started meditating: serious 15-30 minute audio meditations (only occasionally longer) that touch on all the important themes of the Lam Rim in a way that relates to them to our lives. I sometimes resorted to doing only half of one in a session.

The book is excellent as well: the meditations there aren't literally what Thubten does in the audio. Instead you get a quote, a short introduction to the topic, and a list of aspects of that meditation. That works just perfect for me. After all: analytical meditation is about what YOU think about a topic, so it's really not necessary to have pages and pages of what Thubten has to say about it.

Read my full review.

The Path to Enlightenment, by the Dalai Lama

Glen H. Mullin compiled this book from teachings the Dalai Lama gave on one of the shorter Lam Rim texts. The book contains a full historical overview which I won't repeat here.

Suffice to say that I expect to reread this book, even if it's only 233 pages long. It gives the scholar in me all I have been looking for elsewhere, like a list of names of books with the original Sanskrit and Tibetan titles also listed.

However, I do think that this book is also legible for people who haven't studied the Lam Rim in depth yet. However, beginners will miss many of the nuances this book provides which make it useful for long time students as well.

Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment

This book is called 'conscise' but it's actually the largest book reviewed here. I suppose what they mean is that it's only one volume. 

Pabongka Rinpoche's book is a classic in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It contains the teachings of one of the foremost teachers of the early 20th century. Most gelugpa teachers alive today have been taught by students of Pabongka Rinpoche.

Unlike the Dalai Lama, Pabongka Rinpoche was not teaching primarily for Westerners. Quite the contrary, he addressed himself mostly to the monks and high lama's in his audience.

This makes this book perhaps the least accessible of the books I review here. However, I found it quite legible and fascinating.

Steps on the Path to Enlightenment: A Commentary on Tsongkhapa's Lamrim Chenmo, Vol. 1: The Foundation Practices (Volume 1)

Geshe Lhundup Sopa was a young scholar when he was invited to teach at an American University. This series of books was brought out after his retirement and contains his Lam Rim teachings over 2 decades.

As I compile this page I have not read the whole series yet, however from what I've read of the first volume this promises to be a staple in my library that I'll go back to again and again. The style is accessible and every point is explained in a way that makes the meaning come out.

The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: The Lamrim Chenmo

This is where it all began: the Lam Rim Chen Mo by Lama Tsong Khapa, available in English. There are 3 volumes, which unfortunately are not listed clearly on Amazon. I recommend ordering them directly from the publisher, Snow Lion (now with Shambhala). Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3

I could not ignore this book, because it's the classic all the rest goes back on. However, personally, I have not been able to read it yet. I do use it as a reference. It contains the whole Lam Rim Chenmo overview chart (over 30 pages) which is useful both for finding themes and (in future) as a basis for meditation. I've read parts when relevant for my studies. I did think the parts on death were understandable, for instance. However, I suspect it will be some time before I read the books cover to cover.

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