Authorized list of Buddhist books for prisons is short on numbers, high on repetition, and contains non-Buddhist titles


shadow of prison bars

The New York Times has, from a contact in prison, managed to get hold of the lists of 150 government-approved titles for the various religious traditions.

The news for Buddhist inmates is bad. The list supplied by the NYT (PDF) lacks any serious scriptural works such as the Dhammapada, does not even come close to the touted 150 titles, contains many repeated titles, and even contains a few non-Buddhist works!

One thing to be noted is that the various Christian denominations each have their own list of titles, while all the Buddhist traditions have been lumped together. Thus there are lists for Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Messianic traditions, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestants, and yet Theravadin Buddhism, Zen, Ch’an, the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land, Shingon, and Nichiren Buddhism are all treated as one tradition. The same is true of other non-Christian traditions such as Islam, where Sunni and Shia Islam are treated as one religion. It’s clear then that Christianity is being favored above other religions.

All of the texts are in English, despite many of the inmates in prison in the US being Vietnamese.

There are no texts from my own tradition, the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The Buddhist list (see below) has a number of peculiarities. There seem to be in fact only 94 titles on the list, of which 68 are books, the remaining titles being audiovisual media. It’s unclear what has become of the rest of the 150 titles. The Protestant list alone features no fewer than 213 print titles!

Another peculiarity is the repetition on the list. Shunryu Suzuki’s classic, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” appears at least three times (and that’s out of only 60 books!). “Dzogchen Teachings,” by Chogyal Norbu is repeated. The list appears to have been put together in great haste. Many of the authors’ names are mis-spelled, with “Pena Chodron” instead of “Pema Chodron” for example. Her “The Places That Scare You” is featured twice.

At least three of the books (“JivanMuktiviveka,” by Swami Vidyaranya, “Crest Jewel of Discrimination,” by Sri Shankasa, and “Talks With Ramana Maharshi”) are Hindu rather than Buddhist texts, and another, “Opening the Door to Bon,” is about a non-Buddhist Tibetan tradition. “The Journey To The Sacred Garden,” by Hank Wesselman is a text on Shamanism.

Yet another peculiarity is the absence of canonical texts. It’s unclear whether these are given a pass, so to speak, and don’t have to go through a selection process. The absence of the Bible from the Catholic list would seem to indicate that this might be the case.

The numbering is erratic, and runs from 1 to 33, then 13 to 29, then 43 to 60.

The NYT notes that the lists are not dated and that there’s no no way of knowing whether they are still current. Our examination of hidden data on the document, however, reveals a date of 3/22/07 — many months before the policy of censoring religious books was announced. There’s no indication of who prepared the list. We can only hope that this is a rough draft.

Wildmind is still waiting for an official response to our Freedom of Information Act request for an official copy of the list.

Here are the 60 print titles from the NYT’s document:

1) Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction, by Richard H. Robinson, Willard L. Johnson, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wadsworth Publishing, ISBN: 0534558585, 2004 (5 ed.)th An introductory book to Buddhism that covers the teachings and practices of a wide range of schools and traditions.

2) The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History & Teachings, by Donald S. Lopez Jr., HarperSanFrancisco, ISBN: 0060099275, 2002 A book that contains information on the practices of a wide range of schools and

3) The Teaching of Buddha, compiled by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Buddhist Promoting Foundation), ISBN: 4-89237-011-8, 1985 (110 ed.)th Provides selective passages from many Buddhist scripture. This book is found in hotels,
and institutions.

4) Essential Buddhism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs and Practices, by Jack Maguire, Pocket Books, ISBN: 0-671-04188-6, 2001 Provides a practical summary of the different schools and practices of Buddhism.

5) Buddhism Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen, Broadway Books, ISBN: 0767903323, 1998 This book explains basic Buddhist teachings from the Zen Buddhist perspective.

6) Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553351397, 1992 This book applies the basic Zen Buddhist teaching of mindfulness to everyday living.

7) The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Random House, Inc., ISBN: 0676903692, 1999 This book applies the basics teachings of Buddhism to modern struggles from a Zen Buddhist perspective.

8) Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573222887, 2004 This book guides the reader through Buddhist ways of dealing with emotions such as anger, fear, and jealousy.

9) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, by Shunryu Suzuki, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 0834800799, 1973 This book is often considered as one of the classic explanations of Zen Buddhism to
Western audiences.

10) Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen, by Shunryu Suzuki, Edward Espe Brown, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060957549, 2003 A follow-up book to the above listed Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

11) Everyday Zen: Love and Work, by Charlotte Joko Beck, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN: 0060607343, 1989
This book applies the basics of Zen Buddhism to the struggles of everyday life.

12) Woman of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom, by Sallie Tisdale, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-059816-6, 2006 This books traces women Buddhist masters and teachers, and gives us an understanding
of women’s contribution to Buddhism.

13) Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books, ISBN: 1-57322-568-1, 1995 This book compares Buddhist and Christian themes and scripture.

14) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by the Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler, Penguin Group, ISBN: 1573221112, 1998
A book that applies basic Buddhist teachings as explained by the Dalai Lama to modern daily struggles.

15) Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, by Dalai Lama, Nicholas Vreeland, Little, Brown & Company, ISBN: 0316930938, 2002
This book lays out a path of Buddhist practice to increase one’s compassion.

16) Awakening the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, ISBN: 0767901576, 1998
This book explains basic Buddhist teachings and practices from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

17) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1570623449, 1997
This book explains how one can face the struggles of modern life through the Buddhist teachings. The author is from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

18) The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Pema Chodron, Shamabala Publications, ISBN: 978-1590304495. 2001

19) Buddhism for Beginners, by Thubten Chodron, Snow Lion Publications, Inc., ISBN: 1559391537, 2001
This book explains the basic teachings of Buddhism from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

20) Wake Up To Your Life, by Ken McLeod, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0-06-251681-7, 2002
This books provides models for developing meditation and insight.

21) What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula, Grove Press, ISBN: 0802130313, 1974
(Revised ed.)
A book that covers the basic Buddhist teachings from the viewpoint of the Theravada school. The Theravada school is practiced in South and Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. In the West, a type of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana meditation is popular and Vipassana meditation comes from the Theravada school.

22) A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promised of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield, Bantam Books, ISBN: 0553372114, 1993
This book explains the practice of Buddhist meditation in an American context. The author has studied Theravada Buddhism and Vipassana meditation.

23) Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN: 157062903X, 2002
This book applies Vipassana meditation to the struggles of modern life in America.

24) It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, by Sylvia Boorstein, Harper San Francisco, ISBN: 0062512943, 1997
The book covers the basic Buddhist teachings in the context of modern American life. The author is a known teacher of Vipassana meditation.

25) Everyday Suchness: Buddhist Essays on Everyday Living, by Gyomay M. Kubose, Dharma House, ISBN: 0964299208, 2004
A book that covers basic Buddhist teachings with daily experiences. The author is from a Japanese Buddhist tradition.

26) The Buddha in Your Mirror: Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self, by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, Ted Morino, Middleway Press, ISBN: 0967469783, 2001
This book covers the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a type of Japanese Buddhism that has some popularity in the US.

27) River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism, by Taitetsu Unno, Doubleday Publishing, ISBN: 0385485115, 1998
This book is an introduction to Shin Buddhism, a popular form of Buddhism in Japan that is quite popular in the US.

28) First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening, by Susan Murcott, Parallax Press, ISBN: 1-888375-54-X, (2006)
This book provides historical insight into how Buddhism became one of the first religions to welcome women.

29) Mindfulness in Plain English by H. Gunaratana, by Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 0861713214,
Fundamentals of the basic Buddhist meditation are outlined to include: the how why, when, where and answers to problems common to implementing the discipline of meditation.

30) Mindfulness: Path to the Deathless by Ajahn Sumedgo, Corporate Body of the Buddha, ISBN: 1870205014, (!987).
Reference handbook to Buddhist meditation.

31) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki, Shunryum ISBN: 0834800799, Weatherhill, Inc. ISBN: 1590302672 (2000).
Succinct introduction to Zen practice as it discusses posture and breathing in meditation as well as selflessness, emptiness and mindfulness.

32) Describing the Indescribable by Hsing Yun, ISBN: 086171866, Wisdom Publications (2001).
Buddhist commentary on the importance of balanced insight and emotion in the spiritual path.

33) Only Don’t Know by Seung Sahn, ISBN: 1570624321, Shambhala Publication (1999).
Letters written by a Zen Master answering questions about work, relationships, and suffering.

13) The Myth of Freedom , by Chogyan Trungpa, Publisher :Shambhala (1976) ISBN:1-57062-933-1
Shows how our attitudes, preconceptions, and even or spiritual practices can become chains that bind us to repetitive patterns of frustration and despair.

14) The Wings to Awakening, by Thanissaso Bhikkhu, Publisher :The Dhama Dana Publication Fund (1996) ISBN: N/A
Details the disciplines, teachings and practices of Hinayana Buddhism.

15) Insight Meditation, by Joseph Goldstain, Publisher: Shambhala (2003) ISBN: 1-59030-016-5
Explains favorite Dharma Stories, key teachings and answers the most asked insight meditation.

16) Jivan Muktiviveka, by Swami Vidyaranya, Publisher: Wedanta Press (1996) ISBN: 81-7505-882-5
Deals with how the spiritual aspirant can overcome fear, addiction, and illusion and become the jivanmukta or liberated soul.

18) Working With Anger, by Thubten Chodron, Publisher: Snow Lion (2001) ISBN: 1-55939-163-4
This book presents a variety of Buddhist methods for subduing and preventing anger.

19) Talks With Ramana Maharshi, by Ramana Maharshi, Publisher: Inner Directions (2000) ISBN: 1-878019-00-7
This book is in question/answer format and deals with a universal approach by directly pointing to the truth of our intrinsic nature .

20) The Journey To The Sacred Garden, by Hank Wesselman, Publisher: Hay House (2003) ISBN: 1-4019-0111-5
This book shows us how we can tap into peace that lies within us all the time.

29) Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, by Jay L. Garfield Publisher: Oxford (1995)
ISNB: 0-19-509336-4
A clear and eminently readable translation of Nagarjuna’s seminal work. Nagarjuna was a prominent Buddhist Saint.

43) Teachings from the Mani Retreat, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Publisher: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive (2001) ISBN: 1-891868-10-1
A day by day account of the teachings given by the Lama at the inaugural Mani Retreat including the rituals, meditation, mantra and chanting etc…

44) Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, Publisher: Weatherhill (1970)
ISBN: 0-8348-0079-9
How to practice Zen as a workable discipline and religion in one’s dally life,

45) Opening the Door to Bon, by Nyima Dallpa, Publisher, Snow Lion (2005) (ISBN: 101-55939-246-0)
A complete handbook for the fundamental practices of the Ancient Bon Tradition of Tibet.

46) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN :10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

47) Dzogchen Teachings,by Chogyal Norbu, Publisher, Snow Lion (2006) ISBN: 10-1-55939-243
A complete guide to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet.

48) The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Beacon Press (1975) (ISBN: 0-8070-1239-4).
Anecdotes and practical exercises as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness being awake and ware.

49) Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein, Publisher :Shambhala (1987) (ISBN: 1-57062-805-X)
Teachings & practices of insight meditation which are the understanding of our bodies, minds, lives, and to see clearly the true nature of experience.

50) The Torch of Certainty , by Jamgon Kangtrul ; Publisher :Shambhala (2000) (ISBN: 1-
This text describes the Four Foundation Practices that all practitioners of vajrayana Buddhism must complete.

51) Enlightened Courage, by Dilgo Khyentse; Publisher :Snow Lion (1993) (ISBN:1-55939-023-9)
The author presents the Seven Point Mind Training, brought to Tibet by the Indian Master Atisha, which is the very core of the entire practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

52) Living at the Source, by Swami Vivekananda; Publisher :Shambhala (1993) (ISBN: 1-57062-616-2)
Writing and talks of Swami Vivekandanda on the concerns of contemporary men and women who seek to live a spiritual life in the midst of everyday activities.

53) Make Your Mind an Ocean, by Lana Yeshe; Publisher :TDL Publications (1999)
Gives helpful tips to calm our mind according to the Buddhist tradition.

54) Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps Publisher :Tuttle Publishing (1998) ISBN: 0-8048-
Four books in one and are the main Zen writing of Zen Buddhism.

55) Between Heaven and Earth, by Shi Bo, Publisher: ISBN: 1-59030-050-5
Calligraphic characters and historical and legendary anecdotes to gives a fascinating overview of the evolution of seven seminal Chinese writing styles.

56) Seared Calligraphy of the East, by John Stevens, Publisher :Shambhala (1981) ISBN: 1-57062-122-5
Covers topics as the history and spirit of Eastern Calligraphy, the are of copying religious texts, the biographies of important Zen Calligraphies.

57) The Places That Scare You, by Pena Chodron, ISBN: 1-57062-921-8, published by Shanbhala, (2001).
Teaches how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and other complete with faults and imperfections.

58) When Things Fall Apart, by Pena Chodran, ISBN: 1-57062-969-2, published by Shambhala, (1997).
Provides sound, heart advice for dealing with difficult times.

59) Crest Jewel of Discrimination, by Sri Shankasa, ISBN: 0-88748-034-5, published by Vedanta Press, (1947).
Sharkara shares his philosophy on the nature of reality, and how to live a righteous life.

60) The Buddha and his Teachings, by Samuel Bercholz Publisher: Shamblala (1993) ISBN: 1-57062-960-9
A collection of classic and modern Buddhist texts that provide insight into the teaching and practice of Buddhism.

, , , ,

3 Comments. Leave new

  • Does it matter? The beauty of Buddhist thought – in all its traditions – is that it can take us where we need to go if we choose to go there. More importantly, being concerned about our rightful and fully represented place as the FWBO amongst other traditions and further concluding that ‘Christianity is being favoured above other religions’ is dangerous. It is the same borderline paranoia which has blighted the good in many faiths and begun many a war. Buddhism, especially that represented by the FWBO has to be – indeed usually is – above this religious one-upmanship and ‘what about me?’ concern with other faiths getting a bigger piece of the pie.
    Should we not instead celebrate that prisoners will have access to something they would not have received even twenty years ago?
    With much Metta.

  • Welcome, Kavita!

    I think it does matter. I’m not particularly bothered about my own tradition being accorded a place amongst other Buddhist traditions (that would be kind of ridiculous given how small we are in the US) but I am concerned that inmates have access to the Dharma (at least in book form). In federal prisons that’s suddenly become much harder. Remember that prisons are not being issued with the books on this list, but that instead all books that aren’t on this list have been removed (for supposed “national security” reasons) from prison libraries. This means that many prisons will have no more than a handful of Buddhist books available. In some cases no Buddhist books will be available.

    I’d say that “concluding that Christianity is being favoured above other religions’ is dangerous” only if it’s not true. I don’t know if you have experience of working in prisons, but virtually 100% of prison chaplains are Christian, and many in the US are evangelical and believe that other religions are inherently evil. This mindset is just a fact of life across vast swaths of the US. And yet these are the people who are responsible for deciding whether or not inmates of other faiths are even allowed to meet together, whether they can hold services or practice-gatherings, whether they will have access to literature, etc.

    I’ve heard from inmates who have been told by chaplains and wardens that Buddhist groups are simply not going to be allowed to meet. In some cases groups of inmates have had to sue to be allowed to practice together. However taking legal action is difficult, expensive, and can even open inmates to reprisals (it’s hard to pursue a legal case when you’re in solitary confinement or have been transferred to a prison hundred of miles away).

    There are of course good chaplains. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some. I’m not saying that all chaplains are bad. But it’s certainly not “paranoid” to say that Christianity is more favored by many Christian wardens and chaplain, and even that other religions are actively discriminated against in many cases.

    I do indeed think that we should celebrate that inmates have access to something they wouldn’t have had in the past, but I don’t think we should do this “instead” of campaigning for greater religious freedom. We can do both.

  • I would be more concerned that there are no titles in Spanish, as I believe that the Spanish speaking population is somewhat larger than those that speak other languages, like Vietnamese. AND, some people just aren’t readers, either don’t know how or were never very good at it, so won’t read about Buddhism even if there are books. CDs, MP3s, and practice groups could be more important for them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.