Books I Recommend for Your Spiritual Library

A lot of people has asked me when Nan Huai-Chin will come out with his next book in English.

It's finally here!

I do have a translator working on translating his "Youth in the 20th Century," but 7 years have gone by and it's still only 70% completed. Who knows when that one will be done, even though only 3-4 chapters are left!

That just goes to show what I always tell you, which is how hard it is to find translators for such materials. I have to tell you that you're really lucky to have any of these top level cultivation materials available in English, because most people haven't been around and don't know the value of these materials or how good they are. They think they're the same class as regular New Age stuff out there and because they haven't been around, cannot differentiate between the diamonds and zircons, fish eyes and pearls. When I was younger we didn't even have many books in print available on Eastern cultivation schools, or the Early Western cultivation methods.

Many of the Thomas and JC Cleary translations I arranged over the years cost well over $20,000. Considering that the publishing companies never pay more than $2500 to $3000 in royalties for those books, and don't reprint them, I'd snap this new book up. These are true financial figures by the way--I've arranged for about one dozen paperback books to be published over the years and no one ever got paid more than $3000 for the works, yet it cost FAR more to produce the materials. Everyone who's done it will tell you that you really don't make money publishing, and you can actually lose money if you start fulfilling the orders yourself.

So when I tell people you usually lose money publishing and that it's not worth it as a business - which is what most small publishers will tell you (even Burton Goldberg, of Alternative Medicine magazine, once told me over the phone that he's getting into supplement sales because publishing didn't pay)-- they don't believe it, yet it's 100% true. That's why our ebook publishing is more of a hobby than a business because as a business it just wouldn't cut it, and turning things into paperbacks would make the situation even worse. Even an ebook costs me thousands of dollars to produce and it takes years to recover the costs, if at all. A single trip to Asia for one or two lectures costs several thousand dollars!

But enough of that. I'm just trying to exercise your wisdom muscles so you become aware of how the world really works, and so you take advantage of what's available before it goes out of print.

Anyway, a paperback version of Nan Huai-Chin's (Chinese) Diamond Sutra commentary was finally published and is now available on This is an excellent book as the translator, Pia Giammasi, actually listened through the original Chinese tapes that produced the Chinese book, and used those recorded lectures to ADD to the materials that became the original Chinese version. She had Chinese AND English translators help her and took several years to make sure she was VERY accurate to the lectures.

In other words, the English version I'm announcing HAS MORE MATERIALS INSIDE IT than the Chinese version, and is much more flavorful. As to the value of the Diamond Sutra itself, it is one of the KEY enlightenment texts used by the Zen school to help people win enlightenment. It talks about merit making and service to others and talks about how this is not enough to win enlightenment, and yet you must do this. Hence, this is the message of WHITE FAT COW as well.

The Diamond Sutra also talks about seeing through the emptiness of the ego, and how to practice to get to that stage of self-realization enlightenment--whether Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Taoist, Jain or whatever, the information is sound and solid. Furthermore, it's written in such a way that YOU GET IT! Learning the message of the Diamond Sutra is a key to ALL cultivation and many famous monks read it 3,000 or more times in their lives (read the Altar Sutra of Hui-neng to see an example) in order to make progress.

I can remember Nan Huai-Chin explaining how reading it to ghosts, as an offering, helps them let go of their ego so they can transfer to a higher realm, and how he once tried to help a military general who had committed terrible atrocities by first commanding him to read the Diamond Sutra several hundred times. If you read it and try to fathom its meaning, it can help you experience some degree of emptiness, and from THAT you can help change someone's fortune. That's why it can help ghosts and generals and you or me change our destinies.

Reading it helps plant the seeds of wisdom for figuring out what all the world's religions are about, and of course reading and reciting it is a way to accumulate merit.

I could recount many stories about the effectiveness of the Diamond Sutra, but the announcement is that you can find the translation here, which will take you through to the order page:

Diamond Sutra

There are other versions of the Diamond Sutra available as well, and I actually urge you to get several. Yes, buy several and alternate between them. What I do is alternate between reading one translation or another because one translator may have an insight or way of phrasing things that another does not, and that particular one may strike me for a realization. The Diamond SUtra is so short and the phrasing so beautiful that you'll really enjoy doing this, and it WILL bring more meaning to your Christian, Taoist, Hindu, Islamic or whatever form of cultivation you're following.

Slowly I've been working on my own translation of the Diamond Sutra for years, and part of it was used by Pia in her own translation. As for my translation, don't expect it for years. I don't have the time, nor wisdom for it, nor the kung-fu. Rather, just go pick up Pia's translation of this great work. A friend, who has several hundred cultivation books, told me that Pia's translation is now his favorite esoteric book. That's how good it is!

The Diamond Sutra

Now the Diamond Sutra is one of the key cultivation texts you should read if you want to make spiritual progress, regardless of your religious affiliations. A variety of translations are available, such as the ones below, and I also highly recommend the one by Red Pine (Bill Porter).

The A.F. Price translation is also good value because with it you get the Hui-neng Altar Sutra translation as well, which is a great story to read. It's about a monk who got enlightened and had to hide from his peers because they were jealous and would have killed him. For ten years he hid himself in the woods completing his cultivation until it was time to teach publicly. The school of Zen in China largely flourished entirely because of Hui-neng's Zen teachings, and Hui-neng became the Sixth Founder, or "Patriarch" of Zen. It's said that he was actually the reincarnation of the Great Golden Buddha who achieved enlightenment ages past, which accounts for why his words are so powerful.

The Altar Sutra of Hui-neng, also called the Platform Sutra or Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (of Zen), has very high-level as well as rudimentary cultivation teachings. Because the Sixth Patriarch of Zen was illiterate, he was able to speak to the masses in a very colloquial style no one used previously, which is what made Zen popular in China and reachable. It's very enjoyable to read from many angles. There's all sorts of people who tried to kill Hui-neng, and one time he gave an assassin some money when he arrived to kill him. Hui-neng aid, "I only owe you money (from a past life), not my life," and the assasin later became a secret disciple of the master.

The Diamond Sutra translations you might choose from are as follows:

Diamond Sutra Translations  

Since we're on the topic of Zen recommended sutras, I might as well go through which ones are best. Then in other newsletters I'll start recommending what I feel are the best yoga texts, kung-fu texts, Tantric texts, mystical Christianity texts, Sufi Texts, Tao school texts and other books I've found over the years. After you read several hundred (actually several thousand) of these materials, you tend to know what's good and what isn't so I'll give you straight advice on what to add to your library. Too much that comes out today is just crap, so I'll steer you to that minimum of... not the good stuff but GREAT STUFF.

Today, however, we'll just concentrate on the Buddhist wisdom sutras you should check into and once again I tell you: I don't care what religion you follow, you need some of these to make sure you're not cultivating incorrectly. Over and over again the people who contact me haven't a clue about he basics of cultivation, even though they've been meditating for years, and it's because they didn't absorb the lessons from three or four of these basic sutras. Two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha didn't start out teaching to found a religion but simply said, "Don't believe me, but test everything I say. If you do this then such and such will happen. If you do that then such and such will happen. This is why, and this is how to make progress, and this is what you can expect. This is how things work. This is how to cultivate, this is what happens when you cultivate correctly, and this is what happens when you cultivate INCORRECTLY and here are all the possible wrong roads to take."

When people don't reference the sutras, they usually fall into the wrong roads of meditation. In fact, this is a big problem with Tibetan tantra because Tibetan monks typically keep reading commentaries on yoga texts and "commentaries on commentaries" rather than concentrate on the original sutras. But that's another topic best left to later.

Anyway, Buddhism is called the school of prajna transcendental wisdom because it explains everything and emphasizes that you understand what's going on. Other schools tell you to just believe, have faith and don't question, but offer no proof for anything -- with most of the religious guidance offered by intellectuals rather than people with accomplishment (kung-fu). Furthermore, most of the advanced teachings are only at the level of samadhi, rather than enlightenment, or from partial enlightenment and not full enlightenment.

You can often judge a school by the number and quality of the students who choose to be reborn when that master teaches and in the history of the world you'll only find Buddhism having Bodhisattvas, Arhats, samadhi-masters and so forth choosing to being reborn to be taught by Buddha. About the next best case are several enlightened masters in the Zen school, such as Zen master Ma Tsu, who taught nearly 100 people who reached some stage of enlightenment. As to most other religions, you'll never find this at all, so you can judge the height and depth of their teachings by how few or many ADVANCED students chose to be reborn and taught by a master. Think about it...

The Platform (Altar) Sutra of Hui-Neng

Anyway, we mentioned the Platform Sutra, or Sutra of Hui-neng. This is not actually an original sutra by Shakyamuni Buddha, but the Chinese so respect this work that they've accorded it the title of a sutra. That's saying something. When I was younger in my 20's, it was one of my favorite books to read, and the story is a bit romantic in terms of the struggle for enlightenment. Because he totally transformed his chi channels, Hui-neng's body has never decomposed and can still be found in the temple in Canton next to two other masters, a picture of which can be found in Charles Luk's books below. I actually visited the temple to see the remains and let me tell you that Hui-Neng was a big guy. The monks at the temple showed us the cooking pot that Hui-neng used to stir to cook the rice and the ladle was so gigantic that I had trouble even lifting THAT!

Anyway, the various translations available are:

Platform Sutra

The Lotus Sutra

Now another text I often urge people to get, if they want to understand skillful means and wisdom, is the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism. Americans especially need this sutra as they have trouble understanding skillful means, expedient methods, or however you want to word it. Other countries commonly call us naive and gullible, or too straight forward, and it's due to the fact that we lack understanding of skillful means, and WISDOM.

Once again, regardless of your religious affiliation, this is one of the few DEFINITES you have to read. The stories are very approachable and reminiscent of the Bible, which makes this a reading pleasure. I especially like the story where the 500 monks walked out of Shakyamuni Buddha's lecture because they did not want to hear of a higher stage of enlightenment than the Hinayana Enlightenment they had reached. Even Buddha's students, who recognized him as an enlightened Buddha, did not want to be told that their little achievement of enlightenment was not the real, complete thing, but just the start of the path. Because they didn't want to tread the Mahayana Path that involves service for other beings in the universe, since that meant focusing on more than just self-enlightenment, they walked out because they didn't want to hear more.

Because I'm not a Hinayanist but am training you for the Mahayana path, I really want you to read this sutra. In the Lin Chi school of Zen, all students are trained to be able to become Kings and Emperors and great leaders. That's my hope for you. For that, you have to know about everything--kung-fu, technical skills, psychology, medicine, sex, financial things, strategies, business, science, politics, history,... you name it. People who think you just close the door and meditate and never get involved with society or learn about non-religious things never accumulate the merit necessary for perfect, complete enlightenment, which is what this sutra teaches (as well as other things, such as how to teach people according to the situation which others, later, unfortunately solidify into religious rules while losing the TRUE WAY).

Traditionally, I've found that Japanese translators have been the best for the Lotus Sutra, though I like Burton Watson's translations besides Bunno Kato's and Daisaku Ikeda's. Once again, I have several of these because this is some of the most beautiful literary pieces you will ever read in your lifetime, no matter what your affiliation. It's said that Buddhas in every Buddha land teach the Lotus Sutra and Diamond Sutra in some form or another, and I'm non-denominational AND happy to recommend them.

The various translations available:

Lotus Sutra Translations

The Complete Enlightenment Sutra

Alright, you want to know how to get enlightenment. You want a clear, direct explanation.

Forget the "Power of Now." Forget positive thinking, prayer, mandalas, spinning your chi, crystals, channeling, shamans, witchcraft, spells, and all sorts of ceremonies. You want the direct route to perfect and complete enlightenment? Here it is:

Complete Enlightenment Sutra

The Vimalakirti Sutra

The Vimalakirti Sutra is another favorite of mine, and is also used in the Zen School. Most of these sutras I became acquainted with decades ago due to the translation efforts of Charles Luk, also known as Luk K'uan Yu or K'uan Yu Lu. Most everything this guy produced is excellent, so anything you can find by him GRAB, especially as it usually goes out of print.

Translationwise, the entire field of New Age spirituality owes a big debt to this man as well as to Thomas Cleary, John Blofeld, and Eva Wong. Unfortunately, people don't recognize the contributions they've made that have filtered out into all sorts of spiritual schools because of their translations.

Anyway, the Vimalakirti Sutra is about a layman, not a monk, who achieved full enlightenment during Shakyamuni's day. Shakyamuni Buddha tries to send several students to visit Vimalakirti when he's sick, but the students all refuse one by one because each says that their stage of cultivation isn't high enough, and recounts a story to prove it. For instance, once a disciple of Buddha (Purnamaitrayaniputra) was teaching a group of folks, and Vimalakirti came long and said, "Don't put rotten food into clean bowls. {since the people you are teaching are new to the dharma, they have open minds.] These people don't have any wounds, so don't hurt them by making any. Don't teach the narrow path to those who want to tread the wide path."

Anyway, the wisdom Buddha, Manjushri, finally says he'll go to pay a visit to Vimalakirti and later Buddha's entire congregation, through Vimalakirti's superpowers are able to come and visit and entirely fit in his 10 by 10 foot square room. I've actually seen something similar to this in my lifetime, which is a bending of space, and it's described in the sutra.

Burton Watson, K'uan Yu Lu (Luk Kuan Yu or Charles Luk) and Yampolsky are the best translations.

Vimalakirti Sutra Translations

The Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra is a very small sutra which anyone can recite in about 2 minute's time, and in fact, reciting it is part of the ceremony for making offerings to Hungry Ghosts so that the offering (of food or whatever) is purified and they can receive the help. If they listen to the sutra AND REALIZE ITS MEANING, which is the important thing, they can access some realization of emptiness which helps them transmute their fate.

The great monk Xuan Zang, who was many times attacked by demons as he crossed the desert going from China to India, always protected himself by reciting this sutra. He constantly recited it as a form of mantra practice and to remind himself that everything that arose to try and stop him was illusion. Powerful it is, short and simple it is, but to fathom it's meaning is difficult.

For the Heart Sutra, I recommend Bill Porter's (Red Pine's) most recent translation for an understanding and there are countless translations in books here and there since it's only about a page or so in English. I've tried to hire Bill for various translations in the past, such as the Sea of Zen, but he was always too busy. Master Nan's book, The Sea of Zen, would revolutionize Zen studies in the west but as usual, the really good stuff is never translated... people spend their time translating materials of far less usefulness without knowing it. I see so much effort going into translating Tibetan texts and I just shake my head when the real gems are in Chinese texts. As to being in China, of course the dharma is dead but the real gems of cultivation literature are in Chinese rather than Tibetan works, or even Indian works.

Anyway, we now various Heart Sutra translations available, which are connected with the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin:

Heart Sutra Translations

An Overlooked Gem

An overlooked book is the Great Jewel Heap Sutra, also known as the Great Jewel Umbrella Sutra or Maha-Ratnakuta Sutra. Incidentally, our friend Bill Porter (and Garma CC Chang) worked as part of the committee that translated many of the scrolls from this large sutra, and few people know that this English translation exists. It's pretty rare and there's only one translation available. Although it's not the full translation, it's worth it.

Once I asked Master Nan what ONE SINGLE sutra would be best for Westerners and he mentioned this one. Check it out here:

Jewel Umbrella Sutra Translations

The Lankavatara Sutra

As to the Lankavatara Sutra, traditionally it was used by Bodhidharma and the early Zen masters to seal someone's enlightenment. Frankly, I don't like any of the translations available in English and think a better translation could be made. The following are currently available and I'd like to see the Numata Institute, which is sponsoring a great sutra translation project, to find someone else to translate this pivotal work:

Lankavatara Sutra

Yes we owe a debt to Suzuki for translating this, but be careful of his translation. In fact, be careful of a LOT of his work. The Goddard translation needs work as well, but that's just my humble opinion.

The Surangama Sutra

On the Meditation Expert website you'll find a translation from the very last chapter of the Surangama Sutra, which is one of the most important. This one chapter alone cost about $5,000 to translate, courtesy of Lee Shu Mei Kuo, but you get it for free on the website, and it tells the stages, experiential realms, esoteric phenomena as well as obstacles you'll encounter as you cultivate through the various stages to enlightenment.

Are you seeing through walls, seeing things at a distance or seeing inside other people's bodies? If you are, that ain't enlightenment. Are you able to astral travel throughout the universe? Sorry, that ain't enlightenment either. Are you able to do X, Y and Z?

All those things... and MORE... are described by Buddha and discarded as NOT being enlightenment. They're just kung-fu (gong-fu) and Buddha explains how to reach these things, what stage of attainment they correspond to, why they ARE NOT enlightenment, how to progress through them, and what other obstacles and challenges you can expect on the quest all the way to complete and PERFECT enlightenment, which should be your aspiration.

Think you're enlightened? Do you believe someone else is enlightened? Read this sutra and then you'll just laugh. Just today I got another email from someone wondering if they were enlightened and they didn't know any of the basics of anything. So hop right in if you want to start brushing away all sorts of nonsense out there that enlightenment is an intellectual realization, or this and that. I especially love the explanations of the crystal clarity and omniscience involved in piercing through the consciousness skandha--the description is amazingly beautiful. This is reprinted in our ebook manual, Measuring Meditation, and Master Nan has always said it would be great for someone to take this information on the skandhas and match it with the findings of modern science:

Surangama Sutra

The Flower Ornament Sutra (Avatamsaka)

Okay, time for the Flower Ornament Sutra, also known as the Avatamsaka Sutra.

This is really high level esoteric stuff. I mean SUPER high level. Super duper high level extreme! Super duper macho overdrive high level esoteric information.

When Shakyamuni Buddha taught it, it was only meant for the highest level Bodhisattvas who had gathered to hear such a rare sermon.

Thomas Cleary has translated this text, and the City of 10,000 Buddhas (the Buddhist Text Translation Society) also has a translation available in many volumes. I've tried to get Master Nan to lecture on this sutra for years in order to update the explanations for today, but until he has a student high enough to receive these multi-dimensional teachings (since it talks of multi-dimensional existence), this is the best you can do:

Flower Ornament Sutra

Other translations

I've spoken about the Charles Luk translations. Basically, you can get his Diamond Sutra translation, Sutra of Hui-neng translation, and Sutra of Complete Enlightenment translations in his 3 volume set, Ch'an and Zen teachings, which is what got me started in Zen. It belongs in every library. He also has several other books available -- a translation of the Surangama Sutra available from India, books on Taoist Yoga, and all sorts of other Zen texts, including some great Zen classics.

If you want more sources, I suggest you look at the excellent texts produced by the Numata Center and some by The Buddhist Text Translation Society , or search the web for individual titles.

The Mahavairocana Sutra translations are very rare, though here is what is available:

MahaVairocana Sutra 

There is only one translation of the Nirvana Sutra available in English, which is from Japan and out of print. It took me years to see it by asking some student to borrow it from the Columbia university library.

So many more translations of wisdom texts could be listed, but these are the main ones in terms of sutras. As stated, later we'll discuss yoga texts, Taoism, tantric texts, mystical Christianity texts, and books from a few other categories.

To keep it simple, the ones I definitely recommend for a library include:

* The Diamond Sutra
* The Platform Sutra of Hui-Neng
* The Lotus Sutra
* The Complete Enlightenment Sutra

That's it for sutras I recommend and where to get them.



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