The following books were selected by Amanda P. Mason, a Buddhist ministries catalyst and clinical psychologist in Sydney, Australia.

This book list encourages Christians to engage with Buddhists from their viewpoint while recognizing the challenges of bridging foundational differences between Judeo-Christian and karmic-Buddhist worldviews. The first two books are written by Western authors with a focus on philosophical Buddhism. The next three are (co-)authored by either Buddhists or Christians from a Buddhist context, where most people follow folk Buddhism, a mix of animism, Brahminism, and classical Buddhism.

Beyond reading, Christians should embrace the opportunity to connect with Buddhists and learn their stories. Satisfying our curiosity by only reading runs the risk of failing to make the connections that are so sorely needed. Curiosity, empathy, and collaboration with Buddhists help establish relationships and connect us with Buddhists’ primary theological need to experience that God is with them in suffering.

The Accidental Buddhist : Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, by Dinty W. Moore

It is difficult to find a more accessible introduction to the lived experience of Buddhist philosophy and practices for people in the West than this autobiographical account of a secular American exploring four Buddhist traditions: Zen, Tibetan, Theravada, and “American” Buddhism.

This book is a stimulating read for readers in the high-income Western world as they relate to friends who adhere to philosophical Buddhism, including those who enjoy hearing from Buddhist spiritual leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. It also provides religious context for mindfulness practices promoted by contemporary psychology. Moore helpfully sets out how he reaps the greatest benefits from Buddhism in how he relates to his daughter, how he handles himself in traffic, and how he orients himself to the world with kindness, compassion, and awareness.

Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal, by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland

Yandell and Netland’s panoramic perspective contrasts with Moore’s personal take on Buddhism. Among Christian scholarly books on Buddhism, Yandell and Netland’s book competes closely with David Burnett’s The Spirit of Buddhism for the top spot. Both provide valuable Christian insights, offering orientation and understanding of the diverse forms of Buddhism while respecting the internal logic of these traditions.

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Yandell and Netland thoroughly examine the history of Buddhism, and their book serves as a textbook for introducing Buddhism in Western Christian contexts, covering essential topics like the Four Noble Truths and doctrines like impermanence, nirvana, karma, enlightenment, no-self, and dependent origination. However, it can be too dense and detailed for many students. Despite the book’s appeal to Christians, it maintains an outsider’s perspective on Buddhism.

Family and Faith in Asia: The Missional Impact of Social Networks, edited by Paul H. De Neui

If you are a Christian trying to engage with Buddhists, promote God’s shalom, and introduce them to Jesus, the 16-volume Southeast Asia Network (SEANET) book series is a gold mine. The series draws from the perspectives of a diverse range of Buddhist-background believers, missionaries, and missiologists. Originating as conference papers, the series explores themes relevant to the Buddhist world.

This volume on Family and Faith in Asia is one of my favorites in the series, because it addresses the intricate dynamics of family life and the unique challenges posed by the Christian faith within Buddhist cultures. The narrative of a Thai Christian navigating the complexities caused by conversion, particularly in terms of family dynamics and discussions on ancestor worship, felt akin to pastoral letters. Crucially, this volume encourages practical thinking about ministering to whole families instead of individuals.

What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula

Rahula is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, scholar, and writer. The book echoes the topical nature of Yandell and Netland’s book but from a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist perspective. Rahula maintains authentic interaction with Buddhist teachings, interpreted from their original languages for accuracy and clarity of communication, in a way that helps Western readers who want to further their study of Buddhism from an insider’s perspective.

Rahula’s opening chapter helps Western Christians empathize with how Buddhists may experience Christian evangelism in light of their history. He outlines Buddha’s attitude of honoring rather than condemning other religions against a backdrop of the opposition early Buddhism faced. Many aspects of Buddhist teaching that might seem pluralistic to Christians came about as a reaction to Brahmin practices. Brahmins, the highest Hindu caste, demanded unquestioned acceptance of their authority without evidence of the truthfulness of their teachings. This historical context is crucial for Christians to comprehend, as is Christian awareness about the potential risks of replicating such patterns.

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Missions Amidst Pagodas: Contextual Communication of the Gospel in the Burmese Buddhist Context, by Peter Thein Nyunt

This is advanced-level content. Nyunt stands out as a distinctive Asian Christian scholar with roots in Buddhism, offering valuable insights into how to effectively communicate the gospel in the Burmese Buddhist setting. Nyunt is well-equipped to explore the endeavors of Protestant missionaries in reaching the Burmese: He is a former Rakhine Buddhist now following Jesus and one of the founders of the Rakhine Missions Band for Christ, which has grown to include more than 2,000 Buddhist-background believers. He also holds a PhD in missiology.

His book, derived from his doctoral thesis, is reader-friendly and delves into the challenges faced by Protestant churches in connecting with Buddhists in Yangon, Myanmar. Nyunt’s analysis serves as a reflective case study, shedding light on the limited reception of the gospel in Southeast Asian Buddhist heartlands. He discusses contextually relevant ways to communicate the gospel in the Burmese Buddhist context, drawing from contemporary academic literature, insights from his Buddhist experience, as well as biblical, theoretical, historical, and Burmese ways of communicating. Nyunt’s work offers a nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics involved in sharing the gospel in this cultural and religious context.

Other books to consider:

Another book from the SEANET series: Emerging Faith: Lessons from Mission History in Asia, edited by Paul H. De Neui
A book for starting conversations with Buddhists: No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh
A book on evangelism to Tibetan Buddhists: Sharing Christ in the Tibetan Buddhist World, M. Tsering
A book for understanding Mahayana Buddhism: Complete Enlightenment, Ch’an Master Sheng-Yen
A book on Zen Buddhism: The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh