12 inspiring books by Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh

12 Inspiring Books by Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh

In Reading Lists by Molly Hurford

12 inspiring books by Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh

World-renowned Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh has touched millions of hearts with his activism and writing. In his 95-year lifetime, he published more than 100 books while remaining active as a monk and an advocate for peace.

Simple, accessible, and profound, the best Thích Nhất Hạnh books have imparted important life lessons about peace, social change, and interconnectedness. Spiritual books by Nhất Hạnh, such as The Art of Living and The Art of Communicating, have helped cement his status as the “Father of Mindfulness.”

Exiled for over 30 years from his homeland of Vietnam because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, he founded a monastic community in France in 1982 and grew Buddhism in the West until his death in January 2022.

Nhất Hạnh’s way of life — as embodied by the following list of mindfulness books — continues to serve as an example for us all.

Just as the beautiful lotus plant can thrive in even the most challenging conditions, so too can the human spirit. No matter how stressful or unfortunate a situation you find yourself in, Nhất Hạnh wants you to remember that only you get to decide how you respond. 

A short book brimming with wisdom and insight, No Mud, No Lotus is a lesson in embracing suffering and transforming it into something that adds value to your life. 

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This retelling of a classic Vietnamese folktale provides both great insight into Buddhist monastic life and an unforgettable lesson on the principles of compassion and forgiveness. 

After being accused of attempted murder, Kinh Tam disguises herself as a man to join an abbey as a novice monk. Her journey towards discovering true enlightenment is derailed when a young, love-crazed woman names Kinh Tam as the father of her child. 


The same message urgently beats throughout this spiritual guide to ending violence: we must stop watering the seeds of negativity; instead, we must stop to breathe and listen deeply to one another. 

This profound call for peace can be applied to all walks of life. From policymakers navigating international conflicts to individuals seeking to end familial strife, Nhất Hạnh’s healing words will guide readers forward on a nonviolent path. 


“I have learned that my home, my country, is the whole planet Earth.” 

When you feel yourself falling into despair at the state of the planet, look to Nhất Hạnh for a gentle yet powerful reminder of the good every individual can do for our world.

Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet is a combination of his previous teachings, Buddhist stories, and personal reflections from one of his many esteemed students, Sister True Dedication. Released just months before his death, this parting gift from the beloved monk leaves the world with one final message: Do good, nourish the Earth, and love yourself and others. 


The constant barrage of texts, emails, app notifications, calendar reminders, and smart home device alerts may seem normal to us now, but should it? We’re so used to what Nhất Hạnh refers to as “Radio Nonstop Thinking” that we’ve lost our connection to our consciousness. 

Embrace the magic of what the Buddhist leader calls “real silence” to cultivate mindfulness and be fully present in the moment.


Every one of us could use more peace in our lives, which Nhất Hạnh’s teachings agree with. But his advice for exactly how to achieve that is far from what you would expect from a monk living in a monastery. 

Rather than teach that people should move away from their busy lives, Peace is Every Breath is about coming to terms with your busy life and incorporating mindfulness into small pockets everyday until it’s second nature. So rest assured: Mindfulness is accessible even if you’re working two jobs while juggling family life and seemingly endless projects.

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With so much division in the world today, it can be hard to feel at peace. From pandemics to political unrest, many of us are struggling with questions that aren’t easily answered. This book offers ways to live despite discontent and uncertainty. 

In one of Nhất Hạnh’s most well-known books, he shows another approach to mindfulness that helps us experience freedom rather than despair — even while accepting that inevitably, life is finite.


8. Fear

Most of us have likely experienced a moment of heart-racing, blood-pressure-spiking fear, whether concerning our immediate health and well-being, around the safety of our family and friends, or simply when thinking about the future. 

But that fear doesn’t serve us. In this mindfulness book, Nhất Hạnh looks at the origins of fear and explores how we can move through fear and away from the turmoil that it causes.


In this book, Nhất Hạnh investigates how the quest for power permeates our daily lives and can damage our well being, causing us to constantly struggle to earn more, do more, be more. 

Then, he explains that true power comes from what we already have — not what we’re striving for. This book might make you rethink the way you act at work, online, and in life generally. 

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10. Savor

While Nhất Hạnh has written dozens of books around the idea of mindfulness, this manual is the most specific and practical. Written with Harvard nutritionist Lilian Cheung, Savor shows how becoming mindful about food and nutrition is the best way to live a fulfilling, healthy life. 

It’s not your typical diet book with prescriptive meal plans; rather, it’s about the process of making a dish and eating it with intention. This mindset shift can help heal troubled relationships with food. 


This is arguably one of the most powerful books by Nhất Hạnh. His goal in the book is to teach people how to express themselves authentically through words and intentions. 

He explains how to listen with compassion and clearly express yourself in ways that people will understand. He uses examples from work, family, and social dynamics to demonstrate the different ways we can effectively communicate by being mindful. 


For bite-sized nuggets of inspiration and wisdom, listen to this podcast. Nhất Hạnh’s talks are shared in over 300 episodes and range from shorter, 10-minute episodes to hour-long discussions about what happiness really means. 

From how to enjoy the moment to finding your purpose in life, the topics are simple yet profound, and you can listen while you walk, commute, or exercise.

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About the Author: Molly Hurford

Molly is a writer and bookworm in love with all things wellness related. When not playing outside, she’s writing or podcasting about being outside and healthy habits for The Consummate Athlete. She also writes books, including the Shred Girls series. In her spare time, she runs, rides bikes, and hikes with her mini-dachshund and husband.