Top 7 Books on Buddha’s Life: The Story of Gautama Buddha

best books on buddha's life

Gautama Buddha is an exceptional figure in spirituality. His journey from being a price to an ascetic searching for enlightenment is truly an inspirational and thought-provoking tale. But many newcomers are confused about finding a book that tells the Buddha’s story from start to finish.

Therefore, in this article, we’ll look at the best books on Buddha’s life. They are all unique, and I’ve also mentioned why they deserve a place on this list. Some of these books also serve as an introduction to core Buddhist principles. In contrast, others focus more on providing an authentic account of the Buddha’s life.

Here are seven books on the life story of Buddhism’s founder in order of recommendation:

Table of Contents

1. Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha

Author: Thích Nhất Hạnh

Why it is recommended: Although it’s not strictly an academic work, Old Path White Clouds beautifully depicts glimpses of Buddha’s life and practice. It offers an easy-to-read account of the Buddha’s life for the general reader.

If you’re new to Buddhism or want to read about Buddha’s life, this is the first book I would recommend. The writing is simple and easy to follow, and the text is sourced from over 20 ancient Buddhist texts. It’s not meant to be an academic book; instead, it aims to provide an overview of Buddha’s life from childhood to bodily death.

You may find that sometimes the book goes too much into the details of Buddha’s everyday life, such as the donations he received and the feasts he attended. And the book is not just about the story of Buddha; it also talks about the fundamentals of Buddhism and monk life.

If you’re interested in learning about the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, I highly recommend you read this book. Grab a copy from Amazon by following this link.

The source of suffering is a false belief in permanence and the existence of separate selves.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha

2. The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon

Author: Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli

Why it is recommended: The Life of the Buddha is composed entirely of texts from the Pali canon. It gives a very authentic, chronological account of Buddha’s life, and it is quite detailed. This is the book for factual information about the life of Gautama Buddha.

This book is derived from original translations of the earliest Buddhist texts. It is recommended for those who want to read from the source material. The author has connected and organized the canonical texts to give a comprehensive and very human account of Buddha’s life.

The book uses three voices, two narrators, and a chanter to interconnect the events. The technique works quite well, and the result is a tome with a lot of substance for Buddhists and casual readers.

Keep in mind that the book is dense, and there are some confusing bits. However, this doesn’t detract from the remarkable and insightful experience of the book. You can buy it from Amazon through this link.

3. The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography

Author: Daisaku Ikeda

Why it is recommended: The Living Buddha is another simple-to-follow and insightful representation of Buddha’s life in ancient India. It is ideal for people who want a book like Old Path White Clouds but shorter.

The author, Daisaku Ikeda, is a renowned Japanese Buddhist philosopher. In his book, he has portrayed Buddha not as a mystic or god, but as a kind-hearted human being who was dissatisfied with the futility of his privileged life.

It is a short and lucid introduction to the Buddha’s life for the general reader. Apart from that, the book is also an inspirational read that emphasizes the ultimate aim of Buddhism. Purchase the book here.

Nothing, either in the world of nature or that of human society, knows a moment of stagnation or rest. All things in the universe are in flux, arising and ceasing, appearing and disappearing, caught in an unending cycle of change that is conditioned by the law of causation at work both temporally and spatially.

Daisaku Ikeda, The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography

4. The Buddha: A Beginner’s Guide

Author: John Strong

Why it is recommended: The Buddha is an easy-to-follow introductory guide to Buddhism and its founder. It is sourced from a variety of authentic sources to depict the story of Shakyamuni Buddha, from his previous lives to the parinirvana.

In the book, the author has combined the historical Buddha with the Buddha of legend. Along with the Buddha’s story, you also learn the origin of many Buddhist practices and beliefs. Some parts of the book may require some familiarity with Buddhism. But overall, it’s a decent biography of Buddha available to the general reader. Follow this link to grab a copy of the book.

5. Wake up: A Life of the Buddha

Author: Jack Kerouac

Why it is recommended: Wake Up is a short and sweet introduction to Buddha’s life and works. Although it draws from texts of different (and sometimes contradictory) traditions, the book gives a beautiful account of Buddha’s life.

Kerouac was a lifelong Catholic, though he was fascinated with Buddhism. It’s not just a biography; the book also aims to bring insights from eastern spirituality accessible to Western audiences. Kerouac compares Buddha to Christ and writes about their similarities, combining Buddha’s insights with western religion. You can buy a copy of this book by visiting this link.

6. Siddhartha: An Indian Tale

Author: Hermann Hesse

Why it is recommended: Siddhartha is a novel by Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse that details the spiritual evolution of a man named Siddhartha who lived at the same time as the Buddha. Everyone will be able to relate to the character at some point as we’ve all experienced the inner struggles depicted in the book.

This book is not entirely about the Buddha. But you get to read about his life events and how he rose above suffering. I’ve included it here because it draws parallels with Buddha’s life. You’ll often find it mentioned where people discuss his biographies.

The author shows you the journey of a privileged Brahmin’s son, who is dissatisfied with his life. Like the Buddha, he wants to attain enlightenment. But events take him to unexpected places, and he learns some crucial lessons of spirituality.

It’s a beautiful read, and I recommend it to anyone who is on a journey to find themselves. Reading about Siddhartha’s ups and downs and how he finds inner peace is a profound experience. The last two chapters are incredibly insightful. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking here.

What you search is not necessarily the same as what you find. When you let go of the searching, you start finding.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

7. Buddha (Manga Series)

Author: Osamu Tezuka

Why it is recommended: Buddha is a manga series based on the life of Gautama Buddha. Though it doesn’t give a strictly historical account of Buddha’s life, you’ll find it artistic and engaging.

Tezuka has taken some creative liberty to build a few fictional characters and tell a gripping account of Buddha’s life. So this is not the book to pick up if you want to learn about the historical Buddha. Instead, the book is a unique interpretation of his life and makes for a humorous and thought-provoking read.

There are eight titles in the series, and it took the author 11 years to complete it. This critically acclaimed manga has also received the Eisner Award twice. I recommend it to people who want to read a compelling comic book series that successfully humanizes the founder of Buddhism. You can buy the first volume, titled Kapilvastu, through this link.

Final thoughts

The journey of the Buddha is an inspirational tale of yearning and dedication. It brings peace to the reader’s mind and fills them with spiritual joy. We’ve discussed the top seven books that detail the Buddha’s life events and how he attained freedom from desires (and consequently, suffering).

I hope you found some interesting suggestions in this article. If you’ve read any books on the Buddha’s life that I haven’t covered here, please share them by commenting below.

About the author

I was introduced to spiritual practice at the age of 12. I didn't find it intriguing back then, but my curiosity about life has brought me to spirituality again, and I've been reading others' insights and learning from life for over three years. You can read more about me here.

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