Category Archives: Buddhism Resources

Recommended Books on the History, Art and Architecture of Buddhism

In our newest picture collection we organized into one gallery all the covers of the books we recommended so far on the history, art and architecture of Buddhism.  Some of these books give great general introductions to broader topics, but we tried to choose more specific books as well, in the case you would like to deepen your knowledge.

Click here to see the whole gallery!


Take a look at our previous articles too!

5 Recommended Books on Angkor Wat

What to Read Before Visiting Borobudur?

12 Recommended Books on Buddhist Architecture

12 Recommended Books on Buddhism in Southeast Asia

Recommended Books on Southeast Asian Buddhist Sacred Placesbookscoversgallerypinterest

Explanation of the Main Branches of Buddhism

Although the roots of Buddhism go back to India, over the centuries the religion spread across the whole of Asia. It’s really easy to get lost between the many different schools and sub-branches of Buddhism, but most commonly it is divided into two main branches: Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Golden Buddha photo by Dragan Maksimovic via Photopedia
Golden Buddha photo by Dragan Maksimovic via Photopedia

Theravāda Buddhism

Years after the death of the Buddha, the Buddhist Sangha, the monastic community split into two mainstream schools called Sthavira and Mahāsanghika, mainly due to some differences in the religious practice and the interpretation of the teaching.

The Theravāda tradition is said to be the continuation of the more orthodox Sthavira school.

The ‘Theravada’ is a Sanskrit expression which means the ‘Doctrine of the Elders’.

The Theravāda is a conservatist current in the sense that the theravādins put great emphasis on the preservation of the doctrine and the tradition in its original and most authentic form.

The main sacred language of the school is Pāli (close relative of the Sanskrit language) and the most important scripture is the Pāli Canon called Tipitaka.

The Theravāda spread mainly in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) and also had historical presence in Indonesia and Vietnam. Because of its geographical location Theravāda is also referred as Southern Buddhism. Nowadays, the number of the Theravāda followers is estimated more than 100 million.

Main Branches of Buddhism: explanation
The Theravāda was transmitted to Southeast Asia from Sri Lanka, Picture via Wikipedia Commons

Mahāyāna Buddhism

The other significant current of Buddhism is the Mahāyāna. The word means ‘great path or great vehicle’ and it is the opposite of the word ‘hinayāna’ which literally means ‘small vehicle’. The pejorative hinayāna name was given by the devotees of the Mahāyāna to the rival non-mahāyāna schools.

It’s really important to note that the hinayāna is a pretty broad concept and, in strict sense, it’s not the synonym of the contemporary Theravāda, as the latter designates just one tradition of the non-mahāyāna schools. The hinayāna word indicates that its adherents and its ideal beings called Arhats primarily focus on their own liberation, don’t strain after aiding other beings and the hinayāna schools don’t accept the texts of the Mahāyāna tradition as authentic. In contrast, the main purpose of the Mahāyāna Bodhisattvas, the enlightenment beings, is to help other individuals to reach liberation.

Shakyamuni and the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, Korea, Chosôn Dynasty, 16th Cent, Picture via Wikipedia Commons

Mahāyāna Buddhism has an expanded number of sutras, accepting many other sacred texts besides the Tipitaka as original words of the Buddha, and also describe an enormous pantheon of many Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Mahāyāna is now dominant mainly in East and Central Asia, for instance in China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan; for this reason it’s also called Northern Buddhism. Some classifications distinguish Vajrayāna, ‘thunderbolt vehicle’ Buddhism from Mahāyāna. The Vajrayāna or tantric Buddhism is to be found in Tibet and Mongolia, however many scholars and adherents don’t consider it a separate school.


Buswell, Robert E. (editor), Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Gacl  Publisher, 2003

Buswell, Robert E. and Lopez, Donald S. (editors), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University Press, 2013

Conze, Edward, A Short History of Buddhism, Oneworld Pubns Ltd., 1993

Skilton, Andrew, A Concise History of Buddhism, Barnes & Noble, 2000

What to Read Before Visiting Borobudur?

Borobudur: Majestic Mysterious Magnificent

Books About Borobudur

Author: John N. Miksic, Noerhadi Magetsari, Jan Fontein, Timbul Haryono
Pages: 272
Published: BAB Publishing Indonesia (2011)
ISBN: 978-6029827903


Recommended Books to Read Before Visiting Borobudur

Author: Louis Frederic
Photographer: Jean-Louis Nou
Pages: 347
Published: Abbeville Press; First Edition edition (1996)
ISBN: 978-0789201348

Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas

Books to Read Before Visiting Borobudur

Author: John N. Miksic, Anita Tranchini, Marcello Tranchini
Pages: 160
Published: Periplus Editions (HK) ltd. (1996)

Buddhist Practice and Visual Culture: The Visual Rhetoric of Borobudur

Knowing Borobudur

Author: Julie Gifford
Published:Taylor & Francis, 2011

Java Revealed: Borobudur & Prambanan Temples

Books about Borobudur Information

Author: David Raezer, Jennifer Raezer
Pages: 88
Published: (2014)
Kindle Edition

12 Recommended Books on Buddhism in Southeast Asia

I. Teachings of Buddhism and general history:

A Concise History of Buddhism

A Concise History of Buddhism Recommended Books on Buddhism in Southeast Asia

Author: Andrew Skilton
Pages: 263
Published: Barnes & Noble (2003)
First edition: 1996
ISBN: 9780760748299

What the Buddha Taught

Recommended Book What the Buddha Taught

Author: Walpola Rahula
Pages: 151
Published: Grove Press; Revised edition (1974)
First edition: 1959
ISBN: 9780802130310

Buddhism: Its Essence and Development

Recommended Book Buddhism: Its Essence and Development

Author: Edward Conze
Pages: 240
Published: Dover Publications (2003)
First edition: 1951
ISBN: 9780486430959

The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History & Teachings

Recommended Book The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History & Teachings

Author: Donald S. Lopez Jr.
Pages: 275
Published: HarperCollins (2001)
ISBN: 9780060699765

Theravada Buddhism

Buddhism book Theravada Buddhism

Author: Richard F. Gombrich
Series: The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices
Pages: 256 pages
Published: Routledge; 2 edition (2006)
First edition: 1988
ISBN: 9780415365093

II. The intellectual history of Buddhism in Southeast Asia:


Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice

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Author: Ian Harris
Pages: 352
Published: University of Hawaii Press (2008)
ISBN: 9780824832988


Thailand Buddhism: Insight Knowledge


Author: Tenzin Dawa
Pages: 102
Published: Createspace (2011)
ISBN: 9781461078678

World Conqueror and World Renouncer: A Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)


Author: S. J. Tambiah
Pages: 568 pages
Published: Cambridge University Press (1977)
ISBN: 9780521292900

Burma – Myanmar:

Theravada Buddhism in Burma (Bibliotheca Orientalis: Burma)


Author: Niharranjan Ray
Pages: 302 pages
Published: Orchid Press; 2nd edition edition (2006)
ISBN: 9789748299877


History of Buddhism in Vietnam (Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change. Series IIID, South East Asia, Vol. 5)


Editor: Tai thu Nguyen
Pages: 363 pages
Published: Council for Research in Values & Philosophy, 2009
ISBN: 9781565180987


Spirits of the Place: Buddhism and Lao Religious Culture


Author: John Holt
Pages: 348
Published: University of Hawaii Press (2009)
ISBN: 9780824833275


Culture and Customs of Indonesia


Author: Jill Forshee
Pages: 264
Published: Greenwood (2006)
ISBN: 9780313333392