Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book by Daniel Ingram. This is the finest and most practical work detailing Buddhist meditation and culture I have ever read. [Update, 29th August 2015: See the following post for my updated views on this work: Mailbag: Insight Meditation, Breath Meditation, Shinzen Young, and Daniel Ingram Critique] It covers, in an extremely comprehensive way, the essentials of meditation practice including concentration and insight meditation, morality, and Buddhist culture both in the past and its modern forms. It also touches lightly upon magick and the powers (siddhis).
The book uses the Buddhist Theravada map as its primary basis, with refinements and additions by the author from his own personal journey. This is extremely useful for finding out “where you are” on the Path of Insight, as Ingram details all the territories one must pass through on the way to enlightenment — including the stages that make up what is collectively known as the Dark Night. Understanding these stages — particularly the Dark Night — is useful for those who have done some meditation practice (perhaps without proper guidance), and also for those who have inadvertently crossed into the Dark Night via use of drugs such as LSD or mushrooms (which can “shortcut” you into later territories without you realizing beforehand what you might be getting yourself into).
Ingram also makes comparisons between his map and those of the other Buddhist schools (e.g. Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and so forth). Most importantly, perhaps, Daniel Ingram provides a direct route from A to B to reach enlightenment, and explains what he believes enlightenment “is” and discusses other models (and ideals) people commonly hold about enlightenment.
This book is basically required reading for anyone seriously pursuing enlightenment, or indeed those wishing to learn serious, “proper” concentration and insight meditation. Many of the terms I use on this site are modelled on those used by Ingram in this book
The book is available as a free PDF on Daniel’s website, and you can also purchase the physical version from Amazon. It’s quite long, so I definitely recommend getting the physical version, and the PDF is useful to have, too, to perform text searches for specific sections and/or to make notes.