If you’re interested in studying Buddhism from the pen of a Tibetan Buddhist, I recommend Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2001). This book summarizes many aspects of Buddhism in a readable, 150 page question and answer format; it is also $10 or under, so it is quite affordable.
In this book, Chodron talks about the Buddha, compassion, meditation, detachment, reincarnation, karma, impermanence, dharma, Buddhist ethics, shrines, and many other aspects of Buddhism. There is even a glossary in the back which defines all the major terms.
Of course I am not a Buddhist and I think Buddhism is a false religion/philosophy, but I do want to know the tenets of Buddhism for myself, and this book helped in that way. I’ve found it very beneficial in discussing religion with other people to actually read primary sources instead of secondary sources. Buddhism for Beginners is endorsed by many influential Buddhists, so it is a reliable primary source on Buddhism (specifically from a Tibetan point of view).
I was amazed to learn how much Buddhism is a part of the American culture (which has to do with other Eastern religions as well). For example, some people use the words “karma” and “rebirth” all the time; others meditate to empty themselves; still others try to avoid suffering by attempting to cultivate an attitude of impermanence and detachment. The list goes on. Buddhism is part of American life and consciousness.
Finally, this book made me once again deeply thankful that I belong to Christ – that I’m a Christian. I don’t need a Buddha or “Jesus” figure to show me the path to enlightenment and nirvana. This book says that the Buddha “gives the teachings and shows by his example how to do it, but we have to do it ourselves” (p. 21). But I can’t do it myself! And if I try to “get in touch with my inner calm,” I find a mess of sin and darkness inside me.
I need a Savior who can rescue me from suffering, sin, and death – real things from which I really need deliverance. Buddhism is a do-it-yourself religion which tells us to escape impermanent illusion by searching for our inner light and mindstream. Christianity is about grace: God in Christ does for us what we can never do for ourselves by taking on our suffering, sin, and death to free us from them. And the result of his gracious work for us is not nirvana, enlightenment, or cyclic rebirth, but a renewed (and real!) creation.