A question was asked about a good book for a beginner or not very experienced Buddhist practitioner (like me), and I’d like to recommend, The Essence of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its Philosophy and Practice by Traleg Rinpoche.
I’ve been studying this book as part of an online class I’m taking and I find it both easy to read, understand, and is supplying the background and foundational knowledge that I need to go further in my practices. It is very appropriate for a western audience. There are many books that have been recommended and I’ve read a few, but this to me is like a good Buddhism 101 course taught by someone who knows what he’s writing about.
Here’s a discussion of self that I found interesting,
Great self” (dak) refers to the fact that we all have to be somebody. No one wants to become nobody. We all want to improve our lives; we all want to have a more enriching, happy life. None of us wants to end up not amounting to anything, or thinking that we didn’t do anything to improve our life, or made absolutely nil contribution to the welfare of the society in which we live. Therefore, the notion of the self is very strong and very important in terms of how we see ourselves, how we treat other people and ourselves, how we view things. All of these things relate back to the self.
Even to wish for and aspire toward enlightenment requires the concept of the self. We cannot do it otherwise. If there is no one in the train, then the train is empty. We may want to go to Venice or Florence, but we cannot just imagine that we are there. We have to board the train; we have to hand in our ticket. The spiritual path also requires that someone has taken the journey. Otherwise who is going to benefit from practicing, who is going to get anything out of it? If practice means dismantling all notions of one’s self, then whatever thisconcept of self is could totally disintegrate. Then it would have been a very tedious, painful, and ultimately self- defeating task—a journey that has led to an abyss; a train that has gone off the edge of the cliff.
I think it is very important to understand that practice does not mean we get rid of the notion of ourselves altogether. We have to understand that the self-image we have is a construction of the mind. It has its use, albeit a limited use.