Bhikkhu Thanissaro is doing an amazing public service that deserves more recognition and gratitude. On his site, dhammatalks.org, he has made a significant portion of the Sutta Pitaka, the ancient Buddhist scriptures, available—free of charge—in a series of compilations. Included with these compilations are an assortment of helpful essays, treatises, and study guides.
His renderings of the verses from the Samyutta Nikaya and Sutta Nipata are particularly refreshing, and provide clarity to the commercially available translations that are sometimes more cryptic due to their more literal translation.
I recommend starting with The Buddha’s Teachings: An Introduction, which provides a brief introduction to Buddhist practice, and then reading The Wings to Awakening to get a feel for the teachings in more detail. If you’re just interested in mindfulness and meditation, try the treatise With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation.
dhammatalks.org also has a podcast that you can subscribe to via rss feed or YouTube.
For many Buddhist seekers in the West, doubt, particularly about kamma (karma), rebirth, and the various planes of existence (heavenly and hell realms. etc) mentioned in the texts, is one of the biggest hindrances standing between them and the benefits of practice.
As someone who was once a hard-lined atheist, I was skeptical about these notions as well, but I’ve since come to learn that the seemingly irrational parts of Buddhism don’t really matter much, and can be easily interpreted in a simple yet accurate way.
Kamma is a way to describe the causes and effects that naturally arise from our volitional activities. Each action results in an immediate (macro) or subtle (micro) reaction that effects our experience within our environments.
Rebirth is the recycling of our elemental aggregates (khandhas) into a new life form. There’s nothing supernatural about this process, and no souls or anything magical are being passed. This is very much aligns with the law of conservation of energy.
And the heavenly and hell realms described in the texts aren’t like those proclaimed by the Abrahmic scriptures. “Heaven” and “hell” in Buddhism are temporary states—the conditions of which are the byproduct of its inhabitants, similar to pleasant or hostile conditions that are created by the inhabitants of a country.