Varela was, with his teacher Humberto Maturana, best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, and for co-founding the Mind and Life Institute to promote dialog between science and Buddhism.
Varela wrote numerous books and articles:
- 1980 (with Humberto Maturana). Autopoiesis and cognition: the realization of the living. Boston: Reidel.
- 1979. Principles of biological autonomy. North-Holland.
- 1998 (1987) (with Humberto Maturana). The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. Boston: Shambhala Press.
- 1991 (with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch). The Embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-72021-2
- 1992 (with P. Bourgine) eds. Towards a practice of autonomous systems: the first European conference on artificial life. MIT Press.
- 1992 (with J. Hayward) eds. Gentle bridges: dialogues between the cognitive sciences and the Buddhist tradition. Boston: Shambhala Press.
- 1993 (with D. Stein) eds. Thinking about biology: an introduction to theoretical biology. Addison-Wesley, SFI Series on Complexity.
- 1997 (ed). Sleeping, dreaming and dying. Boston: Wisdom Book.
- 1996-99. Invitation aux sciences cognitives. Paris: Seuil.
- 1999. Ethical know-how: action, wisdom and cognition. Stanford University Press.
- 1999 (with J. Shea), eds. The view from within: first-person methodologies in the study of consciousness. London: Imprint Academic.
- 1999 (with J. Petitot, B. Pachoud, and J-M. Roy) eds. Naturalizing phenomenology: contemporary issues in phenomenology and cognitive science. Stanford University Press.