My ultimate reading list of wisdom-filled spiritual books that have made a huge difference in my own journey. Add them to your book bucket list, you won’t regret it.
“A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” ~ Franz Kafka
Trying to make a list like this is a bit of a daunting task.
I could easily name you hundreds of books that have been hugely influential in my life, but thought it would be interesting to try a name some of the ones that touched me just a little bit deeper than the others. Even that list could have been much bigger than this, but for the sake of this article, I’ll keep it to 11. Why 11? Two words: Spinal Tap.
Also, for the sake of this article I’ve omitted classics such as The Bhagavhad Gita, Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, Gnostic Gospels, Tibetan Book of The Dead and so forth as they’re all so universally well known and respected and sort of go without saying.
I’d like to be clear that I am not saying that these are the 11 greatest spiritual books ever written! They’re just 11 that I’ve found to be game changers for me and maybe after you read why, maybe you’ll be inspired to check one or more of them out yourself if you haven’t already. I’d also love to hear what books have had the greatest impact in your life as well so if you’re up for it, please leave me a comment with some suggestions! I love new and diverse literature.
1. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
For me, this book is the quintessential punk rock thesis on spirituality. It cuts through all of the bullshit of spiritual materialism by very clearly laying out the most common pitfalls spiritual aspirants, both new and old, fall prey to time and again. Chogyam Trungpa writes in a firm yet compassion way throughout the book while really challenging the reader to take a brutally honest look at themselves on their spiritual path. I wish every person interested in spirituality would read this book! It’d certainly help in laying so much of the dogmatic bullshit aside. “We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spirituality when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
2. Finding Freedom: Jarvis Jay Masters.
I read this book while I was in a drug rehab program and it was exactly what I needed not only then, but today as well. It is one of the most honest spiritual reads I’ve ever come across and still moves me as much today as when I read it for the first time. Jarvis Jay Masters has been a Death Row inmate at the infamous San Quentin Prison since 1990. Masters had already been in prison for nine years prior to that for robbery, when he was convicted of being one of three inmates involved in murdering a prison guard. To this day Masters insists he’s innocent and the wealth of material which supports his claim is overwhelming. Finding Freedom is a book of stories and essays from Masters written from inside the walls of San Quentin. At times I found myself laughing, at others with tears in my eyes and yet others, completely mortified. From murder to making a mala with Tylenol & fabric ripped from jeans, Finding Freedom shows a side of Buddhism in action you’ve most likely never read before.
3. The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi: Ramana Maharshi.
The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi is a book of transcribed conversations between Ramana and spiritual seekers from around the world. Ramana’s teachings emphasize self-inquiry through the repetition of asking oneself, “Who am I?” While at first glance that may seem like a rather simple teaching, for those who endeavor on the practice, most quickly find it is anything but that, at least I know I did. Ramana teaches from a place that transcends religious differences thus making this book an amazingly accessible read to all seekers on the path.Thomas Leuthard/Flickr
4. Be Here Now: Ram Dass.
Whenever Ram Dass’ classic book Be Here Now comes up in a conversation with someone I usually can’t help but laugh as I’m reminded of the fact that I’ve bought this book well over a dozen times yet typically don’t own a copy myself. It’s one of those books I’m always so excited to give people to read because I know how life changing it was for me and hope it will be the same for them. In Be Here Now, Ram Dass offers the reader a spiritual cookbook filled with various spiritual practices, and an amazing memoir of sorts as he shares about his transformational experience of going from Harvard Professor (then known as Richard Alpert) to spiritual renunciant in India. Ram Dass shares almost unbelievable stories of his travels to India and meeting his Guru Maharaj-ji (Neem Karoli Baba) many of which are funny, touching, mesmerizing and completely paradigm shattering. There’s so much more to this book including an amazing 108 pages in the middle of it filled with crazy artwork and mini stories, lessons, mantras and more (see picture, right).
5. A Gradual Awakening: Stephen Levine.
Both Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s catalog of work has been greatly influential in my life, as have their son Noah’s books in more recent years (Dharma Punx, Against The Stream). But A Gradual Awakening has been the book I’ve found myself going back to many times in my life. In A Gradual Awakening, Stephen offers very practical and accessible instructions on meditation, which were as influential to me when I first started mediating as they are today. A Gradual Awakening gave me a blueprint regarding mindfulness, spiritual stage developments and the subtle nuances that come along with them. While the book is based on Buddhism and Vipassana meditation, I believe it could be of great benefit to anyone who reads it, regardless of their specific path.
For Waylon’s recommendations, including Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Best Buddhist Books for Beginners with Simple Meditation Instruction.
6. A Brief History of Everything: Ken Wilber.
I mean, the title says it all, doesn’t it? In A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber (read our dialogue with him on ‘awakening’) presents an entertaining and accessible account of men and women’s place in the universe regarding sexuality, spirituality and much more. Wilber also touches on topics including multiculturalism, ecology, gender wars, and environmental ethics. I love this book, along with the rest of Wilber’s work for its integral approach. Ken does an amazing job of connecting the dots between not only all religious and spiritual traditions, but integrating the arts, music, business and much more as well, which makes for an inspirational and innovative read.
7. The Places That Scare You: Pema Chodron.
I have adored Pema Chodron from the very first time I read her book Start Where You Are early on in my path. Her no bullshit approach to spirituality is obviously influenced greatly by her teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and similar to Chogyam Trungpa, Pema also teachers in a firm yet very compassionate manner. In The Places That Scare You, Chodron teaches that we already have the wisdom inherently in us to face life’s difficulties but that we usually block it with patterns rooted in fear, and from my own life experience, man is she right. This book has helped me immensely in accepting life as it is, both the good and bad times while doing my best to find the beauty in it all.
8. The Awakening of Intelligence: Jiddu Krishnamurti.
While other books by Krishnamurti are often considered his crowned jewels such as First and Last Freedom and Freedom from the Known, this was the first thing I read from him and thus, has a special place in my heart. The first time I read it, I struggled with the material. In all honesty, the ideas and concepts he presented made my brain hurt, but in a good and challenging way. In The Awakening of Intelligence, Krishnamurti discusses a wide variety of topics including conflict, fear, violence, religious experience, self-knowledge and more as well as offering traditional Vedanta methods of help for various levels of seekers. Even though Krishnamurti teaches through a Vedanta viewpoint, he is essentially presenting ideas of non-duality, which is a sentiment that can be embraced by all who read this. I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily to someone new to spirituality but then again, maybe this is just the wake-up call that some people need.
9. Living Buddha, Living Christ: Thich Nhat Hanh.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those people I just want to scoop up and give the biggest hug ever too! He is such a wise and gentle soul, which translates very clearly in his writing style. In my opinion, every single thing Thich Nhat Hanh has ever written is worth reading, but Living Buddha, Living Christ will forever be the book that holds the dearest place in my heart. It was the first book I read which validated my belief that it’s okay to honor, celebrate and learn from others paths and traditions while still adhering to our own. In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh does an amazing job of sharing the similarities between Buddhist and Christian practices, likening the Holy Spirit to that of Buddha Nature and much more. The message of this book is both timely and timeless and is an amazing treatise on interfaith acceptance, respect and celebration!
10. The Self-Aware Universe: Amit Goswami.
“Consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all existence.” ~ Amit Goswami. For those like myself who grew up believing that what you see is what you get, well, reading something like that quote from Goswami can be a total mind fuck for sure. The Self-Aware Universe was first published in 1995 during the initial introduction of the new physics movement. While many wonderful books have been written since then, with updated information even more mind bending concepts, this book is still very applicable today. It offers the reader an amazing introduction into an alternative way of looking at reality as it’s traditionally understood and experienced. Through the practice of meditation I’ve experience on a number of occasions what Goswami asserts when saying, “Consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all existence.” It’s just pretty cool to have some science behind it as well.
11. The Disappearance of the Universe: Gary Renard.
Prior to reading The Disappearance of the Universe, I’d attempted to read A Course in Miracles but failed miserably. Sure, I’d pick up a line here and there that I could make some sense out of, but overall, it was the equivalent to trying to read a foreign language for me. I’m always very skeptical of channeled material, but I’ve also always felt particularly drawn to A Course in Miracles for reasons unbeknownst to me. In retrospect, it may be because I’ve always had a deep love for Jesus Christ but just can’t get with the dogmatic way his teachings are distorted in many of the Christian and Catholic Churches however, the way he clarifies his life and teaching in the course resonates a deep truth in me.
The Disappearance of the Universe is a book consisting of conversations between Gary and two ascended masters Arten and Pursah who appeared in his home in Maine one random day. The last sentence probably either made many of you laugh or completely write this book off entirely, and I can’t say that I blame you, but I personally felt compelled to read this book and in the spirit of honoring my internal guidance, I did, to which I’m forever grateful. It presented the ideas and concepts of A Course in Miracles in a way that I could understand. Renard’s conversations with Arten and Purshah discuss everything from the life of Jesus to sex, the illusion of time, death and much more. If nothing else, I believe most people would at the very least find this an interesting read. I’m very grateful for it, as well as Kenneth Wapnick’s numerous books on the Course because without them, I’d probably still be failing miserably at trying to understand its core teachings and message, which simply is love and forgiveness, just not in the traditional sense.
So like I said in the beginning of this article, how about you!? What are some of the books you’ve read which have greatly influenced your life and path? I’d love to hear about them.
The Simple Buddhist Trick to being Happy.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta