11 Spiritual Books that Blew my Mind.

Via Chris Grosso
on Nov 4, 2012
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Photo: Brian Bisaillon

“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

Photo: Grosso

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.

Photo: Grosso


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.

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 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!

Photo: Grosso

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.

PHOTO: greyloch

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.

suzuki roshi zen book

Bonus video:

For Waylon’s recommendations, including Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

Best Buddhist Books for Beginners with Simple Meditation Instruction.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Chris Grosso

Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict and spiritual director. He has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, and more. Chris created the popular hub for all things alternative, independent, and spiritual with TheIndieSpiritualist.com and continues the exploration with his books Everything Mind (Sounds True Publishing) and Indie Spiritualist (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). Follow Chris on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


141 Responses to “11 Spiritual Books that Blew my Mind.”

  1. Chris Grosso says:

    Gah… I totally missed Alan Watts "The Book" and many many more…. such a tough task trying to narrow things down like this.

  2. Oh favorite books! It's like picking a favorite child! Huge 2nd for the Stephen Levine, Ken Wilber, Ram Dass, CTR and Pema picks. I think a few that I'd add would be from some of the same authors but different selections: Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh…I have the same problem with this one as you mentioned w/ Be Here Now. Can't seem to keep it around because I always give it away! Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has been huge for me (as well as Spiritual Materialism for sure). Pema, well, pretty much everything by Pema. If you liked Living Buddha, Living Christ, you might also like Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta by Swami Prabhavananda. Beautiful, simple book. Other giant game changers for me: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Suzuki Roshi, Chop Wood, Carry Water by Rick Fields, A Year to Live by Stephen Levine, and Taming the Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh.

    Definitely want to check out The Disappearance of the Universe. I love ACIM, but have also had a hard time taking it head on & usually just work on pieces of it.

    Thanks for the great list!

  3. Chris Grosso says:

    Stellar list of your own there Kate. I own Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta by Swami Prabhavananda and absolutely love it! I also love all the other books you mentioned! The only one I wasn't familiar with was Chop Wood, Carry Water… something to look into to! Vood has my copy of Disappearance of the Universe but I think he finished it so you can definitely borrow it!

  4. Sonya says:

    One of two books that started me on my spiritual quest was "The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield. It just made something go click inside me.
    The other was "Sanctuary, The path to Consciousness" by Steven Lewis and Evan Slawson. Both very easy reads and a great starting point for me and my journey.

  5. Chris Grosso says:

    I've heard good things about The Celestine Prophecy Sonya. I'm not familiar with "Sanctuary" but sounds interesting! Thanks for you comment.

  6. Olga says:

    I agree Sonya. The Celestine Prophecy felt like I was coming home to a truth I already knew deep down inside… it was my gateway drug ;D I love the Way of the Peaceful Warrior. I'm always looking for good reads. Thanks Chris for putting this together! These are now all my to read list!

  7. Chris Grosso says:

    Thanks Olga! I loved Peaceful Warrior too! I was fortunate to interview Dan earlier this year for my own website! You can check it out here if you'd like: http://theindiespiritualist.com/2012/07/16/millma

  8. Jenn Lui says:

    YES, awesome list! i totally need to check out The Disappearance of the Universe. i would for sure add some Alan Watts, The Book or Become What You Are. Everything Pema. All her books have had such a great impact on me. How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama also had a big impact on me.

    on my top list i would add Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. Although not classified as “spiritual” they are two books who have greatly influenced my spiritual journey.

    Thanks for this Chris, a daunting task indeed to come up with a list of only 11 books!

  9. Phil says:

    Kahil Gibran, The Prophet started me out when I was16 , at 72 I still read it. Ram Dass, Pema, Thich Nhat Hanh, fantastic. Thanks for the recommendations, reading is so good.

  10. karlsaliter says:

    Awesome topic!

    Franny and Zoey, by JD Salinger, is my out of the park home run favorite, every time.
    The End of Faith by Sam Harris is fantastic.
    I agree completely with "The Book."
    The Little Prince.
    Johnathan Livingston Seagull ~ Bach

    Bonus Short Story: "Teddy" JD Salinger

  11. Chris Grosso says:

    Yes, love The Prophet Phil! Thanks for the comment.

  12. Chris Grosso says:

    I love that you threw out deGrasse Tyson & Jung Jenn! I'm a huge fan of the physics/metaphysics/spirituality angle! Fred Alan Wolf, Joe Dispenza etc are awesome authors that do an awesome job of tying the science element into spirituality and I love that!

  13. Chris Grosso says:

    Thanks for these titles Karl! I'm not familiar with Sam Harris and honestly, I haven't read enough Salinger in my life. Will make sure to change that. Bows.

  14. Leah D. says:

    The Only Dance There Is- Ram Dass
    The Power of Compassion- The Dalai Lama
    The Quantum and the Lotus- Matthieu Ricard, Trinh Xuan Thuan (Conversations between a Buddhist Monk and an Astrophysicist journeying to the frontiers where science and Buddhism meet).
    Pretty much anything by Georg Feuerstein.

  15. Chris Grosso says:

    YEs! I have an original copy of The Only Dance There Is Leah! And I loved The Quantum & The Lotus! And of course, anything by HH is amazing. Not familiar with Georg Feuerstein so I'll check him out. Thanks!

  16. Kathy says:

    As above, The Little Prince would be on my list. I've read it in both the original French and English. I am a fan of Native American spirituality. So many common threads between it and the Eastern philosophies. The Thirteen Original Clam Mothers and Earth Medicine by Jamie Sams are books to cherish a page a day throughout the year. Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin got me from stuck to moving again. Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss is a book I have read at least 6 times and each time I open a bit more. Like you, I struggle with Course of Miracles but will look into several of the books on your list. Thank you for starting off my morning with this list!

  17. Chris Grosso says:

    And thank you Kathy for turning me onto many books I'm not familiar with. I've not explored enough of Native American Spirituality and I'm so glad you brought it up! I've always had a deep respect for the connection with Mother Earth they teach as well as respect of the great spirits of Earth! Thanks for your feedback 🙂

  18. Padma Kadag says:

    The first books which impacted and confirmed my "spirituality"….Black Elk Speaks, Rabbit Boss by Thomas Sanchez, Sun Chief, Tales of Power by Castaneda, I00 thousand Songs of Milarepa.

  19. Chris Grosso says:

    I love Castaneda & Milarepa. I'll have to look into the other 2. Thanks Padma. Bows.

  20. GretaCargo says:

    Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Suzuki
    Everyday Zen and Nothing is Special/So Everything Can Be…by my hero Joko Beck
    And REQUIRED reading: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

  21. The Story of Jumping Mouse in the book Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm. Or just the whole book. My mother read this to me as a child and I rediscovered it as an adult having forgot it was already my favorite story.

    Thank you for the list!

  22. Bouldermomma says:

    Jed McKenna lays waste to all the above as he shows one that the "search" only takes you further from the truth.

  23. Chris Grosso says:

    Love Zen Mun, Beginner's Mind & Man's Search for Meaning! Not familiar with Joko Beck. Will definitely check it out. Thanks much for the suggestion!

  24. Chris Grosso says:

    *Mind not Mun… whoops.

  25. Chris Grosso says:

    Awesome story Lisa. Thanks 🙂

  26. Dee says:

    Coming from a different perspective here…

    The Spiral Dance by Starhawk changed my life completely. I was a cynical ex-Catholic when I read it and realized why I felt so lost for so long.

    The Illuminatus Trilogy by Wilson and Shea – it may be fiction, but it exploded my mind wide open and led me to explore a lot of other philosophies and ways of thinking.

  27. Bonnie says:

    Pretty much anything by Anthony de Mello, but there is a small little book of his called The Way to Love that is the right size to carry around in my pocket, and I do! I go to it time and again, not to read something I haven't already read a bunch of times, but to remind me to practice it and for help when I need it, which seems to be often! LOL

  28. Shanti says:

    The only dance there is -Ram Das
    Grist for the mill-Ram Dass
    Be here now-Ramdass
    Autobiography of a yogi-Paramahansa Yogananda
    Who Dies? -Stephen Levine
    Meetings at the edge-Stephen Levine….All of these books ( and others too many to mention) have been instrumental in my spiritual quest.

  29. Bryan says:

    Nice list, a few books in here I'll have to check out for myself that I missed. Regarding Krishnamurti, while I might agree that he looks like a Vedanta teacher in some respects – trying to put a label on him is totally missing his message. I picked up one of his books when I was 19 after a little searching and he cuts right to the point. But he just wants to pull your ego out form under you which can be dangerous. I didn't stop reading him until a few years later when I had read most everything by him which induced a spiritual breakthrough as well as a state of psychosis for a few weeks. Strong stuff indeed!

  30. Aisha says:

    A. Crowley (Magick, Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente…) G.I. Gurdjieff (Belzebubs tales to his grandson, Life is real only when I am), C.G.Jung (Seven sermons to the dead or just pick one, you can't go wrong)

  31. Chris Grosso says:

    Wonderful Dee! I'm not familiar with any of these titles to be honest but I love hearing they were life changing for you! Very cool indeed. Thanks so much for the comment 🙂

  32. Chris Grosso says:

    That's so awesome Bonnie!!! I carry the Pema Chodron & Ken Wilber pocket readers from time to time for the exact same reason 🙂

  33. Chris Grosso says:

    YES Shanti!!! Ram Dass and Stephen Levine have been huge influences in my life! I was so honored Stephen and Ondrea asked my to write an endorsement for their most recent book! So very humbling. They also contributed the afterword to my forthcoming book with their son Noah contributing the foreword!

  34. Chris Grosso says:

    Brian, I totally agree with what you're saying regarding Krishnamurti and labeling him completely! In the particular book I mentioned, he draws much on Vedanta and I even double checked after reading your comment and it actually specifies on the back his use of Vedanta teachings. Regardless, all of his work is amazing and again, I definitely agree with your statement. Bows.

  35. I want to marry you for having "Teddy" on your list. Nine Stories is one of the best short story collections of all time, and it ends with such tear jerking raw power. Amen!!!! -Sunita

  36. ramesh says:

    Quantum Lotus by Mathiew Ricard and someone else……and The Garden by Geshe Michael Roach n Lama Christie Mcnally are 2 buddhist books that I like a lot …….and another book that I am enjoying now is HOW to meditate by Kathleen

  37. Veen says:

    Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche – What Makes You Not a Buddhist, and Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – by Sogyal Rinpoche, and definitely your first choice (all of his books), Cascading Waterfall of Nectar – Trinley Norbu Rinpoche, Thoughts in Solitude – Thomas Merton, all of HHDL's, the list goes on!

  38. ggarciaordonez says:

    Amazing list, Chris! Thank you so much! Loads of great tips for me to keep going. And thanks also to all the people commenting and adding wonderful value to what you've written! What a gift!

    As a reader, and before entering the spiritual path, I've been always a formal literature lover-consumer. I find that some mainly-literature- pieces contained a superb invitation to the truly spiritual world that you present in this magnificent article. Sometimes those books can become the introduction that we need to access the Depths 😉

    Supporting that I would mention 'Siddharta' by Herman Hess, 'The razor's edge' by Somerset Maugham and even the recent bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert 'Eat, pray, love'.

    Back on the Depths, I would highly recommend 'The Present Process' by Michael Brown, a journey to the inner self, a work-book that takes you further every time you go through it on an everlasting discovering adventure.

    Thanks again. Love it! ♥ ♥ ♥

  39. Chris Grosso says:

    I loved Quantum Lotus! Not familiar with the others so thanks for turning me onto them!

  40. Chris Grosso says:

    YES! Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is one of my all time faves too!!! And I adore Thomas Merton as well! Not familiar with the other two so thanks for some new literature I'll be checking out 🙂

  41. Chris Grosso says:

    Awesome! So glad you enjoyed this and I too am absolutely loving everyone's comments/contributions to it! So many great titles in here 🙂 And thanks for your contribution as well!!!

  42. Tracy W. says:

    Lot's of books I agree with here, especially "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" by Suzuki. I too could go on and on about all the books I love and their profound impacts on me. I will add "Th Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd (A woman's journey from Christian tradition to the Sacred Feminine), "The Invitation" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (……"I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heat's longing………."), "The Red Book" by Sera Beak (A deliciously unorthodox approach to igniting your divine spark) and one more very important book for me, having a daughter now in here teens, is "The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession of Virginity is Hurting Young Women" by Jessica Valenti. Thanks Chris for this fun "read"! ( :

  43. Chris Grosso says:

    And my thanks to you Tracy for expanding my literary horizon as I'm not familiar with most of the books you mentioned! High five.

  44. Chris Grosso says:

    I'm going to have to check that one out! Awesome! 🙂

  45. Chris Grosso says:

    And my thanks to you. I haven't really read anything by Bohm though I've heard nothing but great things for sure. Will put it on my list! Thanks Bryan!!!

  46. Padma Kadag says:

    Yes! Siddhartha by Herman Hesse! Very early influence in High School in the "70's influence. Forgot that one but with remembering memories are flooding back right now!

  47. Linda V. Lewis says:

    If you like that Dzongsar R. book, you'll like his recent "Not for Happiness" text on ngondro!

  48. Linda V. Lewis says:

    Yes, Yes, Suzuki's "Zen Mind" puts one in the atmosphere of a meditation hall!

  49. Chris Grosso says:

    Very well said Linda!