Here is my Top 12 Book list, with in depth reviews of the best dozen books which can open doors of spirituality for you. I list these by author because it’s important to read authors who resonate with you. Each book shares the same Perennial Philosophy in its own way.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle speaks to us on the level of being, and allows us to remain there. He reminds us that words are signposts, not the things spoken about. He shows us not a path to some future enlightenment, but he awakens us right now. With a subtle form of humour and deep caring, he points to the layers that hide us from ourselves, and gently strips them away. In his practical style of sharing, Eckhart offers a variety of portals to the experience of awakening. Without theories, without psychology, without effort he gestures, gently turning us in an unexpected direction. Before you even realize it, you are in the here and now, in awe, shocked. All you can do is take a deep breath.
In her book Loving What Is, Katie shows us the way out of the thoughts that trap us in a world of pain. I consider her work to be a bridge between psychoanalysis and spirituality, between Socratic dialogue and Zen silent teaching. In very simple to understand terms, Katie gives you the tools to free yourself from a life of suffering and confusion. In the workplace, people familiar with Katie are free of the gossip, backbiting, and other negative behaviors that are corrosive to team and to a company. Her book A Thousand Names For Joy is also wonderful. This one is beautiful in a poetic way as we get to experience Katie in a very intuitive and non-technical way. Byron Katie has done great work all over the world, and these books are a pathway to sharing her work.
Don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz is the fast track to personal growth and inner peace. Ruiz blends ancient lore of the Toltec Indians with a modern manual consisting of four basic steps. The Four Agreements state simply and clearly what you must do, with the promise of living in Heaven on Earth right now. By adhering to these four practices, your life will change dramatically for the better.1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions, 4) Always do your best.The book explains how to put these “agreements” into practice and face the daily challenges that currently prevent you from being the peaceful warrior. This is a powerfully awesome book, not to be underestimated, for it is in alignment with all the great teachings and paths towards enlightenment. Yet the formula is deceptively simple.
“The way to do, is to be.” There are a number of translations or interpretations of The Tao Teh Ching, by Lao Tzu. My favorite interpretation is the one by Witter Bynner, though it’s fun to compare it to the more literal translation by Burton Watson or the modern translation by Stephen Mitchell. The ancient Lao Tzu offers us a business, political, social, and personal way of living in harmony with life. The Tao is is a blend of the practical, the mystical, and the profound. Although the the book can be read in a sitting, its wisdom is of value for a lifetime.
The Haiku Anthology is really the best book to start with if you like Haiku or want to learn about it. The author, Cor van den Heuvel has put together an incredible sampling if the very best, moving and enlightening Haiku, which are Zen poems. “This is a landmark work in modern haiku, honoring a genre of poetry that celebrates simplicity, emotion, and imagery in which only a few words convey worlds of mystery and meaning. Written in English by 89 poets, it includes the top haiku writers of the American past and present. Each of these perfect little poems will come as a revelation to the uninitiated reader and will bring joy to the haiku enthusiast.” (From the description on Amazon.com)
Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a wonderful introduction to Zen. Words cannot describe the Zen experience, and one can only point to Zen, for the seeker to be enlightened. This is best done by the use of very short stories which illustrate the experience. The first part of the book contains 101 Zen stories, a fantastic way to learn Zen. By reading any one story, you can possibly experience Zen awakening. And once you “get it,” the other stories all fall into place like a puzzle which suddenly makes sense. Many of these stories are told and retold by spiritual teachers and this collections will familiarize you with the teaching.
The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran is one of the finest most beautifully poetic handbooks to living. Each section is devoted to a life topic, and sentence after sentence you will be transported to a higher level of consciousness. You can read the book in one sitting, so it’s not a lengthy discourse. It is a very simple book written in a language easy to understand where you are taken deep into the mystery of your own being.
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse is probably the book that most influenced my spiritual development and personal philosophy of life. It’s a book you can read in a sitting, and it does three things. First, it relates the story of the Buddha in a beautifully captivating way. Second, it allows you to share the spiritual journey with the Buddha, almost experiencing what he did along his path from living a sheltered, unconscious life to the state of pure liberation and enlightenment. Finally, you receive several practical take-aways which you can apply to your life no matter what your present state, you might call them techniques or attitudes which will help keep you focused on your spiritual growth. Also read Hesse’s The Journey to the East. Herman Hesse was most certainly an enlightened being, and clearly gifted in being able to convey so much in so short a story.
Be As You Are, the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharshi, edited by David Godman, is a book I only recently discovered when Eckhart Tolle mentioned Ramana Maharshi in several of his talks. As a teen in India, Ramana left his family and journeyed alone and penniless into the mountains to seek wisdom. Already living in light as this young age, he mastered self-inquiry and began to attract visitors who would ask him the most difficult spiritual questions. Known as Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, his teaching is that the direct path to liberation is self-inquiry. “You do not need to join any organization, adopt any belief system, or worship anyone or anything to experience this transmission of bliss and clarity. Bhagavan simply points you towards your innermost Self, the unchanging reality underlying all that exists.” (Quote from www.sriramanamaharshi.org) Ramana Maharshi was gifted enough to impart the universal timeless wisdom of self-realization to anyone who came to visit him in the mountains. This book is an account of the many discussions he had with visitors to his mountaintop retreat.
Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel is one of the early books which brought awareness of Zen to the West. The author had long been searching for answers in his spiritual quest, and had for years been trying to solve the riddle of Zen. It was only when he was a lecturer at the University of Tokyo that one of his colleagues at the university showed him the path to Zen by introducing Herrigel to the Zen teacher Kenzo Awa, a Master Archer. Herrigel recounts the story of his six year study under the Japanese archery master and how this became his path to Zen. Herrigel points out that all the Japanese arts have their roots in Buddhism, for example ink painting, flower arrangement, swordsmanship, and tea ceremony. These arts require a spiritual approach, which archery too requires in exactly the same way, more specifically the Zen way. Although the author admits Zen itself cannot be explained, he says that his intention is to shed some light on the nature of Zen. Archery, he surmises can be a preparatory school for Zen, enabling the beginner to move along the Zen path with a clearer view.
Think on These Things, by J. Krishnamurti turned upside down and at the same time clarified everything I thought I knew about spirituality and about life. Krishnamurti’s books begin with eloquently beautiful observations (recorded at his talks). He sets out a theme, makes a few observations, and then takes questions from the audience. His responses are unexpected and stunning, because he refuses to give “answers,” and instead shows what is behind each question and points out how to answer the question for yourself. Krishnamurti’s approach is to journey together, questioner and speaker, to find out the truth. He says “Truth is a pathless land.” In Think on These Things, we see the audience’s questions are very down to earth and those which anyone on a spiritual path might be wondering about so we can relate to the topics. Krishnamurti’s observations give you permission to be yourself and push you to personally verify, to find out for yourself what life is, what truth is, what love is.
Be Here Now, by Ram Dass is a book that influenced a whole generation, and continues to be timeless today. I still have my original copy, as do many people who first read the book when it came out. It’s a keeper. Ram Dass begins by relating the short story of his spiritual journey, and then gives you all of the tools and tips from his own experience in order to help you in your own journey. The book is loaded with inspirational pictures, drawing, and sayings. You’ll find yourself copying some to hang on the fridge or put in a frame and display in a special place in your home. The underlying theme of the book is the universal truth which is found in all great spiritual teachings: Be Here Now. Thus, the message is this-when you are not truly present, you are missing out on a blissful life and usually you are in a state of suffering as well. Be here now. It’s not enough just to say it, though, and Ram Dass provides you with many tools and pathways to live it.