Come December all kinds of “Best Whatever” lists pop up. Best Movies, Best Albums, Best TV Shows, and many more. Maybe that’s why I feel the spirit to list my favorite five books to support the churchless, those who are spiritual but don’t belong to an organized religion that has its own pre-selected holy writings.
These are books that I read and then re-read. These are books that I could read a thousand times and still feel like I am reading them for the first time. Why? Because I’ll never plumb the depths of their mystical-spiritual messages.
Or perhaps I should say, “message.” For even though I have two books about Christian spirituality, two books about Indian (Vedanta/Advaita) spirituality, and one book about Greek (Neo-Platonic) spirituality, the essential message of each is surprisingly similar: Truth is within, not without. To know the One that many call “God,” make your consciousness single and simple. The spiritual being you want to become, you already are.
Here are my choices for Best Books to Support the Churchless:
Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings
Return to the One: Plotinus’s Guide to God-Realization
Talks With Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Truth and Happiness
The Cloud of Unknowing: And Other Works
Vivekananda: The Yogas and Other Works
I must point out that “Return to the One” was written by me, which arguably should have disqualified it from consideration if this list is to have a glimmer of objective credibility. However, I have some reasonable reasons for including it.
Plotinus is a great philosopher and mystic, but not a clear writer, by and large. So few people can read his writings (the “Enneads”) directly and make much sense of them. And there are very few other popular books about Plotinus’s teachings. In fact, that’s why I felt impelled to write “Return to the One.” Nobody else had written the sort of book about Plotinus that I wanted to read.
Plus, I believe that one of the books a churchless person relies upon to keep his or her faithless faith on track should be the person's own book. Now, this doesn’t mean a published book or even a carefully written unpublished book. It could be a journal, a collection of scribbled notes, a diary, a weblog, even a single post-it note. What matters is that the “book” reflect what the person really believes about spirituality, not what someone else has told him or her to believe.
Here’s a nice quote from Vivekananda along these lines:
“Do something. Think some thought; it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong. But think something. Because my forefathers did not think this way, shall I sit down quietly and gradually lose my sense of feeling and my own thinking faculty? I may as well be dead. And what is life worth if we have no living ideas, no convictions of our own, about religion? There is some hope for the atheists, because though they differ from others, they think for themselves.
The people who never think anything for themselves are not yet born into the world of religion; they have a mere jelly-fish existence. They will not think; they do not care for religion. But the disbeliever, the atheist, cares and he is struggling. So think something. Struggle Godwards. Never mind if you fail, never mind if you get hold of a queer theory. If you are afraid to be called queer, keep it in your own mind; you need not go out and preach it to others.
But do something. Struggle Godwards. Light must come. If a man feeds me every day of my life, in the long run I will lose the use of my hands. Spiritual death is the result of following others as in a flock of sheep.”
This sentiment is just one reason I love to read Vivekananda. There are many other reasons, some of which I’ll share in another posting. In fact, before the month is out I’ll share what I like most about each of my five Best Spiritual Book choices.
If you have some favorite books of your own that you think belong on the Church of the Churchless recommended reading list, please share them.
How about starting your own online reading group a la Oprah? You could systematically go through your recommended books (including Return to the One) assigning some pages for discussion each day or week?
Posted by: Susan Beck | December 11, 2004 at 10:27 AM
Hey Brian, I agree with Susan! A reading group could be great fun. You could have quite the list of books that would be phenominal discussion starters and offer a variety of things to think about. Nice site you have here!
Posted by: Maggie | January 21, 2005 at 03:16 PM
Visited your site last night for the first time after an acquaintance got upset over something you'd said. While I was taking out the trash this morning I was thinking, gee, I'd go to the church for the churchless if I lived in Salem. Just now I discovered your recommendation for books. That discussion group would be absolutely great for me! Resist, resist. Then please surrender and do it for all of us. My unopened copy of The Cloud of Unknowing pleads for attention, and sharing.
Posted by: marta | March 31, 2005 at 10:00 AM
I just bought your "Return to the One" I read your other book, but did not buy it. I love the Greeks because they brought the wisdom from Atlantis to the Romans who in turn influenced the middle age thinkers and writers who in turn created modern-day spirituality including Radha Soami.
after I read your book...the reviews are good.
Posted by: Netemara | April 29, 2006 at 06:00 PM
I see you have five books in the list
May I offer you the treasure on my web site, free?
Who am I?
The Science of Karma
Life without Conflicts
or would you like to read the one on
They are all there for you at
The Who am I? Book is at
Bliss begins with the eternal Light within. Alas! It needs to be lit.
With deep humility
Posted by: shuddha | April 13, 2008 at 04:10 PM
Though I have not read it yet... but will be soon... Brian Hines book- Return to the One would be a good place to start with Plotinus.
Or Pierre Hadots Plotinus book. I on the other hand started right in reading Plotinus directly from the small 158 page book by A H Armstrong - Plotinus. A $3 download ebook from Amazon. I have two paper copies I read and reread. It is difficult at times but with enough patience can be clearly understood.
Just keep rereading passages that are confusing and you will be rewarded.
I, myself, got stuck on page 116...
We-who are we?.. reread it over and over for literally a month or more every night.
Just recently I read it several times more and got more meaning out of it.
True study of Plotinus takes years, he was unique because he Succeeded in "Returning To the One!... not once but several times. A feat that very few human born individuals have ever done. He indeed must now be a "pure soul" he wrote about living in the world of Nous that we all aspire to.
Posted by: Robert | November 28, 2015 at 01:43 PM