I'm an avid reader of spiritual books. Not the overly religious kind, but the edgy variety – mystical and meditational writings that stretch my psyche's understanding of what reality is all about.
Last year Ron Gardner sent me a marvelous recommended spiritual reading list that I shared in a blog post. Now Ron has emailed me a new and improved list, "improved" naturally being in the eye of the list-maker, as likes and dislikes in any literary arena are necessarily personal.
However, just as there are classics in other genres, so also in esoteric spiritual writings. No one will agree with the placement of all of Ron's "highly recommended" selections, but I'm hugely impressed with the thoughtful care that has gone into the making of his list.
Thank you, Ron, for this gift. For many years, if not a lifetime, it'll help keep UPS trucks coming to my home with offerings from Amazon.
If you like, comment away on the list. Additions are especially welcome. Click below to read Ron's recommendations.
Ron Gardner's 2007 Spiritual Reading List
This is the latest version of my recommended Spiritual Reading List. Now that I have essentially finished my exhaustive reading and research in the field of esoteric spirituality, I foresee only minor changes in the List in the forthcoming years. I have made several changes from last year's List, and my rationale for the changes follows:
Advaita Vedanta: Because I'm an unabashed Ramana Maharshi fan, I decided to move Be As You Are from the Recommended Category to the Highly Recommended category. For inquiring minds: yes, I've read Adyashanti, Ramesh Balsekar, Andrew Cohen, Gangaji, David Hawkins, Jean Klein, Jed McKenna, and Papaji—and no—I don't feel moved to put any of their books on my list.
Buddhism (Original): In the Recommended category, I replaced The Doctrine of Buddha, by George Grimm with The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha, by Ananda Coomeraswamy. Coomeraswamy was a distinguished scholar, and his book captures the essence of Buddha's life and teachings.
Buddhism (Tibetan): After rereading all the books in the Recommended and Highly Recommended categories, along with numerous other Dzogchen texts, I decided that W.Y. Evans-Wentz's The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation and John Myrdhin Reynold's The Golden Letters and Self Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness merited promotion from the Recommended category to the Highly Recommended category. Tenzin Wangyal's Wonders of the Natural Mind, on the other hand, isn't quite as good as I had originally perceived it to be, so I demoted it from the Highly Recommended to the Recommended category.
Buddhism (Zen): It's sad to say, but in my opinion, the only truly outstanding Zen book in existence is The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. With this in mind, I demoted Tracing Back the Radiance from the Highly Recommended category to the Recommended category. After much pondering, I finally decided to add a long-time popular classic Rinzai Zen text, The Three Pillars of Zen to the Recommended category.
Christianity and Judaism: In the past year, I've done a great deal of reading on Christian mysticism. The highlight of my reading was discovering the marvelous Meister Eckhart, whom I'd somehow managed to never read before. Naturally, I added him to the Highly Recommended category. I also decided that Inner Christianity, by Richard Smoley and Open Mind, Open Heart, by Thomas Keating merited the Recommended category. Smoley's book is an interesting read on esoteric Christianity, and Keating's text is a popular modern classic on the contemplative dimension of Christianity.
Daism: Adi Da Samraj (Da), the controversial founder of Daism and a prolific writer, continues to author book after book. In the past few years alone, Da, who, over the past 35 years has morphed from Franklin Jones into Bubba Free John into Da Free John, into self-proclaimed avatar Adi Da Samraj, has produced The Five Books of the "Perfect Knowledge" Series and twenty-three "Source Texts" (or Courses). In the past year, I spent considerable time studying these new books, and the changes in this section reflect my assessment of them. In addition to reading the "Perfect Knowledge" Series and the twenty-three "Source Texts," I also checked out revised editions of two classic Daist texts: The Method of the Siddhas and the The Dawn Horse Testament. In my opinion, the revised version of The Method of the Siddhas, entitled My 'Bright' Word, lacks the radical and unique visceral impact of the original text. Consequently, I recommend a used copy of The Method of the Siddhas over a new copy of My 'Bright' Word. The latest incarnation of The Dawn Horse Testament represents Da at his lordly, pontificating worst. Consequently, I have expunged this text from the list.
Although I patently reject Da's claim of unprecedented Enlightenment and am repulsed by his intellectually dishonest presentation of the Great Traditions, as a Truth seeker, I must acknowledge him as a source of some of the most profound and illuminating spiritual literature ever written. Whatever one thinks of Adi Da as person, whatever one thinks of his outrageous claims and writing style, his books remain must-reading for any serious Truth seeker.
Hinduism (Yoga): This section remains unchanged from a year ago. Although The Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras (Patanjali), and The Narada Bhakti Sutras, the three listings in the Highly Recommended category, might not describe Truth and the Way to Its Realization in the same direct and radical terms as the great non-dual spiritual traditions, I second renowned yoga scholar Georg Fuerstein's view that these timeless texts merit earnest study.
Kashmir Shaivism: In addition to rereading all the books in last year's Highly Recommended and Recommended categories, I also checked out two important texts—Spanda Karikas, The Divine Creative Pulsation and Siva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity--by Jaideva Singh, the late, great Kashmir Shaivism scholar. Upon conclusion of my studying, I decided to place the two aforesaid Singh books in the Recommended category and to promote The Philosophy of Sadhana to the Highly Recommended category. Serious students of Kashmir Shaivism might wonder why the Agama classic Siva Sutras only merits the Recommended Category. My explanation is that, while Singh's lengthy introduction is very enlightening, the Sutras commentaries themselves bog down in excessive Sanskrit terminology and definitions.
Miscellaneous: Although I've never been a big fan of The Tao Teh Ching, I finally decided that, as the most prominent Taoist text, it merits a spot in the Recommended category. I also decided that Chuang Tzu, whom I dig, deserves the Highly Recommended category.
Spiritual Reading List
Ashtavakra Gita—Hari Prasad Shastri (tr.) (Other translations also available.)
Be As You Are: The Teachings of Ramana Maharshi—David Godman (Best introductory book on the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. )
Sat-Darshana Bhashya and Talks with Maharshi—Sri Ramanasramam (A learned devotee's in-depth consideration of Ramana Maharshi's teachings within the framework of Indian-yogic philosophy.)
Sri Ramana Gita—Ramana Maharshi (An utterly unique, ultra-profound text that details the function of the Amrita Nadi in the Self-realization process.)
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi—Ramana Maharshi (Must Reading. A truly great and inspiring book.)
(Note: Sat-Darshana Bhashya, Sri Ramana Gita, and TalksWith Ramana Maharshi are available at www.arunachala.org.)
I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj—Maurice Frydman
Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination)—Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (Other translations of Shankara's teachings also available.)
Some Sayings of the Buddha—F.L.Woodward (Easily the finest presentation of the Buddha's teachings on meditation and contemplation.)
A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism—Christmas Humphreys (Excellent dictionary.)
Buddhism: An Outline of its Teachings and Schools—Hans Wolfgang Schuman
Mindfulness in Plain English—Venerable Henepola Gunaratana (Best introductory book on Insight meditation.)
The Heart of Buddhist Meditation –Nyaponika Thera (Classic text on Insight meditation.)
The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha—Ananda Coomeraswamy and I.B. Horner
The Way of Non-Attachment—Dhiravamsa (Unique, Krishnamurti-influenced book on Insight meditation.)
A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission: A Commentary on The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena—Longchen Rabjam (A marvelous, ultra-mystical text.)
Self-Liberation Though Seeing With Naked Awareness—John Myrdhin Reynolds (Compare this translation of/commentary on Padmasambhava's Yoga of Knowing the Mind and Seeing Reality to the inimitable W.Y. Evans-Wentz's in The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation.)
Teachings of Tibetan Yoga—Gharma C.C. Chang (Wonderful Mahamudra presentation. Out of print but can be purchased used at Amazon.com.)
The Cycle of Day and Night—Namkhai Norbu (Outstanding Dzogchen meditation manual.)
The Golden Letters—John Myrdhin Reynolds (A scholarly exposition of the history and practice of Dzogchen with regard to the Garab Dorje, the first teacher of Dzogchen.)
The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding—Longchen Rabjam (A wonderful classic text.)
The Supreme Source—Namkhai Norbu (The fundamental tantric text of Dzogchen.)
The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation—W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Mystical, mind-expanding translation of/commentary on Padmasambhava's Yoga of Knowing the Mind and Seeing Reality. Compare this translation and commentary to John Myrdhin Reynold's in Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness. Skip Carl Jung's ridiculous Psychological Commentary.)
Naked Awareness—Karma Chagme
Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines—W.Y Evans-Wentz
Wonders of the Natural Mind—Tenzin Wangyal (The essence of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet.)
The Zen Teaching of Huang Po—John Blofeld
Kensho, The Heart of Zen—Thomas Cleary
Selected Sayings from the Perfection of Wisdom—Edward Conze (Translations of important Prajnaparmita Sutras, including the Heart Sutra.)
The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui Neng—A.F. Price (tr.) (Other translations of these sutras available.)
The Practice of Zen—Gharma C.C. Chang
The Way of Zen—Alan Watts (Classic introductory text by the godfather of American Zen.)
The Three Pillars of Zen—Phillip Kapleau (Classic, popular Rinzai Zen text that emphasizes the satori experience.)
Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen—Robert Buswell Jr.
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind—Shunryu Suzuki (Classic, ultra-popular Soto Zen text.)
(Notes: Scholarly types will enjoy Heinrich Dumoulin's Zen Buddhism: A History (India and China) and Zen Buddhism: A History (Japan), Vol. 2." Serious students of Buddhist philosophy will appreciate Gharma CC Chang's The Buddhist Teaching of Totality, which expounds the wonderful, all-embracing philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism relative to Zen. For those who love reading Zen, check out Thomas Cleary's numerous books at Amazon.com.)
Christianity & Judaism
Meditations on the Tarot—Valentin Tomberg (An astonishing journey into Christian Hermeticism.)
Meister Eckhart—("The Complete Mystical Work of Meister Eckhart" is the recommended book to get—but it costs $75. "Meister Eckhart," (tr. Raymond B. Blakney) is fine compilation of Eckhart's sermons, and goes for about $15. Scholarly types will want to supplement either of the aforementioned books with "The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart," by Bernard McGinn.
Inner Christianity—Richard Smoley (A clear and thoughtful guide to the esoteric Christian Tradition.)
Jewish Meditation—Aryeh Kaplan
Open Mind, Open Heart—Thomas Keating (A classic, best-selling text on the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.)
The Mystic Christ—Ethan Walker (Excellent book for Christians.)
The Secret Book of John—Steven Davies (translator)
The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta—Swami Prabhavananda
The Work of the Kabbalist—S'ev Shimon Halevi
(Note: Scholarly types into Western Christian mysticism will love the fine texts by Prof. Bernard McGinn. Check out McGinn's The Presence of God: A History of Western Mysticism series. This four-volume series includes The Foundations of Mysticism, The Growth of Mysticism The Flowering of Mysticism, and The Crisis of Mysticism. Beyond this series, McGinn has also graced us with The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, an immensely rich anthology of the greatest Christian mystical literature. Selections in this volume include writings from such great mystics as Origen, Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, St. John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, John Ruusbroec, Thomas Merton, and many more. Relative to a scholarly consideration of Jewish Mysticism, I highly recommend Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. Not only is this text the canonical modern work on the nature and history of Jewish mysticism, it's also one of the most thoughtful and incisive academic considerations of mysticism in general.
Hridaya Rosary (Four Thorns of Heart-Instruction)—Adi Da Samraj (Excellent technical devotional-meditation book.)
The Knee of Listening—Adi Da Samraj (The best spiritual autobiography ever written.) Get a copy of the latest edition, but also get a copy of an earlier edition written under either Franklin Jones or Bubba Free John. These earlier editions, unlike later and current editions, contain Da's outstanding "Meditation of Understanding" instructions on the practice of "real meditation,"or "radical understanding."
The Liberator: The "Radical" Reality-Teachings of The Great Avataric Sage, Adi Da Samraj--Adi Da Samraj
The Method of the Siddhas—Adi Da Samraj (A truly great spiritual book. Out of print and only available used. Try to get a copy written under either Franklin Jones or Bubba Free John. The current revised edition of the book, entitled "My 'Bright' Word," lacks the direct visceral impact of the original text.
The Way of Perfect Knowledge: The "Radical" Practice of Transcendental Spirituality in the Way of Adidam—Adi Da Samraj
He-And-She Is Me: The Indivisibility of Consciousness and Light In the Divine Body of the Ruchira Avatar—Adi Da Samraj
Ruchira Avatara Hridaya-Siddha Yoga: The Divine (and Not Merely Cosmic) Spiritual Baptism in the Way of Adidam—Adi Da Samraj
Santosha Adidam: The Essential Summary of the Divine Way of Adidam—Adi Da Samraj
The All-Completing And Final Divine Revelation to Mankind: A Summary Description Of The Supreme Yoga Of The Seventh Stage Of Life In The Divine Way Of Adidam—Adi Da Samraj
(Note: The four books on the Recommended List contain a number of the same essays. Nonetheless, there is enough unique material in each book to merit its reading. )
The Bhagavad Gita (Translations of: Eknath Easwaran; Swami Prabahvananda and Christopher Isherwood; S. Radakrishnan. Many other fine translations/annotations also available.)
The Yoga of Spiritual Devotion: A Modern Translation of the Narada Bhakti Sutras—Prem Prakesh (A simple, inspiring text on the spiritual path of love and devotion.)
Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali—Swami Hariharananda Aranya (The best account of classical yoga I've encountered. Many other fine translations/annotations also available.)
Be Here Now—Baba Ram Dass (Classic introductory book on Eastern philosophy. An easy and enjoyable read.)
How to Know God—Prabhavananda and Isherwood (Best introduction to the yoga philosophy of Patanjali.)
The Essential Swami Ramdas—Swami Ramdas
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna—Swami Nikhilananda
The Synthesis of Yoga—Sri Aurobindo (If you appreciate this book and crave more Aurobindo, get a copy of The Life Divine.)
The Upanishads (Translations of: Mascara; Prabhavananda and Isherwood. Other fine translations also available.)
The Yoga Tradition—Georg Fuerstein (Outstanding reference book on the history, literature, philosophy, and practice of yoga.)
The Doctrine of Recognition—Jaideva Singh (The basic introductory handbook to the abstruse philosophical system of recognition.)
The Doctrine of Vibration —Mark S.G. Dyczkowski (A scholarly analysis of the doctrines and practices of Kashmir Shaivism.)
The Philosophy of Sadhana—Deba Brata SenSharma (Outstanding text that deals clearly and exhaustively with the ultra-important topic of Shaktipat, the Descent of Divine Power, or Grace.)
The Triadic Heart of Siva—Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega (An ultra-esoteric text about the Heart (Hridaya) as Ultimate Reality, Emissional Power, and Embodied Cosmos.)
Kundalini, Energy of the Depths—Lilian Silburn
Siva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity—Jaideva Singh (The foundational text of Kashmir Shaivism.)
Spanda Karikas: The Divine Creative Pulsation—Jaideva Singh (An elaboration of the dynamic aspect of Transcendental Consciousness.)
First and Last Freedom—J. Krishnamurti (Must reading for all mystics. If you appreciate this book and want to read more Krishnamurti, get his multivolume Commentaries on Living.)
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology—Ayn Rand (Must reading for all mystics.)
Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand--Leonard Peikoff (Must reading for all mystics.)
The Way of Chuang Tzu—Thomas Merton (Other translations also available.)
Alan Oken's Complete Astrology—Alan Oken (The best overall book on astrology.)
Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing—Vasant Lad (A fascinating and enlightening exposition of the principles and practical applications of Indian Ayurveda, the oldest healing system in the world. )
Awaken Healing Energy Through the Tao—Mantak Chia (Classic introductory handbook to the practice and principles of Taoist energy-yoga.)
Return to The One: Plotinus's Guide to God-Realization –Brian Hines (An accessible modern exposition of an Ancient Classic, the Enneads.)
The Power of Now—Echart Tolle (Uberpopular best-selling text on the spiritual practice of Presence. A good book for spiritual beginners.)
The Ayn Rand Lexicon—Harry Binswanger (Objectivism from A to Z.)
The Perennial Philosophy—Aldous Huxley
The Tao Teh Ching (Numerous translations available.)