books

Recommended books for seekers of enlightenment

This will be a running, updated list of books (other than my own, of course) I recommend for spiritual seekers. It’s broken into categories. Please feel free to contact me with comments or suggestions, or put them in the comment area below. (updated as of June 22, 2019 — added Song of the Avadhut)

 

Advaita

Advaita refers to the “nondual” school of spirituality in Hinduism — that is, the seeming separation between yourself and the world, yourself and others, and so on — is illusory, and this illusion can be burned through. My approach is fundamentally based on advaita.

My book provides a nice overall framework for thinking about enlightenment as a whole, I think. It’s both an introduction and a practice manual.

The Gita, as the discourse that the incarnation of God, Krishna, makes to the warrior Arjuna on the battlefield, is the most influential text for spiritual seekers in the advaita tradition (and Hinduism as a whole), and for good reason. It is both the beginning and the end, containing the entire range of teachings for both beginners and masters. It is the site of the greatest amount of commentary, and it contains endless counterintuitive riches.

I like the Sargeant translation for being more exact and providing extensive word-by-word translations, and I like the Tapasyananda translations for giving the classic advaita understandings of the meaning.

Short, essential, and amazing, though the dialogues below are even more important. I’d read the translation in here of “Vivekachudamani” (Sankara’s “the Crest Jewel of Knowledge”) if you want to get a wonderful traditional introduction to advaita vedanta through the perspective of one of its greatest sages.

Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi
By Munagala Venkataramana

The greatest set of dialogues from the supreme Hindu sage of the 20th century. I re-read three and perhaps four times during my last year of inquiry. Reading them is itself a reprogramming of the dualistic mind.

The Yoga Vasistha - I recommend the Concise version by Venkatesananda as a start. A very long, unabridged version is available on the web, and is not translated nearly as well, but if you can’t get enough of this fabulous book, turn to it, especially the last volumes (part VI 2A and beyond), which go beyond the sections in the Concise Yoga Vasistha.

The Ashtavakra Gita is a short and very powerful dialogue on the deep nature of the Self. It takes place between a wise man, Ashtavakra, and a king, Janaka, both of whom are enlightened.

I like the translation by Bart Marshall, which can be found in his The Perennial Way, but it isn’t perfect, and I’d supplement with this free version by Ananda Wood.

A long gorgeous nondual text that will reprogram your mind. It is the teaching of the sage Ribhu of the heart of Vedanta to his disciple.

The Avadhut is a kind of wandering spiritual spiritual master, free from the need for all material pleasures, able to be happy with almost nothing. This book, is a short, poetic work where the Avadhut reflects on the Self and its meaning.

Unchanging? Changing? Neither is the truth.

Purposeless? Purposeful? Neither is the truth.

If only the Self is perceived: that is the truth.

Why lament, then, O mind? I’m the same Self in all.

The Brhadaranyaka Upanisad With the commentary of Sankaracarya
By Sankaracarya - Translated by Swami Madhavananda

A dense, mysterious, difficult to comprehend, and academic text in many ways — it is nevertheless the greatest of the Upanishads — the ancient Hindu texts that are the origin of Vedanta — with a commentary by the greatest Vedantic systematizer, Adi Sankara. Only for students with a serious interest in the history and philosophy of Vedanta.

Other spirituality

A gorgeous, subtle direct pointing at the nondual truth. Reminds me of a Buddhist version of the Ashtavakra Gita. Short and mind-blowing, but not easy.

The most beautiful Taoist text. Profound, witty, brilliant. The first seven chapters are key; the writing after that is by disciples rather than the master, and is not as good.

The other great Taoist text. Short, deep. I’m a fan.

Psychoanalysis and psychology

I’m a huge fan of psychoanalysis (which is not the same as therapy generally) for purifying the mind and dealing with mental obstacles to the search.

The best way to learn about psychoanalysis is enter into psychoanalysis! Google a local psychoanalytic institute and contact them for a referral. There are low-fee options available. If you have trouble, contact me.

That said, if you really want to learn about psychoanalysis from books, here are a couple of places to start. It’s a whole universe, and the books can be quite difficult to digest.

Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought
By Stephen A. Mitchell, Margaret J. Black

Probably the best single-volume introduction to psychoanalysis. You can led it lead you to further resources.

The Fifty-Minute Hour
By Robert Lindner

A ton of fun, these short stories give you a very entertaining taste (but just a taste!) of what analysis may be like through a series of little case studies.

Focusing
By Eugene T. Gendlin

This is the closest work I’ve seen in psychology to the idea I have of metaphorization: that is, the translation of “what it is like” to experience something into artistic, verbal, or symbolic expression. Focusing is not exactly the same, but it’s similar enough to be helpful.

It’s a self-help book, and a good one.

Studies on Hysteria (Basic Books Classics)
By Joseph Breuer, Sigmund Freud

The Freudian universe is large, and this, one of his earliest works, almost a set of little detective stories investigating various patients’ strange symptoms, is a delightful beginning.

If you’re hooked, keep reading Freud. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.

Literature

Swann's Way
By Marcel Proust

This is the first of six volumes of In Search of Lost Time, one of the longest and certainly one of the greatest novels ever written. ISolT is not spiritual in the usual non-dual sense in which we use it on this website, but it is spiritual in a broader sense. It is a profound meditation on human nature and romantic love, on the power of art, on the aesthetic beauty and bliss that runs throughout all of existence. It helped me understand the power of unearthing my own perspective as a way of understanding myself and making meaning by expressing that perspective.

It requires concentration and time, but it is extraordinarily beautiful and wise.