psychoanalysis

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.

The only real cure to constant procrastination (and it’s not “just do it!”)

What does procrastination have to do with spirituality? A lot: it shows the deep problems in your psyche that happen when we are not being honest about what we want.

Enotional honesty with ourselves is necessary for a quiet mind, and a quiet mind is essential to the spiritual search.

A very short introduction to psychoanalysis for spiritual seekers

Transcript: Hi there. So, today I want to explain real quick what psychoanalysis is, very briefly, and why I recommend it generally speaking to seekers. So first of all let me just explain what therapy is. Therapy is a very general term. It’s the idea of a healing modality. People use it in all kinds of ways, like touch therapy, massage therapy, aroma therapy. So many things can be therapy. Psychotherapy is what attempt to heal the mind or psyche using some variety of talking. Of these there are many different kinds. For example, one of the most prominent is called cognitive-behavioral. But the oldest and deepest in my opinion, especially for seekers who want to understand themselves deeply is psychoanalysis, which is the school of psychotherapy that was started by Sigmund Freud, but has evolved a long time since then. So what makes psychoanalysis different? Well first of all, let me just make a quick distinction here. Psychoanalysis technically refers to the most intensive style of the treatment, which is at least usually three times a week. Psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalytic psychotherapy are kind of lighter, somewhat less intense versions of it. Now what distinguishes psychoanalysis and its sort of little siblings is their focus on the unconscious. They don’t believe that you necessarily know what’s going on inside yourself, that you know what the problem is or why it is you’re doing what you’re doing, and how you necessarily want it to be changed. That is uncovered through a process of investigation which can take quite a long time. The beauty of this is that it is a very, very light touch. Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy don’t try to control you, don’t try to mold you or change you in any very direct, blunt way. Instead, you go through a process with the therapist or analyst of uncovering what it is that’s going on in your mind, things that have come up since childhood, and things that are revealed in the relationship between you and the therapist or analyst. So these are very, very subtle things that go on that other psychotherapies often don’t pay as much attention to because they are trying to “fix your problem” immediately, assuming that they know what the problem is, that you know what the “problem” is. But psychoanalysis doesn’t’ assume that you know what the problem is, doesn’t assume that it’s so simple. It believes that our mental conditions come from a series of conflicts that have arisen from early childhood onwards, and that to discover this is a very slow process that takes time and nevertheless can be extremely illuminating for spiritual seekers, because that’s the only way of getting at many of the most complicated, subtle and persistent issues that bedevil them. All right, so this is just an introduction.

You can't just get from here to there. Unless you can.

In psychoanalysis, a client resists getting better. If they weren't somehow getting something out of their current way of being, they wouldn't keep it. That way of being provides some utility or protection. So it fights for its survival by resisting change. And so therapists must point out, at the surface level, that resistance, even as they also attempt to delve deeper. These surface resistances often manifest in the client's interactions with the therapist over what seem to be other issues. And as one layer of resistance is pointed out and softened, another, deeper one, often arises -- until the point when the client is ready to deal with the deeper issues.

It's like an archaeological dig. You can't go directly to the deepest layer. You must start with the top and strip one layer away after another.

So it is with the spiritual search.

What prevents us from progressing in the spiritual search, and often in life, is that we are aligned with our own desire. The ultimate misalignment is our belief that we can get what we want from somewhere out there rather than from our own being. 

Yet our current mode of desiring resists deep change. So we must address it at the surface levels, where it interacts with daily life. We have to be honest about what we want in every sphere of our life. We must peel away our illusions about our own desires, even if that reveals we want things that "we" (i.e. our nagging should and should-not thoughts) disapprove of.

How do we do that? There are many ways (therapy can help!). This is one:

  1. Find some dissatisfaction with a particular area of your life (it could be something very small, like what you drink for breakfast in the morning) .
  2. Try to write or speak about just what is so dissatisfying about it.
  3. Imagine some new scenarios that might address this dissatisfaction. As you imagine each one, write or speak out loud how you feel about them.
  4. Experiment with attempting, at least in small ways, a new possibility that seems promising.
  5. Write or speak about how you feel about it.
  6. If it feels more aligned with you, that's progress. If not, rinse and repeat.

So it's an iterative process of discovery. We cannot necessarily depend on spirituality to take us directly out of the game until we are ready for it. Rather, we must pursue the spiritual game in parallel with the alignment of ourselves with our deeper desires.

Being in greater alignment with our desires is like dealing with resistances in therapy. It is necessary before the deeper issues can be effectively dealt with. Without progressive alignment to desire, the mind is usually not quiet enough to grasp the Truth. It doesn't desire it enough.