A selection of books on spirituality and personal development.
This is a diverse selection of books from different traditions and approaches. I hope you find something that's appropriate for your path, and for where you're at during this stage of your practice.
Filled with lots of practical advice and specific meditations, this book is a great primer for what to expect if you follow a spiritual life. It is also a good general introduction to buddhism.
When Things Fall Apart
Heart Advice for Difficult Times
by Pema Chodron
This is one of those books that you can open on any page, on any day, and find something useful. Some books you can read over and over, and they are always relevant to wherever you are - this is one such book.
The Jhanas are a form of advanced concentration practices. Generally speaking, they're not usually for beginners due to the high level of concentration needed, but if you're interested in jhana then these two books are easy to read and a good starting place.
Wisdom Wide and Deep
A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana
by Shaila Catherine
I met Shaila years ago and this book is very like her - down to earth and practical.
A Practical Guide to the Jhanas
by Leigh Brasington
A practical guidebook for getting into deeper states of meditative absorption.
Hindu / Vedic
How to Know God
The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
Translated by Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood
"1. This is the beginning of instruction in yoga.
2. Yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind."
So begins this easily accessible translation of Patanjalis' sutras. Obviously, this is not a guide to yoga asanas (poses) - it is an instructional guide to inner practices and states. Each sutra is explained and discussed at length by the translators.
Translated by Swami Venkatesananda
Written by Valmiki, this is the story of Prince Rama in conversation with the sage Vashista about the meaning of life. Rama is frustrated and disillusioned by life but Vashista uses stories and parables to teach him the nature of reality and the way to enlightenment. The format is straightforward; after every teaching Rama either asks a question to clarify what Vashista has just said, or he asks a new question. It's a very long book and it certainly gets out there at times, with tales of ancient lands and wise Kings, time travel, parallel universes, stories within stories, dreams within dreams and more.
Be As You Are
The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Edited by David Godman
Ramana had a death experience at the age of 16 and headed straight for the holy mountain Arunachala, found himself a cave, and started meditating. He lived in the caves for 20 years then eventually settled at the base of the mountain where an ashram developed around him, and he answered the questions of those who came to see him. This book is a collection of answers to seekers questions with commentary by David Godman.
The Ultimate Medicine
Dialogues with a Realized Master
Edited by Robert Powell
If you are not familiar with Nisargadatta then it may be better to start with I Am That which is his best known book in which he answers questions from seekers at all stages of spiritual development. The talks in The Ultimate Medicine are from the last years of Nisargadattas life, where he is very blunt, direct and to the point. He knows he doesn't have much time left so he really goes for it, taking no prisoners in his attempts to point to the truth.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
Translated by Swami Nikhilananda
I wasn't sure how to describe this book, perhaps as "the story of a man who is mad with the love of God". It's the amazing story of a God intoxicated person who had numerous visions, spontaneously went into ecstatic states, and lived totally from the heart. The first section of this book is a short biography of Sri Ramakrishnas life, followed by his later life and teachings as witnessed by his disciple "M" and recorded in a diary like format. Swami Vivekananda was a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and is mentioned often in the book, and "M" later became one of the teachers of Paramahansa Yogananda.
Consciousness Is Everything
The Yoga of Kashmir Shaivism
By Swami Shankarananda
A good introductory book to the concepts and philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. Written in a modern and at times humourous style, the content is detailed whilst maintaining a manner that is accessible to those new to these teachings.
All of these books are from the Orthodox Christian tradition.
The Way of a Pilgrim
and The Pilgrim Continues His Way
Translated by Olga Savin
Saint Paul said to "pray without ceasing." The Way of a Pilgrim follows a poor Russian peasant as he attempts to do just that, by continual repetition of the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me".
Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart
Translated by E. Kadloubovsky & G. E. H. Palmer
The Philokalia is a collection of writings by spiritual masters of the Eastern Orthodox church from the fourth century onwards. Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart is not the entire Philokalia but is a selection of texts that are specific to the Jesus prayer. Much of the writing is intended for monastics but there is still much that is useful for the average person, and although the language used is at times archaic the message is timeless.
It's not possible for me to look at a photo of Elder Thaddeus without smiling. I don't know why, he just has that effect on me. This book starts with a short biography, followed by a selection of his teachings and stories with each chapter addressing a specific topic. Very down to earth and practical, and at times a tad blunt, Elder Thaddeus was a gentle soul filled with wisdom.
The Way of the Sufi
by Idries Shah
Nowadays many people have heard of Rumi but are unaware or know little of the mystical tradition - Sufism - that he was from. This is a good, general introduction to the teachings within Sufism, it's practices, different schools, writings and sages. It also has an excellent collection of sufi sayings.
Love Is a Fire
The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home
by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee PhD
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is a contemporary Sufi teacher who has also studied Jungian dream interpretation and alchemy. He speaks from personal experience with a passion that is infectious. If you want to know more about the Sufi path of love and of surrender to the Divine then this is the book for you.
"The path of love is a fire within the heart that burns away the veils of separation, emptying us of ourself so that we can come to experience our innermost state of union."
The Conference of the Birds
by Farid ud-Din Attar
Translated from the original 4500 line poem written in Persian in the 12th century, this is the story of a flock of birds as they search for their ideal King, a journey which represents the seeker's path to God. As things get difficult many find excuses to stop the search, but for those that continue the long and difficult journey their efforts are rewarded.
This is not a book for those new to either Sufism or spiritual practice. In response to a question from a friend Ibn Arabi wrote this treatise on private retreat. He discusses the different levels of spiritual attainment and perils of the path using parables and allegory.
I love this book. Imagine a big night out with Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson and Lao Tzu. If you've ever despaired at the dry translation of some spiritual classics, then you will rejoice in this edgy interpretation of the Tao Te Ching.
"If you can talk about it,
it ain't Tao.
If it has a name, it's just another thing."
The Teachings of Don Juan
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
by Carlos Castaneda
The Castaneda books are a bit like the Harry Potter book series, they start off a bit slow then improve with each subsequent book. And similar to the Harry Potter books, everything that Castaneda wrote may be fiction. Nonetheless, there is still a great deal of wisdom to be gained from these books and if you like to have your sense of reality shaken and to "shift your assemblage point" so as to see the world differently then this is the series for you.
Jungian & The Shadow
The shadow is comprised of the dark and unknown aspects of our personality, those repressed and unacknowledged parts of us that are not acceptable to ourselves or society. Working on the shadow is one of the most difficult and emotionally painful aspects of spiritual practice.
Meeting the Shadow
The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature
edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams
This is an excellent collection of essays discussing different aspects of the shadow and how it manifests. There are also sections on how to work with the shadow, how to raise it to awareness, and how to integrate it.
I highly recommend any book by James Hollis, but this is probably my favorite. Some of the reviews on Amazon complain that this book doesn't give specific instructions for the second half of life, but that's exactly the point. This is more like a fireside chat with a wise elder who gives you pointers for how to work things out for yourself and bring meaning to your own existence.
This is a book about men written specifically for men. But it's not only for men, it's for anyone who wants to understand the problems that can arise when archetypes don't reach their mature aspect, for example when the King becomes the tyrant and does not mature to the wise King. It also has suggestions for how to move from the immature to the mature.
The Wisdom of the Enneagram
The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types
by Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson
Work out which personality type you are, discover your typical reaction style under stress and when things are good, and use it to analyze everyone you know......what could be more fun? The authors explore both the psychological and spiritual aspects in this easy to understand and practical guide to the enneagram.
Healing From Trauma
The Body Keeps the Score
Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel van Der Kolk Md
If you only read one book from this page, make it this one. It's not a spiritual book, it's an easy to read but in depth discussion and explanation on the effects of trauma on individuals and society. If you've ever wondered why people get stuck in the past and can't move on, or why people act irrationally in certain circumstances the answers are here. An amazing book on how the human body holds experiences and how to finally process and release trauma. Get it, read it, recommend it to your friends.
The Hidden Psychology of Pain
The Use of Understanding to Heal Chronic Pain
by Dr. James Alexander
Dr. Alexander is a psychologist with a very holistic approach to pain and trauma management. In this detailed but easy to read book he presents his own theory on chronic pain and trauma and what to do about it. Worth getting just for the chapter on EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).
Complex PTSD is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape. For some people this is a description of their childhood home. This is an excellent book for those that suffer from CPTSD, which I sometimes call "Crap Parent Traumatic Stress Disorder." If you have a vicious inner critic and you're highly critical of yourself or others, or if you have problematic dealings with your parents, then you may find this book useful.
People mostly equate childhood abuse with sexual or physical abuse, but treating children with a total lack of empathy and sensitivity is also a form of abuse, albeit more subtle. The narcissistic family model often looks like the perfect family, as no one is "abused" and basic needs such as food and clothing are met. But when emotional needs are not met insiduous damage can result. If you have difficult relations with your parents then read this book.
The Betrayal Bond
Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships
by Patrick Carnes Ph.D.
If you're attracted to intense relationships with people that are not good for you, or if you've broken up with someone that you know is wrong for you but can't stop going back, then you may find this book useful.
According to the moral code of their societies some of these teachers were not "saints", in fact far from it. If you prefer only teachers with traditional morality then best not to enter. If you're looking for insights and wisdom from teachers with no boundaries, then read on.
Only Fear Dies
A Book of Liberation
by Barry Long
Barry Long was one of Eckhart Tolle's teachers, but his style is more direct. Here's an excerpt from Only Fear Dies
"You always have a good excuse to justify your unhappiness. Always someone or something is to blame but never you, who is the only one to blame. You smoulder angrily because of what someone has done to you. You are bitter or moping because someone has failed you, betrayed you, let you down. Or you are inconsolable, lost in grief, because a lover, a loved one, your job or your money has died or left you.
That is living like most people do. But it is not life. Living that way and ignoring the truth of life has to be traumatic or painful because everything you live for must die, change or pass away while you keep hoping it won’t."
As you can see, he's very direct. But don't mistake it all for negative gloom and doom. He follows the above by saying..
"Life is good because life is true. And it is every moment once you surrender the right to be unhappy. Surrender it now and you are free."
Start Meditating Now
How to Stop Thinking
by Barry Long
This is not a book, it's a 2 CD set of guided meditations by Barry Long that take you further and further into stillness. I find these meditations really helpful, and it's appropriate for both beginners and experienced meditators.
The Sacred Path of the Warrior
by Chögyam Trungpa
Chogyam Trungpa was Pema Chodron's teacher. This wonderful little book is a guide on how to live, and live fully.
"The goal of warriorship is to express basic goodness in its most complete, fresh, and brilliant form. This is possible when you realize that you do not possess basic goodness but that you are the basic goodness itself. Therefore, training yourself to be a warrior is learning to rest in basic goodness, to rest in a complete state of simplicity."
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
by Chögyam Trungpa
Trungpa's spiritual classic on what may be the greatest trap for Westerners, the tendency to use spirituality as a means to achieve ego based goals including the creation of a "better self".
In Search of the Miraculous
by P.D. Ouspensky
Ouspensky's account of Gurdjieff's teachings as they travel from Russia to France via Istanbul (often on foot) during the Russian revolution. It's worth reading for that amazing story alone. This is widely acknowledged as the best account of Gurdjieff's teachings, although when reading this book I'd suggest you consider that some of the teachings and concepts are allegorical.
Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
All And Everything: 1st Series
One of the key concepts of Gurdjieff's teaching is that real self knowledge is only acquired through conscious effort. Subsequently Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson was deliberately written to be at times difficult to understand, even to the extent of creating unpronounceable words for everyday items or to express concepts.It's certainly not an easy read, and at over 1000 pages it's not exactly light going. Nonetheless, if you have read In Search of the Miraculous and want to read more Gurdjieff, then consider "Beelzebub" as it was his magnum opus.
Freedom from the Known
If you haven't read Krishnamurti before then this book is a good place to start as it clearly expounds his message whilst being direct and concise.
"To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this, a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor."
This is a very intellectually dense book, written in a similar format to a psychology text. As the title states, it's an object relations approach to the structure of the personality from a spiritual perspective. If you are interested in Almaas but want to try a less formally psychological approach than this you could try his Diamond Heart series which is a collection of talks which are considerably less technical and are much easier to read.
The Pathwork of Self-Transformation
by Eva Pierrakos
This book was recommended to me and if I'd have known it was "channeled" I never would have bought it. But I'm really glad I didn't know as it's a really good book. In some ways it's almost Jungian as many of the chapters deal with integrating the shadow aspects of our personality. It's a very practical book, and one which you can return to during different phases of your life for advice and perspective.