Books have the ability to take you on a transformative spiritual journey without ever leaving home.
Besides the Hebrew Bible and David Hinton’s translations of the Tao te Ching and Chuang Tzu, there are a small number of books that are always within my arm’s reach. While each is unique, all are profound articulations of Perennial Wisdom, the shared truth at the mystic heart of all religion. Here are five of them.
1. The Book by Alan Watts
Alan Watts (1915-1973) became what I call a spiritually independent seeker and sage, and he’s most well-known for his insights into Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The Book is his exploration of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, the Hinduism into which I was initiated many years ago. The Book’s subtitle, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, lets you know that this book is a mirror reflecting who you really are—not the ego-self defined by gender, sex, race, religion, nationality, and the like, but the Divine Self, a manifesting of God beyond all labels, isms, and ideologies.
2. The First and Last Freedom by J. Krishnamurti
If I were to name one sage who speaks to those of us who sense that Truth lies beyond the limits of organized religion and sacred opinion, it would be J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986). If I were to name one of his books that lays out his insights in the most clear and compelling manner it would be The First and Last Freedom. Add to this Aldous Huxley’s marvelous introduction, and you have one of the best introductions to Truth available.
3. I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj
Sri Nidargadatta Maharaj (1893-1981) was a shopkeeper and sage unattached to any religion and devoted to experiencing the truth of your own divinity. This collection of conversations with visitors who came to see him in his apartment above his shop is a deep dive into the mind of an awakened human being who—even as you engage with him through these transcripts—invites you to awaken to the Self each of us is.
4. The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) is best known as the author of Brave New World and Island, books I also cherish, but it is The Perennial Philosophy that I refer to again and again. Huxley writes, “The Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of people in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.” Huxley’s anthology, while not perfect (if you are looking for “perfect” read this book along with my own Perennial Wisdom anthology, The World Wisdom Bible), is a great resource for Wisdom found in and yet pointing beyond all religions.
5. I and Thou by Martin Buber
In an age of self-isolation heightened by COVID and rooted in our narcissistic addiction to social media, authentic dialogue between people, and between people and nature, is as vital as it is rare. The kind of dialogue Buber promotes reveals the sacredness of self and other, I and Thou, and places this holy dialogue at the heart of what it is to be human. Where the other books on my list focus on the One who manifests the many, Buber’s I and Thou celebrates the many as a conduit to the One.
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