We all know about the big spiritual doctrines: The Bible, The Koran, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Tao Te Ching, but there are other books that have the spiritual substance to split your heart wide open and cut your previously held perceptions to shreds with their sacred ruthlessness and transcendent magnanimity. Keep in mind that the books chosen are just the opinion of the author.
You should in no way be limited by this short selection. There are just as many books that I could have switched out for the following that are just as deserving. Look at them like stepping stones or springboards toward higher reading, if you will. Either way, please enjoy the soulful nourishment of the following eight books that every spiritual seeker should read.
1) Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin
“The caterpillar is to the butterfly as an uninitiated ego is to an initiated one. The imaginal buds are to the caterpillar as the soul is to the uninitiated ego.” ~ Bill Plotkin
Nature and the Human Soul is a spiritual blueprint for the healthy advancement of the human soul. In it, Bill Plotkin takes us on a heroic journey through the Eight Soul-centric/Eco-centric Stages of Human Development. It begins with The Innocent in the Nest, followed by The Explorer in the Garden, and then The Thespian at the Oasis.
These three stages round out the lower ego-centered stages of human development. The majority of people in Western society never get beyond these stages, and so authentic psychological and spiritual maturity has become an uncommon achievement, and genuine, venerated elder-hood is nearly nonexistent.
Arguably the most critical stage is the fourth: The Wanderer in the Cocoon, where the ego is deconstructed (ego death), and we learn how to stretch comfort zones, break mental paradigms, and pass through existential thresholds. Upon exiting the cocoon, our ego becomes fully formed (individuated), and we become a creature with the capacity to experience “soul initiation” (self-actualization). The stages continue with The Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring, The Artisan in the Wild Orchard, The Master in the Grove of Elders, and end with The Sage in the Mountain Cave.
2) The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
“You haven’t yet opened your heart fully, to life, to each moment. The peaceful warrior’s way is not about invulnerability, but absolute vulnerability–to the world, to life, and to the Presence you felt. All along I’ve shown you by example that a warrior’s life is not about imagined perfection or victory; it is about love. Love is a warrior’s sword; wherever it cuts, it gives life, not death.” ~ Dan Millman
If you want to learn about the Zen of fearlessness then the way of the peaceful warrior for you. Based on a true story about Dan Millman’s youth, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a teacher-student story pitting the naïve and passionate student, Dan, with the wise and resolute teacher, Socrates. Socrates teaches Dan how the peaceful warrior’s way is a spiritual path of absolute vulnerability in the moment.
Socrates: “Where are you?”
Socrates: “What time is it?”
Socrates: “What are you?”
Dan: “This moment.”
He teaches how courage, strength, and discipline are the foundation of love. He teaches Dan how courage is not being invulnerable. It is a soft plasticity. He reveals how there is strength in absolute vulnerability that those with invulnerable power can never know. We are all ordinary human beings having an extraordinary experience. There are no ordinary moments, only ordinary precepts and perceptions. This book is the spiritual seeker’s Rocky. The inspiration gained will leave your heart bursting with courageous love.
3) The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
“Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level.” ~ Ernest Becker
Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 1974, The Denial of Death builds on the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, and Otto Rank, among others. This is a tour de force of existential anxiety meets higher reasoning.
Becker grabs us by the ankles, chops off the makeshift wings given to us by cultural conditioning, and brings us back down to earth, where he exposes our hypocrisy and how we are nothing more than insecure, fallible creatures “who need continued affirmation of our powers.” But then he reveals the more authentic path to enlightenment and spirituality: making our own wings through the discovery of the “symbolic self.” It is through this continued artistic affirmation that we discover our symbolic self, which we use to transcend the limits of our insignificance through art and higher creativity.
This leads to our embarking on an “immortality project,” in which we become part of something we feel will last forever, beyond death. It is at this point that we transcend the dilemma of mortality through cosmic heroism. Becker speaks like his own tongue was the tongue of a Hero of a Thousand Faces itself, lashing like existential whips at the heart of the human condition. He forces our head over the edge of the abyss, challenging us to trump small-mindedness by being heroically creative and responsible for bringing meaning, purpose, and significance to the bigger picture of our lives.
4) Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes
“As with any descent into the unconscious, there comes a time when one simply hopes for the best, pinches one’s nose, and jumps into the abyss. If this were not so, we would not have needed to create the words heroine, hero, or courage.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Women Who Run With the Wolves is a masterpiece of mythological insight and should be read by all people, but especially women. It takes the reader through wise fables, parables, legends, and myths while interpreting it through a feminine, eco-conscious lens of “deep knowing” that mystically reveals how all things can be connected through the power of human stories.
Particularly poignant is the following wise alliteration of spiritual advice – forego: leave it alone; forebear: abstain from punishment; forget: refuse to dwell; and forgive: abandon the debt.
Pinkola-Estes strikes the heart of the female condition, while also tapping the cornerstone of the human condition, by revealing the elusive philosopher’s stone of deep Truth in balance with the human soul. Through wild knowing and sacred mythmaking, this book is a salve for the many wounds inherent within the human condition, and a spiritual boon for the religiously perplexed. Wild woman (La Loba, Wolf Woman) has much to teach women, let alone men. As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes advises in the book, “Be homesick for wild knowing.”
5) Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
“This ceaseless change does not mean discontinuity as a person; rather change is itself the very basis of our continuity as a person. It is because I cannot see what you see that I can see at all.” ~ James P. Carse
Finite and Infinite Games is a succinct and gripping exploration of the human condition seen through the lens of a unique flavor of game theory. Carse introduces two contrasting game players: the Finite Player and the Infinite Player. He explains how “a boundary is a phenomenon of opposition (finite). A horizon is a phenomenon of vision (infinite).”
The spiritual undertones are exemplary, and a kind of sacred humor is felt throughout. The Finite Player plays within boundaries, while the Infinite Player plays with boundaries. The Finite Player plays in all seriousness, while the Infinite Player plays in jest. The Finite Player plays for power, while the Infinite Player plays with power.
The Finite Player consumes time, while the Infinite Player generates time. The Finite Player aims for eternal life, while the Infinite Player aims for eternal rebirth. For the Finite Player, the rules of the game always stay the same; while for the Infinite Player, the rules of the game must change in order to continue play. For the Finite Player the game inevitably ends, while for the Infinite Player the game phenomenally continues. The only true infinite game is the game of life.
6) PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul by Giulio Tononi
“Murky thoughts, like murky waters, can serve two purposes only: to hide what lies beneath, which is our ignorance, or to make the shallow seem deep” ~ Giulio Tononi
Phi takes the reader on a mind-altering journey through the nature of consciousness. It interweaves science, art, and the imagination with golden ratios, Fibonacci sequences, and fractal cosmology. The reader has the joy of perceiving the world through such masters as Galileo, Alan Turing, Darwin and Francis Crick, among others. From neuroscience to pseudoscience, from deep introspection to mindful meditation, Tononi elucidates on how consciousness is an evolving, ever-deepening awareness of ourselves as finite, spiritual beings in an infinite universe.
We learn how consciousness is integrated information and how the power of that integration requires the utmost responsibility and credulity. It teaches how the brain is the seat of our perceptions, and is a creative force par excellence, and can even create new shapes and new qualia and how, by growing consciousness, the universe comes more and more into being, and synthesizes the one and the many, the ego and eco, the individual and interdependence of all things.
7) A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
“When the creative power of the universe becomes conscious of itself, it manifests as joy. You don’t have to wait for something “meaningful” to come into your life so that you can finally enjoy what you do. There is more meaning in joy than you will ever need.
The “waiting to start living” is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change is more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already, instead of waiting for some change so you can start enjoying what you do.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
This is the self-improvement book to end all self-improvement books. Capitalizing on the monumental success of his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle takes the reader on a spiritual journey on how to create happiness without material possession in the present moment. According to Tolle, the book’s singular purpose is “not to add new information or beliefs to your mind or to try to convince you of anything, but to bring about a shift in consciousness.”
He is intent upon instilling a mindset of honest self-evaluation and puts forth a concept of “evolutionary transformation of human consciousness” in order to change the way human being’s perceive reality. He proceeds to vivisect the ego, and from the carnage rises the unvanquishable soul of the human condition, which is eternally present and thus forever joyful in the moment. A New Earth teaches, above all else, how important it is for human beings to create and to cultivate meaning in the here and now.
“Belief in truth begins with doubts of all truths in which one has previously believed.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Thus Spoke Zarathustra is arguably Nietzsche’s magnum opus. It is incredibly well-crafted, and turning the human soul inside out seems to be its main objective. If the reader is open enough to receive it, the message of self-overcoming is well-received. Otherwise it loses readers in a sea of mystical but entertaining highfalutin.
It has everything from the death of God to the rise of the primordial Übermensch to themes of “eternal recurrence.” It possesses a unique experimental style, sang in poetic dithyrambs narrated by the books protagonist and instigator, Zarathustra. It’s neither prose nor poetry, neither non-fiction nor fiction, but subsumes it all, somehow, rising above the typical.
It breaks all the literary rules but comes out smelling like a bouquet of roses someone laid on God’s grave. Nietzsche’s elegant and far-reaching conclusion is that while autonomy and self-overcoming are not easily attained, their absence proves catastrophic to both the individual, culture, and the world, as interdependence (self-overcoming in communion with cosmos) cannot be achieved without the freedom of independence (individuation) from codependency (dogmatism). As Nietzsche pleaded, “I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes.”