“No two persons ever read the same book.” ~ Edmund Wilson
There are so many good books out there with the potential to enliven the spirit, open up the heart, and invigorate the soul that we couldn’t leave it at just one article (Eight Books Every Spiritual Seeker Should Read), so we decided to write another one. From the more esoteric Bhagavad Gita and Urantia books, to the more metaphysic Celestine Prophecy and The Secret, books have a way of opening us up that no other form of art can.
As before, 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 probably books out there that the author hasn’t even read that deserve to be on this list.
There is always more to read. Like Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
So I beg of you, get out there and read. And then come back here and challenge this list. That way we can all benefit. As Jim Rohn said, “The book you don’t read won’t help.” So without further ado, I present the second list of books every spiritual seeker should read.
1) The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
“The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” ~ William James
Originally delivered as two sets of lectures called the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 1901, the Varieties of Religious Experience is a penetrating gaze into the human heart and its tendency toward experiencing reality religiously. Jam-packed with first-person quotes, Varieties has shaped contemporary conceptions of religious and spiritual experience.
It’s a philosophical inquiry into the psychology of first-hand spiritual experience. It broke the mold for how religion and spirituality was studied. Explaining the religious life in a nutshell, James said, “It consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”
James brought to the academic world not only the blueprints for his idea of pragmatism, but also a healthy and optimistic way of interpreting the spiritual experience of others. He also introduces an elegant typology that divides religious experience into two categories: Healthy-mindedness and morbid-mindedness.
The former mindset believes in a cosmos that is harmonious and healthy, where one need only bring themselves in harmony with it in order to sustain suffering and pain and to achieve happiness. The latter mindset believes in a world where evil is real and genuine happiness requires its defeat. His now sustainable philosophy of pragmatism is the essence of healthy-mindedness.
2) The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” ~ Joseph Campbell, introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces
This is a powerful and moving work of comparative mythology. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell introduces the mytheme and the overall monomyth of the continuing human leitmotif.
In laying out the monomyth, he describes the stages of the Hero’s Journey, the most noteworthy stages being: the call to adventure, threshold, revelation, transformation, atonement, and return. Campbell also elucidates on the power of myth using Jungian archetypes.
The book is treated like a blueprint for the fundamental structure of stories and myths that have the potential to stand the test of time, inspiring such mythological stories as Star Wars and Harry Potter, among others. Applied personally, Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Journey can provide a meaningful vehicle for spiritual revelation and existential insight, launching the individual out of the merely mundane experience of life and into an authentic and extraordinary experience of the limits of the human condition (and maybe even into one’s very own Self-inflicted Philosophy).
3) The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
Heavily influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, Kahlil Gibran wrote The Prophet with an Übermensch-like poetic verve. It’s a tiny book of 26 prose-poetry essays about a prophet, Almustafa, who has a candid discussion with a group of people regarding life and the human condition.
In deep introspective dialogue and with Oracle of Delphi-like wisdom, Almustafa discusses a wide range of issue; everything from crime and punishment to reason and passion, from good and evil to spirituality and death. He exhibits a general tendency to show, through metaphor and allusions to nature, the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of life and all things.
In true yin-yang audaciousness he urges his listeners to be circumspect of duality and to find some aspect of good within the bad, and vice versa. The Prophet remains a prominent fixture of spiritual writing that continues to greatly influence spiritual seekers the world over.
4) The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
“Creativity—like human life itself—begins in darkness.” ~ Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way is in the “Self-publishing Hall of Fame,” and is one of the most popular self-help books of all time. Written as a comprehensive twelve-week program, she emphasizes the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life. This book speaks to the artistic soul within us all. It links creativity to spirituality by showing how to connect with the creative energies of the universe.
She recommends two ongoing core activities to overcome blocks and self-defeating tendencies: morning pages and artist’s dates. Morning pages are daily stream-of-consciousness writings about anything at all (I call mine Meditative Writings), which overcomes the writer’s internal censor and makes writing habitual. The artist’s date is a weekly block of two hours spent simply observing, experiencing, and sensing the world.
The connection to the universe experienced within the throes of creativity is the primary experiences in this book, which jumpstarts both the creative and spiritual process. Like she says in the book, “God is an artist. So are we. And we can cooperate with each other. Our creative dreams and longings come from a divine source, not necessarily from the human ego.”
5) The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
The Teachings of Don Juan was actually written as a Master’s thesis in anthropology, submitted at the University of California in 1968. Documenting the events that took place during an apprenticeship with a self-proclaimed Yaqui Indian Sorcerer, Don Juan Matus from Sonora, Mexico, this book is a masterpiece of ruthless spiritual insurgence, utterly unique in scope and subject matter.
It’s a no-holds-barred teacher-student story of how to become a “man of knowledge,” and how to be masterful and have “intention” in all that one does in life. It’s a vivid yet dark and spiritually disturbing journey between worlds that blends both shamanism and sorcery using the vehicle of peyote, revealing that the universe is more than our immediate perception of it.
6) Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” ~ Hermann Hesse
Siddhartha is a tour de force of spiritual discovery. Considered Herman Hesse’s magnum opus, it takes the reader on a spiritual journey like no other. The novel is structured on Buddha’s four noble truths (Part One) and the eight-fold noble path (Part Two) which form the twelve chapters in the novel.
Siddhartha’s journey shows that the best way to approach the understanding of reality and attain enlightenment is through a totality of consciousness that doesn’t focus on separate events in life but looks more holistically upon life as an interconnected whole. He learns that wisdom cannot be taught, but must come from one’s own experience and inner struggle.
In the end of the book, Siddhartha doesn’t discover true wisdom through any single teacher, but through the understanding of all his experiences combined, put into perspective by “listening” to a river that roars in a funny way (a language older than words, perhaps?) and to a wise, old, smiling ferryman.
It’s a masterwork of spiritual self-discovery that presents a strikingly unique view of man in relationship with cosmos, and the arduous process of discovering meaning in a meaningless universe.
7) Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.” ~ Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael
Awarded the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, Ishmael s a novel that uses a kind of Socratic dialectic to deconstruct the notion that human beings are the pinnacle of creation on planet earth.
Ishmael is a Gorilla who is able to communicate telepathically. He takes on a nameless human student and proceeds to teach his philosophy using the Socratic method of dialogue.
He teaches his student about “Taker” societies and “Leaver” societies, and how Takers are always breaking the immutable laws of nature. Ishmael explains, “The premise of the Takers’ story is ‘The world belongs to man.’ …The premise of the Leavers’ story is ‘Man belongs to the world.’”
Ishmael argues that civilized societies (takers) are failing the world, and that human supremacy is nothing more than a cultural myth, asserting that Takers are enacting that myth with dangerous consequences, such as endangered or extinct species, global warming, and modern mental health illnesses. This novel is truly an adventure of the mind and spirit that forces us to think outside of the box of our anthropocentric tendency to perceive an otherwise indifferent and interdependent cosmos.
“Beware of the person of one book.” ~ Thomas Aquinas
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts