BE HERE NOW

by Ram Dass
(1971)

Two main aspects stand out: its uniquely peculiar & interesting format and its nearly unparalleled influence on modern day spiritual seekers.

Ram Dass, born Dr. Richard Alpert, was an influential Harvard professor of psychology in the 1940s.
He was considered successful by all of the typical standards of how the world sees success. But he wasn’t happy. His professor-neighbor down the hall was Dr. Timothy Leary, who one day asked Dr. Alpert to join him in experimenting with psychedelic substances. After his first experiences with psychedelics, everything changed. He witnessed his own ego death and began devoting substantial effort into their research. He and Dr. Leary were eventually fired from Harvard due to their commitment to studying these chemical properties and their effects in an academic setting.

Upon his dramatic removal from his position, Dr. Alpert traveled the world searching for “someone who knew”. On the verge of giving up completely, he finally found Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji (“Great King”), in a secluded ashram at the feet of the Himalayas. In their first meeting, Maharajji shared such intimate details of Dr. Alpert’s life and experiences that Alpert ended up staying at the ashram for eight months, eventually dedicating his life to “spreading the gospel” of Eastern mysticism and Hindu philosophy as Ram Dass, “servant of God”.

These are books that live in our heart...

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The Undiscovered Self

by Carl Jung
(1957)

Jung, the psychologist who’s been called “the Darwin of the mind”, wrote these essays reflecting on the post-WWII world and the imperative need for every individual to continue to become more aware of ourselves in order to carry civilization forward.“It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption.”

Ramakrishna and His Disciples

by Christopher Isherwood
(1965)

Isherwood’s “Ramakrishna and His Disciples” has become one of two or three annual reads for me. It’s a spiritual book doubling as a historical biography of a “phenomenon”, who lived at the end of the 19th century. 

The author, Christopher Isherwood, was a gay British convert to Hinduism who lived for years in one of the first ashrams in California in the 50s-60s (under Swami Prabhavananda). He’s most well-known for “A Strange Man” which became a Coen brothers film, but this book focuses on the spiritual namesake of his guru’s lineage. Because Isherwood is writing for Western readers, he contextualizes even esoteric aspects of Hinduism very well, alongside a vivid portrait of 19th century India under the British Raj.

All this to say the central character, Ramakrishna, is just pure love. 

Ramakrishna has such simple, yet powerful connective stanzas like, 

“Let me be condemned to be born over and over again, even in the form of a dog, if by doing so I can be of help to a single soul, I will give up twenty thousand such bodies to help one man.”

His power of connection is very clear, and Isherwood contextualizes beautifully.

An End to Upside Down Thinking

by Mark Gober
(2018)

Finally, a thoroughly-grounded scientific examination of spiritual concepts! Gober “explores compelling scientific evidence from a diverse set of disciplines, ranging from psychic phenomena, to near-death experiences, to quantum physics. With cutting-edge thinkers like two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Ervin Laszlo, Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences Dr. Dean Radin and more supporting this thesis, this book will rock the scientific community and mainstream generalists interested in understanding the true nature of reality.”

Gober’s thesis is that scientific materialism—that matter is fundamental—is outdated. Data based on too many anomalies across the sciences is starting to articulate that not matter, but consciousness, is the fundamental layer of the universe.

The Five Gospels

by Robert W. Funk
(1996)

Funk and the Jesus Seminar group of Bible scholars, despite being authoritative academics, controversially do two things in this essential read for Christians and anyone interested in the teachings of Jesus. 1) They consider The Gospel of Thomas to be as early as the three synoptic Gospels and John. And they explain in great detail why they date it so early. 2) They assign a color code (red, pink, gray or black) to every verse in all five texts, based on a new system they devised to determine likelihood and ultimately legitimacy. It is a fascinating intro to Bible scholarship as an analysis of Christ’s message across the earliest texts.

No Mud, No Lotus

by Thich Nhat Hanh
(2014)

Buddhism is the most thoroughly equipped system of belief for addressing suffering — the entire psychological process of the religion is based on what suffering is and how to overcome it. Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most prolific, respected Buddhist teachers in the world, most famously nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. “Nhat Hanh shares how the practices of stopping, mindful breathing, and deep concentration can generate the energy of mindfulness within our daily lives. With that energy, we can embrace pain and calm it down, instantly bringing a measure of freedom and a clearer mind. ‘No Mud, No Lotus’ introduces ways to be in touch with suffering without being overwhelmed by it.”

Loving What Is

by Byron Katie
(2003)

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”

Byron Katie and her process referred to as “The Work” is one of the most profound, effective techniques I’ve seen in nearly fifteen years of spiritual and psychological study. It is a method of self-inquiry consisting of four questions and a turnaround. Watch your false stories unravel.

How Can I Help?

by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
(1985)

A “practical helper’s companion” exploring the philosophy of serving others, with anecdotes from the helping professions, volunteers, activists, and friends & family trying to meet each other’s needs.

“A housewife brings zoo animals to lift the spirits of nursing home residents; a nun tends the wounded on the first night of the Nicaraguan revolution; a police officer talks a desperate father out of leaping from a roof with his child; a nurse allows an infant to spend its last moments of life in her arms rather than on a hospital machine. From many such stories and the authors’ reflections, we can find strength, clarity, and wisdom for those times when we are called on to care for one another.”

Autobiography of a Yogi

by Paramahansa Yogananda
(1946)

Paramahansa Yogananda is a foundational window into Hindu philosophy and Eastern practices for so many of us. George Harrison passed around his autobiography, it was the only book on Steve Jobs last iPad. Yogananda’s autobiography is effortless poetry that has deeply affected millions of seekers.

Yogananda was born in 1893 to two loving, spiritually-minded parents. A curious, contemplative child, he catalogs his early years in rural India, meeting a beautiful variety of saints & sages. These tales are so fantastical that he does have his fair share of skeptical critics, but his writing is so sharp and authentic that it’s hard to doubt the veracity of these events. He meets his guru, Sri Yukteswar, in his teens, living at his ashram for many years. Sri Yukteswar studied under the lineage the great Lahiri Mahasaya, and Mahavatar Babaji — the transmitters of “Kriya yoga”, a meditation technique involving the breath and spinal energy, awakening the higher centers. He meets absolute masters of spiritual instruction, famous scientists, and even Mahatma Gandhi. Eventually Yogananda is called to go westward to America, landing in 1920, ultimately founding three centers in California before his death in 1952.

Not only does he paint extraordinarily rich images of his life’s narrative, he devotes several chapters to the scientific and metaphysical principles underneath Kriya yoga practice and spirituality in general. His legacy has a fascinating exclamation mark in that the mortuary director who received, embalmed, and interred his body wrote a notarized letter that “the absence of any visual signs of decay in the dead body of Paramahansa Yogananda offers the most extraordinary case in our experience…no physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death…” It is no surprise to me, that this saint, so dedicated to evangelizing the metaphysical, even defied our material expectations on his deathbed.


Mystics & Zen Masters

by Thomas Merton
(1961)

There are so many misunderstandings about Zen and mystic philosophy. Merton effortlessly cuts through both the misconceptions and doctrinal obstacles: 

“All these studies are united by one central concern: to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the ‘way’ which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness.”

The Garland of Guru's Sayings: Guru Vachaka Kovai

by Sri Muruganar
(1971)

In the late 1920s Muruganar, an accomplished Tamil poet who had lived with Bhagavan for several years, began to collect the verbal teachings of his Guru, Ramana Maharshi. He recorded them in four-line Tamil verses. No questions were recorded, just the answers and statements on a wide variety of spiritual topics. By the late 1930s, Muruganar had completed over 800 of these verses, virtually all of which recorded a direct teaching statement that Bhagavan had uttered. In 1939 a decision was made to publish these teachings in book form. Bhagavan then asked Sadhu Natanananda, a Tamil scholar and devotee, to arrange the verses by subjects since there was no particular order or sequence in the material that Muruganar had amassed. After Natanananda had done this work and shown it to Bhagavan, Bhagavan himself thoroughly edited the work, modifying the sequences and adding many revisions. In addition to making these textual corrections, Bhagavan also composed new verses that he added at appropriate places in the text. Because of the care and attention that Bhagavan put into checking and revising these verses, we can be sure that their contents have his full approval.

Many of Bhagavan’s verbal teachings were recorded during his lifetime, but few of them were reviewed and edited by him. Guru Vachaka Kovai is the biggest collection of Bhagavan’s spoken teachings that was thoroughly checked and revised by him during his lifetime. As such it has a unique place in the Ramana literature. (David Godman)

Love Does Not Condemn: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil According to Platonism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and 'A Course in Miracles'

by Kenneth Wapnick
(1989)

Riveting, exhaustive scholarship on nondualism. This is Dr. Ken Wapnick’s masterpiece of religious and philosophical scholarship.

From the preface:
This book is an in-depth exploration of the non-dualistic metaphysics of ‘A Course in Miracles,’ and its integration with living in this fundamentally illusory world. It discusses how the Course resolves the God-world paradox that has existed in the Western world since the time of Plato namely, how an imperfect material universe could result from a perfect immaterial Creator. Thus, the context of this exploration is the Platonic and Gnostic themes that have run through Western intellectual and religious history, and the similarities and contrasts between these and the Course. Love Does Not Condemn is in three parts: the first part introduces the Gnostics, Platonists, and the Church-Gnostic conflict of the first two centuries A.D.; the second discusses a seven-stage myth, as understood by Platonism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and A Course in Miracles; the third compares and contrasts the four approaches in light of the God-world paradox, and concludes with a discussion of the errors common to the Gnostics and many students of the Course. The appendix includes the complete text of the important Gnostic document “The Gospel of Truth,” glossary of terms, table of dates, bibliography, subject and name index, and an index of Course references.