JOAN'S ANNOTATED RECOMMENDED READING LIST
This list of recommended authors and books about nonduality and waking up is based on my own tastes and resonances and is in no way intended to be a comprehensive, definitive or authoritative list of nondual or spiritual books. I'm not endorsing every single word spoken or written by any of these authors (including Joan Tollifson). The list includes books from a variety of different perspectives (Advaita, Buddhism, radical nonduality, Taoism, Sufism, Christianity, brain science, and so on). Some of the books and authors listed below may appear to contradict each other. Some of them say that the entire movie of waking life (including you and your whole spiritual journey) is all nothing but a dream-like illusion, while others appear to take the phenomenal manifestation (and spiritual practice) very seriously. Some insist that there is nothing to do other than exactly what is happening, while others offer some kind of apparent process, practice or method for waking up. Some seem to suggest that "you" have the power of choice, while others say there is no "you" and that everything is the result of infinite causes and conditions over which no one has any control whatsoever. Who has it right? What should you believe? As soon as you open your mouth, you go astray. No words or concepts can capture reality. Maps are useful, but they can only describe and point to the territory itself. Eating the meal is what nourishes you, not reading the menu. Take what resonates and leave the rest behind. Don't believe anything you read. Question and look and see for yourself. The book that wakes you up one day may lull you to sleep the next. Everything changes. Always be ready to see something new and unexpected. --J.T.
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JOAN TOLLIFSON: Nothing to Grasp (2012); Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (2010); Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (2003); and Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (1996) − Of course I recommend my own books! All of them are about waking up from the imaginary problems created by thinking and discovering the aliveness and immediacy that is Here / Now. They all invite the reader to investigate directly for themselves rather than adopting new beliefs or concepts. My books all come from the understanding that the separate self is a mirage-like fiction, and at the same time, they all include material drawn from my own life -- experiences with depression, anger, addiction, difficult relationships -- all the usual human stuff, so that the abstract "teachings" are brought down to earth. A fifth book, tentatively titled Death: The End of Self-Improvement, is in progress and will hopefully be published in 2013. All my books are a celebration of what is, exactly as it is. Readers have expressed appreciation for the honesty, clarity and humor in all of them. More details here.
ALAN WATTS: The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are and The Wisdom of Insecurity − These two books are excellent. They are both very readable and will give you an excellent basic understanding of the nondual perspective found in Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and Taoism, but without any of the traditional baggage. Alan Watts was an unconventional, iconoclastic, renegade who left organized religion behind and went right to the heart of the matter, and this he communicated with great lucidity and always with a sense of humor and play. Watts was perhaps the single person most responsible for introducing Zen and eastern spirituality to America. If you haven't read him in a long time, he's definitely worth exploring anew, and if you've never read him before, by all means do. Clear, direct, right on the mark, and always enjoyable to read. Watts was a one-time Christian minister with a doctorate in theology who left the church and turned to Vedanta and Zen, both of which he came to understand deeply and experientially, to the core and the root. There are many other wonderful books (including The Way of Zen) and several fine audio collections available now, and you can find Alan Watts on YouTube as well. Very highly recommended. More here.
TONI PACKER: The Wonder of Presence; The Light of Discovery; Seeing Without Knowing / What Is Meditative Inquiry?; The Silent Question: Meditating in the Stillness of Not-Knowing; and The Work of This Moment − Toni was my main teacher (although she never used that word), and I am still learning from her. I spent five years living and working at the retreat center she founded in northwestern New York. I recommend Toni for the openness and explorative spirit that she so beautifully conveys, for the clarity with which she sees through all stories and beliefs, and for her remarkable ability to point to ultimate reality in a way that is utterly alive and immediate. Toni is passionately interested in listening and looking without answers or formulas, and without relying on the authority of the past. This is a rare quality. Toni was a Zen teacher who left the traditional rituals, beliefs, dogmas and hierarchy of formal Zen behind while keeping the heart of Zen very much alive. A kindred spirit to J. Krishnamurti, Toni is exceptionally good at clarifying the difference between awareness and thinking, and between direct perceiving and the conceptual overlay. She is wonderful at waking you up to the wonder, simplicity and immediacy of present moment awareness, the nondual absolute: the wind in the trees, the swaying grasses, the chirp of a bird, the hum of the air conditioner, the listening silence being and beholding it all. The mind habitually wants comforting, feel-good answers; Toni provides none: "No matter what state dawns at this moment, can there be just that? Not a movement away, an escape into something that will provide what this state does not provide, or doesn't seem to provide: energy, zest, inspiration, joy, happiness, whatever. Just completely, unconditionally listening to what's here now, is that possible?" There is a delicate subtlety and a spaciousness in her work that I love, combined with a relentless ability to slice through all forms of self-deception. She exposes and deconstructs the illusory thought-constructed separate self and the illusion of individual free will, but she never denies our human experience or turns "no self" or "no choice" into a new and limiting belief. Instead, she invites us to be present and aware, to wonder and not know what is possible or not possible. She speaks from the openness of listening presence and not from the tightness of thought and belief, and she is always wiling to start fresh and question everything anew. Her overall approach, which she calls "the work of this moment" or "meditative inquiry," is about attending to what is, questioning and investigating directly -- not by thinking and analyzing, but by looking and listening with awareness, and coming upon the undivided wholeness Here and Now. Toni looks closely at human suffering (anger, fear, compulsion, and so forth) and suggests meeting whatever is here with open interest and non-judgmental curiosity. She is no stranger to human pain and suffering -- Toni grew up half-Jewish in Nazi Germany, and in recent years, has been living with severe chronic pain and increasing disability. Since she left the Zen tradition behind, Toni has seen the roles of "teacher" and "student" as a divisive hindrance to the freedom of open inquiry, and she always regarded herself instead as a friend and fellow-explorer. In 1981, Toni and friends founded Springwater Center, a lovely 200 acre retreat center in rural northwestern NY where others now carry on her work, meeting with people and offering silent retreats. Springwater is utterly unique in its open and undogmatic approach. If you're looking for a place to do meditation, meditative inquiry or silent retreats free of religious tradition, authority, ritual or dogma, Springwater is wonderful. The atmosphere is open and spacious, inviting you to look and listen and find your own way. Toni has been seriously ill for over a decade and is no longer actively teaching, but her books and recorded talks continue to be available, and others now carry on her work at Springwater Center. I very highly recommend Toni's books and recorded talks, and I also highly recommend Springwater Center and the others who are now offering retreats there (Wayne Coger, Sandra Gonzalez and Richard Witteman). Audio tapes and CDs, videotapes and DVDs, a newsletter, and books (including my first book, Bare-Bones Meditation) are available here.
NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ: I Am That (translated by Maurice Frydman). This is the most well-worn book in my collection, and I recommend it very highly. It is a rare jewel. Nisargadatta was an exceptionally clear 20th century Indian guru − a family man and a shopkeeper, living and teaching in the back lanes of Bombay, where he died in 1981. I Am That is a collections of dialogs that Nisargadatta had with seekers from all over the world. His teaching is Advaita Vedanta, a form of Hinduism. Advaita, which means "not two," is a radical, direct, nontheistic, nondual teaching that does not rely on scriptures, dogma or tradition. Nisargadatta begins by calling attention to the aware presence or beingness Here / Now, what he sometimes calls the "I AM," the impersonal sense of being present: "Reality is what makes the present so vital," he says, "so different from the past and future, which are merely mental. If you need time to achieve something, it must be false." He then points beyond any idea we have about what is happening here, and beyond our deeply held assumption that what appears has any kind of inherent, objective reality, instead comparing everything perceivable and conceivable to a dream: "Just as the dream state is untrue, the waking state is also an appearance. Both happen spontaneously. Our talk is also taking place in a dream." Finally, Nisargadatta points beyond consciousness itself, to what is prior even to that first bare sense of being present and aware: "The sense of presence which has come spontaneously will leave spontaneously," he says. "The desire to be is the strongest of all desires and will go only on the realization of your true nature." So his teaching encompasses everything from the practice of "being here Now" to the realization that all of waking life is a dream-like appearance. There are a number of other collections of dialogs with NIsargadatta besides I Am That. I also very highly recommend Consciousness and the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (Maharaj's final and perhaps most radical teachings, edited by Jean Dunn) and Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj (paraphrases of Nisargadatta as remembered by Ramesh Balsekar). Other fine collections of Nisargadatta's teachings include: Seeds of Consciousness and Prior to Consciousness (edited by Jean Dunn) and The Wisdom-Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj: A Visual Journey (photos and text edited by Matthew Greenblatt). Robert Powell also edited serveral collections of dialogs including The Ultimate Medicine and The Experience of Nothingness. In addition, there are now several excellent DVDs about Nisargadatta and his teaching that I would very highly recommend. Awaken to the Eternal: A Journey of Self-Discovery, made by Bertram Salzman and Matthew Greenblatt, is available from Inner Directions, and it includes actual footage of Nisargadatta along with interviews with many people who spent time with him (Jack Kornfield, Robert Powell, Jean Dunn, and others). NetiNeti Films (Zaya and Maurizio Benazzo in collaboration with Stephen Wolinsky) have produced a number of DVDs about Nisargadatta and his teachings, as interpreted by Wolinsky, who throws in some quantum physics and neuroscience, along with many (to me, tedious) guided meditations that he (Wolinsky) has devised. I'm a bit leery of the way Wolinsky sets himself up as “a direct disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj” and an authority on Maharaj’s teachings, but that aside, I resonate with much of what Wolinsky has to say, and there is some excellent material in all these NetiNeti DVDs, including some actual footage of Nisargadatta. Nisargadatta is one of the clearest and most profound nondual teachers that I have ever encountered. I recommend him very highly, and especially I Am That.
STEVE HAGEN: Buddhism Is Not What You Think; Meditation Now or Never; Buddhism Plain & Simple; and Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense -- These are all excellent, outstanding books, all of which I very highly recommend. I'd suggest you start with Buddhism Is Not What You Think. Steve is one of the clearest, most awake and most articulate Zen teachers I've ever encountered, and he has been a very important teacher for me. Many books and teachings give you something to hold onto, however subtle it might be, but Steve gives you absolutely nothing to hang onto, and he shows you that this alone is true freedom. This is the radical kind of Buddhism that offers no dogmas and no beliefs, the kind that is about nothing more or less than waking up now. Steve points to direct seeing, and the understanding he conveys about emptiness, impermanence, enlightenment and nonduality is so subtle and clear and complete that it instantly dissolves anything that we try to grasp onto, leaving only the vibrant immediacy of what is, as it is. Steve is excellent at clarifying the distinction between Reality and our ideas about Reality, between conceptual thought and direct perception. He goes right to the heart of what creates human suffering, exposing the habitual tendency to grasp life and to mistake the map for the territory. I especially appreciate how Steve talks about emptiness, not as a big empty space that contains all the forms, but rather, as the impermanence that "is so complete, so thorough, that nothing is formed in the first place to be impermanent." He completely erases all the false dualistic divides between form and emptiness, mind and matter, free will and determinism. Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense: An Inquiry into Science, Philosophy, and Perception is more scientific in nature and not always as easy to read as Steve's other books, but it is well worth the effort. That book was originally published as How the World Can Be the Way It Is, but the new edition, Why the World Doesn't Seem to Make Sense, is updated and revised, and I recommend the newer edition. A Zen priest in the lineage of Dainin Katagiri and a former science researcher, Steve founded Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis. He teaches Zen practice in a bare-bones, stripped-down way, without much ceremony or fanfare. It is still formal Zen practice, however, and I'm not drawn anymore to formal practice of that kind, so he occasionally says things that I don't resonate with about sitting postures and hand positions and so on, but everything he says about life (and about the true heart of real meditation) is right on the mark. I have found Steve to be truly humble, awake, down to earth, and very bright. He is a true Zen Master, in my opinion, although he would never tell you that. He retired as Head Teacher at Dharma Field in 2012 and named his long-time student Bev Forsman to succeed him. Steve continues to teach there along with Bev and several others. I would very highly recommend Dharma Field to anyone who feels drawn to formal Zen practice. All the teachers there are excellent, and it is an open-minded, no-nonsense place that practices the true and simple heart of Zen. You can find a wealth of excellent talks and classes by Steve and other Dharma Field teachers on the Dharma Field website. You can also read some writing by Bev Forsman on her blog, Letters from Emptiness. All of Steve's books, talks, and classes are very highly recommended.
DARRYL BAILEY: Dismantling the Fantasy and Essence Revisited − Darryl's books are the clearest, simplest, most unencumbered and articulate descriptions of the seamless and automatic nature of reality that I've come across. He shows you that in reality there is no solid or enduring form and no separate self, that everything is an undivided, compulsive happening that could not be otherwise than exactly how it is: "Whatever we are now, whatever we're doing now, is an inexplicable movement accomplishing itself. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken away from it...We don’t exist as anything apart from this flow." Darryl's writing is elegantly spare, direct, unpretentious and refreshingly free of dogma, jargon or excess baggage of any kind. His perspective is what I like to call radical nonduality, meaning that it is a description of what is, not a prescription for how to fix it. In radical nonduality, no path or practice is on offer, and there is no emphasis on self-improvement or saving the world. It is recognized that there is no one apart from this inexplicable and seamless event to "know" it or to control it in any way. Darryl’s expression is ultimately the dismantling of all descriptions, leaving only the inconceivable and vibrant aliveness of what is. Although Darryl offers no path, he actually spent many years exploring awareness practices from many traditions, Eastern and Western, and he's not against these things, but he's not advocating them either. For him, the most liberating realization, and the focus of his books, is that everything is an undivided, automatic, ownerless happening that can never be understood by the mind. As he sees it, to suggest that there is something that needs to be done other than what is already happening simply reinforces the central illusion of a separate self with free will. "Spiritual liberation frees you from the misery-inducing fantasy of perfecting yourself," he writes. "In this moment, I am what I am; you are what you are; we’re both the dance of the cosmos. Liberation isn’t the act of breaking free of this. Liberation is knowing it can’t be otherwise." Before coming to that simple and radical realization, Darryl studied with mindfulness meditation teacher Ruth Denison for nine years, spent six years as a Buddhist monk under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho, had recurring contact with J. Krishnamurti and a significant connection with the Advaita sage Robert Adams. Darryl has an earlier book, Buddhessence, that distills the core teachings of the Buddha. Darryl currently lives in Winnipeg, Canada and offers "explorations" at a local yoga center and occasionally elsewhere. He has worked as an ice fisherman, bus driver, suit salesman, childcare worker, carpenter and maintenance man among other things, and he currently works in a warehouse. These books are absolute jewels. In addition to the books, audio and video is available on his website. All very highly recommended. More here.
ECKHART TOLLE: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose; Stillness Speaks; The Power of Now and Practicing the Power of Now – Eckhart is an exceptionally clear contemporary teacher whose focus is on Here and Now, or what he calls Being, the "eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death." His approach is nonconceptual and practice-oriented (bringing attention to the present moment, being aware of Being, waking up from the entrancement in thought), and his expression is refreshingly free of conventional religious or dogmatic trappings. If you're looking for a bare-bones, nondual approach to meditation and present moment living, Eckhart is great. He distills the essence of intelligent meditation practices, stripping away the excess structure and form, until what remains is a very simple and direct way of exploring the present moment and waking up from thought-created entrancement. He once described his teaching as being like a marriage of Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti, and that feels on the mark to me. Eckhart's presence transmits a listening stillness and an openness that you can feel in his books as well. If you're all tied up in mental knots trying to think your way to enlightenment, Eckhart is excellent at waking you up from the mental trance of concepts and beliefs, and bringing you into the spacious aliveness and immediacy of presence. He illuminates the workings of the egoic mind with exceptional clarity and offers an intelligent way of working with difficult emotions, compulsions and neurotic patterns (what he calls the pain-body). He has managed to speak to a wide range of people in a way that they can hear, which I think is wonderful, but in the course of that, he does sometimes have a New Agey flavor that doesn't resonate here, and he is sometimes promoted in New Agey ways, with titles such as "Finding Your Life's Purpose" or "Manifesting Abundance in Your Life," but when you really listen to what he's actually saying in these talks, you find that he always brings it right back to the utter simplicity of Here / Now. "The New Earth," for example, turns out to be not some utopian future, but simply being fully present and awake Here / Now. That's really the beauty of his teaching—that he wakes the listener up to the boundlessness of Here and Now, not as an idea or a concept, but as a direct experiential reality. German by birth, Eckhart now lives in western Canada. There is tremendous depth and subtlety in all of Eckhart's books and tapes, and I recommend them very highly. A New Earth is his most comprehensive and recent book, and the one I would most recommend for getting his complete teaching. Stillness Speaks is a highly distilled jewel that offers the essence of his message in sutra-like form—exquisitely clear and simple. The Power of Now was Eckhart's first book, and it is excellent. Practicing the Power of Now is a short book that distills some of the key material in The Power of Now along with some new material, also very good. There is a great deal of audio and video also available. Some of my favorites have been discontinued, but some excellent DVDs that I believe are still available include: Finding Your Life's Purpose and The Art of Presence. Some excellent CDs I enjoyed include: Through the Open Door and Stillness Admidst the World. And there are many others available that I haven't seen or heard, with new ones being added all the time, and I'm sure they're all probably excellent. Very highly recommended. More here.
JON BERNIE: Ordinary Freedom -- Beautiful, gorgeous book! One of the clearest and most refreshingly alive articulations of what this is really all about that I've come across. Jon doesn't give you philosophy, metaphysics or a bunch of mental ideas to think about, but rather, he invites you to let go into the openness and vibrancy of "this presence, this energy that we fundamentally are, right now...the unknown, the unspeakable." He talks about learning how to let things be exactly as they are, dropping out of conceptual thought into a process of exploration and discovery that is sensory and energetic, being present as boundless awareness and allowing whatever is showing up to move through. Jon lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was asked to teach by Adyashanti. Before being with Adya, Jon had practiced Zen and Theravada Buddhism, had been an ordained Zen monk, had also been with Advaita teachers Jean Klein, Papaji and Robert Adams, and had spent time with Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. Jon is also a counselor in private practice and in the past has been both a concert violinist and a teacher of the Alexander Technique. He speaks with a voice that feels authentic, original, unpretentious, alive to the unknown and grounded in presence. An excellent book, one of the very best. Very highly recommended. More here.
'SAILOR' BOB ADAMSON: A Sprinkling of Jewels: Insights into Non-Duality; Presence-Awareness: Just This and Nothing Else; What's Wrong with Right Now Unless You Think About It? and One Essence Appearing as Everything -- Sailor Bob is a contemporary Australian who spent time with Nisargadatta Maharaj in the 1970's. Bob communicates radical nonduality in a clear and simple way, drawing from Advaita, Dzogchen, and his own direct seeing. With Bob, there are no carrots being dangled in front of you, no ego candy, no frills, no sidetracks or compromises, no guru-posturing, no bullshit, no glossy fanfare, no Bob. His message is direct, clean and clear. Bob shows you that there is always only presence-awareness, the undivided intelligence-energy that vibrates into different patterns but is always the One-without-a-second from which no separation is ever possible. You already are what you seek; there will never be any more Oneness than there is now. Bob never buys into the story that "this isn't it," and he never holds out the fantasy of some final finish-line to be crossed in the future. I met him in person in Chicago in 2004, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with him. I found him to be a very generous, kind, sincere, awake, down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy with genuine humility, completely devoted to sharing this simple and profound realization. He doesn't set himself above those who come to him, he always affirms that you are already That, and he points uncompromisingly to the aliveness Here / Now: “The value of any insight, understanding, or realisation can only be in the ever-fresh presence of the moment…The idea of enlightenment or self-realisation as a onetime event or a lasting and permanent state or experience is an erroneous concept.” Bob is a rare jewel. In addition to the books, there is a wonderful interview of Bob by Peter Lawry on DVD called Just This...Nothing Else that I very highly recommend. It goes deep and is exquisitely done. And there are two excellent books about Bob that I would also recommend: Only That: The Life and Teaching of Sailor Bob Adamson (by Kalyani Lawry), and Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer with Sailor Bob Adamson (by James Braha), both of which include photos and dialogs with Bob and convey his teaching. You can learn more about Bob and find other video and audio as well at his web site here. Very highly recommended.
LEO HARTONG: Awakening to the Dream: The Gift of Lucid Living and From Self to Self − Leo's books are among the most articulate and lucid expressions of radical nonduality that I've come across. In simple, plain language, they deliver the uncompromising message that all there is, is the One Reality, and that there is no one apart from this One Reality to find it or lose it. He shows you that the apparent individual with a seemingly autonomous free will is all a mirage-like illusion. There is no way to become what you already are, and there is nothing to do (or not do) that will bring you any closer to what is. There is no path, no practice, no one to "be here now," and no way not to be here now. Leo's books are exceptionally clear and direct. For a long time, he put out a wonderful newsletter − he doesn't seem to be doing this anymore, but you can find an archive of these newsletters on his website. His second book, From Self to Self, is a collection of writings from this newsletter. Both of Leo's books and his newsletter are very highly recommended. More here.
HUANG PO: The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind, transl. by John Blofeld -- Clear, direct, original Zen from one of the greatest masters. Huang Po cuts through all concepts and leaves you with nothing. Then he takes that away. Excellent! Very highly recommended.
HSIN HSIN MING (Trusting the Heartmind) by Sengtsan -- This poem by the Third Zen Patriarch is a beautiful expression of true non-duality. "The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences...Do not seek for the truth, only cease to cherish opinions...The Way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess...When no discriminating thoughts arise, the mind ceases to appear...The Great Way is all-embracing; It is neither easy nor difficult...When such dualities cease to exist, Oneness itself cannot exist. To this ultimate finality no law or description applies...Each thing reveals the One, the One manifests as all things. To live in this Realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection...The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today." These quotes are drawn from several different English translations of this text. Several of the most well-known translations are by Richard B. Clarke, who was one of my professors at Bard College back in the Sixties. He taught a class on Vedanta and Zen, which I took, and ran a small Zen sitting group, which I occasionally attended. I still have a very tattered copy of one of his earliest translations of the Hsin Hsin Ming that he handed out in class. He is now a Zen teacher and has continued to refine his translation over the years, and there are several different published versions floating around all from White Pine Press. Zen teacher Steve Hagen (see above) has also done a few different translations of this text that you could probably get from Dharma Field Zen Center.
ANAM THUBTEN: No Self, No Problem and The Magic of Awareness − Anam is one of my top favorites − a very awake and wonderful contemporary teacher originally from Tibet. Clear and direct, he teaches from the heart with a wonderful sense of humor. Anam is at the nondual edge of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and he comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth and unbound by tradition or dogma. He always has this wonderful twinkle of amusement and wonderment in his eyes, and his whole being seems to radiate boundless love. Simple and radical in his approach, Anam invites us to see through the mirage-world of stories and concepts and to wake up to our True Nature as boundless love and pure awareness. His expression is open, honest, and warm-hearted. Anam invites us to love our limitations, to love ourselves and the world just as we are, and to find nirvana in the heart of samsara. Here are some quotes to give you a taste: "All of the problems we fight against do not really exist....When we don't believe in our thoughts we are always awakened. When we believe in our thoughts we are unawakened....Love is the ability to see every circumstance and every being as perfect just as they are...It is the total acceptance of all things....In every moment we are absolutely perfect....It's okay to fail and to fail continuously, time after time. In fact, every time we fail we should give ourselves a chocolate as a reward....The heart of all spirituality is to love this life, to enjoy this life...Awareness is like a fire because it burns down all illusions right there on the spot....When we start inquiring into what is holding us back from realizing the truth, we come to the realization that there is really nothing there. There are no obstacles. Nothing is holding us back from awakening." Anam has been living and teaching in the West for a number of years now and is currently the head teacher at the Dharmata Foundation based in the California Bay Area. He gives talks and holds retreats all over the United States and the world. Excellent audio and video is also available and very much recommended. I totally love Anam! Beautiful, rare, amazing jewel. Very highly recommended. More here.
RUPERT SPIRA: The Transparency of Things: Contemplating the Nature of Experience and Presence (Volume I - The Art of Peace and Happiness and Volume II - The Intimacy of All Experience) − These are exceptionally clear and luminous books that lead the reader through a series of contemplations or explorations of our actual experience in this moment, explorations that bring the reader to a direct, experiential realization of the boundless openness and immediacy that is present Here / Now. I recommend all of these books very highly. A brilliant contemporary British ceramic artist and a long-time student of Francis Lucille, Rupert strikes me as deeply intelligent, highly sensitive, very genuine and awake. He says at the beginning of one book: "There is some reluctance to commit to the form of a finished book something whose nature does not lend itself readily to the written word. I would prefer the form of music, which dissolves as soon as it is uttered, leaving its true content as a formless perfume in the listener's heart." Rupert's words do just that -- they come out of presence and dissolve into presence. He uses language in an exquisitely subtle and nuanced way, and his words are as "transparent, open, empty and luminous" as the "open Unknowingness" that they so beautifully reveal. Rupert avoids falling into a number of traps that I see some other nondualists falling into, such as making enlightenment into a coveted future attainment, or presenting himself as a special "enlightened person," or getting stuck or fixated on one side of any apparent duality (such as free will vs determinism, or practice vs no practice, or relative truth vs absolute truth). There are also some beautiful DVDs available, and I very highly recommend all of those as well, especially one called "The Unknowable Reality of Things" made by Neti Neti Media. You can also see two fine interviews with Rupert on Conscious TV (look under "Advaita"). And you can read, see, hear and learn more about Rupert at his website here. Very highly recommended.
RAMANA MAHARSHI: Heart Is Thy Name, Oh Lord: Moments of Silence with Sri Ramana Maharshi (edited by Bharati Mirchandani) and The Essential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi: A Visual Journey (edited by Matthew Greenblatt) -- These two exquisite books are the best collections of Ramana's teaching I've seen. They both combine words (minimal, concise, distilled, essential gems from Ramana) with powerful photographs to transmit the teaching and the presence of Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), the deeply realized Indian sage who was mostly silent. His teaching was Advaita (nondualism). Very highly recommended. Other collections of Ramana's teachings that I've enjoyed are: Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi edited by David Godman; The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi (Shambhala edition; foreward by C. Jung); and Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi: On Realizing Abiding Peace & Happiness (Inner Directions). These books are all beautiful pointers to the ultimate truth of non-duality, but the two I mention first with the photos are the ones I'd most highly recommend. There are a number of video documentaries about Ramana, and my favorite by far is The Sage of Arunachala. More here.
ROBERT ADAMS: Silence of the Heart: Dialogues with Robert Adams -- Robert Adams was an American sage and a disciple of Ramana Maharshi. Robert grew up in the Bronx, where (so the story goes) he had a spontaneous awakening as a teenager while taking a math test. He later spent several years in India with Ramana. At the end of his life, Robert lived in Sedona, Arizona, where he died of Parkinson's disease in 1997. Robert had a unique and often humorous way of talking about Ultimate Reality, and although he was regarded by many as a guru, friends of mine who knew him have described him as a very unassuming and ordinary guy. Whenever I hear tapes of him talking or read his words in this book, something comes through that goes far beyond the words. I'd call it silence, emptiness, total freedom, unconditional love, the Heart. Robert says: "Everything is unfolding the way it should....There are no mistakes....Trust the Power that knows the way....You are that Power yourself....There's nothing to fix in your life. Nothing to change. Nothing to accomplish. Nothing to do. Except to abide in the Power that knows the way....Only the Self exists....Love yourself always. When you love yourself, you love God....You are total freedom, right this instsnt, right this minute....Feel the Presence within yourself. Feel the happiness and the joy that you really are....You are already Self-realized...The truth is you have nothing to transcend, nothing to overcome...everything you see, everything in the universe, in the world, emanates from your mind....You are the Imperishable Self." This is a beautiful book and I recommend it very highly. It is one of my all-time, top-favorites. I have an older (1999) edition, and it's possible that the "New Authentic 2011 Edition" (which I haven't seen), or any editions that follow that, might be revised in ways I would not like. The Infinity Institute, who publish Robert's books and tapes and apparently have (or had) complete legal control over all his material, seem to have drifted further and further away from the aspects of Robert that appeal to me. They have turned him into "The Internationally Revered Illuminated Master Teacher," they've re-done the originally plain and simple recordings of his talks so that the words are now overlaid with obnoxious background music, they've built up a whole fancy program around his teachings (or their interpretation of his teachings), their website has a very New Agey feel to it, nothing like my sense of Robert, and for those reasons, I do not recommend the Infinity Institute website. However, I've recently discovered an alternative website where you can access transcripts and unaltered recordings of Robet's talks as well as photos of him. Because of his Parkinson's disease, his speech can sometimes be a bit difficult to understand, but his talks are often quite wonderful. And I love and recommend Silence of the Heart, or at least the older 1999 edition. Skip the introductory material written by several of his devotees and just read Robert. Robert is wonderful. Very highly recommended.
JEAN KLEIN: Transmission of the Flame; I AM and The Ease of Being -- Three of my favorite books by Jean Klein, a European teacher of Advaita (non-dualism) who lived and taught during the 20th century. I had the good fortune to attend several retreats with him toward the end of his life and was deeply touched by him. He had a wonderful openness and stillness, a listening presence that you can feel in these books. The books are clear, lucid, subtle, beautiful dialogs, transcribed from his retreats, that evoke and transmit the clarity and the open presence from which they emerged. Jean was a medical doctor and musicologist who studied Advaita and yoga in India. He had a beautiful sensitivity to both the body and the arts. He taught in Europe and the United States, where he died in 1998. There are several other books as well, all of them excellent. Some of Jean's books may be out of print, although Non-duality Press has been bringing many of them back into print. The periodic journal Listening that was published when Jean was alive has now been made into a book, and you can find that and several of Jean's other books and a DVD at Non-duality Press. There is also a website here that has apparently been put together by a student of Jean's, where you can find writing excerpts, a video clip, and other information. All of Jean's books are very highly recommended.
NIRMALA: Nothing Personal: Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self and Meeting the Mystery: Exploring the Aware Presence at the Heart of All Life -- These are two excellent books that I very highly recommend, warm-hearted and crystal clear. Nirmala is a wonderful contemporary American teacher (a student of Neelam, Adyashanti, and A.H. Almaas) who lives in Arizona. He invites you to "say yes to the mystery of every moment" and to recognize and explore the boundless awareness that you are. He conveys a spirit of curiosity, love, openness and awake presence. Nirmala doesn't get stuck on one side of a conceptual divide, for example, he has a chapter titled "Is There One or Many? Yes!" He appreciates the subtle and ungraspable, ever-changing aliveness of Here and Now, and he points out that "Awareness is never the same way twice." Nirmala has written several other books that I haven't read, but he is very clear and articulate, so I'm sure anything he writes is excellent. You can find audio and video on his website as well. Very highly recommended. More here.
JON KABAT-ZINN: Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness -- This is a beautiful, grounded, intelligent, down to earth book about the healing power of simple awareness and coming to our senses. Kabat-Zinn founded the pioneering Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His work began by bringing simple mindfulness meditation (paying attention to the present moment) to patients working with severe chronic pain. From there the concept expanded to working with people in other kinds of stressful situations: prison inmates, people with low incomes, corporate executives, dying people, etc. This is basic insight meditation (present moment awareness) stripped of all the religious and spiritual trappings. If you're spinning your wheels trying to figure out Ultimate Reality intellectually, this book will show you how to realize it directly. And for those who struggle with the apparent contradiction between practices, such as meditation, and the absolute truth that there is nothing to attain and no one to attain it, I highly recommend the following three the chapters in this book: “Meditation—It’s Not What You Think,” "Two Ways to Think About Meditation," and "Why Even Bother? The Importance of Motivation." As an example of how meditation is both a path and at the same time pathless, Kabat-Zinn points out that you cannot attain your foot for it is already part of you, but at the same time, the foot of a great dancer “knows” something that an ordinary foot does not, although in their fundamental nature they are the same. He writes that: “Meditation is a way of being, not a technique… Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well…More than anything else, I have come to see meditation as an act of love…a gesture of the heart that recognizes our perfection even in our obvious imperfection…Awareness itself is the teacher, the student, and the lesson…Resting in awareness in any moment involves giving ourselves over to all our senses, in touch with inner and outer landscapes as one seamless whole." This book is excellent—very highly recommended. Kabat-Zinn's meditation and body scan CDs are also excellent if you're looking for a simple, basic, awareness meditation. He is also the author of Full Catastrophe Living and several other fine books, and he is the co-author of a book called The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. All very highly recommended. More on Kabat-Zinn here.
THICH NHAT HANH: The Sun My Heart; The Heart of Understanding and You Are Here -- Thich Nhat Hanh's clear insight into emptiness, nonduality, or what he calls "interbeing," is profound and subtle, and it is for this that I highly recommend his books. The Sun My Heart is my favorite of all his books and the one I would recommend first and foremost. The Heart of Understanding is a slender book that offers his commentary on the Heart Sutra, a profound Buddhist sutra about nonduality. "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form," the sutra says, or as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “Form is the wave and emptiness is the water.” You Are Here conveys the essential core of Buddhism (impermanence, non-self, going beyond all concepts) and lays out a practice for realizing the truth directly and freeing ourselves from suffering. I don't resonate with every suggestion the book offers, but You Are Here is very beautiful and wise overall and contains many jewels. Thich Nhat Hanh is a poet and his writing is not only exceptionally beautiful and clear, but the words are saturated with silence and mindful presence and seem to transmit the deep ground from which they come. "We are imprisoned by our ideas of good and evil," he writes. "We want to be only good, and we want to remove all evil. But that is because we forget that good is made of non-good elements....You cannot be good alone. You cannot hope to remove evil, because thanks to evil, good exists, and vice versa." I'm not into formal Buddhist practice anymore, so I don't resonate with all the specific practices that Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, and there are parts of his books that I read around or ignore completely, but there is some truly excellent material here. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist who can perhaps be thought of as the founder of socially engaged Buddhism. He was a monk and social activist in Vietnam during the war and has held retreats in America for veterans of that war. He was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. He encourages people to treat our anger, our depression, our addiction, and all of ourselves with tenderness, not with violence. Thich Nhat Hanh is now living in exile in France, where he founded a monastery called Plum Village. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for this man and his work. He certainly walks his talk, as they say. His books offer subtle insight into nonduality as well as wonderful guidance from a Buddhist perspective on living fully here and now. Other favorites include No Death, No Fear; Cultivating the Mind of Love; The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion; Call Me By My True Names and Beyond the Self. For a basic book on meditation, you might also check out The Miracle of Mindfulness. More here and here. Very highly recommended.
J. KRISHNAMURTI: This Light in Oneself: True Meditation; Meeting Life; Choiceless Awareness: A Selection of Passages for the Study of the Teaching of J. Krishnamurti (published by KFA in 1992); and Krishnamurti's Notebook -- A few of my favorites out of the many excellent books by J. Krishnamurti, an Indian-born man who lived during the 20th Century. Krishnamurti was groomed from early childhood by members of the Theosophical Society to be their promised World Teacher, but as a young man Krishnamurti renounced this mission and famously declared that "Truth is a pathless land." Krishnamurti spent the rest of his life looking into the human mind with open awareness, seeing through the deceptions of conceptual thought and conditioning, and coming in touch with the unconditioned aliveness and freedom that is beyond thought and belief. His approach was one of direct observation and free awareness. Krishnamurti offered no prescriptions, practices or methods, insisting that any form of repetition or control is deadening and false. He belonged to no religious organization, sect or country, nor did he subscribe to any school of political or ideological thought. On the contrary, he maintained that these are the very things that divide human beings and bring about conflict and war. He questioned all the absurdities of organized religion with its priests, gurus, dogmas and beliefs, and saw himself not as a guru or a teacher, but as a friend. Krishnamurti had tremendous sensitivity and depth, and he saw through our human confusion and suffering with remarkable clarity and subtlety. Reading him and truly hearing him requires a high level of participatory looking and listening. No quick or comforting fixes or easy answers are on offer here. Krishnamurti's passionate intensity, combined with his old-school formality at times, can sometimes come across as abrasive, stern or humorless, but in the next instant, he smiles with the most delightful, childlike warmth, and if you listen openly to what he is saying, you may come upon an unbounded freedom and possibility that is priceless and life-changing. He had a big impact on me many years ago. Excellent video and audio is also available. Very highly recommended. More here.
ANTHONY deMELLO: Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality -- deMello was a Jesuit priest from India, and also a psychotherapist, who was influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism as well as by Christianity. His utterly undogmatic, no-nonsense approach is one of simple awareness. Not a trace of Catholic dogma here, in fact, deMello was condemned by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). Anthony deMello is funny, straightforward, clear, and wonderfully direct. This is an excellent book, very highly recommended. Other books, audio and video also available. More on deMello here.
BENTINHO MASSARO: Insights Into Awareness -- Articles and Dialogs -- Bentinho is a beaming and joyous young man originally from the Netherlands who seems to be made of pure light. Friends of mine who have been with him in person tell me that he is one of the clearest and most freeing teachers they have ever experienced. I've read parts of his books and watched several of his videos. I was initially ready to dismiss him as some sort of mindless bliss-junky, but after listening for awhile, I found Bentinho to be very genuine, awake, intelligent, clear and liberating. He points to what is already free Here / Now, and he speaks in plain language − no spiritual baggage from Advaita or Buddhism. He is very down to earth, doesn't go on and on about his own awakening story, seems to have a nice balance of confidence and humility, and is clearly speaking out of aware presence. His message is challenging and yet delivered with such delight and love that it instantly disarms the egoic mind and invites the listener to open up: “When you realize the indestructibility of what you are, then in that very recognition, everything that seemed so compelling at first, so serious, so threatening – even your own seriousness becomes one big joke and the mind starts to laugh, slowly at first, because it doesn't want to admit that it's been serious for no reason all this time.” When Bentinho interacted with people in the videos I saw, he never bought into their problem or their story, however convincing it might be. He always spoke to (and from) the place that is always already free and whole. His two books are available for free download on his website, and many free video and audio clips are also available there and here on YouTube as well. Bentinho obviously has tremendous energy and a real sense of mission. He seems to have lots of big plans, such as creating a "Globalization Project" for world peace, an "academy" to share his teachings, a community in North Carolina, and so forth. By nature, I'm more drawn to simplicity than to this kind of grand-scale mission, and I hope Bentinho doesn't get swept away by his early success and popularity. It will be interesting to see how his teaching unfolds. He is really quite amazing, especially for someone so young, and something very alive and real is happening here for sure, so if you're looking for a simple, clear teaching delivered with warmth and love, Bentinho may be your guy. More here.
CHUCK HILLIG: Looking for God: Seeing the Whole in One and The Enlightenment Trilogy (Enlightenment for Beginners: Discovering the Dance of the Divine; The Way IT Is); and Seeds for the Soul -- Chuck has a wonderful sense of lightness and humor, and a fabulous ability to convey the essential message of nondualism with the utmost simplicity and clarity, in plain language. His books use words and pictures, and in one case even a hole in the center of the book, to point to the heart of the matter directly and to offer a resounding YES to everything. Chuck also has a wonderful DVD called "Living in the WOW!" that I very highly recommend, and there is other audio and video on his website. Whatever Chuck does, it is always fun, wise, and completely liberating. Very highly recommended. More here.
J. JENNIFER MATTHEWS: Radically Condensed Instructions for Being Just As You Are -- This is a wonderfully clear, succinct, lucid, intelligent and wise book, with a sense of humor to boot, that explores how we create dissatisfaction and confusion by "abandoning what we actually see, hear, and feel (which is always dissolving, always falling apart) in favor of concepts, which hold together nicely, but which are mere conventions." The book points to being awake now to the unbounded openness of awareness and actual present moment experiencing. "There is clarity: luminous, still and silent clarity. It is with you and in you. It is you. It always exists. No it never takes a break; no it never goes out for just one cigarette. It is the wholeness you can never fall out of. Not in your drunkest, sorriest, most hysterical moments, not even then can you fall out of this clear and sacred perfection. You know that." You can get this short book for an unbelievably low price on Amazon and it is money well spent. The author has degrees in philosophy and theology and works with homeless people in Massachusetts. Excellent book! Very highly recommended.
GARY CROWLEY: From Here to Here: Turning Toward Enlightenment − This short, concise book, written in plain language, is an arrow shot cleanly right to the bull's eye. It is an elegantly simple, spare, accessible, direct, straight-forward and crystal clear deconstruction of our most fundamental human illusion − the sense of being a separate individual with an independent free will. Gary shows how everything we think, feel and do is the outcome and activity of conditioned neurology. He then invites the reader to discover the freedom and delight of being what we always already are: the ever-present awareness experiencing this-here-now. This is an absolutely wonderful and liberating book. Very highly recommended for seeing through the illusion of free will. Gary has another more recent book, Pass the Jelly: Tales of Ordinary Enlightenment, a humorous collection of stories drawn from his own life to illustrate his central themes that "people do what they do" and that "if you fight the play of opposites that make up life, you suffer." I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about that book, perhaps because the author seemed to delight in deliberately pushing people's buttons and then relishing their upset, which seemed somewhat arrogant and lacking in empathy and compassion. But I did enjoy parts of that book, and it may well be worth a read (if nothing else, you'll find a wonderful new way to use meditation benches). But above all, I am recommending From Here to Here, which I totally loved. Gary works as a rolfer and lives in California. He used to have a website about nonduality, but for whatever reason, he took it down, but you can still find videos of him posted on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet by googling "Gary Crowley Nonduality."
RAMESH S. BALSEKAR: Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharaj; Consciousness Speaks; A Net of Jewels; The Final Truth; Your Head in the Tiger's Mouth; From Consciousness to Consciousness; Experiencing the Teaching; Explorations into the Eternal; A Duet of One; and The Wisdom of Balsekar -- Ramesh S. Balsekar was a bank president in India who became a close disciple and translator of Nisargadatta and then a teacher in his own right. Ramesh died in 2009. This is uncompromising, non-dual Advaita with a strong emphasis on the non-existence of personal volition. Ramesh hammers away relentlessly at the root illusion of a separate, autonomous individual with free will, and he shows you that everything is one, whole, undivided happening. Although he is clearly pointing to what is nonconceptual, his writing can feel quite intellectual, and you may find yourself getting tangled up in mental knots when you read him, in which case, I recommend putting the book down and listening to the traffic and the birds for awhile instead. A Net of Jewels is a beautiful collection of essential gems organized so that you read two very brief selections every day, and in this format, the words tend to be received more meditiatively and are perhaps less likely to get the thinking mind spinning itself into confusion. I enjoyed all of his books. Very highly recommended. More here and here.
WAYNE LIQUORMAN: Enlightenment Is Not What You Think; Never Mind: A Journey Into Non-Duality; Acceptance of What Is: A Book About Nothing; The Way of Powerlessness: Advaita and the Twelve Steps of Recovery; and (under the pen name, Ram Tzu), a collection of pithy and enlightening poems called NO WAY for the Spiritually "Advanced" − Former businessman, alcoholic and drug addict, irreverent and without spiritual veneer, Wayne is an American disciple of Ramesh Balsekar. I find Wayne's expression refreshingly down to earth and very much from the heart. This is not some airy, detached, other-worldly version of Advaita, but rather, a total embrace of everything, just the way it is: "As you walk the spiritual path," Wayne says, "It widens, not narrows, until one day it broadens to a point where there is no path left at all." Beautiful! What Is (Consciousness, God, the Tao, Totality) includes everything. Wayne emphasizes that he is not putting forward a new belief system, but rather, that he is inviting people to look for themselves and see directly, and he calls what he offers the Living Teaching. Wayne's central emphasis is on seeing through the false sense of personal authorship—the illusion that you are a separate agent freely choosing your thoughts and actions. He does a great job of showing that all our thoughts, actions, interests, intentions, successes and failures are actually the result of infinite causes and conditions, and that everything that happens could not be otherwise than exactly how it is. Wayne stresses that nondual Understanding or enlightenment is not an acquisition, or a perpetual state of bliss, or a permanent experience of unity, but rather, the falling away of an imaginary problem: “Rather than being the presence of something, Enlightenment is the absence of something.” Unfortunately, Wayne tends to characterize this as an irrevocable, final event in which all sense of personal authorship ends decisively, never to return. That kind of line-in-the-sand, permanent enlightenment model is a formulation that I find inaccurate and potentially misleading, and I suspect that it sets many people up to chase after a final event in the future—it had that effect on me for quite a long time. But then, I can’t say with certainty that this was a disservice, for perhaps it was precisely in grappling with the notion that “I haven’t arrived yet,” that the central misconception that had been driving my search finally became apparent and dissolved. I’m still no fan of this line-in-the-sand model of enlightenment, but what I think Wayne is trying to express is the distinction between experiences of unity (which are by nature temporary) and the timeless recognition of the seamless and boundless Totality from which nothing stands apart. This recognition is not something “I” have, for it is the realization that no such “I” exists. Wayne is pointing to the falling away of the belief that “I” am a separate fragment flip-flopping between “getting it” and “losing it.” Entranced by that belief, the seeker imagines that such a falling away would mean "me" stabilizing permanently on the “getting it” side of this imaginary divide in an unending experience of oneness, whereas what Wayne is pointing to is not an unending experience of unity, but rather, the absence of the sense that there is any separation, personal ownership, or anyone apart from the Totality to stabilize on one side of any imaginary divide. There are no one-sided coins, in other words. All there is, is Consciousness, the all-inclusive Totality that has no opposite and that never comes or goes, and Wayne always points out the impossibility of ever being in any way separate from That: "There is nothing to become," he says, "We are all already That." Wayne also emphasizes again and again that no conceptual description or formulation is ever the truth, and in his book on Advaita and the 12 Steps, he does concede that “awakening takes many forms. For some it is sudden and dramatic, for others, gradual and barely noticeable.” But if you do hear his descriptions of a final event and then find yourself thinking that "you" are not enlightened yet, see if you can find the one who is not enlightened. As Wayne says: "Enlightenment is not what you think but rather the ultimate, unimaginable dissolution into all that IS" and "When we talk about Enlightenment or Oneness it is much ado about Nothing!" Or as Ram Tzu wisely puts it: "In order to realize the miracle of what you Are, you must surrender the fantasy of what you will become." In his most recent book, Wayne offers his own interpretation of the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and how they relate to the recognition of individual powerlessness in Advaita, and he describes how the true power that comes from the Whole arises from that absolute powerlessness. I found the last three chapters of that book especially eloquent. resonate very much with his expression. Very highly recommended. Audio and video of Wayne's meetings are available, and there are also live webcasts in which you can participate. More here.
THE ULTIMATE STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Ken Wilber -- This is the last chapter in Wilber's book Eye to Eye and it also appears as one of the articles in John White's collection called What Is Enlightenment? Whatever you may think of Ken Wilber, this short piece of writing is an exceptionally clear, succinct, brilliant description of nonduality that I very highly recommend. Wilber is a contemporary author and founder of Integral Institute, and in his many books he provides a brilliant synthesis of different disciplines and an interesting critique of contemporary spirituality and culture, all from what I would describe as a nondual, evolutionary perspective, strongly influenced by Eastern spirituality, Western psychology and postmodernism. Wilber understands that the territory (life itself) is always changing, and that therefore the maps must also change as conditions change. There is no One True Map, and he would say that enlightenment itself is always evolving. While I don't resonate with everything Wilber has to say, I do like much of it, and his books are definitely worth reading. I am only including this one short article on my recommended reading list, but if you want to read more by Wilber, you might check out A Brief History of Everything for starters. He is a brilliant intellect, has read widely and is deeply thoughtful, and in addition, Wilber is a long-time spiritual practioner whose insights come from direct seeing and not merely from intellctual understanding. And this one piece, "The Ultimate State of Consciousness," is an excellent, crystal clear, bubble-popping description of nondual reality that I very highly recommend. More on Ken Wilber and Integral Institute here.
RUMI: The Illuminated Rumi and One Song (both with translations & commentary by Coleman Barks and illuminations by Michael Green); The Essential Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks); and Rumi: Poet of the Heart (a film on DVD) -- Jelaluddin Rumi, who gave rise to the Sufi order of whirling dervishes, was a passionate 13th century mystical poet. He was born in what is now Afghanistan and lived most of his life in Konya, Turkey. His poetry is profound and beautiful, brimming with love and the ecstasy that embraces absolutely everything. The foremost translator of Rumi's work into English is the poet Coleman Barks, but there are many other translations and collections available. The Essential Rumi, translated by Barks, is an excellent, comprehensive collection of Rumi's work. The Illuminated Rumi is a gorgeous book that weaves together Rumi's words, translated by Barks, with stunning visual images by the artist Michael Green, who later came out with a second "Illuminated Rumi" book called One Song, which also includes a CD of music by the Illumination Band setting Rumi's poems to bluegrass, gospel and blues. These two "Illuminated Rumi" books are definitely worth buying and savoring over a lifetime. Rumi: Poet of the Heart is an exquisite film available on DVD that features Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Huston Smith, Hamza El Din, Jai Uttal, Deepak Chopra, Michael Meade and others, blending Rumi's poems in English and Persian with music, visual imagery, and rich commentary (more on the film here). Other favorite collections of mine include Rumi: the Book of Love, translation and commentary by Coleman Barks, and Open Secret, translated by John Moyne & Coleman Barks. There are many others. Very highly recommended!
HAFIZ: I Heard God Laughing; The Gift; and The Subject Tonight Is Love -- three rich and delightful volumes of ecstatic and enlightening poetry by the 14th century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz, all beautifully rendered by Daniel Ladinsky. Superb! Highly recommended. More here.
DOGEN: Moon in a Dewdrop, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi -- This excellent collection includes many works by Eihei Dogen, a 13th century Zen master and the founder of Soto Zen. My favorite piece in the collection, and the one I especially recommend, is "Genjo Koan" (variously translated as "Actualizing the Fundamental Point," "Manifesting Absolute Reality," "The Koan of the Present Moment," "The Paradox of Just This, As It Is," "The Spiritual Question As It Manifests Before Your Eyes," or "The Realization of Ultimate Reality"). Like all of Dogen's work, this piece can be read over and over, and with each reading, you will find new dimensions emerging that you hadn't seen or understood before. Dogen's understanding of nonduality is subtle, nuanced and all-inclusive -- so all-inclusive that it even includes duality: "The Buddha Way is leaping clear of the many and the one." Dogen asks: "Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object, or is it that we have mistaken various images for one object?" For Dogen, there is nothing that is not spiritual. "Walls, tiles, and pebbles are mind," he writes. In this radical view, even the map is the territory: "Neither the dharma world nor empty space is anything other than the painting of a picture....The moon and the pointing finger are a single reality." Dogen's burning question as a young monk was, if everything already has (or is) Buddha Nature, then why do we need to practice? His response is that to regard practice as the means by which we attain enlightenment in the future is to miss the point completely. Practice is the expression of enlightenment here and now. "If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you will understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind." Enlightenment is simply seeing through delusion: "Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings." Dogen is poetic and infinitely subtle and profound. In addition to Moon in a Dewdrop and Enlightenment Unfolds, also edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi, there are many other collections and commentaries. Some that I have enjoyed over the years include Appreciate Your Life by Taizan Maesumi; Sounds of Valley Streams, edited by Francis H. Cook; How to Cook Your Life and The Wholehearted Way by Uchiyama; Realizing Genjokoan by Shohaku Okumura. Steve Hagen (see listing on him above) has some excellent classes on Dogen available on CD or download, and Norman Fischer and Daido Loori also offer excellent commentaries. The writings of Dogen are very highly recommended.
SHUNRYU SUZUKI: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (edited by Trudy Dixon); and Not Always So (edited by Ed Brown) -- two superb collections of talks by Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), the Soto Zen Roshi who was the founder of San Francisco Zen Center. (Not to be confused with D.T. Suzuki, the Zen scholar and author who also helped to bring Zen to America). I arrived at SFZC too late to meet Suzuki Roshi in person, but I spent a number of years practicing Zen in his lineage, and so he has been a very important teacher for me. I have read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind countless times over the years, and with each new reading, I hear it more deeply and see more in it. Truly, an amazing book. "Buddha's teaching is everywhere," Suzuki Roshi said. "Today it is raining. This is Buddha's teaching." He also said, "For Zen students, a weed is a treasure," and, "We should find perfection in imperfection." There are also two very wonderful books about Suzuki Roshi: Crooked Cucumber (a biography by David Chadwick that I very highly recommend) and Zen Is Right Here (previously titled To Shine One Corner of the World -- a collection of brief stories about Suzuki Roshi told by his students and edited by David Chadwick), and both of these books beautifully convey the heart of Suzuki Roshi's teaching. There is a collection of Suzuki Roshi's talks on the Sandokai, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (edited by Mel Weitsman and Michael Wenger), and you can now find a few clips of Suzuki Roshi on YouTube. I'm no longer into the kind of rigorous, formal Zen practice that Suzuki Roshi taught, but I love these books, especially Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Not Always So, and I have great respect and fondness for the San Francisco Zen Center and for Shunryu Suzuki and his lineage. All these books are very highly recommended. More about Shunryu Suzuki and his teaching here and here.
PEMA CHODRON: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change and Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears -- Both of these books are jewels that I have found exceptionally clear and helpful. Pema is an American woman (divorced, with grown children) who was a student of Chogyam Trungpa. She became a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and now heads Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She writes about learning how to be with our fundamental discomfort, fear, uncertainty, restlessness and anger without fighting against it or chasing after false solutions and making it worse. She talks about embracing the world (and this moment) just as it is, learning to be present and awake without expecting perfection. Pema embraces the darkness, the chaos, the difficulty, and the messiness of everyday life with love, humor, and warmth. She is honest, shares her own foibles openly, and she offers a clear, intelligent, practice-oriented teaching with wisdom and heart. Pema suggests that we view the apparent problems and setbacks in our lives as opportunities rather than as obstacles or signs of failure. Some of her other wonderful titles include The Wisdom of No Escape; The Places that Scare You; When Things Fall Apart and Start Where You Are. There are also many CDs available, such as Don't Bite the Hook. All very highly recommended. More here and here.
CHARLOTTE JOKO BECK: Everyday Zen: Love & Work and Nothing Special: Living Zen − Joko was an exceptionally clear, sharp, down-to-earth, no-nonsense, no frills, modern day Zen teacher. She died in 2011 in Arizona. Her approach is practice-oriented, and the practice is awareness in the midst of ordinary life. As she put it, "All practice can be summed up as observing the mental process and experiencing present bodily sensations; no more and no less." Joko raised her children as a single working mother and was well-versed in the challenges of ordinary life. From her perspective, the messier the circumstances and the bigger the disappointments, the richer the opportunities. She wasn't seducible − she brought everything back to ordinary everyday life. If you tried to talk about your big enlightenment experience, she might say (as if dismissing a bothersome fly), that's nice, and how is your relationship with your partner these days? Joko taught at Zen Center of San Diego for many years and created the Ordinary Mind Zen School. She was an important teacher for me. She liked to try different things to wake people up. For example, on her sesshins, we had an hour of bowing practice every day, and every day she gave us a different thing to bow to − these were full bows, to the floor − and with each bow, we were to allow a different example of the thing in question to come to mind and then bow to it. One day, it was bow to all your disappointments; another day, it was bow to everything you think is other than you. With each new bow, it was fascinating to see what came up, and then very enlightening to bow to it. There is a wonderful video that I highly recommend called "Nothing Special" about Joko that beautifully transmits the essence of her teachings as well as her remarkable spirit; it is available here. You can see a clip from it on YouTube. An excellent CD of some of Joko's talks, which I very highly recommend, has been produced by Sounds True and is available from them or from Amazon.com. Joko said: "Practice is not about having nice feelings, happy feelings. It's not about changing, or getting somewhere. That in itself is the basic fallacy. But observing this desire begins to clarify it. We begin to comprehend that our frantic desire to get better, to 'get somewhere,' is illusion itself, and the source of suffering." She also said, "When we maintain awareness, whether we know it or not, healing is taking place...When we can sit with a simple mind, not being caught by our own thoughts, something slowly dawns, and a door that has been shut begins to open. For that to occur, we have to work with our anger, our upset, our judgments, our self-pity, our ideas that the past determines the present. As the door opens, we see that the present is absolute and that, in a sense, the whole universe begins right now, in each second. And the healing of life is in that second of simple awareness...Healing is always just being here, with a simple mind." Joko's approach was stricter and more formal and practice-oriented than mine, but the essence of her teaching is excellent. This is very clear, no bullshit, bare-bones Zen. Very highly recommended.
AJAHN SUMEDHO: Don't Take Your Life Personally -- A truly excellent book that points to being aware of what is, here and now, and allowing whatever shows up to be just as it is. "Right now, it's like this," Sumedho says. "Everything belongs." He speaks in a way that is very open, spacious, direct, simple, clear, and down to earth. Buddhism as he presents it isn't about trying to control things or improve ourselves, nor is it about intellectually taking on a bunch of concepts or doctrines. It is simply about being awake. Although Ajahn Sumedho is a monk in a very strict Buddhist monastic order, he actually comes across as completely undogmatic, nonsectarian, nonauthoritarian and totally open in his approach. He avoids philosophy, metaphysics and other intellectual abstractions, and instead keeps pointing to present moment awareness. I greatly appreciate his sense of humor and his unpretentious honesty and willingness to expose his own human foibles. Born in the United States, Ajahn Sumedho studied Buddhism in Thailand. He has lived for many years in England, where he founded several Buddhist monasteries. This is one of the very best books on the true heart of Buddhism that I've come across, but you don't need to be a Buddhist or have anything to do with Buddhism to appreciate Ajahn Sumedho. I highly recommend his books, especially this one. You can listen to some of Ajahn Sumedho's talks here and here.
TONY PARSONS: Nothing Being Everything; All There Is; and The Open Secret (all UK editions); and also As It Is and Invitation to Awaken (US editions) -- Tony is an irreverent, unorthodox, iconoclastic Englishman with a wonderful sense of humor who communicates uncompromising radical nonduality. His expression is vibrant, rich and passionate. For Tony, everything is the Beloved, whether it appears as a flower garden, as dog shit, or as the holocaust. "Everything about you is totally absolutely perfectly appropriate," Tony says. "All the things you think are wrong with you are absolutely right." His childlike wonder and irreverent humor are great correctives to grueling spiritual practices based in a sense of unworthiness and an obsession with purification and self-improvement. His emphasis is on the undivided immediacy of being and the simple truth that this is it, just as it is: “There’s no destiny, there’s no God, there’s no plan, there’s no script, there’s nowhere to go because there is only timeless being…And it is alive and fleshy and sexy and juicy and immediately this.” Meeting him some years ago was very liberating and freeing for me. I found him to be very accessible, generous, unpretentious, open-hearted and full of love. He can seem a bit dogmatic at times about insisting that his particular way of formulating and expressing nonduality is the One True Way, but on the other hand, it is his refusal to compromise the ultimate Truth that makes his message so powerful and so liberating. I very much love his juiciness, his irreverent humor and the absence of any kind of spiritual veneer. Tony sees the awakened life not as one of transcendent detachment, but rather as a love affair, unfiltered full-on aliveness. He pulls the rug out from under any attempt to create a progressive path toward a future goal. "Life is not a task," he writes, "There is absolutely nothing to attain except the realisation that there is absolutely nothing to attain." He talks about this realization as “a leap in perception, a different seeing, already inherent but unrecognised.” He does occasionally formulate his message in ways that may inadvertantly dangle a subtle carrot in front of people by speaking of awakening as a permanent energetic shift, or a "pop" that some people have had and others have not had, or a moment when "the penny drops." Formulations of that sort can easily set people up to seek a decisive, future event. But clearly, Tony doesn't intend to dangle a carrot in front of people: "There is no such thing as liberation or awakening," he says, "All there is is being." He always stresses that there is no enlightened person: “There is no such thing as an awakened person; that’s a contradiction in terms…So let’s say there is just being and ‘me’-ing…If those so-called enlightened people were honest, they would probably say to you that…there can still be a contraction into ‘me’-ing, but the final liberation is that anything is accepted and everything is accepted; nothing is denied. So both are now seen as one…There is being, but contraction can happen. It happens within the perception of the whole. Anything can happen because this is liberation…Liberation includes the total acceptance of all that is.” Or as he puts it elsewhere: "There's nowhere to go. There's no goal. There's no carrot. There's no prize. All there is is this. But the difference between there just being what's happening and the sense that it's happening to you is immeasurable." Beautifully put! There are different UK and US versions of some of Tony's books, often containing different material, all good, but I especially recommend the UK versions. His CDs and audio tapes are better at conveying his irreverent humor than his writing (of the ones I've heard, I especially recommend the Dublin August 2003 tapes and a CD set called "The Gift, London Autumn 2006"). DVDs are available as well. Tony offers meetings and retreats in Europe. I really love Tony and recommend him very highly. More here.
J.C. AMBERCHELE: The Light That I Am: Notes from the Ground of Being; The Almighty Mackerel and His Holy Bootstraps: Waking Up to Who You Really Are; and The Heavenly Backflip: Seeing and Being the Unfigureoutable − J.C. Amberchele is the pen name of a man with what he describes as a truly monstrous criminal past ("a debt that can never be paid"), a man who is currently incarcerated in prison, where he has been for some three decades, and where he will likely spend the rest of his life. While in prison, Amberchele joined a Buddhist group and read many spiritual books including those by Nisargadatta, Ramesh Balsekar, Gurdjieff, Byron Katie, Tony Parsons, Hafiz, Rumi and the Christian mystics. But it was the "Headless Way" of Douglas Harding that really woke Amberchele up to a profound recognition of the nondual wholeness and perfection of everything. It was through Harding's exercises that Amberchele discovered the "Luminous Awareness" or "Awake Capacity" that is boundless, ever-present and "filled to the brim with all that presents itself." Amberchele describes this wakefulness as "a love affair of immense proportions, bursting from No-thing, vanishing into No-thing." His writing brings this realization alive for the reader in a simple and direct way, with an immediacy, a clarity and a luminosity that is full of love. I've been corresponding with Amberchele for awhile now and consider him a friend. He comes across to me as a man with genuine humility and compassion for himself and others. The Light That I Am contains some powerful personal material drawn from his own life, which I really loved, while the other two books are pure, crystal clear, radical nonduality. The Almighty Mackerel and Heavenly Backflip both include a mix of prose and dialogs, presumably with other prisoners, or maybe with himself, about recognizing what is obvious and ever-present. A number of Harding's "Headless Way" experiments (designed to help people experience directly the impersonal and all-inclusive Awake Capacity that we truly are) are included in Amberchele's books. I'm not personally drawn to these experiments, but I'm sure they are helpful to many people, as they obviously were to Amberchele, and you can take them or leave them − there is plenty of other material in these books besides the experiments. What I love in these books is Amberchele's own expression, which I find very clear and liberating. All three are excellent. All very highly recommended.
KARL RENZ: If You Wake Up, Don't Take It Personally; A Little Bit of Nothingness; and May It Be As It Is: The Embrace of Helplessness − Karl is a contemporary German painter and musician now based in Mallorca, who travels the world talking about the Unnameable. He calls his talks "Self-entertainment," and he functions as a kind of iconoclastic trickster, destroying all your attempts to make something out of nothing. His message is radical and uncompromising. Whatever you hold onto, Karl will gleefully demolish. He can be ruthless in this, and some people have experienced him as insensitive, insulting, hurtful or offensive, but I find him wonderfully liberating. However, if you are looking for loving-kindness in the usual sense, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you're looking for total destruction in the best sense, then I recommend Karl. He offers the total demolition and total acceptance of everything. But be prepared for the outrageous. He loves to shock and contradict and fly in the face of every spiritual assumption -- in short, he loves to pull the rug out from under the mind in every possible way. If you're lucky, you'll be left with nothing. Karl points beyond the whole movie of waking life to that which is unattainable, unavoidable and inconceivable. And if you think you know what that is, Karl will destroy all your ideas and ridicule every experience you cling to as special. "Nobody's enlightened or unenlightened," he says, "Any idea of awakening disappears. There are no sleeping or awakened ones anymore, no more hocus-pocus of trying to get anywhere and have special experiences....You are in Self-entertainment only when you have no result coming out of it....You are in spite, not because of your doing or not doing....What you are existed before this body was born....You are the infinite eye, which looks from infinite angles into what you are. You are the infinite perception, which perceives only Self-information....I'm always pointing to that Absolute you are, which is total helplessness....Everything is a totality of controllessness and freedom....And that freedom you cannot lose and you cannot gain." He talks about being "released from the idea that you have to be released," and he says, "that's the biggest release...that you never can be released from what you are." Irreverent and without spiritual veneer, Karl loves to joke and laugh and play with words, and the words seem to pour out of him at tremendous speed and with complete abandon. He transmits a liberating absence of concern, a relaxed care-less-ness or absolute freedom that seeks nothing and has no problem with anything. Karl offers no methods or practices, pointing out that the search for a solution only gives credence to the apparent reality of the imaginary problem, and he speaks of liberation as the willingness to remain in hell forever. He is refreshingly devoid of any missionary impulses and happily declares that he is "useless and irrelevant." I totally love Karl, but he won't be for everyone. As a friend of mine said, Karl is like a rare cheese – some love it, some do not. You can read an interview with Karl here, and you can learn more at Karl's website here. There are other books as well, and much excellent audio and video is available. For DVDs in English, you might try "The Neverending I" or the "2004 Summer Retreat in Mallorca," and for audio in English, I'd suggest the San Diego talks from his 2007 North American tour. Very highly recommended to those with a taste for rare cheese.
NATHAN GILL: Already Awake and Being: The Bottom Line – These two books are among the simplest, clearest and most articulate expressions of radical nonduality on offer. Nathan points uncompromisingly to the simplicity of what is, never wavering from the insistence that absolutely nothing needs to be done (or not done). "It's always already it, always," he says, no matter what is appearing. If you're caught up in looking for some kind of explosive future transformation or final event, Nathan is a great one to read. He dispels any notion that there is something bigger and better to find in the future, and keeps pointing to this, right here, right now, exactly as it is. "Whatever happens, there is only Being," he writes. "You can't put a foot wrong, because nothing and no one is going anywhere. 'You' are not a character on a journey to self-realisation. It's all a play of appearances." Nathan is refreshingly unpretentious. He never tries to set himself above those who come to him, he dangles no subtle carrots in front of you, and his expression of radical nonduality is clean and direct. The beauty and liberating power of this kind of uncompromising message is that it holds the line unwaveringly on the absolute completeness of what is, just as it is. Every time you try to move away from the simplicity of this-here-now into "Yes, but...." or "What if...", Nathan just keeps bringing you back to the immediacy of this. And that is a very freeing message when it truly sinks in. Nathan is a lovely, down to earth guy who was offering meetings in England for awhile, then he stopped and went back to working as a gardener for several years, then he started offering meetings again, and last I heard, he's gone back to gardening again. I love Nathan and recommend him very highly. More here.
JEFF FOSTER: The Deepest Acceptance: Radical Awakening in Ordinary Life; The Wonder of Being (which is a combined and revised edition of Jeff's first two books, Life Without a Centre and Beyond Awakening); An Extraordinary Absence; and The Revelation of Oneness -- A graduate in astrophysics from Cambridge University, Jeff Foster writes and talks beautifully and with great love and compassion about the deepest acceptance of this moment, just as it is, and he points to the realization that whatever appears, all of it is the One Reality. "Suffering or stress or psychological discomfort is no longer something bad or evil to be transcended or destroyed; it is a unique opportunity to see what you are still at war with, what you are still seeking." He shows how the deepest acceptance of suffering takes us home, and how "home is always present, even in the midst of all of those experiences you'd rather escape, just as the ocean is always present, in and as every wave." The Deepest Acceptance includes a wonderful section on addiction that is one of the clearest articulations I've come across on our fundamental human problem and its possible resolution. Jeff is a genuine, bright, open, unpretentious, down to earth, loving guy with a willingness to look freshly, see things in new ways and change his mind. I've watched over the years as his understanding and expression continue to unfold in ever-more beautiful and subtle ways. His earlier books lean more toward uncompromising, hardline radical nonduality, whereas in The Deepest Acceptance, he's no longer just describing a nondual view of reality, but he's also addressing the nitty-gritty, messy issues of human life and offering a never-ending, non-methodical, pathless-path of awakening here and now. Audio and video is also available. Jeff is presently holding meetings in the UK and around the world. Very highly recommended. More here.
GANGAJI: The Diamond in Your Pocket and You Are That! -- Gangaji is a contemporary American woman whose final teacher was H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji), a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Gangaji has a truly remarkable ability to cut through the thinking mind and bring it to a stop, deconstructing all stories and revealing "the radiance at the core." I love her invitation to give up the search: "Self-inquiry is not a path that leads you somewhere," she says. "It is the path that stops you in your tracks." She draws from Advaita, Buddhism, Christianity, western psychology and other sources, but her teaching is not bound by any particular packaging. I find her to be very clear, intelligent, insightful, radiant, lively, funny, honest, warm, enlightening and heart-opening. She always points you to what is most intimate and already present. Excellent CDs and DVDs are also available. Gangaji holds satsangs and retreats around the world and is currently based in Ashland, Oregon. Very highly recommended. More here.
ADYASHANTI: True Meditation; Emptiness Dancing; The Way of Liberation; Falling into Grace and The End of Your World -- Adya is a contemporary American teacher based in California who offers a unique blend of Zen and Advaita. He skillfully guides his listeners to a directly experienced, felt-sense of the open awareness and presence that he is talking about, and not just a conceptual or mental understanding. He doesn't get stuck on one side or the other of any conceptual divide (such as practice/no practice or choice/choicelessness), and he moves freely between relative and absolute perspectives, all of which I greatly appreciate. He points above all to the Truth that is ever-present Here / Now, but he also explores the journey from initial glimpses of this Truth to fully embodied liberation, giving attention to many of the ways people get stuck or fixated along the way. He writes beautifully about letting go of the need to control everything, and of awakening and letting go not only at the level of the mind, but also at the level of the heart and the gut. He does sometimes formulate things in ways that I never would, for example, when he says things like, "Everyone has the choice of what they give their life to," or "When we're addicted to something, it's because we choose to be." But to his credit, he always cautions his listeners to hold his formulations lightly, and he encourages people not to give away their own authority, but to question and look for themselves. I attended a one-day retreat with him many years ago and he was very helpful to me. I found him down-to-earth, genuine and very clear. He writes: "There is more reality and sacredness in a blade of grass than in all our thoughts and ideas about reality. When we perceive from an undivided consciousness, we will find the sacred in every expression of life...in our teacup, in the breeze, in the brushing of our teeth, in each and every moment of living and dying. Therefore we must leave the entire collection of conditioned thought behind and let ourselves be led by the inner thread of silence into the unknown, beyond where all paths end, to that place where we go innocently or not at all--not once but continually." Beautiful! My top favorites among all his books are True Meditation and Emptiness Dancing, and I would recommend those first and foremost. Excellent audio and video is also available in addition to the books. All very highly recommended. More here.
MOOJI: Breath of the Absolute: The Manifest and Unmanifest Are One and Before I Am: The Direct Recognition of Our Original Self -- Two excellent collections of dialogues with Mooji, a very wonderful contemporary teacher of Advaita. Mooji, or Anthony Paul Moo-Young, was born in Jamaica in 1954. He has lived most of his life in the UK where he was an artist and a teacher before his spiritual journey took him to India. There he met H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji), a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Mooji now offers retreats and satsangs around the world. I met him once in Chicago and found him to be a very warm, loving and deeply awake being whose presence was very powerful. "Do not remind the world it is bound or suffering," he writes, "Remind the world it is beautiful and free." You can hear audio, see video, read dialogues, and learn more at his website here. Very highly recommended.
FRANCIS LUCILLE: Eternity Now: Dialogues on Awareness -- A contemporary teacher of Advaita originally from France, Francis currently lives in California and offers retreats worldwide. He has a background in science and mathematics, is exceptionally intelligent and clear, and there is a beautiful subtlety and depth to his work that I appreciate greatly. Like his teacher Jean Klein, Francis incorporates somatic movement and awareness work into his retreats. He has several other books now as well, which I haven't read, but I'm sure they're probably excellent, and there are many very fine DVDs and CDs available. Very highly recommended. More here.
JOHN TARRANT: Bring Me the Rhinoceros -- This book is a tiny and explosive jewel. Written by a contemporary Zen teacher, it has this amazing ability to flip you in your tracks and enlighten everything. This is a book that can unlock your heart and bring a rhinoceros into your life. John Tarrant wakes you up again and again to the absolute perfection of your life exactly as it is. This is without doubt one of the very best Zen books I have ever read. Beautiful, imaginative, outside the box, full of love -- this book is a work of art that opens your eyes to the beauty and wonder that is everywhere. John Tarrant is originally from Tasmania and he now lives in Northern California and directs the Pacific Zen Institute. He has such a wonderful sense of humor and play along with a deep feeling for both the darkness and the joy in life. Very highly recommended. More here.
BYRON KATIE: A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are and Loving What Is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life -- Katie is a refreshingly unique contemporary teacher who has come up with a simple method for seeing through the mirage world created by thoughts, beliefs and story-telling. I'm not usually an enthusiast for methods and techniques, but I find "The Work" (as she calls it) truly liberating and definitely worth exploring. Every belief, story, and projection is exposed and deconstructed by putting it out and investigating it. Instead of encouraging us to try to be spiritual, Katie instead invites us to be as petty and unspiritual as possible -- bring out all our worst, most judgmental, most unenlightened, most spiritually incorrect thoughts -- and then investigate them by asking 4 simple questions. This questioning is done not on a purely cognitive level, but by feeling deeply into the answers. This simple process can definitely be a wake up from the thought-created mirage that is our human suffering, and while this whole process might, at first glance, look like another self-improvement project, it's truly about Self-realization. Loving What Is is probably the clearest and best introduction to The Work. My personal favorite is A Thousand Names for Joy, which offers stories from Katie's own life woven around verses from the Tao Te Ching. The book provides a kind of living portrait of the awakened mind in action in daily life. In the words of Katie's husband, Stephen Mitchell, A Thousand Names for Joy is "a portrait of a woman who is imperturbably joyous, whether she is dancing with her infant granddaughter or finds that her house has been emptied out by burglars, whether she stands before a man about to kill her or...learns that she is going blind...it doesn't merely describe the awakened mind; it lets you see it, feel it, in action." This personal account offers a whole new way of looking at life that is quite liberating. Katie has several other books I haven't read including Who Would You Be Without Your Story? and I Need Your Love -- Is That True? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead. There were also a few earlier books, probably all out of print now, including Losing the Moon: Byron Katie Dialogues on Non-Duality, Truth and Other Illusions, a much rawer and more unvarnished rendition of her teaching edited by Ellen Mack that I liked a lot. I find Katie's work very helpful whenever I find myself caught up in anger, resentment, self-pity, or other forms of upset and entrancement. With this simple form of inquiry, every upset becomes a doorway to waking up. Just reading these books can be eye-opening and enlightening. Very highly recommended. Audio, video, and more information on The Work here.
DAVID STEINDL-RAST: A Listening Heart: The Spirituality of Sacred Sensuousness and Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer -- Brother David is a Benedictine monk who has worked closely with various Zen communities. He has a wonderfully open mind and heart and a beautiful and deep sense of the sacred in the present moment. His books are a great joy to read. You can feel the depth of his presence and his heart. "Love wholeheartedly," he writes, "be surprised, give thanks and praise -- then you will discover the fullness of your life." Brother David was born in Vienna but has lived for many years in the United States. He has lectured worldwide and has also lived as a hermit. I love these books. Very highly recommended. More here.
JOSH BARAN: The Tao of Now (originally published as 365 nirvana here and now: living every moment in enlightenment) − Josh Baran, a former Zen monk now working as a communications executive in NYC, has assembled a collection of short passages and quotations from a diverse group of sages that includes Jesus, Buddha, Walt Whitman, Kabir, Meher Baba, Krishnamurti, Tony Parsons, Joko Beck, Mary Oliver, Toni Packer, Osho, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ball, Steve Hagen, Gangaji, Eckhart Tolle, and others. Each gem-like passage is an arrow aimed at shifting attention to right now and popping all ideas about distant goals and future attainments. The author's introduction is beautiful, as is the mind-stopping conversation with him at the end (the latter is not included in the new edition, only in the original). This is a truly wonderful book -- open it anywhere and it stops the mind. Very highly recommended. More here.
WES "SCOOP" NISKER: Buddha's Nature: A Practical Guide to Discovering Your Place in the Cosmos; Essential Crazy Wisdom; Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again, and The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation -- Wes Nisker is an insight meditation teacher, author, performer, former radio newscaster, and co-founder and co-editor of the excellent Buddhist journal "Inquiring Mind." He is refreshingly real and open, has a great sense of humor and freely admits that he doesn't know how the universe works. He remains open to new discoveries, and he offers a very practical, down-to-earth path rooted in awareness, scientific curiosity and an ability to laugh. Years ago in San Francisco, in the early 1970's, I remember "Scoop" Nisker would always end his newscast on the popular rocknroll station I listened to back then by saying, "And remember, if you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own." Wes is a very wise, insightful, honest human being whose work I very highly recommend. His book The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom had me laughing out loud, and I found his insights and reflections on our (boomer) moment in history profoundly healing. And Buddha's Nature is a great dharma book that brings together science and Buddhism in an original mix. There is also a wonderful DVD available of one of his live performances, and you'll find much more at his website here. Very highly recommended!
DOUGLAS HARDING: Open to the Source: Selected Teachings of Douglas E. Harding; Face to No-Face: Rediscovering Our Original Nature; On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious and Look For Yourself: The Science and Art of Self-Realization -- Douglas Harding (1909-2007) was a British architect who woke up to the unencapsulated boundlessness of Here / Now, the emptiness in which everything is appearing. In other words, he discovered that "I" am nothing at all, and that "I" am absolutely everything. He called this discovery "having no head," and he went on to write many books on the Headless Way. He also devised a number of simple experiments people can do to help them see the obvious, and he gave workshops on the Headless Way right up to the end of his life. The experiments never appealed to me, although I'm guessing they are probably helpful to many people, but I did greatly enjoy Harding's writing. He has a beautiful way of pointing to what is so clear and obvious that it is easily overlooked. Very highly recommended. More about his work here.
TAIZAN MAEZUMI: Appreciate Your Life -- Maezumi was a Zen teacher, born in Japan, who came to the US and founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles. His students included Joko Beck and Bernie Glassman along with many others. The book points you to this present moment here and now: "We do not see that our life right here, right now, is nirvana," he writes. "Maybe we think nirvana is a place where there are no problems, no more delusions...We always think nirvana is something very different from our own life. But we must really understand that nirvana is right here, right now." Maezumi offers subtle, nondual, Zen teaching that is clear and on the mark. I'm not into the formal Zen practice he taught, but the book as a whole is quite wonderful. It includes as an appendix translations of Dogen's Genjokoan and Sekito Kisen's Identity of Relative and Absolute. More on Maezumi here and here.
DAININ KATAGIRI: You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight; Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time; and Returning to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life -- Katagiri was a Zen priest who lived during the 20th Century. He came to the U.S. from Japan in 1963 and later founded the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. He died in 1990. I'm not recommending the kind of rigorous formal Zen practice that Katagiri practiced and taught (unless you happen to be drawn to it), but there is some truly wonderful insight and wisdom in these books. More here.
SUSAN MURPHY: Upside-Down Zen: Finding the Marvelous in the Ordinary – Susan Murphy is a Zen teacher (also a filmmaker, writer, and mother) in Australia who writes exquisitely. She uses language with the eloquence and passion of an ecstatic, devotional poet. The words come alive on the page, evoking the openness and aliveness of this moment. “There are still untouched and wild places in this world, as close as your own breathing," she writes. "Meditation, an utterly embodied practice, is often an education in catching up and becoming consonant with your wise, wild, animal body, with its sharp keenness for life rooted in an old knowing that it dies.” Susan so beautifully captures the marriage of play and rigor, commitment and letting go, boundless eternity and the bones and breath of each unique and embodied moment. Subtle, passionate, wise, direct, and right to the heart of the matter, this book brings true Zen practice and insight vividly and richly to life—but you don't have to be into formal Zen to appreciate and delight in this book. It speaks to anyone with an interest in waking up. John Tarrant, one of Susan's teachers and another favorite of mine, writes the foreword. Very highly recommended. More on Susan here.
BRAD WARNER: Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality; Hardcore Zen Strikes Again; Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye; and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma -- Brad Warner is an ordained Zen teacher and a writer of lively, entertaining, outside-the-box books about nitty-gritty, real life Zen. Brad became involved in Buddhism in the 1980's back when he was playing bass for a hardcore punk rock group. He studied Zen in Ohio with Tim McCarthy and then later in Japan with Nishijima Roshi, who authorized Brad to teach. This is no-bullshit Zen unfolding right in the midst of "ordinary" life, which in Brad's case includes a career marketing Japanese monster movies and a road trip across America with his mother while she was dying of Huntington's disease. Brad does a great job on demystifying enlightenment and making it clear that Zen practice isn't about getting into exotic states of consciousness or transcending daily life, just as it is. Above all, Brad seems to want very much to invite and encourage people to take up the practice of zazen (Zen meditation), and rather than "doing zazen," to let zazen do you. Brad is radical in the way Zen is radical, and he's outside the traditional box in many ways, but he's also quite conservative when it comes to such things as the importance of sitting zazen in the "correct" posture (cross-legged on a cushion). On matters like that, we don't always see eye to eye, but even when I don't fully agree with him, I find something at the heart of what he's saying with which I resonate. I find him authentic, honest, provocative in a good way, and I recommend his books. More here.
CHOGYAM TRUNGPA: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Myth of Freedom -- These two books point to groundlessness and non-dwelling -- the dropping of all reference points and conceptual constructs: "Then it is possible to experience the uniqueness and vividness of phenomena directly." Chogyam Trungpa was an important 20th Century Buddhist teacher who brought Tibetan Buddhism to the West. He fled Tibet as a young monk, lived for awhile in India and Scotland and eventually settled in the USA, where he gave up being a monk and became a lay teacher instead. Trungpa was an immensely creative man who founded Vajradhatu, the Naropa Institute and Shambhala. He was also a controversial character who drank heavily and slept with female students, but whatever you think of all that, these books have some excellent material in them. I'm not endorsing or recommending all the whistles and bells and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, unless you happen to be drawn to them, but Trungpa comes across in these books as very down to earth and direct. "Enlightenment is the ultimate and final disappointment," he writes. "Treading the spiritual path is painful. It is a constant unmasking, peeling off layer after layer of masks. It involves insult after insult." Highly recommended. More here.
HUBERT BENOIT: Zen and the Psychology of Transformation: The Supreme Doctrine (originally published as The Supreme Doctrine) − Joko Beck describes this book as "her main teacher" and says that "it may be the best book on Zen ever written." The author was a French surgeon (and later psychiatrist) who was severely wounded during a bombing in World War II that left him unable to move for many years. The book is a brilliant exposition of our essential human problem and its resolution. The book is unfortunately not easy to read, but worth the effort. It was translated from the French by Benoit's friend Wei Wu Wei. Highly recommended.
WEI WU WEI: All Else Is Bondage; Open Secret; and Ask the Awakened -- Three of the many fine books on non-dualism by a 20th century Irishman, now deceased, who called himself Wei Wu Wei. The perspective is essentially that of true Advaita, Taoism, and Zen. Wei Wu Wei goes right for the root. Highly recommended. More here.
BERNIE GLASSMAN: Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen -- This is an excellent book that I very highly recommend. It elucidates the Zen understanding of nondualism by exploring two wonderful Buddhist texts, The Heart Sutra and The Identity of Relative and Absolute. Bernie Glassman is a fascinating man who strikes me as very alive and awake. An aerospace engineer turned Zen teacher, long-time activist for peace and social justice, founder of the Zen Community of New York and the Zen Peacemaker Order, Glassman is deeply committed to "Not Knowing" ("giving up fixed ideas about myself and the universe") and "Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the world." He speaks of taking action in the world with no idea of a cure, and of practicing Zen not in order to become enlightened, but because we are enlightened. This book explores the nondual understanding that "form is precisely emptiness, emptiness precisely form," and that ultimate reality is "not one, not two." Glassman's writing is very clear. His varied activities over the years include holding retreats on the streets of New York City where participants are homeless for a week, holding interfaith bearing witness retreats at Auschwitz, creating Zen business ventures and social service projects, clowning (he created the Order of Dis-Order), and working for peace in the Middle East. Bernie Glassman loves what he calls "plunges" -- "taking you out of that space of knowing and dropping you into a place of not knowing." I'm not into formal Zen anymore, and I'm not a social activist anymore either, but I do find Glassman's work immensely intriguing, and I deeply appreciate the Zen understanding of nondualism, which to my eye and ear, is especially subtle and profound. Glassman has several other books, and I would also recommend one called Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life that Matters, a book he co-authored with Rick Fields that talks about business, right livelihood, social change and community from a Zen perspective. But above all, I very highly recommend Infinite Circle. More here.
NAGARJUNA: Mulamadhyamakakarika (The Middle Way) -- Nagarjuna lived in India in the second century C.E. and is considered one of the most important and seminal figures in Buddhism, perhaps second only to the Buddha himself. Nagarjuna was noted for deconstructing the conceptual mirage of solidity and permanence, and questioning the mind's tendency to grasp, fixate and reify. He points out the fallacies of every way in which we try to conceptualize reality, and he does this without ever offering us an alternative (as in, the right way of conceptualizing it). We want that, but Nagarjuna doesn't offer it, because concepts can't ever be the truth (the map isn't ever the territory). Steve Hagen (see listing above) has a whole course about Nagarjuna available on CD that is excellent and very highly recommended -- well worth the price. Good translations of Nagarjuna include those by David J. Kalupahana and Jay L. Garfield. It's not easy material, but highly recommended.
GREG GOODE: Standing As Awareness: The Direct Path -- Greg Goode has a doctorate in philosophy, has studied psychology, and also has a background in both Advaita and Zen. He mentions Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, and Sri Atmananda (Krishna Menon) as important influences. I found this book very clear, insightful, simple, direct and intelligent. It does a wonderful job of unpacking enlightenment and clarifying the difference between experiences of spaciousness and the ever-present space of awareness from which nothing stands apart. Greg is based in New York City, and you can learn more about him here.
DAVID R. LOY: Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy -- David Loy is a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy and a Zen teacher. I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling to reconcile (or differentiate) Advaita and Buddhism, or to anyone who is clinging dogmatically to one position or the other, or to anyone who wants a deeper and more subtle understanding of nonduality. The book compares and contrasts the Advaita notion of Self (Immutable Reality) with the Buddhist understanding of no self (impermanence, thorough-going flux, no-thing-ness). Loy explores concepts such as time and space, substance, causality, freedom, and spiritual path from a nondual perspective, drawing not only on Advaita and Buddhism, but also on Taoism and Western philosophy. The book takes an intellectual, philosophical approach, but Loy has spent decades practicing Zen, so his understanding is not merely coming from the intellect. Loy has written several other books that I have read around in and enjoyed parts of, including Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays; The World Is Made of Stories; and Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism. Loy also co-authored a wonderful piece called "Consuming Time" in the Buddhist anthology Hooked edited by Stephanie Kaza. Loy is interested in the intersection of Buddhism with both psychology and larger social issues. He is most definitely an interesting thinker and observer of post-modern culture and nondual teachings, and he brings the discernment of a trained philospher as well as the practice-experience of a long-time Buddhist to the table in his books. Definitely well worth a look. You can listen to and watch a very interesting talk by David Loy here and you can learn more at his website here.
THE HEART OF AWARENESS: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita, translated by Thomas Byrom -- This beautiful translation of a classic and radical text in Advaita Vedanta is elegantly spare, simple and crystal clear. The translator, Thomas Byrom, seems to have deep spiritual insight combined with a poet's feeling for language, and his rendering is exquisite. In his introduction to the book, Byrom writes, "Ashtavakra's words begin after almost everything else has been said. They barely touch the page. They are often on the point of vanishing. They are the first melting of the snow, high in the mountains, a clear stream flowing over smooth and shining pebbles." Byrom says of the Ashtavakra Gita, "All its beauty is in the transparency, its enraptured and flawless purity." Byrom sums up the essential message of the Ashtavakra Gita as: "We are all one Self. The Self is pure awareness. This Self, this flawless awareness is God. There is only God." I very highly recommend this book.
TIMELESS SPRING: A Soto Zen Anthology, edited and translated by Thomas Cleary -- an excellent collection of Zen writings that includes such classics as "Merging of Difference and Unity" and "Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi." I especially recommend a piece in this collection called "Hongzhi said." Highly recommended.
LAO TZU: Tao Te Ching -- Beautiful, simple, and clear. There are any number of fine translations of this ancient Taoist classic, and each different translation conveys different flavors and shades of meaning for each verse. I especially recommend the translation by Stephen Mitchell, and the one by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English. There's also a lovely version by Brian Walker, who also translated the less well-known Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, which I also recommend.
RYOKAN: One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan, translated by John Stevens -- Ryokan, known as the "Great Fool," was a Zen poet, monk and hermit in late 18th and early 19th century Japan. In the words of John Stevens, Ryokan "slept when he wanted to, drank freely, and frequently joined the dancing parties held in summer. He acquired his simple needs by mendicancy, and if he had anything extra he gave it away. He never preached or exhorted, but his life radiated purity and joy; he was a living sermon...Often he spent the entire day playing with the children or picking flowers." His haiku poems transmit the essence of Zen with exquisite simplicity and beauty. Very highly recommended.
H.W.L. POONJA: This: Prose and Poetry of Dancing Emptiness and Wake Up & Roar -- H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji) was an Indian guru who lived during the 20th Century. He attracted many westerners (including Gangaji, Catherine Ingram, Isaac Shapiro, Mooji, many people in the Insight Meditation community, and many others who are now teaching). I find Papaji's teaching rather uneven -- some of it is wonderfully direct, clear and full of heart, and then some of it strikes me as rather confused and murky. I do highly recommend these two books. This is an abridged version of a much longer book called Truth Is. Stick with the distilled version; it's a real jewel. Wake Up & Roar is a collection of sasang dialogs that was originally published in two volumes and is now available in a new combined edition with photos.
EZRA BAYDA: Beyond Happiness and Being Zen -- Ezra Bayda is a very clear, no-nonsense, contemporary Zen teacher who teaches at Zen Center San Diego. He writes about being present in the midst of everyday life, and he offers a number of very simple practices that one can draw on in the midst of difficulties and challenging circumstances. He avoids getting lost in metaphysics and philosophy, and focuses instead on the nitty-gritty stuff of daily life and on being present in this moment, just as it is. True happiness, Ezra says, is about "being present, being awake, being open." This is very clear, practical, down to earth, practice-oriented Zen teaching through the lens of everyday life. Ezra has several other books as well that I haven't read and I'm sure they're probably all good. Very highly recommended if you're looking for a practice-oriented approach. More here.
CHERI HUBER: The Key: And the Name of the Key Is Willingness -- A very simple, clear, handwritten book, illustrated with drawings, and full of wonderful insight. Cheri is a Zen teacher in California who runs what I hear is a pretty strict Zen monastery. Her books, however, convey a kind of gentle wisdom. She has written a number of them, many dealing with common psychological issues such as self-hatred and depression, and in that realm, she is excellent at hitting the nail on the head. Some of her many wonderful titles include When You're Falling, Dive; How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything; There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate; The Depression Book: Depression As An Opportunity for Spiritual Growth; The Fear Book: Facing Fear Once & for All; Nothing Happens Next; Sex and Money...are dirty, aren't they?; Suffering Is Optional; That Which You Are Seeking Is Causing You to Seek; and How To Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. More here.
S.N. GOENKA: The Discourse Summaries of S.N. Goenka and Beyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation by Marshall Glickman -- S.N. Goenka is a retired businessman from Burma who initially took up Buddhist meditation to help him deal with severe pain. He ended up becoming a lay teacher and founding centers worldwide. Goenka has developed a style of Vipassana meditation that is an experiential, scientific, sensation-based, awareness practice, through which one can observe the constantly changing nature of the mind and body at the deepest level. I haven't done a retreat in this tradition, but from what I understand, they explore bodily sensation in great depth along with embracing a strong ethical commitment to Buddhist precepts. The Discourse Summaries offers a condensed version of the talks Goenka gives during these retreats as guidelines to the practice. Here, the practice is what counts. Goenka emphsizes that, "Liberation can be gained only by practice, never by mere discussion." He also says, "The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal." This is not about philosopy, religious ritual or dogma, or idolizing a teacher. This is about looking within and finding your own way to liberation. Before reading Goenka's discourses, I would actually very highly recommend starting with Beyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation by Marshall Glickman. This is an excellent book by one of Goenka's American students. Glickman puts Goenka's approach into language that I suspect will resonate more easily and deeply with contemporary Westerners. Glickman's book is excellent and I recommend it highly to everyone, not just those interested in Vipassana. Ten-day retreats in Goenka's style are available in many places around the world, all run on a donation basis. You can find retreats in your area and learn more about Goenka and this style of Vipassana here. This type of meditation has been brought into a number of prisons, including a maximum-security prison in Alabama, and there is a powerful documentary about that called The Dhamma Brothers, which you can learn more about here. Many people find Goenka's approach extremely transformative, and you can witness its effects on the men in this documentary.
RACHEL NAOMI REMEN: My Grandfather's Blessings and Kitchen Table Wisdom -- Rachel Naomi Remen M.D. is a former pediatrician who now counsels people facing chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Remen herself has lived with Crohn's disease for many years. These two magnificent books are collections of stories from her life and practice. This woman has incredible soul, heart, wisdom, and love, and these are two of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Deeply touching material. Very highly recommended. More here.
JILL BOLTE TAYLOR: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey -- When this neuroanatomist suffers a stroke that disables the left hemisphere of her brain, she gets an unexpected opportunity to study, explore and observe the brain from the inside out. The two hemispheres of the human brain are each responsible for very different functions. The hemisphere that was damaged in Jill's stroke was the one associated with attention to details, rational thinking, linear sequencing, language and mathematics. What she is left with is the part of the brain that sees only seamless fluidity, wholeness, and the present moment (she calls it nirvana). She can't even figure out how to dial the phone to call for help. But luckily, she does get help, and over a period of some eight years, Jill is able to recover the left brain function that had been lost in the stroke. In the process, she learns about her own power to consciously choose and shift from left brain to right brain. This is a fascinating book on so many levels, one that I very highly recommend! It offers an exploration of awareness and consciousness through the lenses of both brain science and direct observation (the latter refreshingly free from any spiritual road maps or preconceptions that would filter or obstruct the view). In addition, this book is an excellent guide for how to treat people who are having or recovering from strokes. More here.
DAVID BOHM: Thought As a System -- This excellent book, which I very highly recommend, is the transcript of a seminar with Bohm exploring thought, awareness, and dialogue. Bohm was a leading theoretical physicist who dialogued extensively with J. Krishnamurti. Bohm says: "I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment." This particular book is a remarkably clear and exquisitely subtle exploration of thought and its effects on the world, and it also explores Bohm's ideas about the importance of group dialogue as a form of meditative inquiry. Also recommended: Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political and Environmental Crises Facing our World by David Bohm & Mark Edwards, which explores the development of human culture, and how the mis-use of thought is the root source of the escalating global crisis. That book is a dialogue between the authors, both of whom were associated with Krishnamurti, alongside photographs taken by Mark Edwards all around the world. Both these books are excellent and highly recommended, especially Thought As a System. Bohm has a number of other books I've read that are accessible to a non-physicist, Unfolding Meaning and Wholeness and the Implicate Order. More on Bohm here.
CLAUDE ANSHIN THOMAS: At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace -- Thomas is an American Zen monk, teacher and peace activist. As a young man, he fought in the Vietnam War. He won numerous medals, killed hundreds of people, witnessed unimaginable cruelty and suffering, and narrowly escaped death. He returned home with severe post traumatic stress and fell into drug and alcohol addiction, isolation and homelessness. He eventually attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh for Vietnam veterans and that started him on the Buddhist path. Later ordained by Bernie Glassman, Thomas now teaches Zen and has taken vows as a mendicant. This book is honest, real, and direct. It shows the Buddhist way through suffering, not abstractly, but through the eyes and example of someone who is living that journey, breath by breath. Thomas writes: "Our culture operates with the idea that healing means the absence of pain, but I've come to understand that healing doesn't mean that our pain and suffering go away. Healing is learning to live in a different relationship with our pain and suffering so it does not control us. The only way in which I can heal my wounds, the only way in which I can awaken, is to live in the present moment in mindfulness, breathing in and breathing out." Thomas teaches a grounded, committed, embodied, practice-oriented approach to Buddhism. While that kind of formal Buddhist practice isn't my way, I nonetheless found something very beautiful and moving in this book, and I have great respect for this man. More here.
STEPHEN LEVINE: Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart; and Who Dies? -- With his wife Ondrea, Stephen has spent his life working with people who are terminally ill, as well as with war veterans, concentration camp survivors, survivors of sexual abuse, and people suffering from "the loss of dignity due to racial and religious prejudice, or the multitude of finely wrought cultural humiliations suffered by women, the aged, children, the infirm, and the less than 'beautiful.'" His own history included drugs and prison years ago. His approach is Buddhist-oriented but eclectic and open-minded. This is a gentle and tender teaching that can soften your belly (as he likes to say), open your heart, and invite loving-kindness to others and to yourself. More here.
WALTER TRUETT ANDERSON: The Next Enlightenment: Integrating East and West in a New Vision of Human Evolution -- A very interesting book by the author of Reality Isn't What It Used to Be (another wonderful book which I greatly enjoyed). The Next Enlightenment takes a look at East and West from Buddhism to evolution, brain science and new physics in search of truth without dogmatism. Anderson writes (and sees) with intelligence, humor, and a secular perspective that is refreshingly unattached to any particular system of thought. More here.
ORDINARY MAGIC: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path edited by John Welwood -- A collection of writings by a variety of spiritual teachers, artists, activists, and healers including Joko Beck, Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Krishnamurti, A.H. Almaas, Allen Ginsberg, Natalie Goldberg, Ram Dass, Stephen Levine, Joanna Macy, Deena Metzger, Eugen Herrigel, Frederick Franck, and many others.
SAM HARRIS: Free Will – This short book is a very clear and articulate explanation of why free will is an illusion and how the recognition of this in no way threatens morality or human accomplishment in the ways that are often feared. Sam Harris is the author of several other books, most notably perhaps The End of Faith, in which he argues against belief-based religion (particularly the Abrahamic religions) and in favor of science and reason. Harris has degrees in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience, and is the co-founder of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values. It is obvious from some of his writings that Sam has had considerable firsthand experience with meditation and has obviously seen directly into the illusory nature of the separate self. He is currently at work on what he describes as “a ‘spiritual’ book for smart, skeptical people—dealing with issues like the illusion of the self, the efficacy of practices like meditation, the cultivation of positive mental states, etc.,” the working title of which is Waking Up: Science, Skepticism, and Spirituality. I very much look forward to that one. While I disagree with him at times on issues other than free will, I find his work overall to be very interesting, valuable and in most ways quite on the mark—and this little book on the illusion of free will is excellent and very highly recommended. More here.
INCOGNITO: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman -- published in 2011, this fascinating book, written by a neuroscientist, presents the brain as a "team of rivals" with no central executive (no single "me") in command. The book looks into how our perception of reality is constructed, and it explores the question of free will and whether there is anyone to blame for an action, or if blame is perhaps the wrong question. Eagleman considers the moral and legal implications of what we are learning about the brain, comparing the impact of these recent discoveries to that of the earlier discovery that the earth was not the center of the universe. Very highly recommended. More here and here.
OUTLIERS: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell -- This is a fascinating book about all the random factors that go into making someone a success. Why is it that not everyone with talent and ambition who works hard actually ends up achieving their dreams? Why do some countries produce more students who excel at math or flight crews that are more or less likely to crash the plane they are flying? If you believe that all it takes for success is hard work, talent, and positive thinking, this book will make you think again. Gladwell, a journalist and author, has two previous books, The Tipping Point and Blink, both very interesting as well. More here.
JED McKENNA: Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing − This novel disguised as a memoir may pull a few cherished rugs out from under you and generate some provocative questions, which is why I include it on this list. But I would advise you to take the enlightened hero and much of what he says with a big grain of salt. The book tells the story of a few days in the life of Jed McKenna, an unconventional, iconoclastic, homegrown, self-declared, fictional "enlightened guy" (as he calls himself) from Iowa. Jed demolishes one sacred cow after another as he distinguishes between his version of true enlightenment and such things as mystical experiences, mindfulness practices, evolutionary consciousness, unity consciousness, human adulthood and spiritual self-improvement programs, all of which (according to Jed) are still part of the dream world. Jed points instead to the nondual absolute, that which has no opposite, that which is prior to consciousness. His teaching is all about showing you that the self at the center of your whole spiritual adventure isn't real and taking away every life-preserver that you reach for to keep you afloat in the dream world. Jed never tells you what Truth is, but instead, he invites you to see through and discard whatever you think it is and to keep going "further" in the spiritual demolition process. And if you go looking for Jed McKenna instead of for Truth itself, you won't find anybody − this is fiction. That's one of the great jokes about this book − the "enlightened guy" who supposedly wrote it doesn't even exist. I believe the real author is the publisher, a man who shall remain nameless who sent me a review copy asking for my endorsement before it was published. I did endorse the book at the time, even though I had many mixed feelings and reservations about it, because I felt that it was an entertaining and provocative read that in some ways hit the nail on the head beautifully. But there were things about the book that felt seriously off the mark to me. Jed seemed rather full of himself, made exaggerated claims about his success as a teacher, and often seemed to treat other people with a mixture of condescension and disdain. "I possess selfless awareness and you don't," he tells a woman who is supposedly interviewing him for a magazine. And although he says that "enlightenment is neither remote nor unattainable," that it is "closer than your skin and more immediate than your next breath," he also insists that it can only be the culmination of an epic struggle, "a slow and agonizing process of self-annihilation," in which a caterpillar turns irrevocably into a butterfly. That model of an epic journey with a decisive finish-line and a Permanently Enlightened Hero at the center of it seems strangely at odds with the absolute, nondual, no-self, prior-to-consciousness perspective that Jed seems to be otherwise espousing. It also seems to dangle a carrot in front of the reader and reaffirm the false idea that "this isn't it" here and now. Jed refers to "Spiritual Autolysis" (the path to enlightenment that he offers) as "an intellectual endeavor," and he sums up his teaching as, "Think for yourself and figure out what's true." That sounds like philosophy and not genuine enlightenment. He also asserts that the journey to enlightenment means being "forever excluded from the whole human thing" and "leaving behind human connectedness," all of which sounds like a confusion of nonduality with dissociation. Jed's favorite authors include channeled entities like Seth and Abraham, whose work on manifesting desires he finds "very useful." In short, although I loved parts of this book, I found it uneven, and some of it seemed truly off-base. People tell me the book has been through several editions with revisions and additions, and I am only commenting on the first edition. This is the first book in a trilogy. I didn't particularly like the next two books and never finished reading them, but they continue on with the same basic themes. I wouldn't recommend either of those. But the first book, Spiritual Enlightenment, may be worth reading. I'm obviously not whole-heartedly recommending it, but for me, the whole event of reading this book and briefly falling for the imaginary author and his enlightenment was a great wake up, one of the final nails in the coffin of my search for enlightenment. It drove home the essential truth that they point to so beautifully in Buddhism when they say, "If you meet the Buddha on the road [as something apparently outside of you or other than you], kill it." At its best, intentionally or inadvertently, this book may encourage you to do just that. But as I say, take it with a big grain of salt, because it may have exactly the opposite effect. More here.
STEVEN HARRISON: The Love of Uncertainty; What's Next After Now? Post-Spirituality & the Creative Life; The Question to Life's Answers: Spirituality Beyond Belief; and Getting to Where You Are: The Life of Meditation -- Steven calls himself "post-spiritual," arguing that the whole construction of spirituality is bankrupt: "As a conditioned expression of our sense of lack, [spirituality] is caught in its own promise of fulfillment." Steven rejects all forms of spirituality that are rooted in narcissism and self-deception and that seek security, certainty, pain relief, extraordinary experiences, ego-enhancement, self-improvement, or comfort. He dismisses "being in the now," mindfulness meditation, non-duality, Advaita, New Age self-improvement programs, psychotherapy -- all the popular answers on the spiritual scene today. Instead, he invites the reader into what he describes as a life of open inquiry, "a life of discovery without reliance on any system or philosophy," a life beyond the known. Steven suggests that radical transformation is possible only through direct contact with actuality, and if you think you know what actuality is, that isn't it. If you're ready to question all your ideas about spirituality and nonduality, these books will at the very least raise some excellent questions and challenge your beliefs. I greatly appreciate the way Steven questions and deconstructs all the prevailing answers, his honesty and inquiring spirit, and the way he attempts to live his investigation rather than just think and talk about it. He has co-founded a community and an alternative school in Colorado, a publishing venture, and a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people in Asia and Africa. Audio and video, plus several other books, and information about Steven's projects and events is available here.
THE GURU PAPERS: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad -- This is an excellent book that explores the dangers of authoritarian structures. The authors look at the rise of fundamentalism and the need for certainty, they examine issues such as control, surrender, and addiction in fresh and interesting ways, and they critique cherished spiritual ideas like enlightenment, oneness, and unconditional love. You may not agree with everything they say (I don't), but I encourage people to read this book. It raises many valuable questions. More here.
MARY OLIVER: New & Selected Poems (Vols. I and II); American Primitive; House of Light; Dream Work; Twelve Moons; The Leaf & the Cloud; A Thousand Mornings -- Mary Oliver is a contemporary American poet whose writing bursts with awake presence. She celebrates the natural world and exquisitely reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary and the transcendent in the earth and eros of life. Mary Oliver says in a recent interview, "I consider myself kind of a reporter—one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography." In the same interview, she says, "You have to be in the world to understand what the spiritual is about, and you have to be spiritual in order to truly be able to accept what the world is about....I think about the spiritual a great deal. I like to think of myself as a praise poet." There are other collections of her work as well, and all of them are very highly recommended.
LOVE POEMS FROM GOD: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky -- exquisitely rendered poems by Rumi, Hafiz, Meister Eckhart, Mira, Rabia, Kabir, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis, and others. I love Ladinsky's introductory words and the spirit he brings to the work. Very highly recommended!
THE SOUL IS HERE FOR ITS OWN JOY: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures, edited by Robert Bly -- Wonderful collection of spiritual poems, including work by Rumi, Kabir, Lalla, Rilke, Silesius, Mirabai, Dickinson, Oliver, Transtromer, and many others. Pure celebration of the Divine: "There the bee of the heart stays deep inside the flower, and cares for no other thing." Another wonderful collection by Robert Bly is The Winged Energy of Delight, which includes poems by Transtromer, Kabir, Rilke, Jimenez, Basho, Issa, Rumi, Lorca, and many others.
EVERYWHERE A GUEST, NOWHERE AT HOME: A New Vision of Israel and Palestine by Kim Chernin – This slender little book is about how we come to believe certain things and take on certain identities and how we can begin to question our assumptions and positions. The author is a Jewish writer and psychotherapist with deep insight who went from being an avid Zionist and apologist for Israel to recognizing the plight of the Palestinian people. From there she begins to question how people who had survived a genocide could end up behaving as oppressors to another group of people. Although this is not a book about nonduality or spirituality in the usual sense, I include it on this reading list because the conflict between Israel and Palestine is exemplary of the forces within each of us that drive us alternately toward peace or war (inwardly and outwardly). The very mention of Palestine or Israel can trigger instant emotional reactions and deeply-held beliefs in many of us. Kim offers a vision of peace that is based on listening openly and questioning our beliefs. The book weaves her own personal journey together with various historical and journalistic accounts of the long struggle in this troubled part of the world. She appreciates the truth on both sides, and she remains open to the complexities, nuances and ambiguities of the situation. This is not a black and white political diatribe, but rather an invitation to all of us to listen openly and to be willing to question our most deeply-held assumptions and narratives. This book is beautifully written, very insightful and well worth reading, especially for those who take an interest in global politics and conflict resolution. More here.
GONEBOY: A Father's Search for the Truth in His Son's Murder (a new and updated edition of a book originally titled Goneboy: A Walkabout) by Gregory Gibson -- This is not a spiritual book or a book about nonduality, but I recommend it because of the way it shows again and again how things are not what we think they are. In 1992, Gregory Gibson's eighteen-year-old son was shot and killed by a fellow student in a shooting rampage at Simon's Rock College that left two dead and several more injured. The book is a true story about the author's journey toward understanding and coming to grips with the murder of his son. Gibson takes us with him on this "walkabout" as he meets with school officials, gun dealers, lawyers, psychiatrists, friends of the shooter, and finally the parents of the shooter and eventually the shooter himself. I couldn't put the book down. It's an honest and insightful page-turner and an extraordinary story. Be sure to get the updated 2011 North Atlantic Books edition with the introduction, prologue and afterword, as it contains important new developments not in the original version. The Amazon listing is very confusing if you just type in the title, but here's a link to the new edition on Amazon.
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