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 conceptual thought and discovering the aliveness and immediacy that is Here / Now. They all invite the reader to investigate directly for themselves and to trust in aware presence and the simplicity of bare being, rather than holding onto beliefs or concepts. My books reveal 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, Death: The End of Self-Improvement, about growing old and dying, is in the works and will hopefully be available soon. All my books are a celebration of what is, exactly as it is, and they also offer a direct, non-methodical, (pathless) path of awareness and discovery, revealing that the Holy Reality is fully present Here / Now. Readers have expressed appreciation for the honesty, clarity and humor in all of these books. 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 never stop learning from her. Toni was a former Zen teacher who left the traditional rituals, beliefs, dogmas and hierarchy of formal Zen behind while keeping the true heart of Zen very much alive. I spent five years living and working at the retreat center she founded in northwestern New York. Toni died in 2013 at the age of 86. 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. She was passionately interested in listening and looking without answers or formulas, and without relying on the authority of the past. This is a very rare quality. Toni never allowed insights to turn into dogmas, and she approached this work with the dispassionate curiosity of a scientist—everything has to be tested, seen directly—and it could always be questioned, looked at anew, taken further. A kindred spirit to J. Krishnamurti, Toni was exceptionally good at clarifying the difference between awareness and thinking, and between direct perceiving and the conceptual overlay. She was 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 provided 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 always spoke from the openness of listening presence and not from the tightness of thought and belief, and she was always wiling to start fresh and question everything anew. Her overall approach, which she called "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 looked closely at human suffering (anger, fear, compulsion, and so forth) and suggested meeting whatever is here with open interest and non-judgmental curiosity. She was no stranger to human pain and suffering -- Toni grew up half-Jewish in Nazi Germany, and in the last 14 years of her life, she lived with severe chronic pain and increasing disability. After she left the Zen tradition behind, Toni came to see 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. 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, video, a newsletter, and books (including my first book, Bare-Bones Meditation) are available here.
NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ: I Am That (the most well-worn book in my collection, the classic of Nisargadatta's teaching, translated by Maurice Frydman); 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 rendered by Ramesh Balsekar) − Nisargadatta was a rare jewel, one of the most profound nondual teachers that I have ever encountered. An exceptionally clear 20th century Indian guru, he was a family man and a shopkeeper, living and teaching in the back lanes of Bombay, where he died in 1981. 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 points beyond concepts and ideas to the awareness 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 points 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." Ultimately, Nisargadatta points beyond consciousness itself, to what is prior to the entire movie of waking life and even to that first bare sense of being present: "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." Perhaps summing it all up, he famously said: “Love says: ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says: ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two my life flows." And elsewhere: “Don’t pretend to be what you’re not, and don’t refuse to be what you are.” In other words, don’t pretend to be a separate self, and don’t refuse to be the One Self that is everything and no-thing. Described by Maurice Frydman as "warm-hearted, tender, shrewdly humorous, absolutely fearless and true," Nisargadatta could be fierce as well as tender, and he definitely didn’t conform to the stereotypic image of a soft-spoken, other-worldly, beatific guru. He smoked bidis (Indian cigarettes) during his satsangs, even as he was dying of throat cancer, and would sometimes yell at people and throw them out. Jean Dunn writes that, "Moods passed over him like summer breeze, barely touching him." There are a number of other fine collections of Nisargadatta's teachings, including Seeds of Consciousness and Prior to Consciousness (both edited by Jean Dunn); The Wisdom-Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj: A Visual Journey (photos and text edited by Matthew Greenblatt); and The Ultimate Medicine and The Experience of Nothingness (both edited by Robert Powell). 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 excellent 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 or most of what Wolinsky has to say, and there is some excellent material in all these NetiNeti DVDs, including some actual footage of Nisargadatta. I very highly recommend the teachings of Nisargadatta.
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 Zen 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.
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 aware presence here and now. His approach is nonconceptual and is all about bringing attention to the present moment, waking up from the entrancement in thought, and discovering our true nature as the "eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death." Eckhart's expression is refreshingly free of conventional religious or dogmatic trappings. He is deeply grounded in presence, and he embodies and points eloquently and simply to boundless awareness, the ever-present Now. He illuminates the workings of the egoic mind (the habitual thoughts and behaviors that obscure the truth) with tremendous clarity, and he has a wonderful ability to playfully mimic our hypnotic entrancement in the obsessive machinations of the thinking mind with spot-on accuracy and benevolent humor. If you're looking for a bare-bones, nondual approach to meditation and the art of present moment living, Eckhart is great. He offers an intelligent way of working with difficult emotions, compulsions and neurotic patterns (what he calls the pain-body), and 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 seeing through thought-created suffering and being fully present with whatever is showing up. Eckhart speaks and writes out of a spacious openness that you can feel in his talks and in the pages of his books, all of which are saturated with the listening silence and stillness that he embodies and expresses so beautifully. He once described his teaching as being like a marriage of Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti, and that feels on the mark to me. 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 aliveness and immediacy of Now. He has managed to speak to a wide range of people in a way that they can hear, which I think is wonderful, and in the course of that, 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 any of these talks, you find that he always brings it right back to simple presence Here and Now. That's really the beauty of his teaching—that he wakes the listener up to what is unbound and free, not as an idea or a concept, but as a direct experiential reality here and now. 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; What Is Meditation; and The Art of Presence. Some excellent CDs I enjoyed include: Through the Open Door and Stillness Admidst the World. 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.
DARRYL BAILEY: Dismantling the Fantasy and Essence Revisited − Darryl's books are the clearest, cleanest, simplest, more articulate expressions I've come across of what I call radical nonduality. Radical nonduality is a description of what is, not a prescription for how to fix it. It offers no path, no practice, nowhere to go, nothing to do other than what is already happening, effortlessly, by itself. Darryl points to the unbound, seamless unicity from which nothing stands apart, emphasizing the choiceless and automatic nature of reality and the absence of anyone running the show. Ultimately, what he points to is the dismantling of all descriptions, leaving only the aliveness of this moment. He shows you that there is no solid or enduring form and no independent, separate self—that everything is an undivided happening, a "vibrant, mysterious dance," 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. There is no emphasis on self-improvement or saving the world: "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." Darryl is not against meditation or other spiritual practices if one is drawn to them, but he's not advocating or suggesting them either, and he points out that we do not create these interests or have any control over whether or not we are able to carry them out in any given moment. Teachings that offer any kind of prescriptive path can potentially trigger and reinforce the false notion of being “someone” who can and must "do" something in order to “get somewhere,” often followed by frustration and the sense of having failed. So for Darryl, the most liberating realization is that nothing can be other than how it is, and that no one actually exists (or stands apart) from this ever-changing happening. The freedom to which he points is not the result of a cause. It has nothing to do with practicing concentration, observing thoughts, trying to be more aware, trying to identify as awareness, focusing on the breath, or trying to live in a healthier way. Again, he’s not against these things, but he is pointing to the larger movement of existence and to the fact that each of us is a unique and legitimate expression of this larger unexplainable happening. Darryl describes this freedom as “a complete opening to the unformed, the undirected, the uncontrolled, the unexpected, and the unpredictable,” and he says, “This openness is often called love. In this, you are not a body; you are not a mind; there is only love.” This love, he says, is “a truly sensitive vulnerability to what is,” and he writes: “At some point, the heart may open to the totally indefinable, unpredictable, and often unwanted movement that life is. Love is that openness of heart.” Beautiful! “Ultimately,” Darryl says, “my descriptions are false too, but they invite you to step out of description, in order to experience a sense of freedom and well-being that is impossible to create or to understand…It’s similar to waking up after a night of deep sleep. In deep sleep we give up everything.” Like deep sleep, Darryl’s books are a dismantling of every place you try to land and every thing you try to grasp. By dissolving the belief that anything is lacking or could be other than it is, by refusing to offer any way out or in, and by acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all spiritual practice that will appeal to or work for everyone, Darryl brings the mind to a complete stop in its relentless search to eliminate or attain something. He leaves you with nothing, which is the greatest gift of all. Although Darryl offers no path, he actually spent many years exploring awareness practices from many traditions, Eastern and Western. He 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, also excellent and highly recommended, in which he distills the radical core teachings of the Buddha and includes material by Alan Watts and U.G. Krishnamurti along with some developmental psychology. 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 rare jewels, very highly recommended. In addition to Darryl's wonderful books, audio and video is available on his website. All very highly recommended. More here.
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.
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.
THICH NHAT HANH: The Sun My Heart; The Heart of Understanding and You Are Here -- Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist whose 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. 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 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 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 and is one of the main founders of socially engaged Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh encourages people to treat our anger, our depression, our addiction, and all of ourselves with tenderness, not with violence. He 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.
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.
'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 encourages you to have a look for yourself and see that there is always only presence-awareness, the intelligence-energy that vibrates into different patterns but is always the One-without-a-second from which no separation is ever possible: “Have a look at nature and see the way it’s patterning and shaping and forming. Galaxies are forming, the earth and planets are moving round, seasons are coming and going, the tides moving in and out…the whole of nature is suffused with an innate intelligence, and you’re nothing but a pattern of energy. That intelligence is what is breathing you, growing your hair and your fingernails, replacing cells in your body, digesting your food—it’s all happening quite naturally and effortlessly." Bob says that "by taking the appearance to be real, we pretend to be separate beings, rather than recognizing that we truly are that pure intelligence energy.” He shows you that you already are what you seek, that there will never be any more Oneness than there is now. Bob never for a moment buys into any 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 exceptionally articulate and lucid expressions of radical nonduality. 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. Leo shows you that the apparent individual with a seemingly autonomous free will is a mirage-like illusion, that there is no way to become what you already are and nothing to do (or not do) that will bring you any closer to what is. From the perspective of radical nonduality, there is no path, no practice, no one to "be here now," and no way not to be here now. If you’re caught up in the belief that "this isn't it," thinking you haven’t arrived yet, and if you're working very hard to “do it right” and “get somewhere” and improve yourself, this radical and uncompromising message may be just the medicine you need to recognize that nothing is broken and that there is no one who lacks anything. Leo conveys this ultimate truth with brilliant clarity and simplicity. When you really see it, this radical perspective is very relieving and freeing. For a long time, Leo 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. All very highly recommended. More here.
"THE ULTIMATE STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS" by Ken Wilber -- This short piece of writing is a crystal clear, amazingly articulate, bubble-popping description of nonduality that I very highly recommend. It is the last chapter in Wilber's book Eye to Eye, and it also appears as the final article in John White's anthology, What Is Enlightenment? In this brilliant piece of writing, Wilber points to the nondual Absolute—the all-inclusive, timeless and spaceless Here / Now—the One without a second that is “completely and wholly present at every point of space and time.” And as Wilber so clearly shows, this nondual Absolute is never not fully realized, for “the ultimate state of consciousness is in no way different from your ordinary state of consciousness.” The ultimate state of consciousness is not an altered state or a special state, it is not a state “that can be entered, or that emerges after various practices,” but rather, it is always 100% present and fully realized Here / Now. Wilber is a contemporary author, long-time spiritual practitioner, and founder of Integral Institute, and in his many books, he provides a 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. I've enjoyed several of his books, but what I'm recommending here is only this one piece, "The Ultimate State of Consciousness," which is very highly recommended. Absolutely excellent!
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 a number of beautiful DVDs available, including The Unknowable Reality of Things and Love: The Underground River, both of which I highly recommend. And you can find free audio and video and learn much 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.
ANAM THUBTEN: No Self, No Problem and The Magic of Awareness − Anam Thubten is one of my top favorites − a very awake and wonderful contemporary teacher originally from Tibet. Clear and direct, full of light, he teaches from the heart with a wonderful sense of humor. Anam Thubten 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 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 Thubten 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. He sees our human foibles very clearly, but always with humor and genuine empathy. Indeed, Anam Thubten encourages 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 Thubten 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 Thubten! Beautiful, rare, amazing jewel. Very highly recommended. More 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 than mine, but the essence of her teaching is excellent. This is very clear, no bullshit, bare-bones Zen. Very highly recommended.
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.
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.
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 the conditioning of the past, and coming in touch with the unconditioned aliveness and freedom that is beyond thought and belief. He offered no prescriptions, practices or methods, insisting that any form of repetition or control is deadening and false. Instead, Krishnamurti talked about the light of attention, an attention that is “without a center, without frontiers, where the known doesn’t interfere.” He suggested being aware of what is, without judgment or intention. Krishnamurti 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. Whether or not you completely agree with his take on religion and politics, he is certainly wonderful at showing a way of exploration and discovery that is free of dogma and reliance on the authority of the past. Krishnamurti had tremendous sensitivity and depth, and he saw through our human confusion, delusion and suffering with remarkable clarity and subtlety. Reading him and truly hearing him requires great sensitivity, attention, and 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 and his very serious and rather humorless way of talking can sometimes come across as gruff, abrasive, stern or critical, but in the next instant, he smiles with the most delightful, childlike openness and warmth. 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 very big impact on me. Excellent video and audio is also available. Very highly recommended. More here and here.
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 loves music, has a background in science and mathematics, is exceptionally intelligent and clear, and like his teacher Jean Klein, Francis incorporates somatic movement and awareness work into his retreats. He points to our true nature as non-localized, timeless awareness—unconditioned and free: “All things appear by themselves in consciousness which is always in total openness…Openness is your nature…. Everything that appears in awareness is nothing other than awareness.” There is a beautiful subtlety and depth to his work that I appreciate greatly, a sensitivity and openness that is without expectation. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. She was an important teacher for me, and 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.
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.
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.
DOGEN: Moon in a Dewdrop (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi) and The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master (edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt) -- Eihei Dogen was a 13th century Zen master and the founder of Soto Zen. Moon in a Dewdrop is an excellent collection that includes many of Dogen's most well-known works. 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. The Essential Dogen is a wonderful collection of excepts from various works by Dogen organized by theme. 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." 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." For Dogen, nothing exists independently of everything else. "There is nothing outside of mind," he writes, "Blue, yellow, red, and white are mind. Long, short, square, and round are mind. The coming and going of birth and death are mind...Dream, phantom, and empty flower are mind. Water, foam, splash, and flame are mind. Spring flowers and autumn moon are mind. All things that arise and fall are mind." He questions whether there is any kind of inherent objective reality "out there" apart from present experiencing: "Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object," he asks, "or is it that we have mistaken various images for one object?" 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 profound. In addition to these two collections, there are many other collections and commentaries. Some that I have enjoyed over the years include Enlightenment Unfolds, also edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi; 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. And 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). 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 I have great respect and fondness for the San Francisco Zen Center and for Shunryu Suzuki and his lineage. Very highly recommended. More about Shunryu Suzuki and his teaching here and 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.
STEPHEN MITCHELL: The Second Book of the Tao – This wonderful book contains free-ranging adaptations of two Chinese anthologies: Master Chuang’s Chuang-tzu and the Chung Yung ascribed to Tzu-ssu, alongside playful and enlightening commentaries by Mitchell himself. “One of the qualities I most treasure in Chang-tzu,” Mitchell writes, “is his sense of the spontaneous, the uncapturable. This makes it easy to follow in his footsteps. Since there are no footsteps, all you can follow is what he himself followed: the Tao.” This is a playful, radical, wild book full of deep insight. Stephen Mitchell, a former Zen student and the husband of Byron Katie, is the translator and/or author of many books including the Tao Te Ching, The Book of Job, The Bhagavad Gita and The Gospel According to Jesus, and the co-author of two of Byron Katie’s books. I can feel Katie’s influence in this book. It’s a great book. I recommend it very highly. More here.
TARA BRACH: Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and insight meditation teacher based in the Maryland / Washington, D.C. area. This is an excellent book about waking up from the trance of self-hatred, unworthiness and taking ourselves for a separate self. It offers a path of Radical Acceptance that involves “seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion.” The book gives a very clear and articulate explanation of how we suffer and how we can wake up through a path of present moment awareness that involves coming home to our body, opening the heart, and allowing everything to be as it is in this moment. The book includes guided meditations and explorations that you can try as well as stories from the author's own life and from her work as a therapist and meditation teacher. Tara is wonderfully honest in sharing her own struggles and human foibles, and she makes it clear that awakening is a lifelong adventure and not a one-time event. True meditation is not just something you do for an hour a day on a cushion, but a way of living and being with the challenges of everyday life, and this is one of the clearest and most loving articulations of true meditation that I have ever read. Very highly recommended. More here.
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.
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 running his own communications and public relations business in NYC, has assembled a magnificent, mind-stopping, eye-opening collection of quotations from a diverse group of sages and artists that includes Toni Packer, Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle, Jesus, Buddha, Walt Whitman, Kabir, Krishnamurti, Joko Beck, Steve Hagen, Mary Oliver, Osho, Henry Miller, Meher Baba, Jack Kerouac, Alan Ball, Gangaji, Tulku Urgyen, Byron Katie, Jean Klein and a host of others. Each gem-like passage is an arrow aimed at shifting attention to Here / Now and popping all ideas about distant goals and future attainments. Josh's introductory material is beautiful, as is the dialog with him at the end of the original edition. This is a truly wonderful book that can be dipped into again and again, and never be exhausted. Enlightening and enlivening, free of dogma and beyond belief—utterly simple and direct—open it anywhere and it stops the mind. Very highly recommended. 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, jargon-free, 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 the boundlessness Here / Now that is always complete and whole however it appears: "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." This book also does a lovely job of reconciling the practice of “being here now” with the radical nondual understanding that there is no way not to be here now: “We know that even in our worst and most neurotic moments, we never leave the openness of the here-and-now, which is the only ‘thing’ there is. And yet we also understand it is best for us to simply ‘be here, now.’” 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 elegantly simple, spare, accessible, direct, straight-forward and crystal clear deconstruction of 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, and then he invites the reader to discover the freedom and delight of being what we always already are: the ever-present, unconditioned awareness experiencing this-here-now. This is a book I highly recommended for seeing the illusory nature 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 liked parts of that one, but was somewhat put off with how the author seemed to enjoy deliberately pushing people's buttons and then relishing their upset; however, in that one, if nothing else, you will discover a wonderful new way to use meditation benches. But the one I'm very highly recommending is From Here to Here. 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 last I checked, you could still find videos of him posted on YouTube and elsewhere by googling "Gary Crowley Nonduality."
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.
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.
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 liberating presence that he is talking about, and not just a conceptual or mental understanding. I very much appreciate that he doesn't get stuck on one side of any conceptual divide (such as free will vs. choiceless happening, or practice vs. no practice, or relative vs. absolute). He writes beautifully about true meditation, about allowing everything to be as it is, about letting go of the need to control everything, about awakening and letting go not only at the level of the mind, but also at the level of the heart and the gut. He points above all to the Truth that is ever-present Here / Now, the natural state of unbound awareness, the all-inclusive Infinite, but he also explores in great depth the journey from initial glimpses of this Truth to what he describes as fully embodied liberation or enlightenment, giving attention to many of the ways people get stuck or fixated along the way. Some of this mapping out of the journey seems genuinely helpful to me, but some of the ways in which Adya talks about awakening and enlightenment seem to me to reinforce delusional ideas of “permanently awakened people,” which is one of my pet peeves, although I suspect that is not Adya's intent. In fact, he says: "In terms of awakening, all that matters is right here and right now. What happened yesterday does not really have much to do with what is happening today. The question isn't, 'Have I had an awakening?' The question is, 'Is awakening awake right here and right now?'" And in terms of being awakened forever, he says, "I don't know about tomorrow. Tomorrow a thought could come by that could pull me into separation and delusion—maybe it will; maybe it won’t. I have no way of knowing that.” Beautiful! He also talks about choice at times in ways I never would, asserting that everyone always has a choice in this moment about what we give our life to, or whether we continue with addictive behavior. I do understand and appreciate what he's pointing to—the response-ability that is right here, right now (the power of awareness, not thought)—but in my experience, this “choice” is not always available, and to suggest that it is can easily reinforce ideas of guilt, blame, and shame. But different maps work for different people, and to his credit, Adya always encourages people not to give away their own authority, but to question and look for themselves. As he writes, "The primary task of any good spiritual teaching is not to answer your questions, but to question your answers." And he does acknowledge "the gravitational force of the dream state," indicating that it is not always within our power to overcome this force of nature. Overall, I find Adya to be very clear, articulate and genuine. I attended a one-day retreat with him many years ago and he was very helpful to me. When I spoke with him during one of the satsangs that day, I told him that even though I experienced unbound, aware presence and saw clearly that the self was only a story, I still kept getting caught up in old patterns that seemed believable—depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior, defensiveness, and so on—and therefore, I must not be fully awake yet. He was very helpful in showing me that this was a story, and even more importantly, in the course of my interaction with him, I got to see how I kept picking that story up again, and how this was a choice that I was making. So he was actually very helpful to me in seeing through the "I'm Not Awake Yet" story and in discovering how I was doing that particular form of suffering. I found him very down-to-earth and right on the mark—a bright light. 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! Excellent audio and video is also available in addition to the books. All very highly recommended. More here.
BERNIE GLASSMAN: Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen -- This excellent book 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 truly fascinating man who strikes me as very alive and awake. A cigar-smoking former aerospace engineer with a Ph.D. in mathematics, Glassman is a Zen teacher, a long-time activist for peace and social justice, and the founder of the Zen Community of New York, the Zen Peacemaker Order and the Maezumi Institute. 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 loves what he calls "plunges"—"taking you out of that space of knowing and dropping you into a place of not knowing," and his varied activities over the years include creating Zen business ventures and social service projects, holding retreats on the streets of New York City where participants are homeless for a week, holding interfaith bearing witness retreats at Auschwitz and in Rwanda, working for peace in the Middle East, and clowning (he created the Order of Dis-Order). He co-authored a book with actor Jeff Bridges, and he sends his students at the Maezumi Institute off to spend nine days at Byron Katie’s School for the Work. I've always found Glassman's unpredictable and ever-changing approach to Zen immensely intriguing, and I deeply appreciate the Zen understanding of nondualism, which for my money is as subtle, profound and truly nondual as it gets. Glassman has several other books, and I would also recommend 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 highly recommend Infinite Circle. This is an excellent book—clear, wise, subtle, and right on the mark. More here.
ELIHU GENMYO SMITH: Everything Is the Way: Ordinary Mind Zen − This is a wonderful book that illuminates and conveys the true heart of Zen. Being this body-mind-world, right now, waking up from the self-centered dream, "working with the self-centered thoughts that cut off this moment and prevent us from opening to this moment." Elihu is the resident teacher at the Prairie Zen Center in Illinois and a co-founder of the Ordinary Mind Zen School. He is a dharma heir of one of my teachers, Charlotte Joko Beck, and he also studied with Soen Roshi, Eido Roshi, and Maezumi Roshi. I love the way Elihu uses language and the way he conveys what is simplest and most intimate. This is about lifelong practice in the midst of ordinary life. "Mistake after mistake is the perfect way," he writes. "The sounds of the stream, the mountains, the office building, the traffic—all this is our very body, the body of the Buddha." And elsewhere: “What is it that we think is not the Attained Way? What is it that we think is not Buddha? What is it we think is I? What is it we think is not-I?” Wonderful questions! Elihu is more into formal Zen practice, precepts and rituals than I am, but I even enjoyed the way he writes about these things, and most of the book is simply about being awake in this moment in the midst of everyday life. Down to earth, beautifully clear, very 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, and the choice of words (whether in the original or the translation, I don't know) often feels not the best to me, but reading it anyway is well worth the effort. It was translated from the French by Benoit's friend Wei Wu Wei.Excellent book! Very highly recommended.
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 very 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.
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. "The universe is uncaused," he says, "like a net of jewels in which each is only the reflection of all the others in a fantastic interrelated harmony without end." He distinquishes between the inseparable, interrelated polarities that are inherent in the phenomenal manifestation and the dualistic illusion that these polarities are separate and opposing forces in conflict with each other. It is the latter misunderstanding, along with the hypnotic sense of personal agency, that gives rise to our human suffering. Liberation is not an acquisition, but the falling away of an imaginary problem: "Self-Realization is effortless. What you are trying to find is what you already are." Although Ramesh is clearly pointing to what is nonconceptual and effortless, his writing can feel quite dense, intellectual and heady, and if you find yourself getting tangled up in mental knots when you read him, 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. Ramesh has other books as well, but these are my favorites and the ones I would most recommend. More here and here.
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..." or "First I have to...", 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. His books are a wonderful, clear expression of radical nonduality. Very highly recommended. More here.
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. More about his work here.
J.C. AMBERCHELE: The Almighty Mackerel and His Holy Bootstraps: Waking Up to Who You Really Are; The Light That I Am: Notes from the Ground of Being; and The Heavenly Backflip: Seeing and Being the Unfigureoutable − J.C. Amberchele is the pen name of a man with a criminal past that he describes as "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 "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, and with an immediacy, a sparkling clarity, and a radiant luminosity that is full of love, wonder and delight. Amberchele's books often include a few of Harding's "Headless Way" experiments (designed to help people experience directly the impersonal and all-inclusive Awake Capacity that we truly are). 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, much of which I find quite beautiful. Very highly recommended.
BANKEI: The Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, translated by Norman Waddell − Bankei (1622-1693) was a Zen Master who emphasized the simple truth of abiding in the Unborn, which was his word for presence-awareness or the Now. He said, "I always urge people to live in the unborn Buddha-mind...When you are unborn, you're at the source of all things." Bankei de-emphasized many of the traditional Zen practices, spoke in the common language of the people, and focused on the simple heart of the matter: present moment awareness. “You’re unborn right from the start," he says, "There’s no need for you to become the Unborn. The true Unborn…is beyond becoming or attaining. It’s simply being as you are.” Abiding in the Unborn "has nothing to do with either 'self-power' or 'other-power,'" he says, "It's beyond them both. My proof is this: While you face me and listen to me say this, if somewhere a sparrow chirps, or a crow caws, or a man or woman says something, or the wind rustles the leaves, though you sit there without any intent to listen, you will hear and distinguish each sound. Because it isn't yourself that's doing the listening, it isn't self-power. On the other hand, it wouldn't do you any good if you had someone else hear and distinguish the sounds for you. So it isn't other-power." What a beautiful way of pointing beyond all dualistic ideas of being the doer or not being the doer.
RYOKAN: Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi; and 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 poems transmit the essence of Zen with exquisite simplicity and beauty. A few samples: “New pond. / No sound of a frog / jumping in.” and, “In an autumn field, / hundreds of grasses / burst into bloom. / Kneeling down, / a male deer cries.” and, “If I say it / it’s easy, / yet my diarrhea stomach / is indeed / hard to bear.” (all three from the Kaz Tanahashi collection), and, “The thief left it behind / the moon / At the window.” (from the John Stevens collection). Both collections very highly recommended.
DAVID R. LOY: Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy and The World Is Made of Stories -- David Loy is a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy and a Zen teacher. I recommend Loy's book Nonduality 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. The World Is Made of Stories is a wonderful book that explores how our lives our shaped by language and stories and how stories transform us. Loy asks, “If delusion is awareness stuck in attention-traps, and enlightenment liberates awareness, does the spiritual path involve finding the correct story, or getting rid of stories, or learning to story in a new way?” The book includes some wonderful quotations as well from a diverse group of authors. Loy has written several other books that I have read around in and enjoyed parts of as well, including Awareness Bound and Unbound: Buddhist Essays 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. You can listen to and watch a very interesting talk by David Loy here and you can learn more at his website 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.
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!
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.
DAININ KATAGIRI: You Have to Say Something; Each Moment Is the Universe; and Returning to Silence -- 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, where he died of cancer in 1990. He points to an immediacy that is prior to thought: “The first moment is pure and transparent…Returning to this first moment is our practice. It is not something we can have some idea about. It’s something we have to live.” He talks about attending wholeheartedly to the activities of everyday life and “playing freely.” He says: “There is nowhere to go. This is liberation. It’s very simple.” Katagiri tells a beautiful story of how the tortoise was able to beat the hare in a race, explaining that the tortoise "had to free himself completely from the label of being the slowest creature...Instead of expecting some particular result from his effort, he had to just walk forward, step after step.” 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.
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 no longer 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.
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" − Irreverent and without spiritual veneer, Wayne is a former businessman, a recovered alcoholic and drug addict, and a disciple of Ramesh Balsekar. Wayne's expression is refreshingly down to earth. 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." Everything is included. When you really see what Wayne is pointing to, it is a huge relief—the falling away of a burden—and also the beautiful discovery that everything is sacred and that nothing is lacking or out of place. Wayne's central emphasis is on seeing through the false sense of personal authorship—the illusion that each of us is a separate agent freely choosing our thoughts and actions. Wayne does a great job of showing that all thoughts, impulses, interests, intentions, actions, successes and failures are impersonal happenings, and that whatever happens could not be otherwise than exactly how it is. “All there is, is Consciousness,” he says. Wayne distinguishes between experiences of unity (which are by nature temporary) and the seamless and boundless Totality from which nothing stands apart. Entranced by the belief in the separate self and the false sense of authorship, the seeker imagines “me” flip-flopping between the experience of unity (“getting it”) and the experience of separation (“losing it”). The seeker assumes that enlightenment would mean an unending experience of oneness. But as Wayne says: “The experience of oneness and the experience of fear are both experiences. It is just that one seems to be very spiritual in nature while the other appears to be unspiritual…It’s a very common misconception that this experiential state of oneness is somehow different in its fundamental character from the experience of fear and separation. Both are experiences in phenomenality, both are overlays onto What Is…The ultimate state of Understanding encompasses both and absorbs both, but is neither to the exclusion of the other.” There are no one-sided coins, as he puts it. “Rather than being the presence of something, Enlightenment is the absence of something….It is that which is transcendent of the entire phenomenal manifestation.” And: “What we call transcendence is the dissolution of that which is concerned with going in and out of involvement.” Wayne emphasizes that no conceptual description or formulation is ever the truth, and he stresses that he is not putting forward a new belief system, but rather, that he is inviting people to look for themselves and see directly. He calls what he offers the Living Teaching. Although his own enllightenment was apparently a sudden and lasting disappearance of the sense of personal authorship, he stresses that there is no enlightened person, and he acknowledges that “awakening takes many forms. For some it is sudden and dramatic, for others, gradual and barely noticeable.” And whatever seems to happen, Totality is all there is; it has no opposite: "There is nothing to become," Wayne says, "We are all already That." But if you do 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." I love Wayne's clear and uncompromising message, and in person, I found him very big-hearted. Very highly recommended. More here.
KARL RENZ: A Little Bit of Nothingness; If You Wake Up, Don't Take It Personally and May It Be As It Is: The Embrace of Helplessness − Karl is a contemporary German painter, musician, and anti-guru of sorts 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 found him quite 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 you might enjoy 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." Karl's ruthless, irreverent and iconoclastic expression of radical nonduality won't be for everyone. As a friend of mine said, Karl is like a rare cheese – some love it, some do not. There are other books as well, and audio and video recordings of his meetings are also available. Very highly recommended to those with a taste for rare cheese. You can read an excellent interview with Karl here, and you can learn more at Karl's 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."
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." I especially recommend the chapter called "Shunyata" in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. 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." More here.
H.W.L. POONJA: This: Prose and Poetry of Dancing Emptiness and Wake Up & Roar -- H.W.L. Poonja (affectionately known as Papaji) was an Indian guru and a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Papaji lived during the 20th Century (1910-1997) and taught Advaita. I find his teaching somewhat uneven, but at his best, he is wonderfully direct and simple, clear and full of heart. He is excellent at pointing directly to what is most intimate and also boundless: "First locate where you are, and then we can find the distance to where we have to proceed...I is a place where you presently are, isn't it?...Go toward the I and see what happens." He guides his listeners to the immediate discovery of the unavoidable and thus attainable Here / Now of unbound Awareness. He says: "Surrender to the Source. Surrender to Awareness...Let Silence have You." And elsewhere: "Love Everything...Love all, no matter what, Love all." He sees through all the doubts that people bring to him: "The desire for the permanency of clarity is a trick of the mind because permanency is in time and only postpones what is Here and Now." He attracted many Westerners (including Gangaji, Isaac Shapiro, Mooji, Eli Jaxon-Bear, Catherine Ingram and other people from the Insight Meditation community, and many others who are now teaching). This is an abridged version of a much longer book called Truth Is. Stick with the distilled version; it's a jewel. Wake Up & Roar is an excellent collection of satsang dialogs that was originally published in two volumes and is now available in a single combined "collector's edition" that includes photos as well. Very highly recommended.
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. My response to him has been more mixed. I've read some of his writing and watched a number of his videos, and there is something very real and alive and beautiful happening here, for sure, but I see a few possible red flags as well. I was initially ready to dismiss Bentinho as some sort of mindless bliss-junky, but after listening for awhile, I found him to be very genuine, awake, intelligent, clear and liberating. I haven't listened to him recently, and from what I can tell, his message has been evolving and his scene has grown tremendously. Several "official facilitators" of his teaching have already been named, and some of what he now appears to be talking about, I'm not so sure about. On the positive side, Bentinho points to what is already free Here / Now, and he speaks in plain language − no spiritual baggage from Advaita or Buddhism. 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. All very beautiful to see. The part I'm not so sure about is where he now seems to be saying things like this: “As you start choosing your state of being moment by moment, you will soon reach a point of re-empowerment, where you have remembered that your state of being is truly up to you, and up to you only; and that all things that show up in your life are derived from your state of being.” I'd have to know more about exactly how he means this, but teachings of this kind (such as The Secret), while partially true and potentially helpful in some ways, can easily slip over into what I see as a seductive and distorted kind of magical thinking that involves blaming the victim, instilling guilt and shame in those who fail to create happy realities, and avoiding the need for actual solutions to social, political and personal problems. But I haven't listened in any depth to Bentinho's current teachings, so maybe I'd resonate with this aspect of his message and maybe I wouldn't. He obviously has tremendous energy and a real sense of mission, and by nature, I'm more drawn to simplicity than to this kind of high-powered, mega-operation. I thought Bentinho was settling in North Carolina, but last I heard, he seems to have moved to Boulder, Colorado. He's still quite young, and it will be interesting to see how his teaching unfolds. I hope the best for him because he's obviously a bright guy and there is something truly genuine and alive going on here. You’ll find lots more on his website including audio and video, and the book is free. More here.
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.
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. More here.
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. Highly recommended if you're looking for an intelligent practice-oriented approach. 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. More on Susan 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 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 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.
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 strict, formal Buddhist practice is no longer my way, I nonetheless found something very beautiful and moving in this book, and I have great respect for this man. More 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. Highly recommended. More 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 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 can be 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. Tony sees the awakened life not as one of transcendent detachment, but rather as a love affair, unfiltered full-on aliveness. He points to right here, right now and 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 does sometimes talk about an energetic shift, a pop, or a moment when the penny drops, thus inadvertently suggesting that there is something to attain. But this is the paradox inherent in trying to point to the shiftless shift or the gateless gate, and in another moment he will say, "There is no such thing as liberation or awakening...All there is is being." And he always stresses that, “There is no such thing as an awakened person; that’s a contradiction in terms." He also says (and I love this): "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." And he describes this shiftless shift as “a leap in perception, a different seeing, already inherent but unrecognised.” Beautiful! I love his juiciness, his passion, his irreverent humor, the absence of spiritual veneer and the radical heart of his message. There are different UK and US versions of some of his books, often containing different material. CDs and DVDs are available as well, and Tony offers meetings and retreats in Europe. 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.
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.
ORDINARY MAGIC: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path edited by John Welwood -- An excellent 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. Highly recommended.
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.
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. Highly recommended!
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.
A SKEPTIC'S GUIDE TO THE MIND: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves by Robert Burton MD, a neurologist and neuroscientist. Burton talks about our sense of boundaries, agency, will, intention, certainty and causation as sensations we have that give rise to the illusion that all these things and the separate self really exist. He talks about how these sensations may vary in different individuals. I’ve always found it curious that the absence of free will has always seemed so totally obvious to me, while to so many people I meet with, this absence seems completely baffling and incomprehensible. Burton’s insights may help to explain that discrepany. Burton has a wonderful sense of humility which allows him to remain skeptical in the best sense, and he shows how tentative or questionable findings in neuroscience often become popularized, taken as indisputable fact, and given interpretive meanings that they don't really have. Many interesting, thought-provoking things in this book. There is an excellent interview with him on Brain Science Podcast — Podcast #96, from April 26, 2013. And you can find more on Burton at his website here. He has an earlier book called On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. All very readable and highly recommended!
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. 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.
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 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. Sam obviously has firsthand experience with meditation and has seen directly into the illusory nature of the separate self; in fact, 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. Sam 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. I disagree with his views and conclusions on a number of issues, but I usually find his work interesting, thought-provoking, and in many ways on the mark. More 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.
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.
WABI-SABI: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren -- This book of text and photos is about "a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete...things modest and humble...things unconventional." Wabi-sabi could be described as the quintessential Japanese or Zen aesthetic. The author was trained as an architect but never built anything except an eccentric Japanese tea house. Instead he produced books and magazines. More about the author and the book here and here.
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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