I must have read my first spiritual book at age 8. I remember choosing an encyclopedia of children’s bible stories from our local library. I grew up in a Catholic family, but neither of my parents were particularly religious. I had a strong faith as a child, and I’m probably the only person in my family who has actually read the bible, but by age 14, I’d completely lost this faith.
It would have been around the time of my doubts about Christianity that I discovered Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. I’d already started reading a lot of Buddhist and Taoist material, but this book blew my mind because it spoke directly to my inner yearning for a meaningful life. It’s about thirty years since I read the Peaceful Warrior, and I might not be so impressed if I read it today.
I called myself an atheist from my late teens until my early thirties. I did want to believe, and I must have read hundreds of spiritual books during this time, but I just found it too easy to pick holes in spiritual claims. It took me a long time to realize most of the important answers in life do not make much sense on an intellectual level.
I still read spiritual books, but I tend to see it more as a type of entertainment. I’ve discovered that more is to be learned by just experiencing life, and looking inside, and not by looking in a book. There is also so much spiritual stuff that is pretty vapid – written by wanna-be professional gurus who I suspect are just regurgitating something they’ve heard elsewhere.
Very occasionally, I do come across a spiritual book that stands out as a bit special, and here are four titles that would fall into this category.
1. Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing by Jed McKenna
“This is about unknowing. All this so-called knowledge is exactly what stands between seeker and sought.”
I began my spiritual search because of a desire to experience inner-peace (it’s the exact same reason I started drinking alcohol). It took my years to realize that the path to mental serenity had nothing to do with what I believed – it was more about letting go of the beliefs that were preventing me from achieving this inner peace. The reason I love this book by Jed McKenna (not his real name) is he so clearly pointed out all the spiritual bullshit that had been holding me back.
My first time reading this book by Jed McKenna was painful. I found what he was saying incredibly uncomfortable, but I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was right. This was 9 years ago when I was getting heavily involved in Buddhism – I’d moved to Thailand a few years before with the intention of becoming a monk. Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing opened my eyes to the reality that I’d given up my search for the truth in exchange for a label (Buddhism).
Here is a review of Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing I wrote a few years ago.
Emptiness Dancing – Adyashanti
“My speaking is meant to shake you awake, not to tell you how to dream better.”
I do feel cynical when I come across western writers who have eastern spiritual names, but I can’t fault the teachings of Adyashanti. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of his talks, and I’ve read most of his books. There was a rumor that it was Adyashanti that was responsible for the Jed McKenna books, but I no longer believe this.
Emptiness Dancing is the Adyashanti book I like the most. It is actually a selection of his talks and each chapter is devoted to a specific subject. He has a wonderful ability to explain things in an engaging and simple way, and if being spiritual is making him rich, he deserves every cent (he provides tons of free stuff).
Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
“Eventually you will see that the real cause of problem is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes the problems.”
I’m not sure if I picked up any new information from this book by Michael A. Singer, but I love it because it provided such a clear description of the things I’d discovered over years of struggling with reality. Maybe if I’d read this book back when I was a teenager, I would have chosen a different path or maybe pain is the only way I could learn.
Living Buddhist Masters by Jack Kornfield
I read Living Buddhist Masters when I first moved to Thailand in 2001. It’s a wonderful book packed with ideas about spirituality from some of the most important spiritual teachers in South East Asia – it’s like the Greatest Hits of Theravada Buddhism (that reminds me of an Alan Partridge joke – what’s your favorite Beatles album? Greatest Hits). If you want to learn more about Buddhism in Thailand and Burma, this book would be a good place to start.