Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Recommended Reading
Fiction and Poetry

flower picture

I am not aware of many novels, stories or other fictional sources that have their basis in a non-dual philosophy. I did attempt to remedy this with my own 'philosopho-ecological thriller', 'Time for the Wind', but this has so far failed to find a publisher. So it goes!

Link to the Advaita Bookstore to read other reviews of these books, buy them from or generally browse.


One modern classic whose hero travels to India in search of 'enlightenment', which has also been made into a film (twice), is Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge". Indeed, the title has since been used colloquially to refer to the path of Advaita (it comes from the Katha Upanishad). The actual philosophical content of the book is, however, quite low as far as I recall. (5 sample pages at the link.) (Buy US or UK)


Another famous short novel based on the life of the Buddha, is Herman Hesse's "Siddharta". Lyrical and moving, as I recall, but again not a lot of philosophy (and mainstream buddhism is not strictly speaking non-dual).
(Buy US or UK)


Perhaps the same author's "Magister Ludi - The Glass Bead Game" may satisfy the requirements more, though again, I actually read this a long time ago before becoming interested in Advaita. Certainly it is a much weightier tome with intellectual musings and discussions. (Buy US or UK)


A more recent book, that spent some time in the best-seller lists about twenty years ago (?) is Robert Persig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. This is not specifically Advaita and not quite a novel nor, I personally felt, was it particularly readable. However, since this list is so short, it certainly deserves a mention! It seems that one either loves this book or hates it. Fortunately, this Amazon link gives you 20 sample pages to enable you to make up your mind before buying. (But be warned that easy, story-developing chapters tend to alternate with quite difficult phiosophical wanderings.) (Buy US or UK)


One short book that certainly espouses the sentiments of the philosophy - looking for a meaning to life - interwoven into the almost fairy-story like plot is Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull". A best-seller in its time and justifiably so, also made into a film as well as a record by Neil Diamond. If you haven't read it, you should have! Thanks to Ken Knight of the Advaitin E-group for reminding me about this one. (6 sample pages at the link.) (Buy US or UK)


By the same author is the Science Fiction story, around the theme of meeting oneself in the past and future, "One", which again has a very clear non-dual heart to its moving storyline and dream-like texture. (26 sample pages.) (Buy US or UK)


Sati by Christopher Pike. Extremely easy to read, refreshing and life-affirming. The plot revolves around a beautiful young woman hitch-hiker, picked up in the Arizona desert by the truck-driving hero of the book. The woman, who calls herself Sati, is supremely self-confident, seems to be able to turn her skills to practically anything and makes amazing cookies. Everyone worships her, which is perhaps hardly surprising since she also claims to be God... Not exactly Advaita but claiming the essentially non-dual nature of reality. No prizes for guessing what happens.

Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print at present but there are quite a few second-hand copies at Amazon - click on the cover picture. (Buy US or UK)

"'But your difficulty is not with the Bible. From the right perspective, it can be of great value. It is a beautiful book. I wrote parts of it. No, your difficulty is a lack of awareness of your inner being. You see difference everywhere. You even go so far as to take God out of man and put him up in heaven.' Sati smiled, her eyes lighting up the room. 'When she's really sitting right here in front of you.'"


Conference of the Birds by Farid-Ud-Din Attar has been recommended by Jabeen. It is based upon a Sufi fable and is a story about thousands of birds who go in search of a King. When they reach the end of the journey they discover that they are themselves the King. Set in rhymed couplets, also highly recommended at Amazon, where sample pages from the book may be viewed.
(Buy US or UK)


Michael Reidy, an Irish philosopher on the Advaitin E-group, recommends 'All About H. Hatter' by G.V. Desani. His comment is 'unclassifiable folly and sovereign remedy for head heaviness '. The Amazon reviews imply that it could be a little hard-going. Part of one of the reviews notes:

"Trying to summarise the story would be a gross unjustice to the book, which is superb in content but absolutely brilliant in form. The style, scathingly original, is at times slightly tough to grasp (reminds one of Ulysses and the good old Joyce). Not a very light read, but really enjoyable."

(Buy US or UK)

book cover

O.K., Terry Pratchett is not usually associated with Advaita but he is endlessly inventive and his Discworld books are cleverly plotted, with brilliantly original writing subtly perceptive of human fallibility and aspirations. Oh yes, and they are also extremely funny! This one - Thief of Time - is one of the best. (Buy US or UK)

Here are people who know that there is no steel, only the idea of steel (But they still use forks, or, at least, the idea of forks. There may, as the philosopher says, be no spoon, although this begs the question of why there is the idea of soup.)

‘The wise man does not seek enlightenment, he waits for it. So while I was waiting it occurred to me that seeking perplexity might be more fun,' said Lu-Tze. 'After all, enlightenment begins where perplexity ends. And I found perplexity. And a kind of enlightenment, too. I had not been there five min-utes, for example, when some men in an alley tried to enlighten me of what little I possessed, giving me a valuable lesson in the ridiculousness of material things.'


It should not be surprising that a number of poets have seen through the vertical-thinking, logical and ultimately unreal world-view and apprehended the non-dual truth. This is probably also true of artists and musicians but then it is more difficult for us to appreciate this from our standpoint without the verbal clues.

The most famous of all writers in the English language, William Shakespeare, was undoubtedly Self-realised. It could not otherwise have been possible to write with such insight into both the relative and absolute worlds. He is able to see transparently into the hearts of the entire gamut of personalities, from the depths of evil egocentricity to the heights of unselfish humility and at the same time to acknowledge the unity and truth behind the appearances. It is unneccessary to recommend any particular editions or publishers - any good bookstore will stock several. If you are not familiar with his work, however, make the effort! It is well worth it. See the plays a few times before trying to read the text. Especially recommended - Hamlet, Measure for Measure and The Tempest for the more serious ones, As You Like It for a comedy.

Thomas Dorsett has written about Shakespeare in the 'Self Enquiry' magazine of The Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK (Vol 5 No. 4 and Vol 8 No. 3). He says that 'Shakespeare gives us in Hamlet the most extensive and profound portrait of the lost ego...' and also 'the sublimity of the self-transcendent Hamlet'. As the play develops, Hamlet realises that he is 'not the doer', that 'the Self is the sole reality' and obtains peace. In the following lines, for example, he talks about destiny and acceptance of what is:

There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come - if it be not to come, it will be now - if it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be.
Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2, Lines 217 - 223 (depending on edition)

William Wordsworth is also noteworthy for material that strikes clear chords with Advaita. His overly-famous 'The Daffodils' ("I wandered lonely as a cloud...") is stated by Sri Parthasarathy in his 'Vedanta Treatise' as 'indicating the path of reality' and he devotes several pages to a line by line analysis.

Robert Browning is more overtly relevant. Here is an excerpt from Paracelsus, Book I:

Connect with senses and be awake! Truth is here.
Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where Truth abides in fullness, and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception, which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error; and to know
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.

Other poets having arguable non-dual tendencies in their writing are William Blake, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Walt Whitman and Rossetti.

The one poet whom I can recommend without any reservation is T. S. Eliot and specifically 'The Four Quartets':


T. S. Eliot - The Four Quartets
Throughout 'The Book of One', I initially used extensive quotations from these poems. (Unfortunately, I had to take them all out again because the UK and US publishers were demanding unreasonable fees for copyright.) I have been reading and studying them for the past 30 years and never tire of them. They are amongst the most beautiful and profound ever written and provide insights into many aspects of Advaita (Eliot followed the philosophy of F. H. Bradley). 8 sample pages may be viewed at the Amazon link above. Here are the concluding words from this wonderful work:

Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

(Buy US or UK)


I also recently bought the book 'Reading the Waste Land - Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation' by Jewel Spears Brooker and Joseph Bentley. I would not normally consider something with such an academic title but two factors brought this about: firstly I love Eliot's 'Four Quartets' and secondly the book was very cheap in a Waterstone's sale! I have never understood 'The Waste Land' so I thought I would give it a try. And it is excellent! Though quite demanding reading at times, it explains quite a lot of F. H. Bradley's philosophy and its impact on Eliot's poetry. Very illuminating - even more relevant to Advaita than I had presumed.
(Buy US or UK)

"Bradley divided cognition into three stages/levels. The first exists prior to (and beneath) consciousness of consciousness, the second consists of consciousness of consciousness, and the third involves a transcendence of consciousness of consciousness. The movement from the immediate experience of the first level to the intellectual experience of the second is accompanied by the intrusion of language, by the rise of objects, and by the fragmentation of reality. The movement from the second to the third level involves a transcendence of brokenness and a return on a higher level to the unity of the first level."

Finally, two Eastern poets must be mentioned in this category, though I regret to say that I am not familiar with either.


Firstly the 13th Century Persian poet, Jelaludin Rumi. His six-volume work 'Masnavi' is said to be the 'bible' of Sufism. This book is an abridged version, in somewhat dated language according to one reviewer, but with "Rumi's unique, teasing genius comes through on almost every page, challenging the reader to look at everyday things from a different viewpoint". (Buy US or UK)

The following was extracted from an email from profvk (Professor V. Krishnamurthy):

The lamps are different but the Light is the same, it comes from Beyond;
If thou keep looking at the lamp, thou art lost;
for thence arises the appearance of number and plurality;
Fix the gaze upon the Light and thou art divested from the dualism, inherent in the finite body;
O Thou who art the kernel of existence, the disagreement between Muslim, Zoroastrian and Jew depend upon the stand- point.

Profvk, as he signs himself in his posts to the Advaitin Egroup, is an authority on Advaita and a writer of much excellent material at his website on Science and Spirituality.


Secondly the 20th Century Bengali Nobel prize-winning author, Rabindranath Tagore. This was awarded for Gitanjali, a collection of over 100 poems which is available with the English translation by Tagore himself. There are 24 sample pages to read at this link.

(Buy US or UK)

It begins:

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

Link to the Advaita Bookstore to read other reviews of these books, buy them from or generally browse.

Advaita Free Books Other
Upanishads Scriptures Western
Bhagavad Gita Other Non-dual
Brahma Sutra Recent Sages Science
Shankara Satsang Teachers Fiction and Poetry
Other Classics Non-Advaita Buying Books
Philosophical Treatments   US Advaita Bookstore
Recent Sages   UK Advaita Bookstore
General Advaita    
Satsang Teachers    
Best of the Best    
Profiles Artists/Historical Figures    
Page last updated: 09-Jul-2012