Books which are not strictly Advaita
These are a selection of recommended books that do not strictly adhere to Advaita philosophy but contain valuable insights and are well worth reading.
Link to the Advaita Bookstore to read other reviews of these books, buy them from Amazon.com or generally browse.
Alan Watts - The Book (on the taboo against knowing who you are) (sample pages available to view at this Amazon link)
A very readable book, written by the man who started out as a Christian in England and became a popular speaker and writer on most Eastern philosophies, especially Zen, during the 1960's. The teaching espoused by this particular book is predominantly Advaita and it is advertised as the book that you give to your children when they set out to make their own way in life, answering all of the questions that they will ask about meaning and purpose. A large number of his talks are available on CDs, videos and audiocassette, mostly from his son's website. There are also a number of Internet 'radio stations' that broadcast these talks on a regular basis.
(Buy US or UK)
"Happiness is not a result to be attained through action, but a fact to be realised through knowledge. The sphere of action is to express it, not to gain it."
Another highly recommended book by Alan Watts is 'The Wisdom of Insecurity', subtitled 'a message for an age of anxiety'.Not just about the impossibility of finding certainty or security in our lives but about the meaninglessness of past and future, memory and desire.On the topic of memory, he says "It is like seeing the tracks of a bird on the sand. I see the present tracks. I do not, at the same time, see the bird making those tracks an hour before. The bird has flown and I am not aware of him.From the tracks, I infer that a bird was there. From memories you infer that there have been past events. You know the past only in the present and as part of the present." 20 sample pages may be viewed here.
"Memory is the corpse of an experience from which the life has vanished."
With respect to meditation, the most widely known and practised method in the west is that brought over by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960's. The movement still flourishes though we may hear less about it these days and the method remains a simple and readily accessible one. It can be used simply to reduce stress or as part of a more structured spiritual 'path' (if you believe in such things!). 'The TM Technique' by Peter Russell is an excellent presentation of the topic, its history, practice and benefits. (Buy US or UK)
"The state is not one of unconsciousness so much as unmanifest or pure consciousness. Since consciousness itself remains, the subject of all experience, the experiencer, also remains. Thus we might also call the state one of pure self. But this pure self is not the ego or any other form of individual identity, for all these 'selves' are concepts or constructs of the mind, products of mental activity, and as such they die when mental activity dies."
Ken Wilber has written many books and, though I have periodically looked at some of them in bookshops, I have always been put off by what appeared to be an overly intellectual treatment of the subjects. However, the last chapter of 'The Eye of Spirit : An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad' was recommended to me by Greg Goode so I bought it. And I can confirm that this last chapter is amazing. It is the clearest exposition I have ever read of how we are already 'it' and how nothing we can do can ever change this. So clear is it that it is totally unarguable. (N.B. I haven't yet read the rest of the book, which looks overly intellectual...)
"If you understand this, then rest in that which understands, and just that is exactly Spirit. If you do not understand this, then rest in that which does not understand, and just that is exactly Spirit."
Although not following Advaita philosophy in respect of theory, this book should nevertheless prove valuable to all serious seekers of truth, no matter what their background. It is a very practical guide to coming to terms with such topics as ego, desire and suffering and it is filled with the wisdom of someone obviously skilled and knowledgeable in the field of psychology. There are many astute observations about the human condition and the mistaken views of ourselves that bring about all of our problems. These points are driven home effectively and in a very readable manner. Highly recommended. (Buy US or UK)
As a practical
guide to understanding the machinations
of the ego and learning to reduce its influence,
thereby improving the quality of your life,
this book is excellent, excelling in clarity
and usefulness anything else I have read
on this topic. But it must be borne in
mind that the theoretical explanations
(which constitute perhaps 5% of the material)
are not advaita and ought really to be
ignored. (Buy US or UK)
Women of Wisdom: The Journey of the Sacred Feminine through the Ages by Paula Marvelly presents a vast panorama of spirituality, seen through the writings of key women in religion and mysticism. Meticulously researched and eruditely presented, this covers the relevant history and mythology of over twenty major figures from a diversity of backgrounds, providing insight into the origins of religions and showing how women have triumphed over persecution and repression to realize the non-dual nature of reality. If you like poetry as well, you will treasure this book. (Buy US or UK)
Krishnamurti (J.) is someone highly regarded by many as the reluctant guru, pushed unwillingly into spiritual teaching by Annie Besant, but who subsequently rejected this role. He has written a number of books but one that dips into many of these to come up with a wide selection of topics is 'The Penguin Krisnamurti Reader'. There is a particularly good section devoted to the dangers of knowledge. Unfortunately, the book is out of print at the moment so may be difficult to find.
"A mind burdened with knowledge cannot possibly understand that which is real, which is not measurable."
A recommendation for a more general, and apparently comprehensive book on meditation is 'Meditation and Practices : A Definitive Guide to Techniques and Traditions of Meditation in Yoga and Vedanta' by Swami Adiswarananda (Senior Minister of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York City). Thanks to Clarke Code for this. He also recommend the Swami Rama Tirtha site, where parts of the latter's complete oeuvre are available for download. (Buy US or UK)
A book that is shown as 'Out of Print' at Amazon, appears still to be available from the publishers, Shanti Sadan, in London. It is called 'Freedom Through Self-Realisation' by A. M. Halliday and takes the form of transcripts of some 18 lectures 'on the Yoga of Self-Knowledge'. There are a wide range of topics, including one on T. S. Eliot's 'The Still Point' (see the Four Quartets below) and one on 'The Nature of the Self in the Mysticism of Jalal-Uddin Rumi'. Very articulate and knowledgeable, these essays are a pleasure to read.
"Transcendental reality demands another means of knowing, and this is direct experience, anubhava, not sense perception, not even experience through an idea or mental picture, but direct experience. It is the self-luminousness of reality as consciousness, its immediate self-evidence as awareness, which enables it to be directly known."
A book which any browser of spiritual bookstores cannot fail to have seen is 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yogananda. I have looked at it myself on several occasions but not bought it. The reviews here indicate that it is not strictly speaking Advaita-related but can be appreciated by adherents of other religions without changing their faith. However, it seems to be universally praised by its readers. Two examples:
"When I first read this book after many years of aimless searching, it not only answrered many of my deepest questions, but set my spirirtual life in a fresh and positive direction." and "Here are many clear, meaningful responses to many of lifes most profound questions. If you are wondering about the most advanced methods of meditation & prayer. If you need inspiration and motivation to grow spiritually. You will find it in this book." There are 30 sample pages to read here - Recommended by Michael Reidy.
Chuck Hillig is a modern author whose earlier books have been widely acclaimed by many teachers. His latest one, 'Seeds for the Soul' is not a textbook on Advaita and contains nothing in the way of discussion or rationale. It is much more of a guidance for practical living, presented in an aphoristic style which may not be to everyone's taste. But pearls of advaitic wisdom are scattered throughout:
"What you think you are can't possibly survive your own awakening. Nobody can survive it."
A Guide to Awareness and Tranquillity by William Samuel.
A collection of short essays, letters, dialogue extracts etc. - this should appeal to all those readers who are looking for something simple and direct, speaking from heart to heart rather than mind to mind. It may grate with the aspiring jnani yogi, who is seeking to use the tool of the intellect to dispel ignorance. But to those inclined towards bhakti, especially if from a Christian background, it should resonate well. There are many references to the teaching of Jesus, illustrating its non-dual essence. There is a wonderful opening section explaining how thinking prevents us from simply living in the present. It may be purchased from speciality bookstores such as Watkins in London (see Buying Books) or ordered from others (ISBN 1-877999-19-9). Failing that, order direct. "The habitual, unregenerate intellect of us all is seldom interested in aught but shoring up its forged and fraudulent foundations."
This is a book about how to manage one’s life with an awareness of non-dualism rather than a book about non-duality. There is more psychology than philosophy; more about humanity than the absolute; more about meaning than reality. If this is what the reader is looking for, then this is a very positive, well-written and intelligent book, full of examples from the author’s own life and those of others such as Viktor Frankl.
For the beginner, who knows nothing about non-duality and has no particular wish to learn, who rather seeks to discover structure and meaning in their life, possibly as a means of coping with chronic illness and preparing for death, this is an excellent book.
It cannot, however, be recommended as a book about non-duality per se. It lacks both authority and conviction and sometimes makes misleading or incorrect statements. In particular, it is clearly aimed at making the individual person feel better in contradiction of its non-dual claims, professing the existence of a benign force that steers us towards realization. There is also an unfortunate lapse into New-Ageism with the attempt to assign mystical significance to Near Death Experience.
The book is essentially in two parts, which must be reviewed separately – part 1 succeeds brilliantly, part 2 can only be recommended for the reader unfamiliar with non-dual philosophy.
The first part systematically dismantles the literalist interpretations of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, showing how their original messages have become totally distorted by their politically motivated, power-seeking leaders over the centuries. The scriptures on which they are based are shown to be without historical foundation and quite likely the fabrication of extremists. As a result, their essential message has been lost and the metaphorical teachings are now taken as literal truths. It ought to be compulsory reading for the fundamentalists in all religions and recommended for the ordinary believer. The world might then be a much safer place!
Logically, the second part ought to reveal the non-dual origins of the three religions in Gnosticism, Kabbalah and Sufism. In fact, it only tackles the first of these. My own knowledge of this is limited to having read Osho’s ‘Mustard Seed’ commentary on the St. Thomas Gospel. However, non-dual is non-dual so that the essence of any such teaching must be the same. Although Freke & Gandy acknowledge this (“we are all one”), most of what is presented here is clearly dualistic. The message comes across as wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, as the saying goes, i.e. to gain the knowledge, beauty and simplicity of the truth… but for oneself as an individual. Nevertheless, for the reader who has no prior knowledge of non-dual philosophies, part 2 can still be recommended since the subject is presented in an appealing light which might stimulate further reading. The book overall is well-written and extremely readable.
Two important books by Mariana Caplan
warn of the many dangers for seekers
endeavoring to find a worthy teacher to
guide them on their spiritual path. 'Halfway
up the Mountain: The Error of Premature
Claims to Enlightenment'' is a massive
study into the topic of enlightenment itself,
drawing on the author's own experience
and those of a number of teachers from
various traditions. Advaita is not the
principal path that is addressed and, consequently,
much of what is said about the nature of
enlightenment is misleading or wrong from
the standpoint of this teaching. But the
text deals with the many pitfalls awaiting
the unwary in respect of inauthentic, deluded
or just plain fraudulent and manipulative
teachers. Such information may prove invaluable,
whatever the path.
(Buy US or UK)
Time' by Steve Taylor. Discover
the five ‘Laws of Psychological Time’,
which explain why it is that time does
not seem to run as ‘regular as clockwork’.
We are all familiar with time going slowly
when we are bored or all too quickly when
we are enjoying ourselves. Thoroughly researched,
this book provides straightforward and
well-reasoned explanations for all of our
temporal experiences. I found myself saying “that’s
exactly what I thought” on many occasions
but Steve Taylor not only describes everything
in a logical, stepwise manner but then
goes on to derive practical strategies
for making use of the theory, effectively
to extend our perceived span of life. Along
the way, he also demonstrates why it is
that meditation is so beneficial and investigates
the so-called paranormal and higher states
of consciousness. Altogether an entertaining,
thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
(Buy US or UK)
Wordplay: The Philosophy, Art, and Science of Ambigrams by John Langdon. A totally original and completely fascinating investigation into the way in which many fundamental concepts in life and science are effectively reconciliations of opposites. What we might initially think of as entirely different concepts or feelings may be just opposite poles of a single idea. Happiness and misery, desire and fear, love and hate are obvious examples. Here, Professor John Langdon begins and ends with the Taoist concept of yin and yang and the ancient divination system of the I Ching. But along the way he examines many aspects of the physical world – from astronomy to electricity and mathematics; the natural word – such as seasons and waterfalls; and the world of art and beauty. In each case, he provides stimulating insights into ways of looking at these subjects which will usually not have occurred to us. But – and this is the totally novel brilliance of the book – each topic is illustrated by his wonderful ambigrams. In their basic format, these are words which read the same upside down but here there are many variants, from mirror-image ambigrams to circles, spirals and 3-D models. And the concluding section explains the process of development of this intriguing art form. This is a book that you can pick up and delve into anywhere and enjoy.
If you are wondering why the book should be relevant to Advaita, it is because the ambigram can be seen as a powerful metaphor. Firstly, it presents the appearance of duality but, on investigation is found to be only one – a resolution of seeming opposites. Secondly, the recognition that the symbol is an ambigram does not usually occur immediately. It is only after a period of study and contemplation that the realization suddenly occurs. In this sense, it is a metaphor for the enlightenment that takes place in the mind on the dawning of Self-knowledge. Lastly, appearances should not be taken at face value. If we look beyond the name and form, as John does in this book, we may discover the unity behind the outward show. Overall, a highly recommended book. (And this has nothing to do with the fact that John has also designed the triple ambigram for the cover of the second edition of ‘Book of One’!)
(Buy US or UK)
Link to the Advaita Bookstore to read other reviews of these books, buy them from Amazon.com or generally browse.