Books by Modern Satsang Teachers and Writers
Link to the Advaita Bookstore to read other reviews of these books, buy them from Amazon.com or generally browse.
There are quite a number of western teachers holding satsangs regularly around the world and many of these are selling the recorded material subsequently on CD or even DVD as well as transcribed into book form. Dialogues in books may or may not be edited and, consequently, the quality of questions and answers is variable.
Given that a good teacher will be addressing responses directly to a specific seeker at his or her level of understanding, it necessarily follows that these may not be suitable for any particular reader and the context may also be lacking. Accordingly, “satsang dialogue” books are intrinsically not a good medium for teaching Advaita.
The redeeming facts are that there are many basic questions that repeatedly arise in satsang and such answers are generally understood by all. Also, some teachers are very good at explaining even difficult topics so that their material is usually worthwhile regardless. The books recommended in this section are not all of this type but, where they are, they do not suffer too much from these drawbacks.
Living Reality : My Extraordinary Summer with “Sailor” Bob Adamson by James Braha. This book does contain dialogue but is superior to most of them on at least four counts. Firstly, the teacher is “Sailor” Bob Adamson , possibly the clearest and most authentic living western teacher. Secondly, instead of questions from many different seekers, those here are mainly from a single person, the author, and hence are much more coherent and focused. Thirdly, James Braha has provided valuable commentaries between sections, in which he is able to summarize and express his own extensive understanding of the topics under discussion. Finally – and this is the factor that especially recommends it – the whole book is presented as a real-life adventure, in which we share the excitement of a prolonged visit by an enlightened teacher. Sailor Bob spent a full five weeks in the author's home giving private and public talks, and we get an intimate and fascinating account of the entire experience. (Buy US or UK)
Francis Lucille - Eternity Now - Dialogues on Awareness
This is not a published work, but is available from specialist bookshops or from his own website. It contains transcriptions from some of his audiocassette discussions with David Jennings (who utilises the teachings of Advaita in his psychotherapy practice) together with additional material, such as answers to my email questions. As noted earlier, his approach is 'direct path' and, as such, there is nothing of the traditional bhakti or karma methods here. The questions are answered in an incisive and unarguable manner that will appeal to those who feel that they have to use their minds and intellects to analyse everything.
"When we take our stand in the background, there is no death. At the relative levels, there is death; at the physical level, there is death at the end of the body; at the subtle level, there is death from moment to moment, at the end of a perception, at the end of a thought; at the ultimate level, there is only timeless continuity."
Wayne Liquorman - Acceptance of What Is - A Book About Nothing
This book presents much of the material that you will hear if you attend one of his talks and in the same style - humorous yet uncompromising. It is possibly the best book to read for an entertaining introduction to the key principles of of Advaita as taught by Ramesh Balsekar, with its emphasis on “non-doership”.
(Buy US or UK)
"Where you're trying to go doesn't exist; there is no place other than here."
Personal - seeing beyond the illusion
of a separate self' by Nirmala.
As with most modern books on Advaita,
this is a psychological rather than
a metaphysical presentation but it
is full of sincere love, wisdom and
humor. It is highly practical and readable
with many original ways of looking
at the situation in which the seeker
finds him/herself. I highly recommend
this book and there is no excuse for
anyone not to sample it when Part 1
may be freely downloaded as a PDF file.
A wonderful gift to the Advaita community.
Alternatively, if you want to be able
to read it anywhere, it may be purchased
in the usual format. Nirmala is a disciple
of Neelam, in the lineage of Ramana
Maharshi and Sri Poonja.
The Texture of Being by Roy Whenary.
A practical guide to living the spirit of non-duality amidst the vicissitudes of the apparent world. Roy appeals from the heart directly to the heart for us to recognize our true nature and abandon once and for all the traditional pursuits of pleasure, prestige and prosperity, which can never lead to happiness. Instead we should open ourselves up to the silence and clarity, there to discover the beauty and fulfillment of the reality that is already here and now. The author may be contacted via his website - Lotus Harmony.
"What you have now, which you do not have to struggle for, which you will never lose, but which you may not even know you have, is Being, in the silent emptiness of your true nature."
The Teachers of One Living Advaita: Conversations on the Nature of Non-Duality by Paula Marvelly. All seekers will empathize with this sincere and beautifully written, personal search for the truth of the Self, as the author traverses the world to interview a number of modern teachers of Advaita . There is much to learn about their personal backgrounds, teaching styles and content and gems of wisdom are elicited by the penetrating questions. But for me it was the interludes between these, where the author writes about her own feelings and reactions that make this book special. The reader shares her moments of confusion, loneliness and yearning as well as those of peace, understanding and acceptance, culminating in a samAdhi experience in Ramana’s Virupaksha cave at Arunachala. Wonderful! (Buy US or UK)
"As in my dream of a few nights back, the oily darkness seeps into my skin, filling up orifices and pores and I drown in a sea of blackness. But this is not the anaesthetized withdrawal into the unconscious that sleep brings. Now, I am fully present, fully awake – a witness to the withdrawal of creation happening within me. My thoughts and feelings have died and the world passes away. Time stops. The universe dies. Nothing remains. I exist no more."
The Wisdom of Balsekar is a compilation of extracts from Ramesh's other books, themed by topic (e.g. action, bondage, death, desire, effort, ego etc.). A wonderful selection presenting an overview of his clear and logical approach to the teaching. Edited by Alan Jacobs, president of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK and approved by Ramesh. (Buy US or UK)
“Silence of the Heart: Dialogues with Robert Adams”. Robert Adams did not write books or give lectures. Towards the end of his life he attracted a small group of students who would come to him for satsang. After Robert’s death in 1997, some of these students transcribed some tapes of Robert’s talks, and this book consists of these transcriptions. The style is simple and direct. Robert, like Ramana, advocated self-inquiry. (Buy US or UK)
What does Jnana Marga teach? We teach simply this: not to accept anything, unless you can demonstrate it. Not to believe anything, unless you can demonstrate it...To do affirmations, mantras, yoga exercises and so forth will not awaken you. We start from the beginning: you simply admit to yourself that you exist...you’ll soon find that “I” and “exist” are two separate words...you’ll have to ask yourself, “Who is this I that exists? What is I?” You never answer. It will come of its own accord...you inquire within yourself, “what is this “I” that exists at all times? And now the inquiry starts...and you keep asking yourself over and over and over again. Whatever answer comes to you is the wrong answer. Do not accept it, but do not deny it. You simply put it aside....Someday something will happen. To some people it comes like an explosion within where all your thoughts are wiped away...when the “I” is wiped out, everything else is wiped out, and the troubles are over. All thoughts go with the “I”.
(Recommended by Charles Carignan.)
A Natural Awakening by Philip Mistlberger. Here is the endorsement that I wrote for the book:
Many students of Advaita think that to become enlightened is to attain a permanent state of peace and happiness. It seems that many teachers attempt to subvert the traditional teachings by diluting them with ideas from western psychology in order that they may satisfy this need. If they can make the person feel good (instead of undermining their idea that there actually is a person), they claim to have succeeded. This completely misses the point and invariably the student ends up confused and dissatisfied. The reason that this can happen is that the teacher is usually poorly trained in psychology and has not correctly understood the philosophy himself (irrespective of whether or not he is himself ‘enlightened’).
In order to address the perceived needs of these western students, what seems to be needed is a teacher who fully understands both. He will then be able to address the psychological issues authoritatively in their own context whilst at the same time expanding the students' awareness into being able to see the truth behind their seeming problems.
In my own studies and research, I have read many books on Advaita from all traditions and I have never encountered anyone with the ability to teach in this way - until now. I invariably pencil in notes in the margins of books whenever I encounter particularly useful explanations or helpful metaphors so that a very good indicator of the value of a book can be gained by the number of such annotations. Based upon this, I can state categorically that this is a very good book indeed!
Philip Mistlberger succeeds in explaining the psychological background to our misunderstandings and mistaken view of reality and provides practical exercises to help in this regard (another rarity in spiritual, as opposed to self-help books). Yet, at the same time, the clear aim of all his teaching is unambiguously to steer readers towards realization of their identity as non-dual Consciousness.
This book takes the essence of the wisdom of what is essentially an eastern philosophy, often difficult to appreciate by a mind cultivated in western society, and presents it in a style that will be readily appreciated by the intelligent reader. It explores the way life seems to be, with its apparent difficulties in terms of such things as self-image and relationships and clearly explains how Advaita cuts through all of this to remove the ignorance and delusion and show us the already existing reality of our true nature.
Read several extracts from the book. If you are interested in buying the book, you had better hurry as this was a low-volume self-publication and there are very few copies left! The link above is to the author's website where you can email the order.
Awakening to the Natural State by John Wheeler. This is not drawn from satsang material but from emails and from personal discussion of the author with “Sailor” Bob Adams. Additional comments and clarification have been added and the quality is generally high so that this book can definitely be recommended. (Buy US or UK)
Presence-Awareness: Just This and Nothing Else, Talks with “Sailor” Bob Adamson , edited by John Wheeler. Another book of dialogues with “Sailor” Bob, this benefits greatly from being divided up into clear chapters of just two or three pages each on specific topics (Buy US or UK)
Oneness - the destination you never left by John Greven. This is a short book of only 89 pages but is exceptionally clear and convincing in most of what is said. The description of how the ego-sense arises in early childhood and subsequently deludes us as to our true identity is particularly good. There is a clear and irrefutable analysis of how we are not the body or thoughts etc. and equally clear argument that we are simply ‘presence.’ The only weak part was the last few pages, where he attempts to explain the ‘why’ of creation and the origin of ‘I am’ - to my mind, these ‘unanswerable questions’ are best left unanswered! Overall, however, I would certainly recommend it.
(Buy US or UK)
The you that is asking the question and hoping to “get it” is within the presence/awareness that you are.
Spiritual Enlightenment – The Damnedest Thing by Jed McKenna
I’ve been looking for a good novel on the topic of Advaita for ages – this may well be it! It’s clever, witty and provocative. The hero is a spiritual teacher living in Iowa, who relates his adventures with lots of pretty, young, female seekers as well as telling us about his near-death experience whilst sky-diving. Escapism or wish-fulfilment? Possibly both. Is it conceivable that a genuine enlightened teacher could appear so arrogant and cynical? Debateable. Is it of any value to the spiritual seeker? Not a lot. Is he even enlightened? I suspect not – but he is certainly very well informed. Does he actually exist? It seems unlikely. Regarded simply as a novel, it is compulsive reading – I enjoyed it very much and so should any ‘seeker’, as long as they don’t take it too seriously. There are also lots of eminently quotable lines!
(Buy US or UK)
Students aren’t really qualified to ask questions and if I simply answered the questions they felt the need to ask then they’d only manage to deepen their own entrenchment in their false beliefs.
Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether.
The Direct Path practitioner requires special skills over and above the usual teacher, namely an exceptionally lucid mind, ideally trained in philosophical methods and able to communicate complex ideas in a cogent and articulate manner. Those who have such skills rarely seem to be attracted to non-dual philosophies so that Greg is possibly unique in his accomplishments. Greg is not only enlightened but also has a background of Western philosophy as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of Eastern non-dual philosophies. His communication skills have been demonstrated time and again on various Internet discussion groups. It is the ability to choose and use from the vast array of teaching methods, metaphors and stories the one specific to the need of the moment that distinguishes the teacher from the mystic and Greg possesses this knowledge in spades. There are many instances in these dialogs where you will see and appreciate the skill with which he plays with the various paradoxes that are thrown up by this questioning.
Anyone who has read Sri Atmananda's books or the notes on his discourses will know that following his reasoning processes is not always easy. The reader may well feel that what is needed is for the ideas to be reformulated for the modern Western mind. Jean Klein's books do achieve this to some degree but, since they are mainly answers to questions raised at his satsangs, they lack continuity and editing. The topics in this book, on the other hand, are culled from the many talks that Greg and his dinner companions have held over the past ten years and the material is carefully organized to present particular points in a coherent manner. This it does in a brilliant and readable way and, consequently, all of the material is valuable and relevant. Francis Lucille's book, `Eternity Now', is very good and was written in a similar manner to this, being based upon `prepared' questions. But, in this book, Greg excels in clarity of presentation and any reader should find it both stimulating and valuable.
You may feel that many books contain hidden meaning, like a deep well that requires you to lower the bucket into its murky depths and bring it up to the surface for later, careful examination. But the material here is more like a mountain stream, bubbling over rocks in bright sunlight, its profundities sparkling with clear simplicity for all to see. It is short enough to read several times until the ideas gain familiarity and can be seen to be true directly in one's own experience. Drop your habitual and erroneous beliefs about the way things are and open your mind to the simple reality.
'Awake Joy: The
Essence of Enlightenment' by Katie Davis.
A clear call to wake up to the non-dual
Self. In this supremely practical guide
to escaping the dominion of the ego, Katie
speaks from the heart and avoids the temptation
to become lost in intellectual concepts,
reminding us of the beauty, joy and timelessness
of living in the present moment.
"In the Now, nothing is broken
and nothing needs to be fixed. You are whole
and pure. The Now is forever new, innocent
and enhanced with a fresh sense of adventure.
You are free from the robotic cycle. On the
other hand, while you are reliving the past
and practicing for the future, you are missing
the aliveness of Now and the Joy of Being."