Best of the Best
Most highly recommended books in 2012
In 2012, this was my shortlist of highest recommendations for those wishing to start a library. They are all definitely worth reading, but you must be careful not to take everything you read here as 'gospel'. The list I would provide now (in 2023) would be mostly different. 'Book of One' now has a second edition and I am in the process of writing a follow-up to 'Back to the Truth'. Essentially, if you want a systematic treatment of Advaita, you MUST seek a traditional source.
Apologies for not updating this to reflect my current 'top recommendations' but my capability for maintaing the site is now very low. (Both technically and time constrained!)
I would recommend the version translated and commented by Swami Nityaswarupananda. A relatively small, thin and cheap version, easily fitting into the pocket, this can be carried around and is a source of the most wonderful uncompromising statements on pure Advaita. Complete with Devanagari Sanskrit and word for word translations. (Buy US or UK)
Though not strictly Advaita teaching, there is much overlap and the readable style of Swami Satchidananda, with many stories and metaphors, is able to communicate the ideas very clearly. Each sutra is given in Sanskrit, with word by word translation, followed by extensive commentary where necessary to bring out the meaning. There is much of practical value in this book as well as clarity of theory.
"The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection... If you can control your mind, you have controlled everything. Then there is nothing in this world to bind you."
This is available in a number of editions, most of them transcribed by Swami Venkatesananda, and of varying sizes. I have recently completed one of the more abridged versions, called 'The Supreme Yoga', formatted into 365 pages, the idea being that you read one page per day. However, I (and others) would recommend the complete version. ('The Supreme Yoga' version is available from Motilal Banarsidass.)
It addresses principally the more metaphysical questions of Advaita, i.e. the nature of reality and the world-appearance and the need to overcome the desires of the mind. It does so through a large number of dream metaphors, some of which are incredibly convoluted. Some take the form of large-scale creation myths and may become a little tedious but many are short, sharp and very effective. Highly recommended! See here for a short introduction from the author.
This is excellent - very readable, yet comprehensive and authoritative. I have not come across such lucid explanations of the most abstruse aspects of Advaita before. It also explains the differences between Advaita and other branches of Indian Philosophy. Everything is set out in point by point explanation. And it has probably the most comprehensive index of any book I have seen! (Buy US or UK)
The hardback currently costs around $9, second hand from Amazon.com and about $1, brand new, from Motilal Banarsidass!
Nisargadatta Maharaj - I am That
This is probably the best known book by any modern day Sage and justly so. It consists of short dialogues that he had with visitors, who travelled from around the world to listen to his blunt and forceful answers to questions on a variety of topics of concern to those still trapped in the illusory world. There are many wonderful, direct and unambiguous statements from this illiterate seller of cigars in the back streets of Bombay. It is an essential buy. (Buy US or UK)
"The mind is but a collection of states, each of them transitory. How can a succession of transitory states be considered real?"
"You cannot have freedom in creation, only freedom from it."
Osho - Mustard Seed
This particular work is based upon the Gospel according to St. Thomas, the Christian work discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although this document may not be universally accepted amongst Christians, he uses it to bring out very clearly the non-dual teachings of Christ. It is quite a long book - nearly 500 pages - but it is nevertheless amazing how many topics are covered. Always readable and provocative, it is often very funny too. Extremely good. (Buy US or UK)
As with many of these books, this one is currently out of print and selling at exorbitant prices through some Internet outlets. Osho World offers the books readable free of charge online, however, though my patience ran out waiting for this particular one to load.
Be As You Are - The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
Short, but full of the wonderfully clear teachings of probably the most important teacher of the past millennium. This can be recommended whole heartedly as one of the very best books on Advaita. David Godman researched many sources and combined the material so as to provide fuller answers to the various questions, which are sorted into topics. You can read 15 sample pages at the Amazon link above. (Buy US or UK)
"Bliss is a thing which is always there and is not something which comes and goes. That which comes and goes is a creation of the mind and you should not worry about it."
The Book of One - Dennis Waite. This summarises all of the basic philosophy, understood through reading all of the books described in these pages. It would be far better, of course, if you read them all yourself but, if you are not prepared or able to undertake that, this may be the next best course. (Buy US or UK)
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)
Leo Hartong - Awakening to the Dream
Leo ’s teaching is usually regarded as neo-Advaita, influenced as he has been by both Tony Parsons and Nathan Gill (below). Nevertheless, it retains some of the best traditional metaphors and styles. It is a marvelous exposition of non-dual teachings, straight from the heart. Read the chapter on the subject of free-will to see how brilliantly Leo puts across the message. Excerpts and endorsements may also be read at his own site. Highly recommended! (Buy US or UK)
"The final and insurmountable problem with words is that, like the compass, they can point from, but never at the centre from which the pointing is done. To those who will look both to where and from where the compass points, the realisation of their true nature is directly available. In this knowing, the knower and the known are realised as inseparable and dissolve into the undivided space of Pure Awareness."
The Self cannot be described but David Carse makes a very good effort. Quoting from Sufi and Taoist sages as well as Advaitin ones, he helps uncover the non-dual truth that is the essence of the phenomenal appearance. The language he uses is direct and carries the conviction of experience. In many books on Advaita there is the distinct feeling that what is said is in the realm of theory or based upon what has been read elsewhere; one is left in no doubt that this is not the case here. Although nothing new is being said, the material comes across so clearly, simply and self-evidently. And I think this is the key to why the book succeeds. The words carry the understanding to those seeking the explanations but they cannot prevent the heart-felt, mind-less, direct ‘knowing’ from shining through and piercing the merely intellectual.
Although much is said about the inadequacy and ultimate failure of language to speak of reality, David’s writing is very good. I have said in my own books that it is not possible to talk clearly about this subject without using the correct Sanskrit terminology but this book seems to give the lie to that statement. There are some very original metaphors and many brilliant, quotable observations. Sometimes, every other paragraph seems to contain a new profundity.
David is not a teacher of Advaita and specifically states that he does not teach. Beginners will probably not benefit and should perhaps look elsewhere to begin with. But, if you think you know it all already yet feel that ‘it’ has still not clicked, this is definitely for you. It is the book for those who want to differentiate between intellectual understanding and realization. I have also noted that it seems to receive praise from both traditional and neo-Advaitins – and that is praise indeed!
I have mentioned elsewhere that I always pencil in the margins of any Advaita books that I read these days. Positive comments are marked: ‘good’, ‘!’ and Q (for ‘quote’); things that I don’t understand are marked ‘?’ or, if I disagree, ‘x’. There are very few ‘?’, only a couple of x’s and many Q’s and good’s. What more can I say? The only adverse comment that I would make – and it is a warning for potential readers as much as anything else – is that the early chapters do go on a bit! So, if you find that, don’t be put off and give up; keep reading – it just gets better… and better!
Whatever is not present in deep sleep does not exist.
I assure you, as long as there is an 'I' to say "I am That", that 'I' is the ego.
What is being asked is whether it is possible to awaken while remaining comfortably asleep.
Back to the Truth: 5000 Years of Advaita by Dennis Waite. I have no qualms about recommending this highly, not because it contains much of my own writing but because it contains the clearest and most informative extracts I have been able to find from all of the books I have read, all of the websites I have visited and all of the Email groups I have belonged to for the past 10 years and more -
over 550 separate extracts from over 350 different sources. In a sense, this is a compendium of the best teaching available.
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