The best books to take with you on a spiritual journey

The Books I Picked & Why

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

By Janet Mills, Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Why this book?

The Toltec wisdom in this classic is simply told, and immediate in its applicability. For example, the second Agreement reminds us to never take things personally. How much of our suffering comes from doing just that? These teachings bring our awareness to this tendency. And awareness, however basic, does the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to stepping out of old patterns that keep us from feeling at peace within.


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The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

By Alan Watts

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

Why this book?

In my own book, The Buddha in the Classroom, I tell the story of my fortuitous and life-changing first encounter with this book, while in my first year of college. Foreshadowing my career as a teacher of eastern philosophy, it lit the fire of my ongoing interest in Zen and had a profound impact on my personal journey into meditation. I sensed that the ironic title held some precious secret. I would discover, within its pages, the magic that happens when we learn to lean into the unknown, rather than fight against it. Indeed, the search for assuredness in life only seems to perpetuate the angst that is at the root of all the anxiety that characterizes the human condition... at least for many of us! Through letting go, we become more free.


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The Divine Romance: Collected Talks and Essays on Realizing God in Daily Life

By Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogananda

The Divine Romance: Collected Talks and Essays on Realizing God in Daily Life

Why this book?

This is part of an anthology of collected talks by the beloved Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, which also includes Man's Eternal Quest and Journey to Self-Realization. They are what I keep in my own nightstand and what I open during times of trouble. And this one is my favorite of the three.

Paramahansa Yogananda is direct and loving in tone. This is the kind of book that doesn’t need to be read at once—you can open up to any page and find solace for any plight. The theme revolves around the importance of dropping the self-sabotaging bad habits that keep us from true joy.


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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

By Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Why this book?

This may be the most loved and widely known books on Zen. Like the Paramahansa Yogananda selection I spoke of above, it is transcribed from a series of talks, and so, it has a direct and intimate feel. Like many Zen masters, Shunryu Suzuki speaks with humor and conveys deep wisdom through Koans and lighthearted parables. The relaxed tone reminds us that enlightenment isn’t meant to be complicated. It’s right here, but we miss it because we expect deep wisdom to come cloaked in armor and difficulties.

If you only read one book on Zen, let it be this one, as it covers everything from the basics of sitting to the notion of emptiness, and in a way that feels as effortless as a breeze.


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Be Here Now

By Ram Dass

Be Here Now

Why this book?

When I first held this definitive item of the late sixties counterculture in my hands, I was delighted by the unconventional design of the whole thing, from the front cover through to the way the text is laid out... sometimes coming at you in spirals, carrying the whimsy and free spirit of its era. There was nothing else like it and there never has been. Technically published in 1971, it relays the atmosphere of change that was engendered by the events spanning the Vietnam era, including the general spiritual awakening which followed.

In a highly readable and artistic fashion, he shares the most essential messages from his own transformative experiences, spanning his journeys into psychedelia and later into life as a Yogi, following the life-changing meeting with his teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, in a stripped-down, compelling and relevant way.


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