The best books to take with you on a spiritual journey

Who am I?

I’m now in my 25th year as professor of eastern philosophy at Santa Monica College. One of the things I love most about teaching this subject is the unconventional nature of the way I'm able to approach it. Unlike many other academic subjects, it lends itself to an experiential counterpart, so it’s a joy to share a few minutes of meditation before getting into any lectures or discussions. I share from my own personal experiences in different styles of meditation, which come from years of trainings in Kundalini and Hatha Yoga, as well as from my background in Zen.

I wrote...

The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers

By Donna Quesada,

Book cover of The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers

What is my book about?

Donna Quesada had been teaching for about a dozen years when the first signs of burnout hit her. Rather than give into her frustration, she reached for Buddha's teachings--the Zen wisdom that formed the basis of her own longtime spiritual practice. She survived the semester and gradually rediscovered the joy of teaching that had been progressively declining. In this wonderful book, she shares the lessons she learned--lessons that reveal time and again: No matter the situation, it's always about getting your head in the right place first. Resolution begins in our own minds. Some days, some semesters, and even some years will be more challenging and more wearisome than others, she warns. But in Buddha in the Classroom, Quesada offers a lasting source of encouragement and inspiration. Although the book draws from Eastern teachings, the wisdom is for everyone, regardless of personal background, creed, or faith.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Why did I love 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.

By Don Miguel Ruiz,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Four Agreements as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Four Agreements, bestselling author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.

•  A New York Times bestseller for over a decade
•  Translated into 46 languages worldwide
“This book by don Miguel Ruiz, simple yet so powerful, has made a tremendous difference in how I think and act in every encounter.” — Oprah Winfrey

“Don Miguel Ruiz’s…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Alan Watts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom of Insecurity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed philosopher Alan Watts shows us how—in an age of unprecedented anxiety—we can find fulfillment by embracing the present and living more fully in the now. He is "the perfect guide for a course correction in life" (from the Introduction by Deepak Chopra). 

The brain can only assume its proper behavior when consciousness is doing what it is designed for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.

Alan Watts draws on the wisdom of Eastern philosophy and religion in this timeless and classic guide to living a more fulfilling life. His…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogananda,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Divine Romance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paramahansa Yogananda's Collected Talks and Essays present in-depth discussions of the fast range of inspiring and universal truths that have captivated millions in his Autobiography of a Yogi. Readers will find these talks alive with the unique blend of all-embracing wisdom, encouragement, and love for humanity that have made the author one of our era's most revered and trusted guides to the spiritual life.

In this anthology of talks, Paramahansa Yogananda speaks to the deepest needs of the human heart and soul. He shows how we can meet the daily challenges to our physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being by…

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

By Shunryu Suzuki,

Book cover of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Why did I love 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.

By Shunryu Suzuki,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named one of the 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Twentieth Century (Spirituality & Practice)

A 50th Anniversary edition of the bestselling Zen classic on meditation, maintaining a curious and open mind, and living with simplicity.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

So begins this most beloved of all American Zen books. Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line. In a single stroke, the simple sentence cuts through the pervasive tendency students have of getting so close to Zen…

Be Here Now

By Ram Dass,

Book cover of Be Here Now

Why did I love 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.

By Ram Dass,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Be Here Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beloved guru Ram Dass tells the story of his spiritual awakening and gives you the tools to take control of your life in this “counterculture bible” (The New York Times) featuring powerful guidance on yoga, meditation, and finding your true self.

When Be Here Now was first published in 1971, it filled a deep spiritual emptiness, launched the ongoing mindfulness revolution, and established Ram Dass as perhaps the preeminent seeker of the twentieth century.

Just ten years earlier, he was known as Professor Richard Alpert. He held appointments in four departments at Harvard University. He published books, drove a Mercedes…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in spirituality, meditation, and anxiety?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about spirituality, meditation, and anxiety.

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