My top five spiritual books

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Rev. Satya Robyn (temple host) 6 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #2908

    Yesterday my friend Sarah asked me a beautiful question – what are my top five books on the divine?

    I thought I would struggle for ages, like choosing between favourite children, but when I reached inside for an answer, it came as easily as telling you what colour trousers I’m wearing (red of course). These are also the five books I’d take with me onto a desert island. What are yours?

    1. Zen Encounters with Loneliness by Terrance Keenan

    You might think I’m cheating with this one as Terry is a dear friend, but we only became friends after I sent him a fan letter, so I’m allowed!

    Whenever I dip into this book I find a friend – one who has lived through difficult times, and who is able to show me the way towards beauty. His daily mantra is one I have adopted – ‘No blame, be kind, love everything’.

    I’m glad I know Terry. Here’s what he said when I asked him what the best advice anyone gave him was:

    “Show up. Then sit down and shut up. There is nothing wrong with joy.”

    2. Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West ed. by Daniel Ladinsky

    Ladinsky must know God pretty well himself to have rendered translations of writings from these great spiritual sages with such playfulness, passion and beauty.

    Rabia, St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hafiz, St. Catherine of Siena, Kabir, Mira, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and Tukaram are all here. How lucky are we?

    These poems help connect me to my own relationship with the divine, and point the finger towards what is possible…

    3.  The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

    Written in 1939, this book has helped and continues to help millions of alcoholics around the world to get and stay sober. The principles of the programme have since been adapted by many fellowships who use it to release themselves from compulsions around food, drugs, overwork, sex, gambling, relationships and more.

    Reviews on Amazon are a mixture of five and one stars. Like all human groups, 12 Step groups can be healthy or unhealthy. A lot of people are suspicious of how evangelical AA ‘converts’ can be or find the spiritual focus of the programme difficult to stomach.

    I love it, and I will keep returning to it as every reading brings deeper insight, comfort and freedom.

    4. Call of the Infinite by John Paraskevopoulos

    More a book of poetry than a book about Buddhism, Paraskevopoulos puts into words the difficult-to-get-your-head-round wonderfulness of Pureland.

    Like all the books I’ve shared here, his take on Buddhism or on life doesn’t completely align with mine. That doesn’t matter – I can take what I like and leave the rest.

    What the writing in this book does for me is shed light on dimly understood concepts, and warm the part of me that calls to the infinite and hears a response.

    Namo Amida Bu.

    5. A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly

    Kelly was a Quaker, and in this little book he speaks of his relationship with The Light with such exquisite tenderness.

    He helps me remember that it’s not my job to fix everything, just to do my allotted portion, which is completely manageable and which God will show me.

    He helps me to make sense of how we can stay in touch with the divine without losing our footing on the earth.

    He inspires me to devotion.


    I’ve left out all sorts of writers who are hugely important to me. My Buddhist teacher Dharmavidya David Brazier, who’s writing is so much the ‘bread and butter’ of my life that I would carry it with me to a desert island in the liturgy I’ve memorised and the ‘book’ I’ve been gifted on how to live a noble and joyous life. Jean Vanier on community, May Sarton on a writing life, Annie Dillard for sheer brilliance, Anne Lamott for her encouragement in being human, Richard Rohr, Raymond Carver… now I DO feel like I’m leaving out my favourite children. So much gratitude.

    But enough about my books. If you were going to a desert island, what five books would you take?

  • #2909


    Hi , my 5 favourite spiritual books not in any order and there’s a helluva lot more than 5 and feel awful in leaving them out .

    1 the razors edge by Somerset Maugham.

    Recommended to me by a friend who had watched me struggle over the years with being who / what I was . Needless to say after reading this felt positively normal and the masses were the odd ones . The old black and white film does it justice where as the big Hollywood remake with bill Murray , whilst watchable doesn’t touch the original.was meant to be semi biographical of  the author .

    2) The alchemist by paulo Coelho

    A real smack in the face to me in recognising myself as one of the characters and what I’d buried as time had gone on .

    3) The commanding self by idries shah

    A great book that cuts to the chase about the mind and human nature and perceptions . A sort of Sufi version of trungpas spiritual materialism and not to mention loads of lovely learning stories with the mullah nesrodin

    4) The railway man . Erik Lomax

    a fascinating true story which in essence is all about forgiveness and it certainly passed that on to me .

    5) crazy clouds zen radicals rebels and reformers. Perle besserman

    A wonderful book full of out of the box characters and where I first got acquainted with Ikkyu  and how he epitomises essence over uniform and academia .

    Really feel I’ve left a lot of my other good friend books out  not to mention just as you are Buddhism for foolish beings , whiteout which I wouldn’t be here writing this. There s a big story for me behind all these books and ones not mentioned and it does feel hard leaving them out . Essential Rumi Coleman barks and what Buddhism is not by Steve Hagen.

    Someone said the only books you should jave are the ones that you want to keep for the rest of your life . I’m happy with that .

  • #2915

    John Welch

    I prefer not to rank them or comment on them individually (except to say that they have all had a profound and beneficial impact on my spiritual journey). I hope I will be forgiven for listing 10 books and trust that these works of great spiritual wisdom and compassion may be as helpful and inspirational to others as they have been and are to me.
    The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley
    The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Padmasambhava (translated by Robert Thurman)
    The Bhagavad-Gita (translated by Juan Mascaro)
    The Dhammapada (translated by Juan Mascaro)
    The Tannisho by Yuien-bo (and the writings of Shinran Shonin)
    A Serious Call to a Devote and Holy Life by William Law
    The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
    The Cloud of Unknowing (is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English during the latter half of the 14th century)
    The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
    The Book of Chuang-Tzu (translated by Martin Palmer)

  • #2918

    1) It’s actually a novel but deeply spiritual – Fair Play by Tove Jansson.

    The book concerns fairly ordinary events in the life of two women partners but they are full of significance – how to make the ordinary extraordinary; how to be quietly radical.

    2) The Long Road Turns To Joy by Thich Nhat Hanh

    I’m very thankful to this book for helping me make the Nembutsu into a really meaningful practice for me, all day, any time. Thich Nhat Hanh’s own words are no doubt wonderful as he moves around space, but the Nembutsu works just as well, I think, at least for me at this time.

    3) Spirit and the Politics of Disablement by Sharon V. Betcher

    This is a really radical Christian theological book by a disabled Lutheran Pastor which challenges religions to re-examine teachings to see how they can be reinterpreted or reframed to fully include disabled bodies.

    4) Honen the Buddhist Saint, edited by Joseph A. Fitzgerald

    Each time I reread this I find little gems I missed the last time. Honen’s life of faith is truly inspiring to me and his vision to be inclusive in spiritual practice is central for me. A sort of bedrock book for me.

    5) River Of Fire River Of Water by Taitetsu Unno

    I love the way the deep loss of Unno’s college friend at the beginning of the book is gradually transformed by the spiritual processes outlined as the narrative progresses. I find the emotional transformation really moving.

    Namo Amida Bu!

  • #2923

    Namo Amida Bu, thank you so much Ken, John (good to see you!) and Andrew. I’ve just ordered the Zen Rebels book, couldn’t help myself, but am going to hold off ordering more for now, I’ve been very naughty on Amazon lately! So little time, so many books… Namo Amida Bu.

  • #3141

    Hi Everyone!

    My top five spiritual books are varied and colorful.  I love the contemplative traditions, and I feel truth can be found among all the world’s major religions:

    1) River Of Fire River Of Water by Taitetsu Unno. This is where I first learned of the parable of the two rivers and the white path. Shan Tao’s parable gives me such hope, and Dr. Unno’s book as a whole was so uplifting.

    2) Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa  Yogananda . I was totally inspired by the spiritual journey of Yogananda.  It spurred in me a desire for a connection with the divine. Anyone fascinated by meditation and yoga will appreciate this book.

    3) The Complete Artist Way by Julia Cameron. I embrace art as a form of my spirituality, and Cameron does a beautiful job in this trilogy on how to enhance your creativity and spirituality. She interweaves art into the very fabric of spirituality, and stresses that Art is a gift from the creator (a little note here: Cameron maintains in this collection that you don’t have to believe in God in order to benefit from her artistic teachings.)

    4) Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey by Jan Willis. This is  a moving work by a brilliant professor of Wellesley College.  Willis takes the reader back to her upbringing in the Deep South during the Civil Rights movement, and her journey into Tibetan Buddhism. I felt this was a piece that could inspire anybody, regardless of their own religious affiliation.

    5) Faith by Sharon Salzberg.    This was a phenomenal book.  I was totally blown away by Salzberg’s life story. She did not let her suffering defeat her.

    Namo Amida Bu!

  • #3150

    ‘Dreaming Me’ is going onto my list of things to read Jeaunice. I love the first & third – didn’t get on with the first (maybe another time, books have the right & wrong times!) ,have heard good things about the fifth!

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