It’s quite a big claim to say that here are the 20 Best Spiritual Books Of All Time. There are so many wonderful spiritual books, and there are even more not-so-good New Age “remixes”of ancient, timeless wisdom. Perhaps, I should have called it 20 Of The Best Spiritual Books Of All Time, since after all it is only my personal selection, but that doesn’t sound as impressive. However, I do believe I have compiled a pretty solid list of genuine classics among the very best spiritual books available today. There is something for everyone here.
In this modern age of rampant consumerism, endless to-do-lists, fast-living, and technological addiction, there seems to be little time left for peaceful, introspective moments of quiet contemplation or for asking who we really are or what we really, truly want in life. Depression and suicide rates have sky-rocketed and many people suffer from chronic mental, emotional and physical un-wellness.
Yet, we all still have an innate sense that there is more to life, that perhaps we are missing something, even if this feeling is deeply buried under layers of intellectualisation and so-called rational thinking, or simply suffocated under the quicksand of constant distractions and entertainments. Many of us are constantly seeking happiness or answers, perhaps in religion, perhaps in Eastern spiritual traditions or perhaps just in the subtle delusion that somehow our minds and thinking can work things out and finally make us happy. That is the trick of our minds — they have gone from being a useful tool to completely ruling our lives and ultimately making many people miserable, covering up the endless joy and bliss that we all have deep within.
Unfortunately, we have also been programmed since birth into believing what others tell us; our cultures, our parents, our religion, our school teachers, our friends and so on. All this education and conditioning are just mental structures, and our deep-seated beliefs, particularly strong religious beliefs, are actually blocks to what could be called true spiritual realization, enlightenment, or simply just being. We have become so enamored with doing that we have forgotten the pure bliss and joy of being. Religions arise from this deep “knowing” that there is so much more to life than the physical, and this need to reconnect with being, with the timeless. But, unfortunately religions become corrupted by greed and the desire to control the masses and the true message gets buried in dogma and ritual. Of course, a sincere practitioner of any religion can, I believe, find spiritual realization, but not by sticking to rigid dogma and belief structures.
In the context of Self-Healing and Well-Being, it has been demonstrated in studies that people who follow a spiritual path or have religious beliefs actually have a better chance at recovery from chronic illness like cancer and a better long-term survival than those who don’t. At the very least, they are perhaps better-equipped to endure the suffering and maybe even transcend it as well.
Anyway, that’s enough from me — let’s get on and read some truly inspired words from spiritual masters and other inspired authors! Without further ado, here is my list of what I have personally found to be the most profound and wonderful spiritual books. These are in no particular order since each person will find that particular books resonate with them more than others. And what you like can also depend on what you feel in the mood for reading at the time.
The 20 Best Spiritual Books Of All Time
Autobiography of a Yogi — Paramahansa Yogananda
Autobiography of a Yogi is a beautifully written and highly inspirational account of an exceptional life, and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and meditation. It is perhaps the most profoundly inspiring book that I have ever read, it is vastly entertaining whether or not you believe the stories, warmly humorous and filled with stories of extraordinary yogis and other personages.
Autobiography of a Yogi has been translated into more than 30 languages, and is regarded worldwide as a classic of religious literature. Several million copies have been sold, and it continues to appear on best-seller lists after more than sixty consecutive years in print.
Autobiography of a Yogi is the book that first inspired me to practice Kriya Yoga, which has been called “The Lightening Path”, as it is considered by some to be the fastest path to Self-Realisation or Evolution. Here are links to what I consider to be the best books on Kriya Yoga:
- Kriya Yoga: Synthesis of a Personal Experience — Ennio Nimis. This is an amazing resource that is updated regularly (click on your language and then click on the Kriya yoga downloads tab where you can download a free pdf of the book and the instructional videos).
- Kriya Secrets Revealed: Complete Lessons and Techniques — J. C. Stevens
- Kriya Yoga Exposed: The Truth About Current Kriya Yoga Gurus, Organizations & Going Beyond Kriya, Contains the Explanation of a Special Technique Never Revealed Before (Real Yoga Book 1) — SantataGamana
- The Secret Power Of Kriya Yoga: Revealing the Fastest Path to Enlightenment. How Fusing Bhakti & Jnana Yoga into Kriya will Unleash the most Powerful Yoga Ever (Real Yoga Book 2) — SantataGamana
- Kriya Yoga The Science of Life Force — Swami Nityananda Giri
- Kriya Yoga by Swami Yogananda (1930): Art of Super-Realization
- Kriya Yoga: Four Spiritual Masters and a Beginner — Heidi Wyder
- Kriya Yoga: Continuing the Lineage of Enlightenment — Ryan Kurczak
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda — Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda, the nineteenth-century Indian Hindu monk, is regarded in India as a saint and is one of the most influential people of modern India and Hinduism. He spoke at the first Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, where he made a huge impression. The lectures of Vivekananda shook The United States and the whole world. After the Parliament, Vivekananda immediately became a hero in America. He then traveled throughout the United States and England lecturing and giving the Western world his teachings on Vedanta that seemed customized for the particular needs of the western mind.
The first book that I ever read on Vedanta philosophy was a small book by Swami Vivekananda called “What is Religion?”, which I bought from the Vivekananda Ashram in Almora, India. That book gave me many profound realisations and it shifted my spiritual interest from mostly Buddhism to include Yoga and Vedanta. I then read several more books by Swami Vivekananda. Here you can find the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda on Kindle. This collection of writings and lectures by one of the finest spiritual masters and orators the world ever saw is one of the greatest guidebooks to life and how to live it. Rather than religious dogma, platitudes and beliefs, it is filled with logical, rational, eloquent prose. I highly recommend Swami Vivekananda’s writings for any deep thinker or intellectually-inclined person.
A Course in Miracles — Helen Schucman (Scribe)
A Course in Miracles has become a contemporary spiritual classic. Truths are recognized in its words that readers had never heard before, yet somewhere inside seemed to have always known. A Course In Miracles is a complete self-study spiritual thought system. It teaches that the way to universal love and peace is through forgiving others. The Course thus focuses on the healing of relationships and making them holy through changing the student’s mind and perceptions. It trains our mind to undo fear. The undoing of fear is difficult at first, but the end result is deep peace, ever-growing gratitude and experiences of fulfilling a purpose that brings us great joy. If you are on a spiritual journey seeking enlightenment, then the Course In Miracles will teach you why you are here and where you should be headed. Although the Course uses Christian terminology, it is ultimately not a religious text, but rather a manual to change our wrong perceptions and reveal the truth about who and what we really are.
The Course In Miracles is one of the most informative and enlightening courses about spiritual awaking and Oneness with your Higher Self, Holy Spirit or whatever you prefer to call that unnameable Being. Many will find the course very challenging, especially if you are new to spiritual learning. I tried twice to read it, and it was only on the third attempt after three years that I really got into it. The suggested order of reading is Text, then Workbook, then Manual for Teachers, but some people recommend practicing the daily lessons in the Workbook concurrently with reading the main Text as they can help comprehension of the Text. I started this way, but now I have decided to focus on study of the complete Text first.
The whole teaching of A Course in Miracles can be summed up in the brief introduction to the text: “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.” In the words of Eckhart Tolle, if you fully understand this, not just intellectually but on the level of experience or realization, then you have no need to read and study the text, though you still might enjoy reading it!
There are several editions of the text, which have been edited quite differently from the original notes made when Jesus spoke through Helen Schucman. The most popular version, first published in 1976 by the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP), is the one I originally started with. However, in the process of editing for publication, roughly forty-five thousand words were edited out, mostly from the first seven chapters of the Text, and the wording of the first four chapters was edited to the point where only about a fifth of their sentences retained their original wording. While the FIP version is fine, there are less heavily edited versions that keep more of the original essence. The Thetford/Sparkly edition is excellent and you can get a free pdf copy at http://www.acimsearch.org/ or order a soft-cover copy for only US$20 at Diamond Clear Vision Books.
However, now there is a wonderful new very complete edition that people are raving about. It was created by going back to Helen Schucman’s shorthand notes and editing afresh, retaining the original words to the maximum degree possible, thus bringing the reader into a more direct encounter with the power of those words. I have recently started reading the Complete and Annotated version published by Circle of Atonement and I absolutely love it! Already I feel that I have a much deeper understanding of the meaning of the text than I had before. You can get it on Amazon here: A Course In Miracles: Complete & Annotated Edition — Robert Perry and the Circle of Atonement
Also, a wonderful and entertaining companion book to help you grasp the meaning of A Course in Miracles is The Disappearance of the Universe: Straight Talk about Illusions, Past Lives, Religion, Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness. If you read this book first it will help you understand the Course more easily.
Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi — Editor: David Godman
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s highest ‘teachings’, to those capable and ready to receive them, consisted of nothing but silence during which he transmitted a flow of power that enabled individuals to directly experience enlightenment. This direct enlightened transmission is called darshan. Sri Ramana emphasized that his verbal teachings were only given to those who could not understand his silence. Silence can’t be made into a book, but his teachings on Atma Vichara (self-inquiry) primarily, and other methods, were written down by his followers and subsequently made into books. Sri Ramana dismisses meditation and mantras as a way of attaining self-realisation, saying that they merely side-track the mind from the real issue of ‘Who am I?’ We need to look deep within and dwell on this question, quietening the mind so that as thoughts arise, we ask “to whom do these thoughts arise?” He says all thoughts begin with the “I” thought, (I, me and mine), which arises from the ego. As we quieten the mind and thoughts subside, the ego subsides into the Self. By constantly dwelling on “who am I”, even as we go about our daily lives, we eventually come to a point where the “I” thought and the ego are permanently subsumed. Self-realisation is not something to be “discovered” or “attained”; it is already there to be uncovered and experienced. This discovery makes us merely a witness to everything we see and experience without being affected by it, just as a cinema screen is unaffected by the scenes which are depicted on it.
This book is by far the best introduction to one of the most important spiritual masters who ever lived. For many people it is a life-changing book, while for others it’s approach is too radical or simple (but not easy!). It could be said that the entire book could be condensed into a single page, or even a single sentence, but such is the nature of many true teachings. The mind hankers after complicated concepts to think about, so we need to hear a simple powerful teaching over and over again from different angles until finally, hopefully we will get it. Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (Edited by David Godman). For a profound taste of what it was like to sit in on Sri Ramana’s teachings, you can read Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi — Editor: Sri Munagala Venkataramiah. This is a huge book over 700 pages and it’s more advanced, so start with “Be As You Are” first. Like most books on the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, both of these books are presented in a question and answer format, as Sri Ramana taught by answering questions rather than giving lectures.
The Truth Is — Sri H. W. L. Poonja
This book is not for everybody. If you want ‘tips’ and ‘techniques’ to find bliss, then do not even venture anywhere near this book. But if you want to ‘get it’ NOW, then you will find this book illuminating and exhilirating.
Poonja goes straight to the issue – Your liberation is NOW and your mind is in your way of realising that. You can never ‘think’ or ‘act’ in order to realise your true self. He points out as clearly as the limitations of words allow anybody to – The reason for all our suffering is listening to our mind. By ‘observing’ and ‘being aware’ the false falls away and the truth remains. The title ‘Truth Is’ says it all – ‘Truth is What IS’. Our conditioning and thought patterns lead us to believe that we have to ‘do’ something, ‘practice’ something and enlightenment will be achieved some day in the future. That is an illusion. The path and the goal are right here and right now. You need to stop attaching importance to your thoughts, feeling and emotions and just observe the play of all these in your life. Poonja conveys all this and many other insights beautifully. He leaves one no crutches to hang on and removes all usual avenues of escapes that the mind uses.
Of course, the message he conveys is not new. What is different is that he conveys the message from his very own real experience and it does not come from his intelluct but from his very being. In that, he stands right up there with Ramana Maharshi, J Krishnamurhi and Eckhart Tolle.
Vaster Than Sky, Greater Than Space: What You Are Before You Became — Mooji
I Am That — Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two, my life turns — Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.
The Dhammapada — Gautama Buddha (Translator: Gil Fronsdal)
The Dhammapada, the most widely read Buddhist scripture in existence, conveys the practical and philosophical foundations of the earliest period of Buddhism in India, and is enjoyed by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The Dhammapada presents two distinct goals for leading a spiritual life: the first is to attain happiness in this or future lives; and the second goal is spiritual liberation, freedom, and absolute peace and bliss or Nirvana. Many of the verses are presented in dichotomies, for example, grief and suffering versus joy; developing the mind rather than being negligent about one’s mental attitude; virtuous action versus misconduct; and being truthful versus being deceitful. The purpose of these contrasts is, simply, to explain the difference between what leads to desirable outcomes and what leads to suffering.
There are countless translations from the original Pali language into English, with the most popular being the translation by Eknath Easwaran. I have read that translation, which is excellent, and includes a comprehenseive introduction, chapter introductions and notes. However, my personal favourite, and that of many people is the beautiful new translation by Gil Fronsdal: The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations — Gautama Buddha & Gil Fronsdal This translation by Insight Mediation teacher and Pali translator Gil Fronsdal is both highly readable and scholarly. It combines a rigorous attention to detail in accurately translating the original text with the translator’s personal knowledge of the Buddhist path. Another very nice translation is written by the great, scholarly Sri Lankan monk Ananda Maitreya.
The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind — Translator: John Blofield
This is the absolute classic text on Zen — one book to rule them all! If you read only one Zen book, let it be this one: The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind — John Blofield (Translator)
The Power of Now — Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now contains a seemingly simple, yet very powerful teaching, that awareness of the now is direct portal to enlightenment and bliss. The Power of Now is one of the best spiritual books for the new millennium, written in language that modern people can understand and relate to. It’s no wonder that over two million copies have been sold worldwide and it has been translated into over 30 foreign languages. The Power of Now takes readers on an inspiring spiritual journey to find their true and deepest self and reaches the ultimate in personal growth and spirituality: the discovery of truth and light.
Eckhart Tolle is one of my favorite authors and teachers. When I first read this book back in 2001, I thought it was just okay, but I guess the time wasn’t right. At the time I was more interested in more exotic, esoteric books on yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. Then a couple of years ago I got the audiobook version narrated by Eckhart Tolle and it blew my mind!! I’ve listened to it three or four times now along with a New Earth and other teachings. You can find The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment on Amazon. If you love The Power of Now, then you might also like A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, which builds on the first book and gives further practical applications. The The Power of Now audiobook is available on Audible at Amazon.com. If you are a big fan of Eckhart Tolle then I highly recommend this series of talks (17 hours worth!) that he gave at a retreat in India: Touching the Eternal: A Retreat on the Heart of Spiritual Surrender.
Finally, a warning! You can find many negative reviews about Eckhart Tolle and his books. In fact, it is the only “New Age” spiritual book that I have included, apart from, you could say, A Course in Miracles. Many say that the message of The Power of Now could be written in less than a page, and some even go as far to say that he is an egotistical fraud! I personally think his attackers would do well to examine their own minds and what causes them to produce such criticisms — perhaps he is a mirror reflecting back at them what they don’t like to see. While some the other books on this list may have more diverse and interesting content, the simple message of this book has profoundly spoken to me and millions of others. These days we want to be entertained and our minds desire lots of complex ideas to think about, so we can miss the beauty of simplicity. Spiritual teachers often do repeat more or less the same thing over and over, and you may say that it is brainwashing (sometimes it is), but we have already been brainwashed by society and we have a lot of unhelpful and self-limiting beliefs. Reading, hearing and contemplating these teachings again and again can help us to wake up.
Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy — Sadhguru
The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal — Translator: Swami Prabhavananda
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna — Swami Nikhilananda
Bhagavad Gita — Sage Vyasa (Translator & Commentator: Paramahansa Yogananda)
God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita (Self-Realization Fellowship) 2 Volume Set by Paramahansa Yogananda is the ultimate version for yogis, particularly kriya yogis (kriyabans) or anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Gita, and it is academically and intellectually very thorough. However, the size and depth of this two volume tome is quite intimidating, so if you’re looking for poetic beauty, ease of reading and enjoyment, then I would recommend the popular Eknath Easwaran version. Another beautiful translation with excellent in-depth commentary, but slightly less intimidating in size than the Yogananda version is The Bhagavad Gita — Translation and Commentary by Swami Chidbhavananda. The commentary also contains many wonderful quotes and parables from Sri Ramakrishna. Sanskrit learners will love this version as it includes the Devanagiri script and word by word translation of the Sanskrit. There is also a Kindle edition available for only a dollar or so, although many of the Devanagiri characters are not rendered in the electronic version (not that that bothers me much for that price).
For other scholarly works for serious students of Bhagavad Gita I recommend The Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation by Georg Feuerstein or The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda, and if you are serious about Kriya Yoga, you might also like Srimad Bhagavad Gita: Spiritual Commentaries by Yogiraj Lahiri Mahasay and Swami Sriyukteshvar, English translation. However, this last one will be hard to understand for many.
Swami Vivekananda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, contained in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda is another highly intelligent and insightful version.
Tao De Ching — Lao Tzu (Translator: Red Pine)
Patanjali Yoga Sutra — Sage Patanjali (Translator: Hariharananda Aranya)
The definitive scholarly Samkhaya-Yoga commentary is: Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali: Containing His Yoga Aphorisms with Vyasa’s Commentary in Sanskrit and a Translation with Annotations Including Many Suggestions for the Practice of Yoga – Swami Hariharananda Aranya. Another profound and comprehensive commentary, which is slightly easier to follow is The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary – Edwin F. Bryant. Neither of these are easy for beginners, so if you want something much easier and less intimidating, then I recommend the following excellent translation and commentary: How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali — Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.
In This Very Life — Sayadaw U. Pandita
Peace is Every Step — Thich Nhat Hanh
Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi — Jalâl ud Dîn Rûmî (Translator: Reynold A. Nicholson)
Yoga Vasistha — Sage Valmiki (Translator: Swami Venkatesananda)
This is a truly profound and wonderful scripture if you are ready for it, but it is not for the fainthearted and it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea! This is one of the greatest works of Indian religious philosophy, though a book for the intellectually-inclined, and it is highly recommended by many spiritual teachers. This edition is over 700 pages long and it took me more than a year to read, just a few pages at a time. The theme is part of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, expounding the indivisibility of all reality and of the manifested and unmanifested realms (the physical and the spiritual). The book constantly refers to the “infinite unconditioned consciousness,” and insists on the individual’s responsibility for his or her own spiritual advancement, and the supreme importance of self-enquiry to that end. Vasistha says, “What appears as the world to the conditioned mind is seen by the unconditioned as Brahman.” The Yoga Vasistha is a bottomless well of delicious spiritual insight. It is full of allegorical stories within stories within stories and metaphors employed as a vehicle for the idea of the unity of reality, reiterated again and again from different points of view.
This is beautifully-translated into English by Swami Venkatesananda. For a book this size I recommend the paperback rather than the Kindle version, and the reviews on Amazon say the Kindle version isn’t well-rendered, though it might have improved since then. Here is the edition that I have: Vasistha’s Yoga — Sage Valmiki and Swami Venkatesananda.
I can’t praise this book more eloquently than one reviewer on Amazon: “I would give this book infinite stars and I have never ever felt this way for a book or anything else in this world. Language fails to convey the greatness of this work. This alone, as the book proclaims, is enough to attain liberation par excellence. I say this with absolute certainty and confidence that the whole world should stop doing whatever they are doing and stop reading whatever they are reading and just read this book and it alone. Read one page of it a day; the whole world would be a different place and this is guaranteed. I would make reading this book mandatory, for it does not contain any doctrine nor does it ask the reader to assume anything. It is naked truth itself and without any veiling. It is the holiest of all holy books. I really can’t say anymore. This has to be read and understood by he who reads. Live with this book.”
Here is a different edition which is divided into readings for each day of the year (however, the Kindle version of this particular edition isn’t good, so go for the paperback): The Supreme Yoga: A New Translation Of The Yoga Vasistha (2 volume) — Sage Valmiki and Swami Venkatesananda
Finally, if you want to get a taste of the essence of the Yoga Vasistha, with a mere 230 out of the original 32000 Sanskrit couplets (64000 lines — 2400 pages!) you should buy the Kindle version of the Yoga Vasistha Sara for about a dollar here: Yoga Vasishta Sara — Sage Valmiki, Ramanan V. S. and Sureshananda Swami
One reviewer on Amazon prefers the translation by K. Narayanaswami Aiyer, called the Laghu Yoga Vasishtha, saying that it offers a noticeably higher transmission. The English doesn’t flow as easily, the prose is a bit archaic, but it is beautiful, warmer, lighter and reaches subtle, divine heights. I think both translations are good, and it comes down to personal preference of writing styles to some degree, but it is also helpful to get two different tastes. This one is on my reading list now!: Laghu Yoga Vasistha — Sage Valmiki and K. Narayanaswami Aiyer Or you can download a free pdf of the Laghu Yoga Vasishtha here: http://www.hariomgroup.org/hariombooks_shastra/Shri-Yogavasishtha/Laghu-Yoga-Vasistha-English-Translation.pdf