Monday, April 20, 2009

50 Spiritual Classics

Author: Tom Butler-Bowdon
Published: 2005
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

This book provides commentaries on 50 great spiritual books of all times.
In the introductory chapter these books are classified under the following themes:
1. Great Spiritual Lives
2. Practical Spirituality
3. The Great Variety of Experience
4. Opening the Doors of Perception
5. Humanity's Spiritual Evolution

The author then proceeds to explain what he considers as landmarks on the spiritual path. They are
1. Acknowledgement of an Unseen Order
2. Divining a Life Purpose
3. Loss of the Little Self
4. Living in the Present
5. Perceiving Beyond Duality.

Then follows the commentaries, one chapter for each book. All the chapters are written as per the following template:
1. A short passage selected from the book
2. A couple of lines describing the essence of the book (titled In a Nutshell)
3. Commentary (4-6 pages)
4. A brief half-page profile of the book's author

By and large I found the selections quite comprehensive. I don't agree with some of his choices, but then difference of opinion on such matters is quite natural. I have already read 8 of the books included in this selection and have heard about another 16 books. The rest of the selections were new to me.

The commentaries are very well written .Though lay persons people may find the language slightly understand, it should pose no problems to those who are exposed to philosophical or spiritual literature . The commentaries will surely trigger reader's interest to read the books which have been commented upon. As far as I am concerned through this book I got some exposure to Native American and Irish philosophy and would like to read more about it.

The book reinforces fact that at the inner core all cultures, all religions, all thinkers share similar thoughts. The difference is only in the outer rituals, practices and habits.

The chapters in this book are sequenced in the alphabetical order of the author's name. I feel it would have been better if they were grouped as per the themes explained in the Introduction chapter.

50 Spiritual Classics is an excellent and concise (just over 300 pages) introductory reference material, which I really enjoyed reading. I look forward to the sequel to this book, having noted that the author has already provided a list of 50 additional spiritual classics, along with one-line summary of each of them.

Also the author Tom Butler-Bowdon has very generously provided more than half the contents of this book in his website (

50 Spiritual Classics - In a Nutshell

I am reproducing below what the author's one line summary of each selection, appearing under the section In a Nutshell.

In addition I have provided wikipedia links (in some cases Amazon and author's official website links) for all books and authors.

1. The Road to Mecca (1954) - Muhammad Asad
An evocation of the beauty of the Islamic faith and its role in humanity's spiritual evolution.

Confessions (400) - St. Augustine
Religious faith can bring peace and order to a troubled mind.

3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) - Richard Bach
The purpose of life is not to survive, but to seek perfection in yourself.

Black Elk Speaks (1932) - Black Elk
Consider the whole of life as one, the seen and the unseen,spirit and matter.

Cosmic Consciousness (1901) - Richard Maurice Bucke
The experience of "cosmic consciousness", or enlightenment, is part of human evolution.

6. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1976) - Fritjof Capra
Physics and spirituality are two sides of the same coin.

7. Journey to Ixtlan (1972) - Carlos Castaneda
Respect the world by taking responsibility for your own life.

8. St. Francis of Assisi (1922) - G.K. Chesterton
Extreme gratitude enables you to see the world afresh

9. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (2001) - Pema Cho:dro:n
We grow by shining light on the mind's dark places.

10. The Book of Chuang Tzu (4th Century) - Chuang Tzu
The best life is one that is in accord with the unseen universal order, or Tao.

11. Be Here Now (1971) - Ram Dass
Are you genuinely seeking greater truth in life, or merely playing the game of recognition and success ?

12. Enchiridion (1st Century) - Epictetus
Appreciate the world as it is, not how you would like it to be.

13.An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927) - Mohandas Gandhi
Life is not a series of events but a series of revelations about truth.

14. The Alchemy of Happiness (1097) - Ghazzali
We exist to learn the higher truths about our relationship to God.

15. The Prophet (1923) - Kahlil Gibran
Take a broader view of your life and recognize that you are a spiritual being having a human experience.

16. Meetings with Remarkable Men (1960) - G.I.Gurdjieff
Most people sleepwalk through life. Reject convention and become your own person.

17. Markings (1963) - Dag Hammarskjo:ld
Don't allow your vanities to sabotage your life purpose.

18. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (1951) - Abraham Joshua Heschel
Set aside time in your life to honor God and all that has been created.

19. Siddhartha (1922) - Hermann Hesse
Instead of striving for great spiritual heights, gain peace and power from the acceptance of life as it is.

20. The Doors of Perception (1954) - Aldous Huxley
Escape the habits of normal perception and see things as if for the first time.

21. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) - William James
If a person's religion succeeds in making them more whole and providing inspiration, then it works.

22. Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1955) - Carl Gustav Jung
Modern life must be enriched by an awareness of dreams, an appreciation of myth, and a sense of mystery.

23. The Book of Margery Kempe (1436) - Margery Kempe
Intense spiritual experience can change the life of even the most unlikely person.

24. Think on These Things (1964) - J. Krishnamurti
Become a real revolutionary by learning how to think beyond the confines of culture.

25. The Screwtape Letters (1942) - C.S. Lewis
We can only know what is good when we contrast it with what is not.

26. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964) - Malcolm X
Go beyond color and creed to see the basic unity of humankind.

27. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (1994) - Daniel C. Mattt
Self-fulfillment is only achieved through greater knowledge of God.

28. The Razor's Edge (1944) - W. Somerset Maugham
Attain real peace by moving beyond the ego's fears and wants and living a life of the spirit.

29. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives (1989) - Dan Millman
Loose your self importance and adopt a strategy of unreasonable happiness.

30. Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life between Lives (1994) - Michael Newton
The physical death is merely an event in the movement of a soul from one domain to another.

31. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation (1975) - Thich Nhat Hanh
You become a different person when you are fully aware of your thoughts and actions in each moment.

32. Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World (1998) - John O'Donohue
Approach everything in life in a spirit of friendship.

33. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) - Robert M. Pirsig
A purely rational approach to life leads to madness. Peace requires us to look for the unseen quality or truth behind appearances.

34. The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure (1994) - James Redfield
Meaningful coincidences are a sign of the spiritual evolution of the human race.

35. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (1997) - Miguel Ruiz
By consciously adopting agreements with ourselves on how to act with integrity, we begin to take control of our lives.

36. A Course in Miracles (1976) - Helen Schucman & William Thetford
Miracles lift the veil of misperception, revealing truth and love.

37. The Way of the Sufi (1968) - Idries Shah
Spirituality is not about emotional security, it is about finding truth.

38. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979) - Starhawk
Belief in sacred feminine and the spirit in nature is the oldest religion.

39. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice (1970) - Shunryu Suzuki
A peaceful and intelligent mind can be attained through simply sitting and breathing.

40. Heaven and Hell (1758) - Emanuel Swedenborg
The heavenly world is as real as the mundane one.

41. Interior Castle (1577) - Teresa of Avila
Inner spiritual progress can motivate great earthly achievements.

42. A Simple Path (1994) - Mother Teresa
In addition to physical help, give spiritual solace to those in need.

43. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1998) - Eckhart Tolle
Transform your life by the simple realization that the only time you ever have is this moment.

44. Cutting through Spiritual Materialism (1973) - Cho:gyam Trungpa
Sometimes the desire to be spiritual is really a hankering after psychological security.

45. Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue (1998) - Neale Donald Walsch
God's thoughts may be more accessible than you think.

46. The Purpose-Driven Life (2002) - Rick Warren
We are created by God for a reason. If we know God, that reason will be revealed.

47. Waiting for God (1979) - Simone Weil
Spurn the collective mindset and create a spirituality unique to you.

48. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (2000) - Ken Wilber
Adopt an explanation of the universe that involves consciousness as well as matter.

49. Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) - Paramahansa Yogananda
The story of the man who brought yoga to the West and his revelation of spiritual secrets.

50. The Seat of the Soul: An Inspiring Vision of Humanity's Spiritual Destiny (1990) - Gary Zukav
Achieve authentic power by letting your soul rather than your personality guide your life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Michael Schumacher : Driven to Extremes

Author : James Allen
Published: 2000
Publisher: Bantam Books

When I started watching Formula 1 Car Racing in 2002, Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team were reigning supreme. This book describes the races of 1998 & 1999 season when they were yet to dominate the scene. In fact they were struggling hard to win the Grand Prix championships amidst lot of controversies surrounding Schumacher's unsportsmanlike behavior on the track and suspicions of Ferrari indulging in illegal tampering of their cars. They came very close to winning in these two seasons.
Though not a complete biography of Schumacher, it does have a chapter on his early racing career and also a chapter describing his driving techniques and his mental framework while he is at his job. I came to know a couple of facts about him - one he comes from not a very well to do family, his father being a brick layer and his mother a petty shop keeper; another he had an physical fitness trainer who was an Indian viz; Balbir Singh !
The book also deals at some length on how the other architects of Ferrari Grand Prix victories - Jean Todt and Ross Brawn transformed Ferrari from a struggler to a dominant force which steamrolled their competetitors for the next 5 years till 2004.
Written by James Allen a well known F1 commentator, this book is very enjoyable , almost like an action thriller. But to get the maximum thrills you need to be a F1 fan and preferably should not be aware of what happened during 1998, 1999 seasons. I picked up this book from a second-hand book shop and I am glad I did that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Little Women

Author: Louisa May Alcott
Published: 1868
Free Download : Click Here
Amazon Link : Click Here

This novel set in the American Civil War period, is about the lives of four young sisters in their teens .Their father is serving in Civil War and so they grow up under their mother's loving care who inculcates moral values and shapes their characters. The first part of the story is mainly about how these girls under the guidance of their mother work on overcoming their limitations like vanity, short temper, shyness, selfishness etc.
The second part is about their growing up into fine young ladies, getting married and settling in their family lives.
The novel is loosely based on author's experiences of growing up with her sisters as a teenager. The story is very simple and heartwarming and will appeal to anyone who has a strong belief in family values and relationships.
The book is rather long (more than 800 pages), actually the second part was originally a separate book called "Good Wives".Later it was combined with the first part to form a single novel.
There are many inspiring passages in this book. I have given some excerpts below - the ones I especially liked. If you don't have the inclination to read the entire book, you can browse through these excerpts . I also strongly recommend reading at least Chapter 45 - Daisy and Demi, which is an hilarious account of antics of two small kids. In my opinion this is the best part of the book and I hope there will be more of such narrations in
Little Men a sequel to this book , which I plan to read someday.

Inspiring Passages from Little Women

1. "We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Out burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which
is a true Celestial City." (Chapter 1)

2. "There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind." (Chapter 4)

3. "I don't envy her much, in spite of her money, for after all rich people have about as many worries as poor ones" (Chapter 4)

4. "As I sat cutting out blue flannel jackets today at the rooms, I felt very anxious about Father, and thought how lonely and helpless we should be , if anything happened to him. It was not a wise thing to do, but I kept on worrying till an old man came in with an order for some clothes. He sat down near me, and I began to talk to him, for he looked poor and tired and anxious.

`Have you sons in the army?' I asked, for the note he brought was not to me.

Yes, ma'am. I had four, but two were killed, one is a prisoner, and I'm going to the other, who is very sick in a Washington hospital.' he answered quietly.

`You have done a great deal for your country, sir,' I said, feeling respect now, instead of pity.

`Not a mite more than I ought, ma'am. I'd go myself, if I was any use. As I ain't, I give my boys, and give 'em free.'

He spoke so cheerfully, looked so sincere, and seemed so glad to give his all, that I was ashamed of myself. I'd given one man and thought it too much, while he gave four without grudging them. I had all my girls to comfort me at home, and his last son was waiting, miles away, to say good-by to him, perhaps! I felt so rich, so happy thinking of my blessings, that I made him a nice bundle, gave him some money, and thanked him heartily for the lesson he had taught me." (Chapter 4)

5. "You are getting to be rather conceited, my dear, and it is quite time you set about correcting it. You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty." (Chapter 7)

6. "Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault" (Chapter 8)

7. "My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but my become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidently as you come to your mother." (Chapter 8)

8. "That is perfectly natural, and quite harmless, if the liking does not become a passion and lead one to do foolish or unmaidenly things. Learn to know and value the praise which is worth having, and to excite the admiration of excellent people by being modest as well as pretty, Meg." (Chapter 9)

9. "I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.

Poor girls don't stand any chance, Belle says, unless they put themselves forward, sighed Meg. Then we'll be old maids, said Jo stoutly.

"Right, Jo. Better be happy old maids than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands, said Mrs. March decidedly. Don't be troubled, Meg, poverty seldom daunts a sincere lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls, but so love-worthy that they were not allowed to be old maids. Leave these things to time. Make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered you, and contented here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls. Mother is always ready to be your confidante, Father to be your friend, and both of hope and trust that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of out lives." (Chapter 9)

10. "Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its sunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful blessings of the world." (Chapter 27)

11. "That's the right spirit, my dear. A kiss for a blow is always best, though it's not very easy to give it sometimes, said her mother, with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing." (Chapter 30)

12. " For poverty enriches those who live above it, and is a sure passport to truly hospitable spirits" (Chapter 43)

13. "Rich people have no right to sit down and enjoy themselves, or let their money accumulate for others to waste. It's not half so sensible to leave legacies when one dies as it is to use the money wisely while alive, and enjoy making one's fellow creatures happy with it." (Chapter 44)

14. "So the young pair shook hands upon it, and then paced happily on again, feeling that their pleasant home was more homelike because they hoped to brighten other homes, believing that their own feet would walk more uprightly along the flowery path before them, if they smoothed rough ways for other feet, and feeling that their hearts were more closely knit together by a love which could tenderly remember those less blest than they." (Chapter 44)

15. "Rich people's children often need care and comfort, as well as poor. I've seen unfortunate little creatures left to servants, or backward ones pushed forward, when it's real cruelty. Some are naughty through mismanagment or neglect, and some lose their mothers. Besides, the best have to get through the hobbledehoy age, and that's the very time they need most patience and kindness. People laugh at them, and hustle them about, try to keep them out of sight, and expect them to turn all at once from pretty children into fine young men. They don't complain much plucky little souls but they feel it." (Chapter 47)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Final Reckoning

Author: Sam Bourne
Published: 2008
Publisher: Harper Collins

After a long time I read a thriller novel , which happened to be this book. The story begins with the UN security staff gunning down an 78 year old man mistaking him for a suicide bomber. He was actually a Nazi hunter who had come to New York on a secret mission. Who was his intended victim ? I have read several novels of this genre during my college days and I did not find anything exceptional about the plot of the story. The blurb on the cover says that the author Sam Bourne is the biggest challenger to Dan Brown (of Da Vinci code fame). I don't agree. However the book is well written and fast paced. This is the first novel which I have come across in which the characters make extensive use of current technology in their investigations viz; Blackberry, Face Book, Wikipedia. There may be many more such books but I am not aware of it since I rarely read popular fiction nowadays.
Though this book is a fiction , the background of the story is based on the facts relating to the group of Holocaust survivors who sought revenge for the Nazi slaughter of the Jews during the Second World War. Author has provided reference to the following true accounts and memoirs of Holocaust survivors who became Nazi hunters - Forged in Fury by Michael Elkins, From the Wings by Joseph Harmatz, The Avengers by Richard Cohen, Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary by Avraham Tory. I think these books will be worth reading.
Author has also referred to the the website
and the Kovno photographs by George Kadish. George Kadish was a Lithuanian Jew who secretly photographed the trials of daily life within the ghetto with a hidden camera through the buttonhole of his overcoat. They depict a very realistic picture of the suffering of the Jews. In this novel the main character unravels the suspense with the help of these photographs while he is browsing the web.