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.

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