Silence is the most eloquent language and the most powerful transmission happens in mouna. But till our instrument gets tuned to the frequency of silence, words can provide beautiful satsangha (company of the truth). Experiences of devotees and seekers on the path prove to be of immense value and support. The thought for this post came during a walk up to Skandashram cave in Tiruvanammalai with a dear friend, Prasant. In my little journey of about a decade, there have been several books and masters who have come as pointers and here are some books that have been pillars of support over the years (in no particular order):
This book is written by the inimitable venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, peace activist and also known as the ‘father of mindfulness’.
Thay, as he is fondly called, passed away early in 2022 at the age of 95 but his essence will be alive in each breath we take. A master of meditation, ‘Old Path, White Clouds’ is a gift Thay presented the world in 1987. This book is a heart warming recollection of the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha presented in very simple language. A gem of a book!
From the Advaita Vendanta tradition, ‘My Life and Quest’ is Arthur Osbourne’s (1906-1970) autobiography which talks about his spiritual journey very intimately.
Osbourne was born in England and his spiritual journey started in 1936 and it brought him to Sri Ramana Maharshi in 1942. He spent the last 25 years of his life in Ramana Ashram and was also the founding editor of Mountain Path, Ramana Ashram’s quarterly journal. In this book, he talks very intimately about his spiritual journey, the struggles he went through, recognition of a guru and the path of self-inquiry.
From a personal account, we move on to a more scriptural book. Written by my guru, Nochur Venkatraman, this commentary is like a text book of Advaita Vedanta.
The Dakshinamurti Stotra is one of the most profound compositions by Adi Sankaracharya. It conveys the highest truth in just ten verses. The commentary by Nochurji also feels like a great introduction to Sanskrit since it gives the verse in Sanskrit followed by how to pronounce it in english and then the translation along with the detailed commentary. The book is pure Shiva!
This book is just love. Mingyur Rinpoche is a Buddhist monk from Nepal who spent his formative years at Palpung Sherabling Monastery in Bir (where I lived for a few years, here’s a practical guide on moving to the Himalayas).
The Kagyu lineage has a traditional 3 year, 3 months, 13 days retreat where aspirants spend the entire time in meditation, sometimes even in a small box and without lying down! Mingyur Rinpoche comes from the Tergar lineage which is an amalgamation of Kagyu and Nyingma. After two such retreats (one as a teacher), Mingyur Rinpoche became the head of a monastery and was teaching across the world. But at 35, he stepped out of his comfort zone of being a monk and went on a wandering retreat living like a no body on the streets! This book is a memoir of the first 21 days of this experience when he put all his practice into action in the real world in the most crude manner possible. An absolutely honest book, In Love with the world is full os inspiration for anyone who has the intense desire of practise at the highest level.
5. I am That
Nisarg Datta Maharaj’s classic ‘I am That’ is a kind of book where you pick up the book, read any passage and mull over it. A staunch advaitin (non-dualist), Nisarg Datta Maharaj always brings a smile to the face. He used to run a beedi shop and continuously smoke bidis. There is a video or two about him talking as well and ‘I am That’ is one of the first compilations from his talks and conversations.
6. Who am I?
Not at all qualified to say anything about the king cobra of all the gurus, Ramana Maharshi! The sage who epitomises the age old question -“Who Am I?” For whom, the question dissolved in an instant at the age of 16 and he has lived as the answer to the ultimate question, the universe itself. Consciousness, awareness, brahman.
Completely devoted to Ramana Maharshi, I never really read any of his literature (he has hardly written anything) for the first few years. Lately, I have picked up several of his books (mostly compiled by devotees) and “Who Am I?”, definitely needs a mention! The little 40 page booklet booklet contains the 28 direct questions troubling the human mind since time immemorial. Read a question a day, the book is meditation in itself.
(P.S. excuse me getting swept away here but this writer’s tiny life is completely devoted to Ramana Maharshi and not being biased is not an option 🙂 )
This book is the best example of jnana and bhakti not being different. In pure jnana, everything is bhakti. In the bliss of bhakti, jnana is inherent.
“In Quest of God” is a river of love from his pilgrimage across India. There is only this word ‘love’ which is getting repeated and hence to describe the book, I’ll quote from Google Books:
IN QUEST OF GOD is an account of a pilgrimage, taken in continuous remembrance of God, an extraordinary spiritual autobiography of a saint who gave up the worldly lift to wander homeless and penniless across the length and breadth of India.
I haven’t really read this book yet but I just pick it up once in a while, seek blessings of Ma and keep it back. This book is a collection of memories of a devotee with the master… There are several other great books on the life of Sri Anandmayi Ma like “A Goddess Among Us” and “Life and Teachings of Sri Anandmayi Ma”. I just wanted to mention her here to have the grace of one of the most powerful advaitic teachers of our time.
This book has an academic flavour but it brought the story of Guru Nanak alive for me. Written by Haroon Khalid, the author walked the trail that Guru Nanak walked in Punjab and parts of current day Pakistan.
It’s incredible how Guru Nanak walked thousands of miles in 5 Udasins (pilgrimages). Right from Mecca and Middle East to Assam in India, and right from Sri Lanka in the south to the mountains of Tibet! It’s said he (along with Mardana) traversed close to 30,000km in a 24 year period (1500-1524). This book is an inspiration to all seekers and makes Guru Nanak’s journey absolutely real!
These books are probably only for folks in love with Ramana Maharshi, mountain Arunachala and the direct path of self-inquiry.
Silence of the Heart is written by Robert Adams who was born in the United States in 1928 and left the physical realm in 1997. If you search online, you’ll find some gossip but in my reading, the book is pure and real experience. One can feel the unison in every page and the book stays absolute true to its title, ‘Silence of the Heart’.
And the other, is a recent favourite- “In Days of Great Peace”. It’s absolutely beautiful to be able to feel this peace that is being spoken of. The great Peace. Written by Mouni Saudhu (M. Sudouski) who was born in Poland and lived at the feet of Maharshi for a few years. The book speaks of his period at Ramana Ashram and puts in words, the experience of ‘Self-Inquiry’.
With that, I’ll wind up the post for now. There are so many other masters and beautiful books to fuel our spiritual journey, feel free to drop in a comment or write to me at [email protected] to share your inspirations.