Share your suggestions for spiritual books, or your spiritual quotes, or thoughts...
August 17, 2009 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Share your suggestions for spiritual books, or your spiritual quotations, or thoughts, or advice for others who have decided to explore the spiritual side of life.

Please don't post here if you want to be cynical, or objectionable. I don't want this to be a debate. I invite anybody to report any negative or non-useful replies for moderation.

Dictionary definition:

1 of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things : I'm responsible for his spiritual welfare | the spiritual values of life.
posted by humblepigeon to Religion & Philosophy (45 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Madeleine L'Engle's books The Irrational Season (which explores her life through the structure of the liturgical year) and Two-Part Invention (about her marriage) are two of the most spiritual books I know.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:49 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Seriously. Such an amazing book. People who have never read it have no idea.

I first read it after getting really into Elio Vittorini's writing and learning that Vittorini was passionate about Robinson Crusoe.
posted by The World Famous at 2:56 PM on August 17, 2009

I'd vote for anything by Pema Chodron.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:04 PM on August 17, 2009

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup is a wonderful spirituality-focused memoir about love, grief, and community. She's a chaplain with the Maine Game Warden Service. The reason I mention it is that religion doesn't seem to matter as much in her work (she's UU, but she works with a range of religious and non-religious people) as spirituality does. She writes about her family (particularly, raising her kids after becoming a widow unexpectedly) and about the Game Wardens and other people she encounters in her working life, focusing on the ways in which people's spiritual needs manifest and are met. It's a really lovely book. I've read it at least twice in the last six months.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:13 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Emerson's self-reliance...go American Romantic!
posted by Kirklander at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2009

Faith of a Heretic by Walter Kaufmann.

I also found The Satanic Verses to a an interesting exploration of how spirituality interacts with the messiness and ambiguity of everyday life.
posted by benzenedream at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2009

I was deeply moved by Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. My favourite quotation from the book is "...[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
posted by angiep at 3:42 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas hofstadter. It's science and philosophy, but it fits your definition precisely. Thinking about the human soul is not solely the perview of faith and fiction!
posted by rikschell at 3:48 PM on August 17, 2009

The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. It's about his trekking through the Himalayas looking for the leopard; Buddhism; and his wife's death from cancer. A remarkable book.
posted by rtha at 3:58 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're interested in going all the way, Adyashanti's Emptiness Dancing. But be warned, this path is not for sissies.
posted by markcmyers at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2009

Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson, as well as Cosmic Trigger and his novels Illuminatus! Trilogy and Schroedinger's Cat. As a once-total atheist, it's thanks to RAW that I can reason about the spiritual, and grant that it has some valid existence, without getting mired in the superstition of literal interpretation.

After that, The Chicken Quabalah by Lon Milo Duquette. Then the Sefer Yetzirah by a buncha old rabbis.

Then, start into Aleister Crowley's opus. I like The Book of Lies as an introduction, although there are other places you could start.

Sorry, I don't have anything fluffy for you. I'm not really into the opiate of the masses; more the LSD of the handful.
posted by Netzapper at 4:03 PM on August 17, 2009

Bede Griffiths "Vedanta and Christian Faith" changed my life by showing me that even my very abstract spiritual beliefs could find a home in Christianity -- if I wanted to go that direction.
posted by rhartong at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2009

The Gift, by Lewis Hyde.
posted by effluvia at 4:29 PM on August 17, 2009

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
posted by marsha56 at 4:39 PM on August 17, 2009

The Prophet.
posted by ifranzen at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2009

Seconding all Hesse. Especially Siddhartha, Demian, Beneath the Wheel, The Glass Bead Game, Journey to the East.
posted by ifranzen at 4:41 PM on August 17, 2009

The Way of the White Clouds is both an introduction to Tibet and to Tibetan Buddhism. Also, I happen to consider Walden quite a spiritual book in its way.
posted by gudrun at 4:44 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I see Eckhardt Tolle recommended a lot. I've read some of his work and highly recommend "The Power of Now."

Having taken a few steps down the Eastern spiritual path, I can feel how powerful it is and how much promise it holds. However, I'd consider it hard to swallow without any prior exposure. Tolle advocates similar ideas with a western, more palatable flavor.
posted by dualityofmind at 4:47 PM on August 17, 2009

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts. Completely changed my perspective on life, death, and self.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:48 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, if you're interested in Eastern thought at all, Watts is the best introduction I've found.

For a broadening and deepening of religious--particularly Christian--mythology, I strongly recommend Joseph Campbell. His interview by Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, is a great, accessible place to start.
posted by LooseFilter at 4:50 PM on August 17, 2009

The Tao Te Ching is full of genuinely interesting groupings of words that reward thoughtful contemplation.
posted by Nonce at 4:57 PM on August 17, 2009

Be especially sure to check out the "audio dharma" section if you have an iPod and a commute.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:09 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up helped me out a lot during a sort of rough patch. It's Zen Buddhism explained in a clear and accessible (if somewhat idiosyncratic) way. As I understand it, some Buddhists really hate Warner, but he worked for me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing Hesse (but I've only read Demian and Narcissus and Goldmund). Also, I enjoyed the first 3 Carlos Castenada books (Teachings of Don Juan, A Separate Reality, and Journey to Ixtlan); there's a cumulative effect to those books -- Ixtlan freaked me out a bit. And yes, I'm aware it's been pretty much proven that Castenada made a lot of this stuff up and was pretty much a scam artist (and possibly worse--scroll down for allegations of murder) -- there's still something powerful in those books.

If you do decide to travel this path, one Zen proverb to keep in mind:
Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
posted by Bron at 5:45 PM on August 17, 2009

After being a jerkoff atheist (not to sat that all atheists are jerkoffs, but rather that I was a jerkoff-y sort of atheist) for most of my adult life, the spiritual advice I keep coming back to is in Proverbs, chapter 3.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Acknowledge Him in all your ways and he will make your paths straight.

posted by DWRoelands at 5:52 PM on August 17, 2009

The writings of Zhuangzi are something I keep coming back to; same with Nasrudin and Rumi. I also keep a copy of the Mohan Mala next to my bed; even when I disagree (!) with Ghandiji I appreciate his insights.
posted by jtron at 6:23 PM on August 17, 2009

I'm not sure if this is the type of thing you have in mind, but this is one of my favorite quotes:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

original by Marianne Williamson, quoted by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech.
posted by emd3737 at 6:38 PM on August 17, 2009

I believe this is one of the best meditation books ever written:
(It's a free pdf--linked on the page above--or a paperback book.)
posted by zeek321 at 8:17 PM on August 17, 2009

2nding Pema Chodron and Eckhart Tolle. Also, Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:28 PM on August 17, 2009

Someone beat me to The Prophet (a book that got me through some hard times), but let me recommend a few books not mentioned here.

Conversations with God : An Uncommon Dialogue While I'm not sure I buy the premise of the book, the message of the book is quite good. I've never read the rest of the series, but I doubt theres much there that isn't in this first book.

Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras Eck's point of view is very interesting, and I honestly think she says some very powerful things in this book in general about being "spiritual" regardless of what religion you claim.

The Universal Principles of Sukyo Mahikari are very uplifting, if a bit New Agey for my tastes. The idea of extreme hardship being a fact of life, rather than some curse or some fault of our own is rather nice.

Totally out of left field, let me recommend the autobiography of Jarena Lee which has some very powerful moments in terms of overcoming feelings of unworthiness.

In an entirely different vein, let me also recommend the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda as a rather brute force attempt to explain why the western concept of spirituality is flawed. Particularly, his Addresses at The Parliament of Religions, found in volume 1 is worth the time to read.

And finally, something from an old teacher of mine, who I respect deeply even if I don't totally agree with him. He taught me the most important lesson of my life, academically, and otherwise, that in order to change or better yourself, you first have to acknowledge the self as something which is, has been, and will continue to be you.
posted by strixus at 10:41 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rudolph Otto's The Idea of the Holy (1923), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500210-5.

Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2002) Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00696-5.
posted by hworth at 12:44 AM on August 18, 2009

Thomas Merton's critically acclaimed 1/2 autobiography (he published it at the young age of 33, but lived to be 53) "The Seven Storey Mountain" might appeal to you, as well as some of his later works. Bertrand Russell's lecture "Why I Am Not a Christian" might seem a strange recommendation for this thread, but it is a personal argument against dogma by a man who thought for himself about the nature of reason and human experience, and deserves the few minutes it takes to read, and some hours of consideration thereafter. C.S. Lewis' partial autobiography "Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life" has had various critical success, but is generally regarded as a sincere attempt by Lewis to recount his process of adult conversion from atheism, to theism, and thence to Christianity, and one that is notable for its personal insights and reflections. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship is worth the time you take with it, if only for Bonhoeffer's exposition of his concept of "cheap grace." Roland Bainton's "Here I Stand: The Life of Martin Luther" published in 1950, remains one of the most literate and accurate biographies of Luther for the general reader, and is a worthy introduction to the complicated life and writing of the great Reformationist.
posted by paulsc at 2:41 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read The Celestine Prophecy when I was in my early twenties. In retrospect, years later, it's not terribly deep or revolutionary - it's a fictional work which just tries to get some basic concepts across. But at that stage in my life, having had no kind of spiritual inclination or tendencies until then, it did actually have quite a profound impact on my way of thinking, and opened up my interest in such things.

Then, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It sounds a bit morbid, and it is in parts, but overall it's more about the living, than the dying.
posted by Diag at 5:21 AM on August 18, 2009

I cannot recommend enough.... I mean really cannot possibly do justice to the greatness of this book:

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Read it, I promise you will love it, and it will leave you with such a peaceful feeling. I wrote one of my favourite songs I ever wrote directly after reading it.

speaking of which i might post that on mefi music :]
posted by greenish at 6:45 AM on August 18, 2009

Postscript to my post above: DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE.

Specifically do not watch the movie if you hate Neil Diamond, or you may wish to commit violent crimes.
posted by greenish at 6:47 AM on August 18, 2009

I recently read Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and found it to be humorous and thought-provoking.
posted by sciencemandan at 9:28 AM on August 18, 2009

I like "Where ever you go, there you are", though it did not claim to be about spirituality at all.
posted by xammerboy at 4:14 PM on August 18, 2009

The Cloud of Unknowing, anything by Meister Eckhart, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. For a quote of universal power, "love the lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself." would certainly make the world a better place if universally applied. I'm not specifying any particular version of the lord, just acknowledging a higher power, beyond mere human comprehension.
posted by Redhush at 8:06 PM on August 18, 2009

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."
-- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso
posted by bryon at 9:14 PM on August 18, 2009

Holy the Firm, by Annie Dillard. A short, full book.
Of faith I have nothing, only of truth: that this one God is a brute and a traitor, abandoning us to time, to necessity and the engines of matter unhinged. This is no leap; this is evidence of things seen: one Julie, one sorrow, one sensation bewildering the heart, and enraging the mind, and causing me to look at world stuff appalled, at the blithering rock of trees in a random wind, at my hand like some gibberish sprouted, my fist opening and closing, so that I think, Have I once turned my hand in this circus, have I ever called it home?

Faith would be that God is self-limited utterly by his creation—a contraction of the scope of his will; that he bound himself to time and its hazards and haps as a man would lash himself to a tree for love. That God's works are as good as we make them. That God is helpless, our baby to bear, self-abandoned on the doorstep of time, wondered at by cattle and oxen. Faith would be that God moved and moves once and for all "down," so to speak, like a diver, like a man who eternally gathers himself for a dive and eternally is diving, and eternally splitting the spread of the water, and eternally drowned.

Faith would be, in short, that God has any willful connection with time whatsoever, and with us. For I know it as given that God is all good. And I take it also as given that whatever he touches has meaning, if only in his mysterious terms, the which I readily grant. The question is, then whether God touches anything. Is anything firm, or is time on the loose? Did Christ descend once and for all to no purpose, in a kind of divine and kenotic suicide, or ascend once and for all, pulling his cross up after him like a rope ladder home? Is there—even if Christ holds the tip of things fast and stretches eternity clear to the dim souls of men—is there no link at the base of things, some kernel or air deep in the matrix of matter from which universe furls like a ribbon twined into time?

Has God a hand in this? Then it is a good hand. But has he a hand at all? Or is he a holy fire burning self-contained for power's sake alone? Then he knows himself blissfully as flame unconsuming, as all brilliance and beauty and power, and the rest of us can go hang.
posted by heatherann at 5:57 PM on August 19, 2009

Nthing Alan Watts' book mentioned above and ANYTHING else by Watts. You can get a taste at
posted by Jezebella at 7:38 AM on August 23, 2009

Ralph Martin's "The Fulfillment of All Desire" is a marvelous book written in an accessible manner.
posted by ragtimepiano at 10:12 PM on September 13, 2009

Here's the Ralph Martin book link.
posted by ragtimepiano at 10:14 PM on September 13, 2009

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