9 spiritual books to read while social-distancing
Be Here Now by Ram Dass
In this time of great uncertainty, the message of the late and great Baba Ram Dass, to ‘be here now,’ could not be more relevant. This seminal classic is many things: part spiritual biography of one saint’s trippy odyssey through the layers of consciousness; part artistic work of wisdom that will break one free from dualistic thinking; and part manual for living a spiritual life. Unquestionably, Be Here Now was the Bible of the hippie counterculture
The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Two of the positive things that have emerged from COVID-19 are the profound realizations that we are all connected by some all-permeating cosmic life force (The Tao), and that rather than trying to control every event in life, we would be wise to learn how to flow with the Universe. These two realizations also happen to be two of Lao Tzu’s main teachings in this mystical wisdom text.
A Year to Live by Stephen Levine
Drawing on his profound experience and work with the dying, this late and inspiring meditation teacher decided to live one year of his life as if it were his last. The result was a series of meditation exercises and profoundly rich reflections that will help one contemplate their own relationship with life and death. This book makes for a great read in a time when we all are being forced to face our own mortality.
The Bhagavad Gita by Krishna
Consider the power behind these words from the revered Hindu mystical text, the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord):
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.”
These words of advice from Lord Krishna, the God Incarnate, to his faithful friend and devotee, Arjuna, couldn’t possibly be more relevant to the times we are currently living in. Selfless action, balance and inner awareness are what we need right now, in our struggle against COVID-19. Lord Krishna shows us how to cultivate these inspiring qualities within ourselves.
This Season’s People by Stephen Gaskin
This is a beautiful book of inspiring wisdom-oriented quotes and reflections. However, what truly adds to this book is the authenticity of its author. Stephen Gaskin was a counterculture writer and speaker, and co-founder of the Farm (one of the best-known hippie communes in the Western world) in the early ’70s. As the system appears to be collapsing around us, those drawn to intentional off-the-grid spiritual communes as a peaceful alternative may find this book eye-opening.
The Dhammapada by Buddha
The First Noble Truth: Suffering is an innate characteristic of existence.
The Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is craving, desire or attachment.
The Third Noble Truth: The ending of suffering can be attained through eliminating all craving, desire or attachment.
The Fourth Noble Truth: There exists a prescribed means to end suffering (the noble Eightfold Path).
COVID-19 has produced immense physical suffering, and it is a fact of our existence at the moment (Buddha’s First Noble Truth). Less obvious, to many, is that this virus has also caused enormous mental and emotional suffering. Much of this suffering can be directly attributed to our craving, desire and attachment for existential comfort and security (Buddha’s Second Noble Truth). It is heartening, though, that this suffering can be ended (Buddha’s Third Noble Truth) through a means-tested path to enlightenment (Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth). These core teachings of the Buddha can reveal much about our current state of being.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
This eco-spiritual novel centers on a telepathic gorilla-sage named Ishmael who walks a prized pupil through the unsustainable and destructive ways of Western civilization’s relationship to the Earth. In the end, Quinn calls for something of a return to the guiding vision of indigenous cultures, whom he appropriately refers to as the ‘leavers.’ As our ‘taker’ (Quinn’s name for the dominant Western culture) economy grinds to a halt, now is the perfect time to re-examine our exploitive relationship with Mother Earth and find a better way. Ishmael is a good place to start for exploring such solutions.
Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt
Indigenous wisdom from an inspiring and highly revered Native American Medicine Man. The profound insight that he shares through his life story comes directly through ecstatic visions he had through divine communion with the Great Mystery. What could be more needed at this moment then getting back to the deep and wise roots of our native ancestors—the true spirit guardians of this land?
A mind-blowing and soulfully revealing collection of mystical Hindu texts written by unknown saints and sages. Existential themes addressed that are acutely relevant to our times include: the meaning of death, the nature of God, reincarnation, inner wisdom and meditation.
Beloved honourable mentions:
The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley (Harper Collins)
The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Padmasambhava (multiple translations and publishers)
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (multiple translations and publishers