10 Essential Books for Newbie Yogis (or Seekers of All Ages!)
Worthwhile Additions to Any Spiritual Aspirant's Library
The following is a list of recommended books for the spiritual aspirant. The first five are books whose value cannot be estimated. They are foundation stones of understanding spiritual life and spiritual philosophy. They should be read through many times carefully and reflectively. They should be made the yogi's lifetime companions and guides.
We have used the Amazon links to highlight the books and give our descriptions, but we will give links to online versions when possible.
Though we have only listed these ten with Amazon links, at the bottom of the article we recommend other books serious students will wish to explore.
The Bhagavad Gita: the Song of God - By Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
Today the Gita is found in every household in India and has been translated into every major language of the world. Literally billions of copies have been handwritten and printed. (A few years ago a spiritual organization in South Africa printed one million copies for free distribution!)
Swami Prabhavananda's translation is a unique interpretive translation that captures the gist of the meaning more so than many line for line translations. Highly recommended.
"My own spiritual awakening began by kicking me out of the nest of comfortable religion into a vast world of realities I had no idea how to cope with. I floundered around in the sea of my new horizons until one day I bought a paperback edition of the Bhagavad Gita. I did not read it, I inhaled it. I was not reading the words of a long-dead teacher: my own Self was talking to me in the pages of that little book. Nor did I learn anything from the Gita—I remembered that which I had always known. Eternal Self spoke Eternal Truth. The Bhagavad Gita changed my life by giving me Life. Life that has never ended."
"Nothing has ever arisen in my life, internal or external, that the Gita has not made clear and enabled me to deal with or understand. Yet is it not dogmatic. At the very end Krishna says to Arjuna: "Now I have taught you that wisdom which is the secret of secrets. Ponder it carefully. Then act as you think best." No threats, no promises, no coercion. It is all in the reader's hands. Even better: the Bhagavad Gita tells us that we can attain a Knowing beyond even what it tells us. And it shows us the way." —Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri), whose comments abound in these recommendations.
Autobiography of a Yogi - The Spiritual Classic by Paramhansa Yogananda
Paramhansa Yogananda's classic Autobiography has been the catalyst for spiritual awakening for tens of thousands of people. The original, unedited edition is now available online at the website of Ananda Village. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in spiritual life.
All of Yogananda's writings are beyond price, as are his recordings. I may have written extensively on various religious traditions and yoga - as seen on the ocoy.org website - but I can say that all which is true and worthwhile in my writings is based squarely on the knowledge I gained from studying Yogananda's writings.
Except for the two most basic ideas that God exists and man is immortal, I do not think there is a single significant truth I know that did not come from Yogananda. And without his teachings those two ideas would never have been understood by me and made part of my life. He was and is a light unto my path, and I hope he will be the same for you.
Therefore I also highly recommend two books about Yogananda: The New Path and Paramhansa Yogananda; both by Swami Kriyananda. (Comments by Abbot George Burke)
The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal - translation by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester
The greatest boon seekers of truth in this country have received are the translations of the upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita—The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, and The Song of God, Bhagavad Gita—made by Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society of Southern California in the nineteen-forties. The value and clarity of his insights are remarkable. In his translations he did not attempt an exact literalism, yet they convey the meanings of the texts far better than most who try for literal wording.
Reading his translation of the Gita changed my life in 1960, and everything which happened afterward was a consequence of that. My debt to him is incalculable and therefore unpayable. I looked at many translations before taking up the task of comming on the upanishads, and I found Swamiji's version inescapable. The Light of the Self (Atma Jyoti) radiates from the pages, conveying to us the illumination and blessing of his teacher Swami Brahmananda and his master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, of Whom it can be rightly said: "He shining, everything shines." (Abbot George Burke)
Meditation and Spiritual Life - by Swami Yatishwarananda
Swami Yatiswarananda (1889 - 1966) was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, the direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. He spent seven years teaching Vedanta in Europe, where he founded an ashram in Switzerland, though he lectured on Vedanta from Madrid to Warsaw. He left Europe as the second World War forced a closure to the European Vedanta work. The swami then spent ten years teaching Vedanta in the United States, returning to India to head several Centers, eventually becoming Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
Swami Yatiswarananda was famed for his meditative life and spiritual attainment. His book, Meditation and Spiritual Life, a compilation of his class talks, is considered one of the finest compendiums on spiritual life.
The Philosophy of Gorakhnath - by Akshay Kumar Bannerjea
One of the most valuable books for the aspiring yogi is Philosophy of Gorakhnath by Akshaya Kumar Banerjea, himself an accomplished yogi in the Nath Yogi tradition whose main center, by the way, is in Gorakhpur, the birthplace of Paramhansa Yogananda whose brother Sananda was really named “Gorakhnath” at his birth.
Speaking of the reunion of the subtle forces within the individual–including his physical body–Banerjea observes: “The material body is as much a playful self-revelation of the Supreme Spirit (with Shakti) as life and mind and has no really separate non-spiritual existence. The body is perceived as a non-spiritual reality, so long as the mind is concentrated upon its material spatio-temporal character. When the mind is concentrated upon the Spirit within it, not only the mind, but the body also is spiritualized, i.e. its spiritual nature is unveiled.” Consequently the yogi gives attention to the physical, astral, and causal bodies that are the vehicles of his consciousness–the consciousness he intends to unite with its Source.
Yoga Vedanta Dictionary - by Swami Sivananda
For Sanskrit terms I recommend: Yoga Vedanta Dictionary by Swami Sivananda; A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy by John Grimes; and A Brief Sanskrit Glossary, which is found on our website.
The Works of Shankara - including the Vivekachudamani, the Crest-Jewel of Discrimination
Everything by Shankara is of inestimable value. I would start with his Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination) translated by either Swami Madhavananda or Swami Prabhavananda. His Gita commentary can be a bit heavy-handed because he wrote it to present his interpretation and at the same time vanquish opposing views.
Actually some of his similar writings are much like those of Saint Thomas Aquinas in form and style-not the easiest to read and comprehend. His commentaries on the upanishads (included in the translations of Swami Gambhirananda, Swami Madhavananda, and Swami Jagadananda) are exceptionally helpful, though, and I have found his minor works of great value also.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna - by "M," Mahendranath Gupta, translated by Swami Nikhilananda
This is a remarkable treasury of spiritual philosophy. It consists of stenographic records of conversations with Sri Ramakrishna spanning several years. It was set down by Mahendranath Gupta, who next to Sri Yukteswar was the most important influence in Yogananda's spiritual development. (He is written about in Yogananda's autobiography as "Master Mahasaya the Blissful Devotee.")
It is good to read it straight through the first time, but you can also simply open it at random and read amazing things, including the words of truly spiritual songs. It can be found online at the Belur Math website.
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ - by "Levi" (Levi Dowling)
This is a transcription of the psychic investigations into the life of Christ made by Dowling in what is popularly known as "the akashic records" and I believe contains the the authentic teachings of Jesus, but makes no claim to infallibility or absolute accuracy.
Find out more about the Aquarian Gospel in the Introduction to the Gospel on ocoy.org. We have posted both the full text of the Aquarian Gospel, as well as a commentary on the text, called the Aquarian Gospel for Yogis.
The Works of I. K. Taimni - including the Science of Yoga
Everything by I. K. Taimni is a marvel of clear and relevant wisdom. His commentary on the Yoga Sutras, The Science of Yoga, is the best.
See Katinka Hesselink's review on her Squidoo lens. I highly recommend her other lenses also: very thought provoking.
For Hungry Spiritual Seekers
More from Yogananda
The heads of the five great monasteries founded by Shankara are given the title of Jagad-Guru-World Teacher. Certainly great masters have been mahants of those monasteries, but they had no spiritual influence outside India, so they were not jagad-gurus. But Paramhansa Yogananda during his lifetime was a true World Teacher, and continues to be through the following books:
Man's Eternal Quest (collection of talks),
The Divine Romance (collection of talks),
Journey to Self-realization (collection of talks).
The Science of Religion,
Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda (originally The Master Said),
God Talks With Arjuna, (commentary on the Bhagavad Gita), and
The Second Coming of Christ, (commentary on the Gospels).
Everything by the following writers are classics of enlightened insight:
Margaret Laird, Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Henry Suso, John Ruysbroeck, Akshaya Kumar Banerjea
For the facts about diet, I recommend Diet for a New America by John Robbins, What's Wrong With Eating Meat? by Vistara Parham, the books of Dr. Neal Barnard, particularly Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life, and The RAVE Diet & Lifestyle by Mike Anderson, whose latest book Healing Cancer From Inside Out is a must read.