My first exposure to meditation was fifteen years ago when I did a week-long workshop at an Art of Living center in Bangalore. The week itself was quite warm and fuzzy but I couldn’t quite create my own meditation routine after. Now many years later when I have a fulfilling meditation practice, I realize that my efforts then were superficial because they lacked a philosophical core. So you don’t have to wait fifteen years for that realization, here are the meditation and philosophy books that’ve been most impactful for me to build my spiritual foundation:
1. Buddha by Karen Armstrong
The Buddha was the original meditator and this book stands out among his many biographies both because it’s wonderfully researched and because it gets to the heart of the discontent that inspires a spiritual search. If you ever wonder why you are vaguely discontented and restless, the book will provide the beginning of an answer.
2. Bhagavad Gita
The clearest synthesis of living in the world yet out of it, balancing the call of the divine with the call of the dollar, this text requires no introduction. I like the translations/commentary of Eknath Easwaran (easily found) and Swami Sivananda (harder to get) the most.
3. Vivekachudamani by Shankara
The classic exposition of Vedanta philosophy, this poem by Shankara combines the analytic rigor of Eastern philosophy with a mystic’s soul-stirring yearning for the divine. The incisive commentary by Swami Rangathananda was very formative for my meditation practice.
4. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
This is the beating heart of Yoga and meditation philosophy and my favorite book of all time. All questions are answered, all doubts are removed with the words on these pages, filling you with a deep sense of peace. I recommend Iyengar’s commentary and a little known but magnificent translation by Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra.
5. Honorable Mentions
- The essential Rumi
The powerful mystical experiences of Rumi, the Persian poet, are uncannily similar to Buddhist masters and ancient Yogis but it’s the beauty of his language that moves you to tears.
- Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities by A. Parthasarathy
An underrated gem of Vedanta philosophy.
And 2 additional resources
- 1. 10 day Vipassana meditation course
Ten days of silence and rigorous meditation in this non-sectarian, non-religious, extremely rational environment is guaranteed to make you go deeper in your practice. The late Mr. Goenka and his fellow organizers are role models for the seeker’s ideal of selfless service given their pure generosity in running this course free of cost.
- 2. Yoga Teacher’s Training
Even if you don’t intend to become a Yoga teacher, doing a teacher’s training will greatly transform your understanding of Yoga philosophy. I never set out to be a Yoga teacher but learning to teach gave me a new appreciation for the subtlety of the poses, the physiological and psychological effect of each individual pose, and the effects of a Yogic diet on the human anatomy thereby galvanizing my personal practice. I highly recommend the 30 day residential course at Sivananda but I’m sure any Teacher’s Training course will be worth it.
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