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A Yogi’s Recommended Reading List

spiritual books

The following is a list of recommended reading for the spiritual aspirant. First, there are five 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. I think they should be made the yogi’s lifetime companions and guides.

  1. The Song of God: Bhagavad Gita, translated by Swami Prabhavananda of the Vedanta Society of Southern California.
  2. The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, by Swami Prabhavananda.
  3. Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda–the first edition facsimile by Crystal Clarity Publishers (with the exception of this and editions also published by Philosophical Library, the original publishers, later printings are so altered and falsified they are misleading.)
  4. Meditation and Spiritual Life, by Swami Yatiswarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission of India (in America: the Vedanta Society).
  5. The Philosophy of Gorakhnath, Akshaya Kumar Banerjea, Motilal Banarsidass.

These are treasures beyond valuation. I read the first three nearly fifty years ago and they are still supplying me with new insights. I am sure they will do the same for you if, as I say, they are read meditatively. Banerjea’s book should be a philosophical “Bible” for all yogis.

Other books by 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:

This is not a complete list. 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.

Other books

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, and which is also now available in print at Amazon.com. More books by Abbot George Burke are available from Light of the Spirit Press at Amazon.

(Since this article was posted, many new books by Abbot George have been published as paperbacks and ebooks, including the Dharma for Awakening collection and others which you can browse at Abbot George’s author page on Amazon.)

recommended reading : books by Abbot George Burke

After a while look into other translations of the Bhagavad Gita for in-depth study. I particularly recommend the translations by Swami Swarupananda, Swami Sivananda, and Winthrop Sargeant. Sargeant’s translation is the absolute best for word-by-word study, an essential ingredient of the serious yogi’s library.

Investigate other translations of the upanishads for the same reasons. Among the best are those of RadhakrishnanSwami SivanandaSwami Gambhirananda, Swami Madhavananda, and Swami Jagadananda.

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.

Do give attention to Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhavacharya. Vedanta is not just advaita (non-dualism), it is also vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism) and dvaita (dualism). Together the three views comprise Vedanta. The writings of these three great teachers cover the entire range of legitimate Vedantic thought, and all three are right in their own sphere. Dvaita is the reality of the waking state (jagrat), vishishtadvaita is the reality of the dreaming state (swapna), and advaita is the reality of the dreamless sleep state (sushupti). They are all three “real,” but they are transcended by the fourth and ultimate state of consciousness, turiya, and since that is beyond words there are no teachers, just realizers–the yogis. And the Avadhuta Gita says: “Some uphold advaita (non-duality) and others uphold dvaita (duality); they do not realize the Ultimate Truth, Which is distinct from and transcends both dvaita and advaita.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, translated by Swami Nikhilananda, 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.

The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, by Levi H. 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.

Two books of authentic Christian wisdom are The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counsel (translator: William Johnston), and Theologia Germanica (translator: Susanna Winkworth).

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 I know.

Everything by the following writers are classics of enlightened insight:

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.

Regarding books by Abbot George, you can sample them free on this site on our Spiritual Reading for Awakening section.

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