Meditation and spirituality are lifelong quests. It helps to keep good company. In the absence of realized yogis, we can always turn to their published works.
Good books also help the student to spot and avoid teachers who are not up to the task.
There are basically two types of books. The first are scriptures such as Patanjali's Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads. Such books and treatises are available in the original Sanskrit and are the ultimate written source. We have many transliterations of such books and the quality of the result varies widely. The text from such books speaks at many different levels and can be interpreted from e.g. a purely religious perspective, from a hatha yoga perspective or for the Kriyaban (one who practices Kriya meditation), from the spiritual perspective. Below I list my recommendations.
The second category of books is made up of the rest and include biographies, personal observations, self-help books, poetry. Again my recommendations are below.
To the extent possible, always reference works by well recognised and accomplished yogis. One feature of such authors is that they almost always refer to the original Sanskrit text, usually from the Bhagavad Gita, the Patanjali Sutras or the Upanishads. Thus, in effect, the older the works, the more authentic! At this point in time, almost all such authors are of Indian origin.
In recent times, I have seen some of Yogananda’s books co-opted by unknown authors. So an unknown author will write a book and name Yogananda as co-author, often also replicating much of Yogananda’s works. I don’t think that one will learn anything of value from someone who has no integrity nor respect.
Below I list some of my recommendations. If you are my student, feel free to have a look at my copies.
On Kriya Yoga Meditation
Kriya Yoga Darshan by Swami Shankarananda Giri & myself
Goes into quite a bit of detail about Kriya Yoga and spirituality. Hard to get hold of as it is available only through limited channels. I have a few copies left which I reserve for my students.
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
A good introduction into Kriya Yoga and spirituality in general. The original 1946 edition is considered by many to be the most authentic and is available for free download as an ebook or as a pdf. Note that the ebook download will need to be unzipped before you can read it in your e-reader.
Light on Kriya Yoga by Swami Premananda
Excellent description of spirituality. Can be hard to find.
In composing his sutras, Sage Patanjali, describes the entirety of spirituality. The book can be read in an afternoon and gives the best empirical overview of spirituality. It is an essential companion in the quest for self-realisation.
Bringing the Inner God to Life by Swami Shankarananda Giri
This is the only correct translation of Patanjali’s Sutras that I recommend. Hard to get hold of as it is available only through limited channels, but I understand a new edition will be out by mid-2023.
More easily available are the recordings by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and these are pretty good.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”
Hindus consider the Gita to be a key Vedic spiritual text. It is a discourse between Lord Krishna, the charioteer and Prince Arjuna, the warrior, as they stand in the middle of the battlefield on the threshold of war and mutual annihilation. The discourse is about life, death, right and wrong action. Lord Krishna represents God, the Father and Arjuna represents your mind, the blind mind.
The Bhagavad Gita by P. Lal
A very simple introduction to the Gita. Very small volume. As a Kriya Yogi, this book should be treated as a quick introduction. Thereafter, there are other translations. Great introduction for youngsters.
The Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda
I do NOT recommend this two volume set. It is a well known fact that Paramahansa Yogananda never finished the Gita. This means that much of the text was authored by monks in the Self Realization Fellowship. Furthermore, there is just way too much text and this gets in the way of understanding with depth.
The Bhagavad Gita #455 by The Gita Press, Gorakhpur
A small book. This is the one I recommend for all Kriya Yogis.
All of these translations are excellent.
- Spiritual Gita (Vols. I – III) by Bhupendranath Sanyal. This is a translation of Lahiri Baba’s interpretations (one of his key disciples). Highly verbose.
- The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Sivananda, The Divine Life Society. Highly verbose.
- The Bhagavad Gita by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (video series, not all chapters completed at time of this writeup)
- Srimad Bhagavad Gita by Baba Hari Dass (6 slim volumes, some may have been finished or heavily edited by his students so I cannot vouch for the precision)
The Katha Upanishad details the dialog between Prince Nachiketas and Lord Yama, the Lord of Death. It is short and a brilliant text on the nature of birth, life, death and re-incarnation.
The lectures by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the Katha Upanishad are recommended.
The Logic of Spirituality by H. H. Chinmayananda
Two volume set of videos describing the logic behind spirituality. Swami Chinmayananda uses logic to define spirituality. An excellent CD, that should definitely be seen by any scientists, engineers or people who do not believe in God but at the same time would like to explore spirituality without religious ‘baggage’.
Books by Paramahansa Yogananda
Beware of some books that either have been heavily edited by his students at SRF or re-published and heavily edited by unknown people who also state Yogananda as co-author.
These are the books I recommend by Swami Sri Paramahansa Yoganandaji
- Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda
- Awake in the Cosmic Dream - talks and lectures
- The Divine Romance - talks and lectures
- Where there is Light - a book of quotations
In addition, some talks are available as audio and are worth listening to.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and The Gift by Hafiz
The Prophet is beautiful to read and very short. It’s about your life, literally!
The Gift is a series of poems by Muslim poet Hafiz. Many of the poems are in fact deep and very beautiful spiritual insights.
Books by Baba Hari Das
It was truly a blessing to meet Baba Hari Das in 2000 whilst I was living in California. We shared a beautiful meditation and very few words, but in that short space of time, a universe of compassion, understanding and peace. I do not recommend the Patanjali Sutras as there are misinterpretations. I cannot be sure of the Bhagavad Gita. However the following two books are highly recommended:
- Everyday Peace: Letters for Life
- Silence Speaks
Many talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Krishnamurti.
Many of the talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankara are excellent. However in recent years the organisation has become very commercial, so avoid everything else including books and talks by persons other than Sri Sri himself.
Talks by Jiddu Krishnamurti ar simply excellent with many available for free online.
People are so stressed, they hold their bodies internally and have forgotten to breathe freely. The ability to breath is essential for meditation. Aerobic exercise, hatha yoga and fascia based therapies all help in this regard.
When reading books on Hatha Yoga, I have always found their treatment of Kriya and Pranayama to be physical. True Kriya and Pranayama is an internal practice that can only be learnt directly from someone who understands and has practiced meditation.
Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar
The reference work on Hatha; should be on every shelf
The Tree of Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar
An essential work that goes into the guiding principles of Hatha Yoga and how to practice without getting injured
Ashtanga Yoga by David Swenson
Bible for Ashtanga Vinyasa Hatha Yoga practitioners. Ashtanga Vinyasa Hatha Yoga, is really not for beginners so do be careful. Always practice Hatha Yoga with a good teacher (there are many out there) who do not push you beyond your capability – you go as far as your body and mind feel comfortable. Ashtanga, may be attempted after at least a year of regular Hatha Yoga practice.
Our children are pretty much under attack. They face multiple pressures - broken families, an incessant and toxic online and media culture, pressure to perform, exposure to an overtly sexualised culture etc.
Good books help to build self-esteem and critical thinking which help a great deal, especially when parents share the journey.
There are so many excellent children’s books, but I consider the ones below to be foundational.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
An excellent book teaching children to value their individuality, inquisitiveness and persistence.
Amar Chitra Katha comics
These depict stories from the Vedic heritage and are fun and full of great teachings.
Krishnavatara Vols. I to VII by K M Munshi
About the life story of Lord Krishna and the Pandava brothers.
Bhagavan Parshuram by K M Munshi
About the life of Sage Parashuram, one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu (Krishna).
The Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari
About the life of Prince Rama, his defeat of Ravana and the reason why Diwali is celebrated in India.
The Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari
About Lord Krishna, Pandavas and the war of Kurukshetra.
The books by K M Munshi and C Rajagopalachari are fun to read and more importantly, also accurate. Many modern authors take liberties changing the original stories and this can change the underlying deeper meaning.
I consider the books by Munshi and Rajagopalachari to be essential reading for any children born within the Indian cultural diaspora as well as in India.
For young people and adults for a wider understanding of life
Dr Lyall Watson
Any popular book by Lyall Watson is an excellent read. Lyall, was a biologist, anthropologist, botanist and zoologist. His books tackle the fringes of science and society. They are a pleasure to read and will tickle your preconceived ideas and biases.