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Influential Spiritual Books

May 27, 2013

Buddha Picture

What makes a good spiritual book. Be it a work of fiction or a self-help book, or a philosophical or religiously motivated book?

I would say they all seem to have a sense of calmness pervading them. Immediately it has the effect of slowing my mind down from its usual rushing and scampering around from one thing to another. If most things in modern life make us scatter brained, the good spiritual book counteracts this tendency and brings our mind back to a calmness and unity.

I perceived this for myself from a recent reading of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. I had avoided this book in my previous reading of Hesse, imagining it to be an anachronistic, arbitrary work, inspired purely by a personal experience of eastern philosophy. But is so much more than this. It does not aim to imitate eastern spirituality. It merely uses this as a setting to provide an atmosphere for a development of a new western sense of spirituality consistent with some of the 20th century western movements, such as existentialism and individualism. The final claim of the book is that the key to spiritual harmony in life is not to be always searching in life, but to be always finding. In searching we ignore the things immediately around us, waiting to be found. It is quite an impressive insight and was one of many this book provided for me in reading.

Another writer I find has this calming effect on the mind is Paulo Coelho. Some of the works of Deepak Chopra I have found to be like this as well. You don’t have to believe in mystical and other-worldly beings to realize that the service spiritual books provide here is something of great value to our minds. There are many influences throughout our lives, and throughout society, that work towards scattering our minds. The clamour of voices, the assertion of needs, the desire for attention of disparate individuals in our lives. The temptations, the advertisements, television programmes, popstars. The need to make money, earn a living, and economize various expenses. Spirituality is one of the few positive forces working towards the re-unification of our minds, of returning us to a sense of calmness and steady purposefulness in our actions.

Most ways to unify our minds come through opposition to others. Nothing gets us focused like being in competition with a rival. But such ways are destructive and entail a dependence on others, a personal lack of self-sufficiency. The spiritual approach has always been aimed to provide an alternative for this oft-repeated story of conflict in human history. Unity of this kind relies on an enemy, and many religions are still effected by this negative tendency. Spirituality, when it works well, provides meaning and unity for our minds, without needing to create an enemy to polarize against. As such it provides us a means for moving out of our old immature dependence on conflict. How much it can achieve is difficult to say. But those who are quick to criticize mystical and other-worldly beings should bear in mind all this other valuable stuff they may be rejecting, if they judge all spirituality by this one standard.

  1. My favorites are Marianne Williamson and Gabrielle Bernstein ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚ I had not heard of them, but just looked them up on wikipedia, and they look quite interesting.

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