These books are the ones that have affected my life the most. They are listed in the order, approximately, in which I first read them.
- The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris (at around age 14): The book was written by a zoologist who describes human beings as a species of animal. This was a mind-blower which caused me to see people, including myself, in a radically different way. It had a similar effect to seeing the movie Planet of the Apes when I was about 5 years old. The author's explanation of why we look the way we do—furless skin, hair on the head (plus a few other places), lips, protruding noses, etc.—is truly wild.
- Grist for the Mill, by Ram Dass (at 17): This book turned me on to a spiritual way of looking at life. I didn't understand the words very well at 17 because they were so different from anything I'd ever read before---they did not integrate well with the other information stored in my head---but I felt that there was something of tremendous value in it, and still do.
- Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps, with most of the translation by Nyogen Senzaki (at 18 or 19): This book pretty much converted me to Buddhism.
- The Sutta Nipāta (at 21, for starters): The first version of it I read was a very old translation (1881!) by V. Fausböll in Max Müller's Sacred Books of the East series, which I found at the Western Washington University library when I was a student there. It didn't exactly convert me to Theravada, but its philosophy and descriptions of the ancient lifestyle of monks and sages inspired me very much; and it is this one book that is most responsible for my becoming, and remaining, a bhikkhu.
- Seth Speaks, by "Seth," supposedly a multidimensional being channeled through Jane Roberts (read at 28 or 29): Truly a mind-blower, regardless of whether Seth is a real being or merely a figment of Jane Roberts' subconscious imagination.
- Studies in the Origins of Buddhism, by G.C. Pande (around the age of 30): This one book opened my eyes to a whole new way of understanding Buddhism. It pointed out a great deal of evidence and reasoned argument suggesting that even Theravada, the most conservative school of Buddhism in existence, changed radically over time, especially during its first century or so, and that it does not necessarily represent very accurately what the Buddha originally taught. (The first part is a rather technical analysis of the Sutta Pitaka, so may be over the heads of people who are unfamiliar with these Pali texts.)
- The Vinaya Pitaka (in the Pali Text Society translation by I.B. Horner when I was 28, and in the original Pali when I was around 32): These five volumes of monastic discipline constituted a major part of my training and lifestyle as a monk, and gave me something to cling to when my concentration and wisdom seemed lacking. They still represent The Law so long as I am a Theravadin bhikkhu.
- Battle for the Mind, by William Sargant (at around 36): An amazing book which explains the human spiritual predicament in a way I'd never really considered before, pointing out that crises are almost a necessity for significant change, and demonstrating that brainwashing, shock therapy, and religious conversion all have the same underlying principle. It definitely changed the way I look at spiritual growth.
- In Each Moment, by Paul Lowe (at around 40): Just the book I needed to read, given to me by a friend at just the right time. It helped me to stop struggling to achieve a perhaps unrealistic ideal, and simply to accept the way things are.
- Miracle of Love: Stories About Neem Karoli Baba, compiled by Ram Dass (read for the first of several times when I was around 42): If I can be said to have a guru, then he is probably Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharajji, even though he died before I ever heard of him. At the very least he is my patron saint. He was a primary inspiration for Ram Dass, who practically started me on a spiritual path; and he is a constant reminder that an extremely advanced being can still giggle, bounce up and down, throw food at people, weep, shout as though in anger, tell lies, and appreciate pretty girls---in other words, he is a constant reminder that a true sage can also be a rascal, and that things are not always as they seem.
Although these are, as far as I can tell, the most important books I've ever read, they're not all my favorites. My list of favorite books would include some fiction; and these are probably my three favorite novels:
- The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Dostoyevsky's beautiful attempt to portray a genuinely good, christlike human being. The story has levels upon levels of meaning.
- Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban: A haunting, mind-bending novel, written in degenerate English, about southeast England ("Inland") 2000 years after the collapse of modern civilization, where the country is governed, sort of, by two men called the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer who go around giving puppet shows on the strange national mythology/religion called "The Eusa Story."
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville: A surreal, mystical tale symbolizing God (or at least God's left fist) as an all-powerful White Whale, which a proud, Lucifer-like whaling captain named Ahab dedicates the remnant of his life to defy.