The Ten Most Important Books I've Ever Read

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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. 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.


  1. Replies
    1. Sure. My address is on the website.

  2. Pannobhaso Sir,
    I come here from your article "Compassion means Suffering"...I commented here so that others may benefit , since this is a high visibility article

    I wanted to make a list of current and recent past people who you would consider Enlightened....For brevity's sake and for cultural sake lets limit the list to Post-Industrial Revolution Age people...Because of the rapid civilizational change brought about by Industrial Revolution, people born a few centuries after that quite frankly have a hard time connecting with ancient figures, for whom self-restraint, asceticism and siddhis were child's play...This coming from me though I was born and raised in a small town in Eastern India that was quite ancient and "pilgrimage site" kind-of-town compared to the neighbouring steel towns

    So as I see it You consider

    1) Paul Lowe
    2) Eckhart Tolle
    3) Wayne Wirs
    4) Horace Fletcher
    5) Neem Karoli Baba
    6) David Bohm??
    7) Ram Dass

    to be Enlightened or partially Enlightened
    I would love your answer

    1. Hello Turbolag,

      I've often considered who might be enlightened nowadays, and also over the past hundred years or so, but of course it's impossible to really know if another being is enlightened (and from a samsaric, unenlightened point of view, "enlightenment" might be impossible, or even meaningless).

      Even so, my guess for enlightened beings since the beginning of the 20th century would be, maybe,

      1) Ramana Maharshi
      2) Neem Karoli Baba
      3) Maybe Webu Sayadaw (of Burma)
      4) Maybe J. Krishnamurti
      5) Maybe Ajahn Chah?

      Of people who are alive today, my best guesses would be:

      6) Paul Lowe
      7) Ammachi
      8) Maybe Eckhart Tolle?
      9) Maybe Byron Katie?
      10) Maybe Katherine (but not Daniel) Ingram?

      Horace Fletcher gets an honorable mention. Maybe also Andrew Cohen. With all due respect to Ram Dass, who was one of my first and most important gurus in this life, I consider him to be wise and advanced, but not fully enlightened. Some people get enmeshed in the systems of spirituality, while others, seemingly less advanced, simply let go of it all.

      There may be hundreds or even thousands of enlightened beings out there that I've never heard of or else just can't see their great wisdom, so their absence from my list is simply due to my own ignorance.

      Also, going back farther than a hundred years, but for the sake of including a great Christian mystic, I think Saint John of the Cross may have been an arahant, despite his Christian "wrong view." Maybe Meister Eckhart too.

  3. Andrew Cohens fall from grace?