Whilst there are many wonderful books and texts to read, I want to focus here on books and scripture that:
- comprehensively deals with the path to liberation
- in a clear and unambiguous way that is easy to understand for the true and genuine seeker of liberation
- with few/minimal detours
- but still provides the necessary depth of teaching
- in order to effectively bring about Liberation
Where possible I have provided a link to Downloadable PDF versions of each of the books recommended in the sections below. I recommend you obtain a copy of all of the books recommended. Towards the end of this post I also give a suggested order in which you can read the books.
I hope you find these resources to be of value
Best Wishes & Namaste
How to read the books
The point of this list of books is not for you to simply read lots of books!
As I have only selected books which each contain the entire teaching required for liberation, a deep study of any single one of the texts is all that is required.
The purpose of the books is to outline the essential cause of suffering and the remedy for it. The theory given in the books is then meant to be put into practice. Once the essential teaching has been understood and the desire to put the teachings earnestly into practice has arisen, there is no need to read more and more, as this can get in the way of actual practice.
However, if the teaching has not been understood or the strong desire to put the teachings into practice has not arisen, then the recommendation is to continue reading, but to read slowly. Take your time, study the teachings presented, make sure you understand them step by step but fully and deeply. Take your time to ensure you not only intellectually understand the texts but that your understanding sinks deeper into the feeling or experiential level where it can actually result in a lasting change. Staying with a single powerful quote and allowing that quote to penetrate into the depths of your being, so lasting change is created, is more useful than reading an entire volume and understanding the theory on a superficial intellectual level only.
Put the teachings into practice. If you have read the teachings several times but find you are not putting them into practice, it means that you probably haven’t grasped the depth of the teachings and perhaps you are relating to them predominantly on an intellectual level only. This may be a signal that you should slow down and take more time over each teaching point before moving on to the next teaching. Alternatively it may be a signal to speak directly to a teacher about such matters to seek clarity about the teachings.
Texts by Sri Ramana Maharshi
Ramana gave many varied teachings to those who approached him. He naturally and spontaneously adapted the teachings to the level of the seeker before him, and some of these teachings therefore seem contradictory, and this can give rise to confusion about what Sri Ramana’s actual teaching was. However, in the short texts that Sri Ramana himself wrote, we see a very clear, unambiguous and consistent teaching that outlines the direct and true path to liberation.
Many state that the short text, Who am I?, written by Sri Ramana Maharshi contains all you need to attain liberation. And I would agree!
Together with two more of Sri Ramana’s writings, Upadesa Saram (The Essence of Instruction) and Ulladu Narpadu and Supplement – click on the links for downloadable PDF versions – a comprehensive set of teachings for liberation is given to us in concise form by Sri Ramana Maharshi.
The above three texts can also all be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, which also contains other beautiful works including Sri Ramana’s translation of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, itself another recommended text (see below).
The Path of Sri Ramana
This is the text I most commonly recommend reading and the book I recommend you read first: The Path of Sri Ramana by Sri Sadhu Om. Sri Sadhu Om spent several years with Sri Ramana and many consider this book to be an authority on Sri Ramana’s teachings and how to put them into practice. This text explains in detail the entire path to liberation in a way that is easy to understand.
Whilst the three texts from Sri Ramana Maharshi mentioned in the section above contain all the teachings needed, I have found that many people are unable to understand or even see what these short texts are saying despite it all being laid out. This may be in part due to the concise nature of Ramana’s own words, together with some technical terms and a language barrier, but also because the ego-mind will not always allow the true teachings to be seen.
The Path of Sri Ramana explains all the teachings clearly and in detail so the true teaching cannot be missed or ignored by the ego-mind that may be trying to distort or alter the teachings in order to avoid its own demise. It also clearly explains what the path is NOT, and so keeps the seeker away from paths that seem or appear to be similar to the true path, but are actually routes to more delusion rather than Liberation.
The Path of Sri Ramana also is one of the few texts that not only explains the path of Knowledge (Jnana) but also clearly outlines the path of Love & Devotion (Bhakti) and the path of Karma (action) in a clear and logical manner.
Another text that is also of value is the wonderful Sadhanai Saram (The Essence of Sadhana or Spiritual Practice), also written by Sri Sadhu Om. This text contains many gems and the teachings are given through a series of verses grouped by topic. I recommend you read the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 and 2 before you read Sadhanai Saram to gain the full benefit of the text.
Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings)
Whilst not strictly written by Sri Ramana, the text Guru Vachaka Kovai was extensively checked and amended by Sri Ramana. It was written by one of his closest devotees, Sri Muruganar, and is widely considered to be the most authoritative collection of verbal teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The foreword of the book published by Sri Ramana Ashram states the following about Guru Vachaka Kovai:
[Guru Vachaka Kovai] provides the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition of Sri Bhagavan’s teaching, explaining step by step the theory, the practice and the experience of jnana, the Truth supreme which is Being as Life Eternal, Pure Awareness, Perfect Bliss. Thus, the most comprehensive collection of the Maharshi’s sayings is Guru Vachaka Kovai…
My recommendation is, after having read the introduction and introductory verses, to start with the verses towards the end of the book which deal directly with the nature of liberation and work your way towards the front of the book.
There is also a small but wonderful text called Guru Ramana Vachana Mala which concisely and accurately summarises the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi as well as the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, as per verse 3 of the text. This text takes 300 of the verses from Guru Vachaka Kovai and arranges them for easy consumption, so it is a much more concise read than the longer Guru Vachaka Kovai.
Sri Ramana Gita
I also recommend the Sri Ramana Gita
Traditional Vedanta Texts
Whilst there are many wonderful traditional scriptures that one can read, there are a few traditional texts that clearly explain the entire path unambiguously for the genuine seeker of liberation, with minimal detours as possible.
Traditionally the most important of these is Vivekachudamani written by Sri Shankacharya. This is arguably the single most important scripture in Advaita Vedanta. Whilst Vedanta is primarily based upon the Upanishads, the teachings in the Upanishads are not always clearly and systematically explained. There are also different ways of interpreting these texts, and many Traditional lineages themselves have very questionable interpretations of the texts, and this can give rise to doubts. One danger is that one may end up engaging in too much extensive scriptural study, which in itself may take decades – even then one may still have doubts!
Vivekachudamani summarises and systematises the teachings of the Upanishads and has been used as a gold-standard for Advaita Teachings since it was written approximately 1400 years ago. The repetition present in the verses, the way the same topic is often spoken of in different ways, and the way the teaching is present throughout the text (ie. the teachings are given at the beginning, middle and end of the text) means that the true meaning of the text cannot easily be distorted, altered, misunderstood or wrongly interpreted.
Whilst most scholars and traditionalists agree that Vivekachudamani was likely written by Shankara, some dispute the authorship of the text and state it was written by a later Shankaracharya in the same lineage. Regardless of who the author was, there is not a single teaching present in Vivekachudamani that cannot also be found in the Upanishads, which are the source texts for Vedanta, and of course the authors of the Upanishads also remain unknown to us. Countless sages in the last 1400 years, including Sri Ramana Maharshi, have also testified the greatness of this text, stating this text teaches the way to liberation.
Sri Ramana Maharshi also translated the entirety of Vivekachudamani into Tamil and wrote an introduction to the text in which he states that Vivekachudamani reveals the direct path to liberation. Both of these by Sri Ramana are also recommended. Many other sages over the centuries have also praised Vivekachudamani as clearly showing the true path to Liberation.
Another traditional text that shows us the complete path is Advaita Bodha Deepika. It too is a text that was recommended by Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, and so I also recommend you read it. Whilst Vivekachudamani clearly explains the correct path, this text not only does this, but it also describes why other (false) paths do not work and how to avoid them. Some people find it to be more accessible as it is written in a question and answer format in prose, rather than in verse (Vivekachudamani is written in verse form).
In the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana has translated several traditional Advaita texts himself, all of which are recommended. These include texts from both the Vedanta and Tantra traditions (the Agamas are the source texts for several Hindu Tantric schools).
There are many other wonderful traditional Advaita texts such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Avadhuta Gita, Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita, Uddhava Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, etc, and these are also well worth reading, but the last one I want to mention here is the wonderful Yoga Vasishta. This is one of the most important traditional texts in Advaita Vedanta in which the teachings are clearly and unambiguously explained in a systematic way. It is also of historical interest as it is one of the few Vedanta Scripture that clearly gives us an idea of what Vedanta was like prior to Shankara. You can read about it more in the link I have just provided above and you will also find further links to key teachings from the text which are also well-worth exploring.
Other contemporary books
You may find that some of your favourite spiritual books do not feature on this list. It may be that I simply haven’t come across that book, but it also may be that I have come across it, but have not included it here as I do not feel it fulfils the criteria I have set out at the top of this post.
As you (hopefully) become familiar with the teachings presented in the above texts – they all present the same essential teaching by the way – you may start to see how these teachings are often NOT the same as other teachings that are more widely available in today’s contemporary spiritual marketplace. Initially it may seem that all non-dual teachings are pointing to the same essence in their own way, but as you become more familiar with the teachings, you will start to see differences emerge, and these differences can make all the difference!
Here are some more contemporary books that I also recommend. Again, the same essential teaching that is given in the above texts are also given in these.
First is The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford. This book’s tone may not be for everyone, but wonderful teachings are presented nonetheless. As well as outlining a path to liberation, this book also outlines various strategies the ego-mind uses to ‘prevent’ liberation from occurring. Understanding these ‘ego preservation strategies’ is very useful, especially if you can see them operating in yourself and put and end to them. Also highly recommended by the same author are the books ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ and ‘The Importance of Practice and Effort’.
Another book I’d like to tentatively recommend is Happiness and the Art of Being by Michael James. I hesitate to and only tentatively recommend this book as it is the one book on this list I haven’t actually fully read myself – I’ve only skimmed through it and read the first few pages of the introduction – but I have been very impressed by what I have read thus far, so hence it makes this list. I feel the author has a wonderful understanding of Sri Ramana’s teachings and manages to shines a light on the true Vedanta rather than many of the ‘drier’ intellectual (ie. false) versions of Vedanta that are currently in circulation. He also studied Ramana’s teachings directly with Sri Sadhu Om, who wrote the Path of Sri Ramana (see above), and has made his own translations of Sri Ramana’s works including Guru Vachaka Kovai, so I feel fairly confident the teachings will be in line with the above teachings. There are also many gems and detailed insights in this book I have found when skimming through that I have not found elsewhere, which is another reason this book makes the cut. The author has made the book available for free online on the link above, but if you are able to, I encourage you to make a donation to help support the author.
A suggested reading order
All of the above texts contain the same essential teaching presented in slightly different ways, so if you find that you are drawn to one particular book, it is generally good to read that one first, as that is the text you will be most motivated to read. However here is my suggested reading order:
- The Path of Sri Ramana Part 1 & 2 by Sri Sadhu Om – these two books clearly describe the entire spiritual path and form a great foundation for beginners and advanced seekers alike. If these texts are put into practice, no further books are required.
- Sadhanai Saram by Sri Sadhu Om – this is sometimes referred to as ‘part 3’ of the above and consolidates the above teachings as well as giving further clarity to the path
- Who am I?, Upadesa Saram and Ulladu Narpadu & Supplement – all by Sri Ramana Maharshi. These short texts will be more fully appreciated and easier to understand having read the above 3 books by Sri Sadhu Om.
- The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss by Michael Langford
- Seven Steps to Awakening, compiled by Michael Langford
- Vivekachudamani by Shankara
- Advaita Bodha Deepika
- Guru Vachaka Kovai & Guru Ramana Vachana Mala
- Sri Ramana Gita
- Advaita texts translated by Sri Ramana in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi
- Yoga Vasistha
- Happiness and the Art of Being
Q. I don’t really care for Sri Ramana or Vedanta, etc – I just want very clear teachings on liberation in plain language without any mystical mumbo jumbo – what books do you recommend?
In this case I recommend you read ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’ by Michael Langford. This is a wonderful and straight-forward presentation of the teachings stripped of mysticism and obscure language. However – these teachings may be too direct for some – you were warned!
Michael Langford has created another compilation called ‘Seven Steps to Awakening’ which is a collection of quotes from various sources which give a traditional and scriptural backing to the teachings given in ‘The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss’. These two books work very well together.
Q. My main interest is in Advaita Vedanta teachings – which books are best?
The best introduction to the Vedanta teachings I have come across are actually The Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2. After this, I would recommend the traditional texts Advaita Bodha Deepika and then Vivekachudamani, followed by the traditional Advaita texts Sri Ramana translated that can be found in the Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, and then Yoga Vasistha. Lastly I would recommend you read Happiness and the Art of Being which is also a very good text on Vedanta teachings.
My main interest is in Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Teachings – what do you recommend?
I would recommend the Path of Sri Ramana Parts 1 & 2, then Sadhanai Saram, followed by the suggested reading order I gave above.
Q. Why is my favourite spiritual book not on your list of books?
It may be that I haven’t read it, or it may be that it doesn’t in my view fulfil the criteria I have outlined at the top of the post.
Q. I know you have written various blog posts on Zen and Buddhism. Why do texts from these traditions not feature on your list?
Yes, I have written several posts on Zen and Buddhism – please see the hyperlinks in the question above for examples. I do think they are wonderful traditions but I haven’t found a book from those traditions that gives a complete teaching with sufficient detail that fits the criteria at the top of the post without also creating much ambiguity and confusion about the path. Many of the texts fall short in my view, which is not to say the traditions themselves fall short necessarily, although they may depending on how they are taught. I have found that the above recommended texts are much clearer and more straightforward, and therefore more effective. However I will let you decide!
Q. What about books by Nisargadatta Maharaj such as ‘I Am That?’
Whilst I Am That is a very good book that has inspired many, I have found that the teachings vary a lot depending on whom Nisargadatta Maharaj is speaking to. This is because this book, and others like it, are a record of conversations, so the teaching given varies according to the context it was given it. This means that the highest teaching is not always taught. What then often happens is that the ego-mind or the reader often finds a way to latch onto the lower teachings and use this as a means to perpetuate itself – this is often done unconsciously without the reader realising this. The terminology used such as the use of the phrase ‘I AM’ can be very confusing for some, as sometimes it refers to what Ramana would call the ‘I thought’ or ego, whereas in other parts of the book ‘I AM’ refers to the Self or the Absolute. Basically the essential teaching is not always clearly taught in my view, so hence I do not recommend it. However, if one has read the above recommended books first, then these varying teachings found in books such as ‘I Am That’ will not cause the reader confusion as the essential teaching has already been understood.
If you like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s writings, then I recommend you read ‘The Seven Steps to Awakening’ which contains quotes from various sources including I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. The compiler of the book, Michael Langford, has taken only the highest and most direct teachings and put them together in one place. Highly recommended.
The same critique for I Am That could be said for Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, which is also a record of conversations, so although Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi is also a wonderful book, I do not recommend it here for those who want to go directly for liberation as the essential teaching is not always clearly given. We are however very lucky that Sri Ramana wrote several short texts himself which clearly point the way to liberation without the need to wade through large collections of recorded conversations.
Best wishes and Namaste!