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Western Mystical & Contemplative Traditions

Recommended Books


(by Frank Happold): A study and anthology of mystical traditions that serves as an excellent introduction to the field. Particularly strong on the Western forms of mysticism and direct experience. Published by Penguin Group, ISBN-13 9780140137460. Available from Barnes & Noble.

The Perennial Philosophy

(by Aldous Huxley): A broad and engaging survey of the world's many metaphysical traditions. The Perennial Philosophy, a term coined by Liebniz, is the common theme among many philosophies and religions. It states there is a unity underlying all things, a unity that is attainable in experience. Published by HarperCollins, ISBN-13 9780060570583. Available from Barnes & Noble.

Cosmic Consciousness

(by Richard Bucke): A classic work on the mystical experience that details Bucke's sudden enlightenment. Includes his elaboration on how cosmic consciousness is attained and lengthy excerpts from those writers he felt understood and expressed this experience. Well worth reading and contemplating. Published by many and available from used booksellers; currently in print by Book Junge, ISBN 1594626243. Available from Amazon.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

(by Alan Watts): This most famous of Watts' works addresses how Advaita Vedanta and related traditions can help modern men and women find who they really are and achieve a realistic and healthy relationship with their world. Still relevant. Published by Vintage, ISBN 0679723005. Available from Amazon.

The New Man

(by Maurice Nicoll): Dr. Nicoll (1884–1953) was a student of Ouspensky who taught in London and wrote several important works deriving from the teachings of both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. This work is a unique interpretation of Christ's parables and miracles, seeing in them an inner knowledge about transcending our present level of being. His writing regarding becoming this "new man" is both lucid and inspiring. Generally out of print, although recently republished in beautiful editions by Eureka Editions, ISBN 90 72395 18 2. Available from the publisher and used booksellers.

The Mark

(by Maurice Nicoll): A companion piece to The New Man, this posthumously published work draws from the Gospels to further develop the theme that within each of us is another being, latent but unborn. Addressing one's life constantly to this realization is aiming at "the mark." Falling short of this is the literal meaning of the Greek word for sin — that is, "to miss the mark" or the purpose of one's existence. Generally out of print, although recently republished in beautiful editions by Eureka Editions, ISBN 90 72395 13 1. Available from the publisher and used booksellers.

School of the Soul

(by Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi): Written for students of the Kabbalah, this book also describes in great detail the inner workings of "schools of human development," those rare gatherings of committed seekers with a capable teacher. Pertinent to anyone working in such a group and very helpful in discriminating the stages of such organizations as they begin, mature and fail. Published by Samuel Weiser, ISBN 0877288011. Available from Amazon.

Plotinus, or the Simplicity of Vision

(by Pierre Hadot, translated by Michael Chase): Plotinus (c. 205–270) was a Roman philosopher who taught a doctrine of self-transformation through contemplation, a view quite similar to Advaita. This beautifully translated work is an unparalleled introduction to an underappreciated spiritual master. Published by University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226311945. Available from Amazon.

Meditations on the Soul: Selected Letters of Marsilio Ficino

(edited by Clement Salaman): Marsilio Ficino was a priest and philosopher at the intellectual and spiritual heart of the Florentine Renaissance. These selected letters give the reader a deeper insight into what powered this critical period in the flowering of the Western tradition. Published by Inner Traditions, ISBN 0892816589. Available from Amazon.


(by Marcus Aurelius): Written in the second century AD by a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, this work is a remarkable record of a leader who prized moral self-sufficiency, patience and tranquility above all. Another key work bridging the spiritual paths from the classic Greco-Roman era to the emerging Christian faith. There are many translations and editions; a good one is by George Long, published by NuVision Publications, ISBN 1595477446. Available from Amazon.

The Way of Hermes

(translated by Salaman, van Oyen, Wharton): The Corpus Hermeticum is a key work bridging the mystical links between ancient Greek civilization and the dawn of Christianity. This skilled translation is readable and accurately conveys the power of the original, speaking powerfully about the underlying unity in the world and how it may be experienced. Includes a translation by Professor Mahe of The Definitions of Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius. Hardcover published by Inner Traditions, ISBN 0 8928 1817 4; paperback by Duckworth, ISBN 0 7156 2939 5. Both versions out of print. Try used booksellers.

The Gospel According to Thomas

(translated by Guillaumont, et al.): Discovered in 1945 in Nag Hamadi, Egypt, these 114 "sayings of Jesus" have been expertly translated by sympathetic scholars. The directness and novelty of these additions to the Gospel have had a remarkable impact in both academic and spiritual circles. Published by Rill Academic Publishers, ISBN 9004048774. Available from Amazon.

Open Mind, Open Heart

(by Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk): This work explains contemplative prayer as a process of interior transformation, a conversion initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One's way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place that empowers one to perceive, relate and respond to everyday life with increasing sensitivity to divine presence in, through and beyond everything that happens. Continuum Press, ISBN 0-8264-1889-9. Available from Barnes and Noble.

The Cloud of Unknowing

(by an anonymous 14th century monk): Edited by William Johnston. A literary work of great beauty in both style and message offering a practical guide to the path of contemplation. The author explains how all thoughts and concepts must be buried beneath a "cloud of forgetting," while our love must rise toward God hidden in the "cloud of unknowing." Includes a substantive and accessible introduction detailing what is known about the history of this text and its relevance throughout the ages. Published by Image Books, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-03097-5. Available from Amazon.

New Seeds of Contemplation

(by Thomas Merton): This work seeks to awaken the dormant inner depths of the spirit so long neglected by Western man and to nurture a deeply contemplative and mystical dimension in our spiritual lives. Published by New Directions Publishing, ISBN 0-8112-0099-X. Available from Amazon.

No Man Is an Island

(by Thomas Merton): A collection of 16 essays in which the author plumbs aspects of human spirituality. He writes for those in search of enduring values and fulfillment in prose that is inspiring and compassionate. Published by Harcourt Brace, ISBN 0-15-665962-X. Available from Amazon.

Thoughts in Solitude

(by Thomas Merton): The author addresses with eloquence and insight the pleasure of a solitary life, as well as the necessity for quiet reflection in an age when so little is private. Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, ISBN 0-374-51325-2. Available from Amazon.

The New Man

(by Thomas Merton): Merton asks the question: What must we do to recover possession of our true character? By way of an answer, he discusses how we have become strangers to ourselves through our dependence on outward identity and success — all the while overlooking our real need, which is a concern with the image of God within ourselves. Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, ISBN 0-374-5144-5. Available from Amazon.

The Ascent to Truth

(by Thomas Merton): For those curious about mysticism and those who may be called to a life of contemplation. A guide for further reading in the great mystics, it demonstrates that mysticism and contemplation demand the highest type of activity and do not destroy but perfect human nature. Published by Harcourt, Inc., ISBN 00-15-602772-0. Available from Amazon.

Ascent of Mount Carmel

(by St. John of the Cross): An incomparable guide to the spiritual life because its author has lived his own counsel. Addressed to those who aspire to grow in union with God, it examines every category of spiritual experience, the spurious and the authentic. With rare insight into human psychology, it not only tells how to become more closely united with God but also spells out in vivid detail the pitfalls to avoid. Available in the public domain at many sites.

The Way of Perfection

(by St. Teresa of Avila): The author wished to teach a deep and lasting love of prayer beginning with a treatment of the three essentials of the prayer-filled life — fraternal love, detachment from created things and true humility. Her mature, practical experience informs the subjects of prayer and contemplation. A detailed and inspiring commentary on the Lord's Prayer forms the most profound portion of the work. Although it is a work of sublime mystical beauty, its outstanding hallmark is its simplicity, which instructs, exhorts and inspires all those who are seeking a more perfect way of life. Available in the public domain at many sites.

The Interior Castle

(by St. Teresa of Avila): An incomparable treatise on the growth of the individual soul and its passage to unity with God. One has to experience this work to appreciate the spiritual life. It leaves one profoundly humbled. Available in the public domain at many sites.

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