Jan 11 2009

Book Recommendations: Getting Oriented

Published by at 4:41 pm under Books,Ivan's Story

Where did my interest in the world’s spiritual traditions come from? Which religious tradition was I raised in? I’m asked these questions all the time.

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret about myself…

I was raised by single mother, an ex-Catholic hippie turned social worker and secret New Ager who told me I should choose my own religion when I was old enough, but who also couldn’t hide her distaste for most organized religion.

By college age, I had a strong interior life and my own motley spiritual practice, but virtually no understanding of what most people call “religion.” While formally studying history and biology, I started sneaking into Bible as literature classes – that was when I read the Bible for the first time.

At eighteen, I became a voracious reader on religion and spirituality in my spare time, often jumping right to the source material without any context. I read the Quran. I read the Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist texts. I read books on shamanism. I was fascinated and lost amidst everything.

Those were dazzling, bumpy years of searching.

You know what would have saved me a lot of confusion? Discovering one of the following books. Each of these books is a good, highly readable introduction to the deeper spiritual dimensions of a particular religious tradition. Check them out…

Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages
by Ursula King

This is not a book of poetry, but highly recommended if you want a brief survey of important visionaries and trends within the sometimes hidden history of Christian mysticism. Francis of Assisi, Hildegard von Bingen, the Beguines, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Jacob Boehme, Symeon the New Theologian, and many others. The author of this book has done a nice job of balancing history with spirituality. This little book makes an excellent introduction to depths of the Christian tradition that are too often overlooked. Even if you were raised within the Christian tradition, my guess is that much of your own spiritual history was not handed down to you. Here is a good place to start to regain that connection.

The Shambhala Guide to Sufism
by Carl W. Ernst PhD

It’s been a couple of years since I last read this book, but I remember it as an intelligent, insightful look at the history, practices, philosophies, schools, and even politics of Sufism. If you’ve loved the poetry of Rumi but only have a vague idea of how Sufism fits within the Islamic faith, this book is an excellent place to start.

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice
by Georg Feuerstein

Unlike the other two books, which are relatively brief introductions to their subjects, The Yoga Tradition is truly encyclopedic. This book will free you from the misconception that yoga is just an elaborate form of stretching. It introduces us to ancient and modern yogic philosophies and practices. The many expressions of Hindu yoga, Jain yoga, Buddhist yoga, Sikh yoga, saints, philosophers, and reformers… This book helps us to get oriented amidst thousands of years of complex history with a refreshingly coherent approach. Very highly recommended.

For even more book recommendations, click here.

I hope these books inspire some good exploration (minus the bumps)…

31 responses so far

31 Responses to “Book Recommendations: Getting Oriented”

  1. Charles Wildbankon 11 Jan 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Have you read Osho’s BOOK OF SECRETS?
    It is an amazing (and large) book containing his talks on over 112 meditation techniques, mentioning numerous references to tantra, where both ends of duality are inclusive in life.
    I highly recommend it as it is so freeing. Great for reading chapter per day upon waking or retiring. Very relaxing and insightful. Eloquent!

  2. Sid Parhamon 11 Jan 2009 at 6:34 pm

    My own searching similar, but having been raised an Episcopalean I was very influenced by Alan Watts–I’m hap to start a curious student off with THE BOOK which I think is a great introduction–Lao Tzu is at the moment the center of my spiritual practice–even if he doesn’t perscribe one.

  3. Leeon 11 Jan 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I’ve had a similar experience with being bewildered by religion and I’m always curious as to other people’s experiences with this Tabooed subject.
    Sadly, I wasn’t so fortunate as to have parents who didn’t believe in the absolute necessity of organized religion.
    (I could never figure out why it was so necessary for me to get on the Sunday School bus while they stayed home . . .)
    Anyway, I would suggest adding the following books to your list:
    ~The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, by Mircea Eliade
    ~Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality, by Paul Tillich
    and (people may scoff at this, but it is an excellent probe into morals, ethics, and taboos)
    ~Erotism, by Georges Bataille

    Thanks again for the post!


  4. Richasu Youngon 11 Jan 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Thank you Ivan,

    I will check these books out.

    My spiritual journey began at 14 in 1972. A childhood Nanny came to visit us in Maine and it was a major turning point for me. She began teaching Yoga on the beach that soon became singing Hare Krishna and other Hindu spiritual song. Her name was Ellafern Poindexter, who that summer became Mataji. I meet Baba Ram Dass in New Hampshire that summer.

    That Fall, a book was given to me by a family friends who ran a new age book store in Kennebunkport. It was Eckankar: Keys to Secret Worlds. After reading it I became a member of Eckankar via mailorder discourses with my Mother’s blessings. The person who gave me the book, my Mother, or any family member every joined Eckankar. I was a member until December of 2000.

    During my time in Eckankar I explored Taoism and Chinese herbology, Eastern teachings relating to the Chakras, Native American and indigenous teachings, Sufi, and many more. Always looking for for that golden thread that holds all spiritual teachings together. The core truths that are hidden within lost to literal interpretations of the words and a lack of personal experience with the divine.

    That core for me is unconditional love. That each of of is an internal past of God. Just as drops of water can not be separated from the ocean from which it came, we can not be separate from God. Soul is the golden drop in the ocean of God. So, we are God and God is us. We in the human body are living expressions of God; the living truth. So, it is our personal relationship with God that is important. This takes place in the Heart. The heart is far more than an organ that pumps blood through our body. It is our divine center. The place of sacred marriage between God/divine and Mother Earth. In Chinese medicine and Taoism humankind is between heaven and earth.

    The Divine Love flows into the body through the crown chakra, down through the chakras, the feet into the earth. The energies of the earth flow up through our feet, up our legs into the root chakra, up the central core and out the crown returning to God. The heart is in the middle. Three chakras above and three below. Is relational to the trinity of divine. The Heart is the perceptual center of the body. So, living from the Heart in the key to our relationship not only with the divine but the earth too. All things are divine.

    Thank you for you poetry emails



  5. vincenton 12 Jan 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing

    My thirst for knowing more about God started at a very young age. Like you was my mum Catholic. Growing up and attending a catholic primary and secondary school intensified my quest. Within me grew questions which neither my mum, my relatives, the priests nor reading the bible could answer satisfactory.
    I seriously started searching for the meaning/reasons of all existence. This took me to explore the philosophy and teachings of Theosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism…. Many pieces of my puzzle have since then fallen into place.
    Six years ago, I met a guy here in Scotland, who introduced me to Maharaji’s Knowledge/message of peace. Everything Maharaji (Prem Rawat) says in his speeches makes sense. And yes, what I have been looking for is within me
    I discovered recently the Gnostic Radio, which lectures have opened more doors to my better understanding of the bible, the book of genesis, the kabbalah….
    I am very grateful to all these teachings.
    I have read books by Mme Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Rudolf Steiner, Dalai Lama, John O’Donohue, Deepak Chopra. Krishnamurti…. and I read the Bhagavad-Gita from time to time.
    I like the poems by Kabir, Rumi and others. I find many Sufi poems very profound. My favorite poem so far is “My dear Soul” by Rumi.
    Yes, I am grateful to life, grateful to my journey and grateful to have discovered this site,
    Thank you so much, Ivan

    vincent – Scotland

  6. Etaon 08 Jul 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Bright Blessings! I came across your information while “surfing” and wanted to share with you. I too was at Ram Dass’ in New Hampshire. My husband, baby girl and I had been camping on his dad’s estate that summer. We were part of Hilda Charlton’s group from NYC. I clearly remember standing alone while I watched a group of people leaving the structure that Ram Dass held darshan in. One person in particular, a slim, tanned woman with extremely long hair wearing a beautiful blue caftan came walking toward me. She seemed to be floating. She was like an angel! I stood transfixed. As she came closer to me, an incredible, overwhelming emotion began forming in my heart. I had never felt that way before. I began crying – not sad, not happy, but an incredible outpouring of healing tears. She approached me, embraced me and held me as the tears streamed down my face. No words were ever exchanged but I felt lighter, cleansed and healed when we parted. I traveled to Kennebunkport Beach a few times after that meeting. I remember bringing Ellafern to a university for her to give a talk. At the time she was living with some people in a lovely house in Kennebunkport Beach. We sat on an outside deck as she blessed my unborn baby son. I’m going to do some research on Ellafern. Is she still with us? Are you in touch with her? It would be really nice to know. Thank you for allowing me to relive one of the most important parts of my spiritual life.

    Phoenix, AZ

  7. M.Neagleon 08 Dec 2009 at 6:48 pm

    I also was at Ram Dass’ farewell. Ellafern/Mataji is still with us. She has written/published a memoir, books of poetry, and now resides in an assisted living center in Thunder Bay Ontario. After Ram Dass’s good-bye party prior to his return to India to see is Guru, Ellafern was doing Yoga on the beach in Kennebunkport that summer. A group formed-later known as the ‘I Am Ashram’. They stayed in Branford, CT that winter and later went to Fla- next to Sperryville, VA, on to London, Ont.; Toronto and finally settled in Thunder Bay, Ont., on a square mile of land they purchased. Eventually, the ashram broke up, but those involved still connect, and occ. have reunions in Thunder Bay. This movement grew directly out of the spirit and energy of Ram Dass, I feel.

  8. omaon 02 Nov 2010 at 8:08 am

    Dearest Ivan,
    Now you’re offering is even more personalized by your sweet bio!
    You are a bright light.
    The suggestions are very special and good detail regarding those traditions.
    I love that you described your upbringing that way. We are also “aging” hippies never really allowing ourselves to be consumed by the system but made friends with the best parts of our society. My husband and I were discussing the social context of your generation and speculated about what expression “you” would take. Hopefully there will not be too much techie influences.
    Another suggestion is a great book called, “Eastern Body Western Mind” Psychology and the chakra System as a Path to the Self by Anodea Judith.
    Well written, very informative.
    Thank you for all you share here Ivan. Love to you and your wife from Port Townsend, oma and don

  9. Sarahon 02 Nov 2010 at 8:21 am

    thank you. i am embarking on an artistic journey inspired by the sacred art and wisdom of religous and indigenous traditions. The poetry from these faiths are always so inspiring.

    thank you for sharing these beautiful poetry to the world 🙂


  10. Michaelon 02 Nov 2010 at 10:04 am

    Thank you so much for this amazing resource! It’s great to have recommendations from a source I can trust! And thank you for your service that I enjoy every day!

  11. zelihaon 02 Nov 2010 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for sharing your recommendations and for your daily poetry!

    I will check out the books and recommend you “The Book of Essential Islam” published by the Book Foundation and Shaikh Kabir`s Pocket Rumi.

    Much love and blessings
    Zeliha from Holland

  12. Cheron 02 Nov 2010 at 10:59 am

    thank you for sharing that Ivan. I was also raised by a Catholic single Mom though without the underlying New Age orientation and encouragement to explore. I went through a backlash in college of atheism, and then embarked on a lifelong journey of reading voraciously about religion and spirituality. I am excited to read some of your suggestions

    I look forward to your poetry emails, thank you for providing that wonderful gift


  13. Amanon 02 Nov 2010 at 11:00 am

    All faiths I believe are our human manifestations of the divine love that permeates our very essence. Your sharing of these beautiful works is much appreciated.

  14. Nicole Chaberton 02 Nov 2010 at 11:53 am

    I always enjoy hearing from you.
    But today, what I want to know is this: when are you going to publish your own book — some of the poems you send us with, of course, your insightful commentaries…. This is truly precious!

    Have a beautiful day!

  15. Teoti Jardineon 02 Nov 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Kia ora Ivan,
    I have been involved with Beshara from the time it was a commune in the Cotswolds in 1973, to now where it is The Beshara School of Intensive Esoteric Education, at Chisholm House near Hawick in Scotland.
    I will be spending time there next June and July, and will do a retreat also.
    Since returning to New Zealand I have had the privilege of being taught the traditional esoteric teachings of my Tupuna (Maori ancestors), and feel very much in tune with their ways, and recognize that the truth appears in many forms, and that although the ways are many, they all lead us to the one path.
    Mihi Aroha ki a koe, ( greetings of love to you)

  16. Lynon 02 Nov 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Your life story sounds a bit like my own! I like your choice of recommended books to read. I would also include Osho’s “Enlightenment:The only Revolution”, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam”, and Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra.

  17. Joyce Leoon 02 Nov 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Hi, Ivan,

    I love your quotations and comments. Haven’t as yet seen any of your original work, but love your style. Thank you for sharing. It’s a beautiful world with people like you in it!


    Joyce Leo

  18. dilipon 02 Nov 2010 at 3:28 pm

    dear Ivan
    I was raised as a “Hindoo brahmin child,but i was a solid athiest when i grew up.After marriage because of my wife’s influence i was attracted to “ramkrishna-vivekananda”literature & then i never looked back,along with others in the family i took lnltiation from RK math,& now continuing with my sp. life.
    I have read most of the religious lit.,in india the sp.life consist of “shravan-manan-nitidhyasan”I still read a lot & now enjoying Zen and Taoism,which i find logical.My suggestion is “comlete works of swami vivekananda”,which is simply incomparable.


  19. Meganon 02 Nov 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you so much, Ivan, and everybody who shared. You need to read “The Way of Selflessness – A Practical Guide to Enlightenment Based on the Teachings of the World’s Great Mystics” by Joel Morwood. VERY good!

  20. barbaraon 02 Nov 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Ivan, thank you so so much! This is wonderful and I passed your information on to some of my friends. I think the books you recommended might be wonderful Christmas gifts to give their children, grandchildren who are seekers. I am interested in these books as well. You have a wonderful ministry and do marvelous Loving Service to so many….all I can say is thanks.

  21. parwatisingarion 02 Nov 2010 at 5:16 pm

    dear Ivan
    It is great list you have forwarded.
    I sugguest you look Internation association for religious studies, it is a group of people who are totally dedicated by this aspect. it is lovely.

  22. fouziaon 02 Nov 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Ivan Dear
    I can’t thank U enough for sharing a part of your personal life as well as the great selection of books.
    I am dieing to make my contribution to the web site. Love Fouzia

  23. Atma Advani Sifion 02 Nov 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    I was born Hindu and became Sufi when I was 10 years old through my mother’s Guru Lady Sufi Saint of 19th century Nimano Fakir. Due to circumtances I moved to 6 countries and met all kinds of people of different religions. I realised that most of the people in this world are relgious but not spritual. I read about 100 books on different relgions and found out that most of the religions are at or below school level whereas Sufism is at college level or above at spiritual level.
    It is a Sufi Master who selects you and then takes you to higher level.

    I am a Sufi, my wife is Hindu and my daughter married Christian. What is the religion of grand children? To answere that I have wrwitten a small booklet “Rainbow of Religions” for my grand kids. Whenever I have sufficient funds I like to publish this book before I pass away.

    I have writtem Sufi poems in Sindhi, Hindhi/Urdu and few in English. Sufism is pure spirituality and not a religion. All the religions of the world have failed to some extend, some more than others. That is why there is no peace on earth.

    I have given few speeches on Sufism at International conferences in USA.

  24. Elizabethon 03 Nov 2010 at 1:28 am

    Thankyou Ivan,

    there is good in every religion,
    we only need open our eyes and hearts
    and be grateful
    to see the beauty.

    Like kindling the fire,
    breathing in
    and breathing out

    have a good day

  25. Kathy Stewarton 03 Nov 2010 at 4:52 am

    Dear Ivan,
    I so appreciate your suggestions, and will share them with my children and grandchildren who are beginning the search. Your personal story does make me think you could have been a child of mine! Blessings, Kathy

  26. Subhan Alion 04 Nov 2010 at 12:49 am

    Sprituality strikes much to a human being, upon whom God bestowes intellectuality. You have such bestow of God.Life of human being is even not like a dot in comparison to infinite line of time. Our remains in the world remain for some years only. We plunge into the ocean of oblivion after some years of our death. We know a little about the vast universe. We, the helpless human being are to leave the world one day despite longing to remain in it forever.

    ……….Subhan Ali, Ghaziabad UP India

  27. simonbaghon 04 Nov 2010 at 4:19 am

    Hi Ivan,

    so many books to read to sow in you others’ seed
    then what honestly can you be called in-this-mid

    nothing there is vague all is clear in the address
    given birth faithfully hurry up towards the death

    having a way or not is out of thy determination
    you are pushed towards end by thy destination

    you are not to compare or see distinctions amid
    select the one more to ease the life race indeed

    the more you look for lost by light of knowledge
    the less you learn wisdom lesson in your college

    wisdom is a rug as vast as whole being indeed
    all doctorines amid of its images you may read

    the wisdom owner trusts in the final love Lord
    trys not to be first in life to death racing horde

    stick to knowledge to fulfill your carnal demand
    in wisdom field you are given spritual command

    simon baghdasarian

  28. simonbaghon 04 Nov 2010 at 7:45 am

    please read the word in last sentence as SPIRITUAL.

  29. sergeyon 05 Nov 2010 at 3:05 am

    Dear Ivan,
    I am really inspired by Rumi. I’ve started to learn farsi (Iranian) but couldn’t so far find any text-books on it.
    I’ll be extreemly grateful for your help.
    With kind regards,

  30. Ivan M. Grangeron 05 Nov 2010 at 7:33 am

    Sorry, but I don’t know of a good text book to learn the basics of Farsi. Maybe someone else visiting the blog can recommend one…? Another possibility would be to search the Internet for Farsi conversation groups — they might have a good recommendation for you.

  31. Majidon 28 Aug 2012 at 10:51 am

    Mataji/Ellafern I remember being in Kennebunkport in 1969-70. I met her in Thunder Bay in 1972 at God’s Acres and then later in Vancouver BC at the K Yoga center on 4th Avenue. At the time of the 2nd meeting I was trying to unfold the near-death experience I had in Montreal in 1970. The first meeting was just bumping into some strange lady doing yoga on the beach . I didn’t even connect the two till much. much later. Now I conduct Moulawi Sema in Vancouver from time to time. Ashk Ya Hu!
    Majid Buell

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