My Top 5 Books of 2020

2020 was an amazing year for books. There were so many great new releases and my new book Emotional Intuition for Peak Performance was published as well. But for myself personally, I reverted back to the classics and read some new translations of texts that I am very familiar with. Usually there will be an odd book in my top five that has nothing to do with Eastern spirituality and philosophy, but this year my top five is strictly books on Eastern spirituality and philosophy. My list of 2020 are books that will give you a deeper understanding of the great traditions and, of course, life and your true nature. Please leave a comment below and tell me which books you read this year and any you would recommend. Without further ado, here is my top 5:

Hua Hu Ching: The later Teachings of Lao Tzu
By Hua-Ching Ni

The Hua-Ching Ni translation of the Hua Hu Ching is in my opinion the best. He encapsulates the cultural nuance that surrounds the text and Taoism itself more than other translations. The text itself is brilliant. I believe that this stands alongside the great Tao Te Ching and in some sense is an extension of its teachings. One problem many scholars and Taoist purists have with this text is that it delves into concepts such as reincarnation. This makes many believe that the Hua Hu Ching is not really a later teaching of Lao-tzu, but rather a combination of Taoism and Buddhism created by later cultures. We can see why some would be concerned, but I don’t share the same concerns. What the Hua Hu Ching does best, is it explains some of the finer details of Lao-tzu’s teachings whilst introducing such concepts as reincarnation. Though, keep in mind that reincarnation is often considered as an original Taoist concept and not something that was imported with Buddhism. Nevertheless, this text is a must have for any serious Taoist or spiritual seeker. It explains thoroughly the relationship between the Tao and a human being. BUY HERE (affiliate link)

Self-Knowledge (Atmabodha)
By Swami Nikhilananda

The Atmabodha is one of the greatest texts from the great Advaita Vedanta sage, Shankara. In my opinion, Self-Knowledge could be Shankara’s best work, even more so than the Vivekachudamani. He explains in fine detail the nature of Atman (undifferentiated consciousness) and Brahman (the Ultimate Reality for which Atman is identical). This is why the text is called Self-Knowledge, meaning Self with a capital S to denote the Atman which is Brahman. This Self is our true nature, but the problem is our ego becomes our ordinary initiator of consciousness which eclipses our recognition of our true nature. Self-Knowledge acts as a remedy for this hypnosis. As Shankara explains in the text, it is all well and good to practice Bhakti yoga (loving devotion to a deity) and Karma yoga (selfless and unselfish action), but if you don’t practice Jnana yoga (path of knowledge and abidance in Brahman) then you won’t have knowledge of the Self, which is why we are all born in the fist place according to Advaita Vedanta. What makes this particular translation special is Swami Nikhilananda’s introduction. Personally, I find his translations the best when it comes to Vedanta, but his introduction in this book runs to page 114 and it is a deep teaching on Advaita Vedanta, one of the deepest actually. He explains almost everything anyone needs to know in 114 pages. This text is a must read for anyone interested in understanding their true nature. BUY HERE (affiliate link)

Zen: The Authentic Gate
Koun Yamada

There are many books I’d recommend for anyone new to Zen Buddhism. But what sets this book apart from the rest, is I’d also recommend this book to advanced practitioners as well. It is for both beginners and those who have walked the path for many years. Koun Yamada has an amazing ability to synthesize the most complex aspects of Zen into a language we can all understand and benefit from. What makes this book extra special is that Koun Yamada was the leader of the Zen sect known as Sanbo Kyodan, which is a combination of the two primary Zen schools, Rinzai and Soto. So when he teaches Zen, he explains it from the perspective of both schools because they are synthesized into Sanbo Kyodan. In this book, he explores the suffering of the world, the philosophical tenets of Zen, and also how we should practice to become natural again. This is one of the best books on Zen Buddhism, period. Koun Yamada has left behind for all of us a treasure trove of wisdom that will help our understanding of what it means to be Zen. BUY HERE (affiliate link)

The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary
By Swami Nikhilananda

The Mandukya Upanishad is one of the greatest texts in the world and the most important if you want to understand Advaita Vedanta. It is an intense teaching on nonduality. It reminds us constantly of our nondual nature which reveals how much of our lives is lived in dualistic thinking. But this translation by Swami Nikhilananda is special. As with his other translations, he has a great knack for explaining the depth of the teachings and making them accessible to anyone. His translation of the Mandukya Upanishad, Gaudapada’s Karika, and Shankara’s commentary are second to none. One of the reasons this particular text is important is because of Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s commentary. The Mandukya Upanishad on its own is wonderful, but with the help of the two great Advaita Vedanta sages, Gaudapada and Shankara, we learn the true nature of ourselves. Both made the Mandukya Upanishad accessible from their time until now. What was once a mysterious text hard to understand since the era of the Upanishad’s, is now a great teaching we can understand if we let our ego go. We can thank Gaudapada and Shankara for revealing the essence of this most important Upanishad. BUY HERE (affiliate link)

7 Secrets of Shiva
By Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt Pattanaik is one of the most polarizing figures in India. He is loved and hated by many Hindus because of his interpretations of certain texts through the lens of mythology. But, personally, I feel he is misunderstood and judged harshly just based on his behavior on Twitter. For myself, I have learned a lot from Devdutt and have enjoyed his books and lectures. He is considered the Joseph Campbell of our times in regards to mythology, and rightly so. He is a genius when it comes to mythology. His understanding of the myths that define India are second to none. And this particular book, 7 Secrets of Shiva, is one of the best books on Shiva and mythology I have read. He explores the symbols and culture surrounding Shiva, for example, the famous Shiva-linga. Devdutt’s explanation of the stories, symbols and rituals about Shiva are amazing. They reveal a deeper reality and meaning within the Shaiva tradition. We might be familiar with the story of Shiva and Parvarti’s marriage, but we might take the story at face value and not understand the deeper meaning of the story and this is where Devdutt comes in to enlightening our view. This book makes the explicit patterns that are implicit in the stories, symbols and rituals of Shiva cognizant. Mythology is often confused with falsity which is a misunderstanding in India due to Western beliefs. But in truth, mythology is a deeper reality that underlies all of the great traditions and has much more significance than taking the stories literally. Devdutt Pattanaik is leading the way in bringing the depth of mythology back to the forefront of human consciousness. The 7 Secrets of Shiva is the evidence of that. Highly recommended. BUY HERE (affiliate link)

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2 Comments

  1. Mike Beitler - December 10, 2020

    Jason I read the “Hua Hu Ching” after you mentioned it earlier this year. An amazing book! Many passages in the book pre-date physicist Donald Hoffman’s work on nonduality. I will certainly read all five of your Top 5. Thanks! Mike

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