The 12 most influential spiritual books of the past 50 years
MY OWN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY BEGAN when I picked up a copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It wasn’t the first “New Age” book I had read, but for the first time, I felt open to receiving the guidance within those pages.
I don’t know whether I was just in the right frame of mind when I came across this book or whether it was Coelho’s parable about life that spoke to me, but from then on, I felt compelled to take Coelho’s words to heart, and look inside myself.
Similarly, the following twelve books have been largely influential for spiritual seekers all over the world. While some are more timeless than others, each will likely inspire to further your own spiritual journey.
1. The Secret
Written by Melbourne television producer Rhonda Byrne, and based on a film she created in 2004 of the same title, The Secret tells of the laws of attraction: Asking for what you want, believing in what you want, and being open to receiving it.
With a historical basis in the 19th century New Thought movement; Byrne’s book has proven to be a cultural phenomenon, making the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
While some consider the book little more than slick marketing and the re-packaging of many other spiritual beliefs, the book’s cultural significance cannot be denied. It remains to be seen whether Byrne’s The Secret will stand the test of time.
2. The Celestine Prophecy
In 1992, author James Redfield wrote and self-published his first book, The Celestine Prophecy. Since its initial publishing, it has gone on to become the most successful self-published novel ever.
The book is part adventure story (think The Da Vinci Code) and New Age spiritual novel. The book details one man’s journey through Peru as he uncovers nine spiritual insights.
While many have found the plot corny, the insights within captivate the reader into shifting their perspective.
3. The Alchemist
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist tells the simple tale of a shepherd who journeys to the pyramids of Egypt to find his treasure is truly timeless. The lessons told of the discovery of your personal legend, being your one true purpose, and of understanding omens, are ones that speak to all people regardless of religion.
4. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
Inspired by the Dalai Lama’s joyful nature despite the political situation in Tibet, author Howard Cutler wanted to write a spiritual book focused towards a Western audience.
The Art of Happiness talks about the importance and attainability of happiness in everyday living. The purpose of life is to find happiness, which is determined by one’s mental state, despite outside circumstances.
This is a book likely to stand the test of time because it speaks to people without the use of spiritual rules or religious guidelines.
5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
In spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, the author talks about reducing the ego as a means to feeling the abundance of life, because the ego is the source of all inner and outer conflict.
Tolle’s New Earth gained in popularity after Oprah selected it for her book club. Since then, Tolle’s book about the awakened consciousness has influenced millions.
6. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
In his classic book, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Chopra discusses the importance of success in life. For Chopra, success is defined as happiness and the realization of goals, although success is not limited to wealth.
Chopra lays down 7 laws found in nature used to create spiritual success. These laws include karma (cause and effect) and dharma (purpose in life). Chopra’s popularity lies in the way he is able to take ancient Vedic teachings and present them to a Western audience.
7. The Road Less Traveled
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s 1978 The Road Less Traveled book takes his ideas from his background both as a psychiatrist and as a born-again Christian.
His book details the attributes that Peck feels make a fulfilled human being. Split into three sections, his book talks about discipline (as a means for spiritual evolution), love (as a force for spiritual growth) and grace.
Though this book remains popular, some may find the psychological ideas of the book to be somewhat dated.
8. Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The tale has captured readers’ imaginations for nearly 40 years. Richard Bach’s novella reveals the story of Jonathan, a seagull whose passion for flying makes him different from other gulls.
Jonathan’s wish to perfect his flying results in being outcast from his group. At first devastating, the experience culminates in him moving to a “higher plane” where he meets other gulls like him, and his subsequent return to his flock.
Jonathan is a symbol to all those who refuse to conform for the sake of conforming, instead teaching love, forgiveness, and how to reach your true potential.
9. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
After a bitter divorce, author Elizabeth Gilbert took a year off to travel. She visited Italy, where she ate copious amounts of good food. She went to India to learn about spirituality. And finally, ended her journey in Bali, where she was able to discover a balance between the two: love.
Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love details the spiritual journey of someone in a tremendous amount of pain, to a balanced, loving human. Her story has resonated with readers everywhere, landing on the New York Times bestseller list, and eventually being made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.
10. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson
Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie based on a series of interviews with Morrie Schwartz, his former professor who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, has sold countless copies and inspired a TV movie starring Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon.
Even after his death, Morrie has continued to touch people as he relates his ideas of love (both accepting love and giving love), shunning popular celeb culture in favor of more nurturing values and non-attachment.
11. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is yet another gift to the world from Oprah: Ruiz’s four agreements are based on ancient Toltec wisdom and are provide a relatively simple (but effective) formula for living well. The four agreements (spoiler alert!) are to 1) be impeccable with your word, 2) don’t take anything personally, 3) don’t make assumptions, and 4) always do your best.
Ruiz’s formula for a happy and successful life is surprisingly simple and easy to remember. Easy enough, at least, that Ruiz later decided to add a fifth agreement: Be skeptical but learn to listen.
Herman Hesse’s classic Siddhartha should be required reading for the spiritually inclined: it follows the journey of a young Nepalese man named Siddhartha during the time of Buddha, and his quest to find spiritual enlightenment. Along the way, he makes several attempts at enlightenment (including under the Buddha himself), but finds spiritual fulfillment in a much simpler way than the way proposed by all of the world’s wise men.
What books have inspired your spiritual journeys? Share your favorites below.
This article was originally published on October 27, 2008.