Monday, February 3, 2014

Ten most mind-altering books I ever read

Here I wish to list the ten most perception-changing, mind-altering books I have ever read. I list them here in the order in which I read them in my life, explaining, as best I can, the circumstances under which I read them, and what they changed for me.

All life, Baba tells us, is a journey, but within that greater journey there are many smaller individual journeys, and most importantly these journeys are internal. This is an internal journey that I made by way of books. These books stand as signposts of my trek through thought to wherever Meher Baba is leading me.

I have not read a ton of books in my life. For myself I have found it is better to read a little very carefully, allowing time to digest the material, and reading the same thing again if necessary. This, I find, is better than filling my mind with the thoughts found in a thousand books of lesser importance. Let us say, to use an analogy, that it is more interesting and satisfying and rewarding to dig a long while in one spot than to dig a thousand tiny holes. One goes deeper and uncovers more. To simply sit and have input, without sufficiently mulling it and imbibing the essence of it is pointless. To use another analogy, ingestion without digestion leads to indigestion. And if we follow that analogy further, what happens to one who swallows and does not digest? He regurgitates. This is precisely what we see in those that swallow what they never understand. They are forever finding it necessary to regurgitate it to another. I have long felt that to simply memorize and regurgitate is not thinking at all. I had a wonderful Kantian professor who said it well when he said, "If you aren't confused, you aren't thinking." What he meant was that to truly think, in the highest sense we mortals can think, is to wrestle with what is difficult, a bit beyond us, in order to change and grow and overcome ourselves. Real thinking is creative and formative, and fulfilling in itself, without conveying everything to others.

So here I wish to mention those books I have really tried hard to digest that I think were the most fruitful.

Here I list only the non-fiction philosophical books that affected me. The many fiction books, histories, and autobiographies I've read also enriched me, but in a different way. Mostly they amazed and entertained, and sometimes inspired, but rarely affected my 'manner of thinking,' or better yet my 'manner of seeing.' Likewise, no movie has ever had the kind of effect on me that I am describing that comes from the great mind-altering books of nonfiction. I am speaking of that "Aha!" one feels in those rare moments when one's thinking is suddenly reshuffled and rearranged, or, to use another metaphor, one's 'point of reference' from which one sees is shifted, which alters all that one looks upon in the future. These are the books I am referring to. The slang term for this experience in our modern internet age is OMG, something we type in our "Oh my God" moments we occasionally have in life. But maybe those three words ought to be drawn out more convincingly, with pauses for emphasis, for only then do these little initials convey the full sensation of a mind-altering realization: "Oh ----- my ------ God! I see it!"

The first time I ever tried to read a difficult book of nonfiction I was fifteen. I got the urge to read some of Meher Baba's major book God Speaks. I read the first chapter, which happens to be only eight pages long. And I'm glad I stopped. For I would only have become confused. I read it in the Boat House on the Meher Center in Myrtle Beach where I grew up, and I spent the next thirty years mulling those eight short pages, keeping them in the back of my thoughts, generally well partitioned from my conscious mind. I bring this up because it's important. It marks the beginning of my story.

Now it should be said that those eight pages I read as a boy most definitely influenced how I read and imbibed other books later, but as for the book itself at fifteen, I could make very little of the words themselves. Because I did not read more than the first chapter then, and all attempts later on for decades only caused me to fall asleep after a few pages, consciously understanding none of it, I do not count that event as the first reading of a book of influence, but place its actual reading much later in the chronology, at that moment when I finally got through it intelligently -- and still awake -- after a lifetime of trying and sleeping. All this other journeying (the other nine books along the way) could simply be said to have lead me to understand this one book, the first pages of which were always brewing somewhere in my mind, wafting like fragrant smoke in the back of my thoughts, coloring all I learned ever afterward, though subtly, and seemingly beckoning me back to it -- to finally, and though only in middle age, be able to read it with comprehension and full appreciation. Today I would not call God Speaks my all-time-book. That would be too cheap for it. It is the book behind and ahead of all the other books, the one that motivated my reading the others, and the one for which they needed to be read.

Here now is the chronology, in book titles, of that journey from God Speaks and back to God Speaks -- from no understanding to rich understanding, and a little beyond it (for there is, as we will see, a beyond God Speaks).

I list these ten books by first prefacing them with my age, place, and the year in which I read them.

1. Age 23, U.S.C. film school, 1983

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, (1949).

I arrived at film school after already working in the film industry a few years, and over that time I had heard that George Lucas (of Star Wars fame and the first real celebrity to graduate form USC film school) had been influenced by a particular esoteric book. At last arriving in an academic atmosphere, I asked about and was directed to this book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell.

To understand the connection between this book and Lucas and film, one must understand that George Lucas built the structure for his creation Star Wars on the book's principles. Since then the entire industry had woken up to the power of myth in film-making, for Campbell's book laid out what he had (in the 1940s) perceived to be a constant story underlying all resonant myths. This "story" Campbell uncovered in all great myths of all cultures was found in all stories that people responded to. This was the beginning, then, of my own hero's journey -- to know what this siren call was calling us to. I bought the book in the college bookstore, and began to read it.

It just so happened that I had two classes at the same time I read it that this book found a context in, which in turn embellished my understanding of it. The book opened up a whole new panorama of interior life to me, much broader than I had anticipated when I first picked it up out of shear curiosity. However, I did come to it with some clue from hearing people speak of it, that this was a key to something. The other classes I had that formed the context by which it became accessible were The Bible as Literature (meaning here the Old Testament), and Westerns (a course on the American Western movie genre from the early century to the present). The course on Westerns explicitly described the story arch and theme of these films in terms of Campbell's myths. Campbell had become by then, and still is, the ground of all film studies. I wound up writing a paper at that time, for my Bible class no less, called "Exodus and the Western Genre." I came away from that semester seeing life in a whole new way, somewhat intoxicated by it. Describing this feeling to others that had felt it also, they agreed that such understanding had for them rendered all of life replete with meaning. The book did not simply teach me a bunch of facts, it colored how I looked upon everything I ever saw afterward.

I read other books on myth later, such as by Carl Jung, although I no longer consider these books of equal merit or influence. Although Campbell had himself been influenced by Carl Jung, he had many such influences, including the fifth plane saint Jiddu Krishnamurti.
    The book The Hero with a Thousand Faces simmered in the back of my mind for another fifteen years before any other book came along as powerful to me. While I did not fully understand the implications of this latent hero's journey that Campbell discussed, I felt them vividly, and this gave me a great optimism that there was much left we did not know that was worth striving to know. Reading this book was my first genuine taste of what it meant to have my perception of the world altered, and the world of thought was vaguely made visible to me. After all those years I submitted that paper, Exodus and the Western Genre, as my writing sample for entrance to the graduate program in philosophy at the University of Arkansas when I was 38 years old. And it was there at Arkansas, after so many years, that I read the second, third, and fourth books that changed me – worlds apart in subject matter and tone, yet even more forceful in their nature.

    Related books:

    2. Age 38, U.A. school of philosophy, 1998

    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn, (1962).

    This book, along with many others related to it, shook up my world. The theory of the book is that two understandings of the world are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but are often differing ways of seeing and interpreting it, and equally valid. Kuhn's most important example is the revolution in thought that came about from realizing that the Earth orbited the Sun, rather than the other way around, known as the "Copernican Revolution."  Kuhn explained that the world was utterly coherent through the ancient Aristotelian model, and that the solar system could still be coherently described as such. He rejected the bias that science is forever moving in a linear progression upward, but simply passing through phases of ways to look upon it. In other words our global understanding of the Universe is not a solid rigid thing, even in science, but rather there are occasional radical shifts in it which he called "scientific revolutions." This liberalized science to a radical degree.

    Philosophy of science (the area of philosophy that includes the works of Kuhn) became then one of my main areas of interest. Kuhn loosened up my thinking in a cautious rational way. It introduced to my mind the notion of "paradigms."

    The story of how Kuhn conceived his idea as a student at Harvard is itself fascinating, and is described in another favorite book of mine, The End of Science, listed below. He was sitting near a window at Harvard where he was a student, wondering how Aristotle could have possibly had things so wrong. He still remembers the bush in the garden below him that he was looking at through the window when it struck him. Suddenly in that moment the world made total sense through the lens of that time conveyed by Aristotle. Another one of my favorite philosophers of science was Norwood Hanson (1924-1967). He gave us the modern concept (and problem) of "theory-laden" seeing. Much of my thinking remains based on Hanson.

    Related books (in order of my reading them):
    • Darwin Retried: an Appeal to Reason, Norman Macbeth (1971)
    • The End Of Science: Facing The Limits Of Knowledge In The Twilight Of The Scientific Age, John Horgan (1997)

    3. Age 39, U.A. school of philosophy, 1999

    A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, George Berkeley, (1710).

    This one hundred page book turned my world upside down. I might even say that it influenced my thinking more radically than any single book I ever read. It is through Berkeley that I now understand everything else. Berkeley changed even how I looked upon what Baba wrote, when I returned to it later and completed it. The book and its radical idea (that what exists of the world is actually perceived ideas of thought) was deeply criticized from its inception, and yet it has never disappeared from the annals of the most important works of philosophy in history. Berkely remains one of the five or six most mentioned philosophers of the Enlightenment. Berkeley's central concept (that there is, when it comes right down to it, no such thing as matter, a view known as "immaterialism") is briefly mentioned in The Gospel of Ramakrishna (1942). Berkeley's work was also one of the original primary influences upon Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), who later turned to the Indian Vedas for further clarification. [source] In fact there would be no Immanuel Kant without Berkeley, and by way of such direction no such thing as German Idealism, British Idealism, or Existentialism.
      Berkeley (for which the city of Berkeley in California is incidentally named) remains my all-time favorite philosopher, both for his marvelously lucid and entertaining writing as well as his admirable and creative and imaginative character. He wrote Principles of Human Knowldge when he was in college at the age of twenty five, long after which, as a Bishop of the Anglican Church in Ireland, his thinking and writing grew much more mystical. He spent part of his life in Rhode Island prior to the American Revolution, hoping to open a boy's school. He returned to Ireland when the money never materialized. There is a museum honoring him in Middletown, Rhode Island.

      Yet Berkeley failed to grasp certain things which would only open up to man's awareness as the result of the next book that shortly after came along to influence my thinking, The Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

      Related books:

      4. Age 41, U.A. school of philosophy, 2001

      The Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant, (1781)

      In my opinion there is only one thing to grasp from all the entire life's work of Immanuel Kant, though it is a seminal and major concept that I do not believe was ever expressed properly before him. It is a concept that Kant himself grasped intuitively long before he incorporated it into his Critique, as early as his graduate school days. That one concept is that space and time as we know them do not exist, but are mere mental constructs (what he called "pure intuitions"). Furthermore, he realized that these two constructs of thought are necessary conditions for all phenomenal experience. This concept is so difficult, yet so vital, that my school admirably brought a scholar from Cambridge just to teach it to their graduate students, after realizing that they themselves were not capable of teaching it to us properly. My Kant scholar professor (who was younger than me) became a friend, and we would go out to lunch where he would ridicule my love for Berkely.

      Kant was an awful human being, arrogant and not completely honest. He is one of the most difficult writers in history to read and properly understand -- and such reading truly requires a teacher. I relied mostly on lengthy explanations by my professor, as well as secondary literature on Kant's view recommended by him, to fully comprehend what Kant was saying and see its unfathomably vast and mind-boggling implications. I will not try to explain it here. The simplest way I know to explain Kant is to say that for him time and space are lenses through which we see, that give shape to the shapeless, form to the formless, by way of the mind. For me it took months of concentration to grasp, and when I did I felt like I was tripping on drugs -- which I of course do not take. Kant's thought about time, space, and the categories of reason, is so radical that I would say that he paved the way for everyone after him - along with Darwin and Freud - sewing the seeds that would make God Speaks coherent.

      Kant himself referred to those who had not yet understood his thinking as "precritical thinkers." This means those that still thought as people did before his book Critique of Pure Reason. I would tend to agree with him, and would apply such a charge to such celebrities as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking. They are all, as far as Kant would be concerned, precritical thinkers.

      5. Age 42, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2002

      I Am That, Nisargardatta Maharaj, (1973).

      Around this time, after all this philosophy was over, I returned once again, at long last, after many decades, to trying to read Baba's book God Speaks, though still I did not finish it. I found that I could at last read it without falling asleep, could comprehend it in small chunks, often rereading many times. During this reading I discovered a reference to something I had never heard of before, called advaita, the theory in Hindu philosophy known as "non-dualism."
      Meher Baba’s gnosis upholds without equivocation both the theory of Identityism (wahdat-u l-wujud) and the theory of Advaitism.
      The unity of God, in its transcendent aspect, is the tauhid-e-tanzihi (Absolute Oneness) of Sufism, and the advaita of Vedanta.
      Not knowing what these words were in reference to, I looked them up, and came to learn that there was one 20th century Indian philosopher who had, up to that time, explained advaita vedanta to western minds better than any elucidator before him. His name was Nisargardatta Maharaj, and by the time I heard of him he had been dead for twenty years. I gradually learned that in his small flat in the slums of Bombay, the beedi merchant who himself chain-smoked beedis, gave lectures to visiting students from around the world, including from Europe and America. While he spoke only in his native Marathi, his dialogues with those present were translated by interpreters into various languages for the people present, and these dialogues were later carefully translated into English that formed a book titled I Am That. Learning all this I quickly ordered the book by interlibrary loan. The dialogues of Nisargardatta are, as far as I know, still among the most lucid explanations of the school of advaita vedanta, a school of philosophy which, among all Hindu schools, Baba upheld "without equivocation."

      By the time I read I Am That, I had already guessed much of its way of thinking. Thus this, among all the books listed here, was less an eye-popper as it was an important validation of what I had already begun to discover by way of Western philosophy, and a reassurance that the thinking that had been becoming more clear through the Western course I was on was principally correct. Most important to me was the fact that Nisargardatta confirmed my guess that there was no seer or seen, but only seeing, or as Emerson had long before written, inspired by his own reading of Berkeley and advaita vedanta, the Over-soul. [source]

      This was the last book I read before I wrote my own book, The Evolution of Perception & the Cosmology of Substance: A Simpler Theory of Everything (June 2004). All the fruit of this learning I managed to condense to my satisfaction into a mere 81 pages of text.

      6. Age 44, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2004

      Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, (1946).

      I read Victor Frankl's book because I was experiencing pain after a surgery and a great deal of stress and anxiety. The subject of the book is human suffering and its meaning, and is narrated through Frankl's own true story of surviving a Nazi concentration camp as an inmate and later as a camp doctor.

      Frankl speaks more coherently about human misery than any author I have ever read. However, this is only the book's surface, as the deeper aspect of the book is Frankl's theory of Logos Therapy in psychology, which is in my view one of the most lucid explanations of the best of Existentialism.

      Frankl argues that life has no inherent meaning by itself. It is the meaning that we imbue life with by how we act that gives it its meaning. Thus when we face life bravely, our acts of courage can actually produce meaning where otherwise there is none, and he further argues convincingly that this is real meaning.

      One time, while driving my 18 year old daughter to school, she asked me what Existentialism was. At first I thought there was almost no way I could articulate it. The normal credo that Existentialism is summed up by the phrase "existence precedes essence" says nothing, in my opinion. So I told her Frankl's camp story, and what he said of meaning, and she instantly got it. We create reality by seeing it, by acting up to it, and by living it. Without that it does not exist, but once lived we give it reality. She actually found it moving, as I have, and intuitively right.

      7. Age 45, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2005

      God Speaks, Meher Baba, (1955).

      It was only after all these books, and writing my own, that I at last sat down and truly tackled and finished God Speaks, returning after this long journey to the germ of its inception. I read the book from the first page to the last several times. Often I would study one section at a time, and also examined every word in every chart.

      About this time, with nothing left to read, a friend of mine who had seen my writing suggested I read another book, Stay With God by Francis Brabazon, saying that my writing reminded him of it.

      Related books:

      8. Age 50, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2009

      Stay With God, by Francis Brabazon, (1959).

      My understanding is that Meher Baba himself asked his poet Francis Brabazon to write this book and gave Francis its theme, which as far as I know is simply the theme of his own book, God Speaks. Thus it was appropriate for me to read Stay With God after God Speaks. I read Stay With God over and over, making notes in the back, and studied the endnotes carefully, reading all of them. One book he referenced I went and read most of, The Desert Fathers, and this deepened my appreciation of Christianity that continues to this day.

      For me, the most influential line in Stay With God was the stanza:
      The Dark Ages were the ages of light; the Renaissance the twilight of our present black night of materialism. 
      This so interested me that it inspired a period of re-examining history, as I wondered what he meant. A few of my conclusions are summarized here.

      I did find this book mind-altering, but I must say that it is an acquired taste, at least it was for me. I now think it is one of the finest books in existence, and should be read by all Westerners who wish to take the spiritual path seriously.

      9. Age 51, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2010

      The Decline of the West, by Oswald Spengler, (1918).

      After reading Stay With God I was very moved by its intelligence, and wondered at the source of its strange way of seeing things. It occurred to me that I remembered reading somewhere that Brabazon had read Decline of the West in his youth. I found this intriguing because my father had also been influenced by it, mentioning it in his own autobiography, In Quest of the Face of God. Even more striking when I thought about this was that Joseph Campbell, one of my earliest heroes already mentioned above, also said he had read this book when he was young. Why were all these great men referring to a single book, which other than from them I had never heard of? Wondering at this, I marched up the hill to the University library and sat down and began to plumb its thousand pages.

      It turns out that this was one of the most Earth-shattering books I ever read. I will have to save explaining it for another day, but fortunately Wikipedia (the link above) does an admirable job of summarizing its thinking.

      Spengler actually anticipates the period we are passing through now, and predicts the coming of a new prophet, one like Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha, and others before him, to cause a new Springtide of culture. Spengler's thinking is unusual to say the least, and much like Kant there is nothing like it before him. Spengler saw history in a whole new way, a cycle of four ages that repeat again and again, declining from a high tide mark caused by a new dispensation of seeing, and then declining, only to be renewed again by a fresh new vision -- that only a prophet can bring.

      In it I found much of the very thoughts I had read in Stay With God, and the thinking I had heard from my own father. I would have to say that among world-altering, perception-altering books, this has to rank at the foremost of our time. I consider its author, Oswald Spengler, to be one of the prophets of this age, and one of those that heralds Meher Baba's advent.

      10. Age 45-53, Fayetteville, Arkansas, 2005-2012

      Infinite Intelligence, by Meher Baba, (2005).

      Infinite Intelligence is one of the most difficult books in existence. I can happily say, however, that, with a few exceptions, its content is now entirely clear to me. I have written my review of it here, provided my own edit of it here, and have described for the curious some of its analogies here.

      Most importantly Infinite Intelligence uses the analogy of the eye (pupil of the eye) seeing through pieces of glass to explain sanskaras. He uses endless methods to convey the sanskara over and over and over, clearer and clearer. And only then does he explain four methods, in great detail, of eradicating them, the yogas of Bhakti, Karma, Raja, and Dnyana. And he ends with the need for the Perfect Master, Baba's greatest recurring theme.

      It took me seven years of reading, and even attempting to decipher its original folios on my own, to understand it.


      So what have I learned from all these books?

      I learned that all life is a dream that God (in one state) is unknowingly having, and all of my experience and thoughts are His dream within His larger dream. The goal of life is to wake up from this dream, upon which I shall be experienceless, and it was for the joy of this Real Experience, in full light of Real Gnosis, that all this apparent existence came into apparent being.  

      And what shall the eleventh book be? The eleventh book is the book of my heart, or the book of silence, or the book of Self, and I am still waiting to discover it. For when I find it there will be no more books to read.

      Further reading:

      Tips for anyone choosing to read any of these

      Because some people have expressed interest in checking out some of these ten books, I have (out of a sense of conscience) decided to give some pointers to make this easier. In some cases I myself had some guidance when I read them.

      I will give pointers and 'cheats' for perusing all ten books, in order. This will make reading much easier I think.

      One other tip: Some of these are available for free as PDF files online, or free or only a couple dollars on Kindle. 

      1. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
      The general idea is the main point of this book. This is stages of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies. Campbell wrote numerous books that expanded on his original theme, and then went into new directions, eventually arriving (in his own understanding, I think it is clear) at advaita vedanta himself. The most important thing to read are the stages of the hero's journey, which comes early in the book. Most of the rest of this book expands on this theme with examples. These stages are summarized here.

      2. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
      The concept is well-enough explained above. While it was a revelation for me at the time, most people would find this book today to be passe. Skip it.

      3. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
      This short treatise (just over 100 pages) is usually printed along with its companion, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous. Both books are short, thus printing them together fleshes out a full book. They describe the same revolutionary concept in two different ways; Principles is a work of prose philosophy, while Dialogues is written as a play, a conversation between two fictitious men who meet amicably and have a deep conversation. Both books cover exactly the same material. If a person were to read both, he or she would understand Idealism. If he or she read them twice, he or she would be a "scholar" on the topic. Because most people don't read them at all, but rely on what they hear is in them.

      While written in very clear English, some of the expressions are archaic. When Berkeley refers to "sensible objects" and "sensible qualities" he is referring to objects (like forks and spoons) and qualities (like color) that we perceive with our senses. He does not mean, as it can sound to a modern reader, "reasonable qualities." My professor had to explain that to me. Also, he will sometimes refer to an idea as "repugnant." He does not mean it is repulsive sentimentally to him. He means it produces a logical contradiction, and so must be rejected on the basis of reason. There are some annotated versions that better explain his terminology that can confuse a modern reader.

      Also, if one likes they can skip the introduction by Berkeley himself, as he is establishing a preliminary concept that does not need to be fully grasped to delve into Part I, where his idealism begins to be explained.

      4. Critique of Pure Reason
      Skip this one and rely on what I said. Of if one wants to skip to the chase, search in the table of contents for the sections on time and space. That is the revolution of his thinking -- that rocked philosophy in the non-English world (called Continental philosophy, as opposed to our American and English "Analytic" philosophy, which is frankly inferior).

      5. I Am That
      This book is freely available as a downloadable PDF file online. Read as much as you enjoy, but keep it in your documents. It's a wonderful resource, and, in my opinion, jives nicely with Meher Baba.

      6. Man's Search for Meaning
      This is a short book, very inexpensively printed, cheaper used on Abe Books, and probably available on Kindle for next to nothing. An enjoyable gripping read that only takes a couple nights at most to glean.

      7. God Speaks
      The biggest complaint you hear from those who are trying to read God Speaks for the first time, is that it seems repetitive (especially near the beginning as it explains Evolution). Don't be discouraged. It stops doing that after a while. The next problem one encounters is it becomes increasingly dense and hard to read, with longer and longer sentences, and more and more Sufi and Vedantic terms to learn (consult the Glossary if you need to). Some are so exhausted by mid-book, where the Conclusion comes, they stop. This is a mistake. The Supplement is actually much easier to read, and more interesting. It is where you get a real education on Sufi and Vedantic thought, explained in a clear way. Be sure to check the references. The references in the first half of the book (up to the Conclusion) refer to parts in the Supplement. To read God Speaks without reading the Supplement is not to read it at all. Baba told two people specifically to go back and read the "whole" book. I have supplied a history of how the book was written here. I would not skip the Introduction to the First Edition by Don Stevens. If you do, you really will be off balance as you begin. He also explains that the Conclusion is by Eruch; something too many people miss.

      One final note. There are many techniques for reading difficult books. My own is often to read the first time without even bothering to understand. Then give some time, put it out of your mind, and return to it later and read it through carefully. Somehow this allows a digestion period using your subconscious mind, that bears fruit when you come back to it. Kind of mysterious, but I find it works for me. After that, set it aside again, for months or a year, and come back and try again. You will be amazed how it starts to be clear.

      Another technique is to jump around in a book for a time, as you become acclimated with its pacing, style, and some concepts. The most important thing is to not get overly anxious. Give yourself a break. It's not you. It really is that hard. No one has ever denied it -- even the smartest people.

      You can download the book free (in two parts) on the Meher Baba Trust Online Library, if you can't afford a copy, or just want to have a searchable version, which can be helpful when studying it.

      8. Stay With God
      For many this is an acquired taste. It was for me. But there are some tips that will help. To begin with, when picking up this book for the first time, skip immediately to the back where you will find several pages of end-notes. Notice these learned notes give clarification of ideas in the full text, listed by page and line number. Only then, begin the book. As you come to a term, allusion, or a person's name that is unfamiliar, don't hesitate to check the endnotes. More often than not you will find elucidation there. This helps greatly. Also, if the first chapter is not to your taste the second may be. This luckily is not a book you need to read slowly. You either get it or you don't (if you use the endnotes, and ponder for a moment or two on some points); it is not a lot of difficult philosophical points, something Baba himself admired about it. It is poetry. The 'voice' in which it is written can take some getting used to; it did me. My favorite chapters were parts IV and V.

      Incidentally, you can download the book for free at the Meher Baba Trust Online Library.

      9. Decline of the West
      Here is a big cheat. The book (in two parts) is massive. However, its theme is fully explained in its 50 page introduction, in the original unabridged version. (I can't say for the Abridged; I've never seen it) After that, the book shows how the concept shapes our view of history by taking one subject at a time -- art, concept of time, etc. Once you've read the introduction, simply glance over the table of contents and choose those subjects that interest you. Another thing to keep in mind is that he uses some poetic German expressions (common to the early century) like "blood and soil." It takes a while to grasp he is not talking of actual blood and soil. Soil is one's local roots, the place of a culture. Blood is the spirit or soul of the people themselves. Meaning what feelings 'run through their veins.' It has nothing to do with Eugenics. Spengler was vigorously anti-fascist and anti-Nazi.

      And yes, once again this book can be obtained freely, in most libraries, online as a giant PDF file to download, or for free on Kindle.

      10. Infinite Intelligence
      When I say the following, I'm not self-promoting; I have nothing to gain. I am only trying to make things easier for a sincere reader. Unless you have the hardback edition by Sheriar Books, and like reading 750 page books, simply download my 255 page version for free here. I suggest reading my edited version. This is not an "abridged" version of the original. It matches page by page to the original folios, also provided on my site. Rather it is the 750 page version by Sheriar Books that is an expansion of the book. Also,  the direct transcript of the original that I provide as well on my site may be of help (or at least reassurance) to some who wish to compare my editing choices with the original.

      Tip: The first paragraph of the book is its hardest. The first 85 pages of the book aren't much better. But after that it gets easier and easier, until in the second half you are sailing along.

      And of course if you don't like my version, or prefer to hear how the Trust developed it further into a larger book, for greater clarity, at expense of length, certainly purchase the Sheriar version. It's very good. My review of it is here.

      Post note: 5/19/14

      Also see my related follow-up The Power of Film.


      1. Chris, I really love your blog. I'm glad you mentioned that you feel Stay With God is an acquired taste. I started reading it many years ago but didn't make it very far. I think I'll give it another try on your recommendation. I mean, I didn't like scotch the first few times I tried it but now.....well.......

        1. I didn't like Ginseng or Sushi either, then had to give them both up as they were too expensive.

      2. Thanks Christopher for this. To stand back and look at what was/is so very, very important and colours everything one 'sees' is not only awe inspiring, but makes one humbly grateful to Baba more and more. I remember buying my first copy, of many, of Stay With God at the trust office book shop in Ahmadnagar in 1975. (I was staying at the ever so swank Dawlat near the the trust before moving to Viloos). Stay With God, along with God Speaks, is a book I have gone back to many times since '75 and have even included portions of the text in a few different plays. It is an unending source of imaginative creating for me.( Probably to give me something to pass this time with until whatever happens, or until, in dancing, we come to know our partner.) Take care and all the best Chris. Steve

      3. I agree. Stay with God is one of my all-time favorite books.

      4. I just ordered The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge...Amazon has them in hard cover which is my favorite for books I want to hold on to. Will start with Campbell and follow with Berkeley in hopes of a deeper grasp of the subject matter. Thank you.

        1. I just added some tips for anyone seriously considering any of these books. It is at the bottom of the article, in the same order. Did this because you were not the only one to mention considering reading some of these.

        2. Thanks. Just read the tips...I have envisioned sitting in the Tavern in His Lane, and He is pouring with a heavy hand...and we sit and share insights and impressions of life with Him. Thank you. Both books arrived!

      5. Hi Chris;

        Robert Rouse, who died 2 days ago in Australia, was Francis' collaborator in the production of Stay With God, and has written a great little book called "The Water Carrier" which details some of the history behind the writing and publishing of this exceptional book.

        Suffice to say here that Baba had an exceptional role in the writing and editing of the book he said a copy of which would one day be in every home in the world. (Mani, Family Letters) There is no book remotely like this book associated with Baba's Advent. Baba implied that, after God Speaks, it is the most important.

      6. I would like to add that in 1977, I visited The Oceanic in London and saw on display a copy of Stay With God, signed by both Baba and Francis, on display along with the other artifacts and relics that Mehera and Delia had given to the Oceanic as a newly established Baba Centre. I was deeply impressed by this as Stay With God, from the day I read it, along with In Dust I Sing, are my favorite Baba books.

        These items were removed by Nosh Anzar to New Jersey, where they await their return to their rightful home.

      7. "Rightful home" = the UK Baba Centre in London