7 Philosophy books for when you dont have answers
Philosophy should become a mandatory reading in school.
We struggle with finding the meaning of lives for a significant part of our adult life. Unclear on action, we meditate in the choatic world...unmethodically scratching the surface without discovering the truth within...
We are taught how to read, how to write beautifully, do correct maths, learn about complex scientific laws, but absolutely nothing about how to live our lives and answer the deep questions of - whats the meaning of life. Its quite unfortunate that most of us end up leading our lives without understanding the why and what for?!
Our individual egos are also so strong that for a very long time we end of believing that these questions are unique to us and we need to find answers ourselves. We also convince ourselves that with our lives full of work, play, family, friends, we will be able to carve out time in those meditative moments of a walk in the park or the annual vacation!
Result - we dont find answers for the better part of our 20s - 30s - 40s and 50s and more..
Great monks, priests and philosophers have been pondering about the same questions for their entire life-times. Minus technologies, they lived in similar constructs of family, society, countries and conflicts. There are guiding principles, and various tool kits. And if nothing else, there are words that resonate and build comfort in conflicting soul stretching thoughts.
Over the years I have built my own collection of books that I reach out to when I need a reset and refresh.
Some of these books have pulled me out of the worst when life seemed worthless to live, Some have given me confidence to walk my own path,
Some have been an assurance about lives's ups and downs and
Some that life is beautiful if you learn to recognize the beautiful signs and simple things around.
I have found it quite powerful to I rotate these books on my bedside, and read a couple of pages before I hit bed. Just one positive thought at the end of the day can taste the now seemingly small stressors away
#1 Bhagwad Gita - Eknath Easwaran
This three part book breaks down the 700 verses of Bhagvad Gita. Each Sanskrit verse is accompanied with a literal english translation followed by a half to one page simple descriptor for relevance into daily lives.
I have found it powerful to start with actually saying the verse / shloka in sanskrit. They are many adaptions on Spotify / apple music to get the tone right.
Then I will follow it up with reading the description. Each sitting I will read 5-6 verses. Each of them is so powerful that its useful to read one, pause, reflect and think then go into a sprint mode.
One of my most powerful verses from the Part 1 book (Chapter 5, verse 16):
"jñānena tu tad ajñānaṁ yeṣhāṁ nāśhitam ātmanaḥ, teṣhām āditya-vaj jñānaṁ prakāśhayati tat param"
This means, that we know all that we have to know within ourselves! Our ignorance to it can be destroyed by the knowledge of the Self within. The light of this knowledge shines like a sunlight - it reveals the supreme Brahman.
#2 The Surrender Experiment - Michael A. Singer
I dont know how I stumbled upon this book, but this was my book of the year 2022 and I remember mentioning this book to everyone who I spoke to,
The book has a very simple and provocative premise of "surrendering to life's will' and the author ends up living with the challenge for the rest of his life to witness magical events unfold beyond his wildest imaginations
The messaging is very seductive. And it has pushed me to go beyond the instanteneous "I think I would like this or I think I will hate this", to for a second surrendering to maybe life knows better and following through.
For one, it has really helped reduce the pressure and helped me be at ease towards the flow of events in life. A must read!
We all live lives knowing we know whats best, but what if life knows better? The sun is revolving everyday without fail, the plants develop, the kids grow - all too well - without absolutely no effort from men. Then why do we let the ego come in between? Let it go...
#3 Notes to Myself - Hugh Panther
This small little book is like a personal diary that we didnt write but felt inside.
It opens up to a deeper meaning of our actions, desires, agreements and disagreements - which we feel deep down inside, but since its different from our projection, we fail to acknowledge or accept the reality as weakness.
The way Hugh writes his notes, where he does not capture detailed events, but a razor edge summary expressed in a couple of lines. I read, pause as he hits home and makes it ok to feel all the emotions.
A couple of my favorites lines from the book:
"If I went wanting to be a friend, rather than to have one, my want couldnt have been frustrated"
"Whenever I find myself arguing for something with great passion, I can be certain I am not convinced"
#4 On the shortness of Life - Seneca
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the great philosopher of ancient Rome, was introduced to me by a very good friend of mine Adete, who I met during my yoga teacher training course.
Seneca pushed the thinking on what is called Stoicism - which pushes for self control to overcome destructive emotions and instead find value and reason to lead a happy life
In this short book, Seneca picks up with the thought that as we age and come closer to realizing our imminent end, we anguish ourselves on the meanness of nature - why is life is too short to be enjoyed fully! Not enough time to spend with things, people, thoughts we would like...
"It is not that we have short time to live, but that we waste most of it" Life is too short for those who forget the past, neglect the present and fear the future.
A large part of our lives is led by living from pleasure to pleasure, waiting for the pleasure, working towards the pleasure and grievance after the pleasure object is gone. The pleasure events are also usually swift and too short to enjoy.
The book goes on to reason a life of "value", extracting one from the crowd into a peaceful harbor to understand the forces of nature, and learn its tremendous marvels. The knowledge of how to live and die, and a life of deep tranquility.
#5 Walden and The Civil Disobedience - Henry David Thorreau
This book is an inspiration in living life on your own terms!
This book set the foundation of civil disobedience that travelled around the world, unleashing power in the common man to overthrow oppressive empires. Through Gandhi it travelled to india and manifested in this very famous Bangla song of India's independence Era: "Jodi Tor dak sune Keu Na ashe tami ekla chalo be"
In this book Thoreau advocates living the life of freedom. He experiments with living a life in woods for 2 years (close to the namesake pond) to enjoy the beauty of nature. He painstakingly keeps track of his accounts to fins what is the minimum amount of work he can do to enjoy the life he wants which is to capture the beauty of nature, changing seasons, flora, fauna around us!
He argues that it doesnt take much (money, power, affluence), but pure courage to challenge societal norms and customs.
#6 The book of simple living - Ruskin Bond
Ruskin bond's words have this immense power to attract you to the subtle beauty of nature, often gone missed by our incessant need for rushing to live our lives. His prose and poetry being both flora and fauna alive to the point of connection that is again amiss.
His work has got me to appreciate the simple beauty around much more - like capturing a sunrise during my Monday morning drive to the airport...And whenever I can, I take the time out to feel and then to describe it in my own words.
Last night as I lay sleepless
In the summer dark
With window open to invite a breeze,
Softly a firefly flew in
And circled around the room
Twinkling at me from floor to wall
Or cieling, never long in one place
But lighting up little spaces...
A friendly presence, dispelling
The settled gloom of an unhappy day
And after it had gone, I left
The window open, just in case
It should return.
#7 The Way of the Bodhisatva - Shantideva
This book always takes me back to the conversation I had with a monk in the monasteries of Spiti valley.
He asked me - how was your day. I said - it felt so good to experience silence in my meditation at centuries old monastery in Tabo. He said - why arent you feeling that bliss everyday.
Its not about meditating, but actually finding that peace daily, in evety moment, in every task.
He recommended I read this book - "Everything you need to know in its verses."
None of these books are supposed to be sprinted. Start with any, flip to a page you like. Read a few pages and close it.
You might not resonate with all at every moment. In the right time, you will reach for one, and find the message you are looking for. Thats the power of these philosophy books.
They are meant to be read, thought through and read again when you feel there are no answers..Just feature them prominently in your bookshlves and moments of weakness :)