The Nondual Writers of Footnote #45

A reader of this blog writes to me:

Hi Carl.  I was reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now and in one of the footnotes he lists a number of “non-dualistic” writers he thinks are worthwhile.  Some of the names I know, others I’m not familiar with.  For instance: Bede Griffiths, Bruno Barnhart, Laurence Freeman, Ruth Barrows, Bernadette Roberts, Eckhart Tolle, Jean-Yves Leloup, Sebastian Painadath, Hugo Enomiya-Lasalle, and Ken Wilbur (I’ve heard of him, just haven’t read anything by him).  Who on this list  would you recommend?  Any you’d avoid?  Thanks.

The Naked Now

The Naked Now

Alas, I missed that footnote when I read the book! I’m assuming you are referring to footnote #45, at the top of page 186; the footnote refers back to Rohr’s chapter “The Lost Tradition” where he talks about how, thanks to Merton, we are reclaiming the contemplative/nondual wisdom tradition that has been largely lost or marginalized in the Christian community for the past several centuries.

Anyway, Rohr lists a few names in addition to the ones you’ve mentioned, so I’ll include all the names from footnote #45 here. I’m not familiar with all these folks, so my comments will be limited in some cases to “this book looks interesting.” But for the ones I know, I’ll give you my opinion, for what it’s worth. And then I’ll add a few extra names I think he should have listed as well. Happy exploring!

Rohr says each of the following writers “in their own way are recovering the older tradition today.” I don’t suppose that any of these writers (at least the ones I know) are necessarily to be avoided, but there’s at least one whose work I would put at the bottom of any to-read list. So let’s just say some are better than others. And at least one of the ones that I’m (as yet) unfamiliar with looks good enough for me to have just ordered a book from Amazon. So here are my thoughts, uncensored and unpolished…

  • John Main — Founder of the World Community of Christian Meditation, a Benedictine monk and pretty much universally respected in the contemplative community. Orbis has published an anthology of his Essential Writings.
  • Bede Griffiths — A student of C. S. Lewis who moved to India and explored the resonance between Hindu spirituality and Christian mysticism. Quite an important figure. A large anthology of his principle works is out of print, so start with the Orbis Essential Writings.
  • Thomas Keating — One of the three principle founders of the Centering Prayer movement, and now its beloved elder statesman. His most popular works are Open Mind, Open Heart and Intimacy with God.
  • Cynthia Bourgeault — A disciple of Keating and Barnhart who has become quite popular in her own right. For her insight into nonduality, try The Wisdom Jesus.
  • Bruno Barnhart — a Camaldolese monk, Barnhart is known for his advocacy of Christianity as a wisdom tradition (what he calls “sapiential Christianity”). Check out Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity. I would recommend putting his works toward the top of your to-read list.
  • Laurence Freeman — A Benedictine monk, student of John Main, and the current director of WCCM. I’ve only read articles of his, but as for his books, Jesus: The Teacher Within looks interesting.
  • Ruth Burrows — British Carmelite nun. At least one monk in Conyers considers her a favorite author. The one I’ve read, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, is out of print and hard to find, but well worth checking out.
  • Bernadette Roberts — Former Carmelite nun best known for her book The Experience of No-Self. I haven’t read her, but I know she was popular among contemplatives back in the ’80s when her books were first published. From what little I know of her work, she seems to have affinity with Meister Eckhart (who, as you know, is one of the great Western nondual thinkers of the past).
  • Eckhart Tolle — This guy is incredibly popular, but I just haven’t been able to get into him. Perhaps it is the condescending tone of the very first line of his most popular book, The Power of Now: “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it.” My response to such a statement, as someone who loves the past and enjoys connecting with the wisdom of the great nondual thinkers of previous centuries, is to figure I’d rather spend time with the other Eckhart (Meister) and not worry about this guy. And then he goes on to brag about living “in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss” for a period of five months after his enlightenment. Yeah, right. It’s hard to keep reading with my eyes rolling! Still, Rohr admires him, and he is quite popular, so apparently he has done much to make nondual spirituality appealing to the masses in our time. I just think of all the writers mentioned in this post, he belongs at the bottom of your “to-read” list. Since his endorsement by Oprah Winfrey there has been quite a push-back against Tolle from conservative Christians, who accuse him of being a latter-day gnostic; but since I haven’t read very much of his writing, I don’t feel qualified to comment on that (as we know, many Christians are biased against mysticism in general, so that may be part of what is fueling the backlash). For what seems to be a balanced assessment of Tolle from a mainstream Catholic perspective, read this article from NCR: Eckhart Tolle’s Message is Positive. But is it Christian?
  • Jean-Yves Leloup — French Orthodox writer who apparently is an interfaith activist and a scholar of apocryphal texts. The only work I’ve read is Being Still, which interestingly was translated into English by Martin Laird. It’s a collection of essays on Orthodox spirituality, and is worth the read.
  • Sebastian Painadath — Not familiar with this guy; what I found online is that he’s an Indian Jesuit and, like Griffiths and Abhishiktananda, the founder of a Christian ashram in India. Here is an essay of his available online: The Spiritual and Theological Perspectives of Ashrams.
  • Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle — a German Jesuit priest who lived from 1898 to 1990 and was involved in Christian-Buddhist dialogue; remarkable in that he was in Hiroshima during the nuclear blast and was severely injured. I haven’t read him, but he sure looks interesting. Check out Living in the New Consciousness. I just ordered my copy from Amazon!
  • Ken Wilber — Wilber is not a Christian, he’s an integralist whose own practice emerges out of Buddhist meditation. But he is widely respected for his creative work at demonstrating the patterns of coherence between different mystical traditions from around the world, as well as charting how mystical wisdom can be embedded into a science-friendly map of the cosmos. I’ve been a fan of his for some twenty years now, and while I have my arguments with him, I think Wilber’s ideas are essential for anyone interested in a trans-cultural understanding of the contemplative experience. Start with A Brief History of Everything to get a basic, accessible introduction to his thought..

In addition, I would recommend checking out these folks as well:

  • Abhishiktananda — Born Henri Le Saux, a French Benedictine who travelled to India and studied under the Hindu Sage Ramana Maharshi. His book Prayer is an excellent read.
  • Anonymous (“A Monk of the West”) — author of Christianity and the Doctrine of Non-Dualism.
  • Sara Grant, RSCJ — Scottish nun who traveled to India in 1956; associated with Abhishiktananda. Her book is called Toward an Alternative Theology: Confessions of a Non-Dualist Christian.
  • Martin Laird — Perhaps the best living author on Christian contemplation. Yes, that’s high praise, but he deserves it. When you are tempted to read Eckhart Tolle, read (or re-read) Laird instead. Both his Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence are essential.
  • Ramon Panikkar — former Jesuit who became world renowned as a philosopher of Hindu-Christian dialog. Just brilliant. Start with his masterpiece, Christophany.

There you go. Enjoy the journey.

  • Mike MacDonald

    I couldn’t help but smile today, Carl, when I received the e-mail about your latest post and saw there an image of Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now. It was just last week that I mentioned in a meeting that if I were to be stranded on a desert island for years, the three books I’d most like to have with me would be the Bible, Carl McColman’s The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, and Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now. I think these would keep my mind and heart “contemplatively occupied” for a lifetime. Thanks for your thoughts on these writers. I agree with you, and I was especially pleased to see Martin Laird as an addition. Have a great summer!

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks, Mike. Quite an honor to make your shortlist! But you’ll have to bargain with God or the fates to keep at least five books on your desert island, so that you can bring Martin Laird and Julian of Norwich along too.

  • http://flamingseed.com jane brunette

    Carl, thank you so much for this list with your recommendations. I have been wanting to read more deeply about the Christian contemplative path, but coming to this from the Buddhist world, I had no idea where to start. This looks like a delicious selection.

  • Mark

    Thanks for answering my question, Carl, in your usual thorough way. Another book that Rohr mentions that I checked out from the library and just started reading is If God is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. I’m 47 pages into it and can’t put it down.

  • Ed

    I first encountered Wilber , in early 90′s when I worked as a director of pastoral care in hospice. I read a book co-authored by him and his wife during their battle with breast cancer (she died in 1987). The book was called Grace and Grit. There was plenty of both in the book. It shows a less intellectual side of Wilber and is my favorite of his works. I also read both of Bernadette Roberts (the title of the second which is on the shelf in my office and I am at home escapes me). It has been too long since I read them to offer a careful critique. I can say that at the time it was mind blowing and contributed to my journey. I recently read Leloup and appreciated his treatment of the 8 thoughts (7 deadly sins), which are of particular interest to me. I have read and benefited from several of the others on the list as well (Cunningham, Main, Keating Borgeault, and, definitely, Laird).

    Ed Scott

  • Peter Byl

    I love reading your articles but am knew to the terminology.

    What is” non-dualism” and is it compatible with Biblical truth?

    Also why did non-dualism get marginalised?

  • Carl McColman

    Ed: you are right, Grace and Grit is one of Wilber’s best books, and probably the best for connecting with Wilber in his own imperfect humanity. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Peter: Great question! Let me do a bit of research and answer it as a new blog post. Stay tuned — I’ll post it Monday morning.

  • Elizabeth

    Carl, thanks so for this list … some are old friends who are still here and now there will be new ones …

    Just a wee point: you have listed Ruth Burrows as Ruth Barrows .. as she is a keeper, I thought I’d let your readers know of the typo.

    Elizabeth

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks, eagle eye! I went ahead and fixed it in the post.

  • Lillian

    I read Tolle’s Power of Now at the suggestion of a friend. His comments that bugged you, Carl, I just found curious. The part that did bother me later in the book was his description of love and God. (Sorry that I cannot find the specific chapter) His concepts of both seem too impersonal to me: too much toward being absorbed into the great unity – in contrast to Pierre de Chardin in “The Phenomenon of Man”, who sees that all our individual personalities are maintained even in unity with Omega personality.

    Also Tolle’s “A New Earth” has a comment about the importance of “the lessening of materiality”, which does not please me at all because I think that there are too many fabulous things in the material world to abandon any of it.

    By the way, I’m registered for your Emory class starting Thursday and looking forward to it.

  • abb

    what Emory class and how do I sign up for it?

  • Ann Goraczko

    I would like to recommend Beatrice Bruteau. I read “Radical Optimism” for a class in contemporary spirituality and learned a lot about contemplative Christianity. I understand that some of her other books are wonderful also, such as “The Grand Option.”

  • Lillian

    I meant to add that I do like Tolle for his advice on how to stop the incessant self-talk in my head, and I have re-read the Power of Now for that purpose.

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks. I need to get over my “bad first impression” of Tolle and give The Power of Now another try. You’ve given me a good reason to do so.

  • http://MeridaGOround.com Eric Chaffee

    Many new names for me to explore, thanks. I would add Joel S Goldsmith, especially his Thunder of Silence, and his Spiritual Power of Truth. ~eric.

  • Peace

    Hi, I see some of you are interested in the works of Bernadette Roberts. I wanted you to know that Bernadette has just published a new book, “The Real Christ.” For those interested in how the truths of Christ and Trinity relate to our present life in God, and our ultimate transformation into the divine Life, I heartily recommend this book. Information about it can be found at:

    http://www.bernadettesfriends.blogspot.com/


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