The Wisdom Page       Copthorne Macdonald's Home Page


Annotated Bibliography
from Copthorne Macdonald's Book


It is clear to me now that the decade of my 30s was a period of development and preparation, a period in which I tried dreams on for fit, lived a few to their natural ends, and a few others until it seemed time to drop them. If I lived this decade again, its details would be different, but I hope not its spirit. Living your 20s and 30s intensely, with your own growth consciously in mind, is not the worst possible preparation for those more contemplative decades that come later.

I owe much to several of the people I met early in this period. They were people who lived in a realm of ideas. They saw what was going on in the world at a superficial level, as I did -- but they saw more. They were able to connect the surface facts with an array of concepts and models and perspectives residing at some deeper level. I realized that to gain access to this other level you had to read -- read selectively because there wasn't enough time to read everything, but read a lot.

My friends suggested several possible starting points, one of these being French Existentialism. I read Sartre's BEING AND NOTHINGNESS and his EXISTENTIALISM AND HUMAN EMOTIONS. Parts of the first book were beyond me, but I was drawn to Sartre's basic thesis: Human nature is not a determinism set up in advance by God or Nature. Instead, human nature is defined moment-to-moment by how we human beings actually live our lives -- by the lifelong string of choices each of us makes. Sartre stressed that how we act in the world is what counts, not our good intentions. Each life is nothing more nor less than the sum of the actions that comprise it. Personal immortality resides only in the effect which those actions have on the world. Since we are condemned to choose, we might as well make our choices with as much awareness as possible. It makes sense to choose consciously what we want to do with our lives, and to move toward the chosen goal.

Camus's theme was similar to Sartre's but had its individual slant. I especially liked Camus's personal journals: NOTEBOOKS 1935-1942 and NOTEBOOKS 1942-1951. Camus stressed the need to create meaning in the universe through artistic creativity and love -- love not just in the romantic sense, but also love as deep friendship and lovingkindness. He realized that art was commentary on life, and felt that the great artist must first have a "great experience of life." Furthermore, love would play a central role in this "great experience."

Love is the main theme of Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet." Reading the four interlinked volumes in the intended order -- JUSTINE, BALTHAZAR, MOUNTOLIVE, then CLEA -- leads the reader through a progression of love's many forms and guises -- both immature and highly mature ones.

Nikos Kazantzakis was another writer who inspired and motivated me. ZORBA THE GREEK was a call to adventure that I found compelling. I lived from my head. Zorba lived from his guts. He was totally engaged in the present moment, and always saw the world with fresh eyes. He lived each moment fully -- right to the bursting point. He was inner-directed to the extreme, and seemed to be beyond fear. He was always willing to risk -- to risk everything. No wonder Kazantzakis was fascinated with Zorba, and drawn to his mode of living. I was too.

Kazantzakis told the story of his own struggle to become wise in REPORT TO GRECO. In it he related many adventures -- including an account of his relationship with the real-life Zorba. Interwoven with the narrative was the Kazantzakis philosophy of life -- and it was this that I found both powerful and personally relevant. Kazantzakis chose one word to characterize his life: ASCENT. Always he had kept his eye on the farthest limit; always he had tried to attain the greatest height. His central message was this: Find that significant task or battle for which you are best suited, then pour your energy into it. Perceive. Love. Live the totality.



Maslow's books are tremendously rich. They have many levels of meaning and message, and at each reading you hear what you are ready to hear. Four of them make my recommended list. The oldest is MOTIVATION AND PERSONALITY. First published in 1954, it summarizes Maslow's work to that point; it outlines his theory of motivation and his research into the characteristics of self- actualizing people. In TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING Maslow gets into the connections between Humanistic Psychology and Existentialism. He expands and clarifies his theory of motivation. And he discusses peak experiences. His posthumous book, THE FARTHER REACHES OF HUMAN NATURE deals with "Cosmic" self- actualization and self-transcendence -- the spiritual end-process of personal growth. In it he also discusses some interesting aspects of Anthropologist Ruth Benedict's work. The fourth book, RELIGIONS, VALUES, AND PEAK EXPERIENCES deals with intrinsic values and with varieties of spiritual experience.


Wilber showed me that mental development is a vast spectrum on which the Freudians, Behaviorists, and various spiritual disciplines all have legitimate places. He makes it clear that seeming contradictions -- like using one form of therapy to build an ego and another to tear it down -- make sense if the right thing is done at the right stage of our inner development. It's not all intellectual, either. His reports on the far reaches of the spectrum have the aura of first hand reports. My favorite of his books is NO BOUNDARY: EASTERN AND WESTERN APPROACHES TO PERSONAL GROWTH. Another, which goes into the spectrum concept in more detail, is THE SPECTRUM OF CONSCIOUSNESS. A third, which deals with evolution and mind is UP FROM EDEN: A TRANSPERSONAL VIEW OF HUMAN EVOLUTION.



There are several writings from Buddhism's Zen tradition that express the perennial philosophy with clarity and impact. Two of my favorites are "The Lankavatara Sutra," and the discourse by the Third Patriarch of Zen on "Believing in Mind." These, the famous "Oxherding Pictures of Zen," and much other worthwhile material appears in THE MANUAL OF ZEN BUDDHISM by the late Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki.


Written by an anonymous Christian mystic in the 14th Century, THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING now appears in an edition with a more mature work by the same author: THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNSELING. The first book links contemplative practice with traditional Christianity. The second focuses on the essence of the practice itself. I especially like the second.


Although initially put off by Da Free John's guru-with-ardent- followers image, I came to agree with Ken Wilber that Free John was saying important things, and saying them clearly. In NIRVANASARA Free John presents the perennial philosophy as he sees it: an integration of Advaita Vedanta (the view held by Vedantists like Nisargadatta), and Buddhism. THE BODILY LOCATION OF HAPPINESS focuses on Free John's "Happiness" practice. His autobiography, THE KNEE OF LISTENING (published under his original name, Franklin Jones), also sheds light on this practice.


uxley was a Western intellectual with a Christian background who discovered the wisdom of the East -- and also discovered that this wisdom is identical with the wisdom spoken of by the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages. In THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY, he shares some of the teachings of Eastern and Western mysticism, and adds his own lucid and informed commentary.


Two works are attributed to Taoist sage Lao Tzu: the well-known TAO TE CHING, and a compilation of later teachings called the HUA HU CHING. Both are available in a volume entitled THE COMPLETE WORKS OF LAO TZU. The first presents the Taoist view of what IS, the second deals with the Taoist form of perennial philosophy practice. Many translations of the TAO TE CHING are available; my favorite is the recent Stephen Mitchell translation that uses contemporary language and imagery.


If I could take only a few books with me to a desert island, I AM THAT: CONVERSATIONS WITH SRI NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ would be one of them. Nisargadatta, you may have discovered in the chapter notes, was a former Bombay cigarette maker who made a permanent gestalt flip of reidentification. Separated from the author of THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNSELING by culture, distance, and 600 years, these two nevertheless watched the world from the same mental space. And they advocated the same practice to reach that space: pay attention as continuously as possible to the elemental sense of being, of existing.


THE BOOK: ON THE TABOO AGAINST KNOWING WHO YOU ARE is Alan Watts' lucid discussion of the unitive view, and of the difficulty we have in seeing things that way. In an earlier work, THE MEANING OF HAPPINESS: THE QUEST FOR FREEDOM OF THE SPIRIT IN MODERN PSYCHOLOGY AND THE WISDOM OF THE EAST he presents his views about happiness.


I didn't discover Joseph Campbell until he became popular in the 1980s -- what a pity! In HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES Campbell contends that the great mythic hero stories of cultures all over the world symbolize the universal search for wisdom and Self- realization, the universal struggle to make the perennial philosophy our own.



Joseph Goldstein is one of the founders of the Insight Meditation Society; Jack Kornfield has taught Vipassana there (and elsewhere) for many years. Their book, SEEKING THE HEART OF WISDOM: THE PATH OF INSIGHT MEDITATION, is the fruit of their many years of teaching experience. It goes into the "why" of mindfulness practice, and relates it to other Buddhist teachings. THE EXPERIENCE OF INSIGHT: A SIMPLE AND DIRECT GUIDE TO BUDDHIST MEDITATION is an earlier book on the practice by Joseph Goldstein. It, too, is worthwhile.


Thich Nhat Hanh is the Vietnamese Zen Master who headed the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris during the Vietnam War. He has written two wonderful books on the practice of mindfulness meditation: THE MIRACLE OF MINDFULNESS, and PEACE IS EVERY STEP.


Stephen Levine's book, A GRADUAL AWAKENING, describes the changes in outlook and understanding that take place as mindfulness practice continues and deepens. It is another of my "desert island" books -- one that leads me to deeper understanding on each re-reading. I find it the perfect complement to a mindfulness meditation practice.

Information on retreats led by Stephen Levine, and cassette recordings of his talks and guided meditations, are available from The Hanuman Foundation Tape Library, Box 61498, Santa Cruz, CA 95061. The Foundation also distributes Ram Dass tapes.



The turn-of-the-century psychologist William James took a perceptive look at mystical experience in THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. James, too, believed in looking directly at what was happening in the mind -- an approach that went out of psychological fashion a few years later.


One slant on people as agents of evolution was given by Nikos Kazantzakis in his poetic book, THE SAVIORS OF GOD. Kazantzakis saw evolution as a bloody war of ascent from chaos to high possibility being waged by a less than almighty God -- a God that needs help from human beings and all other creatures.


I left Krishnamurti out of the Perennial Philosophy section because he avoided cosmological speculation and talk about reidentification -- focusing instead on exploring moment to moment mental happenings. My favorite among his many books is THE FIRST AND LAST FREEDOM which I find particularly clear and complete. I also like the three volume COMMENTARIES ON LIVING series. His descriptions of the world around him in these latter books are priceless glimpses into his mind -- the mind of a man who lived each moment with intense alertness and sensitivity.


THE OPEN FOCUS HANDBOOK and OPEN FOCUS cassettes are available from Biofeedback Computers, Inc., P.O. Box 572, Princeton, NJ 08540.


The late Chogyam Trungpa, Rimpoche was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who fled Tibet at the time of the Chinese takeover in 1959. He was educated at Oxford in the '60s, founded Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado in the '70s, and started the Naropa Institute of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1980s. He also wrote several helpful books. In CUTTING THROUGH SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM he pointed out some spiritual traps into which we North Americans frequently fall -- ways that we use spiritual practices to strengthen ego rather than destroy it. A more recent book, SHAMBHALA: THE SACRED PATH OF THE WARRIOR also focused on trouble spots, on those difficult and painful places on the path that we can't bypass if we are serious about growing.


I mentioned A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN by Joanna Field. A comprehensive and recent overview of intuition is THE INTUITIVE EDGE: UNDERSTANDING INTUITION AND APPLYING IT IN EVERYDAY LIFE by Philip Goldberg. A more scholarly book on intuition, but one rich in detail is Tony Bastick's INTUITION: HOW WE THINK AND ACT. Roberto Assagioli's PSYCHOSYNTHESIS presents the details of his multifaceted therapy. Another book I found helpful was TRANSITIONS: MAKING SENSE OF LIFE'S CHANGES by William Bridges. Bridges, by naming and talking about that fuzzy, uncomfortable stage between endings and new beginnings, legitimizes it. He also deals with helpful, and not so helpful, ways of going through these transitions.



Stephen Weinberg's THE FIRST THREE MINUTES: A MODERN VIEW OF THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE presents the currently accepted model of the origin of the universe. THE SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN does an excellent job of updating this picture every year or two with the latest theories, and the latest developments in cosmology and particle physics. Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME is worth reading, as are IN SEARCH OF THE BIG BANG by John Gribbin and THE COSMIC BLUEPRINT by Paul Davies.


For a variety of perspectives you might read Ervin Laszlo's EVOLUTION: THE GRAND SYNTHESIS, Richard Dawkins's THE BLIND WATCHMAKER, and at least one of Stephen Jay Gould's books (TIME'S ARROW, TIME'S CYCLE, for example).


Paul MacLean (A TRIUNE CONCEPT OF BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR) and Melvin Konner (THE TANGLED WING) do a good job of presenting the biological basis for reactive emotion and behavior. See the Chapter 6 NOTES for references to Benjamin Libet's work on the relationship between consciousness and intention. Arguments for mind being separate from matter are presented by Eccles and Robinson in THE WONDER OF BEING HUMAN. The view that mind and matter are two aspects of a single underlying reality is made by Gordon Globus, Bernard Rensch, and Ervin Laszlo -- see their listings in the Chapter 1 NOTES. Refer to the Roger Sperry articles listed in the Chapter 6 NOTES for his view that mind is a system-emergent of the brain that can have a top-down influence back on brain functioning.


An excellent book on the nature of information and its many roles is Jeremy Campbell's GRAMMATICAL MAN: INFORMATION, ENTROPY, LANGUAGE, AND LIFE. My understanding of natural systems owes much to the writing of Ervin Laszlo, a former concert pianist with a doctorate from the Sorbonne who became an expert on systems and the author of several Club of Rome studies. His book, THE SYSTEMS VIEW OF THE WORLD, is a book for the general reader that looks at nature and human beings from the system point of view. A more scholarly work is Laszlo's INTRODUCTION TO SYSTEMS PHILOSOPHY: TOWARD A NEW PARADIGM OF CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT.

E-mail: cop@copmacdonald.comCopyright 1995 by Copthorne Macdonald