Essential Reading for the Spiritual Seeker

Daniel Ellsberg

Most of us can identify certain teachers or mentors who have had a profound impact on our lives. The same can be said for particular books that have shaped our view of the world. With that in mind, BustedHalo asks the question:

“What books have helped you on your spiritual journey?”

Daniel Ellsberg was the source of “The Pentagon Papers,” the leak that exposed the deliberate deception that several presidents had engaged in regarding America’s involvement in Vietnam. Ellsberg’s actions made him a target of Nixon’s “plumbers” whose later arrest for breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel set President Nixon’s demise in motion.

The author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg has spent much of the past thirty-five years as a political activist and lecturer. Most recently he has been encouraging others with access to sensitive information to blow the whistle on the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iran.

“I do feel with the 30 years of lecturing I’ve been doing, that I was somewhat derelict in not talking more about the very books or sources on my thinking…I didn’t talk about them much because I felt that to talk about Gandhi or Buddhism for that matter sounded esoteric and foreign and pulp-like. And I think I was wrong. I should have talked more and done more educationally along those lines.”

Barbara Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Stride Toward Freedom
“What did change me really was coming in contact with Gandhi’s thought in the writings of Martin Luther King…and the writings of Gandhi himself. Books like Barbara Deming’s, Revolution and Equilibrium, had a very strong impact on me, as well as Martin Luther King’s, Stride Toward Freedom. There was a conversion to Gandhian thinking, nonviolence thinking, with its emphasis on truth-telling. Personal sacrifice as being something one should be ready to undertake rather than to take part in violent processes that were wrongful.”

Joan Valerie Bondurant,Conquest of Violence
I think that courage is contagious and coming into contact or exposing yourself to people who are taking those risks is very helpful and a first step toward doing it yourself.

Thoreau’s Essays on the Duty of Civil Disobediance
Thoreau’s Essays on the Duty of Civil Disobediance had a very big influence on me. Of course, Thoroau’s thinking was not necessarily religious and yet he was very in line with the thinking of the transcendentalists and I think was one of the earlier readers in America of the Hindu Literature. At any rate, I think that Thoroau’s thinking is very timely still.

Robert Ellsberg, All Saints
My son, Robert’s, book All Saints is very close to my heart. I give that away to a lot of people and of course a lot of the saints he includes in that are either secular like Cesar Chavez or even Schindler. And like Schindler, they are flawed people in many aspects of their lives, people he includes in that list. And a lot of them are Catholics but non-canonized. I think people should read that book for examples of moral courage and civil courage that I’ve been calling for and that I think we need a lot more of whether it’s inspired by a strictly religious theme or not.