Gaia worshipper | Lama of sorts | Pilgrim on a mythic journey |

 

Cynthia Jurs

This was no easy task! I contemplated the assignment for a long time, and there were countless other books that could have easily made it onto this list. Much of my spiritual learning, study and awakening has come from books. There is nothing like finding a good book and settling in for a deep dive into reading and study. And even more, there is nothing like finding a book that speaks to your deepest heart of hearts and quickens your process of spiritual understanding. The writings of these great teachers have kept me on the path for 40 years. The teachings in these books have inspired me and shown me the way. Together these books are a taste of the many fruits that fed me on the path. This selection of books speaks directly to all aspects of my own spiritual journey. I hope they will inform your own spiritual journey and serve to awaken the purpose of your life, as they have for me!

CYNTHIA JURS is a Dharmacharya in the Order of Interbeing of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who, in 1990, met a 106-year-old Lama, Kushok Mangdon, Charok Rinpoche, in his cave in a remote corner of Nepal. In answer to her question, “What can we do to bring healing and protection to the Earth?” she was given a practice of filling, sealing and burying Earth Treasure Vases around the world in places of need, bringing this ancient practice alive for these times.

In 2018, she was made a Lama in his Nepalese lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Cynthia holds these titles and dharma affiliations lightly. Her true source of refuge and spiritual inspiration is 

Mother Earth; Gaia. Inspired by thirty years of pilgrimage into diverse communities and ecosystems with the holy vessels, today Cynthia is forging a new path of dharma, connected to the Earth, in service to Gaia, deeply rooted in the feminine, honoring indigenous traditions, and teaching an embodied, engaged, sacred activism through her international Gaia Mandala Sangha and the nonprofit, Alliance for the Earth. For a decade she has also worked with former combatants to build peace through mindfulness in Liberia, West Africa. Her book, Summoned by the Earth, is forthcoming. Learn more at:
www.GaiaMandala.net and www.EarthTreasureVase.org

My 10 Best

(In no particular order)

The Way of the White Clouds, A Buddhist Pilgrim in Tibet by Lama Anagarika Govinda

 

One of the first books on Tibetan Buddhism I encountered in the 1970s as my spiritual journey was just beginning, The Way of the White Clouds was originally published in 1966, and describes Lama Govinda’s experiences traveling through Tibet with his partner, Li Gotami. The book utterly captivated me and exposed me to the culture and teachings from the rooftop of the world. I could not put it down. This book, like Autobiography of a Yogi, awakened so many memories and transported me into another world that called in the marrow of my bones. Lama Govinda describes with such beauty and reverence his pilgrimage of awakening in relation to his teachers and their teachings and the land itself that held such magic and mystery. Like all pilgrimages, the path was not always easy but his devotion carried him into a deep knowing of that sacred land at the end of an era that is now all but gone—to bring back this account for the benefit of all who came after. I feel grateful to have opened those pages. The path he traveled and his noble, heartfelt writing planted many seeds in me.

Women of Wisdom
by Tsultrim Allione

 

This book was one of those that literally fell off the shelf in a bookstore as I was preparing to do my first solo retreat in the 1980s. The bookstore owner told me it had just came out and that I should get it. I instantly knew I had something special in my hands—the stories of women Tibetan Buddhist practitioners—stories we do not know because, traditionally, it was considered unfavorable to be born as a woman and their spiritual experiences were generally ignored. Lama Tsultrim’s translations of these unheard stories ignited a flame in me that put me on the path once and for all. I made my way into my retreat cabin and began to read. I was not yet familiar with the visualizations of the deities in Tibetan Buddhism at that time, but in my meditations during the day and my dreams at night, I saw female deities arising from my heart into the space in front of me, larger than life, in exquisite detail, each one a different aspect of what I learned later was the Goddess Tara. Women of Wisdom certainly catalyzed an awakening in me that has carried me all these years.

Being Peace
by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

My other primary dharma path has been in relation to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, (also known as Thay which means ‘teacher’ in Vietnamese) who became my teacher in the 1980s. His book, Being Peace, was the first book published by Parallax Press. I was an early contributor to the press so that book could be published.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on understanding and love that are the foundation of “being peace” changed my life. His capacity to present the teachings of the Buddha in an accessible way (he always began his talks speaking to the children who were invited to the front of the assembled) opened many dharma doors for me and thousands of others. But it was his commitment to what he called “engaged buddhism” that got my attention. Coming out of the Vietnam War, Thay’s teachings were deeply impactful in their call to be the peace we seek in the world and engage our practice in service to others.

Love Letter to the Earth
by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

All of Thay’s books have spoken deeply to me but Love Letter to the Earth, is at the top of the list. One of his last books before the stroke that paralyzed half his body and prevented him from speaking or writing again, this book is a masterpiece. A gentle yet urgent call for us to form a relationship to Mother Earth, his love letters serve to remind us of the importance of loving and celebrating life on Earth. There are few Buddhist teachers who have recognized the Earth as the greatest teacher of our times, but Thich Nhat Hanh did. In his teachings on “interbeing” he shows us the Way our happiness is intricately tied to the happiness of this beautiful blue-green planet we call home, the source of all life. He speaks of how we are the Earth, of the healing that is needed in our world, and offers practices to connect us to ourselves, each other, and the web of life. He ends with an invitation to enter Heaven on Earth in a “cosmic religion” beyond dogmas or beliefs, based in the realization of interbeing that unites us all—just as the Earth embraces everyone and everything without discrimination. As the fabric of life on Earth is unraveling and eco-systems are collapsing, it is time to wake up together. Looking deeply at the teachings of Mother Earth, we hear the voice of our own true nature speaking to us. May we heed her call.

You Are the Eyes of the World by Longchenpa translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Peterson under the inspiration of Namkhai Norbu

 

The profound teachings of Dzogchen (the “Great Perfection”) found in the Nyingma lineage of Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) opened for me an experience of the nature of mind (which resides in the heart). Beyond conceptual thinking, the “View” of Dzogchen carries one far beyond ordinary reality and the identification with a sense of self, into an experience of vast unconditioned awareness itself. The great philosopher-mystic of the 14th century, Longchenpa, wrote many illuminating texts describing this view. His words carry a transmission that invites one into that experience directly. This book is a translation of “The Jewel Ship: A Guide to the Meaning of Pure and Total Presence, the Creative Energy of the Universe.”

My first teacher of Dzogchen, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, who oversaw this translation, stated that this is “the most important text dealing with the state of pure and total presence.” You are the Eyes of the World opened my eyes and brought me into the experience of being present. It was the first work of Longchenpa that I read and it altered my reality forever. The commentary on the text is also invaluable.

Fearless Simplicity—The Dzogchen Way of Living Freely in a Complex World
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

 

There are some books in my library that are underlined the whole way through. Fearless Simplicity is one of them. While I argue now about the method and purpose of Guru Yoga, regardless, these teachings about training in the awakened state of mind (heart) are so skillfully presented that the view, meditation, and action become crystal clear.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche, whose father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, was one of the last great masters of the previous generation, is an excellent teacher who bridges the traditional approach of his teachers with a fresh contemporary understanding of western culture suitable to transmit this priceless wisdom to us today. Resting in the natural state of awareness, the “cage of duality” breaks open and we are free. Blessings enter the stream of our being and compassion arises without effort. Living in a complex world, these precious teachings are to be treasured.

Buddhism Without Beliefs,
A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
by Stephen Batchelor

 

I gave this book to many secular friends and family who I wished might gain a better understanding about the Buddhist path. Stephen Batchelor went on to write several other books on the subject, re-examining some of the entrenched notions of Buddhist belief and bringing a more secular approach that does not depend on belief. His writing is controversial in some traditional circles but he is a highly honed scholar who went back to the original teachings of the Buddha to unpack what he actually said.

I have great respect for Batchelor who reminds us that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni was not a mystic and that his awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent truth that revealed the mysteries of God. Rather, the Buddha taught us to understand the nature of suffering and find freedom through a realistic practice applicable in our everyday lives. By experiencing the origin of our suffering, we can let go and find freedom; liberation. The Buddha’s awakening is available to everyone; it is not a religion to believe in, it is something to do. Buddhism Without Beliefs is a compassionate guide that opens a liberating way for us to practice today.

The Elder Brothers— A lost South American People and Their Message About the
Fate of the Earth by Alan Ereira

 

This book shattered me. It opened me to another dimension of awakening and introduced me to the spiritual teachings of the Kogi, who refer to themselves as the “Elder Brothers,” the guardians of life on Earth, whose purpose is to maintain balance and harmony in the “Heart of the World” where they live in the remote mountains of Colombia. They had chosen to live for many generations in their traditional ways, isolated and protected from “civilization” but the destruction of the web of life they were witnessing caused by us “younger brothers” (and sisters) brought them out of their traditional world to deliver a message of warning to the rest of us: the Earth is the mother of all life, and we are destroying her. The Mamos who are the spiritual leaders of this prophetic indigenous culture, have a highly developed visionary capacity to see and know the thread of Spirit that flows through everything but is invisible to the dominant culture of industrial society. Their commitment to maintain balance now depends on our awakening to this Spirit too—and to our living in such a way as to restore balance to the web of life. Reading this book and watching the film that accompanied it, “From the Heart of the World, the Elder Brothers Warning,” awakened me to dedicate my life in service to the healing and protection of life on Earth.

Entering the Ghost River, Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing by Deena Metzger

 

Another book that is significantly underlined, Entering the Ghost River is about healing community and follows many luminous threads to answer the question, ‘How do we create the story of a sustainable future for all beings?’

For those who don’t know the work of Deena Metzger, she is a deeply considered and prolific writer as well an extraordinary healer, carrying true medicine for our times. Deena’s 19 Ways for a Viable Future for All Beings, is a guide to how we can change our minds sufficiently to live differently and act in ways that will preserve the future and protect the Earth and all beings. The book suggests that through facing our collective suffering along with our kinship with all life, we are given a gift from Spirit. As we follow the threads of Deena’s powerful writing, she shows the way to understand a larger story and awaken. She weaves a web of interconnection that examines the underpinnings of western thought that have mapped our lives in a brilliant tale that highlights the importance of receiving guidance now from indigenous cultures, the Ancestors, animal spirits and the dreamtime, for the healing and restoration of ourselves and our world.

World As Lover, World As Self
by Joanna Macy

 

This book was first published in 1991. It was re-issued in 2007. And in 2021, the 30th Anniversary edition made its way into my hands. I have read each one, and Joanna Macy has become one of my most beloved mentors. The first edition of World As Lover, World As Self, had no subtitle. The second edition carried the subtitle, ‘Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal”. The subtitle for the third edition is, “Courage for Global Justice and Planetary Awakening”. The evolutionary journey of this book is a reflection of my own. There is no other teacher and author who has integrated the Buddhist teachings with the teachings of systems thinking and deep ecology along with six decades of activism, like Joanna has. Her “Work That Reconnects” provides a framework for personal transformation and social change in response to the call of the Earth in these times.

I first met Joanna in the 1980s when her work focused on “waking up in the nuclear age”. Living in proximity to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where the first atomic bombs were created and where the production of nuclear weapons continues to this day, she awakened me to the need for “Nuclear Guardianship” – to protect future generations from the radioactive waste that is generated by this industry and is forever altering the web of life. Burying it in the Earth does not get rid of it, but only passes these substances forward in time. This awareness, along with the Elder Brothers warning, catalyzed me to seek guidance from an old wise man in a cave and ask him what can we do to bring healing and protection to the Earth. Receiving the Earth Treasure Vases, carrying them around the planet and planting them as an offering, is where the path has taken me. Joanna’s book is told in the most heartfelt and eloquent of words, painting a picture with the greatest wisdom and compassion, of what is most important, that we may awaken together for the sake of life on Earth and all future generations.