A Curriculum of Essence

A Curriculum of Essence is meant to facilitate and foster personal- or soul-development past all conceivable limits. These works by no means agree on every point (this is not an ideological list), but they are consonant in calling humans to their highest potentialities for excellence, holiness, creativity, life, love, knowledge, and so on. As exemplars of genius, they awaken our genius and call us to exemplarity. They challenge us to aspire for the best, the most beautiful and true. They are touchstones of essence.* I do hope you find it helpful, whoever you are and will become:


The Gospels
The Upanishads & Bhagavad Gita

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, The Mother, Synthesis of Yoga
Kabir, Songs of Kabir
Angelus Silesius, The Cherubinic Wanderer

Nārada Bhakti Sūtras (Swami Tyagisananda trans.)
Astavakra Samita (Swami Nityaswarupananda trans.)
Ramana Maharshi, Talks
Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That
Padmasambhava, Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness
Huang Po, The Transmission of Mind
Vivekananda, The Secret of Bhakti Yoga

Buber, I and Thou
Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy
Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, Practice in Christianity
Balthasar, Engagement with God
Weil, Gravity and Grace
Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
von Speyr, Man before God, The Victory of Love
Rahner, On Prayer
de Lubac, The Discovery of God

St. Isaac of Ninevah, Ascetical Homilies
Bahá’u’lláh, The Book of Certitude


Emerson, Essays
Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Will to Power
Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

Adorno, Minima Moralia
Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason
Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Off the Beaten Track
Levinas, Basic Philosophical Writings
Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster
Bataille, Inner Experience
Nancy, The Inoperative Community
Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” Aporias

Symington, A Pattern of Madness
Chrétien, The Unforgettable and the Unhoped-For
Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life
Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia, Clandestine Theology
Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good


1) On the omission of literary works: Literature is surely the most startling and vivid mode of expression whereby we witness the complexity of human emotion, interaction, reflection, imagination, etc. The lessons and insights to be drawn from literature (and from the arts in general) are abundant and rich. However, a list of great literature would have been even more subjective, diverse and interminable, so I opted to stick to directly “soul-ambitional” titles. Of course, these also exhibit an impressive degree of creativity in language in their own right and may even be characterized as each author’s idiosyncratic quest to articulate the inarticulable as they found it. Indeed one could even look at this Curriculum of Essence as being, at heart, preparation in becoming an artist.

2) One of my first posts on this blog [bombs birth a butterfly] listed some books that had catalyzed a major breakthrough in me at the time. I shared them with this comment, “my path is my path. your path is your path. believe that. never stop opening doors. if you run across these, check them out. if not, don’t. simple as that” (Jan 14, 2006). This was to testify to what had so inspired me, in the belief that the same might inspire others. Later posts and works (e.g., Credible Sources, Midnight Strike) also addressed what I think essential in “study”— e.g., the need to trust one’s gut and follow the course that most calls you to your next and higher self, to give oneself over body and soul to what one reads, to key in on what is primary for one’s total advancement as a creative person (as a created spirit), and so on. This post continues on these concerns with a more mature reading list of essentials. It was determined by my own seeking and discernment, of course, but I do think the years have lent my list greater scope and universality—and a grander horizon.

3) A curriculum of essence could never be objective, given the contingencies of culture, background, time-period, personal interests, favored styles, most helpful practices, and so on. By nature, the inquest of self leads to intimacy with the essence of oneself. But as Emerson told us, who delves into the most private will discover there the most necessary and universal, too; the most in need of publication. Others’ lists would surely be different from mine, at least in part, but that will be all to the good, if the quest was real.

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