Hundreds of “censored” books adorned the shelves of the Mt. Washington Monks’ Library. Who inspected and sterilized the texts? A Council of Senior Monastics carefully vetted and only allowed “approved” publications in the Monks’ Library.
Rationale? The Rules of Conduct of a Resident Disciple of the Monastic Self-Realization Order dictated “…absorb Self-Realization teachings.” Warning: “Comparative reading and study, particularly in the early training of the novice, tend to confuse the mind and divert the attention from the main goal.” This ultimate goal was self-realization. While the intermediate rule was obedience and loyalty to the spiritual master-guru, the elders and counselors.
“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”
― Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize for Literature
However, savvy monks had the gall to circumvent the Rules and accessed books on the underground black market. Underground texts were not necessarily subversive, but were not officially sanctioned (vetted and censored) by the Monks’ Council. However, most of the black market texts I read definitely were subversive.
Below is a partial listing of texts I read during my 14 year tenure within the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. First, I list the books I read that qualify as approved by the Council to be in the Monks’ Library. Next, I list black market books, mostly subversive, that I obtained underground and read in secret.
Partial list of books I read while a monk
Borrowed from Monks’ Library (approved/censored by Monastic Council)
Entire catalog of publications by Self-Realization Fellowship
Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Mahabharata (Hindu Epic) by Kamala Subramanium
Ramayana (Hindu Epic) by Kamala Subramanium
Life of Milarepa: Tibetan Yogi by Heruka (translation)
The Conquest of Fear by Basil King
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Dozens on Catholic Saints by various authors [see my post Her Stigmata Crashed Into My Karma]
Holy Bible: King James and other versions
Guru Nanak: Sikh Saint
Dozen books on Buddha by various authors
The Miracle of Fatima (Catholic), forgot the author
Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon–Survival of Bodily Death by Raymond Moody
Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children by Melvin Morse and Paul Perry
G. Washington Carver: Biography
Luther Burbank: Biography
Samurai Warrior: Miyamoto Musashi: Biography
[More to be listed as I recall or as fellow monks remind me]
Underground, unapproved texts (obtained in secret, monks’ “black market”)
When Helping You Is Hurting Me: Escaping the Messiah Trap by Carmen Renee Berry
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in our Everyday Lives by Margaret Thaler Singer
Dozen books on religious cults [I’ll try to recall the titles and enter here]. These books I secretly ordered through Amazon while visiting family and had them shipped discreetly–with much trepidation–to my address in the monastery. I shared these only with a few trusted monks.
Contemplation in a World of Action by Thomas Merton
Several books by Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. The Merton texts I read were about the challenges of living an authentic monastic life and the turmoil in the Orders from Vatican Council II. Surprisingly candid about the challenges of monastic life, Merton wrote of monastic superiors who exercised ruthless authority and peer power struggles. Common characteristics, apparently, of those who live in spiritual communities.
Civil War: A Narrative, 3 Volume Set by Shelby Foote
Finding the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell
The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara
[More to come when I recall or when a monastic buddy reminds me of others]
The “black market” books I read in secret during my mid-to-late monastic profession. While the sanitized, Monks’ Library books I read during my early-to-middle monastic career. Contrary to the Rules of the Order noted above, “black market” books did not confuse me. The underground, uncensored texts challenged and clarified my thinking (and kept me sane in the cloister). If I had consumed only the approved, whitewashed Monk’s Library books my intellect would have remained stunted and my emotions kept blunted. The breakthrough realizations occurred as I ventured outside the sanctified texts of the Monks’ Council and studied in the underground library.
Question for readers: Is it disingenuous or dangerous for clergy to read materials that may be considered subversive to official doctrine?