Why are we here? What’s the point of existence? As human beings, we are constantly searching for meaning, and throughout history scientists, theologians, philosophers, writers and poets, have explored such themes. Most people long for peaceful, happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Some turn to religion to satisfy their spiritual yearnings; others choose alternative paths on their quest for self-knowledge and enlightenment. And now there is an abundance of literature available for spiritual seekers, on such diverse concepts as consciousness, inner peace, the mind/body connection, the power of thought, the law of attraction, and the nature of reality.
For this list we’ve chosen 10 modern spiritual writers who have been particularly influential and successful in spreading their message and vision.
10. Neale Donald Walsch
Disillusioned with life, Neale Donald Walsch sat down one night and wrote an angry letter to God. He claims that God answered him, and he wrote down the answers. This was the birth of a series of books called Conversations with God, which resonated with millions of readers worldwide, earning Walsch the title (by some) of “modern-day spiritual messenger.” All of the Conversations With God books have made the New York Times Bestseller list; the first in the series, published in 1995, stayed on the list for over two and a half years. He has also published 16 other works.
9. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Dr. Wayne Dyer, an author and speaker in the field of self-development, has published over 30 books, and has appeared on thousands of television and radio shows. His fans call him the “father of motivation” and his main message is that it’s possible for everyone to live an extraordinary life and manifest their deepest desires. He is a frequently featured guest on public television membership drives. Dyer published his latest book, Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting, in February 2012.
8. Gary Zukav
Gary Zukav is a spiritual teacher and writer who has influenced millions through his work on the transformation in human consciousness. He is the author of four consecutive New York Times bestselling books, and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show 34 times. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, published in 1979, earned The American Book Award for Science. The Seat of the Soul, published in 1989, became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, remaining on the list for three years.
7. Shakti Gawain
Shakti Gawain is considered a pioneer in the field of “personal development” and has been a teacher of consciousness and a best-selling author for over 25 years. Her books have sold more than 10 million copies and have been translated into 30 languages worldwide. Her best-known book is Creative Visualization, where she explains how using the power of imagination and affirmations can produce positive changes in your life. Some of her other books include Living in the Light, Awakening: A Daily Guide to Conscious Living, and Developing Intuition.
6. Elaine Pagels
Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, is best known for her research and books on the early history of Christianity. While pursuing a Ph.D. in religion at Harvard University she was part of a team studying the Nag Hammadi texts, which was the basis for her 1979 best-selling book, The Gnostic Gospels. It won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. Modern Library named it one of the 100 best books of the 20th century. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, was published in 2003, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, was released in 2007, and Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, was published in 2012.
5. Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer. Four of her 10 published books have been No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. She was named one of the 50 most influential baby boomers in a 2006 Newsweek magazine poll, and according to Time magazine, “Yoga, the Cabala and Marianne Williamson have been taken up by those seeking a relationship with God that is not strictly tethered to Christianity.” She gained much attention discussing the principles of A Course in Miracles with Oprah Winfrey, which resulted in a yearlong radio show on Oprah Radio. Her first book, A Return to Love, published in 1992, is Williamson’s interpretation of A Course in Miracles.
4. Louise L. Hay
Louise L. Hay is known as one of the founders of the self-help movement, and her first book, Heal Your Body was published in 1976. Her main message is: “If we are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed.” According to Hay, developing positive thought patterns can reverse illness, and her philosophies were put to the test when she developed cancer and claimed to have cured herself using positive affirmations, visualizations and cleansing. In 1984 at the age of 57 she published You Can Heal Your Life, which explains how our beliefs and ideas about ourselves can cause emotional problems and physical ailments. The book has sold more than 40 million copies. In 2007 You Can Heal Your Life: The Movie, hosted by Louise L. Hay, was released. Hay’s influence in this field extends far beyond her efforts as a writer; her Hay House Publishing has published spiritual books by dozens of authors, including Deepak Chopra.
3. Dr. Deepak Chopra
An Indian-born American physician, author and charismatic public speaker, Dr. Deepak Chopra specializes in spirituality, Ayurveda, mind-body medicine and holistic healing. In his talks and many of his books he combines the best of ancient wisdom and modern science. With more than 65 books published, 19 of them bestsellers, and 20 million copies sold worldwide, he makes No. 3 on our list. His books are a combination of science and metaphysics, and Chopra calls his philosophy multidisciplinary. In his thought-provoking book, The Third Jesus, Chopra explores three different versions of Jesus, and presents the “third Jesus” as an enlightened teacher of God-consciousness and personal transformation. Some of his other books include: Quantum Healing, Life After Death, How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, and Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life’s Greatest Challenges.
2. Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart Tolle was once a reclusive, anxious and depressed individual before he experienced an inner transformation at age 29. Now he is an international sensation — a best-selling author who speaks to sold-out audiences. According to a New York Times writer, he is the most popular spiritual author in the country. German-born Tolle is soft spoken and unassuming, endearing qualities for someone so famous and successful. He claims that the key to enlightenment and freedom is to live completely in the present moment, a message that he popularized with his first book, The Power of Now. Although the concept of “being in the now” isn’t new, Tolle succeeded in simplifying the message, condensing centuries of spiritual teachings and philosophies into an easy and enjoyable read. He draws from a myriad of spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Zen, Buddhism, Sufism and Hinduism. The Power of Now was published in 1997, and became a New York Times bestseller in 2000 after Oprah Winfrey recommended it in her magazine O. It has since been translated into 33 languages, including Arabic. His follow-up book A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, first published in 2005, has also been a huge success. He tells us that the secret of life is, “to die before you die and find that there is no death.”
1. His Holiness The Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet, but relinquished his role as political leader in 2011. Recognized as one of the world’s leading religious figures, his influence is far-reaching, and the Nobel Peace laureate has touched millions of lives through his teachings, worldwide public talks, and numerous bestselling books. Time magazine commented that he “draws crowds no other spiritual leader or politician could hope to match,” and also called him “the most influential person in the world.” His Holiness has authored and co-authored more than 70 books, most of them bestsellers. In The Art of Happiness, he suggests that regardless of religious leanings, “the very purpose of our life is happiness.” His latest book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World was published in January 2012.