The rest of Michael James’ site is also invaluable. It also allows you to download the Path of Sri Ramana Part I for free as well as his excellent 600 page text on everything Ramana. I must say I have not read it. I have glanced at it only.
Robert’s book Silence of the Heart is a great help, especially the chapters on Self-Inquiry, Surrender, Renunciation and the chapter entitled “Who Am I.”
However, the book is an edited version of his transcripts, and as such takes on the editor's slant. I did not edit the more recent versions of Silence of the Heart and I understand from students that the latest edition has changed significantly and is not as good as earlier editions.
Robert offers lots of sometimes contradictory ways to practice self-inquiry, but mostly very elementary ways for people who do not have a clue. They have to select the method that feels best for them.
Robert really wasn't into any of the traditional ways of self-inquiry. For his more advanced students, always said just to dwell in the deepest silence you are capable of. Of course, how to do this is the question. However, just reading Robert and listening to his talks constantly points to that source.
David Godman’s website http://davidgodman.org and blog are invaluable and have lots of free Ramana related downloads to confuse you or help you investigate your own fundamental kernel question. David is also quite open and giving.
Maharishi's Gospel is a wonderful little book of questions and answers from disciples and Ramana's answers. While it spends a good amount of time on practice, even moreover it is the clearest expression of Ramana's teachings I have found. It is great to clear up confusions and doubts, as well as give a sense of direction.
I recommend a book by Michael Langford entitled The Most Rapid and Direct Means to Eternal Bliss. Some of the chapters on abiding in consciousness are very well expressed and could be very productive--for you. He may or may not speak to you. His is a good description of Shikantaza, the meditation of Soto Zen monks. You can go to any Soto Zen center and learn it first hand from a master. Barring a master, the book is helpful. I also think his description of ego defense mechanisms is valuable and the methods for generating a desire to awaken may be valuable ― for you, and maybe not for someone else.
On the other hand, I think there are more powerful techniques available which I will write about in the practices section. This more powerful technique requires first getting hold of the sense of self, I AM, and then abiding there.
The most relevant chapters of Langford's book are:
Then we go to the Nisargadatta side of self-inquiry where we can find other valuable texts and posts. I would note that the one I most highly recommend explores self-inquiry in many ways better than Ramana because the parables Nisargadatta used better fit the Western mind and give it a rest so that practice can actually take place.
Both Ramana and Nisargadatta speak in "parables." There is no other way, because what you are goes far beyond the mind and cannot be captured by the mind, let alone by words which are derivative of mind. The parables are pointers only, not truth. Truth is found only in self-inquiry, or abiding in the self, which eventually leads to the utter silence of the absolute ― the substratum of all.
The parables and analogies of Ramana are abstract and have poor logic to justify them. When he does not use analogies, the texts expounding his teachings become very Indian.
Nisargadatta on the other hand, has parables better liked by the Western mind. They fit right in with the concepts of modern self-psychology as expressed by Guntrip, Klein and Kohut, and which are now common knowledge to almost any college student.
Though I said read only one guru at a time, there is one text in particular about Nisargadatta's teaching that I think will help you understand the way even if Ramana or Robert is your first teacher. This is because this book is mostly about practice, and a little about the justification for practice, which also can be applied to any sort of self-inquiry.
I highly, highly recommend that you download the The Nisargadatta Gita, print it out and insert in a three hole binder. Read every one of them very slowly, tasting each word and sentence.
I was surprised when people told me they read Robert's book in a day. I found it difficult to get through just one of Robert's talks in two or three days. It took me six months to get through Maharaj's Prior to Consciousness--each time I read it!
If these books are available in hard copy book form, buy them. The real book has its own character and form, and is much easier to handle and carry with you to read at any time. The binder format is easily damaged and loses the character of separate books.
Never read more than one book at a time. Never.
Start with Robert's book, transcripts or tapes. When done, try the Path of Ramana Maharshi Part I. You might even find that book more helpful if you are willing to dive into self-inquiry right away.
I also highly recommend that you not look at more than one resource at a time. Ponder each paragraph and sentence.
Be aware that reading books by others can make you dependent on getting knowledge from others and lose confidence in your own ability to discover.
I also highly recommend listening to Indian sacred music. This was my main practice until the time of my first awakening. I just laid on my back, listening to the music and settling ever deeper into self. There was no formal self-inquiry. I had done that for many, many years before I met Robert.
Below is an expanded list of recommended books. Generally I've told people to avoid books about Ramana's way except for Robert's, the reason being the context tends to be very culturally and philosophically Indian and thus hard for Westerners to understand, and confusing even to Indians. However, I do recommend these:
There are an enormous number of books on enlightenment from a Buddhist or Advaita perspective, as both have been around for thousands of years.
Advaita, though technically originating during the Eleventh Century AD, had Vedic roots in the time of the Buddha. To be precise, Advaita arose as a Vedic response to the Mahayana Buddhist concepts of various sorts of emptiness. Therefore, there are great similarities between some Advaita Texts and some Mahayana Buddhist texts.
I am not that widely read in Advaita or the Vedas. I had given up reading more or less after I met Robert. Since I met Robert in 1988, I have probably read no more than a dozen books other than those required for my job performing psychological evaluations. Of those I have read, the best are by Nisargadatta. His pronouncements are both bold and penetrating.
By far the best of any edited work of Nisargadatta is Prior to Consciousness by Jean Dunn, published by Acorn Press. She told me that Nisargadatta told her that the most recognized book out at the time, I AM THAT, by Maurice Frydman, was Kindergarten, and Prior to Consciousness was graduate school. There is no doubt. This is the best.
You could do no better than take most any chapter and meditate on the content for a few months. The first time I read the book, it took six months. Each chapter, in fact, each page, can cause constant small awakenings, much like a swarm of fore shocks before the big one. Even the third time I read it took six months. That is about a page and a half a day. It is that dense in understanding.
The best part of the book is its emphasis of going beyond consciousness putting the Noumenal in the forefront instead of consciousness as does Ramana. Do not be confused however, as Ramana and Nisargadatta both recommend the same practices: abiding in the I Am sense of existence.
The next best is Seeds of Consciousness, also by Jean Dunn. During his last year or so, Nisargadatta no longer wasted time with beginner topics and beginner techniques. Like Robert, he focused solely on the deepest teachings for his closest students, like Jean, Balsekar and others. Therefore, the books edited from his Satsangs during 1980 and 1981 were deeper than his teachings as recorded in I Am That. After mastering Prior to Consciousness, Seeds of Consciousness is like a checking or validating your understanding.
These three books should take you a year to read properly. Read no more than a half chapter a day, tops, then meditate on what you read.
By that, I mean read the paragraph, then do not move or think. Just let the words settle and watch the reaction on your consciousness.
It is not necessary to try to understand the words at all.
It is not you who is listening to the words anyway. It is consciousness, as expressed and manifested through you, who is being talked to by consciousness. Consciousness is talking to itself. Just sit back and let consciousness do the work. Your only work, so-to-speak, is to get the book (or read online), and read it in a dedicated fashion everyday, and watch what the words and meaning do to you—who you really are, not the personal you.
Robert Powell has also published several edited Nisargadatta books. The only one I recommend is The Ultimate Medicine, published by Blue Dove Press. This book took me four months to read. I recommend reading only one other by him, The Nectar of the Lord’s Feet, published by Element Books.
The most famous Nisargadatta book is I AM THAT by Maurice Frydman. I highly recommend this book even though it appears self contradictory as he speaks to students of very differing levels of understanding. Yet, it is excellent, second only to Jean Dunn’s superior volumes.
Of course, there is Ramesh Balsekar, who is the best-known and most prolific of Nisargadatta's students. It was his Pointers From Nisargadatta, which liberated me from Zen as well as my treading water with Muktananda. Reading it was a mind-smashing experience and I do recommend it, but with only one thumb up. I was astounded that six weeks after I finished the book and wanted to know more, that Ramesh came to town and I was able to attend a week long retreat with him. I repeated a second retreat a year later and I got to know him fairly well, especially as we corresponded somewhat after each retreat.
The problem with Ramesh’s books is that there is too much Ramesh and too little Nisargadatta. He has spun off in his own cosmic direction, which is far too cerebral for me as opposed to Maharaj’s earthy boldness. Ramesh’s prose is grossly overweight and stilted. There is a heavy emphasis on Ramesh’s interpretation of Maharaj and of Ramesh’s own understanding, which I find more conventional than Maharaj. However, he has written so many books, you might try some of his more recent ones to see if he has lightened up. When I met Balsekar, he told me that Nisargadaata said he would write four books. Apparently he was not listening because he is at about a dozen or more now.
Also, I found Ramesh often rude, not unlike Nisargadatta, and insulting. Robert, who briefly spent time with Maharaj, and may have known Ramesh from that time, joked that Ramesh was paying back the world for all of the psychological beatings Maharaj gave him.
When it comes to books about Ramana Maharshi, they are an acquired taste. They are so culturally Indian, it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
If forced to recommend a few other books about Ramana Maharshi, I would recommend Osborne’s The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi which has been heavily edited by Ganeshan at Raman Ashram. Osborne, who wrote the original, really did not penetrate Ramana's teachings deeply.
The Ashtavakra Gita, the Ribhu Gita, and the Avadhuta Gita were among Ramana's favorites and I believe the Ribhu Gita was read everyday in the Ashram while he was alive. Ramana recommended reading Chapter 26. The Ribhu Gita is available in edited versions, also available from AHAM, but the fullest and most accurate presentation is by Master Nome at the Society for the Abidance in Truth (SAT) in Santa Cruz, CA.
I also recommend you read The Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra are the keystones to Zen.