Thanks a lot sungazing
“Because something deep down in the subconscious knows that the ego is destructible . . . a longing arises for that which is indestructible. . . . This is the beginning of the Quest, and may take a religious, a mystical, or a philosophical form, according to one’s maturity.” —Paul Brunton in The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, volume 2.
Paul Brunton, who traveled extensively in the Orient to learn directly from many spiritual teachers, is best known for his books A Search in Secret India and The Quest of the Overself. One of the twentieth century’s most influential writers on meditation, yoga, and mystical philosophy, Paul Brunton maintained a literary silence from 1952 until his death in 1981, compiling over 10,000 manuscript pages of notebooks for posthumous publication. These notebooks abound in intimate, straightforward, and immediately useful responses to such practical questions as: What precisely is self-transformation? Why should one want it? How could one go about achieving it? Is it something that one does to oneself, or something that one asks or prays to have done to one? The following is a brief overview of Brunton’s later teachings on some of the issues involved in these questions, as recorded in the notebooks. (All references are to the latter.)
WHAT IS SELF TRANSFORMATION?
In Paul Brunton’s words,
“It is an endeavor to lift to a higher plane, and expand to a larger measure, the whole of one’s identity. It brings in the most important part of oneself—being, essence, Consciousness.”
Most simply put, self-transformation is the conscious and deliberate process of discovering and bringing into one’s everyday life the genuine intelligence, purpose, and integrity of one’s unique higher individuality. In Paul Brunton’s writings this higher individuality, referred to in the quotation above as “being, essence, Consciousness” is generally called the Overself. It has a dual (but not dualistic) nature: on one hand related to, and on the other hand utterly distinct from, the personal ego
“Because of the paradoxically dual nature which the Overself possesses, it is very difficult to make clear the concept of the Overself. Human beings are rooted in the ultimate mind through the Overself, which therefore partakes on the one hand of a relationship with a vibratory world and on the other of an existence which is above all relations. A difficulty is probably due to the vagueness or confusion about which standpoint it is to be regarded from. If it is thought of as the human soul, then the vibratory movement is connected with it. If it is thought of as transcending the very notion of humanity, and therefore in its undifferentiated character, the vibratory movement must disappear.”
Much confusion exists about the status of the personal ego in the process of self-transformation. According to Paul Brunton, one reason that so few succeed at achieving genuine transformation is that most people anticipate, and consequently work misguidedly toward, a liberation of the personal ego, when what is in fact called for is exaltation beyond or liberation from the personal ego. Another reason for failure is that the person seeking enlightenment fails to appreciate the nature of the transformative process and its spiritual context.
The ego is, in fact, the (lower) self that is referred to in the very term self-transformation. Its transformation is indispensable if the higher individuality is to become effectively operational in daily life. But it is important to recognize that transformation can only occur when the ego has been brought to a rounded mature development, that is, when full human maturity has been achieved. Premature or unbalanced attempts to initiate the radical changes it calls for lead more often to psychosis than to enlightenment.
An anecdote involving two venerable Chinese philosophers speaks directly to a critical point in light of which all discussion of this process must be viewed. “If I could but develop my intelligence to its fullest potential,” the first is credited to have said, “my mind would be identical to heaven.” “That is true,” the second and elder replied, “provided that you first awaken the Original Mind.”
Though there are many steps leading to this awakening, and though those steps may lead through any one or any number of a variety of circumstances (great suffering, great joy, failure in achieving some urgent desire, perfect satisfaction of desire, a disgust with the world, desire to understand the truth of the world, etc.), this moment of awakening establishes the authentically spiritual context of the process that follow.
“With this event, a new era opens in his personal life. He feels that, for the first time in his life, he has touched real being when hitherto he has known only its shadow.”
Genuine self-transformation, in its immediate and practical (as contrasted with theoretical) sense, begins with a startling awakening to the inner reality of one’s true being—an inviolable identity and continuous presence beyond and yet intimately pervading the normal life, mind, and body. This moment of (higher) self-recognition precedes and prophesies the eventual state of self-realization. For the first time, the person is conscious of exactly what it is that he or she is to strive to make permanent. In this context, self-transformation becomes the ongoing adventure of fulfilling an ever-growing aspiration to establish conscious daily union and communion with that deeper Reality which is beyond and yet pervades the universe. It completes itself through the subsequent transmutation of one’s ordinary self in the face of that ongoing awakening. Throughout, it is the giant step beyond theoretical conviction, the step to firsthand knowing.
The mystical stages of this process involve a gradual displacement of the individual’s mind’s exclusive fascination with its own thoughts as “the whole of one’s identity” shifts to a higher plane. When this displacement is complete, or in parallel with its development, the philosophic stage begins. This stage involves reembracing of the thinking processes in a radically different way by a vastly deepened continuous self-awareness. The mind rediscovers its own nature as thinker and substantial source of all that takes place within it, and the life it lives becomes an expression of an infinitely vaster vision.
The individuality, which previously pursued value and reality only in things outside what it took to be itself, finds what it sought; but it does so now by converging upon its own depths. The narcissistic trance is broken: one no longer, like Narcissus, gazes with such fascination upon the images of the world in the mind as to lose the awareness and inner freedom of the unconditioned cognitive core of one’s being.
This reversal, inversion, or transmutation—call it what you will—of the lower mind’s tendency either to clutch at or flee from the world as though it were something outside of and totally independent of one’s own being is an essential characteristic of the transformation. It is not to be confused with psychological self-preoccupation or glorified egocentricity. It is more like a turning inside-out of the mind, followed by a discovery that the “inside” is and always has been the more real side . . . that the apparent duality of “inside” and “outside” was at best a highly questionable way of conceptually representing the true mental situation. The implications for daily living are immense.
“All that really matters is how one lives one’s life. But the relative-plane activities do not constitute all there is to living. Consciousness rises from the plane behind the mind, and this region; like the outer world, needs to be explored with competent guides—its possibilities and benefits fully revealed by each individual for himself. Living will begin to achieve its own purpose when one’s outer life becomes motivated, guided, and balanced by the fruits of one’s inner findings.”
Intimate exploration of this continuous presence ripens into the unshakable certitude that one’s own deepest inner being is truly a knowing divinity, a perfectly reliable source of inner guidance toward the proper conduct of life. Thus, the fruit of self-transformation is that the daily ego becomes a creature capable of consistently receiving and applying the intuitive guidance that comes to it from this reliable inner source.
Paul Brunton refers to this series of stages as a “quest,” and to the person engaged in it as a “quester.” He offers many “definitions” or explications of what it is and what it involves.
“Here is goal for men and women which can bring them the fulfillment of their best purposes, the happiness of being set free from their inward bondages, and the calmness of knowing their own soul.”
“It is a quest to make a life of better quality, both inside and outside the self, in the thoughts moving in the brain, in the body holding that brain, and in the environment where that body moves.”
“It is a quest to become conscious of Consciousness, to explore the “I” and penetrate the mystery of its knowing power.”
“[It is] an attempt to establish a perfect and conscious relation between the human mind and that divinity which is its source.”
“Many aspirants wrongly believe the quest to be a movement from one psychic experience to another and from one mystical ecstasy to another. But in fact it is a movement in character from animality to purity, from egoism to impersonality.
“The quest teaches a man the art of dying to the animalistic and egoistic elements in himself. But it does not stop with these negative results. It trains him also in the art of re-creating himself by the light of the ideal.”
WHY SEEK TRANSFORMATION?
There are many levels of commitment to the quest, each level with rewards commensurate to the effort involved. In one sense, this process is a continual one that cannot be evaded by anyone, since life itself is an ongoing transformation requiring us to draw upon inner resources of which we previously were unaware.
“Shall we say that all humans are traveling on this quest . . . but most humans do so unconsciously and unwillingly? For then the person technically called a “quester” simply differs from others persons by his awareness of the journey, the demands it makes upon him, and his willingness to cooperate in satisfying those demands.”
This element of conscious, deliberate participation is what distinguishes self-transformation from simple transformation, which does not require conscious cooperation.
“Life compels no one to enter upon this conscious Quest, although it is leading everyone upon the unconscious Quest. Even among the students of this teaching, many are merely seeking for an intellectual understanding; their interest has been attracted and their curiosity aroused, but they have not felt called upon to go any farther.”
The fact seems to be that for most of us the idea of willingly restraining, and often opposing, the unregenerate ego’s habitual attachments seems questionable at the very least—if not outright perverted! But Paul Brunton addresses his notes to that smaller group:
“Such a goal may seem unappealing to many, held to their attachments as they are; but it is fascinating to a few, “old souls,” much experienced after a long series of earthly lives, whose values have been altered, whose glamours and illusions have been eliminated. They feel like wanderers returning home.”
This background of experience lets them appreciate an ideal that is not set at becoming a sinless saint but at becoming an enlightened and fully balanced human being. Something deep inside resonates to such statements as:
“The first reward is truth realized in every part of his being, the lower self becoming the instrument of the Soul. The second is peace, intensely satisfying and joyous . . .”
“He whose resort is solely the personal ego is constantly subject to its limitations and narrowness and, consequently, is afflicted with strains and anxieties. He who lets go and opens himself up, whose resort is to his Higher Self, finds it infinite and boundless and, consequently, is filled with inward peace.”
“It is only in the rational, balanced growth of the mind and the sympathetic heart, the disciplined body and the tranquilized nerves, the philosophic reflectiveness, mystic peace, and ultramystic insight, that one arrives at maturity and thus becomes really sane.”
“When this truth is at last seen, that heaven is not a place in space but a condition of being, and that therefore it can to a certain extent be realized even before death, a feeling of joy and a sense of adventure are felt. The joy arises because we are no longer restricted by time, and the adventuresomeness arises because a vista of the quest’s possibilities opens up.”
“If he lets this purpose penetrate his entire life, he will soon joyously feel that he is part of the eternal structure of the universe, that he fits into the idea of it at some point, and that with such a high relationship all things must work together for his ultimate good.”
WHO DOES IT?
Granting the maturity and willingness to see such a goal as desirable, what is one to do? Is the undertaking one that can—or must—be accomplished in, by, and for oneself? Or is it something to be brought about by the sheer grace of powers beyond oneself and on which one must fully depend for any real success?
One of the great values of Paul Brunton’s late writings is the extent to which he clarifies the personal responsibility—and also the limitations of that responsibility—for bringing about self-transformation. This responsibility is rooted in two elements: first, the absolute uniqueness of the higher individuality of each quester, and second, the equally unique personal history that has gone into the present state of the particular ego that is to be transformed. Neither is exactly duplicated in any one individual. Thus, a first principle of these writings on how wisdom-knowledge (i.e., Philosophy) is actually consummated in the individual is that
“Philosophy is faced with the problem of educating each individual seeker who aspires to understand. . . . There is no such thing as mass education in philosophy.”
We are not to think that here is a standard doctrine or a “cookie cutter” set of practices requiring only to be mechanically transmitted through patient individual instruction. Thus,
“. . . in every individual there is an original, mysterious, and incalculable element, because his past history and prenatal ancestry in other lives on earth have inevitably been different in certain points. . . . There is no one unalterable approach to this experience for all men. Each has to find his own way, to travel forward by the guidance of his own present understanding and past experience—and each in the end really does so despite all appearances to the contrary. For each man passes through a different set of life experiences …[and] it is partly through the lessons, reflections, intuitions, traits, characteristics, and capacities engendered by such experiences that he is able to work out his own salvation but also to work it out in his own unique way. Every description of a mystical path must consequently be understood in a general sense . . . In the end, after profiting by all the help which he may gain from advanced guides and fellow-pilgrims, after all his attempts to imitate or follow them, he is forced to find or make a way which will be particularly his own. In the end he must work out his own unique means to salvation and depend on himself for further enlightenment and strength. Taught by his own intuition, he must find his own unique path toward enlightenment.”
This point is central to assimilating the perspective Paul Brunton offers on the self-transformative process. But it is one that is often misunderstood for two primary reasons. The first reason is that too little is understood about the role of a competent teacher at certain stages. The second is that self-reliance and independent thinking are often equated with continued reliance on the ego’s limited resources. Both misunderstandings lead to problems of the first magnitude.
The issue at hand here calls fundamentally for a clarification of the interrelationship of effort and grace. On the one hand, nothing that the ego can do will directly bring about its own displacement. In truth, no matter how “spiritual” a guise the ego assumes.
“Although the ego claims to be engaged in war against itself, we may be certain that it has no intention of allowing a real victory to be achieved but only a pseudo-victory. The simple conscious mind is no match for such cunning. This is the reason why out of so many spiritual seekers, so few attain union . . .”
This displacement of the ego is essential to triggering the final stages of transformation. The higher consciousness involves continuous self-awareness of one’s place—and the place of each moment in which one finds oneself—in the integral harmony of one infinite life; it appreciates in full sympathy the roles of all other individualities likewise rooted in the divine plan. Love is its fundamental law, and the goodness pervades even its frequently necessary sternness. The ego-consciousness in contrast, depends on the continuing illusion that limits the individual’s life as if it were separate from the one infinite life. It is fundamentally characterized by that persistent sense of separateness. All its actions, deriving from that sense of separateness, are essentially lower-self-centered and lack the fundamental sympathy and sincere goodwill that characterize actions expressing the higher consciousness. Critical situations are always seen by this separative ego in terms of “me and them” or “us and them” rather than in terms of “we are all here to learn: how can all of us involved in this best benefit spiritually?”
No matter how cultured, refined, sophisticated, or clever the ego becomes, its own vested interests will always have priority: the tiny spark of consciousness imprisoned within its illusory sense of separateness will be unable to perfume the air of its human relations with the equitableness and unqualified generosity of higher individuality. For the ego-consciousness is a function of association and memory: it can only mimic the living, creative intelligence of the genuine soul. Only as this impostor is displaced and subjected to radical transformation does the individual firmly actualize its legacy as child and expression of divinity.
The difference between these two states of mind or being is the difference between spiritual and non-spiritual living. Nothing done in the absence of this higher consciousness can in the strict sense, be called spiritual activity; nothing done in its presence—not even the most menial labor—fails to express something of one’s divine nature. In the transition in full wakefulness while still alive from the one state to the other is the crux of self-transformation. It includes not only an elevation of ordinary waking life, but also involves progressively purifying the character of dream life and bringing unbroken awareness to the sleep states.
“Once he has attained the philosophic realization of the Overself, he goes nightly to sleep in it, if the sleep is dreamless and deep, or inserts itself into his dreams if it is not. Either way he does not withdraw from it.”
Some schools say that grace alone can produce this radical change and that nothing the ego can do will influence things one way or the other; others say that since grace, even if it does exist, cannot be counted on, we should put all our stock in self-effort. Paul Brunton considered both these points of view to have a part of the truth. He once used the analogy of rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. “You have to make the effort, a strong and continuous effort, in the beginning, to get started. But once the fire is going, you stop rubbing and let the fire do the job. Just like that, the lower self has to make effort to get the higher force to come into play, but once the higher force is working, you have to be open to its guidance and passive to its activity in you and let it put you through what needs to be done.”
“It seems as if grace visits us at moments of its own choosing. This is the truth, but not the only truth. For study, practice of exercise, training, self-discipline, prayer, aspiration, and meditation also form a total effort which must attract grace as its reward eventually.”
“Two things are required of a man before Grace will manifest itself in him. One is the capacity to receive it. The other is cooperation with it. For the first, he must humble the ego; for the second, he must purify it.”
The grace can come directly, but in so many cases it needs an intermediary.
“If the existence of grace is granted, the question of the means of its transmission arises. Since it is a radiation issuing from the Oversoul, it can be directly bestowed. But if there are internal blockages, as in most cases there are, then it cannot be directly received. Some thing or person outside him will have then to be used as a means of direct transmission.”
In a private conversation shortly before his death in 1981, Paul Brunton stated that he would like to reverse what had been his previous public position with regard to the need of a teacher. His position in the earlier books had generally been that a teacher is not needed: the individual’s own self can communicate whatever guidance or instruction is needed. He said in this conversation that, while this point of view is true in theory and in highest fact, the previous thirty years of observation on his part had shown that the vast majority of people who try to put it into practice simply make little meaningful progress. The reason he offered is that the ego is so tricky, so deceptive, that the ordinary individual definitely does need contact with some sort of qualified spiritual friend in order not to be continually fooled by it.
Paul Brunton was concerned that students should be be acutely aware of a “double bind.” On the one hand, the ego is so very clever at avoiding its own transformation that a qualified teacher is generally indispensable. On the other hand, the number of qualified teachers is so small that a chance of meeting one is quite rare.(1)
For most seekers, much if not all of their practice will have to be carried out without the benefit of a qualified guide. For them the most important issue in striving toward this radical change in perspective is that of not confusing self-reliance and independent thinking with enhanced ego-centricity.
“Such is the strange paradox of the quest that on the one hand he must foster determined self-reliance but on the other yield to a feeling of utter reliance on the higher powers.”
In Paul Brunton’s view, there are a number of major departments to the complete work of self-transformation. Though the amount of work needed at a given time in a given area varies with the individual involved, each person must complete his or her development in each area. The required completeness and balance which are to be established cannot be fulfilled while some faculties are well-developed and others are in an underdeveloped state. The underdeveloped areas will continually thwart the radical transformation and distort the operations of the finer faculties.
All areas may be worked on either simultaneously or in sequence or alternation appropriate to the individual involved. When intellect, feeling, and will are all brought to the balance needed for that specific individual, the process will complete itself.
The body must be sufficiently purified to channel the subtler energies of the higher individuality: this usually involves some physical exercises, general attention to hygiene and cleansings, and dietary adjustments. The moral nature must be uplifted: this usually requires an intense self-examination of one’s motives, leading to a disciplining of self-centered emotions and a purifying of one’s passions. The mystical elements of one’s nature are to be developed through cultivating the finer feelings usually through regulated practice of meditative/contemplative exercises addressing spiritual themes, inspired art or music, and the beauties of nature. The intellect is to be sufficiently educated and clarified that it no longer distorts the voice of intuition: this is accomplished through careful and impartial metaphysical study of inspired works, coupled whenever possible with an impartial study of modern science.
One of Brunton’s most frequently repeated themes is that the thinker within us and the mystic within us need each other desperately: both the ability to think deeply with great precision and the ability to withdraw at will from thinking must be cultivated. And, most importantly to the philosophic approach, all must be turned in the direction of altruistic service to humanity at large.
“In observation a scientist, at heart a religious devotee, in thought a metaphysician, in secret a mystic, and in public an efficient, honorable useful citizen—this is the kind of man philosophy produces.”
Each of these areas requires, at the very least, a paper in itself. Each also will have to be tailored by the individual or by a competent guide to the needs of that specific individual’s stage of development. Paul Brunton’s notebooks, which are now coming into print on a regular basis, and his earlier writings provide a virtually inexhaustible resource from which the reader can draw useful and reliable information on such details, and apply what seems appropriate to his or her own situations.
Note 1: Two sections of the Notebooks are most helpful in clarifying this dilemma. One is the student-teacher relationship in volume 2. This section explains when and why teachers are needed, and, perhaps most importantly, how to distinguish if a teacher is qualified for what he or she proposes to do. It also makes clear what the limitations are of even the rare qualified teacher, and what the student must be prepared to do for himself or herself. In the absence of such a teacher—and even with one—the notes from section 8 on the ego (some of them currently available in volume 1, Perspectives) are most useful for seeing something of the problematic nature of the unregenerate ego.
There have been many who have influenced me in my lifelong search for the truth, but none more so than Paul Brunton. So many times his thoughts have echoed mine, so many times I have inwardly cried out “yes, yes!” when his words have struck home. I never met him, but felt close to him, having visited the same places, met the same kind of people he met, and experienced similar happenings, but his search was the more successful because he had the courage and determination to venture into the unknown, tear down curtains of superstition, topple idols and scatter sacred cows.
That may make him appear a giant among men. On the contrary, PB as he like to be called, was small and dapper, spoke softly and slowly, was gentle in this approach and lived quietly and abstemiously. Yet in his spiritual journeying this little man visited the far corners of the world, living with princes, mystics and holy men, staying in palaces and mud huts, and emerging something of a guru himself, with a message of incredible importance and hope for those who cared to read it.
In this short appreciation I hope to summarize some of his findings and explain his philosophy. Strangely, he wasn’t aware of having any mission in life other than the hope of making people aware of the value of their own souls. He had no desire to inflict his beliefs on others. He was no missionary, and didn’t seek to convert or compel.
His main resolve was to be independent of allegiances and authorities, and to rely on his own observations and findings so that he could set down the simple truths of things which had become hidden or distorted over the years. Others would pick them up or discard them as they thought fit. All he hoped was that people would find within themselves what he had found.
He wrote several philosophical books, some of which have become best-sellers, but much of his writings, in the form of notebooks, remained unpublished until the creation of the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation in New York. He died in 1981 and a bright light went out, but his vital question: “What’s the meaning of it all?” and his answers to it should provide spiritual food for many years to come.
Questions were his stock and trade, from his early years as a journalist in London,a nd like me, that little word “why?” was constantly on his lips. Why is it that we can conquer disease, design complicated computers, and send men into space when we can’t even explain why we are here on earth?
As PB put it” We have gathered highly detailed information about almost everything under the sun. We know the work, qualities and properties of all the objects and phenomena of the earth. But we do not know ourselves. The very persons who have been studying all the sciences have yet to study the science of self.”
Throughout history the great seers and philosophers have struggled to find the key to our existence on earth. Like the old station master in the English comedy play “Ghost Train” the agonized question is “Where do ee cum from and where do ee go?” Are we mere lumps of matter destined to disintegrate into nothingness, or are we God-made creatures with everlasting souls?
Brunton called them great riddles of life which have puzzled the sages of many generations, and will puzzle many more. He saw man as a doubting and despairing figure stalking across the cold wastes of this world laughing cynically at the name of God. Within man there were dark radiant places where the soul could take wing. The angel and the beast were both inner tenants.
What are we to believe? Are the words of the ancient sages the babblings of irresponsible lunatics, or are they messages of tremendous importance to us all? Paul Brunton resolved to bring the record up to date by tracking down the seers of today– swamis, gurus, holy men and yogis–to discover the truth for himself.
As I have found, truth is often hard to uncover. Sometimes a “holy man” worshipped by thousands turns out to be a complete fraud. Sometimes miracle men prove to be little more than conjurers. PB’s investigations and travels lasted several years and in the end he came to the inescapable conclusion that Divinity is everywhere. God could be found and God was good. The catch, however, was that to find Him you first had to find yourself.
He also found that calamity has beset us. We may make wonderful machines, ships of vast size, and reach for the stars, but the tragedy is that we have forgotten who we are. We can trace out kin to the ape, with a wealth of detail and proof for this miserable pedigree, but we cannot remember our kindred to the angel.” We forget our own spiritual nature.
He believed that at the back of our personal selves lies another self, described by an ancient seer as: “Unseen but seeing, unheard but hearing, unperceived but perceiving, unknown but knowing…This is thy Self, the ruler within, the immortal.” We show the world a superficial mask. Our true self lives in the depths of our heart. I suspect that we house several selves, including the good, the bad and the ugly. One has only to consider how devoted German fathers with deep love of family, music and the arts, supported Hitler in his massacre of innocents. But even within the beast there lies hidden a spiritual being.
You may dismiss this as being farfetched or imaginative, but PB insisted that “wrapped in the folds of our nature hides a rare jewel, though we know it not. None has yet dared to set a price upon it, nor will any dare to do so, for its value is beyond all known worth.”
So, where is the proof?
Brunton was at first positive you wouldn’t find it in books. This, despite his literary outpourings. Truth is a state of being, not a set of words, he asserted, and begged people to start experimenting for themselves. The word God, he said, was meaningless unless you could contact Him within. The answers to all things lay within the limitless interior of your own being. You had to push to one side your doubts, inhibitions, prejudices and religious scruples and take the plunge.
Easier said than done in this day and age. Most of us are lost in a sea of confusion and contradiction, with powerful forces pulling us this way and that. There are the distractions of radio, television and instant news. It’s fast food, fast action world with little time for purposeful thinking or spiritual experimentations.
Well, that’s what many people might suppose. Brunton was made of much sterner and determined stuff. To him the question of where we come from and where we go to was more important than anything else on earth. He resolved to solve it, and as I’ve said, took many years in his investigations, some of which might appear to lesser mortals as wild goose chases.
As he finally found, it is the venture within that really matters, and the truth sometimes comes in unexpected places and blinding flashes.
It is making the search that sets things in motion. It triggers off an inner mechanism which eventually rings the bell. Gurus and spiritual leaders can provide directions and clues. The opening has to come from within.
You can be lucky, or favored, as I prefer to regard it. My first moments of knowing came high in the Himalayas during a wartime journey to Tibet, and were later confirmed much later in my life when I joined the spiritual brotherhood called Subud. I suspect that PB was also a member of Subud, but I have seen no confirmation of this. (ed.- Not to my knowledge)
At the start I said I thought Paul Brunton’s search had been more successful than mine. We both made the same discoveries but he allowed his to change his life. I didn’t and continued existence as a journalist, broadcaster and teacher. In a book written by his son –“Paul Brunton: A Personal View”–the author says this: “An aura of kindliness emanated from him. His scholarly learning was forged in the crucible of life. His spirituality shone forth like a beacon. But he discouraged attempts to form a cult around him. ‘You must find your own PB within yourselves’, he used to say.”
There were those who claimed that after meeting him their lives were changed for ever. It was said that when he stepped into a room he filled it with serenity, providing living proof that enlightenment was a real thing. It is claimed that he was the first to bring yoga and meditation to the West- – well before the arrival of Transcendental Meditation and its emissaries – and that his modern age wisdom was a precious gift that mankind should not spurn lightly.
Of his eleven book, “The Secret Path” is probably the shortest and more widely read. In it he declared that to gain access to one’s own soul is not such a rare feat as it may seem, and it all hinges on stilling the tumult of the mind and practicing mental quiet. This is achieved by daily meditation and occasional retreats. He was aware of the difficulties many might face when considering the demands of daily life. Switching off in the midst of tumult may seem an impossibility, but it can be dine. PB warned, however: “Thought control is hard to attain. Its difficulty will astonish you. The brain will rise in mutiny. Like the sea, the human mind is ceaselessly active. But it can be done. There is much guidance on this in his other publications.
He summed up the findings of his entire quest in eight words – Be still and know that I am God – but added it was important not to forget intellectual study and right action.
Everything depended on your personal approach. How strongly did you wish for enlightenment? PB is quoted as saying to his son: “Most quester feel that self-illumination is far off, a goal to be reached in some future life. But you can achieve it in the same lifetime IF you desire it strongly enough. After all, you ARE going to attain it someday, why not make up your mind it will be sooner rather than later. Go all out for it! And then even if you don’t succeed in this life, the results of your hard work will show in the next life, so it will be worthwhile.”
But there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered.
If God is almighty why doesn’t he intervene to end wars and suffering? Why does no hand stretch out from the Great Unknown to save us? PB said God, if he willed, could heal all the sorrows of this planet in an instant, but if man is to grow God- like he must do so of his own free will. Otherwise we’d all be little more than automatons.
That is an obvious stock answer and I am not altogether happy with it because I personally have proved divine intervention and guidance to be a fact.
What about death? That’s a question few are prepared to discuss, and which ties religionists in knots. Don’t be morbid, people say, yet it is an inevitable event affecting all of us. PB said death and change are the ultimate conditions of life in the material and mental worlds, but the reality which we can find within is time defying and eternal. Death to the man or woman who knows the truth means no more than a new birth. Reincarnation is the word for it.
“Everything we show forth returns to us, therefore we must be careful as to what we do to others, because the law of destiny is always at work, always sending back what we sent out, paying us in our own coin.”
Everywhere in his books there are pithy and pungent statements:
“The material world is the great lethal chamber of the soul. Only spiritual heroes can arouse themselves sufficiently to escape from its stupefying effect upon consciousness.”
How big a hero are you?
“It is the mind that can set man free again. This is not done by running away to monasteries or mountains and spending one’s life there. It is done by USING THE MIND TO ENQUIRE INTO ITS OWN OPERATION.” He should know, but you have to admit that the time he spent in monasteries and on mountains were not altogether a waste of time.
“When we understand that this whole world and not merely a part of it – the part which pleases us – is a divine manifestation, we understand that God must be in the gangster too. We must face facts bravely and realize that the divine will is ultimately behind the whole universe and consequently must even be behind the horror and agony and wickedness too.”
We had to throw the plummet of the mind into the depths of self. The deeper it fell the richer would be the treasure. “Each man has a private door opening on to the eternal brightness. If he will not press and push it open, his darkness is self-doomed.”
On completing the quest: “All language is hopelessly inadequate, shabbily poverty stricken, when confronted with this grand experience which one day awaits the whole human race and even now awaits every individual who truly and perserveringly seeks it.”
What did it take? For proof of your divinity you had to take a little time out of each day to sit down in a quiet corner, shut out all distractions, enter into the seclusion and find the peace within. “We must dig with the drill of mind beneath the attraction of the physical world, and try to find the eternal reality which hides. Then the secret of life, which has baffled the brilliant intellects of illustrious men, will be discovered and become our joyful possession.”
Books do provide some answers, and you have to read The Secret Path to find the key to that private and most important door, which once opened will change your life.
by Anna C. Bornstein The current crisis, with uncontrolled hatred and frustration throwing their sinister prejudices on the world screen, has brought mankind to a turning point. We must befriend and transform the energies within our psyches and dive deep into our minds to seek our redemption.
Our knowledge of the mind is scant compared to our knowledge of nature’s resources. To find out something about mind’s mystery and possibilities we must turn to the few heroes of the human race who have penetrated into its deeper reality, immanent in all that exists and yet not itself bound by anything.
Paul Brunton is one of the few in the modern world who can speak to us as westerners of this high realization. It was his task to restore the word “mind” to its most lofty use and dispel the notion, so prevalent in our century, of mind as irrevocably bound up with thoughts, or as a product of chemical reactions in the brain. His notebooks, which include (among other materials) some 7000 pages of manuscript which were published posthumously, contain a unique and all inclusive revelation which may yet bring light to our materialistic era, resulting in a stronger change in the world than anyone could foresee.
The excessive extraversion of western industrialized society has made us ascribe the greatest importance and reality to concrete, outer circumstances. It has been natural to seek material explanations and solutions for our social problems. But with the recent eruptions of violence and conflict among neighbors, the attention has shifted towards the psyche. Few now doubt that the most potent causes of war are not material weapons or circumstances but immaterial forces lurking in the unknown depths of the psyche. And the corollary truth that these causes can best and most adequately be remedied not by political intervention or suppression of their material effect but by direct psychological work, is the natural next step in our understanding.
“Mind” capitalised, is Paul Brunton’s modern western term for that indescribable Reality which in various traditions has been named the Absolute, the One, God, or the unfathomable Tao. This Reality cannot be grasped by our senses or intellect, but is still available to us. If we cultivate an inner seeing, or insight, we will one day discover it.
“We are not saying that something of the nature of mind as we humans know it is the supreme reality of the universe but only that it is more like that reality than anything else we know of and certainly more like it than what we call “matter,” says Paul Brunton in explaining his choice of the term. The simplest way to express this is to say that Reality is of the nature of our mind rather than of our body, although it is Mind transcending the familiar phases and raised to infinity. It is the ultimate being, the highest state. This is the Principle which forever remains what it was and will be. It is in the universe and yet the universe is in it too. It never evolves, for it is outside of time. It has no shape, for it is outside of space. It is beyond man’s consciousness, for it is beyond both his thoughts and sense experience, yet all consciousness springs mysteriously from out of it. Nevertheless man may enter into its knowledge, may enter into its Void, so soon as he can stop his thoughts, let go of his sense-experience, but keep his sense of being.”
To imagine this supreme reality is impossible. No descriptions can do justice to it. When you approach and get a first glimpse of it, it seems like a vast void, because no forms or experience gain footing in it. Still it is the rock upon which the whole world rests. It is the innermost kernel of life, its very foundation, and the sage can live fully awake and active among the phenomena of the world without ever losing sight of it. This Mind-Principle is formless, unchangeable. It transcends both qualities and content. Still it is paradoxically the source of all forms, qualities and contents. There is no movement, no activity in it, and yet it is the mainspring of all movement and activity.
“Mind” has been defined by dictionaries as the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism. Yet the nature and the source of this mental activity is something which no scientist has been able to explain, brain researchers have different theories. Some say that the mind is the product of chemical reactions in the brain, others grant it mastery over the brain processes and allow for the possibility that it may exist independently of the body.
Thoughts are inconceivable without mind but, according to Paul Brunton, that doesn’t mean that the mind is inconceivable without thoughts. Mind has a primary existence. when it is absorbed in itself, it has no content and is indivisible, unitary. This Mind, which his our most fundamental reality, we first discover when we have withdrawn our attention from sensations, thoughts, and feelings, and directed it inwards.
Our deepest Being–the Overself–is a ray of this pure Mind. When we get to know ourselves fully, we become conscious of its presence within us, even if we have not yet penetrated its unfathomable secrets.
One analogy that often has been used to communicate something of the mystery of mind to the uninitiated is that of the dream. When a person is dreaming, images arise from the unconscious, or deeper level of his psyche. The dreamworld consists of thought – Creations which originate in the dreamers own mind. This mind is present throughout the dream and ensouls it. In a similar way, the personal mind of man and its world have sprung from pure Mind, without which they would not exist. Mind is ever present in the world but still transcendent to it, and independent of its many phenomena.
Another simple analogy that may help us to understand can be found in chemistry. The chemical combination of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, can manifest as ice, water or steam without changing its fundamental structure. Similarly according to Paul Brunton, Mind can appear in many different ways without changing its original nature. “When the mind is active in knowing and distinguishing one thing from another it is finite consciousness. When it assumes forms and qualities it is the things themselves. When it is centralized as the observer through the Overself of all the innumerable separate observers, it is World Mind. When it is passively at rest, it is itself, Mind.
Irrespective of al these different expressions, its innermost essence always remains pure Mind. All things depend on it, but it itself is independent of all things, unmoved by them and utterly free. Solar systems, galaxies, and whole worlds emerge from and return to it without adding or subtracting anything from it, without disturbing its imperturbable peace.
It is not surprising that this reality, this mind principle is impossible for man to discover as long as he dwells in his ordinary state of consciousness. His personal mind is fettered by time, space, causality, and the five senses, forms of experience which inhere in the very functioning of his thinking apparatus, but which have come to be regarded as attributes of an external world.
All the familiar phenomena in our physical and psychological world — forests, mountains, lakes, and oceans, feelings, thoughts, fears, and expectations, all things that have form or appear as a process — block out reality for us as long as we grant them an existence independent of Mind. Man in his natural state is as blind to the ground of his existence as the person in the dream is to the dreamers consciousness, while letting himself be confounded by appearances.
The truth that the supreme Reality is absolute, eternal, and unchangeable, has brought many spiritual seekers and mystics to regard the physical world, which is in constant flux, as illusory. Such a view can only be arrived at through the logical intellect and not through experience Paul Brunton points out. It is based on an artificial conflict between spirit and matter, which does not exist in Reality. What is illusory is the belief that physical objects — with their characteristic forms, colors, smells, etc — have an external existence, independent of the experiencing mind. The stability and independent status which one wrongly ascribes to these objects belong really to the Mind- principle. But this doesn’t mean that the sense experiences, which play such a dominant part in our lives, are meaningless. They are inseparable from our mind and designed to meet the needs of our present stage of development. The sage does not view them as illusory, but as an expression of transcendental wisdom, geared to advance our understanding.
To explain the relationship between the Mind-principle and the world, Paul Brunton speaks about a passive and an active aspect of Reality. These two aspects do not exist separately, although it might seem so to our limited consciousness. The passive aspect is the Mind-principle, i.e. Mind absorbed in itself; the active aspect is Mind in motion, its thought-processes which give rise to all manifested worlds.
Usually the first glimpse of the thought – free or pure consciousness is one of an inner reality–the ground of one’s own being. It comes during a state of introverted stillness which has been obtained by a deliberate withdrawal of attention from these sense impression, thoughts and feelings.
But the world is of the same essence as this interior reality, this discovery gradually dawns on the seeker, as his experience is deepened and integrated with so called “external” life. The final realization, when the scales at last fall from his eyes, comes suddenly. A super essential clarity then illuminates his changing mental state–even the deep sleep state which for most of us is unconscious. This final insight is not something which comes and goes; it is permanent and independent of whatever experiences befall the person.
Such an insight must not be mistaken for a mere intellectual comprehension. Penetrating and illuminating the whole human being — his intellect, will, and emotional life alike — it resolves all felt contradiction between the outer and inner worlds, between matter and spirit, body and soul, it restores man to the natural harmony and wholeness which he is said to have enjoyed once “before the Fall,” but with the difference that now it is fully conscious.
The authenticity of such a realization is described by Paul Brunton with beautiful simplicity: “How can we be assured of the truth of insight? By the disappearance of ignorance, its opposite number; the two cannot coexist. Its truth is not an argument but an achievement. The coming of insight means that blindness has gone. The man can see where before his eyes were firmly shut by illusion. Henceforth there is that in him which fixes its gaze steadfastly on the timeless, the Real, and the Impersonal. Insight alone has the power to pronounce on the universal truth and eternal reality of existence, because it alone has the power to penetrate the world appearance and to contemplate that bliss behind it.”
Such a conclusive phase of this inner work leads beyond the psyche to a transcendent state of indescribable richness and fullness remains only an unexplored possibility for most of us. Nobody is expected to believe it only by hearing or reading of it. Yet it is there in the depth of being to be experienced by everyone who seeks it humbly and perserveringly and is willing to train his mind aright. For the pioneers and peaceworkers who seek redemption for mankind and our wounded earth, it holds a great promise.
Our problems may be met and successfully handled with firsthand knowledge of this imperturbable peace. Paul Brunton assures us. It is our true nature, stripped of the ego’s complex and conflicting desires and thoughts. In it every trace of the personal self disappears, error cannot be known, misery cannot be felt. Its discovery gives a happiness unblemished by defects or deficiencies, a Supreme Good which is not a further source of pain or sorrow but an endless source of satisfaction and peace.
About the Author Ms. Anna Bornstein is the author of several Swedish books, including Dalai Lama Ochden buddhistiska vagen and Hadji den vise. She founded and edited the journal Mandala and writes regularly for two of Stockholm’s major newspapers. Ms. Bornstein has translated several of Paul Brunton’s books into Swedish and leads seminars on his Philosophy and work throughout Sweden.
Paul Brunton (1898-1981) devoted his life to the practices, understanding, and realization of spiritual truths, first in others, then in himself, and finally in those new to the quest. During his public life he wrote eleven books and lived on every continent but Antarctica—and no doubt would have visited there, were a saint or sage known to be in residence! He also wrote daily thoughts in little notebooks, interviewed hundreds of teachers, fakirs, “fakers,” and saints around the globe. While he discouraged people from becoming his followers, inevitably many who encountered him became students of his. For those fortunate individuals he offered his counsel and guidance when and where it was appropriate. (For example, when someone asked him to bless his new restaurant, his response was, “I can bless your enterprise, which will help you learn a spiritual lesson from the endeavor, but if you want it to be a success, I suggest you ask the advice of a businessman!”)
As Brunton grew in spiritual stature, he was increasingly inclined towards anonymity, so much so that by the time he reached full illumination (the state know in India as “sahaja”) in the early ’60s he was practically forgotten by the public. As much as he disliked “the cult of personality,” he treasured the free and open circulation of the deepest, most precious teachings the world has to offer. To this end he committed his life to the task of creating a spiritual path suitable for the fast-paced world of the 21st century—a path that we now have before us in The Notebooks of Paul Brunton. In these remarkable volumes you will find a blend of his own inner insight with ancient traditions and contemporary teachings—a philosophy in the best sense of that word: “love and wisdom” combined, leading us ultimately to the Wisdom of Mind Alone and to the Love of our own higher self, the Overself.
Paul Brunton’s life organizes itself into four different phases: his beginnings, his early notoriety as an Orientalist, his focus on modernizing the perennial philosophy for the West, and his final years immersed in the impersonal silence of Mind. To measure any philosopher by their beginnings is a mistake. It is not so much how they start, nor even how they end that matters; their truth is to be found in their journey and in the teachings by which they stand. Brunton himself came to this insight in the 1940s when he abandoned his Search in Secret… series and turned his mind—and pen—towards the greater heights of epistemology and metaphysics. To dwell upon his childhood and his youthful efforts is tempting, because these are the phases we ourselves can relate to without much effort; to direct ourselves towards those loftier heights requires more attention and effort. That effort will reward us with insights into our own Selves and into the ecstatic austerity of Truth.
So, let us briefly consider Brunton’s life, starting with his birth. As soon as we do so, we encounter his own strong penchant for privacy: throughout his life, PB, (as he came to refer to himself later), gave out his birthday as 11/27/1898; a brief search of the Internet will produce a second date: 10/21/1898. After much consideration, I’ve decided to publicly clarify this issue. PB said that there were two reasons he gave out a false birthday: political and occult. During the end of the British Raj both the British and Indian governments suspected him of spying for the other side—an activity he had no interest in. He therefore took the measure of traveling under his “nom-de-plume”—including a new birth-date! The other motivation has to do with the dangerous meddling with magic and the occult prevalent amongst seekers during his early years as a well-known figure in mystic circles. He little cared about the biographical significance of his birthday, but cared very much indeed that his horoscope not fall into unfriendly hands; to this end he continued to refer to his November birth-date throughout his life. Nonetheless, when his son and literary heirs asked his birth-date, he stated that it was October 21, 1898. Henceforward, we shall refer to this date as his birthday.
So: the individual that we came to know as Paul Brunton started out life as R. Raphael Hurst in London on October 21, 1898. He grew up in the Cockney section of London and lost his mother while he was still quite young; his father remarried, and his new wife brought her sister and the ideas of Christian Science into the family. PB later commented that one of them was a very successful Practitioner who was able to heal herself and other people as well, while the other suffered health problems her whole life. Perhaps this clear evidence of the power of mind over matter, and also the obvious failure of this same ‘law’ contributed to PB’s interest in the occult and in gaining a deeper understanding of the truth of the laws that govern our existence.
The next we hear of PB is from his own hand, when he tells us, “Before I reached the threshold of manhood and after six months of unwavering daily practice of meditation and eighteen months of burning aspiration for the Spiritual Self, I underwent a series of mystical ecstasies. During them I attained a kind of elementary consciousness of it. If anyone could imagine a consciousness which does not objectify anything but remains in its own native purity, a happiness beyond which it is impossible to go, and a self which is unvaryingly one and the same, he would have the correct idea of the Overself…(Notebooks 12.1.2).” This was around his sixteenth year, which would have coincided with the commencement of WWI in 1914. By the time he was in his early twenties he had become actively involved with like-minded souls interested in exploring the obscure, the occult, and the mysticism of the far East.
It was during this time that Paul Brunton met his three early teachers: (Charles Henry) Allan Bennett (pictured left), also known as Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya; the unnamed Indian who PB refers to in the opening chapters of A Search in Secret India as “the Rajah;” and an American painter named Thurston, who was also involved with the Occult. Characteristically, PB never spoke much about “the Rajah” or Thurston—very probably at their own request. We do know that his son, Kenneth, was given his middle name, Thurston, in honor of this mysterious painter. Scattered throughout PB’s notes made from or about this time period are references to an “M;” when queried as to who this was, PB firmly stated that this person was neither Thurston, nor the Rajah, nor Sri Ramana Maharshi, nor anyone else named in his books or notes.
PB briefly joined the Theosophical Society (Adyar, America), and during and immediately after WWI he attended many gatherings in London that a plethora of active occult groups held. Through his apprenticeship with Allan Bennett, he was aware of the activities of the (Hermetic) Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Bennett was a significant member. He made many friends and, with his pal Michael Houghton, even ran a bookstore, which unfortunately failed within months of opening. During this time, the two friends rented an apartment in Tavistock Square (pictured right), which was fated to house a more successful publishing enterprise a few years later: the first home of The Hogarth Press, run by Virginia Woolf and her husband. In 1922 Houghton opened The Atlantis Bookshop in Bloomsbury, which is still in operation today. In 1927 Houghton wrote and published The White Brother: an Occult Autobiography under the pen-name Michael Juste, which centers on a character called “David,” loosely based on Brunton.
At the age of 24 Brunton married Karen Tottrup (pictured left), and his only child, Kenneth Thurston Hurst (pictured right) was born the next year, in 1923. That was the year that he also lost Allan Bennett, who died at the age of 51 after a lifelong battle with poor health. A few years later the marriage came to an end, and thereafter their son Kenneth was raised by his mother and his step-father, Leonard Gill. PB stayed on amicable terms with the family, and, as Hurst’s book Paul Brunton: A Personal View indicates, in due course his son became one of his students. It was during this period—and hardly surprisingly, given the external changes in Brunton’s life—that the allure of the purely occult soon faded and he sought to journey into the deeper waters of mysticism and from thence into philosophy. This search led him away from England and into the then-uncharted world of the Sacred East.
It was also in this period that Brunton established himself as an avid vegetarian and meditator. These two practices were fundamental to his lifestyle and shared the rare distinction of being disciplines about which he was unequivocal. On practically every other discipline associated with spiritual development, PB tended to emphasize balance and commonsense, and he gave advice based more upon the individual’s needs than any hard and fast rule. For example, he once said, “There is no sexual action or restraint which in itself furthers or hinders the quest, but your belief that it will may create karma you’ll have to deal with.” PB preferred a vegan to vegetarian diet, and kept to his British roots by preferring tea over coffee most of his life. As he aged, his preferences became very subtle, with a tendency towards lightly steamed vegetables and mild green tea, but sometimes he’d break out his stash of 4-alarm Madras Curry and complete the meal with a large piece of chocolate!
As he traveled through the Mid- and Far-East, Paul Brunton interviewed literally hundreds of mystics, gurus, teachers, fakirs, and magicians; basically anyone involved with exploring the worlds of spirit and mind. He did so without prejudice, and was only critical of those full-fledged mountebanks that fed upon the gullible and innocent. Gradually his attention came to fully rest upon the Indian Sub-continent, where he undertook to find a spiritual master from whom he could learn the path to enlightenment. That journey is largely chronicled in his popular book A Search in Secret India, which describes his arrival at the doorstep of Sri Ramana Maharshi (pictured left) and his time at the feet of that revered sage.
Through his studies with Ramana, Paul Brunton mastered the “Who Am I” meditation and thereby achieved a deepened degree of self-awareness. He was not satisfied with this, however, as he wished to understand the “Why” and “How” of this technique; this led him to the experts of Vedanta such as V. Subramanya Iyer (pictured right) with whom he studied the classic literature of Hindu philosophy such as the Ashtavakra Samhita, the Bhagavad Gîta and the Mandukya Upanishad. It was during his conversations with V. S. Iyer that PB began to develop his own non-sectarian vocabulary for basic spiritual principles. Thus he began to write about the “Overself” in lieu of Adhyâtman and Soul, “World Mind” instead of God or Îshvara, and “Mind” instead of Brahman or The One.
This change marked the end of PB’s apprenticeship and the beginning of his own truly independent journey. That journey took him deep within himself and continued to lead him all over the world: he visited China, Mexico, Greece, America, Europe, Egypt, and Australia (that we know of). A sample of these years can be found in his two remaining travelogues, both published in 1936 (as was A Message from Arunachala): A Search in Secret Egypt and A Hermit in the Himalayas, as well as in his notebooks, where he continued to chronicle his interviews in the West as well as in the East. As he traveled externally and internally, the driving force of his life became the call to deliver the hidden mysteries of mysticism and philosophy into the hands of modern seekers, stripped of all unneeded hyperbole, jargon, obscuring esotericism and outworn requirements.
As he says in his notes, “The age of esotericism has come to an end, and the age of open teaching is upon us.” (Notebooks 20.2.3) To this end, PB translated the elaborate teachings of India, Tibet, and China into a streamlined collection of central points and practices designed to give spiritual seekers a solid foundation for all their seeking, regardless of where it took them. He took the ancient meditation practices of the ashram and modified them to suit the schedules of the modern city-dweller. Some ancient practices were designed to open our sensitivity to our surroundings—which is fine if one is living in seclusion, but is hardly viable in today’s nerve-jangling urban landscape, so Brunton wrote about those meditation techniques that soothe the nerves and protect us from the extroverted world that most of us inhabit. These meditation practices can be found in his next book, The Quest of the Overself, (written only a year after the Search books) and in Volumes 4 and 15 of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton. Two years later, in 1939, PB wrote The Inner Reality, latter named Discover Yourself, as a bridge between Eastern and Western faiths. Then he turned his attention fully to the task of presenting the fundamentals of a genuinely spiritual philosophy in a modern language—and in the first language to have a nearly worldwide presence: English.
Brunton was one of the first authors to subject Eastern doctrines to the methodology of science while also challenging science to look beyond its technology and into the true mysteries of life. He wanted to link science and mysticism, and generally integrate the accomplishments of Western Philosophy with the insights of Hinduism and Buddhism. The first result of this effort was The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, published in 1941, which addresses the issues of epistemology through the double lens of modern science and the reasoned enquiries of the ancient East. He then completed this project two years later with his metaphysical opus, The Wisdom of the Overself. His later thoughts on these topics are to be found in Volume 13 of his Notebooks series. Curiously, he once again found himself sharing space (if not time) with another author: in this case, the apartment in which he wrote these texts had once been occupied by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky when she was writing her great work The Secret Doctrine. “So PB was following after HPB,” he once half-jokingly quipped.
It might be worth pausing for a moment here and taking a look around at the world in which all these books were appearing. While some of us (Americans) think of World War II as starting with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the reality is that by then the war had been going on in Europe for three years, and Hitler had been in power in Germany for eight, during which time the atrocities against the Jews, Gypsies, and others were well-established protocols of the German Reich. Indeed, by the time The Inner Reality was in bookstores, the people of Great Britain were experiencing nightly air-raids from the German Luftwaffe, resulting in widespread chaos and loss of life. Of late, America has been traumatized by one such bombing; in those years such an event was a daily, if not hourly, event. Consider then the strong need the people of those times felt to find an explanation for the suffering and chaos around them and to find any means of coping with the un-imaginable horrors and uncertainties of their surroundings. The presence of death, evil, and doubt overshadowed all aspects of life and all levels of society. No one was immune, and no one could be oblivious. To find in these books, then, direct and reasoned confirmation of what everyone needed to know—that we do survive death, that there is divine, albeit impersonal, presence to be found here, and that life has both an immediate and a transcendental purpose—was spirit-saving. This was PB’s inspired contribution to the world—a contribution that remains relevant today.
The three books, The Quest of the Overself, The Hidden Teaching, and The Wisdom, cover mysticism, mentalism, and metaphysics and thus lay the groundwork for one’s independent inner journey towards—and beyond—the Higher Self, the Overself. Starting with the requisite understanding of ourselves and how our minds work, PB then guides us into the full mysteries of Absolute Mind and its outward, creative aspect, the World-Mind. To those familiar with the great thinkers of Hinduism and Buddhism, many of Brunton’s points will be quite familiar; their value, then, is in their dogma-free presentation. You can reliably study these texts as an eclectic, or as an orthodox seeker; they are meant as “user’s manuals” to the immediate and transcendent Reality of which we can and may be a part. In every case, Brunton wanted to inspire and stimulate his readers to deepen their own search and to think for themselves. He did not wish to have disciples or establish a “Brunton movement,” to the extent that he preferred that his editors maintain focus on the ideas and issues of philosophy, not his own (truly) charismatic personality.
After completing these books, Brunton continued to travel the globe (you should have seen his suitcases!) for the next two decades before eventually settling in Switzerland. During that time, PB continued to write, lecture, and give personal interviews throughout America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. His final book, The Spiritual Crisis of Man, was published in 1952, after which time PB reserved all further notes for posthumous publication. He married Evangeline Young that same year, and they remained married until his inner work once again required a period of near-absolute solitude. Even so, once that work was complete, PB maintained an active relationship with Evangeline and her family, right up until the last days of his life.
It was also during this time that his son, Kenneth Hurst moved, to America, and PB came into contact with one of his most important students, Anthony Damiani (pictured left) in New York City, as well as Roy Burkhart in Columbus, Ohio. The eventual outcome of both these meetings was the formation of study groups in New York and Ohio. Another group was formed in Czechoslovakia during a time when owning a spiritually oriented book was a dangerous choice. At last it came time for Brunton to withdraw from the world to fulfill his inward journey. This required his isolation from nearly all who knew him and took him to Australia and New Zealand for a few years.
When the final spiritual crisis had passed, the ego was defeated, and thereafter the spiritual wanderer took up his “celestial address,” as Anthony often put it. This was no idle remark on Anthony’s part: Paul Brunton achieved that extraordinary state called “Sahaja” by the Hindus. As he himself put it, the state of Sahaja is not one of knowing reality, but one of being reality—in other words, of being Realized. When Anthony said that he had a celestial address, what he meant was that PB had relocated his identity from the transient realm of manifestation to the eternal realm of being, thus not so much the ‘Heaven’ of the Christian tradition as the Heavens of the Greek and Hindu cosmology.
With this increased impersonality, it became more natural to refer to him as PB rather than “Paul Brunton,” for there was little of what we commonly experience as a person or personality present in him. Indeed, when in the presence of the powerful silence around him, this abbreviation seemed only natural, as there was an overwhelming air of ‘other’ around him, a remoteness that was sometimes quite unsettling. At other times he radiated a kind of benign peace that drew strangers to him. For example, when he was in the hospital for a minor surgery, I came to his room at sundown only to find the room packed with the nurses, orderlies, and other hospital personnel who “just liked being around him” as he sat in contemplation of the setting sun.
Even though PB had standing invitations to live in America and other parts of Europe, he settled in Switzerland, which was due in part to his love of the countryside and in part also to its political significance. Over the years of his long life he lived in Lucerne, Zurich, Montreux, and Vevey, and his final residence was in the tiny village of La Tour de Peliz. Although retired from the public eye, PB continued to keep close watch on the events of the world, and his choice of Switzerland allowed him discrete access to various politicians and world leaders as they came and went from Geneva.
Even though PB announced his retirement, he continued to receive his students and write in his notebooks. His other work—his inner researches—he was reticent to speak about. While PB continued to employ simple terms for deep teachings in his later writings, he also pursued his studies and investigations into the many traditions and doctrines of the world. Even in his last years he was in contact with both His Holiness the 69th Shankaracarya and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, while his bedside reading consisted of Plotinus, Maritan, scientific journals, occult quarterlies, Jesuitical articles, Tibetan texts, and the Upanishads.
Paul Brunton died on July 27th, 1981 with Paul Cash and his son Kenneth Hurst by his side. He died as he lived: peacefully, privately, and with an ironic smile on his lips. His literary effects, several shelves of notebooks, were willed to his son Kenneth Hurst, while responsibility for deciding what to do with these writings was given to Anthony Damiani’s students Paul Cash and Timothy Smith (both of whom had functioned as secretaries for PB in his lattermost years). At first the task of sorting through these notebooks and the stunning ideas contained within them was guided by PB’s central student, Anthony Damiani; sadly he died only a few years later himself, but did survive long enough to see the publication of Perspectives, accomplished by the tremendous volunteer forces of Wisdom’s Goldenrod and the generous support of Larson Publications. A few years later the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation was formed to ensure the complete publication of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, and to generally present the public with the ideas found in PB’s writings. The task of getting the Notebooks out took hundreds of hours from over forty volunteers and lasted from 1980 through 1989. Since then the PBPF has devoted itself to furthering the ideas and outlook of PB and supporting those around the world who find their way to his remarkable works.
In the end, we cannot tell the story of Paul Brunton, nor should we do so. We who would ask should—must—acquiesce to his repeated admonitions that we direct our full attention to the varied aspects of a meaningful spiritual life and eschew the cult of personality. Even as Ramana Maharshi rebuffed all questions with the appropriate instruction to first find the “Who Am I” before all else, so with PB we should first understand his written words, starting with A Search in Secret India and concluding with the extraordinary Notebooks series. These teachings, like those of all great philosophers, will long outlast the story of his life, and the truths upon which both are based are directly available to us all, should we have the dedication, training, and Grace to come into their orb.
Radhanath Swami (born December 7, 1950)
Born as Richard Slavin in a Jewish family, he studied a number of religious paths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the age of 19 he began traveling through Europe and the Middle-East, aiming for India and eventually settling for over a year in the Himalayas. He was living as a renunciate Sanyaasi in India when he first met with Krishna devotees near Delhi. Through contact with the devotees in Vrindavan, and after receiving name Ratim Krishna from Swami Bon Radhanath began to focus exclusively on his spiritual path in Krishna Consciousness. In 1971 Radhanath Swami observed A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada during the ISKCON Cross Maidan festival in Mumbai. After leaving India, Radhanath Swami returned to the United States where he joined the New Vrindaban ISKCON farm community in West Virginia during July 1972. There he accepted initiation from A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in February 1973 receiving the name Radhanath Das, later to receive the name Radhanath Swami.
In Brief —-
Radhanath Swami is a Vaishnava sanyassin (a monk in a Krishna-bhakti lineage) and teacher of the devotional path of Bhakti-yoga. He is author of The Journey Home, a memoir of his search for spiritual truth. His teachings draw from the sacred texts of India such as The Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Ramayana, and aim to reveal the practical application of the sacred traditions, while focusing on the shared essence which unites apparently disparate religious or spiritual paths.
Born Richard Slavin, on December 7, 1950, in his teens he came to confront a deep sense of alienation from suburban Chicago life and the civil injustices of mid-century America. At the age of nineteen, while on a summer trip to Europe, his internal struggles culminated in a commitment to search for God wherever it might lead him. Meditating on the Isle of Crete, he felt a supernatural calling and the next morning set off alone to find spiritual India. The Journey Home documents his odyssey as a penniless hitch-hiker though Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally India. There he lived as a wandering ascetic, first amongst the forest dwelling Himalayan yogis and later amongst a wide variety of gurus and spiritual practitioners throughout India and Nepal. Ultimately, he was led to the holy town of Vrindavan, where he found his path amongst the Bhakti-yogis.
In Vrindavan he found the teacher he was searching for in A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and representative of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, (the Krishna-bhakti tradition stemming from the 16th century mystic avatar Sri Chaitanya). In choosing Bhaktivedanta Swami, as his guru, Radhanath Swami felt compelled to shear his matted locks and reenter Western society with a mission to share the sacred wisdom he had received. This return exemplifies the form of devotional yoga which is at the heart of Radhanath Swami’s teachings, a spiritual practice expressed as tangible action meant to bring about personal fulfillment and benefit the world.
At the the age of 31 he took the monastic vows of a Vaishnava sanyassin and became known as Radhanath Swami.
Today Radhanath Swami travels regularly throughout India, Europe and North America, sharing the teachings of Bhakti-yoga. He resides much of the year at the Radha Gopinath Ashram in Chowpatty, Mumbai. For the past twenty-five years he has guided the community’s development and has directed a number of acclaimed social action projects including Midday Meals, which daily serves more than 260,000 plates of sanctified vegetarian food to the children of the slums of Mumbai. He has also worked to establish missionary hospitals and eye camps, eco-friendly farms, schools and ashrams, an orphanage, and a number of emergency relief programs throughout India.
web site- http://www.radhanathswami.com/