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books, some of which have become best-sellers, but much of his writings, in the form of notebooks, remained unpublished until the creation of the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation in New York.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.