THE HIDDEN TEACHING BEYOND YOGA The Path to Self-Realization and Philosophical Insight Volume One
by Paul Brunton.2015. 377 pp., $21.95. ISBN: 978-1-58394-910-8
THE WISDOM OF THE OVERSELF The Path to Self-Realization and Philosophical Insight Volume Two
Paul Brunton. 435 pp., $21.95. ISBN: 978-1-58394-914-6 North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, USA. www.northatlanticbooks.com
Review by Christopher Quilkey for Mountain Path, July-September, 2016
Paul Brunton (PB) holds a special place in Sri Ramana Maharshi lore. His book A Search in Secret India alerted many both in India and in the West that there was a great sage in Tiruvannamalai. PB was a spiritually gifted professional writer who had the ability to describe a scene which captured the atmosphere. His description of sitting in Bhagavan’s presence is a classic. Though later there were differences with the ashram office, PB’s connection and devotion to Bhagavan was unwavering and the influence on PB’s life and thinking immense.
Since PB’s death in 1981, The Paul Brunton Philosophical Foundation meticulously collated his large store of notes and eventually published in 16 volumes The Notebooks of Paul Brunton. The same Foundation has now superbly edited and published the two of PB’s major philosophical books with final amendments by PB before his passing for these new editions. The Foundation is to be praised for their exemplary work and is an example for any group that wants to collate and publish spiritual writings of their lineage or master.
It is astonishing to note that A Search in Secret India (1934) and these books under review were originally published in 1941 and 1943 respectively. They are as relevant today as then with the added bonus PB is a cogent writer. It is a pleasure to read them just from a stylistic view. He has a sense of beauty, a considerable intellect and a logical, explanatory mind. He is very much his own person and refused to affiliate himself with any spiritual or religious group. He always went his own idiosyncratic way and formulated his own vision of reality and yoga based on personal experience and reflection. In the late 1950s when he had achieved a degree of recognition, he disappeared and began as anonymously as possible, a peripatetic life until his final decade or so when he resurfaced in Switzerland. He deliberately obscured his own personal history as much as he could so that those who read his serious philosophical writings would not confuse the man with the teaching.
When he first arrived in India he was continuing his search (begun in London in his youth with several special teachers including Ananda Metteya). He was seeking for knowledge and genuine exponents of yoga. What he discovered was quite often a corruption of high spiritual principles, which resulted in superstition, incredulity and opportunism. He travelled in the far ends of India until he came at last to the Maharshi in whose presence PB had what he called “the profoundest trance experience”. Having a restless, inquisitive mind PB wanted a philosophical foundation, and not satisfied at the ashram, eventually moved on to Mysore where the respected Maharajah of Mysore gave him refuge during the late 1930s and 40s. Here he met the pundit V. Subrahmanya Iyer who had a crucial influence on him. V.S. Iyer initially introduced and expounded to him three sacred texts: The Bhagavad Gita, The Ashtavakra Samhita and Gaudapada’s Karika on The Mandukya Upanishad. The influence of these texts, as well as several Buddhist texts, especially (The Heart Sutra) can be seen in both volumes.
PB’s two books under review are ambitious. The predominant influence is Vedanta and Buddhism, mixed with active spiritual positivism and the scientific breakthroughs in relativity which were then just becoming known. There is also a hint of PB’s past association with the principles of white occult schools. He was concerned with individualism and had a distinctive view of enlightenment based on his own research and experience. He repudiated the view that the end all of yoga was uninterrupted samadhi or what he termed trance. He quotes Sri Aurobindo who wrote: “Trance is a way of escape – the body is made quiet, the physical mind is in a state of torpor, the inner consciousness is left free to go on with its experience. The disadvantage is that trance becomes indispensable and that the problem of the waking consciousness is not solved, it remains imperfect.” One wonders how PB differentiated between samadhi (at-oneness with the sacred). Yoga nidra is unconscious trance and sahaja samadhi is the capacity to remain simultaneously aware of pure consciousness and the world.
There are two key terms which PB employs: Mentalism and Overself. "By mentalism we mean…that all things in human experience without any exception are wholly and entirely mental things and are not merely mental copies of material things; that this entire panorama of universal existence is nothing but a mental experience and not merely a mental representation of a separate material existence; that we can arrive at such conclusions not only by a straight-line sequence of reasoned thinking but also by a re-orientation of consciousness during advanced mystical meditation. "
“Overself is used to signify the ultimate reality of both man and the universe.” It cannot be defined in positive conceptual terms and “the concept of the Overself is thus only an intellectualization of reality and can never be a substitute for the actualized being of the Overself.”
It has vague connotations of Emerson’s Oversoul. PB meant for Overself to equate with Paramatma. It is here important to understand that PB belongs that group of spiritual wanderers who seek the Truth outside the conventional religious strictures. PB drew heavily on Sri Ramana’s teachings and I have read in a first edition of one of his philosophical books in the ashram library (though I cannot recall now exactly which one) an almost verbatim rendering of Ulladu Narpadu I have it from a reliable source that PB said in his latter years that he regretted not citing his references but at the time he felt that the phobia of the East would block readers from this first 'taste' of the great traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, so he transmuted the technical language of his sources into less accurate but more palatable English terms.
This would make sense as he had a mission to bring to the attention of intelligent people who were sincere seekers, the Knowledge freely available in Tradition but obscured by layers of commentary and history to the point where it was rendered incomprehensible or alien. And to do that PB had to integrate it in his own terms and write in his own gifted way that was understandable to the modern person. Certainly PB was a remarkable human being, courageous in his pursuit of the Truth. The veracity of his discoveries can in this case be verified by reading these expansive volumes. They are an elaborate philosophical and practical exposition, which demands time and effort. Those who attempt the task will not be disappointed.