Study Guide to The Inner Reality

by Anna Bornstein
with PB’s assistance and comments

[This study guide was originally produced for the Swedish edition of The Inner Reality. The order of the chapters is different than in the US updated and revised edition published by North Atlantic Books in 2016. Notably, the “What am I?” and “Short Path” chapters of the Swedish edition are mostly contained in the chapter called “Practical Help in Yoga” in the US edition. We hope that this guide helps students focus on the important parts of the text and encourages thoughtful analysis. This guide also benefits by additions and commentary by PB.—ed.]


In Sweden the quest which many have undertaken for material and physical well-being has cleared the ground for the longing for emotional and mental health and the well-being of the soul, whose final aim is the recognition of man’s true spiritual nature and divine heritage. The material life becomes empty and futile no matter how affluent, if taken by itself without higher spiritual values as a foundation.

In Sweden, as in many other industrialized countries where there is an interest in and devotion to the purification of the external environment, one now begins to wake up to the corresponding need for inner purification and spiritual growth.

The ideas put forth in this book are representative of a trend of thought which is gaining an increasing influence in the West, profoundly affecting the life, especially of the younger generation. A new spiritual ideal is gradually beginning to emerge which complements both the orthodox religious outlook and the materialistic way of life, which has proved inadequate when faced with the increasing modern social problems.

These mystic and philosophic concepts will not be alien to the Swedish mentality since they lead to a practical, personal application of a higher truth and to a balance of inner stillness and outer activity – not to the introverted passivity and fatalism so often wrongly attributed to them.

I have been asked to provide a study plan to this Swedish edition to help both the individual student as well as those who prefer to study in a group. The study course includes an introduction to meditation and should help to clarify the ideas of this quest for inner peace.

The three chapters titled “The Scripture of the Yogis” which are a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita were published in a second volume in the Swedish translation.















(In the Swedish edition, the three chapters titled “The Scripture of the Yogis” have been published separately in a second volume.)

WHAT AM I? and THE SHORT PATH (These sections are called “Practical Help in Yoga” in the new US edition.)

1. What is meditation?

2. What misconceptions do people have about meditation?

3. What are the best times to practice meditation?

4. Are you the physical body?

5. Are you your feelings?

6. Are you your thoughts?

7. How should one deal with the tendency of thought to wander?

8. What is the use of breath-control practices?

9. What is a glimpse of the Overself?

10. Discuss the meaning of the long and short paths.


Most people who start the short path have usually had a glimpse of the Overself, because otherwise they find it too difficult to understand what the short path is about. The long path, through its studies and practices, is the period of preparation for the advanced quest. It is called the long path because there is much work to be done on it and much development of character and emotions to go through. After some measure of this preparation, the aspirants enter the short path to complete this work. This takes a comparatively much shorter time and, as it has the possibility of yielding the full self-enlightenment at any moment, it ends suddenly.

What they are trying to do on the long path continues by itself once they have entered fully on the short path. On the long path they are concerned with the personal ego and as a result give negative thoughts their attention. On the short path they refuse to accept these negatives and instead look to the Overself. Thus the struggles will disappear. This change of attitude is called “voiding” them. The moment such negative ideas and feelings appear, then instead of using the long-path method of concentrating on the opposite kind of thought, such as calmness instead of anger, the short-path way simply drops the negative idea into the Void, the Nothingness, and forgets it.

Now such a change can only be brought about by doing it fastly and firmly and turning to the Overself. Constant remembrance of the Overself has to be done all the way through the short path. The long path works on the ego, but the short path uses the result of that work, which prepared them to come into communion with the Overself, and become receptive to its presence, which includes its grace.


1. In the chapter in the US edition (2016) “Practical Help in Yoga,” in the 3rd section, right after the para mentioning PB’s book The Secret Path (page 84, after the 2nd paragraph), PB wanted to add an excerpt from the beginning of chapter 5 of The Secret Path where the first steps of the “Who Am I?” exercise are described in detail. We think these are the paras he wanted to add:

Seated comfortably in your chair or squatting tailor-fashion on a rug, breathing quietly and evenly, close your eyes and let your thoughts run over the question of what you really are.

You are about to begin your great adventure of self-inquiry.

One key to success in your practice is to think very slowly. The wheel of mind is to be slowed down, and consequently it will be unable to rush around from one thing to another, as it did formerly. Think slowly. Next formulate your words mentally with great care and precision. Choose and select each word accurately. Doing this will clarify your thought, for you cannot find a clear and definite phrase to fit it until you have done so.

First watch your own intellect in its working. Note how thoughts follow one another in endless sequence. Then try to realize that there is someone who thinks. Now ask: “Who is this Thinker?”

Who is this “I” that sleeps and wakes up; that thinks and feels; that works and speaks? What is it in us that we call the “I”?

Those who believe that matter is the only thing existing will tell you that it is the body; and that the sense of “I Am” arises within the brain at birth and disappears at the death or disintegration of the body.

Now in order to understand the real nature of this mysterious “I” and to find out its true relation to the functions of the body and brain we must make a penetrating analysis of personality, the apparent self.

This kind of self-knowledge does not mean merely sifting and cataloguing one’s virtues, vices and qualities. It really means searching into one’s essential spirit. To evoke the real man within you is to evoke your spiritual intelligence. When you can understand what lies behind the eyes which look at you every morning from the mirror, you will understand the mystery of life itself.

If you will but steadfastly regard the mystery that is in you, the divine mystery in man, it will eventually yield and display its secret. When a man begins to ask himself what he is, he has taken the first step upon a path which will end only when he has found an answer. For there is a permanent revelation in his heart, but he heeds it not. When a man begins to face his sub-mental mind and tries to strip the veil which covers it, persistent effort will provide its own reward.

2. PB wanted to end the chapter “Practical Help in Yoga” on page 88, after the para beginning, “What are you to do next?” The following para, beginning, “At this stage, you must ask…” was to be the first para in a new chapter entitled “The Short Path.”

3. “The Short Path” chapter was to have 3 parts:

a. the material from the last para on p. 88 through the end of the chapter on p. 93;

b. an excerpt (or two) from The Spiritual Crisis of Man, possibly the one beginning “The Overself is the soul of man…” or the one beginning “The soul, this mysterious entity…”

c. a text which PB wrote as a conclusion to “The Short Path” chapter.

The following two paragraphs are from p. 214 of the 1970 US edition of The Spiritual Crisis of Man:

The soul, this mysterious entity who is wholly non-existent to many people and whose quest is a chimera to most people, will eventually prove to be the only one who remains when all others pass away. If a man's thought is always directed towards the objects of his experience and never diverted towards the consciousness which makes that experience possible, then it is inevitable that those objects shall assume a significance and reality in and for themselves alone. That is to say, he will become a materialist. Yet the Overself is that out of which his own consciousness has come. Ought he not to give himself the daily spiritual chance to come in contact with it, with his most intimate self?

He may travel the entire length and breadth of the five continents to commune with their cleverest scientists, but if he does not also travel within and commune with his own divine self, then the secret of life will still elude him. He misses what is most important if he misses going into the invisible temple of his own heart. There the soul abides, there the ray of God strikes the individual and there alone the satisfying discovery of what he really is may be made. This is the fundamental task—to become aware of the divine that is in him. All others are secondary and tertiary. He must establish himself in the consciousness of the Overself by and for himself. No other man can do it for him. And the Quest's labour in purification and meditation is indispensable for this purpose.

PB wrote the following text to conclude the “The Short Path” chapter:

In order to understand the short path, it might be helpful to compare it to the long path, which consists of a series of exercises and efforts which gradually develops concentration and character and knowledge. But the long path does not lead to the goal. On the long path you often measure your own progress. It is an endless path, because there will always be new circumstances which bring new temptations or trials and confront the aspirant with new challenges. No matter how spiritual the ego becomes, it does not enter the whitest light, but remains in the greyish light. On the long path you must deal with the urges of interference arising from the lower self and the negativity which enters from the surrounding environment. But the efforts on the long path will at last invoke grace, which opens the perspective of the short path.

The short path is not an exercise but an inner standpoint to invoke, a state of consciousness where one comes closer to or finds peace in the Overself. There are, however, two exercises which can be of help to lead to the short path, but they have quite a different character than the exercises on the long path. The short path takes less time because the aspirant turns around and faces the goal directly. The short path means that you begin to try to remember to live in the rarefied atmosphere of the Overself instead of worrying about the ego and measuring its spiritual development. You learn to trust more and more in the Higher Power. On the short path you ignore negativity and turn around 180 degrees, from the ego to the Overself. The visitations of the Overself are heralded through devotional feeling, but also through intuitive thought and action. The short path establishes you more and more in peace.

Often the two paths can be treaded simultaneously but not necessarily equally. Often the aspirant is not ready to start these two exercises until after one or several glimpses of the Overself.

The “Remembrance exercise” consists of trying to recall the glimpse of the Overself, not only [during our meditation periods but also – these words are not totally clear in the original] in each moment during the whole working span of the day – in the same way as a mother who has lost her child cannot let go of the thought of it no matter what she is doing outwardly – or as a lover who constantly holds the vivid image of the beloved in the back of his mind. In a similar way you keep the memory of the Overself alive during this exercise and let it shine in the background while you go about your daily work. But don’t forget that the remembrance must be a warm and living feeling if the spirit of the exercise is not to be lost. It must not be mechanical and cold. The time may come later when the remembrance will cease as a consciously and deliberately willed exercise and pass by itself into a state which will be maintained without the help of the ego’s will.

The remembrance is a necessary preparation for the second exercise where you try to obtain an immediate identification with the Overself just as an actor identifies with the role he plays on the stage. You act, think, and live during the daily life “as if” you were the Overself. This exercise is not merely intellectual but also includes feeling and intuitive action. It is an act of creative imagination where, by turning directly to playing the part of the Overself, you make it possible for its grace to come more and more into your life.

And finally, this selection is from The Spiritual Crisis of Man (on p. 222, 1967 printing):

The Overself is the soul of man, his connection with the Absolute Power. One part of him lives, suffers, and enjoys in time and space. Another part, mysterious, almost unknown, transcends it utterly and dwells serenely free from its mutations. Every man in the depths of his essential being is an emanation of the World-Mind. Therefore he is diviner than he knows, holier than he seems, and wiser than he thinks. His self-effort does not bring the transcendental consciousness into being, does not create it. Eternal and undying, it was always there in the deepest layer of his mind. What he does is to penetrate to it, and realize it. His finite ego is not so completely sundered from the infinite World-Mind that there is not even the most indirect relation between them. There exists this holy link of the Overself through which and in which the ego may enter the divine presence. It is the higher individuality, the permanent self in him.


1. Is psycho-spiritual self-analysis a branch of psychoanalysis?

No. Psychoanalysis is concerned only with the ego and especially with its negative side, but on the quest the whole self, including the ego’s positive side and the higher spiritual self, is considered. Special attention is given to this higher self.

2. What is the dream state?

a) It is the state of the ego’s thoughts and feelings expressed through uncontrolled creative imagination breaking into sleep.

b) In some cases, and only at certain times, it is a way when, because sleep is a relaxation of the personal self, the higher self can communicate messages to it, either directly or through symbols.

3. What is the relation between the deep-sleep state and the Self?

4. What is the relation between the physical body and the self?

The physical body is a part of the ego.

5. What is the relation between the feelings and the Self?

Both lesser and higher self use and express through feelings, just as they also use thoughts.

6. What is the Self or “I”?

It is the essence of a conscious being.

7. What is consciousness?

It is the universal being behind all individual being.

Thinking about this question unconsciously becomes a meditation, which Ramana Maharshi has called the “Who Am I?” exercise and which is described in the book, The Secret Path. It is an analysis of the self, but quite different from ordinary psychoanalysis. To know the final answer to “Who am I?” one must seek it from consciousness itself. It begins to come after you stop probing intellectually, when the mind lies still and receptive and waits for the response from the Overself. It comes as an experience, fused with a knowing of what it is.

8. Why is the stilling of the mind necessary at this last stage?

When the answer comes, the limitations of the ego are shown up and the ego itself is seen to be held within the larger being of the higher self, from which it gets its own small fragment of consciousness and life. This is the highest discovery of meditation – the discovery of the true Self.

9. What is the best use which can be made of the mind?

To seek for and find truth. It is because the thoughts, emotions, and actions are so preoccupied with the ego’s existence that they get in the way through their activity. They have to be relaxed, quietened, and transcended.


1. Why is it a mistake to believe that the spiritual life can only be lived and found in monasteries, convents, and ashrams? Because the divine part of each person can be awakened and become active anywhere, both outside and inside such places.

2. Does the monastic ideal appeal to the modern person?

The basic idea is still needed of a place where people can retire from the world and devote themselves to spiritual study and meditation. However, the form it will take will change, and monasteries themselves will be continued or replaced by centers. In these centers of retreat, one could study comparative religion and comparative mysticism.

3. Why are ascetic disciplines given to the spiritual aspirants?

Because they have to get the cooperation of their bodies, minds, emotions, and will for these aspirations.

4. What are the common forms of personal asceticism?

a) Giving up a meat diet.

Some give it up by slow stages and others completely all at once. To give it up completely is natural and easier to the heroic type of person. Those who give it up by stages often start by giving up red meat, and then later follows white meat, and then again later, fish and eggs. Each person can set his own pace, taking several years for each stage.

b) Giving up alcohol as a daily drink.

Alcohol temporarily paralyzes the brain centers in which we get our nerve reaction to meditation practices and spiritual aspiration, which form the basis of moral values. Therefore it is better not to drink alcohol just before meditation…that is a necessary discipline for all questers.

It is better for spiritual aspirants, whether they meditate or not, to avoid the stronger alcohols like whiskey, brandy, and gin, and in any case not to drink alcohol to excess. It is the excess that is most dangerous.

Why do people drink alcohol anyway? Because it temporarily frees them from the troubles and burdens and cares of their lives and gives them a happy, glowing feeling – the effect is similar to some of the drugs – it offers a copy of the exhilaration and peace of mind and feeling of freedom which a quester gets from spiritual experiences or glimpses, but not always – if they drink to excess they will get the equivalent of nightmares, just as those who take the stronger drugs like heroin often do. It is an illusory way of getting rid of problems. Better to seek a spiritual way, which is safer and more lasting.

The use of hallucinative and narcotic drugs is increasing rapidly – what has been said about alcohol applies to this, too – that it is anti-spiritual and that the raptures which it gives are false imitations of the real thing and this must be remembered by spiritual aspirants since it is in opposition to spiritual growth.

5. Why has the ascetic ideal of complete chastity been given such importance for spiritual aspirants in the Orient and to a lesser extent in the West?

Sex is the strongest feeling in all animals because Nature is trying to keep the race of living creatures to continue their existence so that by evolution they will have the necessary physical bodies to eventually rise higher and higher spiritually. But the quester is in a special position because he has to get self-control, which is not demanded from other animals. Without control of feelings and thoughts, he could not reach the high spiritual goal. This is why those saints, prophets, and churches have set up the condition of chastity as being very important.

6. Why are the younger generations rebelling against the ascetic ideal?

The young are rebelling against most of their elder peoples’ ideals, not only against ascetic ones.

They demand complete freedom now, as the sex passion is much stronger in them naturally than when they are themselves in middle-age, or old age. But despite their opposition, there is still, as in the past, a place for monastic or celibate life for those who feel called to it.

7. What is a sane attitude toward sex?

The idea of sex often gets confused with the idea of marriage – but people can marry for other reasons than sex. The Western churches and Eastern religious organizations declare that the outer form of being married is the important thing. If you want to live a religious life, you have to apply the ideal of the middle way. Don’t go to an extreme one way or another. There must be some self-discipline.

How far, each person must decide for himself, dependent on his capacity.

The middle way will be a flexible thing – its definition must come from within himself and not be something which he groans under. If he develops his intuition, it will begin to give him guidance. Rigid rules laid down can be broken at any time if they are imposed from outside. The quester has to study sex and how it affects meditation and the will-power. It is the most dramatic force in human nature, but it is also the most powerful source of deception.


1. What are the common misunderstandings about spiritual attainment?

There is much confusion, both in the Orient and in the West, in the minds of most seekers, connected with the personal quest and the various teachings which they study about those who have attained the goal and spiritual experience.

2. What are the errors about health?

One can say that a spiritual life is more conducive to health because it requires us to take more care of ourselves, to be more careful in trying to keep out negative thoughts, emotional upsets, and bad food. To purify the mind and the emotions and body helps to improve the health and reduce nerve stresses.

3. What are the errors about occult powers?

4. What are the errors of prosperity?

5. What are the errors of healing?

6. What are the errors of spiritual attainment?

7. What are the errors about spiritual experiences?


1. What is God?

2. What is the concept of God as different from God himself?

3. How does man create God in his own image?

4. Where is God to be sought?

5. Why does God mean one thing to a small child and another to an educated adult?

6. What is the difference between a personal God and an impersonal God?

7. Why does God appear as light to many mystics?

8. Why has the sun been worshipped all over the world since the most ancient times?

9. How ought God to be sought?

10. Why did Jesus remain silent when Pontius Pilate asked him, “What is Truth?”


1. Why seek God?

2. Why has religion less influence nowadays than a hundred years ago?

3. How do religions come into being?

4. How and why do religions decline?

5. Why are the religions of the world coming closer together?

6. What is the future of religion?

7. What is a sane religion?

8. Why must ministers become all-inspired?

9. How should we worship God?

10. Will the ecumenical movement affect the general attitude to religion in Sweden?


1. Why is the Sermon on the Mount so important?

2. How should we pray?

3. Does God lead us into temptation?

4. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

5. What is the purpose of life?

6. What is the Overself?

7. Why is it necessary to obtain spiritual realization in the waking state?

8. What is the condition called eternal life?

9. What are the mystery schools?

10. Why is it so difficult to find the Kingdom of Heaven?


1. Why did Jesus say:

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit?”

2. Why is life in the world like a dream?

3. What is inner detachment?

4. What is true and false humility?

5. What is true and false righteousness?

6. What is the law of spiritual cause and effect?

This iron cosmic law is known in the East as Karma. Karma means that whatever we think and feel and do brings back to us its corresponding effects, according to the same extent. If you do good, you receive good. If you do harm, you will be harmed. These are the moral effects.

If you work hard, you get the results of your work. If you are lazy, the results will be adjusted accordingly. Something like this appears in the teachings of scientific physics, in the law that every action meets with an equal physical reaction.

7. Who are” the pure in heart”?

8. What is spiritual discrimination?

9. Who are the true peacemakers?

10. What is behind the experience of death?

(Quotes from The Wisdom of the Overself, pp. 131-133)


There is a conventional picture and concept of Jesus held in the Western countries. However, there is another unconventional picture and conception of him and his teachings which have been traditionally passed down in the Near East.

1. Is reincarnation a lost Christian doctrine?

2. Who are the Messiahs and antichrists?

3. Who are the false Messiahs and antichrists?

4. What is the meaning of the “son of God”?

5. What was Jesus’ special mission?

6. Why is the influence of Christianity weaker than in earlier centuries?

7. What was Jesus’ attitude to the common people?

8. Is meditation a way to the “Kingdom of Heaven” as Jesus taught?

9. Quote from A Search in Secret Egypt, p. 193 (1970 Weiser edition):

“The Mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations,” as one of Christ’s Apostles declared, would be revealed to the unprivileged masses and the common folk. But what the antique institutions communicated to the elect few by a difficult process would be communicated to all the people by the simple power of faith. Jesus had too much love in his heart to provide for a few alone; he wanted to save the many. He showed them a way which required nothing more than sufficient faith in his words; he offered them no mysterious, occult process of initiation. Yet it was a way which could give those who accepted it as great a certitude of immortality as could the Mysteries.


1. What is the creative Word?

2. Are there many gods?

There are many world-minds and therefore there are many universes – each universe has its own World-Mind.

The World-Mind is born in a body of light and is both the intelligence behind the entire universe and the life-force within the universe, including all its huge variety of creatures. Universes appear, live, decay, and disappear, and with them the creators. New ones are born with new creators – therefore new Gods. This is a continuous, never-ending process – but in the end all comes from and goes back into Mind.

3. What is the difference between the Absolute, impersonal Mind and the World-Mind which is born from it?

The unknown and unknowable absolute God is Mind. The knowable and known God is the World-Mind. At any one point in time, there are countless universes and therefore seemingly countless gods. The life-force is enclosed within our universe, but for us it is seemingly infinite space.

4. From what was the world made?

From light. The Greek Orthodox church derived from the earliest Syrian, Egyptian and Christian church, predating the Catholic and Protestant churches, teaches that man can’t go further than the mystic experience of God as light, which they call union with God.

5. In what way are we temples of the living God as the apostle Paul declares?

The Overself is present in us as a ray of the sun of God, and that makes our bodies temples. People who don’t believe that turn their bodies into stables – for the animals.

6. What does “being born again” mean as spoken by Jesus?

To be reborn out of materialism; the new awareness that one is also spirit. Without that rebirth one cannot attain to “The Kingdom of Heaven.” This rebirth starts the initiation into the quest, which really begins with the first glimpse – until then you can only hear about it or read about it and form opinions about it. To be fully reborn as a new man, one passes through two periods – preparatory and advanced – the first is called the long path and the second, the short path. (Read the material on this in the chapter “The Short Path.”)

7. How should a Christian worship God in Spirit and Truth as Jesus told us to do?

8. Why did Jesus confess, “I can of my own self do nothing”?

He, as a human being, is just the man Jesus, who can do nothing above the ordinary. But as he states elsewhere in the word, “I seek to do the will of the father.” He transfers his own will and consciousness to the Overself – that is the difference between Jesus as a man and Jesus as an instrument and channel for the Overself, where he becomes God-inspired and becomes the Christ representing the higher Self. Christ means the Anointed One. The higher Consciousness is now using him – the anointment is the inspiration flowing through him.

9. What is the meaning of, “I and my father are one”?

The ego surrenders its own will and desires.

10. What freedom does Jesus promise when he says, “The truth shall make you free”?

11. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.” What kind of peace did he mean? Is it the peace of this world where the nations have peace for a few years and then start fighting another war?

Or is it the peace where men have no greed, no hatred, no anger in their hearts and therefore do not need to fight other men? So the answer to this question is not the outer political one, but the inner, heartfelt one.


1. Why is there a growing interest in the Eastern religions?

Through improved means of travel and increased curiosity and the results of the world wars, there has been much more contact and communication between the Eastern and Western peoples in most departments of life, in those of food, clothing, culture, etc., and in religious ideas. Among these ideas there are several worth studying – i.e., reincarnation and karma.

2. What is the bible of the holy men of India?

The Bhagavad Gita – “The Lord’s Song.” There are two schools of thought – the pacifist and the literalist. The pacifist was headed by Gandhi, and supplies a symbolic interpretation; the literalist takes the book as a historical record.

It describes the scene on a battlefield before the battle is to begin – one of the Indian avatars (divine incarnations) named Krishna instructs the young prince Arjuna, who is the leader of the good forces which are fighting those who represent the forces of wickedness. The book is a mixture of bits of history and mythology, and deals with a period at least 5000 years ago, so it is now difficult to separate one from the other. The story may also be taken symbolically as representing the spiritual teachings given by the god Krishna to his devotee prince Arjuna.

There are different teachings given in each chapter of the Gita. Krishna describes the different paths to the highest human goal, telling Arjuna to choose from them, but one of the reasons for this teaching is to show how to do one’s duty in the world and yet not be dragged down by it inwardly while seeking this goal.

3. Why should one act in the world when one does not want to?

You cannot escape from action -whether it be physical or mental.

4. What is the path of spiritual knowledge?

It is how to know the Highest Reality, i.e., Truth.

5. What is the path of meditation?

It is also explained in the book. There is one only fitted for people who renounce the world, describing the circumstances in which they should live. The Bhagavad Gita is an advanced book for those who take the quest very seriously. In the Gita there is concrete instruction given about how to meditate, whereas the New Testament points to the direction – within.

Both are needed – one shows direction and goal and the other detailed ways how to get there.

6. In addition to the ways of knowledge and detached action and meditation, if these paths prove too difficult, there also is the path of intense faith in the reality and devotion to the presence of divinity. The simple man usually follows this path. However, some of the qualities needed by the aspirant would apply to all the paths.

“It is I who am to be known by all the scriptures,” said Krishna, meaning that to help people realize God is the purpose of all the scriptures.

He also said, “I am the author of scriptures,” meaning God has inspired all the contents of the genuine scriptures.

Bad qualities – qualities of the ego when it goes to extremes – insolence – rudeness. We have to understand something about courtesy and politeness because without it we hurt people’s feelings.

He taught that there are three levels of people – spiritually-minded, the very excitable, the inert. He recommends in everything the middle way – not too much of one and not too much of the other – not too much activity without balancing it with meditation.