Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 2: Overview of Practices Involved > Chapter 5: Balance the Psyche
Balance the Psyche
Engage the whole being
What we can do is to prepare favourable conditions for the Light of the Overself's appearance or for the manifestation of its Grace. This is the role and function of mystical technique and is as far as it can go. There is no technique which can guarantee to offer more than such preparation. If it does, it is quackery.
The impelling force of an ardent desire for self-improvement must unite with the attracting spell of the Overself's beauty to give him the strength for these labours and disciplines. On the one side, he reflects on the disadvantages of yielding to his faults and weaknesses--on the other, to the benefits of establishing the virtues and qualities of his higher nature.
A rich, many-sided personality may still be in the process of accumulating experience and unfolding potentialities. Experience alone is a hard path; it should be backed by reason, intuition, and correct counsel. But reason is useful for truth-finding only when it is detached and impersonal; intuition must be genuine and not camouflaged impulse or wishful-thinking; and correct counsel may be obtained only from the most inspired, and not the merely sophisticated, sources.
Whoever wishes to develop beyond the spiritual level of the mass of mankind must begin by changing the normal routine of mankind. He must reflect, pray, and meditate daily. He must scrutinize all his activities by the light of philosophy's values and ethics. He may even have to change his residence, if possible, for serenity of mind and discipline of passion are more easily achievable in a rural village than in an urban city.
He should never forget that in his metaphysical studies or mystical practices he is working towards an ultimate goal which lies beyond both metaphysics and mysticism. He is preparing himself to become a philosopher, fitting himself to be granted the Overself's Grace, unfolding passive intuition and critical intelligence only that the transcendental insight may itself be unfolded.
He has to learn how to surrender his egotism and swallow his pride. He has to cleanse his heart of impurity and then open it to divinity.
The philosophic life is a steadily disciplined, not a severely ascetic one.
The aspiration toward the higher self must be formally repeated in daily prayer, cherished in daily retreats, and kept vivid in daily study.
So long as man is imperfect in character, defective in intelligence, and mechanical in sense-response to his environment, so long must he seek to improve the first, perfect the second, and liberate the third. And there is no better way to achieve these aims than to pursue a philosophic course of conduct and thought.
It is a wise rule of aspiration not to seek for more power than you are able to use or more knowledge than you are willing to apply.
The inability to believe in or detect the presence of a divine power in the universe is to be overcome by a threefold process. The first part some people overcome by "hearing" the truth directly uttered by an illumined person or by other people by reading their inspired writings. The second part is to reflect constantly upon the Great Truths. The third part is to introvert the mind in contemplation.
Make it a matter of habit, until it becomes a matter of inclination, to be kind, gentle, forgiving, and compassionate. What can you lose? A few things now and then, a little money here and there, an occasional hour or an argument? But see what you can gain! More release from the personal ego, more right to the Overself's grace, more loveliness in the world inside us, and more friends in the world outside us.
He must develop emotional maturity, strong character, and a courageous attitude toward life. This positive strength is needed to face and master the many different trying situations of existence. The will has to be hardened so that it keeps him from being drowned in the wash of emotional reactions. Only after he has done this can he penetrate through to the deeper layer of being where his inner Self dwells. If this is not done in the early stages of growth he will eventually be forced to retrace his steps and learn, consciously and deliberately, the neglected lessons.
This Quest cannot be followed to success without the quality of courage. It is needed at the beginning, in the middle, and near the end. It is needed to think for oneself, to act in nonconformity to one's environment, and to obey intuitive leading toward new, unknown, or unfamiliar directions.
Because the quest is in part an attempt to raise himself to a higher level of being, he must change his attitude for a time towards those powers of the lower level which would keep him captive there. That is, he must liberate himself from the thraldom of the senses and the tendencies of the intellect. The first he may accomplish by ascetic disciplines, the second by meditative disciplines. The body must be mortified, the emotions purified, and the mind reoriented. He has, in short, to pursue the good with all the ardour and faithfulness that the world reserves for its lesser loves.
At least two urgent needs must be attended to. The first is self-awareness and control of our emotional and mental reactions. The second is the same, but in reference to our physical reactions, that is, the way we use our body. In short, we must learn how most efficiently to function both in rest and in activity.
By the use of will, of force of a decision made and kept, a man may strive against his animal self to win peace. By the practice of mental quiet, of turning inward, of letting his higher nature emerge, he may win it, too.
The mere flexion and extension of the body's muscles may be valuable to the man who wants to display how large and how thick he can develop them, but it is not enough for, and may be mere drudgery to, the man who wants the philosophic attainment. The latter must creatively join breathing, thinking, imagining, believing, worshipping, and willing to the physical act and focus them upon it, if he is to gain that attainment.
So long as he lacks humour, he may tend to make the quest a heavy burden of disciplines, exercises, duties, and tests only--that is, he may confine it to the Long Path only, and miss its joyous releases, its happy discoveries.
There is no point on the Path where a man may cast goodness aside; neither near its beginning, the middle, or the end may he do so.
The quality of calmness is to be highly valued, constantly pursued and practised, until it becomes well stabilized. Philosophical knowledge and meditational exercise, plus application to everyday living, bring this prize.
After the necessity for self-improvement has been brought home to us, whether by peaceful reflection or painful experience, we begin to cast about for the power to effect it. We see that enthusiasm is not enough, for this having bubbled up may pass away again into lethargy. We need the effort to understand, and to organize our thought to this end as well as the will to apply in action what we learn.
He is willing to submit to the restraints imposed by the ideal because he wants the benefits gained by following the ideal, including the benefit of feeling that he is doing what is right. He submits cheerfully without regarding the restraint as being oppressive.
Life is grey enough without being made greyer by sacrificing the little colourful pleasures which art can bring to it or the little cheering comforts which invention can contribute to it.
Aesthetical starvation and emotional purity are not convertible terms.
Wisdom is needed to make the most of life. The discipline of character is needed to prevent avoidable suffering. The control of thought is needed to attain peace. Reverence for the highest is needed for spiritual fulfilment.
The man who takes his body for himself, misunderstands himself. Only a course of severe discipline will correct it and reveal to him by intense experience the power subtler than flesh, subtler even than intellect, which is at the vital centre deep within consciousness.
At first he will find within himself only a tiny spark of divinity. He will next have to strive to kindle this spark into a flame.
The aspiration has gotten into his bloodstream and every act, every thought follows inevitably from this one primal fact.
"The question of attainment depends only, in the last resort, on the thirst of the soul," Swami Vivekananda once told an aspirant.
It is true that the aspiration for Overself is also a desire and must eventually also go. But it is useful and helpful in getting free from lesser or lower desires.
The means needed for the quest have been listed in Buddha's eightfold path: (1) right belief, (2) right decision, (3) right words, (4) right dealings, (5) right livelihood, (6) right tendency, (7) right thinking, (8) right meditative immersion into oneself.
The student has to unfold a wider sense. He must begin to see the whole of which he forms a part, which means he must become more philosophical. His physical existence depends on the services of others, from the parents who rear him, the wife who mates him, the customer who buys his goods or services, the farmer who grows his food, the soldier who guards his country, to the undertaker who buries his body. No man can forever isolate himself from the rest of mankind. In some way or other, for one essential need or another, he will come to depend on it. The shoes he wears or the food he eats were prepared for him by somebody else. Thus he is mysteriously chained to his human kith and kin. Thus he is forced to learn the lesson of unity and compassion.
It must become something as central to his life as eating, as necessary as breathing, and as welcome as great music.
According to the Pali Buddhist texts, the three main requisites to be cultivated for enlightenment are Understanding, Concentration, and Right Conduct. These correspond to the Mahayana requisites of Wisdom, Meditation, and Morality.
The aspirant has such a task to perform that he must needs husband his strength for it. He must keep his fingers lithe and nimble for his starry work, untrammelled by the behests of other taskmasters.
Attentive study, faithful practice of the exercises given in my books, and the re-education of character and conduct along positive lines will help to prepare him for glimpses of enlightenment.
We must direct all our desire along this channel of a high aspiration, as the artilleryman directs all the force of an explosive within the steel wall of a gun, concentrating it into conquering potency.
He is not only to seek the Real, but he is also to love the Real; not only to make it the subject of his constant thoughts but also the object of his devoted worship.
It is the shortest step in humility that we can take to admit that we are all en route, and leave it to others to talk of final attainments. In an infinite realm of nature, the possibilities are also infinite.
When we feel the littleness of our ego against the greatness of our Overself, we become humble. Therefore it is that to those who feel neither the one nor the other, the first prescription is: cultivate humility.
Those who cannot or will not learn to bow their heads in reverence at certain times like sunsets, in certain places like massive mountains, or before certain men like sages, will not be able to learn the highest wisdom.
The refinement and evolution of a human being requires not only a cultivation of his intellectual faculties, not only of his heart qualities, but also of his aesthetic faculties. All should be trained together at the same time. A love of the beautiful in nature and art, in sunsets and pictures, in flowers and music, lifts him nearer the ideal of perfection.
There is a difference between aspiration and ambition as they are to be understood on this quest. The two easily get confused with one another. Aspiration tries not to surrender to the ego's tyranny whereas ambition directly strengthens it. I do not refer here to a young man's ambition to make a career for himself. That is another matter and ought to be encouraged.
It is right to go beyond admiration and honourable to rise up to veneration in a place where Nature gives us great beauty, or at a truth of being which redeems life from chaos and meaninglessness, or in finding a book which comes with a welcome opportune message at the right moment, and finally with a work of true art testifying to the noble, creative, or unworldly inspiration behind it.
It may not be an axiom in many teachings, but it is in philosophy: to purify emotion, to refine feeling, to control attitude, and to uplift mood by accepting help from art and nature are spiritual exercises.
This faculty of discrimination, called buddhi in the Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita and chih in the Chinese Confucian classics, is to be developed not only by studies and reflections but also by experiences of life: it is to be applied in observations, decisions, and actions. It is at first a rational faculty but later, on a higher level, is transfused with intuition.
The universal rule of all true spiritual teachers which calls for him to purify himself means simply that he shall remove the hindrances to clear awareness of his Overself. The passions are merely one group of these hindrances: there are several others and different kinds.
The man who is devoid of the eight qualities which practice of the Long Path eventually develops in him will not be able to succeed in practising the Short Path. These qualities are calmness, self-control, oriental withdrawal, fortitude, faith, constant recollection, intense yearning for the Overself, and keen discrimination between the transient and the eternal.
The attempt to use Spirit for personal ends cannot succeed, but the willingness to be used by it can be realized.
The recognition of one's limitations, together with voluntary annihilation of self-will at the feet of the Overself, are indispensable prerequisites on the part of the entire ego before the experience of Reality can transpire.
The aspirant who has to undergo deep changes and to learn how to humble himself must remember that this is for his own ultimate benefit. All experience of this kind is intended to promote spiritual growth.
The attitude of expectancy and hope in the matter of seeking illumination is a correct one. But the hour when this Grace will be bestowed is unpredictable; therefore, hope must be balanced with patience, and expectancy with perseverance. Meanwhile, there is all the work one can handle in attending to the improvement of character and understanding, the cultivation of intuition and practice of meditation, the prayers for Grace, and in self-humbling beneath the Will of the Overself.
In this study it is needful to maintain a discriminative attitude in every matter--then help and instruction can be obtained from all kinds of unexpected sources. Such an approach, however, should not be confused with mere credulity since this would delay progress.
Until the time his karma brings him the indwelling Master, the seeker must continue to prepare for what will then happen. He must seek to uncover and uproot all faults and characteristic weaknesses. He must resolve to achieve the best life--that is, one that exemplifies truth, goodness, and beauty. He must understand well the proper values to be attached to worldly matters and to spiritual ones. He must face the difficulties of everyday life with courage and with the knowledge gleaned from his study.
He must climb out of the dark pit of emotional resentment and self-pity into which the blows of life throw him. He should extirpate all the human and pardonable weakness which made him unhappy. He should be big-hearted and generous towards the failings of others who, he feels, have wronged him. It is a grand chance to make a quick spurt in his spiritual progress if he could change from the conventional emotional reaction to the philosophic and calmer one, if he could rise at one bound above what Rupert Brooke called "the long littleness of life." He should not continue to bear resentment against those who have wronged him, nor to brood over what they have done; let him forget the mean, the sordid, and the wicked things other people do and remember the great, the noble, and the virtuous things that he seeks to do. Follow Jesus' example and cheerfully forgive, even unto seventy times seven. By his act of forgiveness to them, he will be forgiven himself for the wrongs he also has done. In their pardon lies his own. This is the law. In this way he demonstrates that he is able to leap swiftly from the present self-centered standpoint to a higher one, and he deals the personal ego a single paralysing blow. This is without doubt one of the hardest efforts anybody can be called upon to make. But the consequences will heal the wounds of memory and mitigate the pains of adversity.
In a certain type of person the most important factor in the inner life is the cultivation of the harder qualities like will, decision, execution, endurance, determination, energy, and the like.
He must work hard at eliminating the faults in his character. Even though he may yearn for the Overself, he may actually stand in the way of his own light. If the ego is strong in him, he must try to learn from others the humility, devotion, and unselfishness which are so admirable and necessary. He should not be afraid to go down on his knees in prayer and confession, for pride, vanity, egotism, and self-assertion must be broken. Even if he has very good qualities he must forget these and concentrate on the eradication of his faults, to perfect himself as much as possible. Character is what counts in every sphere.
Ultimately he will have to rise into that pure atmosphere whence he can survey his personal life as a thing apart. And, still more difficult as it is, he will have to live in such a way as to use personality to express the wisdom and goodness felt on that height. The second part of this program is almost beyond human strength to achieve. Therefore he has first to establish the connection with the Overself so that its strength and understanding will then rule him without requiring any effort on his part. The moment of this event is unpredictable. It depends on the Divine Grace. However, if he sticks to the Quest, its arrival is sure. After that, Fate re-adjusts his external circumstances in what may seem to be a miraculous manner and life becomes more satisfying.
At last he finds that he must become as a little child and re-acquire faith. But this time it will not be blind faith; it will be intelligent. He must free himself from the pride, arrogance, and conceit of the intellect and bow in homage before the eternal Mystery; there is much that he can learn about himself, his mind, the laws of living, and the ways of Nature. Nothing is to be rejected. He needs to believe as well as to know. In the end, too, he has to drop all the "isms," however much he may have got from them in the past, and think, feel, and live as a free being.
His personal duty is to grow spiritually all he can as quickly as possible. He must concentrate on himself, but always keep at the back of his mind the idea that one day he will be fit to serve others and do something for them too. Spiritual growth entails meditation practices kept up as regularly as possible, metaphysical study, cultivation of intuition, and a kindling of an ever increasing love for the divine soul, the true "I." It is this soul which is the ray of God reflected in him and it is as near to God as anyone can ever get. God is too great, too infinite, ever to be completely comprehended; but the Overself, which is God's representative here, can be comprehended. Only it keeps itself back until he yearns for it as ardently as the most love-sick young man ever yearned for his sweetheart. It wants him to want it for its own sake, and because he has seen through all the material values and understands how imperfect they are in comparison. So he must cultivate this heartfelt love towards what is his innermost "me" and must not hesitate to pray for its Grace or even to weep for it. He must surrender inwardly and secretly all the ego's desires to it.
It is through heartfelt prayer and aspiration to become one with his own higher self that the student will eventually open the way for the further guidance he needs.
It is absolutely essential for seekers on this Quest to avoid becoming sidetracked by psychism and occultism and their devotees--and to place their faith and aspiration in the transcendental purity of the divine Overself alone.
The fact that one may not have had any apparent mystical experience, even though he has tried practising concentration, need not dismay him. Concentration alone is not enough. It is no less important to practise prayer and aspiration, unremitting effort at improving character and eliminating weaknesses, strengthening the will and purifying the emotions. If he applies faithful and persistent effort in these directions, he will not only cultivate a properly balanced and well-developed personality, but he will eventually call forth the Grace and Guidance of the Overself.
Intensified aspiration for the Way, Itself, rather than too much concern about the steps that lead along It, will act as a propulsive force.
Those who feel they lack the strength to restrain their emotional ego may vicariously, if momentarily, find it by immersing themselves in the creations, literary or artistic, of others who do have it.
In what way and by what means can a man discover the truth? By an aspiration active enough and intelligent enough to penetrate both mysticism and philosophy while saturating itself in reverence.
Counsel to a seeker: First hear or study, reflect and understand what you, the world, and God are. Then enter the Stillness, love it. The Stillness will take care of you, and of your problems.
There are two stages: (a) effort, and (b) cessation of effort while waiting for Grace. Without guilt and without the use of willpower, he watches his weaknesses and desires as a mere spectator. This nondualistic attitude, which refuses to separate body from soul, is metaphysically correct; but he must place within, and subordinate to, this larger acceptance the minimum disciplines and controls and exercises. Thus the latter are modified and their harsh, rigid, or mechanical character is eliminated. The teaching of acceptance is given by Krishnamurti, but it is not balanced by the disciplines; it is too extreme, it is not complete. The balanced philosophic approach eliminates the dualism of body and soul, so criticized by Krishnamurti, yet makes a proper limited use of asceticism.
The Quest uses the whole of one's being, and when enlightenment comes, all parts are illumined by it. To prepare for this, one should continue the self-humbling prayers for Grace, the exercise of sudden remembrance of the Overself, the surrender of the lower nature to the Higher, and the never-ceasing yearning for Reality.
It is not only character, capacities, faculties, and intelligence that are to be developed by mankind in the course of centuries as concerns his inner nature but also refinement. This is an attribute which he expresses chiefly through aesthetic feeling and artistic sensitivity yet also through speech, manner, dress, and behaviour. It betokens his quality and lifts him from a lower caste (by inward measure) to a higher one.
He must try to remain noble even in an ignoble environment, philosophical in an ignorant one.
It is easy to express the wish to become an instrument in the hands of the Divine but hard to become one in actuality. Countless pious persons say countless times, "Thy will be done," but they seldom do it. They are not to blame, however. For they are ignorant of the fact that before their words can get any real meaning, they themselves must pass through a discipline, a preparation, a self-development, and a balancing-up.
It is necessary to explore, find, and face his problems before he can resolve them. This will require a ruthless impersonality and a maturity of experience which not many possess. Therefore, it is here that the wholesome books and the advice of friends may be sought.
Our human nature is so pitifully limited and imperfect that only its most rigorous discipline will bring the infinite and perfect enlightenment into consciousness without spoiling it in some way.
He needs a humbleness like that of the grass which is trodden by all feet, a patience like that of the tree which is exposed to all weathers.
The ego must aspire before the soul can reveal.
It is a work upon himself, his character and outlook, his knowledge and capacity. But especially is it a work upon his faculty of attention, his control of thought, his delicate awareness.
Enframed and conditioned as they are by the suggestions and influences from various outside sources, the first duty is to find liberation from them.
Not infrequently a student asks, "Has anyone ever been in my position? How can I arrive at awareness of the Truth?" The Teacher could reply that he himself has been in many such positions. What he did was to ardently and prayerfully seek Truth through the fivefold path of religious veneration, mystical meditation, rational reflection, and moral and physical re-education. There is, however, a certain destiny always at work in these matters.
Self-study and self-observation, a constant effort toward developing awareness, and a truly objective analysis of past and present experiences in the light of one's highest aspirations, will eventually lead one to the discovery of the Undivided Self; whilst meditation, accompanied by an intensified attitude of faith and devotion, will lead to deeper understanding of, and communion with, this Goal of Goals.
Though you may be the greatest of sinners, do not be afraid to take up yoga. It is not for the good alone, it is for all alike. Take up this practice, give a little time to it regularly, and you will begin to see your sins gradually disappear. It will happen naturally, automatically. Did not Socrates somewhere say that "knowledge is virtue"? And we can guess that his favourite precept was "Man Know Thyself."
We are living in wonderfully momentous times and it is the task of those on the Path to become bearers of the light in a dark age. But first, before that can be, each one must purify, ennoble, and instruct himself. He must fit himself for the divine grace because nothing can be done by his own personal power.
These ideas will have to become not merely his beliefs but his very life, will have to govern not merely his head but his deepest heart. He must live in them as naturally and continuously as he breathes in the air.
The sincere attempt to live out our highest intimations even among the most mundane of environments is essential if we are not to lose ourselves in a sea of vague sophistication. No metaphysical study, no pondering upon the fascinating laws of mind, no ambiguous wandering with a candle in the dark recesses of psychical life can ever atone for the lack of Right Action. We may harbour the loveliest dreams but we must turn them into realities by effort.
Some means of testing his faith and character, his ideas and motives, his values and goals must be found. Life itself provides that means.
The idea that being practical means being dead to all sacred feelings and holy intuitions is another error to be exposed. Everywhere men of affairs and achievement, both celebrated and obscure, have kept their inward being sensitive and alive amidst their earthly labours and worldly successes.
If daily work is accompanied by daily remembrance, and if detachment from the ego is practised along with both, this goal can be attained by a worldling as much as by a world-renouncer.
These teachings have first to become known, then understood, next accepted, and lastly made a part of day-to-day living.
Time may bring him more perception, experience may bring him more knowledge, but he will gain inner strength only as he uses his opportunities aright.
Day by day and hour by hour it must be practised, must be brought into personal living. For it is not to be treated as something abnormal and unnatural or set esoterically apart.
He should ask of each day what it has yielded in this lifelong struggle for the realization of higher values.
Another excellent practice is to begin each day with some particular quality of the ideal in view. It is to be incorporated in the prayers and meditations and casual reflections of that day. A special effort is to be made to bring all deeds to conform to it.
He need not torment himself trying to understand everything in the teaching, if he finds many parts too difficult. It is enough to start with what he can understand and apply that to daily living. This will lead later to increased intuitive capacity to receive such ideas as he had to pass by for the time being.
Those who do not feel ready, or inclined, to fulfil the disciplinary requirements and follow the meditational practices of the Quest, can still benefit in a practical way by using its ethical principles in daily life.
In the spiritualization of active life, through the deeds that come from him and the events that come to him, he has one effectual method of self-development. For a valuable part of the quest's technique is to treat each major experience as a means of lifting himself to a higher level. All depends not on the particular nature of the experience, but upon his reaction to it. It may be pleasurable or painful, a temptation or a tribulation, a caress by fortune or a blow of fate; whatever its nature he can use it to grow. As he moves from experience to experience, he may move from strength to strength. If he uses each situation aright--studying it analytically and impersonally, supplicating the higher self for help if the experience is in the form of temptation, or for wisdom if it is in the form of tribulation--his progress is assured. Thus action itself can be converted into a technique of self-purification instead of becoming, as so many monastics think it inevitably must become, a channel of self-pollution.
There is great profit in the coinage of spiritual self-growth waiting to be picked up at every turn. The method is a simple one. Consider every person who makes an impact on your life as a messenger from the Overself, every happening which leaves its mark as a divinely-sent teacher.
We must endeavour to find this divinity within, not merely at set times of meditation, but also amid the press of the marketplaces.
Learn how to live the teaching out in the midst of the world, yes! with all the temptations and trials; to shun cloistered virtues which, because they are untested, may not be virtues at all; to stay amongst suffering ignorant men who need enlightenment and not to leave them to rot in their darkness; to face the difficulties of worldly life as brave students of philosophy and not as cowardly weaklings; to be too big-hearted and tolerant, too broad-minded and intelligent to separate yourselves; in short, to follow Jesus' advice and be in the world yet not of it.
We must bring our philosophy to the test not only in the exalted stratosphere of inspired moods but also in the prosaic flatness of daily life.
Since most of us have to live in the world as laymen, or even prefer to do so, we must learn how to make use of the world so that it will promote our spiritual aspirations and not obstruct them.
What the poet or artist conceives is within himself, but what he creates is outside himself. Similarly, what the Quester conceives is within himself, but what he creates is the actual life that he creates in the world outside himself.
The beginner needs knowledge, needs to attend lectures, study books, discuss ideas, and even debate the criticism of them. But the man who has done all that needs to move on, to get into the testing ground where teachings and values must prove themselves--that is, into life itself.
It is sometimes asked whether it is better to retain a detached attitude in one's relations with others during the day, or to cultivate and concentrate on a feeling of unity with them and with the All. Since both are necessary, one should follow his inner promptings as to which phase needs to be developed at any particular time. By keeping his approach flexible, and by carefully heeding these inner promptings, his judgement of and dealings with all daily situations will be greatly improved. Such promptings--when free of and not influenced by selfish desires--will shift of their own accord when the need for balance arises.
It is necessary to strive increasingly for practicality and some measure of self-reliance in worldly life. This is not something separate or apart from the search for the higher self. On the contrary, whatever Truth is found and whatever changes are brought about in one's being should be reflected in one's participation in every activity and relationship, whether it be in the work done as the individual's share of world-labour or in his necessary ability to get along with others--not only with those of similar interests and understanding, but with all humanity.
Progress can be made not only in Egypt or India but anywhere. No matter who or where he is, each individual's own character, together with its participation in daily life, is the material presented to him for self-study and self-observation. An analysis of these experiences, both past and present, when carried on in the light of his highest aspirations and in his search for awareness of and attentiveness to God, will open the way to guidance from the Higher Self.
"The time of happiness does not differ with me from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were on my knees," said Brother Lawrence as he went about his work in the monastery kitchen. This is the reward--or rather part of the reward--which philosophy holds before us. It is worth striving for. And the Gita tells us that no efforts are in vain; all bring their fruit sometime, somewhere--if not in this birth then in another, if not in this world then in the next. For the man or woman busy with his bit in the world's work, the Quest must be carried on in the midst of activity. He must not let the difficulties which arise inevitably out of such work cause him to abate his trust in the divine laws. These should be his safeguard, his dependence, his armour, and his weapons.
To accept a high ideal during emotional enthusiasm is one thing; to live up to its guidance during the everyday routine life is another.
It is not easy, this living of two different lives at one and the same time, yet it is not impossible. The common everyday existence is not so unrelated that it cannot coexist with the uncommon mystical existence.
If his common activities are carried on against a background of philosophical endeavour, they will themselves tend to become in time a part of this endeavour.
He may call himself a follower of philosophy only when it has become a part of his daily life.
His mind having captured these ideas and his heart being captured by them, the next step is to apply them in daily living.
Do your duty to the best of your ability, but preserve mental equilibrium at the results, whether the latter be success or failure. This is karma yoga.
Until we learn to regard our environment and our contacts as means of rising spiritually, we remain on the materialistic level and do not get as much out of life as we could.
The student's "firsthand experience" is his daily life. This opportunity should be used, and through it will come a deepened and more complete understanding of what has been gained from intellectual knowledge.
Once his understanding is sufficiently mature and once he is achieving the correct results in meditation, the aspirant's progress will be assured and rapid. Before this stage is reached, however, his immediate need is to bring into his everyday life whatever fruits he has so far gathered from his studies. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, is a series of separate growing moments. Just as the child cannot become an adult overnight, illumination, too, is a long, slow process. The aspirant must actually and literally begin to live what he has already learnt; otherwise, he is unwittingly holding himself back, and limiting Reality to the realm of mere theory.
But if he overdoes the recognition of life's transiency he may upset the delicate balance needed in his self-training for attainment of the goal. For, thus overdone, it will turn into manic depressiveness and pathological melancholia, into groundless fears and hopeless worries. The remark of Emerson that the strength of the spirit is expressed in its joy is useful here.
If we misapply the right or overdo the good, we may create new foolishness and fresh wrongs. If, for example, we remain patiently inactive when it is time to effect a positive change, then we fall into the sin of indolence.
When a scientist like Darwin confesses that he was utterly impervious to poetry and another like Freud that he lacked any feeling for music, we must conclude that they are one-sided in their development, that is, unbalanced.
If the struggle for holiness becomes desperate, if the probing into his spiritual state becomes constant, then the effort is excessive and unbalanced.
Unfortunately, his virtues will throw dark shadows if they are not balanced by reason and restraint. Enthusiasm will be trailed by rashness and faith by superstition.
Few beginners feel the need to keep their balance. Consequently most beginners have a chaotic inner life. It is well looked after in one or two aspects but neglected in others.
Unbalance can take the form of an indomitable determination to attain the goal coupled with an equally indomitable determination to follow foolish procedures.
Whoever, in his ill-instructed ignorance, says that the physical, the intellectual, and the aesthetic are irrelevant to the quest of spiritual fulfilment or, in his fanatical bias, says they are even obstructive to it, merely shows up the incompleteness of his experience and the imbalance of his being.
One side of his character will respond less quickly than another. His development will be uneven and unequal.
When the will is feebler than the imagination, the life loses its balance.
Self-discipline must be balanced or it will become needless torment, fanatic self-injury.
To promote his idealistic tendencies and to neglect his realistic ones, to achieve a high level of intellectuality and to remain at a low level of morality, to be over-critical of others and under-critical of oneself--these are types of unbalance which he should adjust as soon as possible.
He may have difficulty in the world in generating the necessary ambition for pushing ahead with the business side of life. However, the strain and pain of his efforts will pass away eventually whereas the fruits in developed faculties and increased balance will remain as permanent possessions. He must stick to the task of rebuilding his personality on a more solid basis. He must take as his symbol the great pyramid with its huge square base but narrow pointed apex signifying that the broader and bigger the personality the more inspired the service that can be accomplished through it. For there is an invisible inverted pyramid resting on the visible one like the adjoining sketch. This other unseen pyramid stretches away and can stretch away into infinity without limit whereas the lower visible pyramid can proceed no further than the earth's surface.
The very nature of man as a psycho-physical organism with spiritual possibilities and animal actualities, compels him to attend at some time or other to all his sides. No amount of denying or ignoring any one of them will succeed in the end, any more than exaggerating or over-emphasizing some other side will escape Nature's eventual attempt to correct the unbalance and regain equilibrium.
The ideal is the fullness and harmony of balanced qualities, wasting none, denying none: the active will companioned by the mystical intuition, the pleasure-loving senses steadied by the truth-loving reason.
Do not lose your sense of proportion and assume that your actions are going to make any difference to the Witness, the Overself which always remains unaffected.
Somewhere between undisciplined sensuality and uncontrolled asceticism there is the way of sanity.
Philosophy teaches that both aversion from, and attraction to, the world are to be avoided if the fine balance of mind needed to perceive truth is to be attained.
The ability to make this research successfully without ascending to the clouds and getting lost in them, is as necessary as the sensitivity which keeps itself alive, alert, and unsubmerged within the world-experience.
Only to be a scientist or an artist is not enough, just as only to be a very ordinary person is not enough: a fuller human being is life's silent, ever-pressing demand.
If on the one hand he ought not try to turn philosophy into sectarian dominated theology but keep it rigorously upon the wide bases of experience-supported Reason, critical judgement, and balanced synthesis, on the other hand he ought not desert the precinct of holiness: daily he should seek a reverent atmosphere and become suffused with divine feeling.
Balance cannot be separated from proportion.
We have to find our way between the optimist to whom life is a joyous dance and the pessimist to whom it is a sad dirge.
Risk and caution should pair each other, if he is not to be one-sided.
Goodness must be tempered by intelligence, for instance. How many misguided persons assiduously cultivate an inferiority complex under the misapprehension that they are cultivating a selfless character!
The Quest must become obsessive without becoming unbalancing.
Whatever faculty, quality, function, or aspect he is deficient in, he should seek to cultivate it. Whatever is present to excess, he should seek to curb or modify it. Harmony, Balance, and Completeness characterize the idea.
He must meet the demands of his whole psyche if he is to have the proper equipment with which to find the whole truth.
We must punctuate our philosophy with the periods and commas of action, or it will become somewhat stale.
There are different principles of man's being. Each has to be developed and equilibrated. Only after this is done can the energies of the Overself flow into them and thus transform them into expressions of itself.
The safeguard of balance prevents any single aspect of his development and any single function of his psyche from being cast for the role of supreme domination.
The virtue of balance is neither easily nor quickly bought, but its cost is repaid by the values it yields--greater security, more endurance, less error, and better progress.
"Sensible" and "balanced" are convertible terms.
He will have to bring into a fine balance the refusal to be satisfied with the man he is or the way he lives and the acceptance of life generally.
Without this proper balance, he may easily mistake being sentimental for being compassionate.
This need of balance may show itself in a hundred different ways. Where kindness compulsively overrules judgement, for instance, there may be a price to pay. And where kindness keeps beggars in self-chosen or socially enforced idleness, it may harm them, whereas where it finds and fits them for useful work, it must surely help them.
He has to train himself to catch what the soul intuits as clearly as he can already catch what the intellect thinks and the body reports.
Be and behave grown-up, not childishly. Understand something of yourself, your character, your strengths and weaknesses. Find and keep a balance, a common-sense, and a sanity. Value good health, good diet, good manners. Develop yourself, your talents, your knowledge, your calm.
If he himself is a quietist, temperamentally suited only to the studious and meditative pursuits, then he needs activists around to balance and compensate him.
Whenever he observes too much one-sidedness in his being or living, he must attend to its balance and make needed adjustments.
A sound protective balance must be held between the pressure of these different tendencies. It must be slowly learnt by experience as well as considered reflectively in the mind.
Balance is needed in all ways on this quest. The student must not overvalue his emotional experiences, nor overconcentrate upon his metaphysical studies. He must strive for poise in all things and at all times. To lose it is to lose that integrality of character which is the mark of the true philosopher. The mournful consequences which follow are apparent in the fantastic cults which pass for mysticism, as well as in the fantastic movements which distort modern art; they can be seen also in the dry barren field of academic metaphysics as well as in the ugly earth-tied materialism of utilitarian science.
The ideal of Balance keeps us from falling into dangerous extremes. The self-controls which follow detachment are meritorious but its lengthening into callousness is not.
The Sanskrit word for inner Balance is samadham, that poise which is maintained in all kinds of circumstances. By constantly thinking about the falsity of the ego and its phantom-like nature, it can be sublimated and its power divinely directed.
If intensity is achieved but other qualities neglected, then this very virtue may turn into fanaticism and balance lost. The Quest is a way of balanced thought and living, not a mania to unhinge the mind and disorder the emotions.
We exist on more levels than one, from the grossly physical to the finely ethereal. We have to take care of our body, of our vital force, our emotions and thoughts because we have to live with them and use them.
In the well-formed and well-informed aspirant the activities of both paths will be subtly blended. This is part of what is meant when it is said that he is properly balanced. And out of this union will come the "second birth," the new man who reflects at last the glorious consciousness of the Overself.
Even when one's deep sincerity and earnest aspiration are beyond question, and even though one may have already travelled fast and far in certain directions, this may not be enough to attain enlightenment. All sides of the psyche--including some previously neglected--must be evenly balanced and developed in order to lead one to a full and lasting illumination of the whole.
Energy and drive in action, calm and patience in meditation--this is the combination he ought to achieve.
To get this strength and gain this wisdom, he must paradoxically follow two opposed courses. First, he must retire wholly from all activities every day and contemplate them analytically as well as impersonally. Second, he must plunge into and use those activities as springboards whence to rise to higher levels. Hence, it is said that neither meditation nor action is enough. Both are necessary to him and to one another. The first inspires and aspires, the second expresses and tests.
Man wants certain things from life, but life itself wants certain things from him. It wants proper treatment of his body, it wants knowledge and understanding in his mind.
It is essential to keep a certain minimum balance in life and nature when thrusting forward to develop or improve on both; otherwise the overdoing will bring new evils and upset both.
Because we refute authoritarianism this does not mean we are to jump with the unbalanced into intuition and deny all value to the past, to books, and to the teachings of other men. Life would be empty indeed if each of us had to start his quest afresh without the help of great authors like Sankara. Because we deny that material inventions can alone give man happiness, we are not therefore to follow the fanatic and flee into asceticism.
Salvation does not depend on any one factor but on a balanced total of several factors. The devotional temperament is not enough. The disciplined will is not enough. The moral virtues are not enough. The trained intellect is not enough.
Aspiration and wisdom-knowledge are "the two wings which help the soul in the course of its spiritual flight" or as Professor Hiriyanna used to say to me "knowledge without devotion is as futile as devotion without knowledge."
The thoughts in the brain and the feelings in the heart need to be together; each side of his nature contributes to make a man what he is. Both are necessary to a full development. Why ignore or, worse, reject one or the other?
An equilibrium of mind and heart must be established, the deliverances of both must be respected and reconciled.
A well-balanced personality requires that he should be not less a sharp thorough observer, with feet kept well on the ground, than a rapt absorbed meditator.
No man is freed from the necessity of developing his thinking capacities merely because he is developing his mystical ones. The reverse is just as true. Nature is not satisfied if he is a good mystic but a bad thinker.
His intellect needs to understand what are the real facts of his situation, while his moral nature needs to be willing to fulfil the sacrificial and disciplinary demands made.
The goodness which must come into his willing is not separate nor separable from the truth which must come into his thinking.
One part of his being may yield obediently to the philosophic discipline but other parts may not. His thoughts may surrender but his feeling or his will may not. So struggle there must be until the ego's surrender is total and complete.
Although the emotions will provide driving force to secure action in giving up bad habits, for instance, the co-operation of the reason and the will is needed to secure lasting results.
Intuition leads the way in the philosophic quest and reason follows it; faith, feeling, and will are then obedient to, and balanced by, reason.
The wise student understands that the pattern of human existence is too complex to be drawn by any single straight-line movement. Therefore he will strike a balance between his feelings and his reasonings, between his mental life and his active life. He knows it is always foolish and sometimes dangerous to overdo the one and underdo the other. For the contradictions and disharmonies which are thus set up, the disproportion between aims and means, will hinder progress and harm experience.
If he seeks truth with his whole being, then it must enter into his whole being. Hence, if through inborn disposition he felt his way with the emotions toward it in the past, rather than knew it with the understanding, he will one day become aware of the need of adding an intellectual basis to his life. That which leads him into this awareness is his own higher self.
We have referred often to the need of balance but not so often to its importance. Yet this can be plainly seen from the picture of a broken- or clipped-winged bird trying to fly on its sound wing alone. It flutters round and round in the air, always returning to the starting point, to its own confusion. This is a picture of a creature without physical balance; a person without psychic balance, which follows completeness of development, whirls about just as vainly in his intellectual, emotional, and active life.
The more intellectual a man is, the more does he need to bring a devotional element into the studies and practices.
It helps to attain a measure of emotional balance, calmness and detachment if, in the midst of bright fortune, you remember the time of dark despair.
All influences, contacts, persons, or places which destroy our balance are to be shunned as undesirable, if not evil.
The ability to reason accurately must be balanced by the ability to live according to one's findings.
He may have studied under mystical teachers, lived in monastic ashrams, and wandered in mountain caves in former reincarnations gaining much bliss by the practice of meditation. That is why he may feel such a strong hankering for these things during the present incarnation, but the rhythm of progress has put him into a Western body and given him family life in order to develop another necessary phase of character and thus make him better balanced. Mysticism is only one side of life and a most estimable one, but life itself is many-sided. The true Quest must lead to a development of all these sides. Nothing narrower than this ideal will suffice. Any attempt to escape in the wrong way from the path which karma has outlined for him can only end in disappointment and disillusionment. However there is a way of escape from hard, external conditions and that is by fully learning their lessons, by mastering the problems of practical, everyday living, by developing intelligence and reasoning power, and by remembering to keep the mental picture of a fuller life of disinterested service ever before him.
A certain hardness of character in some students is not altogether a defect as there is no particular virtue in being soft. The world being what it is today a little toughness acts as a protective shield. The defect lies only in pushing this to extremes and in not balancing it appropriately with its opposite. For such persons, there is the need of evolving a gentler side of the character and the result will eventually be all to the good in a finer, better balanced personality.
Hard thinking is just as necessary on this path as gentle submission to delicate moods of mental stillness. Both are required.
A well-developed critical intellect in combination with over-concentration produces an exceptionally strong ego. Such a person should cultivate a little more humility so as to improve the natural balance of his personality. He must humble the ego. He should do this himself, secretly, and through calm, reflective meditation; then life will not do it to him openly and through bitter external circumstances.
It is one function of experience through action to correct our mistakes in thinking, as it is a different function of thinking to correct our mistakes in action.
Right feeling should accompany right thinking, right willing should complement right intuition.
So long as man lives in a fleshly body he is the compound of animal, human, and angelic beings. Nature does not permit him to destroy any one of these three parts of his personality. What she does require of him is to make the animal subject to the human and the human again subject to the angelic.
Evolution is working along three lines in the human being: the intellectual, the mystical, and the moral-physical. All must be attended to. Hence it is not enough to develop any single part of one's being alone. The threefold path is what philosophy asks for although religion, science, or mysticism is usually satisfied with a single path. Meditation is the most important of all as without it one cannot transcend the intellect, but it is not enough by itself. He has to practise meditation, cultivate knowledge, and shape conduct aright--all these being directed towards the quest of the Overself. The combination of all three will yield results far in advance of those which a separate development could yield.
Many a yogi will criticize this three-fold path to realization. He will say meditation alone will be enough. He will deprecate the necessity of knowing metaphysics and ridicule the call to inspired action. But to show that I am introducing no new-fangled notion of my own here, it may be pointed out that in Buddhism there is a recognized triple discipline of attainment, consisting of (1) dhyana (meditation practice), (2) prajna (higher understanding), (3) sila (self-denying conduct).
The quest is integral--a combined approach through formal meditation and study, analytic observation, reflection, moral endeavour, religious devotion, and constant self-recollection.
The objection is made that to engage in the total approach--hatha, bhakti, raja, and gnana yogas--is too large a program for any man outside an ashram, too impossible in the case of the average man in the world. Who, after the work of his business or livelihood, has the requisite energy for its study or practice? Who, with a family--wife and children--has the requisite time? My answer is: True! But you can do a little of each yoga. Make the best of the situation and thus tempt the Grace of the Overself to ease the situation."
He must not only do so far as he can all that the Long Path demands from him but he must also step outside it altogether and do those totally different things that the Short Path demands.
Three subjects of study: the natures of man, the universe, God. Three duties are owed: to yourself, to other living creatures--human and animal--to God.
The aspirant need not confine himself to any single approach, leaving out all the others. His greatest success lies in using and balancing the different techniques.
But finding the higher presence within the heart is only the first step. The next is to surrender oneself to it, to be passive in its hands, to let it direct the course of thought, feeling, and conduct. This is a task which is not less hard, and will take not less time, than the first one. It is indeed an art to be learnt by unremitting practice.
It is better nowadays to pursue the different paths side by side, whilst placing special emphasis on one of them.
The philosophic life accepts, combines, and follows all these four dictates: The Christian self-giving, the Roman-Stoic self-control, the Grecian self-balancing, and the Hindu self-knowledge.
The balance does not have to be exact.
He ought not to restrict himself to a single approach. His nature as a human being has different areas, each of which needs to be worked on. The body needs cleansing, the feelings need uplifting, the thoughts need calming. Especially in the contemporary individual the critical analytic intellect needs turning away from its destructive tendency and directing constructively, first, to discriminate truth from error, reality from appearance and, second, to discern the ego and its working, as well as its education by experience.
Each has its place and one need not be decried in favour of the others: homage and devotion to a guru, study and practice of the teaching. For from the first one gains inspiration and from the second, understanding and capability.
All this work upon the different sides of oneself does not have to be done by turns, for each does not exclude the others. One will benefit more by doing it at one time, even though it will be probably necessary to stress the work on a hitherto neglected side.
The Quest has two aspects. One is the constant accumulation of right thoughts, feelings, and acts, along with the constant elimination of wrong ones. The other aspect called the Short Path is the constant remembrance and contemplation of the Overself.
He should not discard meditation before he has completely mastered it. Yet, the balanced threefold path should be followed and not merely meditation alone. Otherwise mental and emotional defects will be magnified. Moreover the times in which we live today make practical service necessary.
The two processes, of on the one hand developing and on the other balancing his faculties, have to be carried on and perfected together so far as possible. The qualification is added because it is rarely possible to do so completely. Human nature being what it is, development inevitably tends to move in one-sided phases.
Here again the delicate balance of things which the total Quest demands must be brought into play. It is not only the long-drawn-out labour of the Long Path which must engage him, but also the continuous and fresh attempt to follow it in what he thinks, feels, and does here in this very place, and now at this very moment.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.