Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 7: The Intellect > Chapter 3: The Development of Intellect
The Development of Intellect
When intelligence is applied so thoroughly as to yield a whole view and not merely a partial view of existence, when it is applied so persistently as to yield a steady insight into things rather than a sporadic one, when it is applied so detachedly as to be without regard to personal preconceptions, and when it is applied so calmly that feelings and passions cannot alter its direction, then and only then, does a man become truly reasonable and capable of intellectually ascertaining truth.
We must think before we can understand the soul's existence; we must understand before we can realize it.
The earliest beginnings of thought, as apart from instinct, when it was itself still but a lurking tendency, belong far back in primeval time. The human intellect as we find it today, so rich and developed an instrument for the consciousness of the ego, did not arrive at this fullness without a series of graduated stages.
We have had plenty of scientific thinking, business thinking, and political thinking long enough, but we have had very little inspired thinking. That is the world's need.
The intellect is cradled in selfishness but runs the evolutionary track into reason where it will one day finish at the winning-post of selflessness.
The animal acts as its instinctive drives bid it act whereas in man this instinctive nature is made up with and consequently modified by, the awakening intellect's need to consider, compare, and judge.
How few are even aware of their intellectual dishonesty! Through his exclusive possession of the capacities for independent choice and self-control, as well as his privilege of individual responsibility, man is set apart from the animal.
It is the faculty of reason which differentiates human beings from all Nature's other creatures. It is this which sets man beyond the animals. But reason untouched by the finer promptings of the heart, and unillumined by the sublimer intuitions of the mind, degenerates easily into selfish cunning, and degrades instead of dignifying man.
It may be they find it too hard to make the crossing from the older way of thinking to what is demanded of them by the new knowledge: a willingness to accept paradox. For otherwise they get only a half-truth.
Reason gradually becomes paramount as man develops through life after life.
He who wants to go back to the simple medieval life is welcome to it. He who wants his rooms cleaned with old-fashioned brooms that raise a cloud of dust and leave it hanging in the air until it can find safe lodgement in throats and lungs, is welcome to the dust. There are others, however, who react differently to such a situation; who are resolved to take advantage of the skill of human brains and the fact of human advance. They have thrown away the unhealthy broom and adopted the vacuum cleaner which removes and swallows the dust instead of filling the air with it. We are not writing a thesis on domestic hygiene. We are writing in this strain because it is highly symbolic. It shows quite vividly the difference between the backward looking mentality and the forward looking one. The student of philosophy belongs to the second category. He sees the futility of propagating a switch-back to medieval methods when we are in the midst of the greatest technical transformation mankind has ever known. He knows that modern conditions must be faced with modern attitudes. However, he takes "modern" to mean whatever has attained the most finished state as a consequence of progressive development. He knows it does not mean whatever is merely fashionable at the moment, as materialism was fashionable in intellectual circles and sensualism in youthful circles until very lately. His vision is larger than that of his contemporaries, because it encompasses more. They are modern only in a chronological sense, but backward in a spiritual one.
What this age needs to seek is a new intellectualism, a new science, one informed by deeper spiritual feeling and protected by higher spiritual ideals.
A high quality of thinking is being done by men who are probing now for the better life of tomorrow. They are coming to the only possible conclusion about the validity of determinism on the basis of known facts when regarded by the whole mind of intellectually mature man--the mind which uses both its abstract and materialistic thinking capacities and, consequently, verges on the truly intuitive. I am reminded of Bacon's well-known remark about the slight use of reason leading to atheism and the adequate use of it leading back to religion.
Although men are born with latent mental power and potential intelligence few use these qualities to their utmost possibilities. Man arises out of the mysterious womb of the Infinite, yet he is to be found everywhere as a pitiful creeping creature, full of moral frailties, finite indeed. Yet the unseen mental being of man is the silent workman who really constructs the edifice of his happiness.
Spiritual teaching must be expounded today in a form suited to the modern need. The doctrines so revealed should be methodically progressive and the explanations should be systematically developed.
At last the living growing entity has reached a kingdom of Nature where it can develop the power to think not only about material topics but also about spiritual ones.
Early humanity possessed a mind that thought in terms of images and pictures rather than in terms of logical sequence. But it developed marvelous memory as a consequence and entire volumes of sacred books were handed down for centuries by oral tradition before they were committed to writing.
The man of the twentieth century must seek truth in his own fashion. The question of how many angels can stand on the point of a pin does not interest the modern mentality.
This longing to know more may, at the start, be motivated by the desire to earn more but, in the end it will be motivated by the search for Truth.
The medieval period was impelled by theological sources, and the modern period by scientific ones.
The course of evolution has made the intellectual stride of man a necessity but it has not made such utter imbalance as prevails today a necessity.
The intellectual wondering, seeking, and questioning which make a man study or aspire, follow or join, often attain a degree of some ardour. But this does not prevent the same man from changing his mood and mind in later years.
We humans dominate the earth planet, not by our physical strength but by our mental power.
Through the many changes of experience in the many lifetimes on earth--and later elsewhere--the mind grows. It wants to move upward from mere curiosity to actual knowledge. It inquires if there be any purpose in life to be fulfilled--if there be a purpose. It demands to know if there is a God yet doubts the possibility of finding a sure answer.
But if this increased knowledge and sharpened brains predominate over mystical experience and religious intuition, then disequilibrium is created. Truth appears only to the perfectly balanced mind, but to the disequilibrated one it appears materialized perverted or falsified.
Where we do not know the different sides of a case, where we have not ascertained the various facts behind the answer to a question, it is wiser to suspend judgement, fairer, if possible, to refrain from taking action.
The benefit of university education has reached a much higher percentage of people and in a much larger number than during any earlier century.
Has world-thinking progressed enough consciously, deliberately, and honestly to set up the search for truth? The answer is that individual world-thinkers have done so but taken as a group humanity has not done so.
The intellect is in process of being developed and its limitation must be accepted as such. The time spent in deploring that fact is time wasted. For the important thing is not that it is not the highest faculty in man, which is admitted, but that its development does not really oppose itself to the highest spiritual development, which is not often admitted.
Independence and individuality
It is not enough to be a collector of other men's ideas. He must also be an original generator of his own. He must go into the pure silence to think independently, to analyse problems and consider them for himself, and to pray for enlightenment.
Unless one is prepared to part with a wrong habit of thinking, unless one is willing to eradicate all limited conceptions which blur clear-sightedness, unless, in short, one is willing to reorient the mental outlook completely, it will never be possible to penetrate the world illusion.
The student of philosophy must enforce in his own mind the clear difference between views based on wishful thinking, and views based on adequate knowledge and comprehensive understanding.
Before it can search for truth the mind must be set free: otherwise it merely seeks either the confirmation or rejection of previously held ideas, systems, opinions, and creeds.
It is not enough to express your willingness to learn. You must also be willing to unlearn.
It is possible, and must become his object, to develop a completely impartial intellect.
It is one thing to have caught a vague notion in the mind, and another to think it out and make it intelligible.
The philosophical student, having thoroughly scrutinized the bases of his outlook and attitude, reveals his wisdom and humility by confessing ignorance where he cannot claim knowledge. It is then always possible for him to learn something here. But the undeveloped or undisciplined mind is not ashamed to make a pretense of knowledge where in fact there is none.
The farther he travels from egocentric existence the clearer and straighter will be his thinking.
It is not enough to acknowledge his misjudgements. He ought also to enquire into the defective qualities which led him into making them.
It is too much to expect that his mind can understand what is quite beyond it; but when repeated, the effort tends to "stretch" the mind's capacity.
Be willing to accept a truth even if the man who utters it is only half-literate, if his statement is ungrammatical, his words are mispronounced, and his voice stutters irritatingly. But the experience is more enjoyable, the effect deeper, if the truth is expressed impeccably and enriched by a fine culture.
The man who puts up a barrier of egoistic prejudices or superiority complexes cannot hope to penetrate into the secret circle of truth-knowing. Only he who is ready, tentatively, to shift his intellectual standpoint for that of another is at all likely to be admitted into the sacred treasure house of wisdom.
We must not shelve a single fundamental but awkward question. The sanctity of truth is inviolable.
Thinking must move at every step with rigid rationality if it is not to degenerate into mere mental effervescence.
We want precise understanding and exact description of every science and do not abandon our demand even when the more delicate matter of a method of spiritual illumination is in question.
The humility which can say "I do not know" is a first step to the confidence which can say "This is a fact."
If they begin to question, really and deeply question, then even the simplest statement brings them into difficulties of whose existence, previously, they had never suspected.
Men learn best because they concentrate best in a quiet unruffled atmosphere. This requires a secluded site, tall buildings, and high enclosing walls, peaceful lawns, and tree-bordered walks.
Most Western people dislike abstract generalities: they prefer concrete facts. They believe in first appearances rather than in second views. Against such a tendency truth must struggle bravely for survival. If Westerners were more balanced they would realize they could keep their facts and their first views--nobody asks them to disregard the practical and the apparent--but they could also have the abstract and the long view, thus achieving balance, and with it, truth.
The depth and width of his research must equal the depth and width of his reflection.
Where are the answers to men's questions? He must elicit them for himself one by one.
There is little harm in putting into the mind ideas above its level. At the worst, they may bore it, but at the best they might stretch it.
Quite often, when a truth or a judgement is carried to extremes, it loses some, or much, or all of its validity.
If we have sought for truth in directions which have yielded negative results, it is time to take a new direction.
A man whose cultural rise has depended upon self-education alone deserves praise and admiration for his effort. Nevertheless he would have done better to seek also a formal education. This would complete and elevate what he has learnt by himself by providing him with higher standards, competent instruction, and well-tested knowledge or by affording personal help with questions, uncertainties, and problems.
He must be frank with himself and know what he does not understand and what he does and not accept mere opinion for solid fact.
It may be hard, a rough stony obstructed path, for the common man to find his way into philosophy, but the tension is well worthwhile. He has to stretch his mind, but there are moments of relief, of joyful discovery, of encouraging perception.
Before you can get clear expression of meaning, you must get a clear mind. You must nurture a tendency toward sharply defined thoughts and exactitude of understanding. You must give definite shape to the inchoate ideas which float through your mind like clouds, and thus arrive at complete possession of your subject.
He will not consciously refuse to readjust his views whenever they are shown to be out of harmony with the facts of life.
If such questions have never entered their minds, it is hardly likely that the answers themselves will.
Correct thinking may annihilate superstitions and uncover deceptions, but unbalanced thinking may create new ones.
The mind needs a long training in truthful thinking into which the ego does not obtrude itself before the hidden reality begins to respond.
This uprooting of old familiar but fallacious beliefs discourages some persons but encourages others.
The ordinary man makes a hasty judgement of the matter, or follows his personal wishes, but truth requires a deep well-considered examination.
If the capacity to comprehend philosophy is not inborn, then it can be slowly acquired by anyone who thinks it worth the effort.
If so many seekers do not find truth pure and unadulterated, but only its impure adulterated variety, it is because their way has been blocked by self-serving partisans interested only in triumph for their own group, position, or argument; their own prejudice, attraction, or bias. Discovery of truth requires not only a willingness to take in the facts which serve one side of a case, but also to refrain from ignoring or belittling those which serve the other side. It is not in an atmosphere of favouritism or hostility that truth appears but in a deep calm bereft of egoistic urges. This is why some sort of preparation for it is necessary, some kind of training.
Only he who is capable of sustained intellectual effort is capable of understanding this philosophy.
Some people can understand philosophy and some most monumental concepts in an unclouded flash, but most people can understand even its simplest ones only by slow degrees. Here first acquaintance is not enough. There must be many subsequent meetings before intimacy can be established.
Thinking must not only approach these studies as worshippers approach a temple shrine, with the reverence they deserve, but must also become alive and dynamic.
The intense intellectual joy of discovering a new truth--new, that is, to oneself, but as old perhaps as thoughtful humanity itself--equates with the intense aesthetic joy of creating or appreciating an art work.
In the human body the cerebral nervous system, with which man's mental faculties are associated, does not develop until long after all the other chief organs have developed. This is symbolic of its evolutionary importance. In the human life, the thinking power does not attain full maturity until long after all the chief decisions, such as the choice of occupation, marriage-partnership, and religious affiliation have already been made. How much human error and consequent misery must therefore arise from the lateness of this development.
Younger mentalities need to think in terms of definite sense impressions, of physical feels sights and sounds. More developed mentalities can think in terms of abstract ideas, of general metaphysical principles. The first group is the most numerous.
We must first give intellectual assent to philosophical teachings before we can hope to gain practical demonstration of their worth.
It is hard, perhaps impossible, to give absolute proof of any statement or any fact; but a reasonable proof may be given. Life is too short to wait for the one so we have often to accept the other.
The continual and untiring quest of truth is what distinguishes the philosophic attitude toward life. The intellectual discipline which this involves is irksome to the ordinary mind. For it demands the scrutiny of facts, the unveiling of assumptions, the examination of reasoning processes leading to conclusions, and the probing of standpoints to their ultimate ground.
Patience is needed, for the time factor is still there; the ripeness of mind of the prober is still essential, and it must not limit itself by preconceived ideas. It is at the threshold of an astounding realm, where so much that was correct on other levels collapses here and is no longer correct.
One sees their anxiety to understand a doctrine which is on too abstract a level for them and pities the bewilderment with which they end. Yet for such there is an easier way, bringing a more successful result. It is to take up the study of mentalism first, and only after that proceed to the study of Advaita.
The work of research proves endless. The task of collecting all the data has no finish to it, and if we are to arrive at any conclusion at all, there is some point at which we have to cut short our investigation and reflection. Thus, by the very act with which we serve the cause of practical truth, we render a disservice to the cause of theoretical truth. The very means whereby we make a decision, join a party, take a side, or evaluate a right from a wrong produces only a makeshift result.
We must think our thoughts out to their inevitable conclusions and not stop halfway when the process becomes decidedly unpleasant.
Memorized knowledge is inferior to thought-out understanding.
It is one thing to begin to suspect the fallacy of these views; it is another to be completely certain of it. A long road lies between the two states and it passes through uneasiness, anxiety, wretchedness, and anguish.
The hand of experience sows a good many doubts in the field of his early beliefs.
We learn truth partly by experience, partly by intuition, and partly by instruction.
Therefore, one of the first steps upon this path is to accept, tentatively at least, the reasonable propositions laid down here and to allow the mind to work upon them in a sympathetic manner.
Memory depends on interest, attention, and concentration. However the path does not depend on memorizing; we leave that to the academic philosophers of the universities. It depends on getting understanding, brain-changing not brain-packing.
It is not only a matter of temperament as to which view he will accept, although that factor is obviously present, but much more of development. How far has he journeyed in the understanding of life and the mastery of self?
So far as education consists of knowledge and information, it depends on memory, which is a function of an ego built up by the past and present experiences.
It is inevitable that, as his search for truth becomes keener and deeper, his thought will become more precise.
The first impulse to gather facts--that is, to know--was the first step taken by primitive men out of their backwardness towards science. The first impulse to explain those facts--that is, to know, understand, and complete--was the first step taken towards metaphysics.
Take what you can find that is congenial to your mind, appealing to your heart, and conformable with reason and evidence.
To isolate the genuine truths from all the possible fantasies is hardly a work for beginners.
When your mind can move from point to point, from idea to idea with alert nimbleness, it is ready for philosophy.
Comparison and synthesis
After a man has studied comparative religion, comparative metaphysics, and comparative mysticism, taking the East as well as the West in his stride, he is better fitted to come to right conclusions about truth, God, reality, the soul, and life's purpose.
We should talk about these matters, not in any spirit of animosity--of which the world is sadly too full--but in a spirit of mutual enlightenment, as of brothers calmly consulting to assist each other towards the elimination of mistakes. We must discuss these questions in the detached manner of the philosopher, and keep out those angry emotions and acrimonious words which often escape partisans in theological discussion.
It is not at all hard for anyone with enough brains to state a case for being good and then to state a case of equal strength for being bad. Logical argument alone cannot provide a final test of the truth of any case. For this we must go also to impersonal feeling, mystical intuition, and, not least, practical life.
The recognition that the synthetic view is the only right viewpoint will initiate a new epoch in the world of thought.
For every argument that is set up and defended, there is always a possibility to set up another argument whereby it is contradicted or destroyed. The only qualification of this seemingly hopeless position is that we approach nearer truth as the contradictions lessen.
A dialogue where both seek to learn, is what ought to take place, not a polemic where each listens only to himself!
The region of logical intellect offers no durable abiding place for the questing human mind. Every argument can be met by another of equal force, every opinion cancelled by another of equal weight; nor is there any end to the process except escape from this region altogether. But the escape should be on to a higher region, to that of genuine intuition, and not to a lower one like that of superstitious belief.
The futility of a solely logical attempt to solve problems concerning the human being, and his nature, relations, and activities, is shown by the many cases where men of equal intellectual capacity and academic status offer conflicting interpretations of the same fact or arrive at opposite conclusions from the same premises.
Too often a study is made from a single angle only and neglects all the others. The result is a narrowed, limited understanding which leaves out factors that may be much more important. Each one omitted is, by implication, denied. A philosophical view takes as many aspects as possible into account to get nearer the full truth.
The Truth is found intellectually not at one end of a pair of opposite alternatives, not by making a choice between two concepts only, but by grinding and synthesizing the interplay of forces and experiences which must be taken into account.
His conclusions are not hastily and impulsively reached. They follow the gathering of sufficient evidence, which means sufficient to give both sides of a case. He gives careful thought to it before he gives an opinion about it.
He may go so far even as to put himself in the receptive mood which would make it possible for him to see a variant teaching in the light with which its followers see it. (One can, perhaps.) He may try to understand and sympathize with a viewpoint that may or may not have much to recommend it. But if he should permit himself to respond thus, he would have to return from this standpoint anyway, for his critical intellect would, upon resuming renewed activity, ask insistent questions.
The time comes when the seeker must sift out all the doctrines he has received and let those go which lack reasonableness, the sound of truth, the lofty tone of impersonality. And even after he has sieved away the ideas born of narrowness, pettiness, bigotry, prejudice, and false sentimentality, he has still to choose those which he can usefully work with.
He will collect his ideas not from books alone, but also from various other sources, orthodox and unorthodox, conventional and off-beat.
The student should train himself to note, study, and state accurately views which he could not join in himself. In order to do this he will have to keep his emotional feelings against them out of his examination of statements. He will have to suspend his intellectual judgement of them also. However firmly he may hold his own views upon any subject, it is a useful discipline to subdue the ego and put himself into the mentality of those who hold different views and to try to understand why it is that they hold such views. This will be a valuable exercise in keeping bias out of his thinking and the conceit of always being right out of his opinions.
Men who are specialists in a single profession are usually men whose minds run in a single groove. Each can contribute his own viewpoint quite creditably, but he cannot understand and sympathize so readily with the viewpoint of another man whose experience lies along totally different lines. Even if we go farther and attempt to step beyond such limitations into a synthetic viewpoint and gather up into one coordinate whole the contributions of all our modern mentors, we shall yet fail to arrive at the deepest understanding of the world's problem. This is because these men deal not with root causes but with effects, the effects of profounder causes which ultimately take their rise in subtler, less obvious sources.
Philosophy points out that we have to study a subject not only from the outside but also from the inside--that is to say, not only critically but also sympathetically--if we would arrive at a just estimate of it. Those who paint it all black with defects or all white with virtues, and omit all intermediate or half-shades, make a serious mistake.
Intellect is sharpened by frequent discussions and endless disputation.
We ought to put such a discussion, which deals with the sublimest topics that confront the human mind, upon a dignified basis. If we argue merely for the sake of scoring an intellectual victory over the opponent, or getting the upper hand over him, we argue wrongly. If, however, we argue with the sole desire that truth may appear out of the conflict of viewpoints, we argue rightly.
The difficulty in getting at the truth about controversial questions, whether they be economic, political, religious, or metaphysical, is that the advocate of a particular side pushes forward the good points of his own views and the bad points of his opponent's views, whilst at the same time he suppresses both the bad points of his own and the good ones of his opponent's views. Consequently the only way to form a fair and just estimate of the question is to construct our own picture, frankly and impartially incorporating in it all the essential points from both sides and those which they may have missed, too.
Our approach to every doctrine must be to take its truth and leave its error. But we must do this in appreciation rather then in disparagement.
There is a need to develop flexibility by practising the shift of attitudes, to see why others hold their beliefs, and to be able to stretch one's own thought so as to enter sufficiently into theirs. This produces sympathetic understanding, but the opposite--critical judgement--must not be forsaken.
There may however be one result of such comparative study which is as unpleasant as it is undesirable. If it is overdone and independent thinking underdone, it may breed confusion in the understanding and contradiction in the feelings. The more books written from different points of view he reads, the less certain of his knowledge he may become.
Concepts or ideas are clues, pointers, signposts to truth, perhaps helps towards the search, but ought not to be referred to a level beyond that of the intellect, which is limited. Fixation and dogmatism should be avoided. Words, definitions, even bibles are not absolute, but relative to our present mental state.
When a man begins to lay down in advance the conclusions to which his thinking is to lead him, he is not really seeking truth.
We must so care for facts that we welcome them even when they are personally and profoundly distasteful. Nothing can be gained by shutting our eyes to them or by concealing them from our mental horizon, or by examining them with partiality and prejudice.
If we are to view the problem of truth aright, we must view it in proper proportions. We waste much mental energy in whole-heartedly denying this or contending for that; truth is like a diamond; it has several facets: we could be better employed seeing all the facets than in splitting them up. Analyse all round a subject's head, but do not split its hairs.
He who cannot reject his personal preferences at the higher bidding of truth; he who has no aptitude for reflecting upon abstract philosophical ideas or is unwilling to overcome inertia and labour at its creation; he who impertinently matches his individual opinions against the proved facts of science or philosophy as though they were of equal or superior value--such a man is quite unfit for this knowledge and can never master it.
The very fact which may be put forth in support of one point of view may be triumphantly hailed by someone else as a proof of a different point of view!
Even full debate and discussion cannot lead to full truth about any issue, spiritual or secular, when all the necessary information is not there. But even if it is there, it will twist and pervert truth if the minds approaching it are seriously flawed.
Too many arguments have mere egoistic self-expression as their purpose, and not the pursuit of truth. Neither arguer is really interested in seeing the fallacies and weaknesses of his own case, but only those of his opponent's. Neither will be willing to abandon his own standpoint or theory no matter how much evidence or facts disprove it.
This battle of conflicting explanations is not necessary, since both refer to different aspects of the subject and as such are both correct.
Conventional people, fond only of commonplace ideas, may feel shocked at some philosophical statements. They do not see that their thinking is falsified because they have prejudiced their quest of truth from the start, because it is done within the context of conventional attitudes. How few can free themselves from the thick incrustations of prejudice; how many are unable to approach an idea with calm, impersonal, detached open-mindedness! Most people naturally pick out from a teaching those views which please them and reject the others. Only the seeker who has disciplined himself morally and intellectually will be heroic enough to take unpleasing views along with the pleasing ones. Philosophy's teaching will appeal, and can only appeal, to those who have striven to escape from dogmatism, who have shaken off widespread prejudices and outgrown crudely materialistic ideas, and whose minds are sufficiently developed to realize the value of free views and flexible attitudes. Where that has been insufficiently achieved, a special discipline is prescribed to complete the preparation.
Any man can fool himself by the trick of finding out just those facts that fit his fancy. All such pickings are easy, but they are also worthless. Any fuddle-minded person can twist and turn a state of affairs into a painfully sorry caricature of itself. But in doing that he is simply twisting his own head, in order to ignore conveniently what he does not wish to see.
The appreciation of a doctrine ought to be balanced and reasoned, not exaggerated or hysterical. The wish ought not to be made the father to the evaluation of it, nor to the judgement of its results.
We must rid our minds of this cant. We must clear our eyes of this cataract of prejudice which covers them and dims the sight against our real remedy.
When a man's thinking unconsciously mixes up the central issue of a problem with diverse other issues, and does not keep that entirely to itself, his conclusions are likely to be self-deceptive ones.
When a man first starts to think, he has to pass through the disease of mental measles, and get not a few obnoxious prejudices out of his head.
People who live in the suburbs of thought have the sheeplike mentality which fears originality.
A small mentality can only mangle a large truth.
When I meet with certain persons or certain books, I am often reminded of a certain sentence in Roman Seneca's writings: "There are many who might have attained to wisdom, had they not fancied they had attained it already."
Such people are constitutionally incapable of perceiving any other truth besides the new one which they happen to have embraced at the moment, dazzled by its blaze as they are.
People can see every half-truth and every quarter-truth, but they can not see the obvious truth. This is because they are so sated with self-interest and prejudice. The aspirant, too, may be crammed full of prejudice and have enough self-interest to fill a bank but--he knows it; he is trying to disentangle it, whereas they go on in blissful ignorance and imagine they are envisaging facts when they are only pampering to prejudice.
It is a common habit to belittle ideas and practices simply because they are unknown or less familiar, but it is not a wise habit.
When he finds that the truth is not what he had always supposed it to be, he is either shamed and humiliated or surprised and exhilarated.
It is possible to know some things; only to believe other things: while the residue may be hoped for--nothing more.
It is not an uncommon experience to observe how some persons project their own fancies on outer happenings, meetings, and persons--in other words, bringing their own thoughts and imaginations into real events and confusing the two.
The latest knowledge is not the last nor the latest governmental form the final and best.
The conventional mentality thinks and therefore speaks in clichés. Its capacity for independent activity does not exist.
It is a common enough mistake among the thoughtless to confound the abstruse with the absurd.
This is surely something that should appeal to a reasonable and reflective person. That is why few will be found at first to listen to it, for few take the time to reflect; most are led by the nose since they are led by prejudice.
There are so many men who believe that they know very well where they stand, but who believe wrongly.
The mass mind, with its ignorance of higher laws, its confused state resulting from this ignorance and from the varied pressures, suggestions, traditions, or authorities imposed on it from outside and opposed by resistances or desires from inside, is at first thrown into greater confusion if challenged by a messenger of truth.
Authority and the past
His mind acknowledges no criterion of truth, no convention of goodness, no taste in beauty merely because convention tradition or society supports it. He has to examine it first; he has also to find out what other minds in olden and medieval as well as modern times, in widely differing Oriental lands as well as Occidental ones, thought of these matters; finally he has to consult his own reason and, above all, his own intuition and compare all these views quite impartially and without selfish interest.
We must apply human reason, not supernatural "revelation," to all our problems, if they are to yield proper solutions.
Modern man is being led to spiritual truth by a new path, by reason's discoveries rather than by revelation's dogmas.
Exaggerated respect for established views can soon lead into servitude to them.
Men dispute over truth and fail to agree and have done so for three thousand years at least, according to Chinese records, four thousand at least according to Egyptian traditions, and longer still according to Indian beliefs.
The educational institutions purvey information but only great souls can provide inspiration.
We should not defend sound truths on unsound grounds nor should we defend unsound truths on sound grounds. It happens often that erroneous religious doctrines or false mystical teachings are defended by declaring that they pertain to a higher dimension and transcend the intellectual capacity to understand when in fact they also transgress against its capacity to reason correctly.
It is his inalienable privilege to hold whatever opinion he pleases, as it is to hold whatever religious belief sustains him. But it must be said that there is a vast difference between what he has inherited and accepted unchanged from society or family, and what he has arrived at by his own diligent, determined, original, and independent research.
Authority, the two kinds of experience--ordinary and mystic--logic, reason, intuition: each of these is to be regarded as a valuable help in eliminating error or doubt and ascertaining truth or fact, but none is to be regarded as the only means of doing so.
There are very few right-thinking people for the simple reason that there are very few people who ever think at all. Oh yes, there are multitudes of people who shuffle ready-made thoughts in their brains, just as they would shuffle cards at a table--after they had been handed the cards!
This freedom which must be given to the intellectual approach to and communication of truth forbids a narrow rigid conformity to any one of the known systems, whose comparative study is itself a beneficial consequence. It must apply to all of them, even to the terms and images used by the mind.
In this kingdom of Truth I accept no authority save that of Reason.
Rationalism must replace superstition. Reason must reign supreme. All arbitrary assumptions must be discarded. The mind must preserve its honest integrity. Thought must be set free from authority. Inquiry must be fearless, full, and unbiased.
We may accept the judgement of authority but only after we have examined the history and tested the worth of such authority, be it book or man, tradition or institution.
He is wary of falling into superstition, whether sanctified by religion's faith in the intangible or by science's incapacity for it.
He will study several different teachings, approving here, disapproving there, suspending judgement often, but committing himself to none. He can afford to wait for the most satisfactory one or to remain permanently free.
Since these mahatmas disagree on certain points, it is obviously safe to follow them only on those points where they do agree.
Before we try to rid ourselves of traditions we ought to make sure that we have learnt their best lessons.
He who is discontented with conventional dogmas and who disagrees with orthodox authorities must be willing to think in isolation.
When he is unreceptive to new ideas unless they have first been authenticated by a certain particular teacher, cult, or book, he is trapped in a closed system.
Judge every source, and the teaching which emanates from it, independently. Make use of confirmatory or negatory comment to help you in the matter but do not follow any of them in utter blindness. For you cannot evade your personal responsibility. Whether you accept or reject a teaching, just because you accept or reject a particular institution or authority, your judgement will be there anyway hidden in your belief, only it will be there unwittingly.
There is no need to depart from reason but only to illumine or inspire its working by intuitive revelation. But where one is unable to provide this himself, then he ought to go to the great masters for it, or consult their writings if they are unavailable through distance or inaccessible through death.
Since all teachings are related to the stage of development, the time in history, and the area where they are given out, they must be regarded as relative. This means, in the end, that they are arguable and, even more, that they are personal opinions, speculations in someone's mind.
To study the imaginations and theories of limited minds upon this subject is to waste time and squander energy.
Even if a belief were held throughout the world, it is not thereby proven true. It may still be a world-wide self-deception or, more likely, traditionally received suggestion.
Are we to reject every machine, ship, carriage, and alphabet merely because Lao Tzu recommends us to do so, and he is an illuminated soul? This shows up the childishness of setting up a single absolute authority to cover and govern every facet of living and thinking.
He who has made this research a serious matter, who has travelled widely in its cause, listened, seen much and read more, who has become well educated in the subject and quite sophisticated in its application, is entitled to hold views even though they do not coincide at all points with the traditional ones.
No human authority can be final for all authorities are liable to make mistakes. He has to settle these questions in a scientific manner by appeal to facts and reason or, where it is not possible to get the facts, to make it quite clear to himself that he is holding a belief as an opinion and nothing more. Certainly, it cannot be held as a truth when it is held only as an opinion.
By refusing to be tied to a particular school, one remains free to study as many of the doctrines of the different schools as he wishes. The teachings of one organization should help him to see the limitations of another.
Instead of merely repeating certain sentences which you have read or been taught, think them over for yourself. If you were really the Real how could you become Illusion? If you were the True, how could you succeed in deceiving yourself so far as to become the False? If ignorance, error, and illusion can happen to the One Mind, then they are just as powerful as It.
It is not other men's knowledge and power that we have to live by in the end, but our own.
Those who are able to think deeply upon such matters and are also quite well-informed, will find that much of their thinking has been done for them already by sages who preceded us.
Such a man does not ask whether this idea is included in the body of ideas which he has hitherto accepted by inheritance or tradition, education, or choice. He asks rather whether it is true.
Learn from the past without becoming a mere imitator of it.
Ideas are imposed upon the mind from various sources, accepted consciously or subconsciously, swallowed, and later regurgitated as if they were one's own! Such is the power of suggestion!
If we allow authority in doctrine to step beyond its rightful place, then instead of fulfilling a useful function it paralyses our powers of thinking.
Whatever the reason does to dissolve superstition serves to open a way to discover another truth.
When a stronger mind imposes its ideas on a weaker one, it is called teaching. When the weaker mind receives them passively (because of its trust in the guru's authority, his presumed knowledge of what he talks about) it is called learning.
The independent thinker cannot conform to the opinions of his age merely because he happens to be living then; he will not cut the cloth of his thoughts to patterns by his contemporaries but always to his own.
When he begins to scrutinize the religious and intellectual authority behind what he is taught or receives, and especially their sources, questions come up, doubts filter in.
A man's high position in one field of activity does not necessarily add great weight to his pronouncements in a totally different field. His personal knowledge in the second one may be absolutely nil.
Acceptance of a teaching ought to come from a deeper level than surface attraction only. There ought to be understanding also.
The power of mind needed to find truth is not commonly possessed. Those who lack it can benefit by the discoveries made by the sages. But they ought to test them in their own life-experience to confirm whether they be true.
Other men also have striven for self-mastery, have sought for truth since centuries ago. He should take advantage of their discoveries and secure the benefit of what they have learned.
It is not by wholesale swallowing of traditionally accepted doctrines that we are going to expand our intelligence.
Those earlier statements of truth have their value; but it is unwise to forget the time and place of their making, for we must remember our own, too.
Whatever is learnt from this valuable heritage of the past must still be applied in the present to make it a living force in one's own existence. This brings it to full meaning instead of remaining half-lost.
Amid such diversity of schools, the bewildered student would do well to pause and study the history of thought before choosing among the many rivals competing for his favour. Amidst such a chaotic welter of ideas, he should look rather for a master key which will reconcile them all than for a single satisfying system, because undoubtedly each has its special contribution to make towards the cause of Truth. The key exists and search will find it out.
There may be no sense of recognition, no feeling of ancient familiarity with these teachings, and yet they may have a strong appeal and attraction for him.
It is not enough in these days to quote scripture. There are many who do not hold it in awe and who consequently remain unconvinced. It is now necessary to quote facts also.
He need not share the timid concern for consistency. He need not be imprisoned forever in views which he held long ago. He need not be intimidated by his own past record, if at different periods of his life he has slowly changed or abruptly altered his world-view. Had he not been a seeker, quite probably this would not have happened, and he would have remained sunk in the ignoble complacency of thoughtless orthodoxy.
The Buddha: "Do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced."
Why not accept the best of the past? It is at the least as valuable as the best of the present, while having the added advantage of having been tested by time.
These writings have roused some sleeping minds, and galvanized some sleeping souls. With that their work was done: teaching must be sought elsewhere.
It is not easy to struggle against ancient and strong-rooted errors. For some of the seeming escapes turn out to be merely another kind of error.
I open the Old Testament and encounter the sentence: "There is nothing new under the sun." This judgement, made thousands of years ago, is echoed in memory by the more recent one of Jean de la Bruyere: "Everything has been said." Yet books keep on pouring, like a flood, from the presses. So, old thoughts circulate in new minds.
Most people look to the East for living representatives of this knowledge and to ancient or medieval literature for written records of it. They fall into the faith that the distant is better, and the dead are wiser.
Is he to remain the prisoner of his own past thinking or is he to free himself from it? Is he to remain faithful to everything he once believed even after he has found it to be no longer true or only partly true? Has long habit so committed him to certain ideas that he can no longer escape into better and larger ones?
These people pulled down the blinds over their minds soon after reaching maturity, because they did not desire to see any horizon wider than the musty dogmas which they possessed.
The independent-minded seeker will welcome truth from any quarter, any era, will be avid for whatever fragments of it he can find, and wherever he may find it.
Why hide views which a wide experience and wider study have forced into supremacy? I respect what the past has bequeathed us but this must not be allowed to enchain us to them alone.
He should take these old texts and render their ideas more intelligible to his own generation.
The search for the spiritual truth and the spiritual self cannot be economically done, in terms of energy and time, if the work and discoveries of others are ignored. So the records left by past men and the experiences of present ones are worth our study. They give it a spiral pattern; it moves around through them, turns, and climbs higher.
The understanding of such deeply metaphysical writings calls for an effort on the reader's part to use his own mental energy as actively as the author had to use his own during their creation. The reader's task is, of course, immeasurably easier than the author's for he has had the pioneer work of track-laying performed for him; but even so it is hard enough.
The reflective study of these high-grade writings forces the mental growth of the student. The absorption of their spirit elevates him for a while to the spiritual plane of the author.
Are books nothing more than pieces of paper--as a famous Hindu saint once said to me? Have they brought no positive help to suffering men, no guidance to bewildered ones, no light to groping minds, no peace to agitated hearts, no truth to deluded seekers, no warning to misguided masses? If they have, this alone would be their justification. They have their place even in the most unspiritual and in many spiritual lives. The confusions arise only when the limitations of this place are ignored, or not perceived. Mystics who condemn intellect, and therefore books which speak for, or from, the intellect, should keep their condemnation within its own proper limits, too. With this plainly said as a safeguard, we may move over to the restricted standpoint of the Hindu saint. The need of silencing the intellect is paramount. If it is ignored in favour of the reading of endless books, or the writing of numerous notes extracted from them, the man keeps his intellect constantly active and thus prevents his mind becoming still! What is the use of accumulating notes and books, which are outside him, when the mind which must be conquered is inside him? Each book that is read represents a stirring up of thoughts whereas what is required of him is a silencing of them. There is no limit to the number of books that can be read or notes made. Even working twenty-four hours a day, he could go on activating intellect until he died, thereby avoiding his duty in meditation. Reading is useful in the preliminary stages to convince him, to clear his doubts, and finally to tell him what to do, that is, to practise mind-stilling. But if he does not do it, his knowledge is wasted.
In this matter of reading books, we should be truly grateful for their plentitude, their helpfulness, and their variety. And for those interested in the Oriental modes of thought, they make readily available teachings, ideas, and traditions which not so long ago were available only to the few who were wealthy enough or brave enough to make the long journeys to strange remote lands.
There are mystics who show in their sayings a contempt for books about mysticism. They would be better advised to point out that it is only when a certain development is reached that the quester should turn aside from his books in order to practise what he learned from them, should stop reading and start meditating. Certainly reading is not enough and the work should not stop with it; there is need to go inwards by way of meditation and thus turn theory into practice. But this is far away from the total rejection of religious, mystical, and philosophic literature those anti-intellectual fanatics urge upon their followers. The very fact that texts were composed thousands of years ago and that they have been written continuously ever since shows that there is a real need for them. They can and do help seekers.
It is unfair of those who perceive the limitations of the intellect to decry books. Only if they find themselves suffering from the Dark Night of the Soul for a time are books likely to be of little service or make little appeal. At all other times inspired work can give some reassurance or restore some calm, just as perceptive work can give needed intellectual food. But if, during the press of personal preoccupations, they do nothing more than remind us of larger issues, they still render a service.
We are helped indeed every time that we discover in somebody else's writings an idea which has been trying to formulate itself in our own mind but which could not pierce the clouds of obscurity, vagueness, and uncertainty which surrounded it.
Even though it is indirect and not personal, the help which is given thousands of people through the printed sheet possesses a worth which only those who benefit by it can properly estimate.
When he finds his own inner experiences described in the pages of a book, he feels more assured about their reality.
Metaphysical books are best studied when alone. The concentration they need and the abstraction they lead to, are only hindered or even destroyed by the presence of others.
Those who complain that this philosophy is unintelligible, thereby expose their own insufficiency of intelligence and their own lack of mental capacity wherewith to grasp its position and conclusion. For there must be an affinity between the creativeness of the writer and the comprehension of the reader; without it both will be peering at each other through an opaque frosted-glass window.
Many persons have never even had the access to books on these subjects, nor the chance to get tuition personally. But now all that is changed. For all who can read can uncover today the once-hidden wisdom of the East. And today the proportion of those who can read is not only immensely larger but is rapidly enlarging.
It is true that reading sheets of printed paper cannot take the place of personal inner experience. But this does not stamp them as useless. They provide bridges to support the aspirant and thus help him find his way from his present familiar state to the farther one he seeks to reach.
No teacher and no book, however inspired, can transform a disciple into something new. What they can and usually do is to kindle the disciple's latent capacities, to bring out his innate views, and to clarify his vague tendencies.
Books can be used to stimulate thought or to escape from it: it depends on the reader whether they are used to help fulfil the duty of thinking for oneself or to evade it.
Through books we may borrow the experience of others and save ourselves costly experiments. Such living by proxy is painless.
Where a teaching is said to be based on an ancient tradition yet never quotes a traceable source, an original document, one may need to use some caution in quoting it.
He will learn to know some truth better through experience than through books but more truth through both together.
The mystics may decry intellect and disparage the worth of literature. But how many men have turned in hard periods to the classics among books and got power against depression, got wisdom, guidance, or consolations from them!
In the masterworks of the Eastern ancients, in the profounder classics of the European heritage, and even in the fewer outstanding American pieces, there is enough material for study.
We can usually find refuge from the world of action by taking to the world of books. Then, stress and turmoil left behind, and restfully ensconced in chair or bed, pictured scenes may be enjoyed, or ideas received, which act like a holiday.
Live in the atmosphere which great books bring, their truer and wider ideas, their finer exalted ideals.
Most men are not yet built to wait in the silence for the visitation of the spirit of truth. It needs must be described in words for them, by the intellect for their intellect.
So long as men have thinking minds, so long will they need teachings, instructions, explanations, and clarifications. It is in vain that Krishnamurti and Pak Sabuk claim to have no teaching: they give one through their talks and writings, whatever name be affixed to such communication.
Erasmus went so far as to call the books written by saints "wherein is so much of them, in which they live and breathe for us . . . the holiest and most efficacious of sacred relics."
Some of us cannot afford to wait until the hair turns grey around our temples before acquiring a modicum of wisdom. We need it before then. For us therefore there are books, the recorded wisdom of other men, the inscribed experience bought by their pain and their struggle.
Out of the silence of the dead past there are a thousand inspired voices to speak to the living present. If the aspirant will listen to them, these voices of noble and illumined men may instruct and guide him through different stages of the quest. They are to be heard in books both well-known and little-known.
Are scriptural revelations the only ones worth heeding? Have not high truths, even great teachings, appeared in the world's thought, poetry, and intuition--outside religion, outside officialdom, outside the academic halls, outside the institutions and organizations?
We must admire and praise the exact, accurate and scrupulous methods of academic scholarship.
A tenet which fails to be interesting or helpful because it mystifies one's mind should be put forward a second time in plainer language.
When we put these abstruse ideas into popular language, we must be careful not to do so at the cost of sacrificing their significance.
A founder of a cult or a religion has to claim inspired prophetic authority, but an author can give his ideas on a merely intellectual basis.
If a man who purports to speak or write on behalf of any teaching lets his own personal ideas get mixed into those he received, the resulting product will be adulterated and could even be distorted.
Most of the texts of the hidden teaching, like the Upanishads, do not disclose the logical steps by which their conclusions are attained, but only affirm the conclusions themselves. This was done because it was left to the teacher to expound vocally and supply personally what had been left out. But this is unfortunate for modern students, for teachers who know the Overself are almost non-existent.
Condensed in thought, summarized in statement, the Hindu Upanishads and similar works needed a teacher to expound and explain them. But this is not to say that intuition and intelligence cannot, if sharpened properly, cut through alone into their meaning.
The academic writers and authorities must be honoured for their painstaking study, their diligent documentation of statements made and evidence offered, their search after, and later assembly of, records needed to understand a particular topic or subject.
It is a help first, to clear his thoughts and second, to communicate them to other men.
Even those who take philosophy as a merely academic pursuit are not wasting their time. Learning what the world's thinkers have put forward as their best wisdom or sharpest observation has its place and value in the intellectual life, just as comparative study of religions has its value in the religious life.
To read what others have written is to read what others have thought or fancied.
These great verities will always bear restating. They are too important to be said once and for all.
If every knower of the divine were to live as if he were struck dumb or as if his writing hand were paralysed, none of the great world revelations, truth-statements, or gospels would have come down to us. Only the enlightened sage is entitled to say that silence is the best teacher for he alone has the power to use it adequately. But such geniuses are extremely rare and for anyone else to utter the phrase is merely to babble words, to mislead and to confuse. In what way does it serve the hearer or the reader?
The highly compressed sentences of a Lao Tzu teach us more that matters than the prolix extended pages of a merely book-taught but dry mind.
Sometimes a man's words are wiser than he knows. Sometimes he speaks a truth above his ordinary knowledge. But these times are rare.
It is not easy to give a list of philosophical books to be studied. First of all, philosophy has a higher definition than the current one, for what usually passes under that name is only metaphysics. There cannot be any philosophy without the advanced forms of meditation practice which have been called ultramystic for want of a better term. Metaphysics is guided by the light of reason alone, and admirably, so far as it goes, but that is not far enough. This is because all the thinking in the world will in the end only yield a conclusion, which is another thought. The Overself is not a thought, but Being. However, there is such a thing as the "Metaphysics of Truth" which is reasoning--disciplined, chastened, and checked by the highest possible mystic experience. There are no books on this subject available in English yet, but there are a few, hundreds or thousands of years old, available in the East. Unfortunately, they are written either in Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, or Chinese. Of these, a few only, about half a dozen, have been translated into English. But these translations were made by philologists without the experience of advanced yoga to guide them, hence they are unintelligible. It would be an utter waste of time to try to understand them. Fortunately, some of these documents have been reviewed with the assistance of qualified guidance. Some day, probably in a philosophic magazine, hundreds of pages of notes and translated excerpts from these little-known texts will be published for the benefit of students. Meanwhile, one who is inclined to do so may study the works of some of our Western metaphysicians, but only in part. For they have gone astray and lost themselves either in gross errors, in half-errors, or in fanciful speculations. Keeping such reservations in mind, the student may read Berkeley, Schopenhauer, Kant, Russell, Bergson, Spencer, Fichte, Joad, Radhakrishnan, Hamilton, Malebranche, Locke, Hegel, and Monsieur Cousin. These may be said to come nearest, in particular points only, to the hidden teaching. However, it is not wise to plunge into such a course alone and unguided, for he will emerge with more bewilderment and confusion than before.
A beginner may certainly aid his search for knowledge through wide reading and, possibly, through attendance at suitable lectures. Some very fine works have been written by the philosophers and mystics of all ages. These writings may bring into his life a little emotional inspiration, intellectual guidance, and power of will to help his struggle through the years of long and unavoidable endeavour, and they can to that extent act the part of a teacher and guide.
Is then our writing nothing more than black ink on white paper? Have we nothing to communicate that is sublime enough to survive its reading?
The book can be one of his mentors at a time when he is too young to have a correct set of values, and it helps to supply the deficiency.
Erudition, education, even scholarship--if put under the proper restricting limits--offer useful contribution.
At last he can meet with an expression of truth that has a recognizable face.
Each time we read such truth it comes with liberating freshness and becomes a stimulant to aspirations. The degree of its power to help us is conditioned only by its writer's ability to catch its heart and convey his perception.
It is better to look twice at some assertions. Sometimes it is wiser to look beneath the words themselves and scrutinize the character of the writer himself.
The final realization of truth is not found in any documents however sacred and however worthy of men's highest regard they are held to be. But they may confirm the realization, may also give a reference-point when attempting to communicate it to other men.
Just as the man who stands on the summit of a Himalayan mountain does not need the testimony of an altitude meter to tell him that he really has ascended to a loftier level than that of the plains, so the man who enters into his spiritual being does not need reason's proof, someone else's say-so, or scripture's test to tell him so.
There are many who read through such writings only to fasten on those paragraphs which agree with their own beliefs.
Every kind of material appears nowadays upon the printed page, from utter nonsense to lofty wisdom. An editor may place impartially on the same page of his newspaper or magazine the inspired utterance of a new prophet alongside of the reported description of an ephemeral triviality. Indeed, the triviality may be given the greatest prominence, whereas the inspired truth may be tucked away at the bottom of a column!
You may write historically about a country or a man but not about THAT. It is out of time, beyond all events, happenings and changes. There is no difference, not even the hint of a hint, between what it was and what it is. There is in this sense, nothing at all to write concerning the Real.
The worst books are mere repetitions and the best are mere exercises in intellection.
Most such books are limited by the fact that the author's sources of knowledge are mainly intellectual and only somewhat intuitional. He has received his knowledge chiefly from large-scale reading.
No single book should be made into an infallible bible, even if it be worshipped by a million men.
The intellectuals, caught in a trap of ever-lengthening discursive knowledge and analytic thought, listening to endless discourses and reading the ever-appearing books, live behind a wall of non-understanding.
The experience of illumination is worth a library of books.
It is not very inspiring to read these spiritual commentaries, however rarefied their metaphysics may be. For they lack verve. The reader's feelings are not stirred, he never gets even a single fitful glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
The words of the book can carry you to a certain point in consciousness. When this is reached you can go farther and higher only by closing the book! It has served you well but you must turn now to a new source. Let thoughts come into quietude; intuition will take their place: a holy presence will be felt: surrender to it.
Constant attention to God will awaken in one's own awareness some of the knowledge he is seeking in books and spiritual study.
A book which is unintelligible to the reader may be so wise as to be above his head, but on the other hand it may be so lost in turgid, enigmatic mystification that it is below his head. The annals of both religion and occultism bear witness to this fact.
The greatest lies and the greatest truths appear on paper.
The same printed page causes different reactions in different readers.
People do not give enough weight to the fact that even if claim or criticism is printed from inked linotype on white paper, its correctness is not a whit more guaranteed than if it were not.
He projects his own thought into what he reads, imposes his own conception on the author's and then believes he has understood him correctly!
The religious or even the mystical writer is not concerned with the accuracy of his statements, the meaning of his words, or the regard for facts as is the philosophic writer. On the contrary, he writes with abandon, revels in emotion and seeks to incite it.
We tell the student to study but we do not tell him to believe everything that he sees in print. He is to study in order to find a single true idea among several false ones, he is to read for the few true ideas among many half-true ones. That is, he is to read discriminatingly.
If you know the precise sources of a man's inspiration, you will be able to measure more correctly the truth of his proclamations. But you cannot discover them from his own statement, for he may be mistaken or unaware. To get at them, you must add critical analysis to sympathetic self-identification with him.
If you mentally correct a false statement which you hear or a false teaching which you read, you defend yourself against it.
A spiritually inspired book should be read slowly and followed reverently.
When you approach a volume containing the true LIGHT it were better that you put aside the old and established canons of criticism which elsewhere serve you so well, but here are about as useful as a candle on a stormy night.
In no matters short of ultramystic experience need he discard reason and reject scientific knowledge at the bidding of any book, however sound its other instruction may be. He may remain equally unenthusiastic over theological fancies which once provided serious occupation to bored individuals who, having deserted the world, had somehow to fill their time. He need waste no time over metaphysical sophistries and logical hair-splittings which agitated dreamers who, having lost their firm footing on a toiling and suffering earth, became aviators before airplanes were invented.
A continual round of reading may yield pseudo-progress, the feeling of making continual growth, but after all it will only add more thoughts to those he already possesses. Only by thinking out for himself what he is reading--and for this he will need abstention from it--will he be able to add understanding to it.
Take them easily, do not worry about any parts you do not understand just now. You will find that after a year or two, if you come back to read those parts again, they are becoming clearer.
It is better to go to the primary texts themselves, even though it takes longer to delve sufficiently into their meaning, than to wade through the secondhand commentaries of others. There is, however, an exception to this rule, and that is when a writer with penetrative insight and creative power takes hold of a text and puts its meanings and relations before us with all the skill that he possesses so that the words bring about an intense emotional and mental reaction in the reader. We need not look to dry academic pundits for such works. Only when the mystical level of study and understanding has become insufficient will he be ready for a new and higher level of philosophic study.
A statement which puts into portable form the wisdom learnt through many years, even many reincarnations, is worth a little analytic thought.
The great texts are worthy of deep repeated study.
If any chapter in any book has some nutriment for you, accept it, but if not then skip that chapter. No one is bound to accept every thought of any writer, nor is likely to, human mentalities being as widely variant as they are. No author is fit and qualified to meet and remove all the doubts of the same human being, let alone of all human beings.
Every reader is a guest of every author whose pages he opens. But whether he is an understanding guest or a bewildered one depends on two things at least: on how clearly the work is phrased and on the development which the reader's mind has reached.
If what he reads becomes his own thought, communication is complete. The writer triumphs.
Without denying his services or reducing his role, both of which are obviously large and important, it is still necessary justly to criticize and calmly to reject the flaws in his teaching. To accept them merely because they bear his name would be not only to support the myth of one man's infallibility but also to be disloyal to the search for truth.
If a man is unable to think for himself on such abstruse matters, he ought to refer to the works of those who are able to do so; but he should look for such works as are stamped with originality and individuality, so that he can get his thoughts at first hand and not at second or third hand.
Few have the time to go through every word in the ancient texts. So let us pick out those sentences which have a peculiar importance, and also those which are most often misinterpreted and misunderstood.
The reading of metaphysical books requires a continual exercise of reason, a constant effort to concentrate thought, and a keen probing into the precise meaning of its words.
What is the purpose of your reading? Is it merely to kill time? But if you are out to learn, if you want to feel that you have progressed as a result of your reading, then you must realize that there is a wrong way and a right way to read. Remember you have not mastered any study until you can restate it in your own words. The best way to master the essence of a book or lecture is to select only the meaning of it, state it in your own words, and apply the meaning to examples drawn from your own experience, and not from the lecturer's or author's.
The wrong way merely wastes time for the serious student. It scatters your thoughts and diffuses your mental powers. It weakens your mental energy. And when you try to remember what you have read the net result is--nothing! Moreover the wrong way has no effect upon your active life--the way you work and live. That remains unbenefited by your study.
Now there is a better way to read.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.