I take a look at my own life. It seems an invisible cinema is flickering past my mind's eye, giving me back my record with vivid luminosity. Spool after spool of pictures unlooses itself in front of my eyes, stirring the past with both bitter and pleasant memories that had long fallen into oblivion. Yet as I concentrate upon each detail when it appears, I am astonished to notice how these forgotten scenes swiftly take on again the veridic note of immediate reality. It is an uncomfortable thought that hours lived with such supreme urgency or such overwhelming emotion as some of which now appear before me, ultimately fade off into the same neutral tint as feebler ones. Moreover the unwinding reel of the years turns more and more hastily as one gets older. Such is the perishable stuff of existence. 'Tis all a mental construction, a tissue of ephemeral ideas!
And yet the years have not been irrevocably lost. I amused myself with scribbling mystical books to bore materialistic people, playing with queer thoughts which were thrown up into the air and caught on the tip of my pen. I have tried to rescue from the vanished past, perhaps before it got too late, bygone impressions, unusual adventures, inspired moments, exotic ideas, half-felt intuitions, and new-found truths--and then to turn them into written sheets. Thus ten books have successively been born and thus my own recollections and reflections have been given out to a larger audience than myself. Despite my flippant description of them, it is a fact that the fundamental motive which inspired their creation was service.
They have effected their purpose, for thousands of people have testified to the benefit received from reading these books and to the solace gotten from dwelling on their ideas. Sometimes I wrote for the ordinary reader, sometimes for the extraordinary one. If A Search in Secret India and A Search in Secret Egypt did not tire the brains of many novel readers, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself did constitute a doctrinal construction which attracted only the few who felt such a need. Some of my earlier work will continue to stand by itself but the rest may serve as an introduction to the more substantial work presented in those two volumes, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself. Fate earlier settled that these writings should become known rapidly, either in the English original or in European and Indian translations, to waiting readers who are so scattered that they can be found in most countries of the five continents, from far Japan to distant Chile. They belong to white, yellow, brown, and black races. They vary from half-literate workmen to highly cultured scholars.
Not a few have indicated that new doors to higher living had thus been opened to them. Judged by the tranquillizing influence they seem to exert on troubled minds and the unusual information which they endeavour to carry to perplexed ones, it is clear that those books were worth their labour. And when people write and tell the author that his books have beneficially shaken up their ideas or produced a radically altered outlook on life, he cannot but begin to have faith anew in the mysterious power of the pen and its ancient ally, ink. "Wondrous, indeed, is a true book . . . talismanic and the strange symbolism thaumaturgic, for it can persuade men" exclaims Carlyle in powerful and picturesque words. Nevertheless I cannot presume to take the popularity of these books as a certificate for myself but rather as a certificate of the importance which is now beginning to be assigned to these subjects in the West.
They performed the much-needed service of carrying encouragement to those aspiring individuals who most need it, who are struggling to live mentally in a more exalted ethical environment than the one in which they live physically. They inspired and stimulated even while they instructed. They were to become both refuge and guide to those who would rescue life from aimlessness and save a few really worthwhile hours from its moth-like impermanence.
Not that I have ever been satisfied with what has been done--knowing only too well its numerous defects--but it has been done usually under difficult circumstances and against great pressure of time and therefore represents only what was possible at the time, quite apart from the further defects imposed by my personal limitations. Nevertheless it is unlikely that any recognition of my research work or creative efforts will come from official quarters. The task which destiny set me was too unusual for that. I do not write for those who would sit philosophy in an academic chair but for those who would apply it to life. In any case the world of stuffy official presentations, of morning-coat solemnity and bourgeois conventionality is not my world.
There were difficult circumstances in my personal life: the vicissitudes of frequent travel, the labours of constant and ever-widening research, the enervation and illnesses of tropical climates, the ever-present need of carrying on unremittingly with literary work which succeeds in reaching thousands where correspondence reaches but a relative few.
They were aggravated by the fact that I am by nature lazy, although I have so far driven mind and body with a hard will born out a sense of rigid duty. I have a kindred and congenial spirit in Charles Lamb who, always the last to arrive for his work at the old East India Company's office, excused himself by saying that he was always the first to leave. My temperament is such that I would prefer to spend my days doing nothing harder than lying stretched at ease on a Persian carpet bespread with several cushions, drinking a cup of the fragrant Chinese shrub or Mocha herb, wrapping my mind up in a Sufi shawl of coloured poesy and hearing all the while a continuous stream of European classical music.
I have consistently and frankly made it plain, both in the prefaces to certain books and during the course of personal interviews, that I have no desire to set myself up as a spiritual teacher and consequently no desire to acquire a following. I do not regard myself as a holy man or a saint or a sage or anything of that sort and consequently cannot honestly permit readers to regard me as such. Let others bear those dubious honours; a less ambitious if more worldly existence suffices for me. I write mystic and philosophic books not because I possess a spiritual status beyond that of others but partly because I possess a spiritual experience which is unlike that of others and partly because I wish to do a little good with my pen, if I may, rather than let it be hired out to the much more lucrative but less satisfying work which is repeatedly offered me. If I write about some of my own mystic experiences, it is only to show what benefits I have myself received from the pursuit of yoga. This is done because I know that an effective way to persuade some of my fellows to adopt meditation practices is to relate them to personal life. The egotistical style has been deliberately adopted. Such a personal style however is out of place in purely metaphysical works where an impersonal detached and dry manner is more apposite. That I recognize the truth of this axiom may be verified on examining my two latest books. I wrote always for those who are still, like myself, at the humbler level of aspiration. I do not claim any greater weight for my statements than any student may accord to another student's. But nevertheless the fact remains that I have been a specially privileged one.
Certain it is that I found myself possessed of an equipment to carry this special task such as few in the West of whose existence I am aware also possessed. Fate has provided me with exceptional opportunities whilst determination has provided me with a unique life-experience. Whether it be correct or not the fact remains that I have drunk deeply of doctrines that have been left like a legacy out of Asia's past. As a simple statement of fact and without pandering to vanity, it may be noted that Prince Mussooree Shum Shere of Nepal, himself an advanced practitioner of yoga and familiar with all the leading yogis of the Himalayan world, has set down these words: "I am convinced that Brunton is one of the chosen instruments to interpret the half-lost wisdom of the East."
Asiatic and African mystics, yogis and learned men, and even rare sages of whose eminence and existence the West still knows little or nothing have given me their confidence, confided much of their knowledge and secrets to my care, and sent me forth from their presence with their uttered benediction to mediate between Orient and Occident. I have thus had several teachers, yet could become the pupil of none; I have studied the tenets of several schools, but could become enslaved by none. In obedience to an inner compulsion and intermittent premonition whose justification became quite clear as destiny unfolded, I have ever maintained a sacred independence amidst all such relations, a detached loyalty, and have considered Truth a goddess above all mortals and hence alone to be worshipped. This attitude brought me painful emotional conflicts during the period of my growth and provoked others to malicious misunderstandings, but it has finally and fully proved its worth. For my loftiest, strangest, most significant, and most elevating mystic experiences occurred before I had ever met a single teacher, before I had even set foot on Asiatic soil. Through them I was really reborn. But alas! in my youth and novitiate I could not understand them. I was dazzled by the light and so continued to grope as though I were still in the dark. Now at long last I have brought my mystic and philosophic wandering to an anchor. Henceforth I owe intellectual allegiance and mystical obedience to no man.
And if I abhor the thought of forming a cult and making disciples, this is not to say that I abhor the thought of assisting my fellow man to find something of what I have already found. And if I refuse to set myself up as a sage when I am myself but a student, this is not to say that there are not always those who know even less than oneself and who may profitably share a few of my own crumbs. For no one can come into even partial comprehension of the Overself which supports the existence of all living creatures and continue to sit smugly in self-centered enjoyment of his knowledge and egoistic enjoyment of his peace. It is only ascetic mystics who touch their inner self without also touching the inner self of the universe who can do that. But he who has even begun to perceive that the basis of his own individual being is one and the same, wholly identical, with that of all other individual beings is no longer a mystic. For him the ultimate unity of all humanity--secret and not obvious though it be--is nevertheless a fact, and he has to reorder his own life accordingly. It will not be possible for him to dismiss from his mind the melancholy case of those who aspire to a wiser and better life. They will haunt his heart like wraiths and he will not get free of them, go where he will, be it into the loneliest solitude or the busiest city. Their service becomes his inescapable duty.
-- Notebooks Category 12: Reflections > Chapter 1: Two Essays > # 1