Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 2: Practices for the Quest
Practices for the Quest
If he is not too proud to begin at the point where he finds himself rather than at some point where he once was or would now like to be, if he is willing to advance one step at a time, he may realize his goal far more quickly than the less humble and more pretentious man is likely to realize it.
The Long Path represents the earlier stages through which all seekers after the higher wisdom will have to pass; they cannot leap up to the top. Therefore those stages will always remain valuable.
The aspirant for illumination must first lift himself out of the quagmire of desire, passion, selfishness, and materialism in which he is sunk. To achieve this purpose, he must undergo a purificatory discipline. It is true that some individuals blessed by grace or karma spontaneously receive illumination without having to undergo such a discipline. But these individuals are few. Most of us have to toil hard to extricate ourselves from the depths of the lower nature before we can see the sky shining overhead.
An intellectual understanding is not enough. These ideas can be turned into truths only by a thorough self-discipline leading to liberation from passions, governance of emotions, transformation of morals, and concentration of thoughts.
He has to develop religious veneration, mystical intuition, moral worth, rational intelligence, and active usefulness in order to evolve a fuller personality. Thus he becomes a fit instrument for the descent of the Overself into the waking consciousness.
Many a yogi will criticize this threefold 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) dyhana (meditation practice), (2) prajna (higher understanding), (3) sila (self-denying conduct).
It is a fault in most of my writings that I did not mention at all, or mentioned too briefly and lightly, certain aspects of the quest so that wrong ideas about my views on these matters now prevail. I did not touch on these aspects or did not touch on them sufficiently, partly because I thought my task was to deal as a specialist primarily with meditation alone, and partly because so many other workers had dealt with them so often. It is now needful to change the emphasis over to these neglected hints. They include moral re-education; character building; prayer, communion, and worship in their most inward, least outward, and quite undenominational religious sense; mortification of flesh and feeling as a temporary but indispensable discipline; and the use of creative imagination in contemplative exercises as a help to spiritual achievement.
There is a point of view which rejects the attitude that destitution and dire poverty are the only paths to spirituality and replaces it by the attitude that a simple life and a small number of possessions are better. The poverty-stricken life is usually inadequate and unaesthetic. We need a sufficiency of possessions in order to obtain efficiency of living, and an aesthetic home in order to live the beautiful life. How much more conducive to success in meditation, for instance, is a well-ordered home, a refined elegant environment, a noiseless and undisturbed room or outdoor spot! But these things cost money. However much the seeker may saturate himself in youthful years with idealistic contempt for the world's values, he will find in time that even the things important to his inner spiritual life can usually be had only if he has enough money to buy them. Privacy, solitude, silence, and leisure for study and meditation are not free, and their price comes high.
To live a simpler life is not the same as to live an impoverished life. Our wants are without end and it is economy of spiritual energy to reduce them at certain points. But this is not to say that all beautiful things are to be thrown out of the window merely because they are not functional or indispensable.
What earlier scholars translated as "nonacceptance of gifts" in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, Mahadevan has translated as "non-possession." The difference in meaning is important. The idea clearly is to avoid burdens which keep attention busy with their care.
What is really meant by renunciation of the world? I will tell you. It is what a man comes down to when confronted by certain death, when he knows that within an hour or two he will be gone from the living world--when he dictates his last will and testament disposing of all his earthly possessions.
It is not the world that stands in our way and must be renounced but our mental and emotional relationship with the world; and this needs only to be corrected. We may remain just where we are without flight to ashram or convent, provided we make an inner shift.
There is something crazy in this idea that we were put into the world to separate ourselves from it!
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.
He must be observant, must understand the heights and depths of human nature, human motives, and human egoism. He should do this because it will help him to know both others and himself, to serve them better and to protect his quest.
He who enters upon this quest will have plenty to do, for he will have to work on the weaknesses in his character, to think impartially, to meditate regularly, and to aspire constantly. Above all, he will have to train himself in the discipline of surrendering the ego.
Show me a man who is regular and persistent in his practice of daily study, reflection, and meditation, and you will show me a man determined to break the bonds of flesh and destined to walk into the sphere of the spirit, though years may elapse and lives may pass before he succeeds. He has learned to ask, to seek, and to find.
As a preface to this reflective reading, he should put his heart in an attitude of humility and prayerfulness. He needs the one because it is the divine grace which will make his own efforts bear fruit in the end. He needs the other because he must ask for this grace. And however obscurely he may glimpse the book's meaning at times, his own reflective faith in the truth set down in its pages and in the inner leading of his higher self, will assist him to progress farther. Such a sublime stick-to-it-iveness brings the Overself's grace in illuminated understanding.
From the first moment that he sets foot on this inner path until the last one when he has finished it, he will at intervals be assailed by tests which will try the stuff he is made of. Such trials are sent to the student to examine his mettle, to show how much he is really worth, and to reveal the strength and weakness that are really his, not what he believes are his. The hardships he encounters try the quality of his attainment and demonstrate whether his inner strength can survive them or will break down; the sufferings he experiences may engrave lessons on his heart, and the ordeals he undergoes may purify it. Life is the teacher as well as the judge.
Every act is to be brought into the field of awareness and done deliberately.
The discipline of the self, the following of ethical conduct, the practice of mystical meditation--all these are needed if the higher experience resulting in insight is being sought.
Aspiration alone is not enough. It must be backed by discipline, training, and endeavour.
He who wishes to triumph must learn to endure.
From the intuitions that are the earliest guides of the seeking mind to the ecstatic self-absorptions that are the latest experiences of the illumined mystic, there are certain obstructions which have to be progressively removed if these manifestations are to appear. They can be classified into three groups: those that belong to the unchecked passions of man, those that belong to his self-centered emotions, and those that belong to his prejudiced thinking. By a critical self-analysis, by a purificatory self-denial, and by an ascetic self-training, the philosophic discipline generates a deep moral and intellectual earnestness which wears down these obstructions and prepares the seeker for real advance.
The neophyte may stumble and fall, but he can still rise up again; he may make mistakes, but he can still correct them. If he will stick to his quest through disheartening circumstances and long delays, his determination will not be useless. If it does nothing else, it will invite the onset of grace. When moods of doubt come to him, as they do to most, he must cling steadfastly to hope and renew his practice until the mood disappears. It is a difficult art, this of keeping to the symbol in his serene centre even for a few minutes. It can be learnt by practice only. Every time he strays from it into excitement, egotism, or anxiety, and discovers the fact, he must return promptly. It is an art which has to be learnt through constant effort and after frequent failure, this keeping his hold on the spiritual facts of existence. He should continue the quest with unbroken determination, even if his difficulties and weaknesses make him unable to continue it with unshaken determination. It implies a willingness to keep the main purpose of his quest in view whatever happens. He must resolve to continue his journey despite the setbacks which may arise out of his own weaknesses and undeflected by the misfortunes which may arise out of his own destiny. The need to endure patiently amid difficult periods is great, but it is worthwhile holding on and hoping on by remembering that the cycle of bad karma will come to an end. It is a matter of not letting go. This does not mean lethargic resignation to whatever happens, however. He has got to maintain his existence, striving to seize or create the slenderest opportunities.
The Quest is not to be followed by studying metaphysically alone or by sitting meditatively alone. Both are needful yet still not enough. Experience must be reflectively observed and intuition must be carefully looked for. Above all, the aspirant must be determined to strive faithfully for the ethical ideals of philosophy and to practise sincerely its moral teachings.
Even though he learns all these truths, he has only learnt them intellectually. They must be applied in the environment, they must be deeply felt in the heart, and, finally, they must be established as the Consciousness whence they are derived.
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.
It is not merely undesirable for others' sake for a man to engage in spiritual service prematurely and unpurified, but positively dangerous to his own welfare.
The only authentic mandate for spiritual service must come, if it does not come from a master, from within one's Higher Self. If it comes from the ego, it is then an unnecessary intrusion into other people's lives which can do little good, however excellent the intention.
When he came down into reincarnation, he came with the responsibility for his own life, not for other people's. They were, and ever afterwards remained, responsible for their own lives. The burden was never at any time shifted by God onto his shoulders.
To understand the mysterious language of the Silence, and to bring this understanding back into the world of forms through work that shall express the creative vitality of the Spirit, is one way in which you may serve mankind.
He must examine himself to find out how far hidden self-seeking enters into his altruistic activity.
It is futile for anyone who has muddled his own life to set out to straighten the lives of others. It is arrogant and impertinent for anyone to start out improving humanity whilst he himself lamentably needs improvement. The time and strength that he proposes to give in such service will be better used in his own. To meddle with the natural course of other men's lives under such conditions is to fish in troubled waters and make a fool of himself. Only when he has himself well in hand is there even a chance of rendering real service. A man whose own interior and exterior life is full of failure should not mock the teaching by prattling constantly about his wish to serve humanity. Such service must first begin at the point nearest to him, that is, his own self.
If he can keep his motives really pure and his ego from getting involved, he may find the way to render service. But few men can do it.
It is not that he is not to care about other people or try to help them, but that he is to remember that there is so little he can do for them while he is so little himself.
Help given, or alms bestowed, out of the giver's feeling of oneness with the sufferer, is twice given: once as the physical benefit and once as the spiritual blessing along with it.
Philosophic service is distinguished by practical competence and personal unselfishness.
I must cut a clear line of difference between helping people and pleasing them. Many write and say my books have helped them when they really mean that my books have pleased their emotions. We help only when we lift a man's mind to the next higher step, not when we confirm his present position by "pleasing" him. To help is to assist a man's progress; to please is to let his bonds enslave him.
The seeker must live primarily for his own development, secondarily for society's. Only when he has attained the consummation of that development may he reverse the roles. If, in his early enthusiasm, he becomes a reformer or a missionary much more than a seeker, he will stub his toes.
If he begins to think of himself as the doer of this service, the helper of these people, he begins to set up the ego again. It will act as as barricade between him and the higher impersonal power. The spiritual effectiveness of his activity will begin to dwindle.
Because the ultimate issue lies with the grace of the Overself, the aspirant is not to prejudge the results of his Quest. He is to let them take care of themselves. This has one benefit, that it saves him from falling into the extremes of undue discouragement on the one hand and undue elation on the other. It tells him that even though he may not be able, in this incarnation, to attain the goal of union with the Overself by destroying the ego, he can certainly make some progress towards his goal by weakening the ego. Such a weakening does not depend upon grace; it is perfectly within the bounds of his own competence, his own capacity.
Such inward invulnerability seems too far away to be practicable. But the chief value of seeking it lies in the direction which it gives to thought, feeling, and will. Even if it unlikely that the aspirant will achieve such a high standard in this present incarnation, it is likely that he will be able to take two or three steps nearer its achievement.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.