Paul Brunton and the Secret Path

an appreciation by John Behague

There have been many who have influenced me in my lifelong search for the truth, but none more so than Paul Brunton.  So many times his thoughts have echoed mine, and so many times I have inwardly cried out, “Yes, yes!” when his words have struck home.  I never met him, but I feel close to him; I visited the same places he visited, met the same kinds of people he met, and experienced similar things.  His search was more successful than my own because he had the courage and determination to venture into the unknown, tear down curtains of superstition, topple idols, and scatter sacred cows.

His courage may make him appear a giant among men.  On the contrary, PB, as he liked to be called, was small and dapper.  He spoke softly and slowly, he was gentle in this approach, and he lived quietly and abstemiously.  Yet throughout his spiritual journey, this little man visited the far corners of the world.  He lived with princes, mystics, and holy men; he stayed in palaces and mud huts; and he emerged as something of a guru himself, with a message of incredible importance and hope for those who care to read it.  I hope to summarize some of his findings and explain his philosophy.

Strangely, PB wasn’t aware of having any mission in life other than the hope of making people aware of the value of their own souls.  He had no desire to inflict his beliefs on others.  He was no missionary, and he didn’t seek to convert or compel.  His main resolve was to be independent of allegiances and authorities and to rely on his own observations and findings so that he could set down the simple truths of things that had become hidden or distorted over the years.  Others could pick them up or discard them as they saw fit.  All PB hoped was that people would find within themselves what he had found within himself.

He wrote several philosophical books, some of which have become best sellers, but much of his writing, in the form of notebooks, remained unpublished until the creation of the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation in New York.  When he died in 1981 a bright light went out, but his answers to the vital question, “What’s the meaning of it all?” should provide spiritual food for many years to come.

Questions were his stock and trade, from his early years as a journalist in London, and like me, the word “why?” was constantly on his lips.  Why is it that we can conquer diseases, design complicated computers, and send men into space when we can’t even explain why we are here on earth?  As PB himself said, “We have gathered highly detailed information about almost everything under the sun.  We know the work, qualities and properties of all the objects and phenomena of the earth.  But we do not know ourselves.  The very persons who have been studying all the sciences have yet to study the science of self.”

Throughout history the great seers and philosophers have struggled to find the key to our existence on earth.  Just like the old stationmaster in the English comedic play Ghost Train, we agonize over the question “Where do we come from and where do we go?”  Are we mere lumps of matter destined to disintegrate into nothingness, or are we God-made creatures with everlasting souls?

PB called these the great riddles of life; they have puzzled the sages of many generations and will continue to puzzle them for many more.  He saw humans as doubting and despairing figures stalking across the cold wastes of this world laughing cynically at the name of God, but he believed that within all people there was a radiant place where the soul could take shelter.  He saw both angel and beast as inner tenants of all human beings.

What are we to believe?  Are the words of the ancient sages the babblings of irresponsible lunatics, or are they messages of tremendous importance to us all?  Paul Brunton resolved to bring the record up to date by tracking down the seers of today—swamis, gurus, holy men, and yogis—to discover the truth for himself.

I have discovered along my own journey that it is difficult to uncover truth.  Sometimes a “holy man” that thousands of people worship turns out to be a complete fraud.  Sometimes miracle men prove to be little more than conjurers.  PB’s investigations and travels lasted several years, and in the end he came to the inescapable conclusion that Divinity is everywhere; that God can be found and that God is good.  The catch, however, is that in order to find Him you first have to find yourself.

He also found that calamity has beset us.  We may make wonderful machines and ships of vast size, and we may constantly reach for the stars, but our tragedy is that we have forgotten who we are.  There is a wealth of proof that allows us to trace our lineage back to the ape, but we cannot remember our kindred to the angel; we have forgotten our own spiritual nature.

PB believed that behind our personal selves lies another self that an ancient seer describes as, “Unseen but seeing, unheard but hearing, unperceived but perceiving, unknown but knowing... This is thy Self, the ruler within, the immortal.”  We show the world a superficial mask, but our true self lives in the depths of our hearts.  I suspect that we house several selves, including our good and our bad parts.  One has only to consider how devoted German fathers with deep love of family, music, and the arts, supported Hitler in his massacre of innocents.  But even within the beast there lies hidden a spiritual being.

You may dismiss this concept as far-fetched or imaginative, but PB insisted that “wrapped in the folds of our nature hides a rare jewel, though we know it not.  None has yet dared to set a price upon it, nor will any dare to do so, for its value is beyond all known worth.”

So, where is the proof?

PB was at first positive that you wouldn’t find it in books, despite his many literary outpourings.  Truth is a state of being, not a set of words, he asserted, and he begged people to start experimenting for themselves.  The word God, he said, was meaningless unless you could contact Him within.  The answers to all things lie within the limitless interior of your own being.  You must push aside your doubts, inhibitions, prejudices, and religious scruples, and you must take the plunge.

That is easier said than done in this day and age.  Most of us are lost in a sea of confusion and contradiction with powerful forces pulling us this way and that.  There are the distractions of radio, television, and instant news.  We live in a fast action world with little time for purposeful thinking or spiritual experimentation.

Most people become buried in these distractions, but Paul Brunton was made of much sterner and more determined stuff than most people are.  To him the question of where we come from and where we go was more important than any other question on earth.  He resolved to solve it.  His investigations took many years, and to some people they seemed like wild goose chases.

He found that the venture within is what really matters; the truth is sometimes found in unexpected places and in blinding flashes.  It is the search that sets things in motion.  It triggers an inner mechanism that eventually rings a bell.  Gurus and spiritual leaders can provide directions and clues, but the opening must come from within.

Some people are lucky—or “favored,” as I prefer to think about it.  My first moments of understanding came to me when I was high in the Himalayas during a wartime journey to Tibet.  These feelings were confirmed much later in my life when I joined the spiritual brotherhood, Subud.  I suspect that PB was also a member of Subud, but I have seen no confirmation of this.
[Editor’s Note: He was not, but had a strong interest in the movement.]

At the start I said I thought Paul Brunton’s search had been more successful than mine.  We both made the same discoveries, but he allowed his discoveries to change his life.  I didn’t and continued my existence as a journalist, broadcaster, and teacher.  In the book Paul Brunton: A Personal View, the author (PB's son) says this: “An aura of kindliness emanated from him.  His scholarly learning was forged in the crucible of life.  His spirituality shone forth like a beacon.  But he discouraged attempts to form a cult around him.  ‘You must find your own PB within yourselves,’ he used to say.”

There are people who claim that after meeting PB their lives were changed forever.  It is said that when he stepped into a room, he filled it with serenity and that this experience and he himself were living proof that enlightenment is real.  It is also said that he was the first person to bring yoga and meditation to the West, well before the arrival of Transcendental Meditation and its emissaries.  In this modern age, wisdom is a precious gift that humankind should not spurn lightly.

Of his eleven books, The Secret Path is probably the shortest and most widely read.  In it he declares that gaining access to one’s own soul is not such a rare feat as it may seem, and it all hinges on stilling the tumult of the mind and practicing mental quiet.  Daily meditation and occasional retreats allow people access to their own souls.  He was aware of the difficulties and demands that so many people face in their daily lives.  Switching off our minds in the midst of tumult may seem impossible, but it can be done.  PB warned, however, that “Thought control is hard to attain.  Its difficulty will astonish you.  The brain will rise in mutiny.  Like the sea, the human mind is ceaselessly active.  But it can be done.”  In other publications PB offers further guidance in these matters.

He summed up the findings of his entire quest in eight words: “Be still and know that I am God.”  But he added that it was important not to forget intellectual study and right action.

Everything depends on personal approach.  How strongly do you wish for enlightenment?  PB is quoted as saying to his son, “Most questers feel that self-illumination is far off, a goal to be reached in some future life.  But you can achieve it in the same lifetime IF you desire it strongly enough.  After all, you ARE going to attain it someday, why not make up your mind it will be sooner rather than later?  Go all out for it!  And then even if you don’t succeed in this life, the results of your hard work will show in the next life, so it will be worthwhile.”

There are still many questions that remain unanswered.

If God is almighty, why doesn’t He intervene to end wars and suffering?  Why does no hand stretch out from the Great Unknown to save us?  PB said God, if He willed, could heal all the sorrows of this planet in an instant, but if people are to grow God-like they must do so of their own free will.  Otherwise we’d all be little more than automatons.

That is an obvious stock answer, and I am not altogether happy with it because I personally have proved divine intervention and guidance to be a fact.

What about death?  That’s a question few are prepared to discuss and one that ties religious figures in knots.  People think that the subject of death is morbid, yet death is an inevitable event that affects all of us.  PB tells us that death and change are the ultimate conditions of life in the material and mental worlds, but that the reality that we can find within ourselves is time-defying and eternal.  Death to the man or woman who knows the truth means no more than a new birth, or reincarnation.  PB says, “Everything we show forth returns to us, therefore we must be careful as to what we do to others, because the law of destiny is always at work, always sending back what we sent out, paying us in our own coin.”

PB had so many though-provoking things to say.  He once said, “The material world is the great lethal chamber of the soul.  Only spiritual heroes can arouse themselves sufficiently to escape from its stupefying effect upon consciousness.”

How big a hero are you?

“It is the mind that can set a person free again.  This is not done by running away to monasteries or mountains and spending one’s life there.  It is done by using the mind to enquire into its own operation.”  PB should know, but you have to admit that the time he spent in monasteries and on mountains was not altogether a waste of time.

“When we understand that this whole world and not merely a part of it—the part which pleases us—is a divine manifestation, we understand that God must be in the gangster too.  We must face facts bravely and realize that divine will is ultimately behind the whole universe and consequently must even be behind the horror and agony and wickedness too.”

We had to throw the plummet of the mind into the depths of self.  The deeper it fell the richer would be the treasure.  “Each person has a private door opening on to the eternal brightness.  If we will not press and push it open, our darkness is self-doomed.”

On completing the quest, be said, “All language is hopelessly inadequate, shabbily poverty stricken, when confronted with this grand experience which one day awaits the whole human race and even now awaits every individual who truly and perseveringly seeks it.”
What does it take?  For proof of your divinity you have to take a little time out of each day to sit down in a quiet corner, shut out all distractions, enter into the seclusion, and find the peace within.  “We must dig with the drill of mind beneath the attraction of the physical world, and try to find the eternal reality which hides.  Then the secret of life, which has baffled the brilliant intellects of illustrious people, will be discovered and become our joyful possession.”

Books do provide some answers, and reading The Secret Path will help you find the key to that private and most important door, which, once opened, will change your life.