Student Questions and Answers About PB

Responses to questions with comments by Timothy Smith (co-editor of The Notebooks series)


1.  Overself
          PB often speaks about the impersonal nature of the Overself and encourages individuals to reach an
          impersonal, universal level.  Does this allow room for the higher  feelings that PB speaks about?
          Immediate task to become aware of Overself
          Turn away from smug satisfaction of ego

2.  Did PB ever give direct advice or direction?

1.  Overself

          PB often speaks about the impersonal nature of the Overself and encourages individuals to reach an impersonal, universal level.  Does this allow room for the higher  feelings that PB speaks about?

PB:  “The Overself, like a woman, wants to be loved ardently and exclusively.  The door upon which you may have been knocking a long time in vain will open to your frequent loving remembrances.” (Notebooks 23.6.160)

Commentary by TJS:  Somewhere along the line the word ‘impersonal’ has come to mean ‘unfeeling’ or ‘remote.’   

Let us consider impersonal moments: the beauty that is radiated into human consciousness from a great mountain like Arunachala or Mont Blanc; the power and awe of a raging sea; the simple peace accompanying a sunny day.  To assert that such emotional responses to the environment are anthropomorphic can only be made by an unfeeling person.

We have already agreed (or so we say) that the world is mental.  Is that mental world limited to sterile absolutes and inert sensations?  Is not the world presented through our senses filled with purpose, meaning, and laws?  Why then refuse it emotions and feelings?  Is there then someone who feels these world-feelings?  Yes and no: the yes is the individual mind, and the no is why such feelings can be designated im-personal. i.e. without-person, or better still, without ego.

It is often when we’re least self-involved that our feelings are most potent—the joy of a birth, the grief at death; the emotions felt about a collective triumph or tragedy; the feelings elicited in a concert or before a magnificent painting or watching a setting sun.  There are surely feelings here, and, oddly enough, little of ourselves at the same time.  But they seem to express a deeper part of our being, a connection, I suggest to the Overself.  To presume that we as we know and feel ourselves are the greatest locale of any subjective condition—freedom, wisdom, love—is as habitual as it is wrong.  What we feel and are capable of feeling, is only a little of what the ego-less, instinct-free Overself feels, knows, and does.  Our Soul is not some sterile, impotent stalactite dangling eternally from heaven’s roof; it is the heart of our heart, the fire of the instincts, the steel within our will, and the light within our mind.  Therefore to establish a relationship to it, we must do so in kind—to seek the Overself not with our mind, but with such light as may be present therein, to love the Overself with the innermost intimacy of our heart, to desire the Overself more passionately than anybody, to attend to the Overself with a will made more of steel than of intention. 

But all this is impossible.  We can only sustain such attitudes for moments and snatches of time before nature and habit close over our quest once more.  Nonetheless, each time we get a little closer, we find that the light, wisdom, love, and will of the Overself is entirely adequate to the task of presencing itself to us in many, many ways throughout our experience.  Then the task becomes rather one of receiving its great Love and trusting to it for the rest.

          Immediate task to become aware of Overself

PB:  “The immediate task is to become increasingly aware of the Overself’s presence, or, if you are working under a master, of the master’s presence in your own heart.” (Notebooks 23.6.238)

Commentary by TJS:  All other tasks are mediated.  The only access to the Overself, to true inner self, is and must be unmediated—how can there be any relationship but identity to that authentic subject?  The presence of the master is analogous—it’s not the master him or herself that one is to be immediately aware of, but rather the master's presence, which is the aura of his or her own higher self.
          Turn away from smug satisfaction of ego

PB:  “Man has no power of his own to command Grace but he does have the power to turn away from smug satisfaction with his own ego and throw himself at the feet of the Overself—the source of Grace.” (Notebooks 18.5.144)

Commentary by TJS:  This little statement doesn’t say turn away from one’s conscious smug-ness, but rather from the smug-ness of the ego.  It strikes me that only in the moment(s) of throwing ourselves at the feet of the Overself is this latent smugness overcome.  Since we’re not often so inclined without dire (or rarely blissful) motivation, the conclusion is that we’re smug—or that the ego dominance latent in our unconscious attitude is smug—smug that it (and hence "I") don’t really need the Overself.  Therefore our everyday emotional state may not be consciously characterized as ‘smug’ or satisfied, but perhaps we would fare better in our inner work were we to do so.

2.  Did PB ever give direct advice or direction?

Response by TJS:  Yes.  Although it varied from person to person and question to question.  I remember being present when a couple asked him to bless their new vegetarian restaurant.  In dictating his response to their letter, he commented, “I’m not a businessman, and although my blessing will help them, it has nothing to do with making their business successful or not.” 

At one time, through a series of questions he drew out of me my own choice of profession—astrologer—showing me what was already within me.  In another instance, during my first visit, when Micha-El [Dr. Alan Berkowitz] and I were both preparing to leave, Alan said, “I’ve never been to Europe before; are there any places or people that I should see?”  PB paused, and then proceeded to lay out a month long itinerary during which Alan met many of PB’s European students. 

‘What a great question’ I thought to myself.  Let me ask it too.  So I did.  “Well,” said PB, “you could go to Iona Scotland, if you like.”  That was it.  So I went to Iona, where I met the founders of Findhorn and had several weeks of interesting meditations. 

So I would say that PB certainly gave direction from time to time, but preferred to assist people in finding their own guidance from within themselves and providing them with the tools and understanding to do so.

For a complete recounting of Tim’s "Conversations and Recollections of Paul Brunton" refer to his website,