Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 1: Overview of the Quest > Chapter 4: Organized Groups
Benefits for beginners
Should he join an organization, a community of students, or a group of seekers? Some are hindered by such a move, others feel they are helped; all in the end will have to come to themselves, will have to look inward rather than outward.
The usefulness of organizations makes them a necessity. The appointment of men to administer those organizations is unavoidable.
In the arrangements of human society, there is a necessary place for human institutions.
In his earlier years, the seeker may try one kind of institution of a religious or mystical character and then move to a different one if it does not fulfil his expectations. In this way he may experiment with different creeds and different forms of practice. This may be useful so far as it exposes him to the influences which are needed to balance one another. But it may be bewildering if he overdoes it.
Most traditional forms, or the newer organizations which have some sort of spiritual teaching, are useful in the beginning to most people. But this is not to say that they're going to be useful always. They have their limitations, and at a certain stage may prevent further advance.
But those who can stand alone are always smaller in number: most persons will frankly admit that they cannot, certainly most young and most old persons. This is the justification for the need of organizations, groups, churches, and priesthoods. They offer what seems fixed support in life, stable in doctrine, superior nobler holier and wiser than what the ordinary person finds in himself. This is why philosophy attracts the few, those who are, or who can be trained to become, strong enough to walk a lonely path.
I have never forgotten the statement made to me somewhere in India by a young man who had recently joined the Society of Friends and had been sent out to what was then a famine-stricken tropic country on a Quaker relief project. "Why, when you admit to all these queries and doubts, and feel you are searching, do you then make yourself a member of a sect, admittedly one of the noblest and finest of all, but still a sect, with all the limitations which go with it?" I had asked him. He thought for a while and then broke the long silence to reply: "I quite understand and admit what you say about sectarian limitations. But I feel my youth and inexperience and weakness. At my age there is need for some kind of support from outside, some group to give me not merely fellowship but also a feeling of solidity and stability, something to lean upon, in short." What he said taught me a lesson and made me understand sympathetically that the love of independence to ensure a free search, and the desire for self-reliance do not belong to everybody, and that others, certainly most people, have other needs, prefer other ways, for which there is also room in human life.
Despite these criticisms, however, he sees also how organizational life was helpful to his early efforts and guided his early steps. He knows that there is a place for it, but he also knows that that place is a preliminary one. If the final work of a seeker is to be done for and upon himself, that does not displace the necessity of an institution in assisting him to do the preparatory work. Therefore, even the advanced mystic, who has no need of its services, cannot in principle be hostile to an institution. He readily admits its necessity and denies only its all-sufficiency.
These groups led by a guru may be quite useful to a beginner who is stumbling in the dark. But to join one without knowing the limitations and dangers would be foolish.
Membership in a group, be it a vastly spread religion or a small minor sect, gives each member a feeling of correctness in their joint beliefs; each supports the others. But this may begin to weaken when some drastic and unexpected event may prove hard to bear.
The strength of such a group must lie in its quality and not in its numbers. It must be the result not of propaganda activities but of the spontaneous association of like-thinking people.
It is true that there are many eccentrics among these believers but there are also many serious sensible and well-behaved people among them.
Religious followers begin to organize themselves either quite spontaneously when unled, or quite obediently when a leader appears, for several good understandable reasons. The coming together in a compact group affords some protection, offers them a mode of expression and the teaching a mode of preservation.
There is nothing wrong with the group idea if its members meet for fellowship.
If he joins a monastic order he will usually have to take a vow to practise certain restraints and renunciations. To a lesser degree this also occurs with joining certain groups and circles in the world outside such orders. The value of the vow is that it sets up a standard to be followed, a course to be travelled, and a goal to be reached. He may fall from the standard, deviate from the course, and fail to approach the goal, but their existence may help him come closer to the object of the vow than he might otherwise have come. On the other hand, the layman who is not interested in vows but simply resolves to improve himself lacks their stimulus. There is nothing but the inner force of his own ideal to keep him from abandoning the self-imposed rigours of his discipline. He depends on the power which he will have to summon up from somewhere within himself. The weakness of binding himself to the new regime which he himself has imposed is that it can easily be shirked at any time, that if he yields to the inclination to do so, the restraints upon it will be weaker and fewer.
Whatever church, organization, or cult to which he commits himself, he should always make for himself at least the reservation that he should retain the freedom to leave and go elsewhere or to cease seeking among outer organizations and to search within.
But there is a place and a need for the cohesion of a group, for the sustained teamwork of an organization, and for the discipline imposed on individuals by a church.
Any institution dedicated to training for the life of the Spirit will always keep out the Spirit. It cannot be found through any formal performances, nor through any organized group work. And all that training can do is to open a way wherethrough, if It is already coming or willing to come, it may pass.
The need to identify himself with an organized group, established religion, or particular sect, or indeed with any cause, is at base the need to identify himself with the God within. He unwittingly wants to belong to something larger than his own little ego. Such membership helps to achieve this because it removes the sense of separateness and the feeling of loneliness. But it does so only at the surface level. With the efflux of time, he finds it necessary to search for satisfaction at a deeper level. For the group, the church, or the institution are outside him and give it only temporarily, partially, or spottily. A durable and fuller result is possible only by turning around and looking within his own being. For there, in the hidden presence of the Spiritual self, he will find that larger Cause, Source, Mystery, with which he can identify himself in the perfect way.
In joining a society or group he joins mostly those who are not more advanced than himself in the capacity to meditate. There are certain hindrances to progress which accompany membership in such organizations. If, however, the social value of finding other persons interested in spiritual subjects outweighs the immediate need of making inner progress, then membership would of course be most helpful.
My advice is often asked about forming a little group of people to study my books. Ordinarily, there is no objection to a few people meeting together for such study, as they might help answer mutual questions. But it is best not to let the group increase its size. There are several reasons why it is better to restrict the class to a small number than to let everyone who wishes enter it. Quality should be the only consideration in such admissions; quantity would in the end disintegrate the group. Let the effort be limited to study, clearing up questions, and talks. Group meditation should not be practised among beginners if there is no powerful uplifting leader in their midst to protect them. There is a right time and a wrong time for personal endeavour to lead and assist a spiritual group. The right time will come only with competence. Until then there is the ever-present task of the student's own self-improvement. That is above all else.
It is only as group allegiances are slowly widened that goodwill can be established towards those who are outside such borders.
The desire of an individual to join a group can never be given more than qualified approval. But if he feels certain that something may be gained by associating with other seekers, and if he is successful in finding a group devoted exclusively to the search for the highest Truth, it may be all right for him at that particular phase of his development.
There is need of a school where an effective form of service would be the giving of practical initiation into meditation for inexperienced beginners, and the guidance of development for experienced intermediates. This could do much good. A single meeting for meditation is usually enough: individuals could then be left to work out for themselves the contact thus given, returning to the school periodically for further and more advanced instruction.
Instead of being found out, the particular needs and special tendencies of the individual seeker will be ignored and even suppressed in the endeavour to conform him to the system. There is both good and bad in this. Which of these he will receive depends upon the competence of the teacher, if he has one, or the mental attitude he takes toward the system itself--upon his blind slavish adherence to it or intelligent, open-eyed use of it.
He is under no obligation to stay fixed in an ashram or group merely because he once entered it.
The time comes when the aspiring philosopher feels that he will get no actual benefit from his studies and make no personal progress unless he enters the second stage and begins to work on himself. It is then that he will perceive, if he is not too foolish, that most of these groups and cults are of no further use to him.
Those who feel their own path or school or cult calls to them should heed it. It is right for them. But they should not be so narrow as to proclaim it to be the only way to God.
I am not criticizing those who follow such ways or advocate such teachings, nor venturing to judge their rightness or wrongness. The need for, and the usefulness of, group organization is admitted. But I feel there is an equal need for a different approach, for independence from all group organizations; there is room for a path which avoids "joining." This need not be misunderstood. There are those who like the first way and they will have to follow it. There are others who will prefer the second way. I am among them. Both ways are needed but by different people.
We must be prepared in advance not to expect too much from human institutions, for the simple reason that they are administered by or composed of human beings, that neither they nor the institutions are perfect, that any claim to the contrary is a roseate dream, any belief in the affirmative is naïve, and the person holding it is inexperienced.
To find out that his way does not lie through such cults is a useful compensation for the time spent in following such a way, although life is hardly long enough to spend much of it in such negative pursuits.
The beginner who ventures on a tour of these cults, in the hope of finding one to suit him, ventures into a danger-beset field, where lunacy is often mistaken for illumination and where exaggerated claims substitute for solid facts.
The desire for power over others, for authority, is a form of personal ambition which has, in the past, mixed easily with a spiritual glimpse. A new sect, a new movement, has then come to birth. The seeker after truth who comes in contact with it would be far safer to take some of the teaching without sacrificing his freedom, without joining the group.
If any work, institution, or organization is centered in the Overself it cannot fall into the base, negative, or selfish currents which, in the historic past, have polluted, poisoned, and sometimes destroyed so many tasks and enterprises.
The pressure to make all people members of organizations, to herd them together and affix labels, is a kind of mania. Why should there not be room for untrammelled, independent minds, who prefer to remain free and uninfluenced, untied to any one group?
It is a common but fallacious belief that by joining a group we get at the truth more quickly, or progress to spiritual reality more easily.
When men act together in a religious or political organization, they often act worse than they would as individuals.
Why is it that the eagerness with which so many disciples flock to join an ashram ends so often in a deterioration of character after they have lived in it for a while? The answer is that there is a fundamental fallacy behind the thinking which draws them into it. It is the fallacy that they have any business with the other disciples. Their true business is with their master alone.
The disadvantage of adhering to a single system of belief or joining a single organization teaching religious, mystical, or hygienic principles is that the sound truths given out are usually one-sided; they ignore others equally sound and valuable but outside the purview of the system's founder or the organization's leader. This neglect prevents attainment of the full truth about the subject.
There is indeed some perception of this but it is quite a confused one. That which ignorant aspiration accepts as the necessity for joining some group, is much more the awareness of its own spiritual helplessness than of the group's spiritual strength.
Most groups of human beings, most of their associations, societies, and organizations suffer at some time from troubles caused by human weaknesses and shortcomings. These include divisions, jealousies, malices, and personal dislikes or hostilities. This is as true of idealistic and religious groups as of business and professional ones.
Those with experience of the cults and organizations know how unsatisfactory they are in the end. The passage of truth from mind to mind has always been a personal matter and cannot be otherwise, just as the training in meditation is equally personal.
The teacher soon finds that he is faced by a new problem: the temperamental incompatibilities of the students. They cannot study together without coming into disagreement and they cannot work together without coming into conflict. They take offense too easily and do not realize that the teacher has duties toward many other students besides themselves. They can't even discover that the teacher has sent more letters or given more interviews to another student without becoming jealous of the latter. Thus the personal factor cannot be eliminated from any group. In the end, the teacher finds that he has to advise each student not to concern himself about the others. So the teacher concludes that he can get better results by dealing with each individual separately than in a group.
Those who serve the interests of their institution, those who mold its policy and become its instrument, will have to choose between such activity and the Ideal.
To overreact against the misuse of power or the deficiencies of an institution is to commit a fresh error.
Whilst men are imperfect and whilst power makes them drunk, it is foolish to entrust the government of any religious institution, any religious organization, or any human life to a single man.
The organization of a church, group, or society along the usual lines is too often motivated by a mixture of urges--some creditable but others not. If there is the desire to spread what is believed to be true, there may also be the desire to occupy a prominent leading position in the organization, the ambition to dominate others.
Men try to escape their responsibility in this matter by handing it over to an official Church, or Spiritual Guide, or referring to Scripture. But they fail to see that in the end it is they themselves who judge between doctrines, decide upon beliefs, choose spiritual paths, request ceremonies and accept observances, and finally and personally pronounce the words: this is Truth! To accept belief is unconsciously or consciously to pass a judgement, one's own judgement, on that belief.
The idea of introducing Questers to other Questers has generally failed to effect the original purpose and has not seldom had disappointing results. It is better to recognize that this is an individual work, not to be identified with any group effort, even so small a group as two or three, let alone the larger ones of several dozen. People cannot blend so easily as to form a harmonious friendship or group, even if they are Questers. Yet many beginners in their enthusiasm try to create such friendships and have to learn their lesson when the friendship falls apart. It is better to let people find their affinity and form their companionships in a natural way. There is no duty laid upon anyone, whether teacher or taught, to give introductions unless a direct, intuitive bidding points to that duty.
Even where an organization is not actually obstructive or misleading, it is often cumbersome and unnecessary.
Can the inquiring and aspiring person find no better refuge anywhere than some rigid church or ashram? Must he join some institution and have the rest of his life laid out for him by others even if it does violence to his own finer feelings and best reasonings? Must he join a crowd of other aspirants or attach himself to some persuasive leader? It is a fact that many if not most do this, which shows the lack of strength in their minds and characters; but on the other hand a more popular way is easier and more comfortable.
Belonging to an elite group, whether or not it be real as self-claimed, allows its members to feel superior, to be condescending, and to denigrate others.
A movement may begin and seek to keep itself free from organization, administration, and authority, but it is unlikely to remain so. For human beings, fallible or ambitious, frail or emotional, will sooner or later seek to impose their ideas, will, or themselves on the others.
It was an old monk of the early Eastern Orthodox Church, Isikhi, who long ago witheringly remarked that if spiritual talk is too frequent and too prolonged, it becomes idle chatter.
Few are willing to sacrifice their desire for the gregarious support offered by joining an organization and therefore few see how this binds them to its dogmas, imprisons them in its practices or methods, and obstructs their free hearing of the intuitive voice of their own soul.
I am not enamoured overmuch of this modern habit, which forms a society at faint provocation. A man's own problem stares him alone in the face, and is not to be solved by any association of men. Every new society we join is a fresh temptation to waste time.
The great mistake of all spiritual organizations is to overlook the fact that progress or salvation is a highly individual matter. Each person has his unique attitude towards life; each must move forward by his own expanding comprehension and especially by his own personal effort.
There is a moment in the career of the seeker when he may have to face the problem of joining some special organization. Here we can deal only with the general question itself. For most beginners, association with such an organization may be quite helpful, but for most intermediates it will be less so, and for all proficients it will be definitely detrimental. Sooner or later the seeker will discover that in accepting the advantages of such association he has also to accept the disadvantages, and that the price of serving its interests is partnership in its evils. He discovers in time that the institution which was to help him reach a certain end, becomes itself that end. Thus the true goal is shut out of sight, and a false one is substituted for it. He can keep his membership in the organization only by giving up something of his individual wholeness of mind and personal integrity of character. The organization tends to tyrannize over his thoughts and conduct, to weaken his power of correct judgement, and to destroy a fresh, spontaneous inner life. He will come in time to refuse to take any organization at its own valuation for he will see that it is not the history behind it but the service it renders that really matters.
Their devotion to the guru, the cult, or the group is, in terms of real spiritual progress, both a help and a hindrance. As a sign, and insofar as it is a measure, of aspiration to rise toward a superior state of being, it is a help. But as another bar added to the cage in which they live, shutting out all those who are not co-followers or co-members, it increases partisanship and widens prejudice.
To tie oneself to a sectarian group and to its ideas is to form another attachment for the ego.
Group emotion is worked up until it becomes a substitute for personal inspiration. Either through ignorance of or inability to practise meditation, or both, the group members are happy to share, and are satisfied with, a common experience on the shallowest level. But nothing will replace individual work at self-development leading to deeper experience and higher knowledge.
When too much is made of an organization or institution and too little of the idea behind it, the leaders become tyrannical and the followers fanatical. That is, their character is corrupted.
Two of the grave and discriminative defects of the Indian methods of seeking Truth are the turning of men into Gods and the glorifying of imperfect institutions. While it is possible for the student to learn to some extent from these sources in the East and also in the West, he must keep in mind the fact that they are helpful only to beginners, and should exercise caution in joining any of their organizations. Our present times call for firsthand information, experience, and individual proof of the Truth, which the Quest alone offers. Institutions and organizations, on the other hand, offer nothing, demand much, and actually impede progress. There are a very few redeeming exceptions which justify their existence, but these are not generally known.
The assertion that spiritual chaos and anarchy are the alternatives to spiritual institutionalism and organization is absurd, for the contradictory claims and teachings of the various institutions themselves lead to a chaotic situation.
Only the uninformed can be deceived by the outside appearance of unity in these organized groups. The struggles and conflicts and factions which really exist inside them are a better indication of their moral grade than their tall talk in print or lecture.
Those who are distrustful of organization for religious purposes find good reasons in history for their attitude. The records betray its inner failure, how it really substitutes one kind of worldliness for another, how it merely offers ambition a different stage to play on, or how it replaces personal self-seeking by the corporate kind.
Why should many who are unable as individuals to lift themselves in meditation, devotion, or prayer be able to do so as a group? It is illogical to believe that they can, auto-suggestive to believe that they do.
The way of group organization is only a poor substitute for the way of individual inspiration.
I am quite chary of organizations, because I have seen too much in the West and the East of the evils which it quickly breeds, as I am quite unimpressed by centralization because I have seen how hard it is to eradicate the illusions to which it leads. Instead of organization, it is better to encourage individual effort; and instead of centralization, it is wiser to encourage individual deepening.
The biggest deceiver in religio-mystical life is the institutional establishment, the organizational group. For here the followers have the experience of being nourished when in actuality only the social need is being nourished. Here the truth and its virtue, beauty, strength, reality, and above all its transcendence, which is totally outside ordinary worldly experience, are imitated effectually and successfully. So the followers are satisfied and fall into complacence. The Quest is deserted and the copy which is substituted for it has the advantage of being much easier and pleasanter for all concerned.
The establishment of spiritual ashrams or communal colonies is an enterprise of which, we hope, we shall never be guilty. Such institutions usually find an enthusiastic response from persons who like to join cranky cults, indulge in endless tea-table talk, and worship leaders suffering from inflated egos. We however are working for those who have understood that it is better to worship God in solitude than in a public hall or church and who believed us when we constantly repeated that institutions invariably end as the greatest obstructions to the progress of genuine spirituality. Their material expansion is usually taken as a sign of the expansion of spiritual influence whereas actually it is a sign of the expansion of spiritual rot. Just as the League of Nations erected magnificent million-pound buildings as its headquarters only a short while prior to its total collapse, so these institutions flourish externally at the cost of their internal life. We ask those who have faith in our teaching to keep clear of spiritual organizations.
The service of an organization or a group association is that it may be able to point out the way to those who are just starting to travel the path. The disservice begins when it seeks to keep its own power over him and misguides him and misinterprets the truth under the sway of such selfish infatuation.
Every form of organization which claims to be of spiritual service is, the more it grows, in danger of becoming a spiritual oppressor.
We establish institutions to uplift men. The institutions turn themselves by degrees into vested interests. The original purpose is then lost and a selfish purpose replaces it. The consequence is that men are both affected and infected by this moral deterioration of the institutions. They are no longer helped to rise, nor even prevented from falling.
It is unfortunate and regrettable, but all history bears out the fact that among religious believers and mystical followers, organization sooner or later leads to exploitation. It is more likely to happen, of course, after the prophet, teacher, guru has passed away, but in a number of recent cases it was by no means absent even during his lifetime.
There is no hint in Jesus' words that he wanted men to form themselves into an organized religion, to appoint a hierarchy, to create a liturgy. Was he himself not in protest against the Hebrew version of these things? Did not he suffer from its tyranny, and in the end die by it? Why should he want to set up a new institution, which would inevitably end in the same way?
As a spiritual organization grows in numbers, it grows also in the potentialities of internal dissension. The history of most organizations confirms this.
The history of Christianity in Nazi Germany illustrated the lack of spiritual vitality which is the lamentable state of organized religion, where the institution becomes more important than the teaching and the worldly strength of the man-made organization is preserved by the sacrifice of its moral strength. Philosophy has no room for organizations, foundations, institutions, and so on. Its teachers remain free.
The struggle between a high original purpose and low personal ambition goes on within the organization.
Any organized sect which claims a monopoly on salvation, by that very act disproves its claim. For in the end we are saved by Grace alone, which comes from or through the Overself within us, whereas the sect is a man-made thing outside us.
It is not necessary for those who follow philosophy to enrol members or hold group meetings. They need collect no dues and seek no converts.
The answer to those who defend group work by quoting Jesus' single statement, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I, in the midst of them," is that it contradicts his repeated statement, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," and is more likely to be interpolated than authentic.
Within the exclusivity of a sect his power to think forcefully, creatively, and originally is lost. He is forced into a narrow area, deprived of the stimulating results of world-search. There is neither the wish nor the will to step outside the imposed borders of his own sect and measure other ideas, test other ideals, and benefit by other insights. There is a pathetic acceptance of mental captivity.
Every organization which perpetuates dogmas dares not admit new ideas which correct the error of those dogmas, for such ideas would affront the beliefs of its followers!
All too soon an institution becomes a restricted, or even closed, system. Its ideas get frozen into dogmas, its members begin to suffer from intellectual paralysis, and its methods begin to savour of totalitarianism or tyranny.
The man who is captured by a particular religion, sect, group, or organization frequently builds a wall around it, sets up a barrier between himself and non-members, excludes every approach to God other than his own.
The independent seeker, who affiliates himself with no sectarian group, no fanatic organization, no narrowing cult, avoids the tensions and discards the prejudices which such affiliation usually brings with it. For those who are affiliated, contact with other denominations creates the need of defending the selfish interests and the given dogmas of their own, either directly or obliquely by attacking the others. In this way the tensions and prejudices arise and subsist. They cannot come to an end until this exclusiveness itself comes to an end. How many evils, hatreds, fights, and injustices come from it! How many unjust malignments of character does it lead to! How much blind bigotry does it cause, a bigotry which refuses to allow, and is unable to see, the good in cults other than its own!
As soon as they begin to organize a movement, the other things begin also to emerge--the narrow fanaticism, the limiting sectarianism, the intolerant attitude.
No organized church likes individual revelations to supplant its own authority.
In all matters spiritual, mystical, and religious, humanity is bewitched both by the spell of the past and the prestige of the institution.
There are several systems, methods, groups, and organizations, but of acceptable ones there are only few.
Too often the clinging to a particular teacher, the membership of a particular group, leads at best to a naïve faith in the self-sufficiency of the tenets advocated, at worst to a new sectarianism.
Sectarianism, zealotry, and bigotry develop by stages in the minds of followers.
The bigger an organization becomes, the more likely are dissensions and quarrels to arise within it, despite all its professions of special sanctity or proclamations of brotherly love. The essential things get gradually lost, the accidental are made more of and treasured up. The Spirit is squeezed out, the superfluities brought in.
To quote in justification of group work or church gatherings Christ's words, "Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them," is no justification at all. For most groups are anything from ten to a hundred in number, most church gatherings range from twenty to a thousand in number. Christ did not say that he would be present with a dozen, a score, two or three hundred, he precisely stated the number should be two or three.
The belief that any institution or organization is divine has led to much superstition and unnecessary strife: the true belief that all such things are strictly human, and therefore fallible, as history repeatedly confirms, would have saved mankind much suffering.
All observation and experience suggests that when the things of the spirit are brought into organized forms, such as societies and sects, the harm done to members counterbalances the good.
Do not look for any group formation created by a philosopher, for you will find none. He is sponsored by no church, no sect, no cult, no organization of any kind, for he needs none. His credentials come from within, not from any outside source. He requires no one to flatter his personal importance. If, therefore, you hear of such a group be assured it is a religious or religio-mystical one, not a philosophic one.
An outward organization may be useful to those who are still on the religious and mystical levels but for the purposes of philosophic advancement it is unnecessary. Public societies are mere babels of dogmatic opinion and lead in the end to confusion. The correct history of many spiritual organizations is not an edifying one. No formal association or institution is of any real worth here. Every student must work hard on and for himself. Outside of that he may catch inspiration and receive help from an expert guide. The few who are able to walk together with him on this path will come along with time; the others would only be a drag. But if he wants to join with other really interested persons in studying the books together in an informal way, with no external bond, he may try it.
The seeker after Reality will be suspicious of professional spirituality, although the seeker after religion will be attracted by it. It is not necessary to advertise inner attainment. Lao Tzu pushed the same point to its farthest extreme when he wrote, "Those who know do not speak," to which we may add, "or proclaim themselves as adepts, form spiritual societies, and seek disciples."
Philosophy can maintain its non-sectarian nature only by maintaining its non-organizational and non-institutional character. Although certain societies and groups profess to be non-sectarian, their actual history shows plainly their inability to sustain this ideal. He who would be a true philosopher must turn to the only source of true philosophy--the fount within himself. That is, he must turn inward, not outward to a group.
Institutions tend to deaden inspirations.
Of all things Truth is the freest. So, if a man is to find it in all its genuineness, and not in its distortions, caricatures, or fragmentation, not in any substitute for it, then he must preserve his own freedom to search for it. But this is just what he cannot do so easily if he joins a sect.
If any teacher or organization asks you to swear ceremoniously that you will not reveal to others what you are taught, be sure that you will receive inferior occultism, not philosophic truth. For the truth hides itself from the unready: it does not have to be hidden from them.
Do not confuse the necessary secrecy of philosophic presentation with the portentous secrecy of charlatanic cults.
It is not necessary to call meetings or organize societies in order to propagate truth.
There is no crowd salvation, no communal redemption. The monasteries and ashrams, the organizations and societies, the institutions and temples have their place and use. But the one is very elementary and the other is very limited. Whatever is most worthwhile to, and in, a man must come forth from his own individual endeavour. Society improves only as, and when, its members improve. This is strikingly shown by the moral failure of Communist states and by the half-failure of established religions.
Most institutions and organizations have developed in time the fault of an egocentrism which causes them to lose sight of their original higher purpose, and so they join the list of additions to societies which have a mixed selfish and idealistic character.
Too many spiritual organizations exist mainly to serve those who create or staff them.
When those who direct the affairs of an institution become more concerned about the state of its revenue than about its state of spirituality, when they are more affected by its increasing financial returns than about its increasing materiality, it is time to pick up one's hat and stick and bid it farewell.
Relation to founder
A school should exist not only to teach but also to investigate, not to formulate prematurely a finalized system but to remain creative, to go on testing theories by applying them and validating ideas by experience.
The formation of a society of seekers may have a social value but it has little instructional value, for it merely pools their common ignorance. The justification of a society educationally is its possession of a competent teacher--competent because his instruction possesses intellectual clarity and his knowledge possesses justifiable certitude.
Why should anyone who has come to show men the interior way proceed to delude them by pointing out an exterior one? In other words, if the kingdom of heaven is within us, what use will it be to set up an institution without us? The primary task of a man sent from God is not to found a church which will keep them still looking outward, and hence in the wrong direction, but to shed invisible grace. If he or his closer disciples do organize such a church, it is only as a secondary task and as a concession to human weakness.
Oscar Wilde gave some good advice about such matters when he said, "The only schools worth finding are schools without disciples."
The belief that a fully illumined master or religious prophet can be succeeded generation after generation by a chain of equally illumined leaders following the same tradition, is delusive. He cannot bequeath the fullness of his attainment to anyone, he can only give others an impetus toward it. He himself is irreplaceable. If churches and ashrams would only admit that they are led by faulty fallible men, liable to weakness and error, they would render better spiritual service than by continuing to maintain the partial imposture that they are not so led. If there were such public acknowledgment that their authority and inspiration were very limited, religious and mystical institutions would be more preoccupied with helping others than with themselves.
How can any institution, whether it be the family or the government or the church, be of better character than the persons who comprise it, and certainly those who rule or lead it?
To expect a Spiritual Master to repeat himself in the institution, organization, or order which gathers around him, is to expect what history tells us never happens. Shelley, Michelangelo, and Phidias did not found organizations to produce further Shelleys, Michelangelos, and Phidiases. New persons must arise to express their own inspirations. Why then found strangling institutions at all, why gather followers together into exclusive sects, why create still more monasteries and lamaseries, why make leader-worship a substitute for Spirit-and-truth worship?
Attachment to the group surrounding a master sheds a kind of prestige on them, and gives each one a borrowed light or strength, which may be real or false.
No association of spiritually minded persons can as such rise higher than the Personality who has inspired it, and in whose superior power and knowledge it has rested its roots. As Ralph Waldo Emerson pithily phrases the thought: "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." Europe and America, for instance, are dotted with groups working along routes of mental and semi-spiritual development, but in every such group you will find that it draws its real life from its Founder or from its Head. The point in development reached by the Head marks the limitation to which he can bring his followers, and he can take them no further.
In earlier centuries, the illumined man left his spiritual legacy in the hearts and minds of those who had felt his power, or been guided by his light, or known his peace. The institutions and organizations were usually the creation of disciples who lived later. But today there may be a legacy of printed books, recorded tapes, televised film.
The foundation of every effort to better human life is not an organized movement but the man who inspires it.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.