Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 18: The Reverential Life > Chapter 1: Devotion


All living forms everywhere embody this principle of being--the One Infinite Life-Power. It is not itself personal yet it is open to man's personal access and will respond to his invocation--provided he succeeds in establishing contact with it and provided his approach is right--but its response must come in its own way and time.

The devotional element belongs as much to this quest as to any other. Adoration of the divine soul and humility in the divine presence are two necessary qualities which the quester ought to develop. The first is expressed through meditation and the second through prayer.

Look how the smaller birds greet the sun, with so much merry chirruping and so much outpouring of song! It is their way of expressing worship for the only Light they can know, an outer one. But man can also know the inner Sun, the Light of the Overself. How much more reason has he to chirp and sing than the little birds! Yet how few men feel gratitude for such privilege.

Why ought I to cultivate religious faith, feeling worship? Because it lifts up the feeling nature generally. Because it develops humility. Because it invites Grace. Because it is the duty of a human being in relation to its Source.

Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, is the individual's own higher self. He must keep his inner shrine within the heart reserved for the Ideal. He should worship there the Spirit that is birthless and deathless, indestructible and divine. Life in this world is like foam on the sea: it passes all too soon; but the moments given in adoration and obeisance to the Soul count for eternal gain. The most tremendous historic happenings on this earth are, after all, only pictures that pass through consciousness like a dream. Once the seeker awakens to the Real, he sees them for what they are. Then he will live in Its serenity, and it will no longer matter if the pictures themselves are stormy and agitated. It is the greatest good fortune to attain such serenity--to be lifted above passion and hatred, prejudice and fear, greed and discontent, and yet to be able to attend effectively and capably to one's worldly duties. It is possible to reach this state. The seeker may have had glimpses of it already. Someday, sometime, if he is patient, he will enter it to stay--and the unimaginably rewarding and perfect purpose of his life, of all his lifetimes, will be fulfilled.

He will come to perceive that his real strength lies in remembering the higher self, in remembering the quest of it, and, above all, in remembering the two with intense love, devotion, and faith.

If the aspirant will cultivate a feeling of reverence toward the higher power, whether it be directed toward God, the Overself, or his spiritual guide, he will profit much.

There is a sacred quality about one side of philosophy which ought not be underrated by those who are unattracted by anything religious.

When devotion, worship, and reverence are fortified by knowledge, they can one day reach a stage where notably less is desired or demanded and peace then naturally arises. Nor is a measure of peace the only gain. Virtue later follows after it, quietly and effortlessly growing.

Metaphysical study will not weaken reverence but will rather put it on firmer ground. Metaphysical understanding will not weaken devotion but will rather more firmly establish it. What it will weaken, however, is the attachment to transient forms of reverence; what it will destroy is the error of giving devotion exclusively to the individual and refusing to include the Universal.

Since true philosophy is also a way of life, and since no such way can become effectual unless the feelings are involved, it includes and cultivates the most refined and most devotional feelings possible to man.

Nature displays her beauteous landscapes in vain if he who has wandered into her presence lacks the aesthetic reverent sensitivity to glance appreciatively at the grand vistas. Similarly, philosophy calls for a tuned-in, quieted, and reverent mentality if a man who wanders to its feet is to profit by it.

Our greatest strength comes from reliance on the Higher Self and faith in the Higher Laws.

The ancient pagan who greeted the sunrise by stretching out his arms to it and the simple Oriental who still does so obeyed true instincts of worship which civilized religions have not improved.

I will never tire of telling men that the Overself is as loving as any parent and that it does care for our real welfare. But we must return that love, must give our unconditional devotion, if we are to have a correct relationship with it.

A proneness to veneration is necessary in an aspirant: it helps him in different ways. But the sceptical and denigrating attitude which is so common in certain intellectual and social circles tends to make any manifestation of this quality quite impossible.

The need is for much more bhakti, especially during meditation, for intenser and warmer yearning to feel the sacred presence. It is really a need to descend from merely knowing in the head to knowing and feeling in the heart.

Intense devotional religious feeling is as much a part of the philosopher's character as quietly mystical intuitive feeling.

I have been astonished to meet Buddhists in the Orient and Theosophists in the Occident who deny the usefulness and scorn the need of devotion. How can there be any higher life without this very holy feeling, without the reverence, worship, communion, self-humbling, aspiration, and self-surrender that it embodies?

This deep, inner, and indescribable feeling which makes him yearn for closeness to the higher power is neither a misguided feeling nor a vain one.

It is a queer notion which regards a philosopher as a man without feeling, only because he has brought it under control. Not that it is altogether to his credit that he has been able to do so, for grace must share some credit too. There is plenty of feeling in his communion with the Higher Self.

This is the magic talisman which will strengthen and save you, even though you go down into Hades itself--this faith and love for the inner self.

It is a necessary moment in a man's life when he turns attention away from self to humbled recognition of the divine being which activates the planet on which he dwells. From such wondering thoughts he may be led to worshipful ones and thence to a still deeper self-forgetfulness. The climax, if it comes, will be the feeling of divine Presence.

Truth is not only to be known with all one's mind but also to be loved with all one's heart.

Reverence, awe, adoration--these are evoked by, and themselves evoke the feeling of, the Overself's presence.

In the French nineteenth-century Academy painter Jean-Léon Gérôme's picture The Two Majesties, a lion squats on a flat high rock in the desert fringe watching the setting sun. Its concentration of attention seems perfect, its interest in the golden orb is complete. The ordinary human, having no access to the precise state of animal consciousness, could even ask himself whether the lion is rapt in worship; it may have seen from a distance the desert Bedouins so engaged in their prescribed daily devotions. Certainly chimpanzees have been observed greeting the rising sun and thumping their chests in salute.

Reverence and homage are apparently not limited to animate beings, particularly not to human beings. We read in early Greek texts of inanimate ones, namely doors, which opened of themselves magically and uncannily on the approach of a divinity.

The message of philosophy in this matter may be summed up as this: Look beyond your tiny circle of awareness and forget the little "I" for a while in order to remember that greater and grander Being whence you have emanated.

His search for intellectual precision and scientific factuality need not and must not be allowed to dry up his heartfelt devotion and sensitive feeling.

Through associating reverence with knowledge both ways of spiritual self-recovery are enriched, while the man himself is equilibrated.

It is a mistake to believe that anyone could be a good practising philosopher if he is without warm feelings for the philosophic truth he professes to regard as important or to interpret with fidelity.

We need the turgid devotion of religion, the clearer devotion of mysticism, and the understanding devotion of philosophy. With each stage of ascent, there is more purity and less publicity, more real holiness and less lurking egoism.

To that self-existent untouched Reality, the heart in simple reverence must forever bow in homage, and the mind must make it the object of keenest meditation.

Devotion must be dovetailed in with knowledge, reverence must be locked together with understanding, if this inner work is not to be one-sided, unbalanced, and even, in some cases, unreliable.

The key word here is reverence. It ought to enter every remembrance and every meditation.

He has raised an altar to the unknown God in his heart. Henceforth he worships there in secret and in silence. His hours of solitude are reserved for it, his moments of privacy dedicated to it.

He has become conscious of the sacredness of existence.

If they do not come to this quest with enough reverence, they are led later to the reverence by the quest.

Memorable are those minutes when we sit in silent adoration of the Overself, knowing it to be none other than our own best self. It is as though we have returned to our true home and rest by its hallowed hearth with a contentment nowhere else to be known. No longer do we possess anything; we are ourselves ineffably possessed. The individual hopes and fears, sorrows and desires that have so plagued our days are adjourned for the while. How can we, how dare we hold them when our own personal being is tightly held within an all-satisfying embrace?

His devotion to the quest is something that he may not usually talk about to others, something that he finds himself forced to hide like a secret love. He dare not speak one word about it for fear that it will be received with utter incomprehension or open ridicule. This may be true of his family or his friends, his associates or his chance contacts. A shyness develops which may make him unable to seek help even from those who are more advanced on the same quest.

Without such faith or without some intuitive feeling, how can anyone rise to the true meaning of the Christian Gospels or the Hindu Gita?

We revere God best in silence, with lips struck dumb and thoughts hid deep.

This tender gentle and even beautiful feeling which moves him, holds him, and humbles him is worship, reverence, and holiness. He senses the higher power is closer than it normally is.

The word bhakti includes not only worship but also reverence.

Here we walk on holy ground, reverently adoring the Supreme.

Reverence is a beautiful quality when directed toward the higher power. The more it is developed the humbler a man must become in the Presence.

Humbly the ego bends in silent homage, held by the benign peace; and then this second self appears: it is the Overself. Gently the smiling Presence spreads around.

If men really wish to revere God, they may best do so by revering God's deputy in their hearts, the Overself.

Reverence, if it is to be true, authentic, and feelingful, will also be humble, self-abasing, and an act of the heart.

He is there all alone in a sanctuary no being can share with him, except Divine Being. This is the meaning of life for those who feel this loneliness as a form of suffering.

He is the best of worshippers who comes to Me in secret, who prays in silence, and who tells no one.

The greatest love

From the base to the apex of the philosophic pyramid, every stone should be chiselled with meticulous thought and ardent love.

Aspiration which is not just a vague and occasional wish but a steady settled and intense longing for the Overself is a primary requirement. Such aspiration means the hunger for awareness of the Overself, the thirst for experience of the Overself, the call for union to the Overself. It is a veritable power which lifts one upward, which helps one give up the ego more quickly, and which attracts Grace. It will have these desirable effects in proportion to how intensely it is felt and how unmixed it is with other personal desires.

Remember that no enterprise or move should be left to depend on the ego's own limited resources. The humble invocation of help from the Higher Self expands those resources and has a protective value. At the beginning of every day, of every enterprise, of every journey, and of every important piece of work, remember the Overself and, remembering, be obedient to its laws. Seek its inspiration, its power. To make it your silent partner is to double your effectiveness.

If you want to know how to set about finding the Higher Self, Jesus has very clearly given the answer. Seek, knock, and ask; pray to it and for it--not just once but scores of times, if necessary, and always with your whole heart, lovingly, yearningly, reverently.

He must give himself up to the daily practice of devotional exercises in prayer and meditation. He must give up to this practice time that might otherwise be spent in pleasure or wasted in idleness.

What intellect cannot do because of its feebleness the aspirational feeling can do by its force.

The fourth state is attainable but his yearning for it must be wholehearted and his efforts must be sustained ones.

To yearn only at times for this spiritual awakeness is not enough. He must yearn for it continually.

To remember the Overself devotedly, to think about it frequently and lovingly, is part of this practice.

The quest is not a thing to be played with; that is only for those who merely talk about it. To engage in it is of necessity to devote one's entire life to it.

Aspiration seeks its proper level. Rising waters are difficult to dam.

If at times he feels a kind of holiness welling up within him let him nourish it without delay. It can expand and give the fruit more sweetness.

Dwelling upon the beauty and tranquillity, the wisdom and the power of the Overself, he lets thoughts move towards it of their own accord.

If he is to achieve his purpose, it should be clearly pictured in his mind and strongly supported by his will. It should be desired with all his being, believed in with all his heart.

This feeling of reverence, awe, and inner attraction should be nurtured and developed so that it may grow into a great love, an aesthetic communion which is fully satisfying.

That which I address as "O Mind of the World!" and whom Kabbalists address as "Master of the Worlds!"--That which is without name or face or form, That alone I worship. That upon which all things depend but itself depends on nothing, That I revere. That which is unseen by all beings but which itself sees all, That I worship.

Each act becomes a holy remembrance: we speak on behalf of the Divine Being, we work for It, we do everything as if we were Its agent. A letter is written, or a book composed, in this reverential spirit. Hence, Shankara writes in Saundaryalahari: "Let all that I do thus become Thy worship."

Henceforth he lives on and for the quest, killing in his heart all other desires.

The presence of the Great Spirit can be recognized, approached, felt, and loved.

Life, history, experience--each gives us the same clear message. The temple of Solomon, once a pyramid in its vast area, is felled to the ground, and its thousands of worshippers gone with it. What, then, how, and where shall we worship? Let us seek the timeless Power which transcends the centuries, let us utter no word but fall into silence, for here the voice of the little ego's thoughts is an insult. Let us go where Jesus advised--deep inside the heart. For we carry the truth within ourselves--yet how few know it--and bear the closest of ties with that Power in consciousness itself.

Loving attention to the Overself should not be limited to moments spent in meditation or prayer, but should form the background for all one's other thoughts.

Hindu scriptures enjoin worship before taking any important step in life.

That Being from which all beings come forth and to which they finally return--that I worship!

To create faith is one thing; to sustain it another.

Why does not the Overself show its existence and display its power once and for all? Why does it let this long torment of man, left to dwell in ignorance and darkness, go on? All that the ego is to gain from undergoing its varied evolution is wrapped up in the answer. This we have considered in The Wisdom of the Overself and The Spiritual Crisis of Man. But there is something more to be added to that answer. The Overself waits with deepest patience for him--man--to prefer it completely to everything and everyone else. It waits for the time when longings for the soul will leave the true aspirant no rest, when love for the divine will outlast and outweigh all other loves. When he feels that he needs it more than he needs anything else in this world, the Overself will unfailingly reveal its presence to him. Therefore a yearning devotion is one of the most important qualifications he can possess.

By thought, the ego was made; by thought, the ego's power can be unmade. But the thought must be directed toward a higher entity, for the ego's willingness to attack itself is only a pretense. Direct it constantly to the Overself, be mentally devoted to the Overself, and emotionally love the Overself. Can it then refuse to help you?

The way to be admitted to the Overself's presence can be summed up in a single phrase: love it. Not by breathing in very hard nor by blowing out very slow, not by standing on the head nor by contorting like a frog can admission be gained. Not even by long study of things divine nor by acute analysis of them. But let the love come first, let it inspire the breathing, blowing, standing, or contorting, let it draw to the study and drive to the thinking, and then these methods will become really fruitful.

Love the Overself with your whole heart if you would have it reveal the fullness of its receptive love for you.

When the divine has become the sole object of his love and the constant subject of his meditation, the descent of a gracious illumination cannot be far off.

Love is both sunshine for the seed and fruit from the tree. It is a part of the way to self-realization and also a result of reaching the goal itself.

The love which he is to bring as sacrificial offering to the Overself must take precedence of all other loves. It must penetrate the heart's core to a depth where the best of them fails to reach.

He needs to hold the sacred conviction that so long as he continues to cherish the Ideal his higher self will not abandon him.

Amid all his mental adventures and emotional misadventures, he should never lose sight of the goal, should never permit disappointment or frailty to cause desertion of the quest.

The reverence of confusion, when we kneel down to seek guidance out of it, is good; but the reverence of love, when we are attracted by the soul for its own sake, is better.

He who is possessed by this love of truth and who is so sincere that he is willing to subordinate all other desires to it will be repaid by truth herself.

Only when the Overself becomes the focus of all his thinking is it likely to become the inspirer of all his doing.

He will come, if he perseveres with sufficient patience, to look upon his practice not as a dry exercise to which he reluctantly goes at the call of duty but as a joyous return to which he is attracted by his heart's own desire.

If the quest calls him to sacrifice human love, will he have the strength to do so? Will he be able to crucify his ego?

How close he comes to the truth may depend on how deeply he cares for it.

Love will have to enter his quest at some point--love for the Overself. For it is through this uniting force that his transformation will at the end be effected.

Unless he loves the Overself with deep feeling and real devotion, he is unlikely to put forth the efforts needed to find it and the disciplines needed to push aside the obstacles in the way to it.

Love of the Overself is the swiftest horse that can bear us to the heavenly destination. For the more we love It, the less we love the ego and its ways.

The devotional attitude will not decrease with the growth of the mystical one. It too will grow, side by side with the other. But it will cast out of itself more and more egoistic selfish interest or grasping until it becomes the pure love of the Overself for the latter's sake alone.

Why do we come to God's presence only with our messy problems and our dark troubles? Why only as beggars, or when unhappy, miserable, unhealthy? Can we not come to Him joyously, for His own sake, for love of Him alone?

"Absolute truth is the symbol of Eternity and no finite mind can ever grasp the eternal; hence, no truth in its fullness can ever dawn upon it. To reach the state during which man sees and senses it, we have to paralyse the senses of the external man of clay. This is a difficult task, we may be told, and most people will, at this rate, prefer to remain satisfied with relative truths, no doubt. But to approach even terrestrial truths requires, first of all, love of truth for its own sake, for otherwise no recognition of it will follow. And who loves truth in this age for its own sake?"--H.P. Blavatsky

His longings after the Beloved's presence alternate with his despairs of ever attaining it. Indeed the higher self seems to play hide-and-seek with him.

Cling by love to the real.

This yearning for spiritual light will at some periods be accompanied by anguish but at others by pleasure.

The fierce loving constant devotion, even worship, which most mothers give to their only or favoured child would be enough to carry an aspirant through all the vicissitudes of the Long Path.

The love which really matters is love of the Highest. All other kinds are merely cheap substitutions.

When the idea that a Higher Power which always was, is, and shall be, becomes impregnated with faith so strongly as to have explosive force, he comes closer to Truth.

A man or woman to whom fate has denied the outer human love may find that it has also offered him or her the very real feeling of divine love. In that case, he or she cannot receive the gift in its fullness unless he or she accepts the denial with resignation.

Whereas he came first to the quest out of dire need for solace in suffering failure, tragedy, or despair, he comes now out of heartfelt love for the True, the Good, the Real.

If men offer worship at all, it is offered to a Power infinitely wiser and grander than any condition which they dare hope to attain.

Some feel this aspiration for a higher life so strongly that it becomes an ache.

Worship and thankfulness should be reserved for the Source alone. The right way to express these is to inculcate them into one's Being.

He is to find his highest satisfaction, his strongest attachment, in the divine Beloved.

You are no longer wanting God. You are now loving God. The former is only for beginners.

He reserves his worship for the infinite and ineffable Unseen Being alone. He will honour, and humble himself before, the human teachers who affirm its existence, but he cannot give them the same worship.

The more we are devoted to the diviner attractions, the less devoted or susceptible do we become to the earthly ones. Thus the mere exercise of the faculty of veneration for something beyond ourselves gradually lifts us nearer to the desireless state.

Only when he comes to love it deeply and understand it instinctively can he be said to have arrived at real discipleship.

Warnings and suggestions

The path of devoting oneself ardently to a religious love of God ought to be trod by all. But it need not be the only path; indeed that would be undesirable.

A worldly refusal to honour the sacred is as unbalanced as a monastic refusal to honour the secular. In a balance of both duties, in a commonsense union of their ordained roles in a man's life lies the way for present-day man. Each age has its own emphasis; ours should be equilibrium.

The danger of the religio-mystic devotional path is the danger into which blind faith tends to fall. A facile credulity easily takes up with a harmful--because ego-satisfying--superstition.

It is unphilosophical to set up a cult, a system of worship with one person--the guru--as its object. He may be respected and admired, revered and loved, but he is still human and should not be worshipped.

Devotion to any historic or mythological deity must end, if grace is won and if advancement be experienced, in devotion to the Overself--to pure being. Precisely the same must happen with devotion to any human guru.

Too often this holy and beautiful feeling deteriorates under the ego's pressure and falters into mere sentimentality.

The notion that any human being has anything to give which God needs--be it love, adoration, or worship--is inadmissible, notwithstanding the dogmas of some popular theology and statements of some advanced mystics like Eckhart. It would make God less than what He must be.

The duty of worship, whether in a public temple or a private home, exists not because God needs our praise--for he is not in want of anything--but because we need to recollect him.

Is he thinking of the truth or is he thinking of himself? Is he interested enough in the higher self to forget this lower one? In short, is he worshipping God or the "me"?

He prostrates himself before his own ego several times daily: this is often the only worship modern man performs.

When we want the inner light at least as much for its own sake as for its effects, we shall begin to get it. But to seek the effects while calling on the kingdom is to deceive ourselves.

When this devotional path is overstressed and not balanced with any counterpoise, when the guru is made into the object of a hysterical love-game, then the imagination leads the mind into pseudo-illuminations that are worthless for Truth. The guru himself is involuntarily made into an accommodating substitute for the friendship or love, the companionship or drama or motherhood, which the world failed to offer. The august relationship of disciple and Master is turned into a love affair, with all the egoistic accompaniments of jealousy, intrigue, exaltation, or depression that go with one. Is it not understandable why atheistic sceptics sneered at the mystical raptures of cloistered nuns who saw erotic images in their visions of embracing the Lord? Admittedly the mystical eroticism of medieval nunneries may be explained, either in part or in particular cases, by this repression of sex. But it fails to explain the other part and the other cases.

What is prayer but a turning to the higher unseen power in the only way that simple, spiritually untutored people know? Why deprive them of it? What is wrong about its use in organized religion is that they are not taught the further facts. First, prayer is only a beginning, its continuing development being meditation. Second, it ought not be limited to material demands but always accompanied by moral and religious aspiration. Third, it is best performed, as Jesus taught, in private and secret.

Although the attainment is not possible without a devotional singleness of mind, this does not mean that other interests should be banned.

We must distinguish between a true sincere aspiration and one which is only wishful thinking.

Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi: "When men imagine they are adoring Allah it is Allah who is adoring himself."

There is danger to every man who denies this inner part of his being any share in daily life, any love, reverence, and worship. This danger may appear, fully realized, in his body or mind.

When religious devotion never rises above the physical details of the form of its object, it becomes materialistic. When it is centered in the human details alone, it becomes hysterical.

It is true that many of the gods worshipped by man are clothed in forms that are merely the products of his own imagination. But the basic idea behind those forms is not.

The feeling of religious reverence, the attitude of humble worship, must well up of themselves in the heart. It is not enough merely to go through the external and physical motions which accompany their inner presence.

Any image which a man forms of God, whether it be painted, mental, or human, has a place if its familiarity helps him to worship. But it still remains an image and must one day be transcended.

The symbols and ceremonies need to be clearly and simply interpreted to the layman so that he may not only follow intelligently what happens at a service and why it is so, but also more strongly share emotionally in it.

A rite may create a mood of reverence. It is active outside him yet helps the receptive mind within.

If the people are shown that going to church is not and ought not to be only a social habit, they can better draw from such attendance some uplift and moral strength.

The intellectual mystic often rejects all those liturgical, ritual, and hierarchical aspects which are so prominent in most institutional religions. For they lead human aspiration outward whereas true mysticism leads it inwards.

When you are fortunate enough to discover that there is both an ashram and a guru within you, just as there is also a church and a Presence within you, you may well ask, why go hither and thither for them?

The three little manuals of devotion, The Bhagavad Gita, The Voice of the Silence, and Light on the Path, used by so many, form a perfect and excellent trio and surely belong to the philosophical teaching.

Recommended reading list of books Sri Aurobindo: Lights on Yoga H.P. Blavatsky: The Voice of Silence Buddha: Dhammapada John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress Sir Edwin Arnold: (1) The Song Celestial; (2) The Light of Asia Annie Besant: (1) In the Outer Court; (2) The Path of Discipleship William Q. Judge: translation of the Bhagavad Gita Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The Over-Soul" (essay) Evelyn Underhill: (1) Mysticism; (2) Practical Mysticism; (3) The Essentials of Mysticism; (4) The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today Swami Vivekananda: Works Sri Ramakrishna: Sayings [Editors' note: Three selections are available. (1) F. Max Müller, Ramakrishna; His Life and Sayings; (2) N. Gupta, Sayings of Parahansa Ramkrishna (sic); (3) Sri Ramakrishna Math, Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna: the most exhaustive collection of them, their number being 1120] Brother Lawrence: The Practice of the Presence of God Sri Rabindranath Tagore: Sadhana; the realisation of life Jacob Boehme: (1) The Way to Christ; (2) Dialogues on the Supersensual Life Yogi Ramacharaka: Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism Joseph Sieber Benner: The Impersonal Life Ralph Waldo Trine: In Tune with the Infinite Wisdom of the East Series Smith: (1) Persian Mystics; (2) Attar Sheldon Cheney: Men Who Have Walked with God Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet F.L. Woodward (trans.): Some Sayings of the Buddha Plato: Works (especially "Apology of Socrates") Seneca: Writings and other Roman Stoic writers Gordon Shaw: The Road to Reality Albert E. Cliffe: (1) Lessons in Successful Living; (2) Let Go and Let God David Seabury: Help Yourself to Happiness Mary Strong (editor): Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.