Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 12: Reflections


This I may say that my work throughout has always been based on a firsthand knowledge of what I write about and not upon hearsay or tradition.

There are times--and they are the times when, looking back, I love my profession most--when writing becomes for me not a profession at all but either a form of religious worship or a form of metaphysical enlightenment. It is then, as the pen moves along silently, that I become aware of a shining presence which calls forth all my holy reverence or pushes open the mind's doors.

The Writer who sometimes sits behind the writer of these lines smiling at my puny attempts to translate the Untranslatable, once bade me put away for an indefinite period the thought of any future publications. I obeyed and there was a long silence in the outer world--so long that two obituary notices were printed by newspapers! I had enough leisure to discover the faultiness of the earlier work and felt acutely that the world was better off without my lucubrations. But a day came when I felt the presence of the Presence and I received clear guidance to take the pen again.

Writing, which is an exercise of the intellect to some, is an act of worship to me. I rise from my desk in the same mood as that in which I leave an hour of prayer in an old cathedral, or of meditation in a little wood.

Much that was pertinent to the Quest was left unmentioned in the earlier books, partly through reluctance to speak of certain matters, partly through the writer's own need of further personal development to attain irrefragible conclusions about other matters. The reluctance has now been overcome and the development has been achieved.

All the volumes that I have previously written belong to the formative stage. Only now, after thirty years unceasing travail and fearless exploration have I attained a satisfying fullness in my comprehension of this abstruse subject, a clear perspective of all its tangled ramifications and a joyous new revelation from a higher source hitherto known only obscurely and distantly. All my further writings will bear the impress of this change and will show by their character how imperfect are my earlier ones. Nevertheless, on certain principal matters, what I then wrote has all along remained and still remains my settled view and indeed has been thoroughly confirmed by time. Such, for instance, are (l) the soul's real existence, (2) the necessity for and the great benefits arising from meditation, (3) the supreme value of the spiritual quest, and (4) the view that loyalty to mysticism need not entail disloyalty to reason.

It is regrettable in those early books that I over-estimated the pace of progress and brought the goal noticeably nearer than it really is.

I have gathered my materials from the West as well as the East, from modern science as well as ancient metaphysics, from Christian mysticism as well as Hindu occultism. The narrowness which would set up any Indian yoga as being enough by itself is something which I reject. And there is no cult, organization, or group with which I associate myself or within whose limitations I would ask others to confine themselves.

The purpose of these pages is not to attack but to explain, to appeal, and to suggest. Their criticism is constructive and untouched by malice. It comes from a well-wisher and not from an opponent of religion: therefore it ought not to be resented.

It demanded no less than hundreds of interviews with different teachers and hermits, thousands of miles of travel to reach them, and at least a hundred thousand pages of the most abstruse reading in the world before I could bring my course of personal study in the hidden philosophy to a final close. Today I have not got the time to take others through such a long and arduous course and they have probably not got the patience to endure it.

My researches were made not only amongst modern books and ancient texts and living men. They were also made in the mysterious within-ness of my own consciousness.

The world-wide extent of my correspondence and travels; the extraordinary variety of Oriental and Occidental human contacts which has fallen to my lot; the narratives and information which have fallen from the lips of those who have sought me out for interviews and those whom I, too, have sought out for the same purpose; the knowledge which I have gleaned from ancient little-known texts and modern printed books in four continents; experiments made and observations recorded amongst mystics and devotees of the most varied types--from all these sources an immense amount of valuable mystical occult and metaphysical knowledge, theoretical and practical, has fallen into my hands. Had I known all this at the beginning of my own quest--now thirty years ago, I would have been saved much trouble, many errors and constant sufferings. However, others will profit by it for I intend to make the best fruit of my own experience available to genuine seekers.

I am a researcher, that is my special job. Then I go on to convert the results of my researches into notes and reports, into analyses and reflections. Later I draw upon this material for my published writings.

I lay no special claim to virtue and piety which most men do not possess. But I do lay claim to indefatigable research into mystical truth, theory, and practice.

P.B. as a private person does not count. There are hundreds of millions of such persons anyway. What is one man and his quest? P.B.'s personal experiences and views are not of any particular importance or special consequence. What happens to the individual man named P.B. is a matter of no account to anyone except himself. But what happens to the hundreds of thousands of spiritual seekers today who are following the same path that he pioneered, is a serious matter and calls for prolonged consideration. Surely the hundreds of thousands of Western seekers who stand behind him and whom indeed, in one sense, he represents, do count. P.B. as a symbol of the scattered group of Western truth-seekers who, by following his writings so increasingly and so eagerly, virtually follow him also, does count. He personifies their aspirations, their repulsion from materialism and attraction toward mysticism, their interest in Oriental wisdom and their shepherdless state. As a symbol of this Western movement of thought, he is vastly greater than himself. In his mind and person the historic need for a new grasp of the contemporary spiritual problem found a plain-speaking voice.

I am only a generator of ideas, not a disseminator of them. My work is to inspire and direct others in private, that they might serve humanity spiritually in public.

The fact that I have had practical experience of earning my livelihood as an editor has been made a subject of criticism. Were my critics not so narrow-minded they would have had the sense to see that exactly therein lies one of my merits. For this experience has purified me of the common mystical defects of writing whole pages that mean nothing, of recommending readers to attempt impossible tasks, of getting both thought and pen lost in the clouds to the neglect of the earth. It has taught me a robust realism and a healthy self-reliance--two qualities which are notoriously absent from the ordinary mystical make-up and for lack of which they commit many mistakes. My critics try to give the impression that earning my livelihood was a low act and that being a journalist was a kind of crime. These two facts are indeed held up against me as though they prove that I am both mercenary and materialistic, as though nobody with mystical aspirations would do the one or be the other. Such facts really pay me a compliment and do me no dishonour. But the blind unreflective followers of a dying tradition cannot be expected to perceive that. They cannot be expected to comprehend that I am endeavouring to bring mysticism into mundane life, to throw a bridge across the chasm which has so often separated them. And I know no better way than to have done so in my own personal life first before attempting to tell others how to do it.

Those who look in these pages for an exact presentation of the Oriental doctrines look in vain. Scholars, purists, and pundits had better beware of these pages. We do not write for them. For the teachings which we have drawn from the East have been used as a base upon which to build independently; but the responsibility for the superstructure rests solely with us, for it is a building intended for the Modern West. Nevertheless those who decry our writings cannot deny that they have contributed much towards the creation of a new interest in Oriental literature. They would do well also to place some of their censure upon destiny, which all along has used me as an agent at first unwitting but later clearly conscious.

They alone will comprehend the purport of this volume who can comprehend that it does not only seek to present the pabulum of an ancient system for modern consumption but that it has integrated its material with the wider knowledge that has come to mankind during the thousands of years which have passed since that system first appeared. Consequently we offer here not only a re-statement but also an entirely new and radically fresh world-view which could not have been reached historically earlier.

If we study the history of human culture we shall begin to discern signs of an orderly growth, a logical development of its body. Truth has had different meanings at different periods. This was inevitable because the human mind has been moving nearer and nearer to it, nearer and nearer to the grand ultimate goal. And when we watch the way knowledge has mounted up during the last three centuries we ought not to be surprised at the statement that the culmination of all this long historical process, the end of thousands of years of human search, is going to crystallize in the new East-West philosophy which it is the privilege of this century to formulate. Here alone can the relative interpretations of truth which have been discovered by former men, rise to the absolute wherein they merge and vanish. This means that although truth has always existed, its knowledge has only existed at different stages of development, that we are the fortunate inheritors of the results gathered by past thinkers, and still more that we are now called to complete the circle and formulate a finished system of philosophy which shall stand good for all time.

All the conflicting doctrines which have appeared in the past were not meaningless and not useless; they have played their part most usefully even where they seemed most contradictory. They were really in collaboration, not in opposition. We need not disdain to illustrate the highest abstract principles by the homeliest concrete anecdotes, and we may describe them as pieces in a jig-saw puzzle which can now be fitted together for now we have the master pattern which is the secret of the whole. Hence all that is vital and valuable in earlier knowledge is contained in the East-West philosophy; only their fallacies have been shed. A full view of the universe now replaces all the partial views which were alone available before and which embodied merely single phases of the discovery of Truth. Thus the analytic movement which uncovered the various pieces of this world puzzle must now yield to a synthetic process of putting them together in a final united pattern. Culture, on this view, is the timeless truth appearing in the world of time and therefore in successive but progressive periods. Only now has it been able to utter its latest word. Only now does philosophy attain its maturest completion. Only now are we able to reap the fruit of seven thousand years of historical philosophy. Only now have we achieved a world-system, a universal doctrine which belongs to no particular place but to the planet. Knowledge has grown by analysis but shall finish by synthesis.

Not one but several minds will be needed to labour at the metaphysical foundation of the twentieth-century structure of philosophy. I can claim the merit only of being among the earliest of these pioneers. There are others yet to appear who will unquestionably do better and more valuable work.

Others will take up this work where we leave it unfinished. If my effort can do nothing more at least it will make easier for those who are destined to follow after me a jungle-road which I had to travel under great difficulties. I have roughly cleared an area of human culture which my successors may cultivate and on which they may perhaps produce a perfect crop one day. I did what I could but the fullness of results will be theirs alone. The effects of my thinking will not fully declare themselves in our own day. It is not pride that makes me say that the volume which follows The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga is the first methodical embodiment in a modern language of this tradition as well as the first synthetic explanation of it in scientific terminology, for the book is called forth by its epoch and someone would sooner or later have written it. What is really interesting is not who writes it but the fact that it was written in our own time. For something there achieved marks a most important stage of human cultural history.

I have indeed undertaken what I believe to be a pioneer work. I cannot give my patronage to any particular system. I can bestow it only on Truth, which is unique and systemless. For enough of the sacred presence is at my side, enough of the disciplinary self-transformation has been achieved, and enough of the mental perception arrived at, to enable me to take up the external task of preparing others for illumination in their turn.

This synthesis has developed from the world-wide researches of this writer, plus the secret traditions of Oriental teachers, the personal experiences of Occidental adepts, and the needs of modern aspirants. It notes with approval the trend toward interest in yoga and mysticism, but with regret where so much of this interest is directed to antique or medieval types unsuited to those needs, which are based on professional business and occupational conditions unknown to such earlier types. Into this synthesis has gone the garnerings from great storehouses of the past, but added to them are the fresh creative findings of the present. Orient and Occident, ancient and modern, have joined together to produce this distinctive teaching. It is not enough to resuscitate the doctrines and methods of a bygone era; we must also evolve our own. And this can be done only out of firsthand experience of illumination under modern conditions.

I did not seek to become the formulator of such a unique and priceless message to mankind. Indeed knowing myself in weakness as well as strength, I naturally shrink from seeking such an immense responsibility, and would rather have helped and served a worthier man to formulate the message. This is not to say that I underrate its value, its dignity, its public prestige. But all my previous attempts to evade the task having ended in failure, I now positively and affirmatively--no longer reluctantly and hesitantly--step forward to its accomplishment. I do so moreover with tranquil joy, for I am utterly convinced in the deepest recess of my heart no less than in the logical thinking of my brain, that the teaching is so greatly needed in our time by those who have sought in vain for comprehensive elucidation of the problem of their existence, that I feel the help it will give them constitutes the best possible use of my energies, talents, and days in this incarnation.

Although I was already travelling the road to the self-discovery of these truths, it is true that an apparent fortuitous meeting with an extraordinary individual at Angkor saved me from some of the time and labour involved in this process. For he turned out to be an adept in the higher philosophy who had not only had a most unusual personal history but also a most unusual comprehension of the problems which were troubling me. He put me through strange initiatory experiences in a deserted temple and then, with a few brief explanations of the hidden teachings, placed the key to their solutions in my hands. But after all it was only a key to the door-chamber, and not the entire treasure itself. These I had to ferret out for myself. That is, to say, I was given the principle but had to work out the details, develop the applications, and trace out the ramifications for myself. I was provided with a foundation but had to erect the super-structure by my own efforts. And all this has been a task for many years, a task upon which I am still engaged.

Henceforth the background of this teaching will be, nay must be, a universal one. It shall resist those who would label it Eastern because they will not be able to deny its Western contents, form, and spirit. It shall resist those who would label it Western, because they too shall not be able to deny its Eastern roots and contents.

Let them remember that the Truth comes not from any person but from the Holy Spirit. It is from such a source that what is worthy in my writings has come; the errors however are mine. Let them therefore describe themselves as students of philosophy, not as followers of Brunton.

I try to practise the advice I give others and to live according to the teachings I write down. This does not mean that I always succeed in doing so. But the endeavour being there, the ideas they concern have been put through some testing in action: they are not left in the air as mere untried theories. Today, through a world-wide correspondence and formerly through numerous interviews I have uncovered in addition to them the experiences of people standing in every grade of development.

Once I took it upon myself to interpret Oriental mysticism to the West. Now after long experience and longer thought, I find it necessary to stand aside from all the dead and living sources of knowledge with which I had established contact, if I am not to misinterpret Oriental mysticism. I am compelled to walk in lonely isolation, even though I respect and honour not a few of those sources. What I learnt and assimilated from them stood finally before a bar of my own making. For I thought, felt, walked, worked, and lived in terms of a twentieth-century experience which, seek as I might, could not be found in its fullness among them. However satisfactory to others, their outlook was too restricted for me. Either they could not come down to the mental horizons of the people who surrounded me, or else they came down theoretically with their heads and not with their hearts. This does not mean that I question their immediate correctness; it means that I question their ultimate usefulness.

It would be as absurd to deduce that I am now inconsistently rejecting mysticism as it would be absurd to declare that I reject the first three letters of the alphabet, merely because I refuse to limit my writing to the combination of ABC alone. I am trying to say that the whole content of mysticism is not identifiable with what is ordinarily known as such; it exceeds the sphere of the latter to such an extent that I have preferred to return to the ancient custom and call it philosophy.

This book is but a mirror, in which I have shown the facts and events of a life devoted to the quest of Realization. Whether the conclusions it contains are to your taste or not, please deign to believe that as a record I have endeavoured to invest it with absolute verity.

It is not without much reluctance that I have ventured to betray aloud the intimate experiences received in secret and solitary communion with nature. I would fain have harboured them until this body was gone, when their fate would carry no concern for me. But the bidding of my spiritual Guides was such that these words have gone out into print.

Paul Brunton is trying to do something new. He went to India to learn from the most perceptive Indians, not to copy their followers. Yet the latter at times lack the wide tolerance of their teacher. Merely and politely to disagree with them is denounced as immense arrogance. "Who are you," these followers shout, "to dare to have an opinion contrary to the divine word of our Holy one?" Brunton has the highest regard affection and reverence for these Indian teachers, and especially for the ones who freely initiated him into their knowledge and inner circle. But this regard does not necessarily mean that he is obliged always to agree with them and always to think along with them. Indeed, they did not agree with each other. Those who might deem it ungracious of him to criticize their doctrines at certain points, should know that he speaks not only on his own personal behalf but also with certain sanctions--derived from the most ancient esoteric initiatory Oriental traditions--behind him. Paul Brunton also has something of his own to give. He cannot merely copy these others in living or echo them in writing. He too must be himself just as they were themselves. He may be their friend but he cannot be their follower. If it is for others to be that, he rejoices; but if he is to be true to the light which has come to him, he must shed it by himself however small it be in contrast to theirs. He may be but a candle to the suns of other guides, but to hide it because their light is greater would be to disobey his own inner voice. There was a time when this same voice bade him give forth the message of a few among those he had sought out and studied with. He gladly did so. But now its bidding is different. He has to speak the Word which he alone can speak, for every individual is unique. Every man is born to be himself, to undergo a set of experiences which in their entirety no one else has undergone. He alone of all the human race has just the mental and emotional psyche which he has.

If this book can only make the Overself seem as real to the imagination of others as it is to me in actuality, as living a presence to their faith as it is to my meditation, it may be of some service to them. But if it fails to do so, it may still....

In this book I have considered myself to be a sensitive recording instrument, carefully and minutely registering the impressions received from these higher states of consciousness.

My work is a "prophetic" message to our times, a religious revelatory work. An academic seal would put it on an intellectual and consequently lower plane.

If I make a first formal appearance as a teacher, it is only in deference to the mission now imposed on me and the mandate now given me.

Have I not searched far and suffered much to prepare an easier path for you all, to cut through thick jungles a track which others could follow with less pain and less labour? Have I not gleaned sufficient knowledge at great cost to be worthy of a hearing? Have I not attained sufficient proficiency in yoga and philosophy to be worthy at least of a claim on truth-seekers' attention? Have I not toiled and over-toiled in the effort to share both the modicum of knowledge and the measure of proficiency with others to be worthy at least of their interest?

Now comes the crux of the whole matter. So far as I can follow the teachings of the ancient sages, the path which stretches before mankind appears to have four gates set at intervals along its course. The first is open to the great majority of mankind and might be named "religion, theology, and scholasticism." The second is open to a much smaller number of persons and could conveniently be named Mysticism. The third which is rarely opened (for it is heavy and hard to move) is "the philosophy of truth," whilst the final gate has been entered only by the supermen of our species; it may be titled "Realization." Few readers would care to wander with me into the wilderness whither it leads. I refuse to tarry in the limited phases of development and have gone forward in further quest of the sublime verity which is presented to us as life's goal by the sages. I value tolerance. Let others believe or follow what suits or pleases them most; I trust they will allow me the same freedom to continue my own quest.

It is precisely because we are entering an epoch when the common people are at last coming into their own and when the world's conscience about its duty toward the underprivileged has been tardily aroused, that I feel I am obeying a divine command when I write of sacred things in direct manner, of metaphysical themes in a plain manner, and of mystical experiences in a familiar manner. Spiritual snobs may call my treatment of these subjects, cheap, and my work, journalese, but its result--faintly indicated by the long record of help gratefully acknowledged--is their best answer.

I have written this book because in an age when the two opposed conceptions of man are throwing the world into strife and revolution and war, there is clear need for personal testimony from those who know the truth rather than those who believe in it.

To attempt this book will be an adventure for the Warriors of Light, but the wanderers of night will put it down with much celerity. For these pages are enchanted with a white magic which can inflict no greater injury on adversaries than to permit them to resist the principles contained therein.

To the outside observer, my declining years have been dead ones, apparently spent in inactivity and futility. But this is only one side of the picture. For they have also been spent in a hidden activity on a higher plane, as much for my own spiritual growth as for the world's peace.

I have attempted to think out anew, and on the basis of my own experience and not that of men who lived five thousand years ago, what should be the attitude of a normal modern man toward life. Such blessed independence may be scorned by some, but it is a birthright which I jealously guard.

I believe that there is a soul in man. This is a frank if commonplace avowal. Yet as I look again at these words, I find a false modesty in them. It is a poor tribute to truth to hesitate timidly in making the open declaration that I know there is a soul because I daily commune with it as a real, living presence.

Life remains what it is--deathless and unbound. We shall all meet again. Know what you are, and be free. The best counsel today is, keep calm, aware. Don't let the pressure of mental environment break into what you know and what is real and ultimately true. This is your magic talisman to safeguard you; cling to it. The last word is--Patience! The night is darkest before dawn. But dawn comes.

I prefer anonymity for my work but fate has ignored my preference.

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