Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 13: Human Experience
I cannot reiterate enough that the fortunes, events, and experiences of human existence are controlled by higher laws, that there is meaning and purpose in them, and that it is the business of human intelligence to seek out and learn the reasons for them.
Let us not betray the good that is in us by a cowardly submission to the bad that is in society.
The experiences which come to him and the circumstances in which he finds himself are not meaningless. They usually have a personal karmic lesson for him and should be studied much more than books. He must try to understand impersonally the inner significance behind these events. Their meaning can be ascertained by trying to see them impartially, by evaluating the forces which are involved in them, by profound reflection, and by prayer. Each man gets his special set of experiences, which no one else gets. Each life is individual and gets from the law of recompense those which it really needs, not those which someone else needs. The way in which he reacts to the varied pleasant and unpleasant situations which develop in everyday life will be a better index to the understanding he has gained than any mystical visions painted by the imagination.
I am not one of those who deplore the modern way of life, who regret its increasing Americanization because of its emphasis on mechanical gadgets and conveniences. These things are good. But I do deplore the lack of a sense of proportion in pursuing these things, the lack of measure when these constitute the sole purpose of living.
Hope is the scaffolding of life. But unless the hands go out in action we may stand upon it forever yet the building will never be erected. That is why we who seek for Truth must work interiorly and work intensely amid the common mortar and bricks of mundane existence. Our dreams of a diviner life are prophetic, but we turn them to realities only when we turn our hands to the tasks and disciplines presented by the world.
Every new circumstance or happening in his life has some message for him from the Infinite Mind or some lesson to convey to him or some test to strengthen him. It is for him to seek out this inner significance and to re-adjust his thinking and actions in accordance with it.
Where so many creatures are at early stages of descent into ego-experience and ego-development, it is foolish to expect them to respond to teachings suitable for advanced stages alone--where the need is for growing release from the ego. The first group naturally and inevitably has different, even opposing, outlooks, trends, ideas, beliefs, inclinations, and desires from those of the second one. It wants to fatten the ego, whereas the other wants to thin it down. To condemn it as wrongly directed is ignorant, impractical, and mistaken. If the history of mankind has teemed with war and bloodshed in the past, part of the cause can be found here. But that same history moves also in cycles. We stand today between two cycles, two eras, two cultures. The next one will not only be new; it will also be brighter and better in every way.
He is to meet each experience with his mind, remembering his relationship to the higher self and, consequently, the higher purpose of all experiences. He is never to forget the adventure in identity and consciousness that life is.
The student must place this seed-thought in his mind and hold to it throughout the day. He need not fear that he will lose anything material thereby. Let him remember the definite promise of the Overself speaking through Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: "I look after the interests and safety of those who are perpetually engaged on My service, and whose thoughts are always about Me and Me alone." He will learn by direct experience the literal meaning of the term Providence--"that which provides."
There is only room in your mind for a single thought at a time. Take care, then, that it be a positive one.
Let others not mistakenly believe that he has adopted a non-cooperative attitude, has fled from reality, renounced a human existence in exchange for an illusory one in an imaginary world, or deserted the paths of sanity and reason. If he wants to live in comparative outer peace with them, he must make certain outer concessions. It is better to behave as unprovokingly as possible, to hide his deeper thoughts behind a screen, and to avoid being labelled as a religious fanatic or intellectual faddist. It is especially unwise to uncover one's philosophical thoughts before everybody. He must try to adjust himself smoothly to his environment. This is a hard task, but he must not shirk it and must do all that can be done in the given circumstances. He must fulfil his reasonable obligations towards society, must co-operate in turning the great wheel of human activity, must contribute his share in achieving the general welfare; but he should reserve the right to do so in his own way and not according to society's dictation. And because he has outstripped those around him in important ways, because he is already thinking centuries ahead of them, it is unlikely that he will succeed wholly in fending off their criticisms or even in avoiding their hostility. For with all his endeavours to placate them and with all his sacrifices for the sake of harmony, human nature being what it is--a mixture of good and evil, of the materialistic and the holy--crises may sometimes arise when society will attack him. If the inner voice of conscience bids him do so, then he will perforce have to make a firm stand for principles. It is then that he must summon enough courage to do what is unorthodox or to say what is unpopular and display enough independence to disregard tradition or ignore opinion. Up to a certain point he may walk with the crowd, but beyond it his feet must not move a step. Here he must claim the privilege of self-determination, concerning which there can be no compromise; for here, at the sacred bidding of the Overself, he must begin to live his own life. Consequently, although he will always be a good citizen he may not always be a popular one.
Should anyone lazily, passively, quietly, and cowardly accept things as they are? Or should he challenge them, rebel against them and criticize them irreverently, even scornfully? Are they correct, those saints who declare--or even Stoic thinkers like Seneca who accept--all suffering and pain not only as God's will for us but also as our own will? Seneca says, "Take all things as if desired and asked for." (He referred to tribulations.) But philosophy teaches that if you accept life do not accept blindly. Seek the lesson, the instruction, the education, and karmic reason and cause behind it. Add knowledge to your faith.
Out of suffering may come the transmutation of values, even the transfiguration of character. But these developments are possible only if the man co-operates. If he does not, then the suffering is in vain, fruitless.
When a man is crushed to the ground, when his ego is deflated and he calls out in sheer desperation for guidance or for help, the answer may not come to him in the form that he wants or expects; it may come in the form of clues and hints at best, of suggestions. It is for him then to patiently take them up and follow them to where they lead. The suffering which has come to him is not meaningless. There is a sublime rationality behind it, even if it is only the specific effect of a cause which he set going in previous incarnations.
You may have lost your long-held fortune, your wife may have shamefully betrayed you, your enemies may have spread false accusations against you, while your private world may have tumbled to pieces over your head. Still there remains something you have not lost, someone who has not betrayed you, someone who believes only the best about you, and an inner world that ever remains steady and unperturbed. That thing and that being are none other than your own Overself, which you may find within you, which you may turn to when in anguish, and which will strengthen you to disregard the clamant whine of the personal distress. If you do not do this, there is nothing else you can do. Whither can you turn save to the inner divinity?
It is pardonable to wish a change of situation when it is grievous but it is better to enquire first what message the situation holds for us. Otherwise we may be attempting to elude the Overself's directive and thereby incurring the danger of an even greater disaster.
What matters is not only the quality of a man's consciousness but also the quality of his day-to-day living, not only the rare special mystical ecstasies that may grace his experience but also his relationship with the contemporary world and his attitude toward it. It is not enough to be a mystic: he cannot avoid the common road which all men must travel. In brief, can he be in the world but not of it? Can he sanctify the ordinary, the customary; those actions, this business, that very work for a livelihood; the contacts with family, friends, critics, and enemies? After all he is a human being with personal concerns; he cannot live for twenty-four hours a day in abstract ideas alone, or in religious withdrawnness: he has a body of flesh, a relevant duty or responsibility to perform in the world outside.
Philosophy is naturally best expounded out of gaiety of heart at the universe's wonderful meaning; but its lessons are best received, and its discipline best enforced, in the sadness of mind which comes to thought over the conditions of life today.
The kind of experience which man most dislikes to have is the very kind which forces him to seek out its cause, and thus begin unwittingly the search for life's meaning. The disappointments in his emotional life, the sufferings in his physical body, and the misfortunes in his personal fate ought to teach him to discriminate more carefully, to examine more deeply, and in the end to feel more sympathy with the sorrowing.
A single mistake in the rejection of an opportunity or in the choice of direction at a crossroad may lead to a quarter-lifetime's suffering. The student may quite easily discover by analysis the smaller lessons embodied in that suffering and yet may quite overlook the larger lessons, for he may fail to ascribe major blame to the early rejection or choice. He may still not realize how it all stems out of that primary root, how each error in conduct that naturally happens after it becomes a channel for a further one, and that in its turn for still another, so that the descent is eventually inevitable and its attendant sorrows become cumulative. Thus all traces back to the initial foundational error, which is the most important one because it is the choice of wrong direction, because such a wrong choice means that the more he travels through life, the more mistaken all his later conduct becomes.
Poverty is a stiff test of moral fibre.
The failures which everyone has left behind him--whether in career, relationship, or the quest itself--do not necessarily represent wasted effort. From each of them he can salvage the tuition for a fresh start, the caution for a wiser one, and more knowledge of himself.
It is not always possible to judge appearances. There are failures in life who are successes in character. There are successes in life who are failures in character.
He will learn to measure the worth of another man or of an experience by the resulting hindrance to, or stimulation of, his own growth into a diviner consciousness.
Beware of your thoughts, for when long sustained and strongly felt, they may be reflected in external situations or embodied in other humans brought into your life. But they cannot, of themselves and devoid of physical acts, make the whole pattern of your life--only the adept can do that. For other factors are also contributing, such as the will of God--that is, evolutionary necessity, or the World-Idea.
The experiences of life, ennobling some people but degrading others, can in the end affect our thoughts, desires, and feelings only as we let them. It is for us to say whether they shall call forth our divinity or our brutality. Our attitude of mind helps to determine our experience of the world.
If you live inwardly in love and harmony with yourself and with all others, if you persistently reject all contrary ideas and negative appearances, then this love and this harmony must manifest themselves outwardly in your environment.
When we are brought face-to-face with the consequences of our wrong-doing, we would like to avoid the suffering or at least to diminish it. It is impossible to say with any precision how far this can be done for it depends partly on Grace, but it also depends partly on ourselves. We can help to modify and sometimes even to eliminate those bad consequences if we set going certain counteracting influences. First, we must take to heart deeply the lessons of our wrong-doing. We should blame no one and nothing outside of ourselves, our own moral weaknesses and our own mental infirmities, and we should give ourselves no chance for self-deception. We should feel all the pangs of remorse and constant thoughts of repentance. Second, we must forgive others their sins against us if we would be forgiven ourselves. That is to say, we must have no bad feelings against anyone whatsoever or whomsoever. Third, we must think constantly and act accordingly along the line which points in an opposite direction to our wrong-doing. Fourth, we must pledge ourselves by a sacred vow to try never again to commit such wrong-doing. If we really mean that pledge, we will often bring it before the mind and memory and thus renew it and keep it fresh and alive. Both the thinking in the previous point and the pledging in this point must be as intense as possible. Fifth, if need be and if we wish to do so, we may pray to the Overself for the help of its Grace and pardon in this matter; but we should not resort to such prayer as a matter of course. It should be done only at the instigation of a profound inner prompting and under the pressure of a hard outer situation.
What happens to a man is important, but not quite so important as what he makes of it.
Why should we individually undergo every possible experience? Can we not, by creative imagination, intuitive feeling, and correct thinking, save ourselves the need of passing through some experiences? This is so, but it is so only for those who have developed such faculties to a sufficient degree.
When painful experiences are undergone by mind on the lower levels of evolution, very little is learned from those experiences--and that little slowly. When the same experiences are undergone by mind on the higher level, much is learned from them--and learned quickly. This is because in the one case there is no desire to learn the causes of that suffering, and no capacity to learn them even when the causes are evident; whereas in the other case, there is a keen desire to master the lessons and a prepared attitude wherewith to receive them. When, therefore, the really earnest disciple who has asked for a quickened advance on the Quest finds that all kinds of experiences begin to follow each other for a period, he should recognize that this is part of the answer to his call. He will be made to feel loss as well as gain, bliss as well as pain, success as well as failure, temptation as well as tribulation at different times and in different degrees. He needs both kinds of experience if his development is to be a balanced one. But because he is still human, he will learn more from his sufferings than from his pleasures. And because their memory will last longer, he will not pass through this period of quickened experiences and extreme vicissitudes without much complaint. Each of those experiences represents a chance for him, not only to conserve what he has already gained, but to pass to a farther point where he can gain something new.
We shall not indulge the vain hope of guiding all humanity out of the chaos in which it now finds itself, for humanity will refuse to follow the light which is itself guiding us. Deluded by its lower nature, blinded by its hollow traditions and hypocritical conventions, indifferent to the still small voice of truth merely because the voice of untruth blares more impressively through the thousand loudspeakers of vested interests, the human race will continue to flounder confusedly and to suffer needlessly. But here and there are individuals who will nevertheless welcome the light we bring. For their sake we must patiently hold the torch aloft.
A Prayer For The World:
In this time of confusion and anxiety, of strife and trouble, it is our holy duty to remember our dependence on Thee, O real Governor of the world!
We realize that the darkness in the world today has come because so many have forgotten their dependence on Thee.
Those whose positions of power or influence have placed them in the nations' councils need, in their grave responsibility, the help of Thy communion and the benefit of Thy guidance as never before, that they may not stray into error or weakness.
Therefore, we shall daily pray for them and for ourselves, in minutes of private worship or silent meditation, that all may regain the feeling of Thy presence. We shall constantly confess our shortcomings and faults, but we promise to strive to better and ennoble our lives. We shall endeavour to cast out all evil thinking and materialistic belief.
Our need of Thy mercy and grace is vast. Show us the way to win them, O Infinite Father of all beings, Whose love is our last resource.
Powerful forces in the heaven worlds are gathering for a transmission and will enter our world at an appropriate time, which is fixed and measurable within this century. These forces will stimulate new thoughts and new feelings, new intuitions and new ideals of a religious, mystical, and philosophic kind in humanity. It will verily be the opening of a new epoch on earth, comparable to that which was opened 2000 years ago by the coming of Christ. The impulse will bring science into religion and religion into science: each will sustain the other and both, purified and vitalized, will guide humanity to a better and truer life. Insofar as science is an expression of man's desire to know, it is in perfect harmony with the highest spirituality. Only when it is unguided by his intuitive feelings, his heart, and put at the service of his animal nature alone, does it become anti-spiritual and bring him self-destruction as a punishment.
The time has come when education should re-educate itself, when medicine should give Nature's herbs their due and demand that all foods be rid of their added poisons, when the body-soul relationship should be correctly revealed by psychology and psychiatry, when for their health's sake and their soul's sake human beings should stop devouring corpses. The events and changes which have come on the world scene since the turn of the century stagger the mind, but those which will come before the end of it will be even more startling.
The thing that really matters in the life of a nation is the quality of its leaders, the character of those who guide its destinies. Young men may not realize that enthusiasm alone is not enough, that character always does and always will count, that he who fits himself for greatness will see whole kingdoms delivered into his hands. Inspiration brings fortune in its train and inspired teachers will always rise.
What does the future hold for mankind?--this is a question often asked and variously answered. One of the answers is given by Hinduism which says that the present period is the Kali Yuga--that is, the iron age--when life is at its darkest, man more corrupt, sinful, and wicked than ever, spirituality, religion, morals at their lowest ebb, sufferings, catastrophes, diseases at their highest tide. Moreover it says we are only at the first quarter of the iron age and we still have the other three quarters to go and that as we go farther into Kali Yuga the conditions will get worse and man more wicked. However Hinduism also says in its scripture the Bhagavad Gita, through the person (mythological though he may be) of Sri Krishna, that the Avatar--one who descends from a higher plane into human incarnation to bring in a new and better period--will come near the end of the iron age and use his power and knowledge to usher in the reign of goodness and righteousness, Truth, and above all Peace. Everywhere throughout the world today we see violence, agitation, and destruction, and this too, according to Hinduism, is to be expected in the Kali Yuga. Therefore attempts to end war are unlikely to meet with much success until the Avatar comes. If however we go not to Hinduism, but to the astrologers and ask for their predictions, the story changes, brightens, and becomes full of hope, for they say we are entering the Aquarian age, the age which spreads knowledge, goodness, harmony, and peace. It might be asked, "What does philosophy say?" The answer is that there is something of truth in both the Hindu and the astrological prognostications. First the evils of war, violence, destruction, and so on, will come to a climax with the materialization of nuclear war. Too much has been created on the mental plane and is being created not to find its way back to earth again in physical explosion. Only after a nuclear war with the major part of the human population wiped out will it be possible for a new start to be made, will mankind have learned the lesson of substituting goodwill for ill will. Secondly, philosophy says that there are ages within ages--that is to say minor, lesser, and shorter periods within the great period--and we will after the nuclear war and after the chaos it brings enter one of these better periods. [Editor's note: With the exception only of the last para in this section, we know neither the dates nor the historical sequence of when this predictive material was written. We do know, however, that this para in category 13, chapter 4, number 421 is the most recent, and that it was written in the last year of P.B.'s life.]
If industrial civilization has enriched our outer life it has also impoverished the inner life. It need not have done so if we had brought about a proper equilibrium between the two and if we had done so under the light of the guiding principle of what we are here on earth for. (13-2.140)
The composer of music or poetry, the thinker or sculptor who brings into the outer world what he has felt, glimpsed, thought in his own inner world, experiences a certain kind of satisfaction by that very act. The craftsman or the artisan who is able to make something by his own handiwork shares a measure of this satisfaction too. But the mass of workers packed away into a factory and occupied solely with machinery repeating the same movements dozens and dozens of times can hardly hope to get even an inkling of this satisfaction. If such monotonous work is essential, then let it be performed at intervals and let there be a rhythm of recuperation where the workers can return to themselves.
Those whose good fortune has given them enough to satisfy many desires ought not wait for old age to see how these satisfactions were passing and uncertain. They ought to do the heroic thing and detach themselves from the desire while there is still vigour in their feeling and their will.
For those without a higher viewpoint, the prospect of old age is a difficult one. The clever attractive modern cosmetics may take the years off a woman's appearance but they remain--oppressive and disturbing--within her consciousness. Early enthusiasm for living must, in the end, give way to a saddened recognition of our mortality. Reflection warns both woman and man of the frustrations awaiting human desire, but it also tells them of the compensations. These, however, must be earned. Foremost comes peace of mind.
Every man over a certain age is under sentence of death. Some men below that age are equally threatened. Should not both groups be sobered enough by such a remembrance to ask, "Why am I here?"
Our elders are worthy of respect, but their counsel is worthy of heeding only if they are old in soul as well as body, only if they have extracted through many lifetimes all the wisdom possible from each one. Experience without reflection misses most of its value, reflection without depth misses much of its value, depth without impartiality may miss the chief point. For all our experience, our life in the body and world, is a device to bring out our soul.
It is not pleasant to reach old age. One tires easily--not only physically but also mentally--and one begins to weary of the routines of merely living, performing similar acts day after day. I speak of course of the average person, mass humanity--but one who has kept his mind alive, alert, eager to know, learn, and understand, who has developed his inmost resources cultural and spiritual, can never get bored.
Young immature people lack balance, knowledge, experience, and responsibility so that they are more easily rushed into courses of action dictated by frantic passion or frenzied emotion. But if they live long enough, life itself will impose its own disciplines upon them and compel them to accept adult responsibility and make the necessary growth which goes with it. Otherwise they may come to write their lives off as failures in the real sense, which includes the visible results in the world and the invisible moral and mental consequences in themselves. Until the balance within themselves is got right, they are liable to make decisions and commit actions which will later be regretted.
I am in much sympathy with rebellions against much academic education, with protests against its dryness, its narrow limitations, its rigidities, its stuffiness, and its pedantic quibbling. But unless these protests and rebellions are led by older persons with enough experience, maturity, judgement, and balance, they fall into the hands of communists, nai
ve liberals, and other politically minded destructive forces.
I was critical of the sadhus in India on certain points--never mind what they were. The differences got aired in several Indian newspapers at the time rather sensationally, and with much miscomprehension--even malice. But I also admired them on other points, some of which I find present today among those young drop-outs who have a religious turn of mind. They are in rebellion against a materialistic society and refuse to join it. They remind us that Jesus was a drop-out too. They try to live by working on self, supporting themselves co-operatively and not competitively, without ambitions, without insurance, with only a few possessions--by sincerity and not by appearance.
The idea of authority is hotly contested by the young, who fail to see that it is just as necessary as the idea of non-authority or freedom. This is true whether it is imposed on us by the higher laws governing existence or by other persons who are qualified to do so or even imposed by ourselves in the form of ideals and standards.
Where the physical body is cherished as the sole reality and made the sole basis for social and political reform, where hate-driven men advocate physical violence as the sole means of effecting progress, be sure of the presence of evil forces, dangers to society, ignorant opponents of truth, and enemies of the Light.
Although I deplore the condemnation of everything bygone, everything old, which is indulged in by so many of the young today, I agree with them that new times may bring new forms of inspiration and that the Truth, the Reality, does not necessarily have to be tied to tradition or look heavy with age or be stiff with the shapes given to it by our forefathers; it can be new, fresh, vivid, original. I include under this heading not only religious and metaphysical matters, but also artistic ones.
We live in an age when false statements are passed off as true ones and when deceptive values are passed off as real ones, when the dissemination of knowledge is getting more and more into the hands of those who are themselves too young to wisely instruct the young, too unbalanced to help the characters of the young, and too theoretical to be able to pass on really practical information which will help their students.
It is not enough for parents to protect a child--they should also encourage and stimulate it to awaken spiritually.
Of what use is an education if it does not teach the young how to use their minds so as to promote their own welfare, instead of their own harm? All ought to be made aware of the value and need of emotional and thought control, of discriminating between destructive or negative thoughts and constructive or positive ones.
Going to school is one thing, getting educated is another, although they coincide at times. Learning from a teacher is preparation. Learning from life in the world is observation. Learning from oneself is intuition.
It is his choice whether to accept the trammels of family life or the freedom of celibate life. Both conditions have their advantages and disadvantages, their compensations and difficulties. Each is a valid form of experience. But because most scriptures of most religions have been written by monks, their own status has been favoured and set higher. But it must be repeated: there is no one way which is the only way.
In one of his essays, Bacon delivers himself of the thought that the man who marries gives a hostage to fortune. This is so but it is part of the picture of the pairs of opposites which is universal throughout the world and inseparable from human existence. It is yin and yang--the duality of all manifested life. However there is an aspect of this topic which he might have included and that is that in marrying the man takes on another person's burdens in addition to his own. Yet this is equally true of all other forms of personal association with other human beings--of the hiring of assistants and the joining of an organization, of the making of friends and enjoyment of social contacts, of the working in a profession or the maintaining of a business. In all these activities a man takes on either a little or a large share of the problems of others.
It has been said in The Quest of the Overself that a married couple should grow together in companionly worship of the Light. If they do this they have found the basis of true marriage, successful marriage. In India a newly wedded couple are pointed out in the sky at night, by a Brahmin priest, a star called "Vashistharundhati." It is a pleasant little ceremony and supposed to be auspicious. For Vashistha was a great sage who lived thousands of years ago, Arundhati was his wife, and their marriage was a model of its kind in perfect conjugal happiness, wifely devotion, and mutual spiritual assistance. The ancient records link this star with this couple in their legend. Now the invention of the telescope has enabled us to discover that this star, which is the middle one in the tail of Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, is really a double star; that is, it consists of two separate stars situated so close to each other as to appear a unit to our naked eyes. Moreover, it is also a binary star; that is, the pair revolve around a common centre of gravity. Can we not see a wonderful inner significance in the old Indian custom? For the marital happiness of Vashistha and his wife was due to their having found a common centre of spiritual gravity!
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