Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 21: Mentalism
The materialist's mistake primarily consists in this, that his mind considers its impressions and sensations--entirely dependent as they are on its own presence--as external realities, whilst dismissing its own independent reality as a fiction.
"Recent scientific theory calls attention not to the uniformity but to the indeterminacy of nature which, by transferring probability from human thought to objective reality, suggests that matter is mind externalized." --Times Literary Supplement, May 12, 1945.
The mysterious power of the mind, which makes us feel the world to be outside of and separate from ourselves, disappears during certain ultramystical experience.
If Matter has any existence at all, it is as the externalizing power of the mind.
Matter cannot be honestly denied by the ordinary man since it is fully real to his senses. Its reality but not its appearance can be denied by the scientist, since it is a compound of invisible and intangible forces to his intellect.
The spirit of true Science must be ours, too. We can accept nothing as true which is dubious as undemonstrable. The modern world, and especially the Western world, can sympathize with a teaching only if it will stand the double test of reason and experience.
When a mystical seer proclaimed on the basis of his own insight that the reality of the universe was not matter but mind, educated people could afford to disregard his proclamations. But when leading scientists themselves proclaimed it on the basis of verifiable facts and rational reflections, they could not help giving their confidence to it. Consequently, those who have seriously absorbed the latest knowledge have been falling away from intellectual materialism. It is indeed only the uneducated, the half-educated, the pseudo-educated, and the word-educated who today believe in this miserable doctrine.
Mentalism, the teaching that this is a mental universe, is too hard to believe for the ordinary man yet too hard to disbelieve for the illumined man. This is because to the first it is only a theory, but to the second it is a personal experience. The ordinary man's consciousness is kept captive by his senses, each of which reports a world of matter outside him. The illumined man's consciousness is free to be itself, to report its own reality and to reveal the senses and their world to be mere ideation.
Since the world is never found to be apart from our own minds, we are forced to relate it to them. And since it is equally obvious that the surface part of them does not deliberately bring it into existence we are further forced to deduce, first, that the deeper and unconscious part must do so and, second, that this second part must be cosmic in nature and hold all other individual minds rooted in its depths. This deduction, arrived at by reason, is confirmed by experience but not by ordinary experience. It is confirmed by sinking a shaft down through the mind in mystical meditation and arriving at our secondary cosmic self.
We do not intend to deal here with some supernatural "spirit" which does not explain the world but only mystifies us, which is beyond all ordinary experience and whose existence cannot be irrefutably proved. We do not need to go beyond Mind--which explains the world as a form of consciousness, which is everyone's familiar experience at every moment of the day or night, and whose existence is unquestionably self-evident, for it makes us aware of every other kind of existence.
Mentalism does not deny the existence of the natural universe. It denies the materialistic view of that universe. It refuses to attribute to matter a creative power to be found only in life, an intelligent consciousness to be found only in mind.
We do not bring out the old arguments for the acceptance of an inner Reality to persuade anyone to drop his faith in the reality of the world without.
Only a highly educated mind can appreciate intellectually the truth which lies in mentalism, as only a highly intuitive one can feel its truth.
The ignorance which accepts matter as a reality rather than as an idea can be overcome only by a course of emotional purification, mystical contemplation, and metaphysical reflection.
The practical message of mentalism is not only to warn us of the creative value of our thought but also to bid us seek out the source of thought. For there lies our real home, and there we must learn to dwell habitually.
Psychology, like all the sciences, has to turn itself into philosophy the moment it puts to itself such a radical question as "what is mind?"
What is Mind? It is that in us which thinks, which is aware, and which knows.
Mind is the power to be conscious, to think, and to imagine. It is not the fleshly brain.
If we want to think correctly of the form and dimensions of mind, we must try to think of it as unbounded space. Thus it is everywhere.
Mind must precede any thought, any knowing. It must be there to make any thinking possible at all.
Only when an object is registered in consciousness is it really seen at all. Not even all the physical details of vision constitute the real experience of seeing it, for the awareness of it is not a physical experience at all.
The deceptions bred by an unreflective attitude towards the reports of sense and an unintuitive one towards the feeling of personality, enter so deeply into his mental principle because of their growing prevalence during a large number of births that they become almost an integral part of it. The melancholy consequences of this disposition are an inability to believe in mentalism and an incapacity to progress in mysticism.
The statement that we can know only our own sensations and that we do not experience the world directly constitutes the very beginning of the doctrine of mentalism.
The mind interprets its own experience in a particular way because, owing to its structure, it could not do so in another way. But these limitations are not eternal and absolute. When, as in dream, yoga, death, or hallucination, they are abruptly loosened, then experience is interpreted in a new and different way.
It is because men are deceived by their senses into accepting materialism that they are deceived by their ego into committing sin. Mentalism is not only an intellectual doctrine but also an ethical one.
It is only after several years of constant reflection upon this topic, helped by occasional mystical glimpses or experiences, that anyone can dissolve such troubling questions about the truth of mentalism.
He will come to see by experience, as science is coming to see by experiment, that this vast universe is real in its present form to his bodily senses only. As soon as his mind is freed from them, it takes on quite a different form, the old form having no further existence at all. He is then compelled to correct his false belief in the world's reality. If there were nothing more than the five senses, then this correction would make the universe an illusion. But the presence of mind in him makes it an idea.
Shankara's Snake-Rope illusion is out of date. Science provides better illustration based on facts of continuous experience instead of exceptional or occasional ones. Indians ignore the fact that a thousand years have travelled on and away since Shankara's time. Human intelligence has probed and discovered much. Modern evidence for mentalism is more solid today. The tremendous advance of knowledge since his time has shown that the substance of which this universe is made turns out to be no substance at all.
The totality of the immeasurably rich nature of the universe never reaches the human senses. This is not their fault. They cannot help but receive nothing more than a limited selection from it. There are numerous vibrations beyond their range and also beneath it. And yet we have the temerity to assert that the world of our experience, the only one we know, is the real world and that all others are illusory!
There are sixty-four different points of the compass. Therefore, it is possible for sixty-four men to take up all these different positions and look at an object. Each will see a different appearance of it. Thus there will be sixty-four different appearances. Yet all the men will glibly talk, when questioned, of having seen the same object when they have done nothing of the kind. And if any one of them asserts that he has studied only the appearance of the real thing and the whole thing, he is obviously talking nonsense. Yet this is what most of us do when we say we have seen the world that surrounds us--this and nothing less. It is completely impossible through the instrumentality of the senses to see the whole of any object, let alone the whole of the world. They can only view aspects. But what cannot be done by the senses can be done by the mind, which can form an idea of the whole of anything. Therefore it is only through reflection--that is, through philosophy--that we can ever get at a grasp of the whole of life and the universe.
But all this does not mean that philosophy asks us to mistrust the witness of our senses. That is correct enough for all ordinary, practical uses. But it does ask us to search more deeply into the significance of all sense-experience.
No discoveries made in a physiological laboratory can ever annul the primary doctrine of mentalism. The mechanism of the brain provides the condition for the manifestation of intellectual processes but does not provide the first originating impulse of these processes. The distinction between mind and its mechanism, between the mentalness of experience and the materiality of the content of that experience, needs much pondering.
It is not the five senses which know the world outside, since they are only instruments which the mind uses. It is not even the intellect, since that merely reproduces the image formed out of the total sense reports. They are not capable of functioning by themselves. It is the principle of Consciousness which is behind both, and for which they are simply agents, that really makes awareness of the world at all possible. It is like the sun, which lights up the existence of all things.
The distinction which is often made (especially by the school of Faculty-Psychology) between sensation and idea or between sense-data and thought was once believed to be an actuality, but it is now believed to be only a convenience for intellectual analysis. A compromise view now regards our experience of the world as being a compound of the two, but a compound which is never split up into separate elements. This view represents a big step towards the mentalist position but is still only a step. And this position is that there is only a single activity, a single experience--thought. The idea is the sensation, the sensation is the idea. The sense datum which our present-day psychologists find as an element of experience is really their interpretation of experience. Hence it is nothing else than a thought. And that which it unconsciously professes to interpret is likewise a thought!
It is not possible to explain intellectually how sensations of the physical world are converted into ideas, how the leap-over from nervous vibrations into consciousness occurs, and how a neurosis becomes a psychosis. No one has ever explained this, nor will any scientist ever succeed in doing so. Truth alone can dispose of this poser by pointing out that sensations never really occur, but that the Self merely projects ideas of them; just as a man sees a mirage and mistakes it for real water merely by his mental projection, so people regard the world as real when they are merely transferring their own mental ideas to the world.
It is natural for the materialist to ask how any sense can function without a sense organ. It is natural for the mentalist to point to the experience of dreams for the answer. All the senses are functioning during the dream but they do so without the apparatus of sense organs. This fact alone indicates in the clearest possible manner to anyone sufficiently perceptive to understand the indication that it is the mind and the mind alone which is the real agent in all the senses' experience. When, because of distracted attention, our mind is not aware of a thing which stands before our eyes, that particular thing temporarily ceases to exist for us. This means, if it means anything at all, that the thing receives its existence partly at the very least from us. It does not stand alone. Sense-experience actually takes place in consciousness itself: the five senses do not create but limit, canalize, and externalize this experience. We receive the various sensations of hardness, colour, shape, and so on, but they are not received from outside the mind. They are all received from within our consciousness. This is because they are received from the World-Mind's master image within us. The objects which cause those sensations truly exist, but they exist within this image--which itself exists within our field of consciousness. The things of experience are not different from the acts of knowing them. Hence the world exists in our thoughts of it.
It is not possible for sincere, scrupulous thinking to admit, and never possible to prove, the existence of a world outside of, and separate from, its consciousness. The faith by which we all conventionally grant such existence is mere superstition.
The object which the senses directly establish contact with is regarded as one thing; the mental impression they have when thinking of that object is regarded as another and totally different thing. This is a very simple and apparently very obvious view of the matter. To the ordinary mind, by which I mean the metaphysically unreflective mind, the statement is unarguable and its implied division of Nature into mental and material, uncontestable. But if you analyse the way you perceive objects you will find that both the perceiver and the perceived are inseparable in the act of perception. You cannot show a duality of idea and thing but only a unity of them.
A curious example, but one helpful to the enquirer, exists in the case of bodily pain. It is utterly impossible for us to imagine pain in the abstract--existing without any mind to be conscious of it. The word becomes quite meaningless if we try to separate it from someone or something to perceive or feel it. Its very existence depends entirely on being thought of, on being related to a conscious percipient. The sensation of being felt, this alone gives reality to pain. This fact refers equally to past or present pain. It should be easy to apply this analogy to the case of mere ideas, for the latter, like pain, can never come into existence without something, some mind, to think of them. Consciousness, on the part of someone or something, alone makes them real and factual.
The world must be present in my mind or it is not present at all to me. Only as an idea does it truly exist for me.
The world is never really given to us by experience nor actually known by the mind. What is given is idea, what is known is idea, to be transcended only when profound analysis transforms the Idea into the Reality.
Mentalism teaches that it is our thought activity which brings the whole world into our consciousness, and that when this thought activity comes to an end, the world also comes to an end, for us. It teaches that there is no other object than the thought itself.
The mind deals directly with its objects and not through the intermediary working of ideas for the ideas are its only objects.
We have to overcome the habitual custom of thinking that the "I" is one thing and that its experience in a world totally outside it is another. Both are mental.
Mind is governed by its own laws and conjures up its own creations. The universe, at any particular moment of its history, is formed by the action and reaction of these creations.
It is not because a thing is existent that you think it but because you think it, even if involuntarily, that it is existent. And this thought of it is a part of your own consciousness, not outside you.
Mental activity need not be conscious.
It is absurd even to suggest that there is an external world wholly outside of one's consciousness and wholly independent of it. One knows only certain changes of mental awareness, never of externals. The mind can only know its changes of individual consciousness. All its observations, each of its inferences, everything it knows--these lie enclosed within that consciousness and are never beyond it.
One's knowledge of anything whatsoever is simply one's thought of it. This is not to be confused with one's right thought of it. It is a conscious mental state, and even other persons are but appearances within this state, creatures in the cosmic dream. To follow this line of reflection to its inevitable end demands courage and candour of the highest kind, for it demands as ultimate conclusion the principle that knowledge being but ideas in the mind, the whole universe is nothing but an immense idea within one's own mind. For the very nature of knowledge is thus internal, and hence the individual mind cannot know any reality external to itself. It believes that it observes a world without when it only observes its own mental pictures of that world.
Is there some precise universal criterion of truth which will be applicable at all times and under all circumstances, in short, something unchanging and therefore supreme? For scientists know that the great principles which formed landmarks in the history of science were really successive stages on the route towards the precise truth. Science changes, its doctrines change, and its earlier approximations are replaced from time to time by more accurate points. We cannot hope to find an ultimate truth nowadays, when science itself is so rapidly on the march. There remains, however, one unfailing all-embracing fact which will forever remain true and which cannot possibly change. Indeed, every advance in experiment and theory made by enterprising scientists will only help to verify this grand discovery. What is it? It is that the whole world which every department of science is busily engaged in examining is nothing but an idea in the human mind. Physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, biology, and all the other sciences without a single exception are concerned solely with what is ultimately a thought or series of thoughts passing through human consciousness. Here, therefore, we possess a universal law which embraces the entire field in which science is operating. This is an ultimate truth which will stand immortal, when every other hypothesis formulated by science has perished through advancing knowledge.
A popular misconception of mentalism must be cleared. When we say that the world does not exist for man apart from his own mind, this is not to say that man is the sole world-creator. If that were so he could easily play the magician and reshape a hampering environment in a day. No!--what mentalism really teaches is that man's mind perceives, by participating in it, the world-image which the World-Mind creates and holds. Man alone is not responsible for this image, which could not possibly exist if it did not exist also in the World-Mind's consciousness.
We do not dream the waking world as we dream during sleep. For the latter is spun out of the individual mind alone, whereas the former is spun out of the cosmic mind and presented to the individual mind. However, ultimately, and on realization, both minds are found to be one and the same, just as a sun ray is found to be the same as the sun ultimately. The difference which exists is fleeting and really illusory but so long as there is bodily experience it is observable. It is correct to note that the present birth-dream is caused by past tendencies; we are hypnotized by the past and our work is to dehypnotize ourselves, that is, to create new thought-habits until the flash comes of itself. But the flash itself comes during a kind of trance state, which may last for a moment or longer. It comes during the higher meditation of supramysticism.
The World-Mind is not a magnified man and the world-image is not "pushed" into our consciousness by its personal and persistent effort. The mere presence of this image in it is sufficient to produce a reflected image in all other minds although they will absorb only so much as their particular plane of space-time perception can absorb.
The individual mind presents the world-image to itself through and in its own consciousness. If this were all the truth then it would be quite proper to call the experience a private one. But because the individual mind is rooted in and inseparable from the universal mind, it is only a part of the truth. Man's world-thought is held within and enclosed by God's thought.
The precise shape which the idea will take when it reaches consciousness will depend on the general tendencies of the person.
Our idea of the external world is caused partly by the energies of our own mind and partly by the energies of the World-Mind. It is not caused by a separate material thing acting on our sense organs.
It is a generative idea. Here is a whole philosophy congealed into a single phrase: the world is an idea.
In one of those apocryphal books which was rejected by those men who formed the canonical collection called the New Testament--a rejection in which they were sometimes wrong, and certainly in this instance--there occurred a saying of Jesus which runs, "When the outside becomes the inside, then the kingdom of heaven is come." Can we expand this mystical phrase into non-mystical language? Yes, here it is: "When the outside world is known and felt to be what it really is--an idea--it becomes a part of the inside world of thought and feeling. When its joys and griefs are known to be nothing more than states of mind, and when all thoughts and feelings and desires are brought from the false ego into the true Self at their centre, they automatically dissolve--and the kingdom of heaven is come."
Think of yourself as the individual and you are sure to die; think of yourself as the universal and you enter deathlessness, for the universal is always and eternally there. We know no beginning and no ending to the cosmic process. Its being IS: we can say no more. Be that rather than this--that which is as infinite and homeless as space, that which is timeless and unbroken. Take the whole of life as your own being. Do not divorce, do not separate yourself from it. It is the hardest of tasks for it demands that we see our own relative insignificance amid this infinite and vast process. The change that is needed is entirely a mental one. Change your outlook and with it "heaven will be added unto you."
Our own mind is a human analogue of the Universal Mind. Thus in its character and working, Nature provides an easy lesson in divine metaphysics. If we wish to obtain some slight hint as to the nature of the highest kind of mental existence, that is, of God, we must examine the nature of our own individual mind, limited and imperfect though it be. Now philosophy is not afraid to admit pantheism but does not limit itself to pantheism. It also affirms transcendentalism but does not stop with it. It declares that the Unique Reality could never become transformed into the cosmos in the sense of losing its own uniqueness. But at the same time it declares that the cosmos is nevertheless one with and not apart from the Reality. The easiest way to grasp this is to symbolize the cosmos as human thoughts and the Reality as human mind. Our thoughts are nothing other than a form of mind, yet our mind loses nothing of itself when thoughts arise. The World-Mind is immanent in but not confined by the universe in the same way that a man's mind may be said to be immanent in but not confined by his thoughts. Furthermore, not only may we find it helpful in the effort to understand the relation which the cosmos bears to the World-Mind, to compare it with the relation which a thought bears to its thinker or his speech to a speaker, but when we consider how our own mind is able to generate thoughts of the most multivaried kind, we need not be surprised that the Universal Mind is able to generate the inexhaustibly varied host of thought-forms which constitute the cosmos.
Whoever can understand that substance is inseparable from life and that life is inseparable from mind, whoever can intellectually perceive that the whole universe itself is nothing less than Mind in its different phases, has found the theoretical basis for an appreciation of the wonderful possibilites which dwell behind human experience. The mind's powers can indeed be extended far beyond their present puny evolutionary range. He who reflects constantly upon the true and immaterial nature of Mind and upon its magically creative powers tends to develop these powers. When he becomes capable of successful and ego-free concentration, these powers of mind and will come to him spontaneously. It is natural that when his will becomes self-abnegated, his emotion purified, his thought concentrated, and his knowledge perfected higher mental or so-called occult powers arise of their own accord. It is equally natural that he should remain silent about them, even if only because they do not really belong to the named personality which others see. They belong to the Overself.
To arrive at the understanding that the universe is non-material and is mental, is to be liberated from materialism. It produces a sensation like that felt by a prisoner who has spent half a lifetime cooped up in a dark and dingy fetid dungeon and who is suddenly liberated, set free, put out of doors in the bright sunshine and fresh clean air. For to be a materialist means to be one imprisoned in the false belief that the matter-world is the real world; to become spiritual is to perceive that all objects are mental ones; the revelation of the mental nature of the universe is so stupendous that it actually sets mind and feeling free from their materialistic prison and brings the whole inner being into the dazzling sunshine of truth, the fresh atmosphere of Reality. All those who believe in the materiality of the material world and not in its mental nature, are really materialists--even if they call themselves religious, Christians, spiritualists, occultists, or Anthroposophists. The only way to escape materialism is not to become a follower of any psychic cult or religious faith, but to enquire with the mind into the truth of matter and to be rewarded at length by the abiding perception of its mental Nature. All other methods are futile, or at best are but preparatory and preliminary steps.
Because mentalism is to become a vivid fact for him and not remain a mere theory, the advanced disciple will have to convert his joys and agonies into real-seeming dream-stuff. And he will have to achieve this conversion by the power of his own hard will and his own keen understanding. The higher self may help him do this, for he may find that some of the deepest sorrows which befall him are of a special kind. They may be extremely subtle or strikingly paradoxical or tremendous in vicissitudes. For instance, he may be estranged in the most poignant way from those dearest to him, from the master he reveres, the friends he needs, the woman he loves. He may be permitted to meet them in the flesh only briefly and only rarely, so that he will seek compensation by learning the art of meeting them often and long in thought. If these inner experiences can utterly absorb his imaginative attention, they will come to seem as actual as outer ones. If the capacity to introspect be united with the capacity to visualize in this intense way, the result will be astonishingly effectual. Thus he comes in time to see the Mental as Real. Thus he lifts himself from a lower point of view to a higher one. Thus he thoroughly overcomes the extroverted materialism of ordinary human perception.
Telepathy is possible not because thought can travel in space but because space is actually in thought.
The human body is a part of consciousness, indeed a major part, but consciousness itself is only a part of a larger and deeper consciousness of which we are normally unaware. Yet it is in this mysterious region that the creative origin of the body-idea lies. If the ordinary "I" cannot make the body keep well by merely holding the thought, this is because the creative power lies in an "I" which transcends it. The ego which identifies itself with the body thereby stultifies its latent powers. But as soon as it begins to identify itself with pure Mind, certain powers may begin to unfold. Many cases of mystic phenomena, such as the stigmata of Catholic saints, confirm this.
It is one and the same Reality which appears in different ways to beings on different planes of perception. If it is true that they are dealing only with Appearance because they are perceiving only its forms, it is equally true that, as soon as they discover what it is that projects these forms, they will discover that life is a harmonious whole and that there is no fundamental conflict between the so-called worldly life and the so-called spiritual life.
Every kind of experience, whether it be wakeful, dream, hypnotic, or hallucinatory, is utterly and vividly real to the ego at the time its perceptions are operating on that particular level. Why, then, amidst such bewildering relativity, do we talk of divine experience as being the ultimate reality? We speak this way because it is concerned with what bestows the sense of reality to all the other forms of experience. And that is nothing else than the central core of pure Mind within us, the unique mysterious source of all possible kinds of our consciousness. This, if we can find it, is what philosophy calls the truly real world.
The way out is constantly to remember to think and to affirm that the world and all one sees and experiences in it has no other substance than Mind and gets its brief appearance of reality from Mind. When this is thoroughly understood and applied, its truth will one day stay permanently with him.
The mental character of the world of our experience, once accepted, changes our religious, metaphysical, scientific, moral, and practical attitudes. Much in it does not need much thought for us to realize how grave is the importance of this fact, how momentous the results to which it leads!
Reality is inaccessible to thought so long as we regard the latter as separate from it. The moment this illusion is dropped, the truth is revealed.
If he does not wish to trouble his head, he can comfortably accept the appearances of things; but then he will be living only in the comfort of illusion. If however he wants to ferret out what is real in existence he must put himself to some trouble. He must persevere, read and re-read these pages until the meaning of it all dawns suddenly upon him, as it will if he does. It is perfectly natural for man to regard as the highest reality the experiences which impress themselves most forcibly upon him, which are those gained externally through his physical senses, and to regard as but half-real the experiences which impress themselves least forcibly upon him, which are those created internally by his own thoughts and fancies. But if he can be brought, as a true metaphysics can bring him, to arrive intellectually at the discernment that when he believes he is seeing and experiencing matter he is only seeing and experiencing thought, and that the entire cosmos is an image co-jointly held in the cosmic and individual minds, he will not unconsciously set up all those artificial resistances to the mystical intuitions and ultramystical illuminations which wait in the future for him.
The mental images which make up the universe of our experience repeat themselves innumerable times in a single minute. They give an impression of continuity and permanency and stability only because of this, in the same way that a cinema picture does. If we could efface them and yet keep our consciousness undiminished, we would know for the first time their source, the reality behind their appearances. That is, we would know Mind-in-itself. Such effacement is effected by yoga. Here then is the importance of the connection between mentalism and mysticism.
Whoever understands that every object and every person he sees around him is separate only in appearance, and appears so only through the unexamined working of his mind, is becoming ripe for realization. But very few are those who have come to such advanced understanding.
When we come at last to perceive that all this vast universe is a thought-form and when we can feel our own source to be the single and supreme principle in and through which it arises, then our knowledge has become final and perfect.
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