About Paul Brunton
The life story of Paul Brunton (1898-1981) embodies the radical transformation that spirituality underwent beginning in the latter part of the 19th century. At the beginning of that century, spirituality—even in far-off India—was exclusively the domain of nationalistic, myopic religions, rarely willing to entertain dialogue with other faiths, much less attend to the spiritual lives of women and other second class citizens. Since then we’ve seen a huge awakening in the West, first to Hinduism, then Buddhism, and most recently to Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time there has been a commensurate adaption of Western technology to the cultures of the East.
Nowadays, truly ecumenical conferences abound, while eclectic and independent spiritual teachers, guides, gurus, and coaches are no further away than our smart phone! Even while the West was first looking to the East for mysticism, it began to discover that even its own primary religion—science—was unstable, intangible, and deeply interlocked with the consciousness of the observer. And of course in these lattermost years, the Internet has created an entirely new level of interchange, information access, and inspiration.
We see the record of this cultural exchange in PB’s own journey and in the wide influence he has had as a spiritual researcher and author. He began life with a natural skill in meditation, some occult talent, and a strong background in Christian Science. He was born with an open heart, a powerful will, and a sense of the true meaning of consciousness—and the power buried therein. These traits stood him in good stead as he, like few before him and many, many after him, made the journey to the Spiritual East, starting with India and Egypt. Over the course of his life he lived on every continent, camped in well-worn tents, dined with Kings and Rajahs in their palaces, and chatted with common folk across the globe (see "My Reminiscences of PB"). A man of boundless energy and infinite curiosity, he crafted a peripatetic life like no other. We know that he lived in Mexico, Bolivia, New York, California, Ohio, Hawaii, Japan, China, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, India, Tehri Garwhal, Egypt, Austria, Spain, Italy and finally Switzerland; but, since he kept no record of his whereabouts, it is likely that this is only a partial list!
Newspapers throughout the world routinely announced talks and visits by Paul Brunton to their cities. A small selection of illustrative headlines include the following: The Los Angeles Times (“Meditation Need Urged: Author Offers Advice for Americans as Aid in Solving Problems”); Ceylon Observer (“Yoga Expert Comes to Ceylon – Dr Paul Brunton to Carry out Researches Here); The Siam Chronicle (“Dr Brunton, Famed Orientalist, Author, In Bangkok on Visit”); The Ceylon Daily News (“Broadcast Talk by Dr Brunton”); The Hartford Courant (“'Miracles' of Yoga Cult”); The Singapore Free Press (“Talk by British Mystic” – “Mr Paul Brunton, the well-known journalist and writer on the Orient, arrived in Singapore yesterday morning by the BI liner Shirala from the Far East.”); Dayalbaugh Agra (“Visit of His Highness the Maharaja of Benares… Among the guests special mention may be made of two distinguished British journalists – Mr Paul Brunton…”); The Madras Mail (“The Philosophy of Inspiration was the subject of an interesting address delivered by Mr Paul Brunton…”); The Globe and Mail (“Mystery man behind Athens palace walls”); Boston Evening Transcript (“Paul Brunton…is somewhere in the north of India now…”); The Montreal Daily Star ("Dr. Paul Brunton, author and authority on Oriental philosophy is in Montreal today to visit friends."), etc.
Paul Brunton wrote eleven books from the mid-1930s to the early 50s that were published originally by Rider in the UK and Dutton in the USA. Some of the titles: A Search in Secret India, The Secret Path, The Inner Reality, A Hermit in the Himalayas, The Quest of the Overself, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, and The Wisdom of the Overself. Cumulatively, they have sold nearly two million copies in over 15 languages (see these here) and many have been continuously in print for over seventy-five years. The PBPF archive has hundreds of book reviews and articles from leading newspapers and journals, both West and East, that praise both these works and PB himself. The PBPF posthumously published sixteen volumes of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton that have also received much attention from prominent teachers and journals.
Such a wide exposure to the cultures of the world created a cumulative perspective on humanity’s character, foibles, and needs. These he balanced with his own ever-increasingly impersonal quest for the truth. Just as we know a little, but not all about the places he visited, lived in, or simply made pilgrimages to, the same must be said about his studies. What we do know is that he had a considerable library that included his travel library of several hundred texts that followed him on many journeys (these too are in the PBPF archive). His scholarship and ability to translate abstract spiritual philosophies into modern language without losing the essence of the original was recognized by many people and expressed here by the late prime minister of Nepal, Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, in the foreword to PB's A Hermit in the Himalayas:
"...a friendship for one whom I regard as a spiritual prophet of our time....I personally find it easier to understand many intricate subtleties of our own Asiatic philosophies and spiritual techniques, including Yoga, when explained by Paul Brunton in his scientific, rational, modern and un-sectarian manner than when expounded in the ancient ways which are so remote from twentieth century understanding....I am convinced that Brunton is one of the chosen instruments to re-interpret the half-lost wisdom of the East to those caught up in the mechanical life of the West..."
Also, from a review of The Wisdom of the Overself in the Review of Religion: "He handles the material as a master and not as a mere onlooker....Brunton is the needed link between scholarly research, without which he would never have arrived where he is now, and the layman who is longing for a higher way of life..."
Sri Krishna Prem reviewed PB's The Secret Path, in The Aryan Path: “...it is a book which should prove a source of inspiration to many...it must be admitted to give a truer, more useful and safer account of yoga than many far more pretentious treatises.”
Comments by Swami Yogananda, reported in Inner Culture Magazine: “While in South India, Swamiji visited the Maharishi of Arunachala and met Paul Brunton, who has written several books praised by Swamiji...Swamiji was pleased to note the wonderful spiritual development and open-mindnedness which Paul Brunton has attained.”
His preference to be called a “researcher” is indicative of his basic drive, which was to search out, know, and love the Truth, and thence to re-search the how of sharing his understanding and experience with others, regardless of their ‘advancement’ along the spiritual path. PB was at once an elitist and a pure democrat. He was an elitist insofar as the Truth, the Real, and the Overself are concerned; he had little patience with the lazy ignorance of so-called teachers who believed that they had ‘arrived’ at a point of perfection. He viewed humankind as an eternal journey of exploration, incapable of completion, not due to inadequacy, but because of our literally infinite potential. He was democratic in that he assumed nothing, was open to everything and blind to little, and he rarely offered criticism untempered with a balancing positive observation or suggestion.
During the last months of his life PB was reading philosophic, theological, and even occult journals, books, and articles. Perhaps the text that held his greatest attention at the end was MacKenna’s translation of Plotinus. He read a variety of newspapers as well; sometimes he read the local paper and sometimes the newspapers of a particular nation that held his interest, but most frequently he read the International Herald Tribune
and The New York Times
. His command of current events and popular spiritual movements was extraordinary.
In Reflections on My Life and Writings (v.8 of The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, p. 6-7), PB reveals much about himself and his life's work in these two short paragraphs: "Asiatic and African mystics, yogis and learned men, and even rare sages of whose eminence and existence the West still knows little or nothing have given me their confidence, confided much of their knowledge and secrets to my care, and sent me forth from their presence with their uttered benediction to mediate between Orient and Occident. I have thus had several teachers, yet could become the pupil of none; I have studied the tenets of several schools, but could become enslaved by none. In obedience to an inner compulsion and intermittent premonition whose justification became quite clear as destiny unfolded, I have ever maintained a sacred independence amidst all such relations, a detached loyalty, and have considered Truth a goddess above all mortals and hence alone to be worshipped. This attitude brought me painful emotional conflicts during the period of my growth and provoked others to malicious misunderstandings, but it has finally and fully proved its worth. For my loftiest, strangest, most significant, and most elevating mystic experiences occurred before I had ever met a single teacher, before I had even set foot on Asiatic soil. Through them I was really reborn. But alas! in my youth and novitiate I could not understand them. I was dazzled by the light and so continued to grope as though I were still in the dark. Now at long last I have brought my mystic and philosophic wandering to an anchor. Henceforth I owe intellectual allegiance and mystical obedience to no man."
"And if I abhor the thought of forming a cult and making disciples, this is not to say that I abhor the thought of assisting my fellow man to find something of what I have already found. And if I refuse to set myself up as a sage when I am myself but a student, this is not to say that there are not always those who know even less than oneself and who may profitably share a few of my own crumbs. For no one can come into even partial comprehension of the Overself which supports the existence of all living creatures and continue to sit smugly in self-centered enjoyment of his knowledge and egoistic enjoyment of his peace. It is only ascetic mystics who touch their inner self without also touching the inner self of the universe who can do that. But he who has even begun to perceive that the basis of his own individual being is one and the same, wholly identical, with that of all other individual beings is no longer a mystic. For him the ultimate unity of all humanity--secret and not obvious though it be--is nevertheless a fact, and he has to reorder his own life accordingly. It will not be possible for him to dismiss from his mind the melancholy case of those who aspire to a wiser and better life. They will haunt his heart like wraiths and he will not get free of them, go where he will, be it into the loneliest solitude or the busiest city. Their service becomes his inescapable duty."
A fuller story of his life is in this Illustrated Biography of Paul Brunton.