A Mind for Peace
by Anna C. Bornstein
The current crisis, with uncontrolled hatred and frustration throwing their sinister prejudices on the world screen, has brought mankind to a turning point. We must befriend and transform the energies within our psyches and dive deep into our minds to seek our redemption.
Our knowledge of the mind is scant compared to our knowledge of nature's resources. To find out something about mind's mystery and possibilities we must turn to the few heroes of the human race who have penetrated into its deeper reality, immanent in all that exists and yet not itself bound by anything.
Paul Brunton is one of the few in the modern world who can speak to us as westerners of this high realization. It was his task to restore the word "Mind” to its most lofty use and to dispel the notion, so prevalent in our century, of mind as irrevocably bound up with thoughts, or as a product of chemical reactions in the brain. His notebooks, which include (among other materials) some 7,000 pages of manuscript that were published posthumously as The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, contain a unique and all-inclusive revelation that may yet bring light to our materialistic era, resulting in a stronger change in the world than anyone can foresee.
The excessive extraversion of western industrialized society has made us ascribe the greatest importance and reality to concrete, outer circumstances. It has been natural to seek material explanations and solutions for our social problems. But with the recent eruptions of violence and conflict among neighbors, the attention has shifted towards the psyche. Few people now doubt that the most potent causes of war are not material weapons or circumstances but immaterial forces lurking in the unknown depths of the psyche. The natural next step in our understanding is our acceptance of the corollary truth that these causes can best and most adequately be remedied not by political intervention or suppression of their material effect but by direct psychological work.
“Mind” capitalized, is Paul Brunton's modern Western term for that indescribable Reality, which in various traditions has been named the Absolute, the One, God, or the unfathomable Tao. Neither our senses nor our intellect can grasp this Reality, but is still available to us. If we cultivate an inner seeing, or insight, we will one day discover it.
Paul Brunton explains his choice of the term "Mind": “We are not saying that something of the nature of mind as we humans know it is the supreme reality of the universe but only that it is more like that reality than anything else we know of and certainly more like it than what we call ‘matter.’... The simplest way to express this is to say that Reality is of the nature of our mind rather than of our body, although it is Mind transcending the familiar phases and raised to infinity. It is the ultimate being, the highest state. This is the Principle which forever remains what it was and will be. It is in the universe and yet the universe is in it too. It never evolves, for it is outside of time. It has no shape, for it is outside of space. It is beyond man's consciousness, for it is beyond both his thoughts and sense experience, yet all consciousness springs mysteriously from out of it. Nevertheless man may enter into its knowledge, may enter into its Void, so soon as he can stop his thoughts, let go of his sense-experience, but keep his sense of being.” (Notebooks 28.2.100)
To imagine this supreme reality is impossible. No descriptions can do justice to it. When you approach and get a first glimpse of it, it seems like a vast void, because no forms or experience gain footing in it. Still it is the rock upon which the whole world rests. It is the innermost kernel of life, its very foundation, and the sage can live fully awake and active among the phenomena of the world without ever losing sight of it. This Mind-Principle is formless, unchangeable. It transcends both qualities and content. Still it is paradoxically the source of all forms, qualities, and contents. There is no movement, no activity in it, and yet it is the mainspring of all movement and activity.
“Mind” has been defined by dictionaries as the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism. Yet the nature and the source of this mental activity is something that no scientist has been able to explain. Brain researchers have different theories. Some say that the mind is the product of chemical reactions in the brain; others grant it mastery over the brain processes and allow for the possibility that it may exist independently of the body.
Thoughts are inconceivable without mind, but, according to Paul Brunton, that doesn't mean that the mind is inconceivable without thoughts. Mind has a primary existence. When it is absorbed in itself, it has no content and is indivisible, unitary. This Mind, which is our most fundamental reality, we first discover when we have withdrawn our attention from sensations, thoughts, and feelings, and directed it inwards.
Our deepest Being—the Overself—is a ray of this pure Mind. When we get to know ourselves fully, we become conscious of its presence within us, even if we have not yet penetrated its unfathomable secrets.
One analogy that often has been used to communicate something of the mystery of mind to the uninitiated is that of the dream. When a person is dreaming, images arise from the unconscious, or deeper level of his psyche. The dream world consists of thought-creations that originate in the dreamers own mind. This mind is present throughout the dream and ensouls it. In a similar way, the personal mind of man and its world have sprung from pure Mind, without which they would not exist. Mind is ever-present in the world but still transcendent to it and independent of its many phenomena.
Another simple analogy that may help us to understand can be found in chemistry. The chemical combination of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, can manifest as ice, water or steam without changing its fundamental structure. Similarly according to Paul Brunton, Mind can appear in many different ways without changing its original nature. “When the mind is active in knowing and distinguishing one thing from another it is finite consciousness. When it assumes forms and qualities it is the things themselves. When it is centralized as the observer through the Overself of all the innumerable separate observers, it is World Mind. When it is passively at rest, it is itself, Mind.” (The Wisdom of the Overself, Chapter 11)
Irrespective of all these different expressions, its innermost essence always remains pure Mind. All things depend on it, but it itself is independent of all things, unmoved by them and utterly free. Solar systems, galaxies, and whole worlds emerge from and return to it without adding or subtracting anything from it, without disturbing its imperturbable peace.
It is not surprising that this reality, this mind principle, is impossible for humans to discover as long as we dwell in our ordinary state of consciousness. Our personal minds are fettered by time, space, causality, and the five senses, forms of experience that inhere in the very functioning of our thinking apparatus, but that have come to be regarded as attributes of an external world.
All the familiar phenomena in our physical and psychological world—forests, mountains, lakes, and oceans, feelings, thoughts, fears, and expectations, all things that have form or appear as a process—block out reality for us as long as we grant them an existence independent of Mind. Humans in our natural state are as blind to the ground of our existence as the person in the dream is to the dreamer's consciousness, while letting him or herself be confounded by appearances.
The truth that the supreme Reality is absolute, eternal, and unchangeable, has brought many spiritual seekers and mystics to regard the physical world, which is in constant flux, as illusory. Such a view can only be arrived at through the logical intellect and not through experience Paul Brunton points out. It is based on an artificial conflict between spirit and matter, which does not exist in Reality. What is illusory is the belief that physical objects—with their characteristic forms, colors, smells, etc.—have an external existence, independent of the experiencing mind. The stability and independent status which one wrongly ascribes to these objects belong really to the Mind- principle. But this doesn't mean that the sense experiences, which play such a dominant part in our lives, are meaningless. They are inseparable from our mind and designed to meet the needs of our present stage of development. The sage does not view them as illusory, but as an expression of transcendental wisdom, geared to advance our understanding.
To explain the relationship between the Mind-principle and the world, Paul Brunton speaks about a passive and an active aspect of Reality. These two aspects do not exist separately, although it might seem so to our limited consciousness. The passive aspect is the Mind-principle, i.e. Mind absorbed in itself; the active aspect is Mind in motion, its thought-processes which give rise to all manifested worlds.
Usually the first glimpse of the thought, free or pure consciousness, is one of an inner reality—the ground of one's own being. It comes during a state of introverted stillness which has been obtained by a deliberate withdrawal of attention from these sense impression, thoughts and feelings.
But the world is of the same essence as this interior reality, this discovery gradually dawns on the seeker, as his experience is deepened and integrated with so called “external” life. The final realization, when the scales at last fall from his eyes, comes suddenly. A super essential clarity then illuminates his changing mental state—even the deep sleep state that for most of us is unconscious. This final insight is not something that comes and goes; it is permanent and independent of whatever experiences befall the person.
Such an insight must not be mistaken for a mere intellectual comprehension. Penetrating and illuminating the whole human being—his intellect, will, and emotional life alike—it resolves all felt contradiction between the outer and inner worlds, between matter and spirit, body and soul, it restores man to the natural harmony and wholeness that he is said to have enjoyed once “before the Fall,” but with the difference that now it is fully conscious.
With beautiful simplicity, Paul Brunton describes the authenticity of such a realization: “How can we be assured of the truth of insight? By the disappearance of ignorance, its opposite number; the two cannot coexist. Its truth is not an argument but an achievement. The coming of insight means that blindness has gone. The man can see where before his eyes were firmly shut by illusion. Henceforth there is that in him which fixes its gaze steadfastly on the timeless, the Real, and the Impersonal. Insight alone has the power to pronounce on the universal truth and eternal reality of existence, because it alone has the power to penetrate the world appearance and to contemplate that bliss behind it.”
Such a conclusive phase of this inner work leads beyond the psyche to a transcendent state of indescribable richness and fullness remains only an unexplored possibility for most of us. Nobody is expected to believe it only by hearing or reading of it. Yet it is there in the depth of being to be experienced by everyone who seeks it humbly and perseveringly and is willing to train his mind aright. For the pioneers and peaceworkers who seek redemption for mankind and our wounded earth, it holds a great promise.
Our problems may be met and successfully handled with firsthand knowledge of this imperturbable peace. Paul Brunton assures us. It is our true nature, stripped of the ego's complex and conflicting desires and thoughts. In it every trace of the personal self disappears, error cannot be known, misery cannot be felt. Its discovery gives a happiness unblemished by defects or deficiencies, a Supreme Good who is not a further source of pain or sorrow but an endless source of satisfaction and peace.