Meetings Overview

Over the years many seekers met with Paul Brunton searching for a deeper understanding of the meaning of life and for clues to the direction they might take along their own spiritual path.  The story of each of these seekers' experiences is unique and varies according to the preconceptions with which they arrived, the kinds of help they needed, and how they interpreted their interactions with PB.

Below are the stories of:
Robert Larson, publisher
Anna Bornstein, PB's Swedish Translator (see also A Mind for Peace)
Timothy Smith, co-editor of the Notebooks
Barbara Plaisted, student and board member
Beverly Bennett, student and board member
Micha-El (Alan Berkowitz), founding board member

How I met PB

by Robert Larson

It is the early seventies.  I am in Helsinki, Finland and have a couple of hours before the plane takes off for Stockholm.  What to do?  The choice stands between spending the time at a nice nearby cafeteria or visiting the big Academic bookshop.  I choose the latter.

Drawn to the department in the bookstore where spiritual literature is displayed, I read back covers and browse through several books.  There is much of interest here.  Finally a young lady approaches me:

"My name is Miss Reinikka.  [I will never forget her name.]  Do you know an author named Paul Brunton?” she asks.

"No, I have not heard of him.”

"Buy a book of his; he is very good,” she says with a smile.

Why not? I think, and grab a book with the enticing title The Secret Path.  I pay at 
the cashier's desk and take a bus to the airport.

When we are in the air I start reading here and there in my new book.  Suddenly something totally unexpected happens.  Together with a feeling of deep inner peace there is an absolute certainty in me that my long-held longing for meaning, deepening, and freedom had received an answer.  It is like an immediate intuitive insight.  Tears start to come; I neither can or want to stop them.  I am extremely grateful.

Now, forty years later when I think of this experience, I shiver.  Thirty thousand feet above the 
earth's surface, at last I had met my much longed for spiritual guide.  And now I knew his name: Paul Brunton.  Later a possibility opened up to meet him personally, which happened on five occasions.  But that is a different story...

The meeting with Paul Brunton and his ideas came in a critical period of my life.  The midlife crisis was not just words—it was a painful reality.  For me, as for many others, it was a matter of the meaning of life, or rather the lack of meaning of it, that I had encountered.  I had lived long on the surface of life without any deeper anchoring, and I felt desperately that life was running away from me.  Was this really all?  Wasn't there anything more?

The brief interchange with Miss Reinikka in the bookstore was not only the beginning of a development that changed the course of my life completely; it was also a start of my role as a publisher of Paul Brunton.  A translation into Swedish of The Secret Path was the first Brunton book we published.

Meetings with PB

by Anna Bornstein

Forty years ago I rang the bell to Paul Brunton’s apartment in Lausanne in Switzerland for the first time.  I was 27, a divorced mother of two sons, Eliah a toddler and Chris, six years old.  Wounded and bleeding from existential doubts, I don’t think I would have made it if Paul Brunton did not come into my life.  “I was hanging over the abyss,” I said to him as we walked together along the shore of Geneva Lake on a lovely spring day a year later.  After a silence so long that I thought he hadn’t heard me, he said quietly, “Yes, you were.”

Our first meeting had been scheduled with very short notice.  There was no previous outward contact, but for months before I woke up every morning with a feeling of happy expectancy.  I knew I would meet someone who knew me to the core.

As Paul Brunton opened the door and I gazed into his eyes, I knew it was he.  In a sudden flash the greatness of our human nature was revealed to me.  The man standing in the doorway in the world outside and my own innermost being magically merged into one.

The experience turned my whole life around.  It made it possible for me to fight and conquer the destructive urges in my nature that were pulling me down.

Being a journalist and writer I offered to translate Paul Brunton’s books into Swedish.  Translating is a wonderful way of studying a text in depth.  And in this case, the source being spiritual, the daily contact with his writing also helped me to heal psychologically and emotionally.

At the time of my first visit with Paul Brunton I was studying philosophy and meditation with Anthony Damiani, one of his most devoted students.  Anthony’s humble love for his teacher had opened the way for me.  Anthony was a passionate Italian American mystic and philosopher, strong willed, and brilliant, with a velveteen depth of feeling.  During one of my first classes in The American Brahman bookstore in Ithaca where he taught I heard him say “PB.”  When he spoke his teacher’s initials his whole being was transfigured into one of infinite tenderness and humility.  A deep silence ensued—we all felt an angel pass through the room.

The translating enabled me to see Paul Brunton once or twice a year during the last ten years of his life.  I eventually moved back to Sweden with my children in order to help promote his books in my native country.  Larson Publications (Swedish / English), owned and run by Robert Larson and his wife Brigitta, had just published PB's first book, The Secret Path, in Swedish when I returned to Stockholm.

I saw that many of my friends were hanging over the abyss as I had been and thought that the spiritual guidance Paul Brunton offered in his books could possibly help them too.  Here my journalistic training came in handy.  I became an investigating reporter of the inner.  PB encouraged me to write.  “You will be a bridge between the spiritual philosophy in my books and the general public,” he said.  “Don’t just write about my ideas.  Write on different life topics and then you can bring in a deeper perspective.”

I followed his advice.

Luck had it that Svenska Dagbladet, one of the two largest newspapers in Sweden at that time, had a very popular section of existential topics where I fit in.  I wrote a series of feature articles for it from the mid-1980s to 2004.  Among these I published a three-piece series about Paul Brunton, and his writings helped to promote the books that were published in wider circles.

During the ten years that Paul Brunton lived after our first meeting, my greatest joy was the visits I had with him once or twice a year.  He lived a very reclusive life, devoting himself to writing and “inner research.”  I tried to make myself useful, helping him with correspondence and practical chores.  He revised his books and helped formulate the study guides, which the Swedish publisher wanted to include in the books.

In Sweden we have a vast infrastructure of study organizations for adult education.  Paul Brunton’s books were marketed and promoted for study circles by several of the largest study organizations in Sweden.  A study circle consists of ten to twenty individuals and meets a couple of evenings a month during one semester.  It is a great way for questers to find and get to know and exchange experiences and views with each other.

It begins with meditation and then proceeds with discussion based on the questions in the study guide.

Paul Brunton encouraged the study circle to form for the study of spiritual philosophy.  He liked the idea that a group would form and meet for a short time and then dissolve.  He did not want to start movements and organizations.  “After all,” he often said, “the spiritual quest is an inner thing.”  You need to learn to rely on your inner guidance in order to realize its high goal.  Considering that, of course, guru worship and external organizations may be counterproductive.

Our time together was devoted to work and service.  The most trivial chores in PB’s presence, like disposing of garbage, or wrapping up ancient silk paintings, or cutting tomatoes took on an intensely spiritual dimension.

What does it mean?  How was it experienced?  Different individuals experienced it differently.  I felt it when I was on my way to see him in the U.S. that first time.  It was as if the protective shield on my heart was beginning to melt.  Situations, people, and events in my life were held up before my mind’s eye.  First I saw them from the outside, which is a familiar perspective.  Then the outside melted away, and the inner truth was revealed.  My tears were flowing from the time I boarded the plane to New York until we landed in Oslo.  When I came to PB much of my personal pain and bitterness had dissolved, and I felt naked, skinless.  When weaned from PB’s company I experienced his presence more and more as an unfathomable peace, clarity, or knowing.  It could also manifest as intense joy or freedom. 

When I received word of PB’s passing in July of 1981, I was taking a deep breath to let my tears flow, when I had an unexpected and very clear perception of him.  His characteristic chuckle and little smile.  “Let me see now if you have understood what I taught you, or if I wasted my time on you!” his voice resounded within me.

This too was a gift.  I had wanted to—and did—ask him so many things.  He was so wide and kind, you couldn’t help doing it.  But 99% of the time he would reflect my questions back onto me: “What do you yourself think, Anna?  Find it out!”  Although it may at times have felt baffling, it served me perfectly.  I did ask myself.  And each time I asked, unknowingly I had drawn closer to the light deep within my own heart.  Now suddenly it was present there, not only in me but also in the forest and meadows surrounding me.  PB was closer than he had even been while in the body.  And his light merged with the light of my own higher self.

Conversations and Recollections of PB

by Timothy Smith

What was the impact of your first meeting with PB?  Was there a feeling of peace in his presence?

The impact of meeting PB was very powerful.  Every time.  Every day when He opened the door. 

To give a little context, I’ve met many gurus and spiritual personalities, including several encounters with the Dalai Lama and Shankaracarya in India.  Each encounter was very wonderful, and each of these great beings has a distinctly different Presence.

My first encounter with PB was through the kind offices of my teacher Anthony Damiani.  I met Anthony within days of coming to Cornell as a freshman and knew as soon as I encountered him that he was the reason I’d come to Ithaca.  That was 1967.  Over the next several years many of his students were able to visit with PB in Europe, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a week.  Although I asked to go several times, PB never responded to my requests.  By 1971 I had moved in to Wisdom’s Goldenrod, where I lived as a monk with several other men for the next three years. 

By 1972 not only had many people closely connected to Wisdom’s Goldenrod met PB, but some had seen him quite often.  I truly despaired of ever meeting him, and wondered what personal flaw or spiritual weakness was blocking my way—or rather which of my flaws and weaknesses were the blocks.  Then one morning Anthony stopped by the Center and asked, “Can you be ready to see PB by next week?”  I said of course I could and proceeded to make hasty arrangements to travel to Switzerland, having never been abroad before.  My itinerary, arranged by my backwater travel agent, had me traveling straight through by bus, plane, boat and rail for 48 hours from Ithaca to New York to London, then on to Paris and finally to Montreux, Switzerland where PB was living at the time.  I was told that I should call PB the moment I arrived in Montreux and follow his instructions. 

Although I’m a pretty hardy traveler, that trip was very exhausting for me—going through customs, finding my way to Calais, and so forth.  But, two days after I left Ithaca, and without the benefit of pausing at a hotel midway, I took the instructions literally, and called PB the moment I got off the train in Montreux.  “Very well,” he said, “come right over.” 

I was aghast.  I needed a shower and a change of clothes; it was Sunday, and I had meant to get some flowers or fruits to bring as an offering—something that had been recommended to me.  Now, in those days Switzerland on Sunday was deader than a parking lot in an ice storm—even in the train station, there was nothing open, not even a newsstand.  There was, however, a vending machine that sold oranges as well as chocolates and crackers—so I bought all the oranges in the machine, stashed my suitcase, and headed up the long road to find PB.  I got to his apartment, knocked on the door, and who should open it but my friend Micha-El [Dr. Alan Berkowitz] from Wisdom’s Goldenrod, who bid me enter and told me that PB was awaiting my arrival in his study.

I entered the study to find a diminutive man reclining on a vivid orange couch, propped up on pillows reading A Search in Secret Egypt.  “You’ll have to forgive me,” he said, “I must find out how this book comes out.”  Too nonplussed to make a remark, I knelt on the floor for some time.  Gradually a great peace and joy began to fill me.  I felt absolutely wonderful and had the sense that I could never desire anything again, except to be in that room, with PB.  I didn’t stop being tired, and I still wondered about his remark concerning a book he himself had written, but I had no doubt that I was in the presence of something I’d never encountered before. 

The way I put it to someone today was that being in his presence didn’t make the rest of life meaningless, but rather it revealed to me a plane of Reality in which meaning simply didn’t—and doesn’t—apply.  I felt an odd disappointment.  The disappointment was the inner death of my secret (and unrecognized) hopes that other goals and avenues of life besides the quest were worthwhile and legitimate in their own right.  In the presence of the Sage, in his Silence, in his Radiance, that was manifestly not the case, for I now knew that the Sage, in this case PB, is at the center of life, of human endeavor regardless of our skills, interests, opportunities, or abilities.  I also knew with intimate clarity exactly why I had had to wait so very long to meet with PB.  I could see that an earlier visit would have unbalanced me, filled me with too much pride or shame, too many questions or too many answers.  If, now, in these latter years, I am ever able to communicate these facts—the FACT of enlightenment, and the fact of the extraordinary wisdom involved in the unfoldment of our own spiritual experiences—I will indeed feel that I’ve done something to repay PB, and the Overself, for that moment.

So, by and by, PB sat up, apologized for the wait, commented that He hadn’t read that book in decades and was reviewing it with Alan for changes and corrections.  Then he asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”  Well, I did, but I was hardly in a state of mind or body to ask them, or to retain his answers, being exalted in mind and exhausted in body.  Nonetheless, I knew that this was a moment that could not be postponed.  So I got out my little notebook and presented him with my three questions.  One of them was of a personal nature, and I shan’t repeat it here.  The second was, “What is dharma?”  His response was, “Putting into practice what you know.”  The third question was, “What can I do to help you?”—a question that has been answered for the rest of my life!  At the time, PB just smiled and said, “I’ll think of something.”

Shortly thereafter Alan and I went to our hotel, and I fell into a deep sleep.  After that, for the next week, each day we met with PB for a few hours in the morning and sometimes again in the afternoon.  Sometimes he saw both of us, sometimes just one of us.  My own subjective state was all over the map: some days I was in bliss and very content to be present; at other times I was filled with negative thoughts, resentment, anxiety, and a variety of irrelevant preoccupations and fears.  Fortunately, these attacks seldom occurred while I was in his presence, so I was able to really pay attention to him.

During this stay PB discussed his original books with Alan and started making a list of all the corrections that he wanted to see made to these texts.  I believe that this discussion wasn’t completed until Alan’s final visit with him in 1979. 

He gave me several envelopes full of typewritten phrases, a set of envelopes numbered I to XXVIII, and a list of 28 categories, somewhat similar to those found in the Notebooks.  He asked me to sort the phrases into their appropriate categories.  I eagerly accepted the task, and when I opened the envelope, I was confronted with statements like, “and this is more important than,” or “on no account should this be neglected.”  I spent several days trying to deal with these fragments and eventually placed all of them in one category or another.  PB then grilled me on my placement and ended by giving me another couple of batches to sort. 

And so our days passed, walking in the streets of Montreux, taking tea with PB, speaking when spoken to, eating tahini and toast, and trying to write down as much as we could of our sojourn.  On the last day, PB sat both of us down, and spoke to us at length—for what seemed hours.  After we said our goodbyes, we went to a nearby park to write down this remarkable moment and found that we had no memory whatsoever of what transpired.  And to this day neither Alan nor I have even the slightest recollection of that conversation.

I do remember having the strong sense that I would see him again and an overwhelming desire to do whatever it took in whatever inner or outer work to make it so.  Fortune, the Grace of the Overself, and PB’s own profound generosity saw to it that in spite of my own limitations, my wish was granted, several times over, with benefits that will affect me for lifetimes to come.

So yes, PB did give off a feeling of peace, but also of barely contained power, sort of like walking on the surface of the sun—so much light it was wonderful and extraordinarily difficult to bear at the same time.  Others, who hadn’t the slightest inkling about him, also felt this.  When we went out for the day, sometimes a person would sit next to us on the bus or in a café and then would follow PB around for the remainder of the day; when he was in hospital for a minor operation, the nurses, doctors, and cleaning staff would sometimes just come and sit in the room, and these were not people who had any reason to recognize him or his name.  In another time I’ll try writing some anecdotes about them.

I know what he looked like physically, but I wonder about his demeanor.  When he was not addressing people on spiritual matters...what might he have been like to bump into in the grocery store, for instance?  Was he mercurial and energetic, always changing depending on who he was with and where he was?  Was he the life of the party?  Gregarious at social events, or quiet and off to himself in the corner?

When PB was not addressing people on spiritual matters—that was most of the time and none of the time—he was simply quiet, but I’d hardly say ‘off to himself in the corner’.  There wasn’t so much a sense of withdrawal into quiet reserve as a manifestation of silence.  In the 7 months I attended to him, I only had two conversations regarding personal issues (and questions) of mine.  On the other hand, issues, philosophic points, techniques for meditation, and occult information more or less flowed from him during our tea-time and lunch.  Occasionally, when I would come into his office area with a question or to report a task accomplished, PB would look up from his work or his reading and initiate a conversation, more often than not starting with a question to me!  On most of these occasions a lengthy conversation would follow, and after a while PB would explain his interest and reflections on the topic in hand; at other times when I replied he would only nod and thank me, giving me no clue as to why he asked the question or what he made of my response.

I too wondered how he would be in the grocery store—and got to see him in action there!  Basically he was incredibly efficient, circumspect, and tried to avoid bumping into anyone at all costs.  (Being touched really impacted him with the aura of the other person, and they were likely to get a ‘hit’ of his presence that way as well.)  Once someone became aware of him—a shopper or shopkeeper, for example—they tended to follow him around, sometimes even walking down the street after him, leaving their store untended.  He therefore put out a kind of invisibility cloak and moved swiftly through the public environment.  Occasionally he would arouse animosity, as people would literally stop thinking in his presence, and those who had a resistance to spiritual matters would deeply dislike him.  Mostly though, people would begin to glow and kind of ‘wake up’ around him—and these are ordinary shopkeepers who didn’t know his name, reputation, or anything about him.

As for ‘mercurial,’ I suppose so, in that he responded to whatever was the deepest essence of the person with whom he was interacting.  So if that person was kindly, he became kindness itself; if they were selfish, he became coldly impersonal.  He did not judge people in the sense of condemning them; he simply reflected their own spiritual status back to them, willy-nilly.  He was aware of what people thought, aware of their whole life, and often of their past lives as well, not in a psychic way, but in a more direct, innate mode of knowing.  He certainly had a sense of humor and was not above teasing or quick repartee, but these moods mostly occurred over tea or while traveling.  And while I could say that he was always changing, it was more that no projection or expectation really ‘stuck’ on him; he was immediately present to life, and as such flowed along with the circumstance and quality of the moment.  It’s something like meeting a pen-pal in person once a year: we’re reminded of the fuller life-presence of the other person; the rest of the time we’re just words on paper, thoughts in the ether.  Now take that sense of aliveness we get when we meet someone and square it; meeting PB was like meeting the purest power of human life.  Is that mercurial?  Sometimes.  Energetic?  Definitely.

But life of the party?  Gregarious at social events?  Well, there may have been a time in PB’s long life when there were social events, but certainly not during the period I knew him, or knew of him.  He would meet people for dinners and have a few words, or for tea, but that was more one on one or in small groups.  In such settings the visitor’s awareness of his presence forestalled any sense of socializing, though there was a gracious and cultured atmosphere at all times.  I never saw him ‘relax’ or let his hair down as an escape from some quotidian pressure, nor did it occur to me that he would have need of such activity.  He did relax his lower mind and body on a daily basis, setting aside an hour after lunch for a nap (he was elderly) and to read various papers and journals, including the local newspaper.  While I never saw him read a novel, his remarks on literature made it clear that he was well-read, especially with respect to the authors of his own time, like Henry Miller, Hemingway, and of course Somerset Maugham. 

He was exactly and effortlessly who the World Mind called him to be in each moment of life, no more, no less.

He did not tolerate artifice, and since most social gatherings are artificial in one way or another, he did not engage in such gatherings.  When I say that he did not tolerate them, I mean his very presence shattered any pretense around him, freeing those who preferred authenticity, and scaring the shit out of those clinging to formalism and pretense.  So it was really impossible for him to be part of a party, as his very arrival changed the whole quality, the whole fact of the event!

Well, that’s enough from me on this topic.  I bet that if you asked other people you would get different answers.  After all, I knew PB as an older man, and we had a lot of work to get done during my stay with him.  And I myself am hardly inclined towards social activities, which inevitably colors these stories, but it’s what I saw, what I observed, and what I’m most glad to pass along to you.

Meditating with PB —”the sun behind the sun”

“The mind stilled, the self surrendered, a divine awareness possesses him.  For there can be three forms of possession: divine, human (as in artists or writers), and diabolic.  In the ideal sage, divine possession has become a permanent state.” (Notebooks 22.2.33)

This quote stirred a recollection or two of PB.  Sometimes he would become so still that the very world around him stopped, as if to honor that silence within him.  In those moments, “he” would become “He;” His eye-color changed—or rather His gaze became beatific, terrifying, intimate, and impersonal all at once.  One could barely stand to accept that gaze, much less return it—and at the same time, one could barely tolerate the prospect of ever, ever forfeiting that presence ever again.  Should He speak in such a moment, it was so quiet and penetrating that the words seemed mere echoes of the transmission of meaning / consciousness.  In such a moment, the meaning of Shruti—the speaking truth of the Rishi—became absolutely literal and exquisitely Real.

One day we were to travel from the small town of Vevey to the Cantonal center of Lausanne.  Standing on the train platform, I anxiously awaited the arrival of PB.  He was nowhere in sight.  The train came and left.  Then PB appeared walking through a large culvert that ran underneath the tracks.  “I tried a different route to the station,” he remarked.  “Evidently, it’s not a short-cut!”  This being Switzerland, there would soon be another train to Lausanne, so we had about 40 minutes to wait. 

PB said to follow him, and headed off towards a pile of railroad ties and other industrial junk.  Having just witnessed his egress from the culvert, I had no idea where we were headed or why.  A few steps beyond the tracks we found a small, well-kept formal garden with three benches encircling a little fountain, all nestled in amongst the detritus of the rail-road station!  It was very secluded and yet afforded a glimpse of the tracks, so we could easily know when the next train had arrived.  This took place sometime in March, which was still winter in that part of the world—mostly overcast and rainy, but seldom nice enough to be outdoors for more than a few clammy minutes.  However, on this particular day, the weather was sunny and clear and pleasantly warm. 

We seated ourselves on the benches and just rested in the welcome sunlight.  Whenever such a moment would present itself in PB’s presence, I would always start to meditate, in hopes of partaking of his silence and in natural response to the overwhelming radiance that flowed from him.  This day was such a chance.  As the sun shone down upon us, it complemented the great light I felt shining forth from within PB.  The silence deepened, thought slowed, and a great simplicity of light remained.  Then the spell was broken, gently, actually, by the arrival of our train.  PB rose from his bench, smiled, and remarked, “It is pleasant to sit in the sun.”  Then He paused and looked upon the world with those Eyes of Other and added, “But it is better to sit in the Sun Behind the Sun.”

Later, after I told Anthony Damiani about this incident, he pointed out the following passage from Manly Palmer Hall (The Secret Teachings of All Ages).  "Apuleius said when describing his initiation, ‘At midnight I saw the sun shining with a splendid light.’  The midnight sun was also part of the mystery of alchemy.  It symbolized the spirit in man shining through the darkness of his human organisms.  It also referred to the spiritual sun in the solar system, which the mystic could see as well at midnight as at high noon, the material earth being powerless to obstruct the rays of this Divine orb.”  For a more thorough explanation, I suggest reading "The Oration to the Sun" by Emperor Julian.

For a complete recounting of Tim’s Conversations and Recollections of Paul Brunton  go to his website.

Memories of PB

by Barbara Plaisted

Visiting PB in Montreaux

I remember that his actions were unpredictable—a true individual.  When I delivered some turtleneck shirts to him in pastel colors, I noted that the sender had said he wouldn’t like them.  PB mildly said, “How would she know what I like?”

I remember seeing PB wearing a beret and leaning against the wall in his apartment in Montreaux.  (He said he often wore the beret indoors because his head got cold.)  Sometimes his poses were so picturesque it was as if they were carefully arranged and indelible.

The first time I saw him, he was standing beside the waterfall near the hotel where I was staying, wearing a light green cotton suit.  A small man in an unorthodox wrinkled suit etched its place in my mind in a way that a neatly pressed dark blue outfit wouldn’t have.

Having tea with PB in a Moroccan restaurant
He ordered the tea and a few minutes later ran into the kitchen to tell the waiter not to put sugar in it.  (He said they put in too much.)  When the tea came he squatted on the bench to show me how they drank tea in Morocco.  The memory of that image makes me smile.

PB was authentic, not contrived.  He gave the impression that he was genuinely interested in the conversation at hand.  He was so interesting to speak with—not mentally tired, but enthusiastically alert.  I wondered if he was being kind since our small talk couldn’t be that interesting to him.  He always had something to add that made it seem as if he was discovering too.  (His Holiness Chandrasekharendra Shankaracarya had this same quality of freshness.) 

PB gave me a stack of newspapers for reading material in my hotel room.  They were published years before in England by the Theosophical Society, and I found myself telling him about the articles.  He knew the background of the information and corrected erroneous statements.  He even asked me to bring in a particular article so he could read it.

Arranging Furniture with PB
PB asked for some ideas about how to rearrange his living / dining room so the sunlight didn’t fade the upholstery.  This was amusing in itself because I am—or used to be—an inveterate furniture mover.  I am not able to explain exactly why but I often sense that  furniture in a room is not placed right for that particular time.  (At the time I was with PB, I didn’t know about Feng Shui.)  When I suggested switching the two areas, his attitude was open and interested.  I found myself thinking it wasn’t going to work and suggested we might draw it out to scale on paper to see if things would fit.  He said, “Not necessary—we are not professionals.  Let’s see how it works.”  He seemed interested and curious.  Was this the quality of enthusiasm he later applied to Anthony Damiani and related to the word for spirit (œnqouj) in Greek?  When he was in Columbus he conducted some of his interviews with people in the Witter’s dining room.  He frequently moved the furniture before the next person came in.  Sometimes the chair he sat in was on the left, sometimes the right.

Meditating with PB
The most special memory is of the benign smile on his face when he meditated.  He suggested that we have a quiet moment together and something told me to open my eyes.  He had the most benign smile on his face.  I am now reminded of the excerpt in Volume 15 of The Notebooks: Why the Buddha Smiled.

My Experience with Paul Brunton

by Beverly Bennett

In 1974, two years after a painful divorce, I first became acquainted with Paul Brunton’s writings.  The divorce was the hardest thing I had ever done.  We had been married for fourteen years and had three children.  I loved my husband but he suffered from bipolar disorder and self-medicated with alcohol.  I felt that I had to make a better life for my children.  I wondered why this had happened to me and what the meaning of my life was.  Why was I here?  In my pain I sought answers.

I joined a group in Columbus studying The Quest of the Overself.  I was fascinated by the thought that I could actually search and perhaps find and be in union with my soul.  I read Discover Yourself and found myself agreeing with the ideas.  It was as though they were my own, and I had finally found someone who agreed with me.  One book led to another, and eventually I had read them all.

When Paul Brunton visited Columbus in 1977, I served as his secretary.  I remember the first time I waited for him to come so that we could begin to work.  I was in complete and wonderful peace.  It was the closest I have ever been to “the peace that passeth all understanding.”  It was as though everything I had ever done in my entire life had brought me to this moment.

We sat out under the tree, and he dictated ideas to me.  At one point he asked me to go in the house and tell the others that we were ready for tea.  When I went into the kitchen there were three or four people working there, other students only too happy to be of service to PB, as he liked to be called.  An amazing thing happened.  It was as though vibrations of energy moved simultaneously toward me from each of the people and within that energy were their voices revealing what each was thinking.  I was stunned.  I had never before had a paranormal experience like that.  In fact, in a somewhat typical western scientific way, I was skeptical.  This experience was truly earthshaking for me.  It shifted my perspective of reality and opened my mind to consider other possibilities.

I was fortunate to have a private interview with PB.  He answered questions for me that still resonate today in their importance to my life.  His writings continue to be of particular value to me because they encouraged me to take an independent path, absent of dogma.  This left me free to choose the best in all philosophies, to think for myself and to begin to understand the truth of my existence.  My physical teacher became my everyday experiences as I tested these ideas through daily application.  I found them not only soul-satisfying but practical as well.  They have helped me find the meaning I was searching for and have changed my life in positive ways.

Experiences with PB

by Micha-El (Alan Berkowitz)

My wife Gran is the founder of the Portuguese version of the PBPF website, a task that she has accomplished with the assistance of a group of translators from Brazil and myself. Recently we were translating the section of the PBPF website that shares people’s experiences with PB and I was inspired to write down a few of my own.

I had the opportunity to be with PB three times, physically, in this incarnation. First in 1975 when at my teacher Anthony’s suggestion, the ‘monks’ from Wisdom’s Goldenrod (WG) each went to Switzerland for a short time to help PB with his practical affairs, next when he visited WG in 1977, and finally in 1979 when I was unexpectedly asked to come stay with him when he was recuperating from a hernia operation.

In 1975, when I visited Paul Brunton, I was one of a number of residents living at Wisdom’s Goldenrod who had this opportunity, arranged by my teacher Anthony (himself a life-long student of PB), with our visits being spaced out over a period of months. During my time with him I had the responsibility of doing PB’s grocery shopping. For this, he gave me 100 Swiss Francs at the beginning of my visit, and each day I went into town and bought the necessary items – fresh bread at the bakery, organic biodynamic vegetables at the farmers market, etc.

As the money diminished, I made a decision that I would secretly donate the necessary funds and not take any more money from PB. So, after a few days, when he asked me if I needed any money, I said, no, that there was still plenty. He seemed slightly surprised, but did not say anything and seemed to accept my ‘white lie.’ A few days later he asked again, and after receiving the same response from me, he said with a mystical smile on his face: “It is interesting how long 100 francs can last!” After that he did not inquire any more about money and I continued to provide the necessary funds on my own for the daily shopping.

On the last day of my visit, as we were saying goodbye, PB tried to give me a large sum of money. I felt that I could and would not take anything from PB, so I resisted and said that I could not accept it. But as he persisted, firmly and insistently, I felt that I could not disobey or disregard the wishes of someone who I view as a Sage and who was my ‘maha-guru’ (the teacher of my teacher). I therefore reluctantly accepted the money that he was offering. To my disbelief, later on when I counted the money, it was exactly the same amount that I had spent from my own pocket on PB’s groceries. So, in the end, both PB and I gave each other a gift, and in addition he gave me a lesson to ponder for the rest of my life.

Another instance of PB’s ‘imposing’ something on me was the following. Occasionally we went out for tea, and at the same time took advantage of the wonderful Swiss pastries. One day we were at a tea-shop near PB’s apartment, and with my tea I ordered only a single pastry. PB strongly insisted that I have a second, so I could only comply despite my feeling that I really did not want it. This was not my idea of being with a Sage – going out for tea and his insisting that I have a double serving of Swiss pastry! Much later Anthony commented to me that I had ‘overdone asceticism in a previous life.’ So, perhaps this was a teaching for me personally.

During my two visits with PB in Switzerland, I noticed that he had some habits and manner of living that seemed mysterious and unusual to me, but which made sense later when I had more information. For instance, when we went together into the town to do errands, he had me stand outside while he went into the bank. Or, each night, he made sure that we closed all the shades just as it was getting dark and not a moment later. Another example: when we finished the review and transcription of some of the original written notes that became part of the Notebooks, he had me take all the little slips of paper that they were written on, put them in the sink, fill it with water and squeeze it until it made a mush, and then smash the mush together into a paper brick. When it was dry we wrapped it in a little package and the next time we went into town, we put in it a public trash container when no one was looking.

Really, my limited mind did not know what to make of all this. If you remember MAD magazine, it seemed to me to be an episode from the “Spy versus Spy” comic series, especially the mushing up of the discarded notes and wrapping them in a nice package – tied with string, no less – to be deposited in the public trash. At first, I could not make any sense of these behaviors. What could be the problem with leaving the shades open, or putting the notes in the trash, or in my accompanying him into the bank for his financial transactions? Was he embarrassed to be seen with me? PB was a mystery in many ways that I did not question, but in this case the mystery did not seem make any sense and I was inclined at first to believe in my interpretations of his behavior, attributing them to the age of his body-mind. But I kept my thoughts to myself and these incidents did not detract from the blessing and wonder of being in PB’s presence.

Over the course of my visit, certain facts emerged and everything began to make sense. So, even in the events and circumstances of mundane daily life, there may be an occult or hidden logic to the actions of a Sage that are beyond the capacity of our ‘normal’ limited minds.

In PB’s building, there was a chute for the trash in the hall outside of his apartment. (By the way, the name of this apartment building was “Oasis.”) So, one of my jobs was to put the trash there. One day I had to go into the basement and there in a room was a large trash bin, into which fell the trash deposited from the floors above. I noticed that upon crashing into the trash bin, the bags of trash exploded and the contents were there splayed out for all to see. Then it dawned on me, what would someone think of all these little pieces of paper, written in English (by the only English resident of the building) on esoteric subjects, if we had put them in the trash as a ‘normal’ person would do?

I was well aware of and understood PB’s need for privacy and the efforts taken to avoid the curiosity of prying eyes, and now I understood why he disposed of the discarded notes in the way that he did. Then it dawned on me, what would the bank teller think if every few weeks or months, a different young man accompanied him into the bank? Better to leave me waiting in disbelief on the sidewalk! Somehow, things were beginning to make sense.

But why close all the shades and darken the apartment at the moment that the light outside was beginning to wane? What was there to worry about? One day PB told me a story. It was his habit to change his residence every few years. At one point his apartment was in a very small village where ‘everybody knew everyone’s business.’ He took some of his meals in the local restaurant and was therefore visible to others. PB often worked at odd hours or was up in the middle of the night, and in this case, his apartment did not have window shades. So the local village policeman, curious and observant, decided that PB’s being up at all hours of the night meant that he must be a black magician. Knowing the psychic and practical effects of negative thoughts and village gossip, PB’s behavior now made sense.

So, what do I make of all this? I am still pondering it all forty years later. But I can say that it was a good lesson in not listening to the mind’s thoughts and judgements, and to not ‘judge by appearances’ – especially when it is a Sage, but actually, when it is anyone. And that the Sage’s mystery extends through all the dimensions of reality.

When PB came to the United States in 1977, he came by ocean liner, arriving in New York City. Anthony drove to pick him up and bring him to Wisdom’s Goldenrod, his first stop on a cross- continental trip. A special lunch was arranged for him at the Center, and I was lucky enough to be one of the invited guests. PB entered the Center and we all sat down at the table. A very awkward, long silence ensued. What could one say to PB? What should one say? What would one say? The silence continued. Everyone (except PB) was getting restless. Finally, one of those present decided to break the silence and quietly asked PB: “PB, how did you find New York?” PB answered: “I got off the boat, and it was there!” A great laughter broke out. The physical silence was broken and conversation flowed freely.

Being in the presence of PB was to be in the presence of an immense stillness-silence-peace. It was an aura that he lived in, a ‘peace that passeth understanding.’ It wasn’t that he was ‘in peace’ or ‘at peace’ – it was as if he was peace, or one with peace. Across Lake Geneva from the apartment that he lived in and visible from the balcony was Mount Blanc, a great silent white mountain that seemed to reflect physically the intense silence of PB himself. It felt like there was a parallel or a polarity or some kind of cosmic balance between the two – outside the great silent mountain, inside the physically small silent PB, each on opposite sides of the great lake, across from each other, and somehow together with each other.

(The fact that the person in the apartment below PB’s occasionally liked to listen to Elvis Presley, and that we could sometimes hear Elvis’ crooning, created an interesting juxtaposition, which in any case did not manage to disturb the silence, perhaps instead ‘flavoring’ it in an unexpected and humorous way).

Inside of this silence, there was nothing to reflect my ego, nothing to project its thoughts on. So, to some extent, I also experienced a kind of silence when I was with him. When my mind produced thoughts in PB’s presence, it felt to me as if a bomb was going off and I was truly worried that my thoughts were disturbing PB. So, I asked him if I was disturbing him and he said no. In fact, he seemed to not know what I was talking about. Sometimes these thoughts accumulated themselves and exploded into what I called an ‘ego attack’ and the silence which I felt with him was gone until I recovered. When another student (Tim Smith) came from Wisdom’s Goldenrod, there were now three of us, and the presence of another ego allowed my mind to become active and gave it a means of externalizing itself.

One day we were walking down the hill from PB’s apartment to the train station in order to catch a train to the nearest big city. PB and Tim were engrossed in a deep conversation about the Heart Sutra. Somehow my mind became convinced that we were going to miss the train, given the slowness of PB’s gait and the fact that he seemed oblivious of time. Not wanting to disturb him, I decided instead to race down the hill and buy the train tickets for the three of us in order to both save time and avoid missing the train. So, there I was, anxiously standing on the platform, tickets in hand, as PB and Tim finally approached the station, still in slow motion, still engrossed in conversation. The train approached the station. PB entered the station. The train came closer as PB walked up the stairs and onto the platform. The train entered the station and came to a stop, the door opening exactly in front of us. PB, without pausing or stopping or adjusting his gait, continued walking in perfect synchrony and timing with the opening train door, entering the train without even ‘missing a step.’ It was a perfect, seamless cosmic ballet performed before my eyes. So much for my ego’s thoughts. But then to make the point clear, when I said to PB that I had bought tickets for all three of us, he said “I don’t need a ticket, I have a senior pass.”

PB could be extremely impersonal, almost as if he ‘was a stranger to himself’ or ‘not from this planet.’ In fact, he has said in The Notebooks and in other places that he was a being from the star Sirius, that he had ‘exchanged a tranquil existence for a troubled one’ and also that looking at the star-Sirius in the sky brought about a feeling of ‘homesickness.’ Other great teachers have said that the spiritual instruction for planet Earth comes through beings from Sirius. But it was not a cool or unfriendly impersonality, but more that he was not the mind-body complex that was inhabiting the vehicles that we referred to as “PB.” It seemed in some way that they were actually unfamiliar to him. So, for example, once I asked him a question about something from the Wisdom of the Overself, and he said: “Who wrote that?” Another time we were discussing all the work that he had and that it was not always possible to respond promptly to letters that were sent to him, and he said “Besides, I have to take care of PB.” Thus, even while the body- mind complex had habits or patterns of behavior, the being who was PB seemed not to be the body-mind complex and while inhabiting them, gave one the feeling of living or being from ‘somewhere else.’

In PB’s presence it was easy to ‘lose track of time.’ Even while there was a daily routine and schedule, being with him was about the moment and the presence. Another characteristic of PB was his smile, his mysterious Mona Lisa smile, a faint upturning of both sides of the mouth that hinted at secret knowledge, other dimensions, and perhaps other universes, an other-world-ness that was both a here and a not here. The mystery smile to end all smiles. (The sub-category in The Notebooks called “The Yoga of the Liberating Smile” may be of interest). Finally, there was almost always total silence in PB’s apartment. The phone almost never rang, and no one ever came to the door unless it was for an anticipated, pre-arranged interview (or Elvis Presley making an appearance downstairs).

These three themes came together in the following experience.

In Europe, it is customary in the morning for the women to bring the rugs to the porch of their apartments and to clean them by beating them. I was always open to the opportunity to do some house-cleaning, and one day when PB unexpectedly decided to take a nap, I saw my chance to imitate the local women and beat PB’s rugs (some of which are now in the WG library). I had no sense of what time it was, only that I could do what the local women do and help with some house cleaning. So, I took the rugs to the porch and started banging them. Cascades of dust poured out, bringing immense joy to my many Virgo planets and ascendant. I put them back, with PB still in his room, seemingly unaware of my secret house cleaning binge. Suddenly – could it be? – there was a knock on the door. I opened it and a woman said in French: “Was it you who was beating the rugs?” Yes, I answered in my fractured French. She replied: “Well, we were sitting in the porch below having dinner just at that moment” and then she left. So guess what happened to the Virgo-pleasing cascades of dust?

I was mortified beyond belief, not only for having committed a terrible faux-pax, but also having disturbed PB’s carefully guarded anonymity, not to mention ruining a family’s dinner. Suddenly the door to PB’s room opened and he asked “Who was that?” Too embarrassed to tell the truth, I muttered something about the neighbor having a question. To which PB replied, with his magical mystery smile that reached to other universes: “Well, I guess she must have had something in mind!” and then he went back in his room.

One evening after dinner PB asked me to choose a book from his library for him to read at bed- time. What would you have given PB to read? It was a bit of a mystery to me. After spending a bit of time in his library – one room of his apartment had a desk on one side and extensive rows of books on the other – I chose the biography of a medical intuitive for him to read. I hope that he had a good night’s sleep!

Sometimes when sitting with PB I felt a profound immense love and an incredible powerful intimacy. It was nothing like what I had been taught to consider as human love. It was love filtered of emotion, passion, eros, and all the other familiar elements that seemed to define it, raised to a celestial state. It felt almost impossible to believe that it was possible.

Although PB lived as a hermit in almost complete isolation from his immediate physical environment, he was a busy person. He had an extensive international correspondence, with letters coming in daily. He was an avid reader and had a system of marking books in the margins with dots, so that the sections identified could be typed up by someone for his library. His literary estate had to be managed, including new editions of his books, foreign translations, and corrections that needed to be made to existing books of his. And he kept up with the news of current events.

Regarding his correspondence, PB said that he answered all letters, in one form or another. There were different ways that he responded: some he wrote personally in his own handwriting and he signed the letter; other letters he dictated to me and then signed himself; still others, he summarized what he wanted to say and I wrote the letter for him, with him signing it; and sometimes after summarizing what he wanted to say he had me write and sign it myself, saying that “PB asked me to write you....” So there were varying degrees of physical involvement that PB had with his correspondence. Finally, PB stated that he answered some letters mentally, but that not all of the writers were receptive enough to receive his response.

On one occasion, we were working on an important publishing project which had a deadline. There was never any haste, rush, anxiety, or feeling of pressure. For this project, there was an important piece of paper that was needed for the task, but mysteriously it disappeared. The two of us spent most of the day turning PB’s office inside out, but the paper was nowhere to be found. I remember thinking to myself: “how can a Sage loose something?” “Doesn’t he ‘know’ how to find it?” Finally, we gave up the search. The next day, when we entered his office in the morning, there was the missing piece of paper sitting in full view on top of a pile of papers that was on his desk. So much for my infantile thoughts about the omniscience of a Sage.

The first time I met PB he gave me a ‘test.’ After Anthony confirmed our visits, PB had written me stating that I should call him when I arrived in Montreux, the city where he was living at the time. So, I called him and he told me to go to a certain restaurant and have lunch, and that he would meet me there. After he arrived and we exchanged greetings, we went for a long walk along the beautiful lakeshore, which gave us a chance to talk until we reached the youth hostel where he was suggesting that I could stay. It was very cheap, appealing very strongly to my acquired habit of financial stinginess. But it was far away from PB’s apartment and required taking a bus. Then he very quietly and neutrally mentioned that there was a much more expensive hotel just near where he lived, and that we could look at it if I wanted to. So, I said yes, and we did. Then I decided to swallow my desire to save money (which I did not have much of as I was a student at the time) in order to be physically closer to PB’s apartment – in fact only a very short walk away. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life, because the work schedule that evolved could not have accommodated the bus schedule, which would in turn have compromised my visit and greatly reduced my time with PB.

PB was very interested in hearing about the Dalai Lama’s first visit to WG, which had occurred a few months before. At that time, there were some students there from Sweden for a short visit, so we all sat in PB’s living room and listened to a tape that PB had of Tibetan Buddhist chanting, while I gave a report of the visit. The atmosphere was amazing and it felt as if the Dalai Lama was actually in the room with us. When we were finished PB commented: “So, the Center has had a real Tibetan Buddhist initiation.”

Part of the daily routine was to have tea. Although PB seemed to exist in a place beyond form, his body still had habits. Once he commented: “I don’t need to meditate anymore but I still do it because my body has the habit of meditating.” With respect to this, the way that he made his bed was to put a second sheet on top of the upper sheet, half-way up the bed and folded down, so that when he sat up in bed at night to meditate, he could pull up the upper second sheet and cover himself. Being English, one of these habits of his body was to drink tea. So, each afternoon, I went into PB’s study and waited quietly for him to acknowledge my presence, and then he told me what tea he would have that day.

The routine was the same for deciding the menu for the meals. One day after waiting a long time with no response from PB, I became impatient and thought I could say something, so I very quietly started to speak and PB’s body seemed to jump as if in shock almost to the ceiling. Who knows where he was and how far away he was from his physical body at that moment?

So anyway, back to the choice of tea for the day. I noticed that there was a pattern with regards to which tea PB had each day, i.e., one day black tea, the next green, the next herbal, and so on. Having noticed this pattern it seemed to me that I could predict which tea PB would have on the following day. So, the next day I decided that I did not need to disturb him and that I could make the anticipated ‘tea of the day.’ When we sat down in the kitchen for our daily tea, PB said “Why are we having this tea today?” and I explained my rationale. He then said “Today I am not having caffeinated tea because my body needs herbal tea” and he gave the reason. So much for the sequential knowledge of the lower mind.

Jose Trigueirinho Netto, a well-known Brazilian spiritual teacher, had an interview with PB during one of my visits. Trigueirinho was at that time living in Europe and was in the initial phases of his work as a spiritual teacher, and he strongly encouraged all of his students to read PB. PB’s custom was to keep his interviews short and timely, and often I was instructed to come into the living room around the time that the interview was supposed to end to help bring it to a close. In this case Jose and PB sat together all day, alternating talking and sitting in silence, until eventually they were sitting together in the dark. When the interview was over, PB asked me to accompany him to the train station. Afterwards PB commented very positively about Trigueirinho and his work.

Trigueirinho has mentioned PB in many of his thousands of recorded lectures and over forty books and he has been instrumental in keeping PB in print in both Spanish and Portuguese. He frequently gives PB’s books to his students, including to monks and nuns of the monastic order that he is a founder of. His interview with PB gave me the opportunity to meet him, which in turn changed my life fundamentally. In fact, much of the last thirty years of my life has been spent translating PB into Portuguese, giving talks about PB in South America, translating Trigueirinho’s works into English, and much more, all in collaboration with my wife Gran who I would never have met if I had not first encountered Trigueirinho that day in PB’s apartment. It was therefore interesting to later find out that Triguerinho had in fact requested earlier interviews with PB, and that his requests had been denied, only to be finally given the opportunity of a meeting on that very same day that I was in PB’s apartment. So, with PB serving as the agent of my destiny, I met Trigueirinho and the rest of my life (and future) is history.

I have always had a fondness for the Hindu Namaste greeting, in which you place your palms together and bow to the other person, which is a gesture that means: “I bow to the God within you.” One day upon leaving PB’s apartment, he accompanied me to the door, and before parting I turned around and offered him a “Namaste.” He responded with the same. I have experienced this ritual hundreds or even thousands of times and it is very habitual for me. It seems like a ‘nice thing to do.’ But this time something was different, something profound and amazing. PB was actually bowing to the God within me, actually perceiving the God within me, and actually doing what is intended by the gesture.

My final physical contact with PB was as follows. I had to take the train to the airport from the small village that he lived in on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, and PB had to go somewhere else. So we went to the train station together. After saying goodbye, we each went to the platform for our respective trains. As I stood on mine waiting for the train, I saw PB across the tracks entering and walking across his platform. But he was not really ‘walking’ as one does in physical space. It seemed as if he was floating across the space, motionless (although his body was physically moving), almost as if he was on a conveyer belt, a being composed of a diaphanous non-physical substance. And he seemed to be in a different psychic space, one in which I no longer existed. There was no attempt, as a more ‘normal person’ would have done, to wave to me, smile, or exchange glances across the train tracks. It seemed as if I no longer existed. Only PB floating effortlessly through space.

“After we have separated the fantastic myths and fabulous marvels which have been woven around the simple achievement of soul- knowledge, we reach the residue of plain and pregnant truth.”

“The effects of enlightenment include: an imperturbable detachment from outer possessions, rank, honours, and persons; an overwhelming certainty about truth; a carefree, heavenly peace above all disturbances and vicissitudes; an acceptance of the general rightness of the universal situation, with each entity and each event playing its role; and impeccable sincerity which says what it means, means what it says.”

“From the moment when the divine soul succeeds in taking full possession of a man's thought and feeling, will and flesh, his motives, words, acts, and desires become obscure and mysterious to other men.”

(Three PB quotes from Volume 16 of The Notebooks, Category 25, chapters 2 & 3)

Micha-El (Alan Berkowitz) Recorded while on retreat at “Academia” Montelone Sabina, Italy August 2017