Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 23: Advanced Contemplation
He should remember that there are two approaches to the Quest and both have to be used. There is the Long Path of self-improvement, self-purification, and self-effort; and there is the Short Path of forgetting the self entirely and directing his mind towards the Goal, towards the One Real Life, by constant remembrance of it and by practising self-identification with it. If he uses the first approach, he can progress to a certain point. But by bringing in the second approach, the Higher Power is brought in too and comes to his help with Grace.
The Short Path advocates who decry the need of the Long Path altogether because, being divine in essence, we have only to realize what we already are, are misled by their own half-truth. What we actually find in the human situation is that we are only potentially divine. The work of drawing out and developing this potential still needs to be done. This takes time, discipline, and training, just as the work of converting a seed into a tree takes time.
The limitation of the Long Path is that it is concerned only with thinning down, weakening, and reducing the ego's strength. It is not concerned with totally deflating the ego. Since this can be done only by studying the ego's nature metaphysically, seeing its falsity, and recognizing its illusoriness, which is not even done by the Short Path, then all the endeavours of the Short Path to practise self-identification with the Overself are merely using imagination and suggestion to create a new mental state that, while imitating the Overself's state, does not actually transcend the ego-mind but exists within it still. So a third phase becomes necessary, the phase of getting rid of the ego altogether; this can be done only by the final dissolving operation of Grace, which the man has to request and to which he has to give his consent. To summarize the entire process, the Long Path leads to the Short Path, and the Short Path leads to the Grace of an unbroken egoless consciousness.
Those who depend solely on the Short Path without being totally ready for it take too much for granted and make too much of a demand. This is arrogance. Instead of opening the door, such an attitude can only close it tighter. Those who depend solely on the Long Path take too much on their shoulders and burden themselves with a purificatory work which not even an entire lifetime can bring to an end. This is futility. It causes them to evolve at a slower rate. The wiser and philosophic procedure is to couple together the work on both paths in a regularly alternating rhythm, so that during the course of a year two totally different kinds of results begin to appear in the character and the behaviour, in the consciousness and the understanding. After all, we see this cycle everywhere in Nature, and in every other activity she compels us to conform to it. We see the alternation of sleep with waking, work with rest, and day with night.
The Long Path is taught to beginners and others in the earlier and middle stages of the quest. This is because they are ready for the idea of self-improvement and not for the higher one of the unreality of the self. So the latter is taught on the Short Path, where attention is turned away from the little self and from the idea of perfecting it, to the essence, the real being.
What is the key to the Short Path? It is threefold. First, stop searching for the Overself since it follows you wherever you go. Second, believe in its Presence, with and within you. Third, keep on trying to understand its truth until you can abandon further thoughts about it. You cannot acquire what is already here. So drop the ego's false idea and affirm the real one.
This is the concept which governs the Short Path: that he is in the Stillness of central being all the time whether he knows it or not, that he has never left and can never leave it. And this is so, even in a life passed in failure and despair.
The Long Path devotee is concerned with learning how to concentrate his thoughts in the practice of meditation, and later even with meditation itself, to some degree, so far as it is an activity among ideas and images. The Short Path devotee is not. He is concerned with direct union with the object of all these efforts, that is, with the Overself. So he substitutes contemplation for meditation, the picture-free, idea-free purity of the mind's original state for the image- and thought-filled density of its ordinary state.
Continuous remembrance of the Stillness, accompanied by automatic entry into it, is the sum and substance of the Short Path, the key practice to success. At all times, under all circumstances, this is to be done. That is to say, it really belongs to and is part of the daily and ordinary routine existence. Consequently, whenever it is forgotten, the practitioner must note his failure and make instant correction. The inner work is kept up until it goes on by itself.
The Short Path is, in essence, the ceaseless practice of remembering to stay in the Stillness, for this is what he really is in his innermost being and where he meets the World-Mind.
The Short Path uses (a) thinking: metaphysical study of the Nature of Reality; (b) practice: constant remembrance of Reality during everyday life in the world; (c) meditation: surrender to the thought of Reality in stillness. You will observe that in all these three activities there is no reference to the personal ego. There is no thinking of, remembering, or meditating upon oneself, as there is with the Long Path.
A part of the Short Path work is intellectual study of the metaphysics of Truth. This is needful to expose the ego's own illusoriness, as a preliminary to transcending it, and to discriminate its ideas, however spiritual, from reality.
The essence of the matter is that he should be constantly attentive to the intuitive feeling in the heart and not let himself be diverted from it by selfishness, emotion, cunning, or passion.
It is quite true, as the extremist advocates of the Short Path, like Zen, say, that this is all that is really needed, that no meditation (in the ordinary sense), no discipline, no moral striving, and no study are required to gain enlightenment. We are now as divine as we ever shall be. There is nothing to be added to us; no evolution or development of our real self is possible. But what these advocates overlook is that, in the absence of the labours listed, the Short Path can succeed only if certain essential conditions are available. First, a teaching master must be found. It will not be enough to find an illumined man. We will feel peace and uplift in his presence, but these will fade away after leaving his presence. Such a man will be a phenomenon to admire and an inspiration to remember, not a guide to instruct, to warn, and to lead from step to step. Second, we must be able to live continuously with the teaching master until we have finished the course and reached the goal. Few aspirants have the freedom to fulfil the second condition, for circumstances are hard to control, and fewer still have the good fortune to fulfil the first one, for a competent, willing, and suitably circumstanced teaching master is a rarity. These are two of the reasons why philosophy asserts that a combination of both the Long and Short Paths is the only practical means for a modern Western aspirant to adopt. If, lured by the promise of sudden attainment or easy travelling, he neglects the Long Path, the passage of time will bring him to self-deception or frustration or disappointment or moral decline. For his negative characteristics will rise and overpower him, the lack of preparation and development will prevent him from realizing in experience the high-level teachings he is trying to make his own, while the impossibility of balancing himself under such circumstances will upset or rob him of whatever gains he may still make.
It is said by the advocates of the Short method that the power of the Spirit can remove our faults instantaneously and even implant in us the opposite virtues. That this has happened in some cases is made clear by the study of the spiritual biography of certain persons. But those cases are relatively few and those persons relatively advanced. This miraculous transformation, this full forgiveness of sins, does not happen to most people or to ordinary unadvanced people. A world-wide observation of them shows that such people have to elevate themselves by their own efforts first. When they embrace the Short method without this balancing work done by themselves upon themselves, they are likely to fall into the danger of refusing to see their faults and weaknesses which are their worst enemies, as well as the danger of losing the consciousness of sin. Those who fail to save themselves from these perils become victims of spiritual pride and lose that inner humility which is the essential price of being taken over by the Overself.
The Long Path is devoted to clearing away the obstructions in man's nature and to attacking the errors in his character. The Short Path is devoted to affirmatives, to the God-power as essence and in manifestation. It is mystical. It shows how the individual can come into harmonious relation with the Overself and the World-Idea. The first path shows seekers how to think rightly; the second gives power to those thoughts.
The Long Path is more easily practised while engaged in the world, the Short Path while in retreat from it. The experiences which the vicissitudes of worldly life bring him also develop him, provided he is a Quester. But the lofty themes of his meditations on the Short Path require solitary places and unhurried leisurely periods.
On the Long Path he trains himself to detect and reject the lower impulses, egoisms, and desires. On the Short Path he trains himself to be open to the higher impulses or intuitions and to absorb them.
It is as sure as the sun's rising that if the mass of people are taught that good is no better than evil, both being merely relative, or no more valuable than evil, both being concerned with the illusory ego, they will fall into immorality, wickedness, and disaster. To teach them the Short Path before they have acquired sufficient disciplinary habits from the Long one will only degrade them.
Those who take to the Short Path have to encounter the risk of self-deception, of falling victims to the belief in their own imaginary spiritual attainments.
The danger in both cases is in limiting one's efforts to the single path. It may invite disaster to give up trying to improve character just because one has taken to the Short Path. Yet it may invite frustration to limit one's efforts to such improvement. The wise balance which philosophy suggests is not to stop with either the Short or the Long Path but to use both together.
It might be said with some truth that the various Long Path processes are based upon the use of willpower whereas the Short Path ones are based upon auto-suggestion. The former employ the conscious mind in directed effort, whereas the latter implant ideas in the subconscious mind while it is in a relaxed state.
In the first and second stages of the Short Path, his aim is to set himself free from the egoism in which his consciousness is confined.
Wherever one is, whatever the place, or whoever the persons, one should think oneself to be in the divine presence.
The man on the Short Path moves forward directly to fulfil his objective. Instead of working by slow degrees toward the control of thoughts, he seeks to recollect the fact that the sacred Overself is present in his mind at this very moment, that It lives within him right now, and not only as a goal to be attained in some distant future. The more he understands this fact and holds attention to it, the more he finds himself able to feel the great calm which follows its realization, the more his thoughts automatically become still in consequence.
It is objected, why search at all if one really is the Overself? Yes, there comes a time when the deliberate purposeful search for the Overself has to be abandoned for this reason. Paradoxically, it is given up many times, whenever he has a Glimpse, for at such moments he knows that he always was, is, and will be the Real, that there is nothing new to be gained or searched for. Who should search for what? But the fact remains that past tendencies of thought rise up after every Glimpse and overpower the mind, causing it to lose this insight and putting it back on the quest again. While this happens he must continue the search, with this difference, that he no longer searches blindly, as in earlier days, believing that he is an ego trying to transform itself into the Overself, trying to reach a new attainment in time by evolutionary stages. No! through the understanding of the Short Path he searches knowingly, not wanting another experience since both wanting and experiencing put him out of the essential Self. He thinks and acts as if he is that Self, which puts him back into It. It is a liberation from time-bound thinking, a realization of timeless fact.
Why should the Short Path be a better means of getting Grace than the Long one? There is not only the reason that it is not occupied with the ego but also that it continually keeps up remembrance of the Overself. It does this with a heart that gives, and is open to receive, love. It thinks of the Overself throughout the day. Thus, it not only comes closer to the source from which Grace is being perpetually radiated, but it also is repeatedly inviting Grace with each loving remembrance.
It could well be said that the essence of the Short Path is remembering who he is, what he is, and then attending to this memory as often as possible.
One of the most valuable forms of yoga is the yoga of constant remembrance. Its subject may be a mystical experience, intuition, or idea. In essence it is really an endeavour to insert the transcendental atmosphere into the mundane life.
We keep nearly all our attention all the day on ourselves and only a slight part of it on the Overself. It is needful to change this situation if we want a higher state of consciousness. This is why the exercises in remembrance are much more valuable than their simplicity suggests.
The method of this exercise is to maintain uninterruptedly and unbrokenly the remembrance of the soul's nearness, the soul's reality, the soul's transcendence. The goal of this exercise is to become wholly possessed by the soul itself.
Concentrate on reliving in intense memorized detail former moments of egoless illumination.
He is wrong to object that you can't hold two different thoughts at the same time and that hence you can't remember God and attend to worldly details simultaneously. You can. God is not a thought, but an awareness on a higher level. Mind does not hold God. Certainly, mind can't have two objects of thought, for they are in duality, but they can be held by God's presence. Only here is the union of subject and object possible. All other thoughts are in duality.
If meditation may have unfortunate results when its concentrative power is applied negatively or selfishly, contemplation--its higher phase--may have similar results when its passive condition is entered without previous purification or preparation. Miguel de Molinos knew this well and therefore put a warning in the preface of his book The Spiritual Guide which treats with the authority of an expert the subject of contemplation. "The doctrine of this book," he announced, "instructs not all sorts of persons, but those only who keep the senses and passions well mortified, who have already advanced and made progress in Prayer."
This constant remembrance of the higher self becomes in time like a kind of holy communion.
The practice of extending love towards all living creatures brings on ecstatic states of cosmic joy.
These exercises are for those who are not mere beginners in yoga. Such are necessarily few. The different yogas are successive and do not oppose each other. The elementary systems prepare the student to practise the more advanced ones. Anybody who tries to jump all at once to the philosophic yoga without some preliminary ripening may succeed if he has the innate capacity to do so but is more likely to fail altogether through his very unfamiliarity with the subject. Hence these ultramystic exercises yield their full fruit only if the student has come prepared either with previous meditational experience or with mentalist, metaphysical understanding--or better still with both. Anyone who starts them, because of their apparent simplicity, without such preparation must not blame the exercises if he fails to obtain results. They are primarily intended for the use of advanced students of metaphysics on the one hand or of advanced practitioners of meditation on the other. This is because the first class will understand correctly the nature of the Mind-in-itself which they should strive to attain thereby, whilst the second class will have had sufficient self-training not to set up artificial barriers to the influx when it begins.
Although the writer regards it as unnecessary and inadvisable to disclose in a work of popular instruction those further secrets of a more advanced practice which act as shortcuts to attainment for those who are ready to receive them, suffice to say that whoever will take up this path and go through the disciplinary practices here given faithfully and willingly until he is sufficiently advanced to profit by the further initiation of those secrets, may rest assured that at the right time he will be led to someone or else someone will be led to him and the requisite initiation will then be given him. Such is the wonderful working of the universal soul which broods over this earth of ours and over all mankind. No one is too insignificant to escape its notice, just as no one is deprived of the illumination which is his due; but everything in nature is graduated, so the hands of the planetary clock must go round and the right hour be struck ere the aspirant makes the personal contact which in nine cases out of ten is the preliminary to entry into a higher realization of these spiritual truths.
Being based on the mentalist principles of the hidden teaching, they were traditionally regarded as being beyond yoga. Hence these exercises have been handed down by word of mouth only for thousands of years and, in their totality, have not, so far as our knowledge extends, been published before, whether in any ancient Oriental language like Sanskrit or in any modern language like English. They are not yoga exercises in the technical sense of that term and they cannot be practised by anyone who has never before practised yoga.
There is a single basic principle which runs like a thread through all these higher contemplation exercises. It is this: if we can desert the thoughts of particular things, the images of particular objects raised by the senses in the field of consciousness, and if we can do this with complete and intelligent understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it, then such desertion will be followed by the appearance of its own accord of the element of pure undifferentiated Thought itself; the latter will be identified as our innermost self.
The student must for minutes deliberately recall himself from the external multitude of things to their single mental ground in himself. He must remind himself that although he sees everything as an objective picture, this picture is inseparable from his own mind. He has to transcend the world-idea within himself not by trying to blot it out but by thoroughly comprehending its mentalist character. He must temporarily become an onlooker, detached in spirit but just as capable in action.
Although the aspirant has now awakened to his witness-self, found his "soul," and thus lifted himself far above the mass of mankind, he has not yet accomplished the full task set him by life. A further effort still awaits his hand. He has yet to realize that the witness-self is only a part of the All-self. So his next task is to discover that he is not merely the witness of the rest of existence but essentially of one stuff with it. He has, in short, by further meditations to realize his oneness with the entire universe in its real being. He must now meditate on his witness-self as being in its essence the infinite All. Thus the ultramystic exercises are graded into two stages, the second being more advanced than the first. The banishment of thoughts reveals the inner self whereas the reinstatement of thoughts without losing the newly gained consciousness reveals the All-inclusive universal self. The second feat is the harder.
We are meditating on something which will not arise and disappear, as ideas do and as material forms do, on something which is not ephemeral. Because that which vanishes contradicts its own arisal, we seek for that which does not contradict itself. Hence this kind of meditation which brings contemplation into action, sleep into wakefulness, has been called by the ancients "The Yoga of the Uncontradictable."
It is not the objects of conscious attention which are to be allowed to trap the mind forever and divert the man from his higher duty. It is the consciousness itself which ought to engage his interest and hold his deepest concentration.
The adverse force present in his ego will continually try to draw him away from positive concentration on pure being into negative consideration of lower topics. Each time he must become aware of what is happening, of the change in trend, and resist it at once. Out of this wearying conflict will eventually be born fresh inner strength if he succeeds, but only more mental weakness if he fails. For meditation is potently creative.
When we comprehend that the pure essence of mind is reality, then we can also comprehend the rationale of the higher yoga which would settle attention in pure thought itself rather than in finite thoughts. When this is done the mind becomes vacant, still, and utterly undisturbed. This grand calm of nonduality comes to the philosophic yogi alone and is not to be confused with the lower-mystical experience of emotional ecstasy, clairvoyant vision, and inner voice. For in the latter the ego is present as its enjoyer, whereas in the former it is absent because the philosophic discipline has led to its denial. The lower type of mystic must make a special effort to gain his ecstatic experience, but the higher type finds it arises spontaneously without personal effort at all. The first is in the realm of duality, whilst the second has realized nonduality.
There is, in this third stage, a condition that never fails to arouse the greatest wonder when initiation into it begins. In certain ways it corresponds to, and mentally parallels, the condition of the embryo in a mother's womb. Therefore, it is called by mystics who have experienced it "the second birth." The mind is drawn so deeply into itself and becomes so engrossed in itself that the outer world vanishes utterly. The sensation of being enclosed all round by a greater presence, at once protective and benevolent, is strong. There is a feeling of being completely at rest in this soothing presence. The breathing becomes very quiet and hardly perceptible. One is aware also that nourishment is being mysteriously and rhythmically drawn from the universal Life-force. Of course, there is no intellectual activity, no thinking, and no need of it. Instead, there is a k-n-o-w-i-n-g. There are no desires, no wishes, no wants. A happy peacefulness, almost verging on bliss, as human love might be without its passions and pettinesses, holds one in magical thrall. In its freedom from mental working and perturbation, from passional movement and emotional agitation, the condition bears something of infantile innocence. Hence Jesus' saying: "Except ye become as little children ye shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven." But essentially it is a return to a spiritual womb, to being born again into a new world of being where at the beginning he is personally as helpless, as weak, and as dependent as the physical embryo itself.
Do not carry your own troubles or your temptations or other people's troubles and situations straight into your meditation. There is a proper time and place for their consideration under a mystical light or for their presentation to a mystical power. But that time and place is not at the beginning of the meditation period. It is rather towards the end. All meditations conducted on the philosophic ideal should end with the thoughts of others, with remembrance of their spiritual need, and with a sending-out of the light and grace received to bless individuals who need such help. At the beginning your aim should be to forget your lower self, to rise above it. Only after you have felt the divine visitation, only towards the end of your practice period should your aim be to bring the higher self to the help of the lower one, or your help and blessing to other embodied selves. If, however, you attempt this prematurely, if you are not willing to relinquish the personal life even for a few mintues, then you will get nothing but your own thought back for your pains.
The inner movement is like no other which he has experienced for it must guide itself, must move forward searchingly into darkness without knowing where it will arrive. He must take some chances here, yet he need not be afraid. They will be reasonable and safe chances if he abides by the advice given in these pages.
Only in perfect stillness of the mind, when all discursive and invading thoughts are expelled, can the true purity be attained and the ego expelled with them.
If he wishes to enter the stage of contemplation, he must let go of every thought as it rises, however high or holy it seems, for it is sure to bring associated thoughts in its train. However interesting or attractive these bypaths may be at other times, they are now just that--bypaths. He must rigidly seek the Void.
Contemplation is attained when your thinking about a spiritual truth or about the spiritual goal suddenly ceases of itself. The mind then enters into a perfectly still and rapt condition.
The resultant condition is no negative state. Those who imagine that the apparent blankness which ensues is similar to the blankness of the spiritualistic medium do not understand the process. The true mystic and the hapless medium are poles apart. The first is supremely positive; the second is supinely negative. Into the stilled consciousness of the first ultimately steps the glorious divinity that is our True Self, the world-embracing shining One; into the blanked-out consciousness of the second steps some insignificant person, as stupid or as sensible as he was on earth, but barely more; or worse, there comes one of those dark and malignant entities who prey upon human souls, who will drag the unfortunate medium into depths of falsehood and vice, or obsess her to the point of suicide.
It is not a dreamy or drowsy state. He is more lucidly and vitally conscious than ever before.
In the third stage, contemplation, the mind ceases to think and simply, without words, worships loves and adores the Divine.
It is not just ceasing to think, although it prerequires that, but something more: it is also a positive alertness to the Divine Presence.
This last stage, contemplation, is neither deep reflective thinking nor self-hypnotic trance. It is intense awareness, without the intrusion of the little ego or the large world.
The principle behind it is that once this contact with the Overself has been established during the third stage, it is only necessary first, to prolong, and second, to repeat the contact for spiritual evolution to be assured.
Every state other than this perfect stillness is a manifestation of the ego, even if it be an inner mystical "experience." To be in the Overself one must be out of the ego, and consequently out of the ego's experience, thoughts, fancies, or images. All these may have their fit place and use at other times but not when the consciousness is to be raised completely to the Overself.
Follow this invisible thread of tender holy feeling, keep attention close to it, do not let other things distract or bring you away from it. For at its end is entry into Awareness.
The traditional Buddhist belief that all happiness must in the end change into unhappiness is not a cheerful one. It need never be taken too literally as being universally true, nor by itself alone, for there are counterweighting truths. When Buddha brought to an end the meditation which culminated in final enlightenment, dawn was just breaking. The last star which vanished with the night and the first one which he saw as he raised his head was Venus. What was his inner state, then? Did it synchronize with the reputed planetary influence of Venus--joyous and happy felicity--or with the gloomy view of life which tradition later associated with Buddhism? Who that has had a glimpse of those higher states, felt their serenity, can doubt it was the first? The Overself is not subjected to suffering. But this is not to say that it is bubbling with happiness. It is rather like an immensely deep ocean, perfectly tranquil below the surface. That tranquillity is its ever-present condition and is a true joyousness which ordinary people rarely know. This is what Buddha felt. This is what he called NIRVANA.
If we did not know that behind it there was Nirvana, we might regard the slight pleasant smile of Gautama as ambiguous. But we know that not only was he happy to have escaped from the trap of ephemeral human affairs; he was happy because he had entered an entirely new depth and dimension of consciousness.
I have often been asked what I thought was the secret of Buddha's smile. It is--it can only be--that he smiled at himself for searching all those years for what he already possessed.
On this Short Path he searches into the meaning of Being, of being himself and of being-in-itself, until he finds its finality. Until this search is completed, he accepts the truth, passed down to him by the Enlightened Ones, that in his inmost essence he is Reality. This leads to the logical consequence that he should disregard personal feelings which continue from past tendencies, habits, attitudes, and think and act as if he were himself an enlightened one! For now he knows by evidence, study, and reflection that the Overself is behind, and is the very source of, his ego, just as he knows by the experience of feeling during his brief Glimpses. Bringing this strong conviction into thought and act and attitude is the "Heavenly Way" [or "As If"] exercise, a principal one on the Short Path.
He pretends to be what he aims to become: thinks, speaks, acts, behaves as a master of emotion, desire, ego because he would be one. But he should play this game for, and to, himself alone, not to enlarge himself in others' eyes, lest he sow the seed of a great vanity.
The "As If" exercise is not merely pretense or make-believe. It requires penetrative study and sufficient understanding of the high character and spiritual consciousness in the part to be played, the role to be enacted, the auto-suggestion to be realized.
We must move from consciousness to its hidden reality, the mind-essence which is alone true consciousness because it shines by its own and not by a borrowed light. When we cease to consider Mind as this or that particular mind but as all-Mind; when we cease to consider Thought as this thought or that but as the common power which makes thinking possible; and when we cease to consider this or that idea as such but as pure Idea, we apprehend the absolute existence through profound insight. Insight, at this stage, has no particular object to be conscious of. In this sense it is a Void. When the personal mind is stripped of its memories and anticipations, when all sense-impressions and thoughts entirely drop away from it, then it enters the realm of empty unnameable Nothingness. It is really a kind of self-contemplation. But this self is not finite and individual, it is cosmic and infinite.
During the gap--infinitesimal though it be--between two thoughts, the ego vanishes. Hence it may truly be said that with each thought it reincarnates anew. There is no real need to wait for the series of long-lived births to be passed through before liberation can be achieved. The series of momentary births also offers this opportunity, provided a man knows how to use it.
Now an extraordinary and helpful fact is that by making Mind the object of our attention, not only does the serenity which is its nature begin to well up of its own accord but its steady unchanging character itself helps spontaneously to repel all disturbing thoughts.
All that he knows and experiences are things in this world of the five senses. The Overself is not within their sphere of operation and therefore not to be known and experienced in the same way. This is why the first real entry into it must necessarily be an entry into no-thing-ness. The mystical phenomena and mystical raptures happen merely on the journey to this void.
When he attains the state of void, all thoughts cease for then pure Thought thinks itself alone.
What we call here the Void, following the Mongolian-Tibetan tradition, is not dissimilar from what Spanish Saint John of the Cross called "complete detachment and emptiness of spirit." It is a casting-out of all impressions from the mind, an elimination of every remembered or imagined experience from it, a turning-away from every idea even psychically referable to the five senses and the ego; finally, even a loss of personal identity.
God as MIND fills that void. In being deprived first of his ego and then of his ecstatic emotional union with the Overself, the mystic who is thereby inwardly reduced to a state of nothingness comes as near to God's state as he can. However this does not mean that he comes to God's consciousness.
If the consciousness has not previously been prepared, by competent instruction or intuitive understanding, to receive this experience, then the passage out of the body will begin with a delightful sense of dawning liberation but end with a frightful sense of dangerous catastrophe. Both knowledge and courage are needed here, otherwise there will be resistance to the process followed by an abrupt breaking away from it altogether.
We may now perceive a further reason why all great teachers have enjoined self-denial. For at this crucial point of perfected concentration, when the senses are still and the world without remote, the mystic must renounce his thoughts in favour of Thought. He can do this only by a final act of surrender whereby his whole sense of personality--all that makes up what he believed to be "I"--is let go as the last of his thoughts to vanish into a Void. He must make the abrupt leap into self-identification with the wide pure impersonal thought-less Thought. He must give up the last of all thoughts--which is the "I" thought--and accept in return whatever may come to him out of the great Unknown. A fear rises up and overcomes him for a time that with this leap he may so endanger his own existence as to plunge into utter annihilation. This naturally makes him cling all the more to his sense of personality. Shall we wonder then, that every student shrinks at this order?
Students draw back affrighted at the concept of a great void which leaves them nothing, human or divine, to which they may cling. How much the more will they draw back, not from a mere concept, but from an actual experience through which they must personally pass! Yet this is an event, albeit not the final one on the ultimate ultramystic path, which they can neither avoid nor evade. It is a trial which must be endured, although to the student who has resigned himself to acceptance of the truth whatever face it bears--who has consequently comprehended already the intellectual emptiness of both Matter and Personality--this experience will not assume the form of a trial but rather of an adventure. After such a rare realization, he will emerge a different man. Henceforth he will know that nothing that has shape, nobody who bears a form, no voice save that which is soundless can ever help him again. He will know that his whole trust, his whole hope, and his whole heart are now and forevermore to be surrendered unconditionally to this Void which mysteriously will no longer be a Void for him. For it is God.
We must withdraw every thing and thought from the mind except this single thought of trying to achieve the absence of what is not the Absolute. This is called Gnana Yoga: "Neti, Neti" (It is not this), as Shankara called it. And he must go on with this negative elimination until he reaches the stage where a great Void envelops him. If he can succeed in holding resolutely to this Void in sustained concentration--and he will discover it is one of the hardest things in the world to do so--he will abruptly find that it is not a mere mental abstraction but something real, not a dream but the most concrete thing in his experience. Then and then only can he declare positively, "It is This." For he has found the Overself.
It comes as a state of intense bliss, and then you are your personal self no longer. The world is blotted out; Being alone exists. That Being has neither shape nor form. It is, shall we say, coexistent with space . . . in it you seem to fulfil the highest purpose of our Being. It is not the Ultimate, but for the sake of your meditation practice you nevertheless may regard it as the Ultimate. You will come back after a while. You cannot stay in it for long. You will come back and when you come back you will come back to the intellect; then you will begin to think very, very slowly at first, and each thought will be full of tremendous meaning, tremendous vitality, tremendous beauty and reality. You will be alive and inspired and you will know that you have had a transcendent experience. You will feel a great joy, and then for some time you may have to live on the memory of this glorious experience. Such experiences do not come often, but they will provide a memory that will act as a positive inspiration to you from time to time.
In this experience he finds himself in sheer nothingness. There is not even the comfort of having a personal identity. Yet it is a paradoxical experience, for despite the total nothingness, he is neither asleep nor dead nor unconscious. Something is, but what it is, or how, or anything else about it, stays an unravelled mystery.
When all thoughts are extinguished; when even the thought of the quest itself vanishes; when even the final thought of seeking to control thoughts also subsides, then the great battle with the ego can take place. But the last scene of this invisible drama is always played by the Overself. For only when its Grace shoots forth and strikes down this final thought, does success come.
Everything that intrudes upon the mental stillness in this highly critical stage must be rejected, no matter how virtuous or how "spiritual" a face it puts on. Only by the lapse of all thought, by the loss of all thinking capacity can he maintain this rigid stillness as it should be maintained. It is here alone that the last great battle will be fought and that the first great fulfilment will be achieved. That battle will be the one which will give the final deathblow to the ego; that fulfilment will be the union with his Overself after the ego's death. Both the battle and the fulfilment must take place within the stillness; they must not be a merely intellectual matter of thought alone nor a merely emotional matter of feeling alone. Here in the stillness both thought and emotion must die and the ego will then lose their powerful support. Therefore here alone is it possible to tackle the ego with any possibility of victory.
He separates the thought of his own existence from all other thoughts, then attacks and annuls it by the most penetrating insight he has ever shown.
The root-thought which underlies the ego that has to be slain is not that it is separate from all other creatures but that it is separate from the one infinite life-power.
He who passes through these deeper phases of the Void can never again call anything or anyone his own. He becomes secretly and spiritually deprived of all personal possessions. This is because he has thoroughly realized the complete immateriality, spacelessness, timelessness, and formlessness of the Real--a realization which consequently leaves him nothing to take hold of, either within the world or within his personality. Not only does the possessive sense fall away from his attitude towards physical things but also towards intellectual ones.
In that sacred moment when an awed silence grips the soul, we are undone. The small and narrow bricks with which we have built our house of personal life collapse and tumble to the ground. The things we worked and hungered for slip into the limbo of undesired and undesirable relics. The world of achievement, flickering with the activities of ambition, pales away into the pettiness of a third-rate play.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.