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March 2020, Essay 3 – “Self Reliance or Discipleship?

Essay 4 – “Self Reliance or Discipleship?” ” from Instructions for Spiritual Living by Paul Brunton

PB begins this essay with a warning for spiritual seekers not to live in the past but to learn the lessons of adapting themselves to the demands made by the present era. He writes, “If they could realize the vivid inner spirit of their inheritance rather than its musty outer form, they would become free of the past. For then they would stand alone in the great Aloneness. And out of such a spirit they would instinctively give what is needed today, not what was needed by former centuries.” (p.51) He writes about the dangers of making idols of human teachers.  Philosophy is devoted to teaching principles, not to exploiting personalities, Individualism is the present evolutionary goal of the human being. (p. 51) “As we become mentally individualized, we can begin to reassess the values of life and the ideas of existence, not as mere units in a tribal or national group but as self-respecting individuals.” (p. 56)  He points out that mysticism is the culmination of all sincere religion.  An interesting insertion is the inclusion of the following: “Details of the second evolutionary movement may be found in the ninth and tenth chapters of The Wisdom of the Overself.” (p.56) This content bears reflection.

The Way of Discipleship’ is a subtopic in this essay, pointing out that the search for a spiritual guide of the rank of a mahatma or an adept is difficult today, if not impossible. “The mystical tradition contains a saying, ‘When the pupil is ready, the master appears.’ But we would complement it with another truth—that the master here referred to is not necessarily an embodied or an external one—he or she may be out of the flesh or may be inside the pupil’s own heart. In both these cases the instruction will come and assistance be rendered from within through the intuitive faculty….In the end, that which brings together the seekers and the sought-for truth, whether the latter be found within themselves, a book, or another person, is the direct agency of their own Overself.” (p.61) Each individual is unique and to imitate the thinking, speech and action of a particular teacher…. this is not to travel the path to the wider freedom. (p. 64)  “… Buddha plainly if heretically declared that there are two ways whereby one can arrive at right insight—either by learning it from others or by self-reflection…This second path is the one we have advocated. It is based on rationally thinking over and mystically meditating upon the remembrance of a glimpse, intuition, or fleeting illumination that may have once been experienced or, alternatively, upon the description of such an experience given in books. …. In depriving them of doubtful external guidance, we have given them back the surest internal guidance—the light and power of God within their own selves.” (pp. 66-67) In the words of the dying Buddha, “Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. Look not for a refuge to anyone besides yourselves….’Be ye lights unto yourselves’ is one acceptable translation, but ‘Be ye islands to yourselves’ is another…. It is a message of self-reliance, of seeking within and not without for guidance and strength. (p. 68)

This essay contains a great deal more instruction including ‘The choice Before the Seeker’ (p.68) wherein it points out that “if aspirants are incapable of working out their hard problems by themselves, they should seek and accept the guidance of someone else. To obtain friendly guidance from someone who knows the farther stretches of the road is as sensible a procedure as it is senseless to become the debilitated mental slave who exudes pontifical infallibility and discourages scientific rationality…. Most aspirants find that the Overself is too intangible to be grasped by the ordinary mind and… are left with a concept suspended in mid-air. Their need is for something or someone to provide a visible focus for aspiration toward reality, an imaginable center for meditation upon it …an attractive symbol for the Real. They can find such a symbol in scriptural personalities, in a living master known to them by personal acquaintance, in a book whose sentences are inspired by a knowledge of reality or in the beauty and serenity of Nature herself. It is indispensable that it should appeal to their personal predilections if it is to become effective. (p. 71) The final subtopic is ‘The Independent Path.’ The next eTeaching will focus on this section.