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April 2020, Essay 4 – “Self Reliance or Discipleship?

The Independent Path from Instructions for Spiritual Living

The Independent Path is an integral part of Paul Brunton’s teachings. In Volume 8 of The Notebooks he writes, “I came at last to the perception that the goal of a satisfying doctrine could only be reached if I taught myself something beyond what my teachers taught me. One thing became clear and that was the necessity of uniqueness in the synthesis which must be made. I had to remain utterly independent.” (12:2:201) He introduces this idea of independence in the student in this essay, explaining that although some mistakes may be made, useful experience will be gained and responsibility developed. The student will be learning the invaluable lesson of “the loftiest kind of self-reliance, while looking more and more to the Overself for guidance, and nowhere else.” (p. 80)

It should be noted that PB gives an admonition of the grave error of adopting a wholly independent attitude prematurely, stating that only when one reaches the study of philosophy can one overpass the stage of discipleship, if the Overself is to be found. (p. 80) On pages 84 and 85 he acknowledges the importance a teacher plays in leading the student to the place where he or she no longer needs someone to play that role. “For is not the teacher’s work but to lead one to the knowledge of one’s own true Self? Such are some of the inwardly prompted questions that naturally arise in an age when the human species is increasingly individualizing its mentality.”

Inner counsel is the great teacher in these matters: Grace must come from God. Uniqueness has a supreme value in PB’s teachings: “Spiritual genius is individual and unique.” (p. 81)

Some helpful references to Uniqueness are found in Volume 1 of the Notebooks, The Quest, which apply to this essay:

“ Each human being has a specific work to do-to express the uniqueness that is himself. It can be delegated to no one else. In doing it, if he uses the opportunity aright, he may be led to the great Uniqueness which is supra-personal, beyond the ego and all egos.” (1.5.19)

“The individual uniqueness of each aspirant cries out to have its special needs attended to, but suggestion from outside or mesmerism from authority causes him to approach the quest with fixed options as to what should be done, others being allowed to mold him rather than letting the inner voice do so, using their contributions solely to carry out or to supplement its guidance.” (1:5:205)

This essay leaves the reader with these ideas: “Our own Overself is the unfailing witness of all our efforts and aspirations and is ever ready to befriend us. The inner light that is always there for us is a safe and reliable light by which we can walk. When we begin to walk by the light of our own unveiled understanding and not by the borrowed lamp of another’s, we begin to walk with sure steps. Such a sublime self-reliance is in every way better than the abject dependence on another human being, which passes so often for discipleship.” (page 87)