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Questions and Answers for the Beginning Student

Why do I need to study philosophy?

If you want to discover both the universal meanings within life and the unique meaning of your life, why you are here and how best to live, then this is the life long study to pursue. To be a philosopher, however, is not just to study—it is to realize that the full expression of living is based on deep inquiry into the higher ideals in order to find and live the best that is in you. It is not enough just to try to be good because a crisis is sure to come. You will be tested and you will be discouraged. Philosophy will show you the importance of being good and will keep you on the path. If you want to understand why you are suffering and how to ease your pain you will start to ask questions. You will no longer be satisfied with dogma that you are to accept without question from religions that believe they have the exclusive truth. You will begin to use the intelligence that the Divine Mind has given to you in order to start finding some answers for yourself. This does not mean that you have to stop attending your own church, temple, or sangha. Philosophy accepts all religions as attempts to lead the human race to the higher, and it appreciates the value of a loving community. Remember, this is the independent path, and each of us has different directions, needs, and obligations at various times in our lives. Philosophy leads us to the fullest understanding and personal discovery of the great revelation that there is only one God within and behind us all. We are all human, soulful beings who need to learn and live a philosophy that speaks to us about our commonality, ends our divisiveness, and leads us to the practice of universal compassion for all. Only in learning about and living within our shared divinity can this ideal be realized.

Is it possible to attain enlightenment?

Everyone is capable of eventually becoming enlightened and there are glimpses along the way that bring some lightness of being into our lives.  We are, however, addicted to our thoughts.  Waking up out of this identification with the ego, this collection of thoughts, into reality and the acceptance of life as it is intended to be constitutes enlightenment.  Life is truly the manifestation of the divine; sacred at every moment and guiding us toward our further growth, development, and evolution as individuals.  Through time we will all be led to achieve this highest of all prizes, living the vision of the Divine Mind.  Our development and evaluation towards this goal goes on through many lifetimes, and the moment when the chains of egoism might dissolve is always a mystery and depends first on our own efforts but finally on divine grace.

What is the relationship between the ego and the soul?

The dictionary defines the ego as the conscious thinking subject.  Philosophy more precisely defines ego as the collection of all your thoughts.  These thoughts are made possible by the true subject, the underlying consciousness, the soul.

It is in the ego that the essential struggle of life takes place.  Individuals must use their own effort through intelligent reasoning, objective self-analysis, meditation, intuition, practicality, openness to the gifts of grace, and the expression of this truer self in their lives to move to unification with the sacred I within.  It is at times an arduous journey but each touch of the soul brings to the individual ego a rich reward.  As consciousness expands, it brings forth the soul qualities of wisdom, peace, goodness, truth, justice, and beauty for the benefit not only of the seeker but for all of humanity.

If I follow these ideas will I be able to live a better and more spiritual life?

Yes!  The Philosophic Path is all encompassing.  Its five-fold nature consists of devotion, meditation, rational reflection, moral re-education, and altruistic service.  It includes every aspect and potential of your human nature.  As you begin to purify your ego you will become the best possible human being you can be.  You will realize a shared humanity with everyone—you are a part of the All.  This movement out of egoism will allow Spirit to begin to flow through you leading you to inspired action in the world.

How do I know that I am on the right path?

It will resonate with you.  You will agree with the logic and see how practical these ideas are.  This may not happen right away.  Be patient.  The ego often sets up resistance.  Give new meditation practices and directions some time before rejecting them.  Pay attention to what is going on within and around you.  When you are alert and seek guidance you may find it in a book you pick up or someone with whom you come into contact.  You will finally find many of your questions about life answered.  Often a new direction or exercise will be shown to you at just the right moment.


Always keep an open mind.  It is by reading, testing, questioning that your very doubts will lead you to answers that will confirm for you that finally you are moving in the right direction, toward truth.

What is karma?

Karma is the law of perfect justice.  We are all responsible for our actions and for the consequences of those actions.  The universal law of karma is the servant of a Goodness at the heart of life.  For example, rather than only concentrating on, “My needs, My family, My house,” instead reach out.  Give comfort to others when they need it, and this help will, at some time, be returned to you.  As you do, so will you receive.  If you are able to prevent your ego from creeping in with its superior, self-important attitude, compassionate service to others will return another even more precious gift to you—help in purifying the ego.

Since your thoughts lead to your choices and your choices to the consequences that follow, you can improve your life by changing your thoughts.

Do I have freewill?

Yes, you can choose to do what your habits and thoughts dictate and suffer the consequences, or you can observe your thoughts and use your better judgment and higher feelings to do the will of the Higher Being within you.  We must deal with our present situation, habits, and environment because they are the consequence of past actions and thoughts but we always have, at every moment, the choice to try to live by the Higher Ideal.  It is just a question of time until identification with the ego and the pain and suffering this brings guides us all to seek the peaceful, comforting arms of the soul within and to make better choices in life.

Do I need a minister, guru or an organization/group to guide me?

This is called the independent path.  Each person uses his or her own intelligence and inner guide to determine what he or she needs in order to make progress.

Of course at certain stages in your life you may need the help of a human guide—most of us do.  Base your selection on the virtues of kindness, integrity, and acceptance of all others as children of God.  Choose one who will encourage you to explore and to select what is best in all teachings.  If you are unable to find a suitable human guide, find books, (they are teachers too), and pay attention to what is happening in your daily life.  Many valuable, lasting lessons are found in dealing with what life presents to you.  Trust your inner guide.  Being human you will make mistakes, but when they do occur, look at them so that you will learn from them.  Evaluate why they happened so you won’t make the same mistake again.  They are sometimes the best teacher.

As human beings we are infinitely varied in backgrounds and our needs and visions are unique to us so there must be an infinite number of paths to the Universal Mind.  Don’t get stuck on a path that limits your inward search for your Overself.  The goal is to find “the kingdom of heaven within.”

Concerning group study of PB’s teachings, PB suggests, “My advice is often asked about forming a little group of people to study my books. Ordinarily, there is no objection to a few people meeting together for such study, as they might help answer mutual questions. But it is best not to let the group increase its size. There are several reasons why it is better to restrict the class to a small number than to let everyone who wishes enter it. Quality should be the only consideration in such admissions; quantity would in the end disintegrate the group. Let the effort be limited to study, clearing up questions, and talks. Group meditation should not be practised among beginners if there is no powerful uplifting leader in their midst to protect them. There is a right time and a wrong time for personal endeavour to lead and assist a spiritual group. The right time will come only with competence. Until then there is the ever-present task of the student’s own self-improvement. That is above all else.” (Notebooks 1.4.21)

Once you realize the value of this path what are some helpful guidelines to follow?

Meditation is of course important; it will help you find out what is going on in your mind and will strengthen your ability to become more detached from the passing thoughts.  Watch yourself as you move through your daily life.  Do this as impersonally as you can.  The very act of observation will start changes in behavior.  While seeing yourself as you really are can be upsetting, try to accept what you see and be determined to make the changes necessary to create the person you want to be.  Don’t waste your time on overdoing negative emotional responses but direct your energy instead to seeing what is wrong, and be determined to act in a better way.

When really difficult situations occur in your life stop and ask, “Who is having this experience?”  This will distance you a little to enable you to see what is happening more clearly.  The objective is to lessen your identity with the negative thoughts and circumstances that are causing suffering and realize your true identity as a real and free being.

Whenever possible cultivate calm detachment despite outward circumstances to the contrary, for this is indispensable to progress.  Be aware of how you are hurting inside when you allow anger and hate to consume you.  These emotions create suffering for you and interfere with your effectiveness in interacting with others.  A state of relaxation and mental calm are necessary to make the brain responsive to spiritual forces.  When difficulties and worries appear, practice using mental discipline by applying your philosophy, turning them over with full faith to the Higher in order to take care of them at the same time that you continue to do your best in a practical way.

Several times a day practice an Awareness exercise.  Stop wherever you are, freeze thought and action, and become totally present in the moment.

As you begin to observe and weaken the control the ego has over your mind, the quiet voice of intuition will appear.  If you use your reason to make sure the intuition is not being contaminated by your ego; it will help you move in the right direction.  Remember, the voice of the ego is always excited and eager to push you into doing the very thing you will regret later.

Practice remembrance of the Overself.  Whenever you experience a beautiful day, touching words, inspiring art, music, or poetry notice the wonderful feeling inside that your soul has brought to your awareness.  How is it that you are able to experience this?  It is because you are “That!”  You have infinite Spirit within you.  Bring the awareness of who you really are into your life, and feel deep, satisfying gratitude.

Find out what the great thinkers and philosophies of all ages have said about the meaning of impersonal life.

Increase your strengths by striving to achieve a fully developed balance between thinking, feeling, and willing, and then guided by the Higher, you will become more universal and better able to find and achieve the higher ideals in your life.  Improve your intellect through study.  Penetrating the mental nature of the universe will help you understand the passing nature of all thoughts and invite you to reflect on the wonder and infinite richness of the mind behind all thoughts, all things, and all beings.  Increase the use of your will by following through with self-discipline.  Work to improve habits and be determined to change your behavior for the better.  Deepen feelings by listening to beautiful music, appreciating nature, art, and devoting yourself to the divine, the goodness, and the beauty within you.  Participate in universal love for the people around you.  It is important to be compassionate to yourself and others, but to, at the same time, be practical and cautious.  “Be as wise as a serpent and as peaceful as a dove.”

Remember that just as you have a divine soul so does everyone else.  Only the negative experiences of many lifetimes, living only in the ego, have made us all who and what we are.  Avoid negative people when possible.  If it is your duty to engage with them always try to act with compassion.

Intellect is not my strength. What if I just can’t understand some of these difficult concepts?

There is a difference between an intellectual who can think through complex concepts and verbally discuss these ideas and and individual who can live them.  The work of the willing and feeling parts of the balanced path must also be done.  According to Paul Brunton, “A would-be follower of this path need not be concerned if [she or] he lacks intellect and has had an imperfect education.  You should accept what you can understand of the books you study and leave the rest for some future time.  What is needed much more than an intellect is humility, intuition, and intelligence, which many intellectuals do not possess.”  (Notebooks 1.2.70)

Isn't detachment from my emotions a cold way to interact with others?

This kind of detachment comes from the purity of your own Higher Self and gives you freedom from preoccupation with what only seems true to you.  You are then able to step back and view the situation with more objectivity.  By detaching from your preconceptions and the fears and desires you project onto others you do them a great kindness and can interact in a new, fresh way.  It is sometimes referred to as being authentically present and shows great love and genuine concern for others. This makes it possible to improve your interactions and  to have more loving relationships.

All I know about myself are the thoughts I have. Am I being asked to give up these thoughts?

Through meditation you begin to observe your thoughts and detach enough from them to have the freedom to choose the ones you want to keep.  For example when thoughts of anger occur there will no longer be a blind acting out; you can determine wisely the appropriate action to take.  You will be able to choose to make your thoughts better, and you will begin to live by higher ideals.  The goal is a purification of the ego and the ability to use it wisely in your life.

What am I after I’ve detached from my thoughts?

You are still a living conscious being because you are not the thoughts—you are consciousness.  You never lose your individuality, but gradually, through meditation and self-discipline, the mind is quieted allowing the light of the Higher Self (Soul, Overself, the better part of you) to shine through.  This brings calmer, wiser, and more loving thoughts, which then lead to finer, nobler actions.  Your ego or personality remains but is enriched.

“The eventual trend of evolution is through and away from personality, as we now know it.  We shall find ourselves afresh in a higher individuality, the soul.  To achieve this, the lower characteristics have slowly to be shed.  In this sense, we do die to the earthly self and are born again in the higher self. That is the only real death awaiting us.” (Notebooks 9.2.223)

Why should I meditate?

One early benefit is that it helps you realize how busy your mind is and how little control you have over it.  As you begin to observe your thoughts you will begin to reduce them and achieve a quieter and calmer mind.  This will help to relieve stress.

You will also be able to focus your mind better to solve problems.  First you will see how your personal limited and negative view has you in its grasp.  Gradually as you gain some control over your thoughts you will be able to hear the gentle voice of intuition that will be a helpful guide to wiser actions and a more peace-filled life.  For all of us there is an intermingling of egotism with intuition, so it is necessary always to use our own intelligence and practical reasoning to determine when our own ego might be getting in the way of the accuracy of the guidance that we think is being given.

As your awareness of your limitations and your sensitivity to intuition grow, you can then begin to choose higher ideals such as love, justice, and compassion.

Finally meditation is preparatory for a deeper union with your soul and the ability to bring it into the fullness of your life.  As you become a more advanced meditator you will be able to move down through layers of consciousness and get to the discovery of the free being or real “I” inside of you.

This is your objective: to become unified with your Overself, the divinity within, both in stillness and in the actions of your life.

How do I start meditating?

Since the idea is to surrender to the Overself, which is filled with rich, infinite vision, is the source of all goodness and provides us with the intuitive power to guide us in our lives, look forward to this precious, sacred time.  Choose a quiet place where you are free from distractions.  It helps to use the same place each time.  Make sure you meditate every day even if only for a short time.  There are different ways to begin to train your ability to turn your attention inward.  Try to choose to direct your focus on something that is particularly compelling to you.

You might start with sitting and looking at a beautiful object such as a flower.  Or with eyes closed select a single spiritual idea or a concept that is of special interest to you and reflect on it.  Gently bring your attention back when it strays from that focus.  Another option is to select a mantra such as, “Infinite Peace is within me” and repeat it until it falls away and there is silence.  A simple technique is the sunset, sunrise exercise.  Sit quietly and watch, allowing the power, beauty, stillness and peace of the sun to come in to you.  A more advanced exercise, which the meditator can begin at any time, is that of self-inquiry.  Ask yourself, repeatedly, “Who Am I?”  Explore all the possibilities you can think of until you realize that nothing mental or physical can answer the question and then wait patiently for the answer.

Use any of the techniques above or any others that you find elsewhere that resonate with you, and don’t be discouraged.  Remember, the most important qualities to develop at the beginning are patience and perseverance.  What you are doing will improve your ability to concentrate, increase your alertness, and carry over into your daily life.  Try starting with a short time each day and slowly increase the time.  Start with five or ten minutes and increase to twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty minutes.

All of these suggestions will guide you toward the final objective: the Overself, which will illuminate both your inner and outer life.  All that is really necessary is a mind that is alert, quiet, and full of devotion.

I’ve tried but I just can’t meditate. What can I do?

First of all it is important to keep trying because each time you try you are putting forth effort that is not wasted.  Remember that it is important to come to this precious time with the right attitude and also to treat yourself with compassion and a sense of ease, without the burden of unreal expectations.  Look forward to a quiet, peaceful time to let go of your daily cares and to look inward with gratitude to the divine beauty within.  If you have trouble getting in touch with that inner beauty, or with your own representation of the beloved, use the memory of an experience of beauty, joy, or love that you have had and use that feeling to get you started.  It might also help to read some inspiring text or to listen to beautiful music first to evoke a meditative mood.

One of the purposes of meditation is to increase your alertness by stilling your thoughts.  When it is difficult to meditate sitting down remember the key thing is bringing concentration and focus into your life.  Try reading something inspiring in the morning and thinking about it during the day.  Remember what and who you truly are.  For example, you might think to yourself, “I am not the body, I am life, I am the spirit that lives within.”

Also, since ultimately meditation is intended to carry over into your everyday life so that you are always acting in a state of awareness, try practicing to be alert during the day by letting go of irrelevant thoughts and periodically stopping and attending closely to whatever it is you’re doing.  Learn to be present in that moment.

While meditating the other day an image flashed before me. Why did that happen and what does it mean?

While this experience can be positive, if it’s an uplifting meaningful image, remember that this is not the ultimate goal and don’t allow the ego to make it more important than it is.  What is really important in meditation is to penetrate into the stillness and not to get caught up in psychic images.  Just as in dreams, important images may come up that are worthwhile to reflect on.  Do this after you come out of meditation.  During meditation drop them and go deeper.  What you are trying to access is the wisdom that the image represents.  Getting distracted by psychic experiences can take you off your path.  Saint Theresa of Avila warned her sisters to ignore these flattering images and to go straight to God.

What is a spiritual glimpse?

Glimpses are available to all of us.  A glimpse may be as the result of inspired words in a book or beautiful music or a breathtaking scene in nature or it may just arise with no apparent cause at all.  As you continue along this path, grace will occasionally give you the encouragement of a deeper glimpse of the reality of the soul.  It may happen by your being drawn gently into a deep meditation or by a sudden feeling of peace.  However it comes, whether for a short period of time or, for the rare, fortunate person, for weeks or months, you will know that you are soul.  You will come out of this experience having glimpsed the beneficent light of your innermost being, the Overself.  Your behavior will be changed in some important way for the better, and you will be filled with renewed devotion and aspiration to seek the Higher.

How can grace happen to me?

Grace is happening all of the time.  It may be meeting someone or seeing or hearing the right words at the right time.  It may be both negative as well as positive.  A painful situation may be just what you needed in order to wake up and force a change in a direction that has been harmful to you.  It is only, however, to the extent that you are able to become aware, observe your ego, and understand the changes needed in your life that you are able to benefit fully from the light that Grace bestows.  Grace is a mysterious blessing granted in its fullness to those whose efforts and devotions have earned its reward.  If you approach the Overself with love, grace will come to meet you, but you must begin to let go of the self-centered ego if you have any hope of receiving all the rich rewards that grace can give.

“There would be no hope of ever getting out of this ego-centered position if we did not know these three things.  First, the ego is only an accumulation of memories and a series of cravings, that is, thought; it is a fictitious entity.  Second, the thinking activity can come to an end in stillness.  Third, Grace, the radiation of the Power beyond man, is ever-shining and ever-present.  If we let the mind become deeply still and deeply observant of the ego’s self-preserving instinct, we open the door to Grace, which then lovingly swallows us.”(Notebooks 8.4.417)

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