Skip to main content

Experiences with PB


M y 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