Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 23: Advanced Contemplation > Chapter 4: The Changeover To the Short Path
The Changeover To the Short Path
The preparation on the Long Path
It would be wonderful if everyone, everywhere, could slip so easily into the kingdom of heaven, and just as easily stay there forever. But alas! the facts of human nature forbid it. People require teaching, training, purifying, disciplining, and preparing, before they can do so. And the course needed is a lifetime's, the work needed much and varied. That is why the Long Path is needed.
While giving all attention to the Overself, or to its remembrance, or to its various aspects, or to the idea of it, he forgets himself. This makes it possible to transcend the ego. And this is why the Short Path must be travelled if the preparatory work of the other Path is to be completed.
The Long Path serves to bring its votaries to the Short Path, on which alone they can complete their journey to the summit which they imagined was at its end.
Purification of the heart and calming of the mind are necessary prerequisites for penetrating into the Overself. They belong to the Long Path.
The Long Path calls on him to give up whatever is holding him in bondage, whatever is keeping him back, and, thus released, he will be free to go his way towards the specifically positive work of the Short Path.
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.
It must never be forgotten that the work of the Short Path could only come into being on the basis of work of the Long one, and on the presupposition of its presence.
The struggles of the Long Path are absolutely necessary but they will not avail him of themselves; Grace must be added. For it brings extra power to him and enables him to do what otherwise he could not do.
Nature cannot be hastened. The bloom of a flower opens in its own proper time. If the Short Path yields immediate or quick results to some aspirants, it is only because they are persons of superior development. They have served their apprenticeship on the Long Path already, either in this life or previous lives.
The Long Path covers all the preparatory stages leading up to but not including the decisive attempts. It is concerned with the removal of obstructions to the coming of enlightenment, whereas these attempts, which belong to the Short Path, are concerned with the conclusive formulae of enlightenment.
If the Long Path equips him with the necessary strength, purity, and concentration, the Short Path makes use of this equipment to unite his consciousness directly with the Overself.
The long labours and arduous disciplines of the Long Path are valuable in their place and time. But there is no need to limit the Quest's lifetime engagement to it alone.
Yoga trains character, emotions, and especially mind's power of concentration. All this is not only a useful equipment for the Short Path practice but even a necessary one.
The move towards reality may, if too quickly made, bring on changes that the overwhelmed traveller cannot endure or cope with. The genius may, but most others have to withdraw and adjust to a slower, more suitable pace. This is why growing up, becoming prepared, is the first requisite, why the Long Path precedes the Short one.
Brother Lawrence may claim that his spiritual experiences are evidences of the result of the Grace of God, but others will claim that they are the result of his own efforts, of which the larger part is hidden behind the screen of time in former reincarnations. But the truth is not so limited as either of these views. It unites these two seemingly contradictory claims by putting them in their place and time.
Many fixations created in the past have to be removed before we can truly live in the present. This is Long Path work.
The attempt to liberate self by self must prove in the end to be a vicious circle, an experiment in futility. The Unconditioned cannot be brought by finite man into his grasp. It must come of Itself and bring him within Its Grace. Yet unless the attempt is made, unless the Long Path is travelled, the aspirant is little likely to be sufficiently equipped to succeed with the Short Path.
Miguel de Molinos: "It is useless to trust in the interior way of contemplation if the obstacles which hinder their progress and spiritual blight be not removed from the path of those souls that are called." In other words, the Long Path work must clear a way for the Short Path work.
The way to the goal does not lie through a cleansing of the ego alone: it lies also through a desertion of it. The first way is necessary only because it helps to make the second one possible.
He is to keep the thought of the goal itself continually before him, to give the mental consciousness as its principal occupation a meditation on the Overself. This is the basis of Short Path work and this is why, before he can hope to succeed, he must first have set himself the Long Path task of gaining some control over his thoughts.
If the Grace of the Overself is to take hold of the man, no part of his ego ought to offer resistance. This is why a preparation for the event is needed, a process of taking out of him those things which are certain to instigate such resistance. In other words, the activity of the Long Path is necessary to the successful treading of the Short Path.
The Long Path is an attempt to remove those things which obscure his inner vision and obstruct his spiritual inspiration. It is a training which unites impulse and goodness into a single fused thing.
The work of the Long Path is intended to set his wings free for the breathtaking flights and exalted experiences of the Short one. One by one he upheaves and throws aside the weaknesses which hold him down to the ground.
Ordinarily and properly, the Long Path is the first stage and roughly equivalent to the purifying of religious mystics. The Short Path is the second and more advanced stage, and equivalent to their growing or illuminating.
It seems pathetic to see these Long Path strugglers who want, and try so desperately, to find what, in the history of human effort, only a few have ever found. But it is not so pathetic after all if we remember that Nature will soon or late introduce them to the joyous discovery of the Short Path.
The "purification" which he is to seek through the Long Path is not the narrow limited and intolerant kind which too often is called by this name. It is not at all merely a harsh denial of the sexual instinct. It is a cleansing of consciousness, of his thought-life, his emotional life, and even of his bodily condition. Its aim is to prepare his consciousness so that it can receive the truth without deflecting or warping or blocking it. Inevitably the most important work and always the most difficult work along this line will be the elimination of the ego's tyranny.
The Long Path is needed because it leads to a measure of release from egoism and animalism. But it does not directly lead to the discovery of the Overself, its truth and reality. That is the Short Path's work.
All the exact instructions and precise techniques to be found in different parts of the world will be of no avail in the end to reach enlightenment, although they may well be useful to make him ready to receive enlightenment.
The Long Path is likely to come first in a man's spiritual career, with the bizarre result that he is required to become much more aware of what is going on within himself--his thoughts, feelings, and character--and then, with entry on the Short Path, to become much less aware of it, even to the point of ignoring it.
It needs some strength to deflect the onset of negative moods and to refuse to sit in darkness. It needs some patience to sit quietly waiting until one feels an entry into the presence of the Source of one's being. Only a few are born with these qualities ready-made. Others must attain them slowly by passing through stages of training and self-discipline.
The Long Path is the preliminary one, the Short Path is the ultimate one. Those who would skip the first because it is hard and unattractive and take only to the second because it seems quick and joyous invite failure--unless they possess rare genius.
Although the Short Path is quicker to travel than the Long one, the requisite personal equipment must be developed first on the Long Path, or the traveller will be bogged down by the ego which he vainly and delusively imagines away.
The attempt to ignore order of development in the Quest, to leap from the lowest to the highest stages, to miss all the intervening ones, is an attempt to get something for nothing. It cannot succeed. For the influx of Spirit needs a chalice clean enough to be fit for it, large enough to hold it. What would happen if the influx were poured into a dirty, cracked, tiny, and weak vessel?
If they approach Truth with a mind befogged by an active lower nature, how can they expect to arrive at its clear perception? This is why the work of the Long Path cannot be wholly substituted for by the work of the Short one.
Another reason for the need of the Long Path's preparatory work is that the mind, nerves, emotions, and body of the man shall be gradually made capable of sustaining the influx of the Solar Force, or Spirit-Energy.
Every negative thought and base desire is an obstacle to the attainment of the higher consciousness. This is why the Long Path's work is needed, for it is intended to remove all such obstacles. How can one invite that Consciousness to dwell in a body enslaved by lusts, or in a mind darkened by hates?
It is as needful to wait until the period of preparatory exertions is over as it is for life to germinate and put forth its green plant.
Until he enters the Short Path it cannot be said that Grace is more than partially possible. Until he has lifted himself by his own endeavours to some extent above the animality with which he struggles on the Long Path and into the calmness which is necessary to the practice of the Short one, he has hardly earned the reward of Grace in its fullness or frequency.
Mystical writers often quote the famous passage from Brother Lawrence about the noise and clutter of his work in the kitchen not disturbing his feeling of God's presence, but they rarely note that he worked hard for ten years at self-training before he was able to attain this blessed goal.
The way of the Long Path is an effort to abstract him from the bonds of physical appetite and passion which prevent his free thought and balanced feeling. It is an effort of disentanglement. But by its very nature this is only a negative attainment. It must be followed by a positive one. And the latter must enable the man to fulfil life's higher purpose in the midst of human worldly activity, while yet enabling him to keep the freedom he has won through self-discipline. Therein lies the superiority of the Short Path.
When he comes to recognize that the attractive promises of these Short Path cults cannot be realized by the dilettantes who eagerly pounce upon them, nor by those who lack strength and shirk discipline, he will be ready for this Path.
At first he learns that he is personally responsible for his thoughts and actions, for their results in himself and outside it in his destiny. Then if he accepts this truth and in the Long Path works upon it, he is led to the discovery of the Short Path and that he is God's responsibility.
It is true that he is conditioned in several ways and that the attempt to free himself from them by introducing other, and usually opposing, ways merely creates new bindings, new conditions. But to leave the statement there--as Krishnamurti does, and as Jean Klein tries to do--is misleading because it is a half-truth. These teachers regard yoga, for instance, as such a form of conditioning; yet Atmananda, who appears to be at least one source of Klein's inspiration, himself found that yoga was a preparation for Advaitic truth. In short, there is a progression among conditions; they are not developed in a circle but in a spiral.
Seekers do not come under the power of Grace until they have done, to a sufficient extent, what the Long Path requires from them. Then only are they likely to be ready for the Short Path, and to benefit by the Grace associated with it.
Entrance into the Short Path presupposes experience on the Long one. How can anyone go beyond the latter before he has travelled some distance along it? Are not the efforts he makes while on it merely preparing him for the effortless experiences of the Short Path?
What is the purpose of this Long Path inner work upon himself? It is to clear a way for the inflow of grace, even to the most hidden parts of his character.
When he finds that he is not getting either expected or promised results, he becomes disturbed. But his years have not really been wasted. They have prepared him for this next phase to come.
Although the Long Path does not directly lead to Enlightenment, it reduces obstacles, prepares the seeker, and opens his way for entry to the Short Path, which in turn can subsequently lead to enlightenment.
Not many are intuitive enough, developed enough, knowledgeable enough, and strong enough to take to the Short Path without previous preparation through the Long Path's disciplines.
The cleansing disciplines of the Long Path prepare and equip him to practise the blessing meditations of the Short one.
If he follows the Long Path, its goal will be reached little by little, slowly, and even then the transfer to the Short Path will have to be made. He will then be well-prepared, ready, and ably capable of meeting its demands to a measurable extent. The lightning-flash may come at any moment on this higher level.
Making the transition
He stands athwart the door and blocks it from opening to the gentle pressure of the very Grace which can bring him the help for which he calls out. Less preoccupation with his own ego and more with the Overself is what he really needs. This is the same as saying that the Long Path work now needs balancing with Short Path work.
If the end of the Long Path is spiritual stagnation, this is not to be taken to mean that the Long Path is not worth entering, nor that its efforts are valueless and so much time wasted. That would be an error. This so-called stagnation is really the "dark night of the soul," in Spanish Saint John of the Cross' phrase. It makes the man ready to receive grace.
His quest for God has reached its terminus but his quest in God will now start its course. Henceforth his life, experience, and consciousness are wrapped in mystery.
The transition from the Long to the Short Path is really a normal experience, even though to each person it seems like a major discovery.
The deliberately made efforts of the Long Path must in the end give place to letting the Overself-sun shine upon the whole being, blotting out dark negative places by its natural radiance. The first path gave needed preparation for the second one but cannot supplant it.
He must be willing to discard the familiar attitudes developed on the Long Path. There will be an inner struggle.
The changeover to the Short Path does not entirely cancel out his Long Path work but affects it in three ways. First, it reduces the labours and disciplines involved. Second, the reduced work is done without anxiety and without tension. Third, it frees him from the excessive sense of self-responsibility for his inner and outer life--that is, from excessive ego-depending.
He must call in a new power, and a higher power--Grace. He needs its help. For the ego will not willingly give up its sovereignty, however much it may become preoccupied with spiritual questions and even spiritual growth.
The secrets which the stillness has to tell him are not to be discovered through any activity of the fussy and pretentious personal ego. It cannot bring him even to one of them, so it had better stop all its activities for truth-getting on the Long Path and take to the Short Path.
The Ideal is there to help them, both to travel the Long Path and to make the transition in the Short one, where Grace will take over what they have started.
What were hitherto his virtues now become his vices.
The laborious, sometimes desperate self-discipline of the Long Path relaxes or even stops altogether. The effortless, sometimes ecstatic self-surrender to grace through faith, love, humility, and remembrance replaces it.
Whatever you do to work upon the ego, whether you remove this weakness or improve that faculty, it will always be ego and your consciousness will always remain within its tightly closed circle. In the time you give to such work you could be occupying yourself with thought of the non-ego, the Overself, and dwelling in this thought until the sunshine behind it bursts through and you bask in the glory.
If he is really done with worrying about the state of the ego, he will not visit it every day to keep a finger on its pulse.
He feels that a newer and other self is coming to birth.
To mourn over the past's supposed errors for too long a time, to indulge in self-pitying remorse for the remainder of one's life, is another trick of the ego and merely strengthens it. Better take to the Short Path!
The Long Path developed in him through yoga-meditation the capacity to find the inner Stillness. The Short Path added to it (1) the knowledge that the Stillness is himself, and (2) the practice of continuing remembrance to be the Stillness.
The Long-Pather who broods morbidly over his own vileness, who strains himself unnecessarily to achieve what the Overself does not ask him to achieve, needs to be instructed on the place and meaning of the Short Path.
The average spiritual aspirant is unduly self-centered. This is because he is so preoccupied with his own development, his own self-correction, and his own spiritual needs that he tends to forget a vitally important truth. This is that the last battle to be fought on the Quest--the battle which brings the ego finally and fully under the Overself's rule--is reflected to a lesser extent in the earlier battles of the Quest. This battle cannot possibly be won by the aspirant himself for the very good and sufficient reason that the ego is not willing to commit suicide, or to put it in another way, is unable to lift itself onto a plane of non-existence. Final victory can only come by the bestowal of Grace from the Overself, which alone can effect this seeming miracle. To attract this Grace the seeker needs to turn away from his self-centeredness to what is its utter opposite--preoccupation with the Overself. He is to think of the Divine alone, of the infinitude and eternity of the Higher Power, and to forget all about his personal growth for a while.
The emotional eagerness which marked his Long Path aspirations, the attempts to perfect himself, diminish gradually until he becomes almost indifferent to them.
If he keeps on fixing his attention upon fighting the wandering characteristic of his thoughts, he may find after many attempts that the task seems impossible. Why is this? It is because at the same time he is limiting himself to attention upon the ego. Let him move in the opposite direction and turn to the Short Path, let the thoughts fix themselves on the Overself, upon Its great stillness, Its serene impersonality. The ego will not and cannot remove itself by itself but by going outside to THAT which is its origin. The thoughts in the end are led into surrender to the power which transcends it and will master it.
If the Long Path ends in futility, confusion, and despair for many people, it does not necessarily do so for all people. Some make the transition from it to the Short Path without such suffering.
There are two different approaches to the task; both are legitimate, but one belongs to the Long Path and the other to the Short Path. The first is forcibly to control the undesirable feelings and thoughts. The second is to seek their source in the ego and, by understanding it at this deep level, lose interest in them and, turning away, stop continuing to feed them.
They are too self-conscious about their work and progress on this quest, their adoption of it and experiences in it. It is only when they leave this Long Path for the Short one that their attitude becomes spontaneous, unstudied, natural, their feelings released from ambition, affectation, and egocentricity. They begin to "grow as the flower grows," as Mabel Collins puts it.
If their Long Path ends in self-detestation, their Short Path begins in a deeper self-discovery, in a feeling of happy possibilities awaiting them if they could remain faithful to the new attitudes.
Let him rejoice at having found the Short Path with its freedoms and at having let go of the Long Path with its difficulties and tensions.
What a relief he feels when the strain and tension of the Long Path give place to the sweetness and detachment of the Short one!
It is not necessary to go through the struggles and toils of the Long Path after we have travelled it sufficiently far to develop some amount of the qualifications needed for the Short one. We can then desert it and, by Grace, go quickly through the change of outlook, standpoint, and consciousness necessary to travel the Short Path.
The same Grace which starts us off on the Quest carries us through to its end. The Short Path phase begins when we awaken to the presence of the Grace's source.
It rejects the striving to acquire afresh each individual virtue or quality and replaces it by the striving to effect the great transformation of all the character all at once by direct contact with the divine power.
Released from the hard disciplines of the Long Path, following the softer methods of the Short one, he smilingly enjoys the moments of Grace they bring him.
The ego with its Long Path efforts can carry the quest just so far. At that point, help from outside must be found. But this help is needed only to reveal the Short Path and open the entrance to it; otherwise attachment, desire, and dependence will again arise, even if on a higher level.
It is not easy to start a daring revolt against so much that we held for truth for so many years. To desert the Long Path even when dissatisfied with it calls for courage.
The Short Path of recognizing the divine existence here and now, whether or not the ego feels it, is the best path at a certain stage.
The sinful conscience, the feeling of guilt, belongs entirely to the Long Path. It vanishes with a few steps on the Short Path.
You cannot think two thoughts simultaneously. You cannot practise Advaitic identity with the Overself and with ego together. You must choose one or the other.
That same relentless determination which brought him so far along this path and gave him so much self-improvement, now becomes a formidable obstruction. It must be forsaken because the ego must surrender itself.
Although most seekers turn with relief to the ideas and practices of the Short Path when these are presented to them, others find it most difficult to do so. The thought of abandoning what has filled so many of their years and so much of their aspiration seems more than they can bring themselves to obey. But the old Chinese Ch'an Master Shu-chou reprimanded this attitude in sarcastic words: "There are only two diseases: one is riding an ass to search for an ass; the other is riding an ass and being unwilling to dismount." By this he meant that in the Long Path work the ego's search could only end in the ego itself, that the mind would only get another thought. "You yourself are the ass," he added. "Why do you ride on it? If you ride, you cannot cure your disease."
Where the Long Path ends and where the Short Path begins is not easily chalked out.
There are some aspirants of a morbid temperament who concentrate a morbid attention upon the idea that the eradication of detrimental faults will be a never-ending process, and they become unhappy and unbalanced in consequence. They need a corrective--indeed, two correctives. They will find these in the concept of Grace and the practice of the Short Path.
They would like the change to take place dramatically, in a moment of time. "The wind bloweth where it listeth," said Jesus, and Grace comes here or there at an unpredictable hour.
Not by his ego's own will can he take hold of this jewel, but only by the Grace substituting that other Consciousness for his ego's.
Although in the earlier stages and also in the middle stages of the quest it has to be consciously and deliberately followed, in the later, the more advanced stages where the Short Path comes into operation, the seeker must begin to forget himself and his efforts, must not come between the goal and its pursuits, must identify himself with the Overself by giving himself wholly to the idea of manifesting it in his inner and outer life. Therefore, he must be free of the kind of self-consciousness which makes him aware that he is a Quester. On the contrary, he has to make spirituality a natural thing, free from self-consciousness.
The man who seeks his soul or his God or his truth with such thirst, and for so long, could find it if he stops, waits patiently, looks deeply within, and lets it appear of its own accord. For he, the seeker, is its concern.
The Intermediate Path is a transition from the Long to the Short one. It consists in identifying oneself mentally with the higher self. This is immeasurably farther than identification with the ego but it is still tainted with a kind of self-centeredness. That is revealed when the pilgrim travels to the Short Path, where he seeks no identification of any sort whatsoever, bestows no more attention upon the "I," but thinks only of the higher self as it is in itself and not about its relationship with him.
Even if he has his moral and psychological successes on the Long Path they may, just because they are successes, inflate his ego with gratification and pride. Only when he changes his attitude and ascribes them to the Overself and regards them as defeats for himself can this not happen. He will then have transferred from the Long Path to the Short Path.
The very aspiration which followed attraction to the Overself may then change its colour by becoming an obstacle on his Way.
A time may come when his own personality is distasteful to him, when he begins to dislike his own traits of instinctive negative reaction and innate negative character. This is naturally understandable on the Long Path, but it may be minimized on the Short one.
To become their ruler you may fight desires. This is the harder way. Or you may forget them. This is the easier way. To follow it you must practise remembering the Overself constantly.
A great humility comes into him when at long last he steps aside from his ego sufficiently to allow the perception that it is not in his own power to enter the ultimate Enlightenment. Grace is the arbiter.
From the Long Path's merciless denigration of his own character he will swing to the Short Path's generous toleration of it.
The feeling of urgency in his spiritual yearnings has gone, the feeling of patient trustful acceptance has replaced it.
From now on he accepts himself as he is without tormenting himself because of what he is not.
The Short Path requires him to fall into amnesia about his spiritual past. The attempt to produce a perfect being and an impeccable character need not trouble him any farther.
This does not mean that the endeavours to nullify the bad should be totally abandoned, or abated. But they should be put in their place.
What a relief he experiences when he need no longer look at himself with the emotion of guilt. He feels set free.
But while philosophy includes both paths, the aspirant's individual need will indicate on which one the emphasis should be laid and when it should be transferred to the other path.
The Long Path strivings are lesser ones and must, at the due time, be absorbed in the Short Path's larger ones.
But even when the psychological requirements are fulfilled, the negative emotions cast out, and the positive thoughts cultivated, the inner self will not come to the surface of its own accord. A special kind of effort is still needed. It will not be concerned with purgative measures but with transmutative ones. It is at this point too that the help and grace of a Master is likely to be of most value.
When he finds that the fight within, and against, himself is unending he becomes either disheartened or illumined. That is to say, he abandons the Long Path and the Quest together, under the delusion that the limit of the one is also the limit of the other, or he abandons the Long Path and takes to the Short Path.
The end of the Long Path is frustration. This may be an emotionally disappointing blessing, since it forces the man to turn eventually to the Short Path, whose end is fulfilment.
When this feeling of stagnation becomes chronic, it produces a sense of frustrated helplessness. If any progress is to come, it must come through an influence beyond the person himself, he thinks. This is an attempt to throw responsibility elsewhere, to a deliverer or guru who will take over and carry him to the goal. But there is another way open to him, and that is to establish a totally new pattern from the one which he followed in the past. This is the opportunity and call to enter the Short Path.
The average man is the victim of his own past, the slave of his personal history. He is conditioned by its thinking, molded by its disciplines, and dominated by its traditions. Its influence fades all too slowly. This is why the transition from the Long to the Short Path is so often the consequence of some unusual upheaval or some mesmeric contact.
It is not a question of choice between the two paths. The beginner can hardly comprehend what the Short Path means, let alone practise it. So perforce he must take to the Long one. But the intermediate, weary of its toils and defeats, turns with relief to the other path, for which his studies and experiences have now prepared him.
The end of the Long Path is signaled also by the sudden appeal which the Short Path now makes to the aspirant. It tells him that he has quested quite enough in the old way, which is the long way, the excessive way, so that he has become obsessed by it. It tells him that he is now standing in his own light, that he must get out of the way, and that this can be done only by entering on the Short Path, which is preoccupied not with the personal self and its advancement or purification or elevation, but with the Overself.
As he becomes aware of the slavery and illusion which ruled his past life, the struggle to escape from them leads to a psychic tension, ever increasing. This result may be unpleasant but it necessarily follows when an aggressive effort of the will is opposed to old habits of instinct, thought, and conduct. The proper time for starting the Short Path is indicated when these strains and tensions created by the Long one have been borne for so long a period that, unless they culminate in the relief offered by the Short Path, they can no longer be endured.
He comes in the end to recognize his ineffectiveness and incapacity, to admit that he cannot rightly hope to succeed on the quest by his own efforts or by his own qualities. This may make him unhappy but it also offers the opportunity to make himself truly humble.
The end of all his efforts on the Long Path will be the discovery that although the ego can be refined, thinned, and disciplined, it will still remain highly rarefied and extremely subtle. The disciplining of the self can go on and on and on. There will be no end to it. For the ego will always be able to find ways to keep the aspirant busy in self-improvement, thus blinding him to the fact that the self is still there behind all his improvements. For why should the ego kill itself? Yet the enlightenment which is the goal he strives to reach can never be obtained unless the ego ceases to bar the way to it. At this discovery he will have no alternative to, and will be quite ready for, the Short Path.
Most people believe such ideals are not realizable; but given enough time to develop they will be. That is, a fraction of seekers become ready for the Short Path when time, better understood, is less oppressive.
The Long Path man obstinately expects too much from himself until, late in the day, reality compels him to cease to do so.
"This is how I am." Once this acceptant attitude is reached, he is ready to turn to the Short Path.
Once he realizes that he cannot face two ways simultaneously, he will force himself to make a choice between them. The ego or the Overself?
Where is the aspirant who has the feeling that he is thinking what he should at all times or behaving well in all situations? On the contrary, even the sincere, wholehearted aspirant feels his unworthiness from time to time or becomes sad at his defects or discouraged by the seeming impossibility of attaining what the masters did, until he is inclined to abandon the Quest altogether. It is at such a moment that the appeal of one of the Short Paths may be experienced most strongly, as offering to put the goal within his reach at last.
Wearied of the long aspiration, the seemingly forlorn hope, they leave the Quest. Yet this is the very time to enter the Short Path.
Hopkins, the Jesuit priest-poet, abandoned meditation because of constantly recurring moods of self-disgust and hopelessness. This sounds exactly like the point where Long Path work should be brought to an end, being replaced by Short Path work.
This recognition that the Overself is constantly present with him heartens the proficient seeker but in the end frustrates the beginner. It is at this point that he is getting ready, quite unwittingly, to leave the Long Path.
Self-effort is not vain, not futile, yet there is a point where it must yield to grace, cease its labours, surrender its self-management.
If the Long Path disciplines increase his anxieties and frustrations to an insupportable point, it is probably an indication that he needs a shift to the Short Path--with its effort to shift identity into the Overself and establish him there.
Through humiliation and despair, failure and mistakes, the ego may be crushed to the ground. But the aftermath of this apparently hopeless situation may be the end of the Long Path, with the subsequent transfer to the Short Path, with its new hope, pardon, and peace.
The Long Path runs from the start of his quest to, possibly, an advanced stage, depending on the particular person's inner history. When he is getting ready for the Short Path, one sign may appear as a falling away from the Long Path. But here the possibility of error exists. The beginner may react from his early endeavours by getting tired of practice, discipline, or failures. He too may fall away, but for negative reasons.
He begins to see that in attempting to purify himself and to perfect himself he is attempting a tremendous task. The more he progresses, the more he sees how weak and sinful his character still is. The time comes when he can no longer receive in mute resigned patience the Oriental Master's teaching to practise patience equal to that required to empty an ocean with a spoon. It is at such a time that he may be ready to try the Short Path.
The Short Path depends on naturalness and spontaneity--quite the opposite of the Long Path's discipline and effort. The individual who turns aside from the latter at the right moment does so not because he spurns them or denies them or rejects them but because they do not serve him now.
The moment for departure from the Long Path is signaled by the full realization that all that he has really gained from practising its disciplines is only the practice itself, not the newer consciousness to which they were supposed to lead him.
The man on the Long Path reaches a point where he tends to overdo its requirements or to do them in an unbalanced way. He is then too self-conscious, too much ridden by guilt, oscillating between indulgence and remorse. Only when his efforts seem to be futile and his mind to be baffled, only when he gives up in exhaustion does he give up the tension which causes it. Then, relaxed, spontaneity released, the gate is at last open for grace to enter. In its light he may see that in one sense he had been running around in circles because he had been running around inside his own ego.
A point is reached on the Long Path when its regimens and disciplines, its exercises and vigilances, become irritating and depressing. They will then fail to accomplish their proper effects, will even be obstructive and may even be harmful. This is the time to turn away to the Short Path.
When a man gives up trying to make himself better because he feels that it is no use doing so, he has reached the right point to seek grace through the Short Path.
A man may take to the Short Path at any stage of his progress on the Long Path.
A man cannot go on constantly disapproving of himself without becoming morbid, sick, or defeatist. At some point, and at certain intervals, he must check this process of denigration by introducing an opposing one, by affirming his true identity, the Overself.
When he has reached this stage he will begin to understand that his further spiritual progress does not impose special acts such as disciplinary regimes and meditation exercises--excellent and necessary though these were in their place as preparatory work--but requires him simply to stand aside and be an observing witness of life, including his own life.
The positive value of setting up an ideal to work for is not without its limitations and perils. If the saving fact of a sane balance is not also present, or if the time is opportune for a turning away from the Long to the Short Path, then the distance between the ideal and the actual becomes filled with tensions and conflicts, with the anxieties and frustrations bred from them.
When his interest in himself becomes excessive and unhealthy, it is time to turn his back on himself. In the new liberty of the Short Path, no longer trembling between miserable awareness of his faults and overeager desire for spiritual flights, he can find peace, perhaps even joy.
To drop away from the Long Path at the proper time is not at all the same as relapse, if this is followed by entry on the Short Path. The more unrelaxingly and unremittingly he pursued it, the more will he react against it.
The processes and procedures of the Long Path require time. But the Overself is outside of time. To identify yourself with them is to shut yourself out from it. It is consequently needful when a certain point is reached--either in experience or in preparation or in understanding--to abandon the Long Path and take to the Short Path, with its emphasis on living in the Eternal Now.
When the inner call comes, as it will at the proper time, he need not have any hesitations about leaving the Long Path. No sentiment of loyalty need then be allowed to keep him captive to it. But changeover must not be effected too soon or new weaknesses will develop, nor too late, or the chance for timely help will be missed.
When the likelihood of entering the superior consciousness seems no longer possible, when this hope which started and stayed them on the Long Path is finally thrown aside, then there is a natural reaction into feelings of resignation, frustration, cynicism, or despair, according to the personal disposition.
When he recognizes how abortive his aspirations now seem, how baffled his hopes, he reaches the critical point.
However tirelessly and relentlessly he pursues the Long Path, he may come one day to the tragic discovery that the ideal it proposes to him embodies a humanly impossible perfection. With that discovery he will fall into a numb inertness, a pathetic and hopeless state which could even bring his overwrought mind not far from a breakdown. He may feel alone and deserted. He may enter into the dark night of the soul, as some mystics name it. His ego will feel crushed. He will not know what to do, nor even have the strength of will to do anything more. At this point he must wait . . . out of bleakness and weakness there will presently come a guidance, bidding him respond affirmatively to a suggestion, a book, or a teacher directing him toward what is really his first step on the Short Path.
The advocates of the Short Path teach that with its entry, all necessity for the toils processes and disciplines of the Long one ceases. They are right. But they are rarely right when it comes to applying this statement to individual cases. For then it is nearly always applied prematurely. The results are then disastrous at most, disappointing at least.
When he has gone around the circle of his failings and wrong-doings a sufficient number of times, let him consider seriously whether the Short Path should not now be conjoined with, or replace altogether, the Long one.
When the Quest begins to mean so much to him that other things mean less, he is ready for its more advanced phase.
When it gets to the point that he regards his common faults as monstrous sins, it is time to turn to the Short Path. When he is so worried about the virtues he does not have that he forgets those which he does have, it is time to turn to the Short Path.
When too long a time is spent on the Long Path with too slow a progress, the urge arises to find another way. It is then that the Short Path becomes appropriate.
There is no doubt that many of those who attempt meditation at first find nothing for their labours even though at times they seem to be on the verge of finding something. It does not get realized. When after a sufficiently long period the seeming lack of success turns the effort into a bore, two things are indicated. A point has been reached where a greater patience is needed and the man must learn to go on waiting. Short periods without practice are then permissible if the strain is too much. The other indication is that the Short Path must be brought in or may even replace the work of meditation for the time being. But all this is subject to the qualification that the meditation is correctly conducted so that the method must be checked, the process must be understood and its purpose clarified.
If a point is reached when he becomes uneasy about his inner situation, its seeming lack of progress in the present and unfavourable prospects in the future, it may be a signal to stress the Short Path work.
The failure to recognize that there is a Short Path as the advanced sequel to the Long Path, as well as the necessary complement to it, is responsible for confusions, misunderstandings, and even errors.
When preoccupation with the disciplines and regimes, the restrictions and curbs prescribed on the Long Path becomes so excessive as to be morbid, or becomes too neglectful of the freedom, the satisfaction, and the happiness-bringing attitudes which truth should elicit, it is time to bring them to an end. They need to be replaced by the opposing practices of the Short Path--fears by faith, morbidity by joy, intolerances by indifference.
Even those who are satisfied to continue permanently the Long Path's preparatory disciplines will one day find an inner impulsion rising spontaneously within themselves and leading them to the Short Path.
He reaches a point when he feels that he must rebel against the work demanded of him by the quest, and later--as a further consequence, and in some bitterness--the very notion of the quest itself. This is simply a misunderstanding of his real position. All that he has to do is to turn around and enter the Short Path.
A time comes when he no longer feels the need for a technique but rather for freedom from all techniques.
When he reaches the stage of the Long Path where there is only stress upon his shortcomings, where negative traits are the only ones seen, there is needed a less ego-centered attitude. Too much obscures the higher goal he seeks.
When the Long Path work has been done to the point that it bores, depresses, or satiates him, admission must be made that he had better leave it for a while. Here is a turning point where the Short Path must be entered both for relief and for a fresh outlook.
All this willed striving for a condition of being which seems so far beyond, will reach its terminus at this point. From now on he admits the Overself into the game. He allows for its existence.
Another sign that the time may have come for a change to the Short Path is when meditation no longer yields satisfying results but becomes irksome and difficult.
When their Long Path has become a thing without cheer and without grace, it is time for them to turn toward the Short Path.
When a man has come to the end of his tether, dry of all hope for accomplishment of his aim by self-effort, he is ripe for the Grace-invoking effort of the Short Path.
The Long Pather who becomes overloaded with the seriousness with which he takes it, is preparing the inevitable reaction.
If the admission that he makes mistakes and has weaknesses may become a torment on the Long Path, the indifference to them may become one of the signs that he has moved to the Short Path.
If you are getting no result, no change in external situation, it is because you are not practising. You are dependent upon the feeble little ego. Cultivate the idea incessantly that the Overself provides and put yourself in dependence on its higher power. But do not attempt this before you have studied and appropriated the lessons of your existing circumstances.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.