Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives > Chapter 15: Illuminations


Properties of imagination

In the mystical aspirant's life, his imaginative faculty, when properly used, keeps the Guide or Master constantly and vividly before his attention to inspire, to correct, and to lead him. But improperly used, it leads him astray into fantasies and falsities.

If he continues to gaze at the mental images which he thus sees in his vision, rapt and absorbed as he is, he may eventually mesmerize himself into a firm belief in their external reality. But whether they be Gods and saints or lights and colours, these strange visions which pass before his eyes are partly creations of the mind itself. Many so-called clairvoyant and occult phenomena are really mental projections, but it is perfectly possible for them to be so vivid as to appear as if they were outside their seer. The experiences of them have been largely, if unconsciously, created within the tortuous recesses of the narrator's own cranium. He visualizes mental images with such intensity and exuberance that the imagined forms and events appear to him as external objects. This kind of thing has now come even within the sweep of scientific investigation. A group of psychologists, professors attached to American universities, have discovered that the faculty of perceiving mental images so vividly that they appear to be outside objects is not uncommon among children, and they have bestowed the term "eidetic imagery" on this power. There is little difference between such imagining and that of those grown-up children who unconsciously create their own visions. In both cases the visions are the result of the percipient's own mental construction and have no independent existence.

The mind can make its own experiences, from the lowest to the highest, by imagination or by intellection, by faith or by expectancy. They may seem real enough to the experiencer but yet be mere aberrations, illustrating only this power of the mind, rather than its capacity to find truth. Worshippers of cults, devotees of gurus, do not usually know this.

Let us not be misunderstood. We are not decrying either the worth or the utility of imagination properly used. We are decrying its degeneration into wild fancy, its caricature by foolish hallucination, its misuse and abuse. On the Quest, as in other fields, it is a valuable faculty which can help the aspirant actualize his ideal in everyday living. By its use in intensive meditation it enables him to put into pictorial form what he wants to become. This literally creates his ideal.

Just as the dream-mind of sleep creates pseudo-personalities with utter ease, so the reverie-mind of meditation creates images and messages with the same ease.

Visions may be nothing more than rambling imaginations yet are mistaken for revelations.

The intensity of a man's thinking will help to determine how long or how short the thought-form thus created will survive and its influence endure; for all thought-forms must die in the end.

Too often the picture he builds up in his mind is painted with baseless assumptions, exaggerated expectations, and ungrounded suppositions. It does not coincide with the reality which life itself provides. A blind faith is not necessarily a correct one.

The world into which he thinks he has penetrated exists inside his own head alone. It is a private one. It is a fantasy, not a reality.

In short, a man must become aware of his relationship to the Spirit before he will drop his relationship with spiritualism.

When these pictures in the mind pose as psychical realities, they may easily lead him astray from the true path.

Its apparent clairvoyance or psychic faculty or strong detailed memory is largely due to possession of picture-vision.

Although he feels that the communication originates from outside himself, from a spiritual leader or disembodied being, it is part of his own inner life nevertheless. The thoughts are of his own making even though projected into space and associated with someone else. Their seeming outwardness is no proof of their actual outwardness. He has unconsciously deceived himself, and yet not altogether done so.

Spiritual reality, mental imagery

The problem of extraordinary psychic phenomena which sometimes arise in the course of meditation is puzzling but not insoluble. Visions may be seen, voices heard, revelations automatically written down, or conversations carried on with another entity. We propose to deal here with authentic phenomena and not with cases of insanity, epilepsy, hysteria, and neuroticism, which unfortunately get mixed up with mystical aspiration and, unjustly but not unreasonably, bring censure down on mysticism itself.

The reality of the soul is one thing, the image under which many mystics experience it is another. Any effort to identify the one with the other under all conditions is a misconceived and misguided effort.

Where the psychical manifests itself and mixes with the aspirant's mystical experience, this may happen because he has some psychical sensitivity or a strong emotional nature or a vivid imaginative faculty. If the ego inserts itself, as it often does, the result will be a confused one. In such a case, the aspirant has to separate the psychical element from the mystical one, which is higher. He has to force himself by rigorous analysis to become aware of what has really happened.

A strange happening which cannot be explained at present is not necessarily a miracle. There might be a supernormal explanation.

There is a danger in the case of those who practise meditation and seek psychic "experiences," without a sufficiently strong character, of developing a double personality, one which mixes together in ill-assorted union the most exalted moments felt in meditation with the lowest ones felt in the animal nature. In spite of the loftiness of one part of the nature, the other may become weak and faulty.

Instead of truth being sharply revealed by such religio-psychic states, it is pleasantly fogged and speciously avoided.

A psychic experience which is also emotionally absorbing in a self-centered way is one to beware of. If it throws him off-balance, it is useless and unimportant to his quest.

It is true they may believe they feel peace of mind, but an inner peace which is grounded on the false creations of fantasy will not stand the tests of life. They may go about their business in this delusion for some time, but sooner or later something will happen to expose it for what it is.

Most occult meditations and exercises are done within, by, and for the ego! Their special danger is self-deception since it is an ego no longer openly materialistic but masquerading as highly spiritual!

A neurotic experience often masquerades as a noumenal one!

Every psychic vision is really seen outside his being.

Those who lose their heads and become hysterical over their own mystical experiences have probably had only psychical ones.

The experience may be gratifying but it may also be of little value; it is cozy but not cosmic!

When we comprehend the mentalist character of the whole of our world-experience, it is easy to comprehend that a mystic's intuition may symbolize itself in a perceived form, his thought may express itself in a heard voice, his supersensual experience may translate itself into a sensory one, and his higher self may project itself in a revered master's face.

Those to whom the higher power has to reveal itself through visions seen clairvoyantly, or sounds heard clairaudiently, or teachings impressed mentally are helped in this inferior way only because they lack the capacity to receive in a superior way. And this remains just as true if the vision is of their most respected Spiritual Leader, the sound none other than the mystic Sanskrit syllable OM, and the teaching fully descriptive of the seven planes of progressive being. If they had possessed the capacity to receive by pure insight without any reference to the method by which we receive through the agency of five bodily senses and the intellect, they would not have needed such occult experiences, which are in a sense semi-materialistic. Only when these agents are stilled, and the image-making faculty silenced, and the time or place lost, is pure Spirit known. Not only must the body and its activities, the intellect and its movements be forgotten, but even their representation in an occult or psychical manner must be absent. It is then only that there can be true identity with the Overself. All other experiences are mere projections going out from it, and hence involved in references to the ego.

If the voices which he hears are audible in the same way that one hears the voices of people through the ears, it is merely psychic and undesirable. If, however, it is a very strong mental impression and also very clear, then it is the mystic phenomenon known as the "Interior Word" which is on a truly spiritual plane and therefore is desirable.

H.P.B.'s Voice of the Silence tells of seven mystical sounds which are heard by the aspirant. The first is like the nightingale's voice, whereas the sixth is like a thunder-cloud. This passage has been much misunderstood both by novices and by unphilosophical mystics, whilst in India and Tibet whole systems of yoga have been built up on their supposed psychic existence. The sounds are not actually heard. The reference to them is merely metaphorical. It speaks rather of the silent intuitive feeling of the Overself's existence which becomes progressively stronger with time, until finally, in H.P.B.'s own eloquent words, "The seventh swallows all the other sounds. They die, and then are heard no more." This represents the stage where the voice of the ego is completely unified with the voice of the Overself, where occasional realization is converted into a constant one.

Some see lightning flash across the eyes, others feel a glowing point within the heart. These are not the Overself but the human and psychic reactions to the experience of it.

There are certain principal phenomena--especially visions that are seen, rapturous ecstasies that are felt, revelations that are impressed on the mind, and communications that are uttered within by an interior voice--which may appear at various stages (or may not).

It would be a gross error to believe that all visions are to be regarded with caution, let alone suspicion. There is one which is a complete exception to this rule. This is the vision of Light.

The Infinite and Absolute Power which transcends time could never reveal itself by any seen vision or heard sound. Sects like the Rahasoami which offer both as a divine experience are still pandering to the psychic thirst and occult hunger of half-developed minds unable to understand the relativity and inferiority of such inner experiences.

The faith which is already in the heart, the image which pre-exists in the mind, these are drawn upon and used by the man's soul to give him the experience of and message from itself.

The Overself can never be seen or heard, touched or tasted. Therefore no visions of a pictorial kind, no voices of a psychic kind, no musical sounds of a "mystical and cosmic" kind, no outer form or manifestation of any kind which comes to you through the senses can be the real authentic experience of it.

Most of the visions and many of the voices experienced by them are within a strange sphere, compounded partly of thought-forms created by their own imagination and partly of denizens in a spirit underworld.

The pure growth of the inner life is not compatible with the dubious activity of dramatic occult-psychical forces, even though these assertedly emanate from God--firstly because the assertion is a false one, secondly because the resultant experiences keep the man within the realm of form, illusion, and even more especially, egoism.

All visions in the end are visions which occur in mind. Do not think that vision of anything is the goal. The one thing you must find is reality of being, that which you are.

We must be sharp enough to observe that even when it is occupied with any mental image of God or the Soul, the consciousness is still objective, still directed to something apart from and other than itself.

God will appear to us in Spirit alone, never in Space. To see him is to see the playing and posturing of our own mind.

A mystic experience may come with a seen vision of the spiritual Guide or a felt--not heard--voice communicating a message, teachings, or guidance, or it may come with none of these things as intellectual insight into the Real.

The God with whom he communicates is indeed an aspect of his own consciousness, a higher state of his own being.

The fact that God is formless suffices to show that He cannot be seen as an external or internal form. Whoever declares that God has taken shape before him, whether in tangible flesh or untouchable vision, thereby declares his own ignorance.

What they think to be the solemn voice of God is really the voice of their own higher self commingled with, or influenced by, the expectations of their conscious and subconscious mind.

He inevitably thinks of God through his own experience and so through his own mental images. But the God of reality is utterly beyond him and utterly unpicturable. It is the Unknown God.

Many a mystical experience of "God" is really an exalted emotion shaped by the power of suggestions received from outside or from within.

Only in relation to our human nature can we make these attributions to the Divine. Only in their human reactions do mystics have their various mystical experiences of the Divine.

The danger of mistaking his mere opinion for God's voice is a real one. It can be averted only if he will allow himself to be guided by the wider experience of Masters and disciplined by the rejection of egoistic influences.

The Infinite Reality could only be known by an infinite mind. If any finite human intelligence--however mystical it may be--consciously claims such knowledge, it unconsciously proclaims at the same time that its knowledge is ultimately only an opinion.

The danger of taking every idea that comes into his head as a communication from Jesus or Buddha, as so many take it even today, is a real one.

He imagines himself to have attained union with God or to be on the path to it, and the irony is that it is this very imagination which prevents him from attaining it.

Whether divinity appears to man as the world outside him or as an inward experience, it is still an appearance.

The differing human imaginations about God and the various human ideas about God's response to human attitudes in no way affect or alter the actual situation.

Psychic phenomena, whether of a sensory or mental kind, which insidiously flatter the ego should be ignored, or discounted as illusory. The most absurd effect is the Messiah complex.

Conditioning factors

The importance of the mental attitude with which the meditator enters this supreme experience is immense. For it is truly creative. Thought maketh the man. It is here that the meditator's interference may alter the results that should legitimately be expected from this enlargement of consciousness. Such interference may take the shape, for example, of insisting on attaching his intellectual preconceptions and emotional complexes to the Overself in anticipation of what he thinks it is or ought to be. He will usually emerge from this experience with a view of the significance coloured by his previous habitual thought and distinctive life. If, for instance, he enters it out of ascetic escapism, as often happens, out of a quest of refuge from a world with whose trials or temptations, existence or values he cannot cope, he will return with a strengthened denunciation of the world's worthlessness. This faulty interpretation of his mystical experience is due not only to the immaturity of his intellectual ideas but also to the bias of his emotional temperament.

When a man receives or communicates a mystic experience, a divine revelation, he naturally receives it through, or communicates it along with, his preconceived opinions and traditionally absorbed views, his emotional prejudices and intellectual bias, his particular situation in time and place and his conscious or unconscious self-interest. It is limited by them, while his pronouncements are conditioned by them. A further element which intrudes into his interpretation is that of hidden desires and unconscious wishes. Rawson with his cult of an immortal bodily life represents this type of intrusion.

Although these visions of a spiritual guide maybe are the outcome of the man's own previous desires and thoughts, there is no reason why he should not profit by their limited usefulness. It is only when they keep him permanently caught, as in a trap, that they hinder his further advance and render him a disservice.

Ideas picked up by association or inherent in the mentality or lurking in the character may become as operative during the illumination as before it. They will then seem to be an integral part of it.

His own imaginings enter into his highest mystical experience and give a spurious validity to the intellectual, emotional, and traditional tendencies which birth and environment have implanted in him.

Mystics see in vision the leader they believe in. "According to talmudic tradition, the prophet Elijah never died, and many saintly persons in the period of the Talmud and thereafter, down to recent times, have been reputedly visited and taught by him. Such a privilege is called gillui Elijah--Elijah's self-revelation."

The Kabbalah has admitted that the gillui Elijah does not necessarily imply a visual manifestation: "To some Elijah reveals himself through the soul, by way of the intellect, to some by the way of wisdom, and to some--face to face."--Tikkunei Zohar Hadash. The Maharal of Prague, creator of the famous golem (robot), wrote (Nezah Israel, chapter XXVIII): "There is no difference whether Elijah's presence be seen or not seen, for often Elijah tells one various things without the recipient's awareness of the source of his information."-- H.L. Gordon, The Maggid of Caro

His ego, with its preferences and repulsions, will stamp its character upon his interpretation unless in the moment of revelation he can abandon it utterly.

The emotions swiftly insert themselves into the experience and give it a personal bias. The thoughts wrap themselves around it and, following confirmed habit, give it a familiar shape.

It is a well-known fact in Muhammedan religious history that visions of the Prophet have often been granted to Islamic Holy Men, and are indeed much prized by them. But the question comes up: Why did not Jesus or Buddha appear to them instead of Muhammed?

Even Ramakrishna once admitted that the enlightenment attained by the most highly spiritual person is slightly coloured by his own ordinary human mind! It is obvious that differences of education or intellect, upbringing or tradition, will be responsible for some of the differences of teaching among mystics.

The ego not only inserts itself into the experience at the very time that it is happening but also after it is over when remembering or communicating it.

Why did Swedenborg, for instance, see an inner world which was but a continuation of, and entirely coloured by, the religious tradition into which he was born? Why was it so completely Christian and Western? Why were the Buddhistic characteristics of the Eastern half of the planet's traditions utterly absent?

He who finds in the revelation precisely what he expected to find may have unconsciously contributed towards its making.

He is being affected by suggestion all the time. If he could catch it at the point of entry, he might be able to protect himself. But this presupposes the ability to recognize the influences for what they are, or to detect their real source.

Imagination, desire, emotion, or expectancy get involved with the real glimpse because the man has not purged his character enough, nor developed his intelligence sufficiently, to arrive at pure perception.

The illumination is one thing, its emotional additions another. A beginner confuses the two. When the emotional excitement wears off and only the ideas left by illumination remain, he feels disappointed, frustrated, unhappy.

Even in moments of highest exaltation he has to receive the inspiration with the limited consciousness and imperfect character which he possesses at the time it comes.

A separation must be made between the mental-emotional fact of the experience and the message, revelation, or expression which it contains. Such an analysis will not hurt a true experience and a true message but only tend to confirm them.

When any mystic assigns a supreme and unique place to the Person with whom his native religion is identified, and assigns an inferior and commoner one to the other prophets, his mystical revelation is faulty and imperfect.

Suggestion from outside as well as from inside himself supplies much of the interpretation of his message. To that extent it may distort the message.

What the ego contributes to his illumination is an unwitting contribution. Nevertheless, it is present; thus and to that degree it stops him from being fully and finally illumined.

Mystical experiences do happen and only the purblind materialist, who will not trouble to investigate, dares deny their occurrence. But when each mystic tells of seeing only that God or that Saviour or that Guide whom he already worships or honours, the thoughtful scientific enquirer naturally and rightly becomes suspicious. The Christian sees Saint Teresa or Jesus or pictures of the orthodox heaven which were taught him in youth and childhood. The Hindu sees the Rama or Shiva with whom he is already familiar. The situation in mystical circles is today, and always has been, an anarchical one. What else can be expected where men are free to mistake private opinion for divine guidance, human ambition for sacred mandate? But even in loftier levels, where vision is authentic and intuition is a fact, the intellectual unity in such circles is a precarious one. How can we imagine a common denominator of outlook between such diversified mystics as Plotinus and Swedenborg? What unity of belief can there be between Eckhart, the German prophet, and Joseph Smith, the Mormon seer? This raises a question which has to be settled and which the advanced mystic must face if he is going to be honest with himself and others.

Philosophy's answer will not be palatable to most mystics, but the inconsistency of such experiences cannot otherwise be explained. It declares that the actuality of a mystical revelation may be accepted without by any means accepting all its content. It explains that if the heart yearns intensely for the Overself but, whether through environmental suggestion or historical tradition, associates this in belief with a particular mental image, there will be an unconscious projection of the image into mystical experiences, should they eventually occur. The Overself uses the man's own imaginative faculty as a medium of its communication to him. It helps him by couching its message in an idiom which is familiar to, and easily understandable by, him. Thus he first puts a picture of God or a Saint in his mind and then these experiences follow after intense concentration upon it. But it is really his own mind which works all these wonders and which gives the impression of an external power, whether of God or of man, acting upon him. His interpretation has been unconsciously laid over the delight and grandeur of the inner experience itself and presented to the world as if it were an inherent and integral part of that experience.

Paul's previous familiarity with the name and notions of Jesus account for his identification with Christ of the vision which appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Had he been unaware of Jesus' existence, had he known only of Krishna's existence, for example, he would have attributed this mystic experience not to the first but to the second source. This does not in the least derogate from the genuine character of Paul's vision nor the truly spiritual authenticity of his conversion. His experience would have been equally exalted, equally divine whatever attribution he gave it, because it was a veritable visitation, sudden and unexpected, by the Overself.

Thus what is already familiar to the mystic, such as images out of his own past or out of the conventional traditions or religious dogmas in which he has previously been instructed, adds itself to the initial inspiration. But it often adds itself so largely as to assume an importance beyond its right. He himself is unfortunately in no position to distinguish the original from what has been added to it, for the frontier between them has been obliterated by the force, heat, and immediacy of his experience. The mystic who has striven is entitled to his reward and gets it through such experiences, but so long as he is unable to separate what is essential in them--the sublime tranquillity and serene immateriality that abide in their inmost being--from what is accidental--the presupposed mental figures and pictures he sees, the inward message he hears, and the intuitive thoughts that arise--so long will he be blind to the fact that the latter is veridical only for himself, being hatched in his own mind, and not for others.

He enters this Light with the equipment of experience, knowledge, mentality, and character which accompany the intuition leading him into it. The condition of such equipment cannot help but affect what he sees or learns.

Even the vocabulary with which he explains the mystical experience to himself or transmits it to others is manufactured for him by the religious tradition of his land. It limits and even shapes his understanding, so that he does not receive the knowledge yielded by this experience as it is in itself.

The visions represent no new knowledge but only a development of his inherited beliefs or subconscious influences.

The revelation will be conditioned by his own mentality, his racial tradition, his point of view, his area of experience, and his grade of development. These constitute the channel in which it has to manifest and through which it has to pass to others. They may interfere to the point of rendering it inaccurate.

The kind of spiritual experience a man gets depends upon the degree of development attained by his character, intelligence, and aspiration.

The character of these visions is often traceable to previously held ideas, to strongly held beliefs, or to hoarded suggestions. Ideas which he previously knew contribute towards and may even determine the ideas which are supposed to be revealed ones. Thus his interior revelation or clairvoyance is usually conditioned by his personal history and temperament.

It is a noteworthy historical fact that out of the list of known stigmatists, only two of those were men--Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio. All the others were women. It is equally noteworthy that this strange phenomenon has never appeared among the mystics and monks of the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church--and they have been many.

Generally the most powerful of these formative influences are the suggestions which he receives and accepts from his environment. Parents, family, country, and race have acted upon him since his infancy, always openly and often subtly. They have imposed their own traditional ideas, to which he has unconsciously fallen victim unless he is one of the few who have had sufficient independence to think for themselves.

In the end all suggestion is auto-suggestion. An idea which has been introduced into the mind by an outside agent becomes our own only after we have accepted it.

The group he belongs to, the organization of which he is a member, the very language he uses--all this conditions his illumination.

The materials stored in his memory will help to shape the finished revelation, just as the literary models to which he is accustomed or with which he has had contact will influence the form of his composition.

His personal characteristics, personal history, and personal habits constitute the glasses through which he looks at Truth. If they are coloured or biased, too inadequate or too one-sided, then this will affect his vision of the truth.

Suggestion pours in from his origins and devotions, his background and dedications, his experience and relationships, from all the past generations and past reincarnations which have made his ego what it is.

He is a slave to the beliefs put into his head in childhood and adolescence, by society and education, and simply echoes them back for the rest of his lifetime, even when he enters the light of a mystical experience.

His ideas of God and his intuitions of the Soul do not come from himself alone nor from his mystical experience alone. They have come also from his parents, his educators, his spiritual pastors, from intercourse with the society in which he has lived, and from reading the books he has owned or borrowed.

Just as a dream so often dramatizes the simplest mental or physical stimulus, so the mind of a psychic dramatizes some of its own ordinary content and projects that upon an event, an object, or a person.

The true being is one thing, a human being's experience of it is another, while the individual reaction to it is a third thing. So when two people report their communion with, and communication from, God, remember not to expect identical statements. There will be differences and colourings, agreements and, to some extent, contradictions. There are no two individualities absolutely alike, no two personal histories which duplicate one another. So--"the observer enters into the observed object," as they say of the most difficult stage in formulating the theory of atomic physics. Each prophet gives you his way of receiving and articulating truth: it cannot be otherwise. Silence alone can then hold the answer to Pilate's question: "What is truth?" But, because few people are sensitive enough to comprehend such an answer telepathically or to "deny" themselves sufficiently to let its grace enter their hearts, most prophets will continue to speak.

If visions and voices, forms and messages, often enter the mystic's field of consciousness at a certain stage of his experience, they are like the similes and metaphors which poets and writers use in order to express the feelings aroused by something or other. They ought not to be confused with the deeper psychological experience to which they are related, any more than we ought to confuse a writer's allusion in the expression "the man was a Napoleon in daring" with thinking that the man in any way became a real Napoleon instead of a figurative one. The educational and theological ideas familiar to a mystic are similar figurative projections when they reappear in his visions, although he is usually too confused or too unscientific or too carried away to separate them from their psychological basis. Nevertheless it may still be the divine Overself which supplies the original inspiration for them, and the thrill of uplift or peace which he experiences does then come from such a basis. The mystic is too close to his experience, too enthralled with its wonder, to notice how far he is himself contributing a genuine and how far a dubious or even a fictitious element to it, or to comprehend that it is the act of meditation itself, and not the object meditated on, that really produces results. The inspiration may be indubitable, but it is a common mistake to superimpose upon such a feeling the intellectual image which memory constructs or the theoretical interpretation which natural bias or human expectation provides. The nugget of inspirational gold is hidden within a fantasy created by his own desires and emotions, by his strong wishful thinking. It is a more refined version of the old story of making God partly but not wholly in man's image.

Thus these experiences do not really originate from an outside source. It is his own mental pictures that are brought up out of the subconscious and reflected into his conscious mind, even when he believes that they are visions of something external. The message he hears may only be the echo of his own voice, a subtle psychic self-deception. The content of many clairvoyant visions and portentous prophecies, as of many dreams, is determined by what has previously been read, thought, or experienced. Hence they are only projections of mental images already familiar to him. These ideas may simmer in the mind's depths for a long time but eventually they float to the surface. The mental phenomena obtained differ according to the notions previously entertained and are consequently coloured accordingly. This is inevitable because his mystical study or practice is usually and unconsciously carried on under the sway of such educational preconceptions and experiential bias as he brings to it. The historical variations in mystical phenomena are too wide, and the visions themselves are too similar to the expectations of the mystic to be acceptable as valid, even when their actual occurrence is undeniable, as it often is. We see wish-fulfilment at work here, whether it be the consequence of unconscious wishes or conscious ones. These experiences form too frail a foundation to hold up a true conception of the world or of God.

The mystic must beware of the effusions of his all-too-vivid imagination. The confusion wrought by those earnest but inexperienced aspirants who associate their wrong intellectual beliefs, their narrow emotional prepossessions, and their foolish hopes with the Overself's inspiration is immense. They enthuse about what is inconsequential and neglect what is important. So long as they insist on taking the imaginations they revel in so uncritically as a basis for the understanding of life, so long will that understanding itself remain shallow and inadequate. So long as they are less interested in the pure experience of the Overself and more in the fanciful drapery which the mental complexes unconsciously wrap around it, so long will their knowledge of divine matters be halting and uncertain. An unexamined and uncriticized mysticism, which carries a heavy cargo of wishful thinking, is not good enough.

In the content of his message there is both an impersonal element and a personal one. The first is derived from his higher self, which is often mistaken for God. The second is derived from his own characteristic mentality, whose contribution is seldom recognized or admitted. The essential idea comes from a higher source but the words expressing it do not.

He imagines that his intuitive message is pure undefiled and authentic, whereas he has brought into it what he has learned read and heard--in short his own beliefs and opinions. But he has done this so unconsciously, his ego has interposed itself so cunningly, that it is nearly impossible for him to discover not only how far this process has gone but even that it has happened at all.

The initial impetus and dynamic force of all these mystical phenomena come from the Overself, whereas the forms taken in consciousness by them are the ego's own manufacture. When the ego receives the impact from the Overself, it visualizes a face or figure, an event or scene, according to its habitual trend of thinking and experiential familiarity. In this natural but limited way it gives expression to the Formless in the world of forms. The wisdom of this process is that the ego naturally supplies a form with which it is familiar and, therefore, which is comprehensible to it. This explains why, for example, a mystical message is always couched in the same language as that spoken by its recipient. But it also explains why the very intellectual and experiential limitations of the ego are so often and so unfortunately mistaken for divine revelations!

Few find the pure truth,: most find what they desire, expect, or prefer, which is merely the mental creation of their own ego. Of course it will probably be mixed with some part of the pure truth, or they would be led astray indeed, but both parts are so hopelessly intertwined that separation is hard or impossible.

The mystic's own personality and his previous way of thinking and believing will lead him unconsciously into interpretations of, and deductions from, his inner experience conformable with what he is. The truth of his revelation or experience is not absolute, but relative to his own particular human personality.

A part of the illumination does not rise from within. It is implanted from without. It is not a contribution from divine wisdom, but a suggestion from human thought. It is really an activation, by the soul's newly found power, of ideas put into the mind previously by others. For example, many Indian yogis actually hear the word "aum" sounding through the mind in their deep and prolonged meditation. A few, belonging to a particular sect, hear the word "Radhasoami" in the same condition. Why is it that no Western mystic, uninitiated into Eastern Yoga, has ever recorded hearing either of these words? This phenomenon is really due in one group of cases to hypnotic suggestion by a guru, and in the other group to unconscious suggestion by a tradition. All that does not however negate its actuality and genuineness, nor detract from its value in first, strengthening the aspirant's religious faith, second, promoting his mystical endeavours, and third--which is the most important of all--providing him with a diving board whence to plunge into the vast silence of the Void, where no words can be formulated and no sounds can be heard, because it is too deep for them or anything else. These, being the most advanced form of psychic phenomena, occur in the last stage of meditation and just before contemplation proper begins.

What he takes to be a completely mystical experience is really mixed up with quite ordinary non-mystic all-too-human feelings.

When it is said that the mystic's own mental construction is responsible for the visions he sees, whether these be of a living guru distant in space or a dead one distant in time or a scriptural God, it is not meant that such construction is a voluntary activity. On the contrary, it is both involuntary and subconscious. This is the psychological explanation of such phenomena, but what is the metaphysical one? This is that the mystic, not having evolved to an understanding of the formless, timeless, matterless character of true being, nor to the capacity to concentrate on it, is given a spaced-timed-shaped image on which to concentrate. What gives him this image? It is his own Overself.

The divine adapts itself to the seeker's understanding in the same moment that it blesses him by its presence. The latter acts as a catalyst. It causes him unconsciously to formulate ideas and create pictures which, being of his own making, are easily comprehensible.

The form under which the experience came to him was partially or wholly a contributed one--that is, he unconsciously built it out of familiar elements. In this way it had meaning for him, was acceptable to him, and was instantly recognizable by him. But if the mold was partially or wholly undivine, the inspiring force, truth, and reality which flowed into it was not.

The words and images, the phrases and symbols, come from his own mentality or experience, but their inspiration comes from that part of himself which is not in time.

It is not altogether his own fault that he grafts his passionately held opinions upon the stem of his mystical experience, for the process is quite unconscious.

The interference with an illumination occurs when it is being transmitted through the everyday normal consciousness of the mystic.

A brilliant young astronomer at a famous English university said to me recently that what seemed to be needed was an agreed standard of criticism for religious truth, as he called it, a criterion of validity, as he explained. But if a synod of competent saints or mystics were to meet privately, they would still not agree. For at the core of every authentic mystical experience the mystics are united, but at its surface, where the power of suggestion and the limitations of ego come into play, they are not.

His own thoughts come back to him in his new revelation. His limited personal views return on themselves, energized by the exhilarated feeling which results from his fresh contact with the Impersonal. Nevertheless his mystical experience is a real one.

His feeling of inspired revelation is correct but his inference of its purity is not. His own uncontrolled imagination forms a substantial part of it.

The genuinely inspirational part of his message is what helps him and others, what ought to be respected and honoured even by those who cannot share the belief, illusion, or dogma in which he entwines it.

How much man owes his spiritual revelations to tradition and environment, how little to the pure and primal waters of actual inspiration, only the philosophic investigator really knows.

It is highly significant that nowhere in the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church has any saint appeared bearing the blood-flowing marks of the stigmata. It may well be asked why this should be so when the Western or Latin Church has produced a number of saints whose lives were notable for this phenomenon. The only answer that a scientific but spiritually sympathetic psychology could accept is that the Greek mystics were not attracted towards the figure of the suffering Christ and therefore did not meditate upon it, whereas the Latin mystics, like Padre Pio, for instance, have always been attracted to this figure and given themselves up to frequent meditation upon it. A further point worth noting is that few Hindu mystics have had any vision of Jesus--Ramakrishna, Sunda Singh, and a couple of obscure holy men are the only ones I have ever heard of in this connection. All this points to the tremendous power of suggestion.

The ultimate unity of spiritual teachings, which some profess to see, applies rather to spiritual experience. As soon as the mystic attempts to understand, interpret, or communicate his experience, differences set in. This is partly because the intellect gets to work, partly because he unconsciously obeys the bias given him by the nature of his past experience, study, education, and environment, and partly because he may not have undergone the philosophic discipline to its fullest extent.

The experience reveals the Overself as it really is but their ego's vanity or preconceived ideas about it try to tell them something else. If they are intent on finding truth, there will be the wonder of new discovery; but if they are intent on finding confirmation of those ideas, there will one day be a hard inner struggle.

It is his own mind, using its imaginative power, which creates the vision he sees. But it is not a false vision since it assumes the form which appeals most to him, and because its purpose is to enable him to believe, accept, the divine presence as a real fact. That presence is what matters most in all such experiences and is their chief inspirer.

How else explain why Francis of Assisi saw a vision of Jesus nailed to the cross whereas William Blake saw a vision of the Devil? We know that Francis poured out devotion, thought, and prayer to Jesus whereas Blake admitted, "For many years I longed to see Satan."

Why is it that to Saint Gregory in the third century and to Pope Pius XII in the twentieth the Virgin Mary appeared, surrounded by a bright light? Why did not Sri Krishna appear?

In its passage from Mind to mind the revelation gets somehow mixed up, adulterated, and despoiled.

Because he cannot accommodate the whole of the Real in all its purity but must needs pass some of it through his own ego, his resultant experience or understanding of it becomes partly involved in illusions.

Why did Sri Ramakrishna see God as the Mother, Kali, during his numerous mystical experiences? The answer must be traced back to his boyhood history. He was then a young priest serving in a temple dedicated to Kali. He performed his ceremonies with intense faith and devotion. The power of involuntary and subconscious auto-suggestion explains the rest.

Subliminal suggestion enters into the message, submerged memories influence it. The pure gold of divine truth lies at its core but these inferior metals turn it into an alloy.

It is the fate of all human speech and writing to reveal something of the instrument through which they manifest. They may reveal his mental greatness and moral integrity but they may also reveal his littleness and bias.

He has received a real message from the Overself but he has subconsciously manufactured the form it has taken and consciously clothed it in familiar words.

Inspiration is still a living reality in the prophet's heart even though his ego limits or interferes with its messages.

He carries his ego into the experience itself; the two get mixed together. It is not his fault, for he is ignorant, does not clearly understand what is happening to him, while the egoistic instinct has hitherto been the driving power behind his life.

It was Lu Hsiang-shan, the twelfth-century mentalist, who remarked--whether simply or sarcastically is of no point here--"If the superior minds and virtuous worthies of a thousand epochs of antiquity were to be brought together at the same table, there would of a certainty be no complete agreement on Truth."

The ego thrusts itself into his revelation, blatantly if he is ignorant of its wiles, subtly if he is not.

The idea with which he approaches God, the soul, or the Overself is a human creation, whether it be his own or more generally derived from traditional religious belief. It reflects his personality and the quality of his mind. When divine inspiration comes, he unwittingly attaches this idea to it.

The true Word of revelation

The true Word of revelation is an eternal one. The varieties of human hearing do not affect it. Can we recover it in all its immaculate purity of sound?

Personal factors help to mold the revelation not only from the conscious surfaces but also from subconscious depths beyond them. The ego-complex insidiously penetrates it; the emotional nature immediately permeates it. The question arises whether these limitations can be transcended, whether a genuinely universal and impersonal condition can be attained in the seer himself, so that the resultant revelation shall be a "pure" one. The answer is that it certainly can, but that it is a rare and exceptional attainment.

When we understand that it is not possible for any man to free himself totally from personal standpoints, we understand that all mystical communications and religious revelations are afflicted with relativity and are consequently imperfect--all, that is to say, except those where the recipient has sought and sought successfully to transcend his humanity. Such an effort is embodied in the philosophic discipline. Such recipients were men like Gautama and Jesus.

Before he permits others to saddle him with the pretense of having achieved omniscience or to receive his pronouncements under the belief that he is incapable of making mistakes, the mystic needs to ask himself, "What is the source of my revelation?" How far it may be trusted as being infallible depends on his discovery of the correct answer to this question, on his penetration through the relative elements in it to the absolute one, on his separation of the durable essence from the ephemeral covering.

By a "pure" interpretation of the experience, we mean one wherein not the slightest intrusion of personal complexes, limitation, or temperament has happened, one where the mind has not been held captive by the educational or environmental thought-forms implanted in it by others.

He will receive the truth in all its purity only when he himself has attained utter purity, only when he can go beyond his own limited views, only when he can set aside every kind of personal emotion, only when he can forget completely what others have suggested to him, only when he can liberate himself from the conditioning he has undergone by society and tradition, only when, in short, he can sacrifice his whole psyche to the truth.

An absolute and irrefutable truth can exist only for a mind freed from the predicament of relativity into which human beings, finite and conditioned as they are, are plunged. Each man, therefore, states his own personal version of truth. Only the sage, deep in the meditation of nirvikalpa samadhi, temporarily deprived of personality, gets absorbed for the time in the Absolute. But when he returns to ordinary consciousness and tries to state what he knows, it is through the ego that his communication is made.

A mystical revelation can be considered as trustworthy if the revelator has not only purged his mind and heart by philosophic discipline but also developed them by philosophic cultivation. It is the absence of this precautionary preparation which accounts for the conflicts among the recorded revelations of history.

While the mentality retains the colouring of any personal bias it will colour truth, for which it is a medium, accordingly. But when it attains colourlessness and becomes a transparent jewel, it will transmit truth in its purity.

It is true that even in the prose of a philosophically trained sage his intellectual development, emotional disposition, and individual character will influence the choice of words and the style of language in which he expresses his revelations or knowledge. But the value of his self-criticizing discipline will also show itself in that they will not be permitted to influence the revelation or the knowledge itself. The personality of the inspired writer or speaker cannot be eliminated from the phraseology he employs, but the purity of his receptivity to the true Idea requires and is dependent on such elimination. The philosophic discipline secures it.

Some of the more advanced tenets of this teaching do not belong to the world of ordinary things and familiar relations. The attempt to communicate them in language derived from that world is necessarily a difficult one.

If the Overself meets with no obstructions in his mind, its manifestation will be perfect. But in the ratio that it does meet with them, its manifestation will be imperfect. The mind must not only be made sensitive enough to be guided by the Overself, it must also be made pure enough to interpret such guidance correctly and egolessly.

To get at the essential and authentic elements in a mystical revelation, all those which arise from the personal ego, the sense perceptions, and the imaginative faculty must be either discounted or wholly eliminated.

Authentically inspired revelations, least mixed with the human ego's opinions, are never as befuddled, turbid, and mystery-mongering as the pseudo-revelations.

Only in the attainment of the pure atmosphere of this mystical summit does he also attain freedom from the risk of deception and illusion, for where there is no imagery and no words there is no root whence deception and illusion could possibly arise. All the foolishness and falsity which have done so much harm to individual seekers and brought so much discredit on their search itself have their source in psychic experiences that appeal to egotism and pride.

Although the response of the Overself ordinarily conforms to the faith and mentality of the worshipper, to one who has undergone the discipline and finished the preparation which philosophy imposes, it comes in all its own original purity.

Nature sends her messages to man through his body and mind. But his denseness obscures them altogether, or receives confused versions of them. This is one reason why he needs interpreters and prophets. So long as he remains unaware of what she is saying to him, so long must others with better hearing appear in his history.

Eloquent communications reach him through the silence.

It may be distressing to those who have full faith in the revelations of seers and ardent devotion for them to learn that these revelations may not always be what their receivers believe them to be, that they may not be sacred at all, but only human, or partly sacred and partly human. They may be even deceptive, mistaken, or imaginary. Those who know nothing of the controversies which agitate mystical circles may regret this statement but it would be easy to document it fully. But such remarks do not apply to philosophic insight, its personalities and tenets. Its entire approach and method are sufficiently protected against aberrations to avoid them. For philosophy insists on asking--and finding the answer to--the question: "What is it that seers attain during their highest meditation? Is it their own imagination, their own idea, or is it truth and reality?"

Only a poet could portray these experiences as they deserve; to write of them with outer photographic exactness only is to half-lose them.

If the mystic has perfectly undergone the philosophic discipline, his messages will contain universal truths; if he has not undergone any discipline at all, they will contain private fancies; if some discipline, then the result will be a mixed one and he will not be able to distinguish between them.

Although the truth--as being--cannot be passed by the illuminate who has it to the unenlightened ones who do not have it, that does not deter him from making the effort. What he is able to give them is either an intellectual formulation or an emotional presentation but in both cases it is something made in his own image because passed through his own personality. So his followers receive not the inspiration which lit up the universe for him, but the imagination which he is forced to substitute in its place.

A true inspiration communicating a true revelation must still find a perfectly ego-free mind through which to operate, if there is to be publication to others in any way through spoken or written words.

To the degree that he can free himself from the personal ground that he stands on, to that degree can he transmit the message pure and undefiled.

The truest mystical doctrines are the commonest, yet they have come as personal revelations. The mystics who embraced them did so out of the loneliness of their innermost being, not out of the suggestion or influence of other men.

He to whom the disciple turns for advice and inspiration is but a fellow-worshipper with him--and, perhaps, a humble messenger, too.

The Overself is not poor. It has all the servants it needs to act through, or the voices to speak through, or the pens to write through. But it can do so only in harmony with the karmic laws, with the state of humans' present evolution, and with their needs or deserts.

We hear the echo of the divine in these revelations, but we do not hear its original voice. That is not possible, except in the silence of all ideas.

It would be more correct to say, and more relevant to affirm, that although no mystical experience may be communicated by telling about it, such communication may eventually be achieved over a period of years through a long process, of which the telling is the first item.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.