Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives > Chapter 3: Philosophy, Mysticism, and The Occult

Philosophy, Mysticism, and The Occult

A criticism of the mystic

Humanity needs yoga, yes, but it must be a yoga that is workable under twentieth-century conditions. It needs mystical ideals, certainly, but they must be realizable in London and New York, not only in Shangri-la. It needs profoundly to kindle the spark of mystical experience within dull mechanized lives, but it does not need to kindle the historical errors and traditional excesses of such experience. There is need for mystical practices to spread but there is no need for mystical absurdities to spread with them. We personally do not want this restoration of the art of mental quiet to be accompanied by a restoration of the art of out-of-date views, blind superstitions, impracticable or unnecessarily harsh rules, and unethical exploitations. Hence nobody should be so foolish as to misunderstand this effort to purify yoga as being an effort to denounce yoga altogether. That would be a profound error.

Much of what I have written will sound like heresy to the unreflective among the mystically minded. But they have their guides and I do not write for them. More intelligent mystics ought not to take exception to what has here been written but ought to probe fearlessly into the true significance of their own experiences. Let it not be said that they cannot bear the truth. In encouraging them to independent or even heretical thinking, and in pointing out the perils of travelling down a mental blind alley, I seek to serve and not to harm the mystically minded. The discerning reader will see that I have all along tried to explain mysticism. The prejudiced reader may however see erroneously that I have tried to expose it. If I have challenged and criticized the validity of certain assumptions common in half-baked yogic circles, if I have impartially showed up some of the insufficiencies of yoga and mysticism as well as corrected their commoner errors, if I have criticized wrong mystical attitudes, all this has been done only to save right mystical ideas from being perverted or lost. I know from personal experience just as much as most Western mystics and Eastern yogis the valuable and attractive benefits resulting from this practice. It is this appreciation which has helped to support me in undertaking the unpleasant task of purifying the theories about it. The weeding-out of errors from such theories is a better service to yoga than their superstitious support. After all, it is not the man who flatters us when we are making mistakes but the man who is courageously outspoken and tells us the bitter but wholesome truth who is a real friend. If, therefore, these critical studies have helped a few mystics to think clearly about their mysticism, and to think of it in terms of the larger background of life itself, then they have rendered them a service. If they have influenced some readers to think and rethink their mystical beliefs, I have rendered them a service, whether they are aware of it or not. If they have persuaded other readers even to consider that the philosophical approach to their own experiences will fulfil and not deny their deepest aspiration, then I have rendered them a service.

I do not criticize such men and such practices for any other reason than the protection of earnest seekers, and I may not desist from doing so because their path is beset with psychological dangers, fantastic experiences, worldly harm, and grotesque beliefs. An unhealthy inner life is often the consequence, one filled with strange phantasmagoria. From all this they may be saved by wise guidance, just as they may be plunged into it by the pseudo-guidance which they usually find. So far as I am aware--and I have travelled the wide world--all the available guidance which such seekers are likely to obtain will lead them to everything else except the one thing that really matters, namely, fulfilling the real purpose of our human existence here on earth, and not an illusory one. Where such guidance is honest, sincere, and unselfish--which is rare indeed--it is likely to be imperfect, inadequate, and incomplete. In the written statements of these blind leaders of the blind, as in their uttered ravings, the sage can quickly discern--by such signs as the terminology and syntax used--how unregulated and how unbalanced is their course of thought and experience. I set myself seriously to ponder the question: "How can these earnest seekers avoid the abundant dangers and satanic deceptions to which they are exposed?" Hence my published and private warnings.

It is most important that I make it clear that I do not teach the error that all mystic experience is merely private opinion, judgement, or prejudice, solely personal imagination, belief, or wish-fulfilment, but rather that I hold it to be a private interpretation of a general experience, a personal response to a universal event. On the first and erroneous view, mysticism would merely tell us something about the feelings and ideas of the person having the experience. On the second view, it tells us all this, undoubtedly, but it also tells us much about something which is itself quite independent of the individual's feelings about mystical reality and the divine soul in humanity. Whereas the first view denies any truth to mystical experience, the second one vindicates, even if it qualifies, it. The difference between the two views is most important. Mystical experience emphatically refers to something over and above the projection of man's wishes or the draping of man's opinions. Whatever interpretation he places upon his experience or whatever imagination he projects upon it, the possibility of such experience is undeniable.

Mysticism is a Step--Not a Goal

Point out that it is the seeking of experiences exclusively, making them central, that I criticize--and not the value of the experience itself. Experience is necessary and important. But the young, devaluing the other components of the quest, are going to extremes in seeking experiences alone. For then, in the end any means will do, so--drugs and sex. These are manifestations of the impatient desire for quick results, results at any cost, results here meaning getting experiences, which has become such a mania today. This impatience affects even foods, where instant processing robs them of nourishment and ruins their flavour.

Whirling, as practised so artistically by the Mevlevi dervishes is another way of losing the everyday consciousness and gaining the mystic experience. It is comparable to the more elementary forms of yoga like mantram-muttering. But its value is as limited as the latter's. It gives no wisdom.

Balance requires all the other quest components; experience is then put in its proper place as their associate. It then becomes healthy, being kept in equilibrium by them. Otherwise there is no discrimination between good experiences and evil ones, no protection against the misleading, the dangerous, or the insane. Cults appearing in the last thirty-six years have emphasized experience and were bemused by the raptures of drugs and sex. Gerald Heard started Trabujo Monastery, which collapsed. D. Goddard tried to start the first Buddhist monastery in Vermont and failed. His friend and near disciple Aldous Huxley wrote on mescaline--all were seeking experience.

In non-mystic circles among the youth and younger adults, the same over-concentration on experience occurred. In this case experience of sex led to an explosion of having sex continuously and promiscuously. If bare walls and a monastic cell appeal to him he may find peace there. If celibate single existence appeals without experience in the world, there too he may find it.

"Why do you contradict yourself by advocating meditation in your earlier books and then criticizing it in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga?" One answer to this question which I am sometimes asked is that there is some misunderstanding here. It is not meditation but the abuse and misuse of it that was criticized. It is a necessary part of the philosophic quest, but this does not mean that the laws which govern it can be recklessly ignored by those who think their enthusiasm for it a sufficient equipment for it. The law of life is rhythm.

He may angrily dissent from the truth of my conclusions but he can hardly contest their value. For they are not formed from an outside view of both the Orient and mysticism but from an inside one.

These categorical statements should put an end to all doubts about my present position. Nothing would please me better than to live to witness a world-wide revival in the practice of meditation.

I study the various searches for God in the different religions, the various techniques of contemplation in the Oriental and European mystical systems, and the various ideas of metaphysics in the ancient and modern philosophies. It is inevitable, therefore, that in the pupilage in Comparative Spiritual Culture I should investigate contemporary gurus and their methods--which can be properly done only by putting myself on their level. But this quite temporary and quite brief activity does not in any way make me a follower, disciple, or believer. To put such a label on me would be absolutely incorrect. Yet in the past this is what unscrupulous gurus, or their assistants, have actually done. It is very regretful to note a repetition of the practice.

I am not prepared to continue as an agent, although hitherto an unwitting one, for their exploitation of aspiring gullibility.

Instead of abandoning and decrying the beatific experience of yoga, which was my life-long study and which is still my daily practice, I have actually put it on a firmer because more philosophical pedestal than before. Only, I have enlarged the common conception of this antique art, placing it in proper perspective as being a step forward beyond both materialism and religion but not being, as ordinarily known, the final phase of mankind's journey. Aside from this revision of grade and the consequent revaluations arising therefrom, extremely important though they be in themselves, I have nothing important to retract from previous statements on the subject but only to supplement them in the light of a forward advance.

Nobody who has had sufficient experience of the world can deny that this is a study which is infested from fringe to core with cranks, quacks, and charlatans. Thanks to them the whole study has been brought into disrepute among well-educated people. My effort to present it in a thoroughly scientific and philosophic manner, to free it from all superstitious nonsense and pernicious practices, to base it on reason rather than on belief is in its own best interests; and I claim to serve mysticism more faithfully by such effort than do those who blindly, stubbornly, and foolishly allow it to rot and perish.

It is because I have too large a conception of yoga and not as some think, too small a one, that I have written in this critical strain.

It has been hard to speak my whole mind on such unpleasant matters. If I have made large reservations and say no more despite their importance it is only from consideration of their unpleasantness. But to look away and refuse altogether to see these unpleasant features of mysticism, to pretend that it has no such defects at all, is a silly muddleheaded procedure. It is wiser to learn all about them and from them.

The extremes of mysticism

When mysticism becomes a breeding ground for ridiculous illusions, the time has arrived to protect it against them; when it lets the mystic become an indifferent spectator of mankind's sufferings, the time has arrived to modify it.

The lack of accurate firsthand knowledge has brought about a sorry picture of the subject. Charlatans, sceptics, pseudo-mystics, and imaginative dreamers have together unconsciously conspired to present mysticism alternately as primitive superstition, occult humbug, glorified conjuring, and super-religion. Such is the fruit of the hazy understanding about it which is to be found in most circles today. Real mysticism is none of these things.

The greatest dangers to the aspirant come from the votaries of a materialism which deceives itself into believing that it is mysticism when it is merely materialism varnished with mystical paint.

The mystic of the past was too often a philistine, anti-cultural and anti-intellectual. Not content with his bias for asceticism on the physical level, he carried it to the mental level also.

Such a man may seem to outsiders to be nothing more than a dreaming loafer. And indeed he might be, for many take the name of mystic who do not know what true mysticism is.

It is a great pity that such an excellent discipline should have fallen, during the course of ages, into disrepute through having fallen into the hands of those who despised civilized, self-respecting society and preferred primitive, half-animal existence, who rejected the earning of an honest livelihood in favour of undignified begging, who exiled the faculty of intellect in favour of unthinking adherence to absurd superstitions, who did violence to natural functions of the body by atrocious ascetism and traded on the gullibility of the masses by pretending to marvellous powers.

The puritanical view of life has been mixed up too often with the religious view. The philosopher is not concerned with that. But it has equally been mixed up with the mystical view. Here he is concerned, enough to declare that they do not necessarily go together.

The lack of a sense of humour in certain mystics has exposed them to the charge of being superstitious and credulous. It has caused the writings of other mystics to be laughed at, their ideas to be ridiculed. The lack of aesthetic taste in still other mystics has caused them to offer fanatical opposition to the decoration of rooms with pictures, or to the playing of musical instruments.

His superior development as a mystic does not thereby endow him with superior development as a man or bestow on him a larger capacity to make right decisions than that of other men.

The history of modern mysticism has indeed become a history of gradual declension from the fine disinterestedness of teachers like Emerson and from the firm truths of mystics like Eckhart. I speak here only of the West, of the Europe and America whose evidences are most readily available to readers; but I know from study and experience how true this is also of the Orient.

The conventional ethical codes which regulate human relations are transcended only in the sense that an even higher, more austere code is now imposed upon him from within. Those would-be mystical sects which history has recorded not infrequently--ones that claim a wider moral freedom than others because they claim to be nearer God, and then proceed to actions which bespeak the gratification of unloosed baser desires--deceive themselves, betray mysticism, and lead others astray.

Pseudo-mysticism tempts the ego in the mind or the beast in the flesh with its doctrine of man's divinity requiring no control, no discipline, and no obedience to ascetic rules.

The paths of mysticism are waylaid with destruction for weak minds. The light is too strong for their eyes and they emerge with egoism strengthened under the cloud of spirituality.

In an exhibition of old historical paintings once seen in Amsterdam, there hung on one wall a portrait of Sabattai Zevi, the wild dreamer, self-appointed Messiah, and fantastic leader of a cult whose career along with his own was abruptly ended by disillusionment and disaster. On the opposite wall there hung a portrait of Baruch Spinoza, philosopher and ethicist, whose career brought the fruits of wisdom to humanity. There they were, these two portraits facing each other--the one a type illustrating the defects of an unbalanced and unphilosophic kind of mysticism; the other a type of spiritual intuition and rational intellect active in man, yet balancing each other and benefiting each other.

Since men are liable to err, and since even the best of mystics are still men, we must not be too awed by their attainments to believe that they could not make such serious mistakes.

In ordinary religion and unphilosophic mysticism everyone is at liberty to build up his own heaven and hell, to create his own picture of God, and to invent his own method of reaching God, as he wishes. Who can disprove his statements? Such disproof is utterly impossible. We may disbelieve them but we cannot disprove them, for they deal with factors beyond our experience and hence beyond universal verification.

Why are so many mystics mediocrities in their careers and misfits in life generally? Why is so much mystical literature and history an imaginative projection of wishful thinking and rarely recognizable in its all-too-human materialization in the flesh? Here is an indication that something is wrong.

The monk who gets too wrapped up in himself and his moods, too locked up inside other-worldly experiences, too cut off from the facts and realities of everyday living, and unable to test by them the illusions and hallucinations which his imagination produces and his meditation confirms may tread the edge of a precipice over which he may topple into insanity.

It was not levity alone which made Oscar Wilde say that "most modern mysticism seems to me to be simply a method of imparting useless knowledge in a form no one can understand." It was not irony alone which made him remark of a book devoted to saintly and ascetic mystics, "It is thoroughly well-intentioned and eminently suitable for invalids."

I was struck by the truth of a criticism in Jawaharlal Nehru's autobiography. Nehru wrote: "The mystic tries to rid himself of self and in the process usually becomes obsessed with it." Nehru ought to know. For he has been surrounded by the society of Indian mystics for half a lifetime.

We appreciate the dangers and obstacles that beset the medievals but it must be said with regret that many of them belonged to the "Mysticism Made Difficult" school.

This lack of balance shows itself in the idolization of inertia which, regarded as a regrettable defect by most normal people, is regarded as a mystical virtue by these supposedly supernormal people!

The mystics and yogis would have others toil and labour to make bread and draw water while they pray and meditate. This distinction would be all right if they did not make the mistake of asserting that the kingdom of heaven lay only at the end of their path.

If the world has no place for mysticism this is because mysticism has no place for the world.

Those who like the atmosphere of laziness which hangs over so much mystical thought and writing are welcome to it.

The right kind of mystical experience enriches life; the wrong kind impoverishes it.

They can see the truth, but only with one eye at a time.

Because it has been adopted by fanatics, poseurs, and fools, the contrary fact that it has also been adopted by executives, geniuses, and highly esteemed persons tends to be ignored and overlooked.

Sir Richard Burton who lived long in the Orient met and studied the Sufis. He came to the conclusion that the extreme mystic was a near madman. There is some truth in this view.

The passage from seeing visions frequently to being subject to delusions is not a long one, if the person concerned has not been disciplined in the philosophic manner.

There is a foolish mysticism which ignorantly follows ways that lead to madness. Those ways usually start with feeling as the essence of the matter and seek the death of reason because it too often refuses to go along with feeling. "I am God in a body," poor Nijinsky proclaimed; but he got himself confined in a madhouse as well as a body.

The more intelligent and better balanced aspirants should try to lead the mystical thought of their contacts into higher personal channels or wider usefulness and away from the charlatans, the recluses and escapists, the neurotics and hysterics.

Mysticism must be saved from the hot embraces of emotionally diseased neurotics, intellectually unbalanced fanatics, and credulously naïve simpletons. It will find its best support in those who appreciate it without losing their mental equilibrium; in those who show in their own persons that it has nothing to do with hysteria, neuroticism, credulity, sensation-seeking, and pathological states. Only by avoiding extravagant claims and uncritical appraisals can it get the attention and deserve the respect of the intellectual classes.

At a time like the present when the world is passing though a critical phase of wholesale reconstruction, every opponent of reason and proponent of superstition is rendering a serious disservice to mankind.

Is it not delicately ironical that Shangri-la should be more and more giving the West a mysticism for which she is finding less and less use herself?--that she is foisting upon us a solution which is increasingly failing to solve her own problems?

It is not that I complain of the unintellectual atmosphere of mysticism or the unintellectual attitude of its Eastern and Western devotees. The fact may be deplored but it ought not be laid as a fault against those who cannot help it. I complain of their anti-intellectual atmosphere and attitude.

Those mystics who hastily scorn science as being anti-spiritual and condemn modern civilization as being pro-materialist should stop to think how much wider service to mankind men like Jesus and Buddha could have rendered had the radio, the newspaper, the inexpensive book, the cinema, and the railway train been at their command. Let them consider how, with the airplane to travel in, Jesus could have brought thousands of disciples in each European and North African country under his immediate personal influence and Buddha could have brought hundreds of thousands more throughout Asia under his own. The inventions of man's ingenuity can be directed to give an upward trend to his spiritual evolution just as they have been directed to give a downward trend to it. All life bears this twofold possibility. We do not refuse light because it also brings shadows. We also should not refuse inventions merely because they increase the tempo of our existence too quickly.

Those who rightly fear fanaticism or charlatanry will not find one or the other in philosophy. Yet they will not have to go far to do so--no farther than the religio-mystical fringe which hangs on one side of it.

It is very questionable as to whether a spiritual renaissance which led us into the wake of fake mystics and pseudo-scientific occultists would be any better than the following of hidebound religionists drained of the vitality of truth and reality.

It is easy to parade incompetence and inefficiency as mystical superiority above mere earthly life, and thus deceive both oneself and others. It is hard to take oneself uncompromisingly in hand and triumph over these defects of one's very virtues.

This kind of mysticism, which stews truth in the same pot with absurd fantasy, may attract those who seek the dramatic but often repels those who appreciate the scientific.

Many so-called spiritual persons of this modern era are rightly regarded by society as neurotics, cranks, eccentrics, useless, or unpractical. They have, however, felt genuine promptings from the Overself; but because of the lack of proper instruction, or because of the defect of improper instruction, they have not also felt the need to integrate this prompting with the rest of their life--or, even if they have felt it, they have not been shown how to do it simply because their own teachers had not succeeded in doing it themselves.

He may feel the truth for himself but be unable to explain it adequately to others.

Many mystical cults present teachings which contain some sublime truths but which, because of their incompleteness or their ignorance of other truths or their wrong attitude towards the body, do not tend towards balanced living. As a result, when they over-emphasize the particular feature which most interests them, they become unbalanced. The need today is for the balanced mystic.

The excessive self-centeredness of ascetic mysticism, its passive enmity to an integral human life, its unworthy praise of pious indolence, its oyster-like indifference to human interests, and its narrow disparagement of the married state make it unfit to become a perfect ideal suited to our own times. What modern intelligence can accept and what modern heart can approve such an attitude? Asceticism is an important phase but it is not everything.

Philosophy attracts the few

The smallest understanding of philosophy will show that, although it holds a mystical core, it is quite different in approach and atmosphere from those mystical cults which breed superstition and encourage charlatanism. The understanding enthusiasts and uncritical panegyrists who are the professed followers of such cults would feel uneasy in the purer and finer air breathed by the true student of philosophy.

The cramped, ascetical, and intolerant virtue of the ashrams is not enough. Philosophy prefers a more spacious, more generous and kindlier virtue.

If we try to compute the number of those who are not overawed by the prestige, the success, and the organization of a religion, sect, cult, or group, and who seek truth with a better measure than these things, we shall find only a small remnant is left out of all those who profess an interest in the things of spirit.

Those who are making a determined search for truth fall into a very tiny segment of humanity. Most self-styled seekers are motivated by half-hidden desires for different kinds of ego satisfaction rather than the egoless truth.

The loftiness of this teaching, is not to be measured by the trumpery standards of recent so-called spiritual movements.

To study and understand these sects, to explain the inner dynamic which draws people to them, is not necessarily to agree with their teachings or condone their practices.

Let outsiders not blame philosophy for shortcomings which exist only in untrained and uninstructed followers.

Those who have deformed their minds by vehement fanaticism or befuddled them by dangerous drugs will find the sanctity of philosophy unattractive.

Most organizations tend to give the impression of cults, which are the very antitheses of our objectives as well as irreconcilable with the Hidden Teaching.

It is regrettable that a subject so interesting--and formerly such a little-visited byway--should become infested with maniacal ideas and should attract ill-balanced persons who fall easily into superstition. The higher levels, where religion moves into mysticism and metaphysics, need a well-informed, well-poised mind for their proper appreciation.

Those who flock to these cults often dislike philosophy. They rightly fear its threat to their superstitious dreams and correctly comprehend that it would destroy their egoistic fantasies.

How many who have seen the foolishness of these cults pardonably react against it by rejecting them, but unpardonably reject the wisdom which is overshadowed by it.

Philosophy may not appeal to the weak-minded followers of such cults, since it would force them to acknowledge their deficiencies and to set about remedying them.

Where is the spiritual movement which has not deteriorated into a religious sect, with passive followers and unquestioning members?

No sect is important but every sect is significant. None is particularly influential but all are unquestionably evidential. For the indication here of a trend toward heterodoxy is quite plain and its cause quite meaningful.

Distinguishing the spiritual and psychic

Philosophy accepts part of the tenets of occultism--the part which its own seers and sages have handed down--and does not deny them. But it places emphasis on that which rests on a higher level and which is much more significant. It refuses to allow its students to be involved in the practices, the bypaths, and the dangers of occultism.

The psychical is concerned with imaginations, visions, voices, thoughts, and feelings which originate beneath the surface of the ego's mind, whereas the spiritual is concerned with the higher self. The two are not the same but utterly different in quality and character. Aspirants often confuse them although the first is still within the realm of personal things whereas the second is within the impersonal. A still greater confusion concerns the mediumistic. This is the same as the psychical but influenced or possessed by what purports to be someone else's ego, often someone unknown and usually unseen, or even by what purports to be from the realm of the spiritual itself.

Intuition need not be the only manifestation of this deeper layer of mind. There are indeed other and stranger signs of its existence, which belong to a classification variously called occult, magical, or psychic. They include thought-transference and clairvoyance. The history of yoga has always been associated with stories of such thaumaturgic marvels, and few advanced yogis fail to manifest these powers at some period or other of their careers.

Such are some of the extraordinary mental powers which may be unfolded by man, but they are of secondary consequence to the sage. He holds to and values most the remaining constantly fixed within that universal being which transcends all forms and changes.

Nevertheless the average scientist who used to sneer at their existence has since become much more cautious, although a remnant of materialistic scientists still continue to sneer. Such people represent a type of mind which dreads superstition to the point of making its dread a superstition! These supernormal powers of the mind lose much of their mystery when their rationale is understood.

When the entire world itself is mentally constructed--that is, a kind of magical show--why should we be incredulous of the possibility of magical powers? All of us have these powers in vestigial form. Evolution will make them grow anyway, and effort will make them grow more quickly. However surprising to beginners, they are realizable facts to an adept.

Telepathy is perhaps the first, simplest, and most easily explicable of these powers.

What they seldom see is that spiritual illumination and psychical error can and do exist in the same mind at the same time.

All occult and psychic powers are extensions either of man's human capacity or of his animal senses. They are still semi-materialistic, because connected with his ego or his body. All truly spiritual powers are on a far higher and quite different plane. They belong to his divine self.

A witch's brew of mystery, compounded of ancient sorceries and modern pseudo-sciences, philosophic smatterings and monstrous claims, lies and deception--that, stripped of all its high-sounding verbiage, is a fair description of occultism.

It is an error, and one commonly made, to confound occult phenomena with spiritual experience. It is true that, at certain times or in certain phases of the inner life, the two may accompany one another. But they do not do so on equal levels. Spiritual experience certifies itself but psychic experience proves little because it is always open to doubt. A philosopher may be and often is a psychic, but few psychics are ever philosophers. We do not need to be purified to witness occult phenomena, and therein lies their danger.

Much incorrect knowledge is today offered the seeker intent on an understanding of the psychic and spiritual laws of the universe.

Confronted by the discoveries of science, the inventions of technology, the marvels of Nature, and the mystery of mind, one would be foolish to assert what is possible and what is not possible.

A man who works in a scientific laboratory can provide proofs for his discoveries which any other scientist in any part of the world can test and confirm. But a mystic, a seer, or a prophet who communicates a revelation of what he has learned by intuition, vision, or meditation can provide no such proofs. His audience is compelled to take his words with little direct or immediate means of testing their worth.

The finished product of a carpenter's work can be tried in use and tested by examination. His chairs can be sat upon, his table legs measured, and faults or inaccuracies will soon reveal themselves. But how are the mystic's intuitions, inspirations, visions, and teachings to be appraised, measured, tested with complete certainty? How much in them can be fully trusted, how much suspected as being the undivine part? The metaphysician's concepts and the religionist's beliefs come into the same category; they cannot at once be checked for faults, tried by results, or measured for accuracy, whereas the craftsman's productions can. Religion, mysticism, and metaphysics cannot immediately offer their proofs, if at all.

There are certain unusual occurrences which are often a source of astonishment to those involved in them, as well as to others learning about them. The powers to bring these into being are much sought after in some circles and are generally termed "occult powers."

Occultism is concerned with the unseen working of nature, and with phenomena, forms, messages of the nonphysical side of the ego's being, including visions and voices experienced inwardly. It is on a lower level than pure Spirit, not dealing with the body and not dealing with spirit, but somewhere in between. It's easy to be led astray by it, since it is close to fantasy and imagination. Try to avoid seeking it, but if it comes by itself try to judge it critically and understand it. On the highest level there are no occult phenomena which keep you in your ego.

Today Mechanics rules where once Magic held its sway. We do not dream that there is room in life for both.

As much nonsense has been written about the mystic and the occult as about politics, or any other subject where appearances do not coincide with realities.

The lure of occultism

We were not born to perform magical stunts, nor were we born to be able to remember past lives or to foretell the future. We were born for one thing only and that is to discover what we really are in our deepest, innermost being, not just the crest of it.

Philosophy rejects such psychic, occult, mediumistic, or trance experiences when imagination runs unbraked into them, or emotion heaves hysterically in them. It is then time to stop the dangerous tendency by applying a firm will and cold reason. Philosophy welcomes only a single mystic experience--that of the Void (Nirvikalpa Samadhi), where every separate form and individual consciousness vanishes, whereas all other mystic experiences retain them. This is the difference.

The spiritualists, the occultists, and the psychic groups are far from the purest thought, for they are still preoccupied with the ego and with a subtle materialism which substitutes a subtler body for the material one but is just as illusory. However, they are steps on the way for spiritual children--stages to be passed through and outgrown.

Philosophy has no use for empty fancies, no time for mere self-deceptions. Therefore it refuses to dally in this illusory region which the inward-moving mind must cross through until it reaches solid ground. It will not give itself to psychism, occultism, or spiritism.

How simple is the path itself, how complex is the pseudo-path offered by occultism and exaggerated asceticism. "All that God asks of them," writes Thomas Merton, "is to be quiet and keep themselves at peace, attentive to the secret work that He is beginning in their souls."

You must learn to discriminate between what is psychic and what is spiritual. You will tend to lose power if you yield to that popular hankering after psychic and occult experiences. It is fascinating to have psychic claims, sensational experiences. Keep them in their place, however, which is second and subordinate. They have nothing to do with the Quest, which is to lead you above the realm of mind into spirit. Mind goes down deep into the subconscious and the Overmind; there psychic and occult experiences take place--not in the normal mind, certainly, but in the region of the planetary mind, the Overmind. Occult experiences will not give you any more peace, or reality. Do you want these? Then do not over-emphasize your occult experiences. Just observe them, but attach little importance to them. The important thing is to arrive at that state of being which never changes, which is eternal, which is God.

The mystic is on a loftier plane than the occultist and psychic. The various systems of occultism, theosophy, and psychism are all objective to the true Self of man, and hence distract him from the straight and narrow path. Yet they are useful and necessary for those egoistic and over-intellectualized natures who cannot aspire to the rarefied reaches of the real Truth. Everything--including the fascinating systems of knowledge and practice that comprise ancient and modern occult teachings--which distracts man from becoming the truly spiritual, distracts him from the real path. Only when all objective things and thoughts have disappeared into the subject, the self or the seer, can man achieve his highest purpose. All other activities simply cause him to stray from the highest truth. So I have abandoned the study and practice of occultism. I have given it up unwillingly, for the power it promises is not to be despised. Yet I recognize that my past is strewn with errors and mistakes. I imagined that a great personal experience of the psychic and mysterious side of Nature would bring me nearer Truth. As a fact, it has taken me farther from it. Once I enjoyed frequent glimpses of a great bliss and intense state of samadhi; then I was unfortunate enough to come into contact with theosophists and others of that ilk who subtly supplanted my real inward happiness with intellectual systems and theories upon which I was thenceforward to ponder. Alas! I was too young and too green to know what was happening. The bliss went before long; the samadhis stopped, and I was cast upon the shore of the Finite, an unhappy and problem-puzzled bit of human wreckage! No promise of wonderful initiations at some future time will lure me to trust my life into the care of a so-called guru who is either unable to or unwilling to give me a glimpse of the God-consciousness he claims to possess. I am not inclined to follow a trail which may land me somewhere out in the middle of the desert, bereft of reason, hope, and fortune.

At its best, psychism leads us into human fancies about the holy; at its worst, to the very lair of the devilish. The spiritual alone, in its true sense, can lead us into the veritably holy.

The essence of the matter is that the higher ultramystic experiences are not concerned with personal clairvoyant visions or clairaudient voices but with the raising of consciousness to an impersonal transcendent state wherein none of the relative phenomena of a space-time world can enter.

The quest is not jugglery. The most breath-taking feat of the conjurer will not prove the least insignificant of spiritual truths.

People spend half their lives in darkened rooms trying to establish communication with the "spirits," with dubious and debatable results, when one-tenth of the time devoted to trying to establish communication with their OWN divine spirit would bring indubitable and delightful results.

There are countless thousands who, weak in faith and lacking in intuition, must perforce seek amid external things for proof of the soul. Spiritualism claims to give this proof. There are, of course, those who believe that the spiritualists have misinterpreted their experiences.

The seventh chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself contains some material which generally answers the questions of life after death. It is quite true that spiritualism has served the useful purpose of proving the existence of an afterlife. Nevertheless it is a dangerous matter to experiment with practically. It is far safer to limit investigation to a study of its literature. More specifically: (1) The quest of psychic experiences is definitely a stumbling block on the true path during the earlier stages. They are almost sure to lead the novice astray, may cause him to waste valuable years, and will sometimes harm him in various ways. Most attempts to establish contact with the astral world will either end in failure and deception or psychic injury. (2) Astral projection is neither wrong nor right but it should not be sought for its own sake. It develops naturally of itself to one who is highly advanced on the truly spiritual quest. But if novices prematurely seek it they are likely to harm themselves. In the end it will be found that spiritualism is only a stepping-stone to the higher mystical philosophy. It is of use as a halfway house for many Westerners, but one should not tarry here too long. The higher and lower teachings are like oil and water. They cannot be mixed together and one day you will have to make your choice between them if you wish to progress and not to remain stagnating.

These occult authors catalogue such a formidable list of necessary qualifications that it is likely to deter most people rather than attract them. One wonders whether the writers have succeeded in fulfilling their own standards. It is good however to remember that there are ways not so steep as theirs, that there are easier paths in existence in other lands than that of occultism. Genuine mysticism, true religion, or right philosophy: any of these can conduct one to the goal with less trouble and less danger than occultism.

There is a problem of mental unbalance and partial insanity in the modern world. Philosophy offers help, as it aims at securing complete sanity whereas most other guides cater to unbalance.

There is something which might be called the higher spiritualism which is on a higher level altogether than ordinary spiritualism. This has been found by an exhaustive study, both practical and theoretical. The higher spiritualism stands midway between the lower kind and mysticism proper. By mysticism is meant the endeavour to become possessed, not by any disembodied human entity, but by the divine Spirit, be it named God, Soul, Christ, Allah, Atman, or some other name which has been given to that which man knows to be the Divine. In the group of those who belong to this higher spiritualism can be included such men as Stainton Moses, who edited Light, the leading spiritualist journal in London, and Andrew Jackson Davis, the famous American clairvoyant. Their writings were admirable and much in Life and Its Manifestations is reminiscent of them in tone, idea, and atmosphere.

Occult or spiritistic practices which have served their purpose in convincing their student that materialism is false, should be abandoned if he wishes to make the best use of his limited period on earth. When such a point has been reached, he should turn his thoughts in the direction of seeking the Overself alone, or his life-period will be wasted.

If philosophy denies the authenticity of many occult, psychical, and religio-mystical experiences, it does not have to deny that they did occur. That need not be in dispute. But the danger of taking fancy for reality and a way-station for the terminus is very easy to fall into and must be pointed out. "Beware them who perceive the deep reality," warned the Buddha in a statement which recalls for us the warning of Jesus about the straightness of the way to truth and that "Few there be that find it." The prudent seeker will be on his guard not to succumb to the temptation of dallying in ego-flattering thrills.

Why should we surrender the simple clarity of true self-knowledge for the involved obscurity of occultism?

Philosophic spiritualism does not go far enough. Inspiration derived from any individual, disembodied and angelic though he might be, is not as fine as inspiration derived from the unindividuated Soul, which the best mystics seek. It is a step in the right direction, though.

It is as necessary to avoid pitfalls of superstition on one side as those of psychism on the other.

Everything that stimulates us to follow the quest is worth encouraging if its demerits be not too large; but everything which paralyses this aspiration is rendering a disservice to humanity.

The occult, and indeed all extraordinary happenings, attracts a far larger amount of interest than the mystical. For here the physical senses come into play and find satisfaction whereas in the mystical only the intuitive and the emotional faculties are engaged.

The majority are seekers after occultism. They thirst for powers that will give them an advantage over others. They seek to inflate their egos whereas the true disciples seek to flatten it.

Excessive addiction to supernormal mystic experiences or bizarre occult titillations leads to wrong views and draws the seeker to a wrong goal. The dignity of quiet philosophical study often appears to prove too frigid for those who revel in superstition and who seek the gaudy caricatures of truth rather than the austere truth itself.

Many people yearn to escape from the world of the flesh; many seek for psychic worlds full of magical half-shadows; many minds are turning into the narrow lanes of thought and wide roads of study indicated by the signposts of occultism and its kindred.

Many are called on the spiritual telephone exchange of life, but few get a clear connection!

Psychical derangements are common enough to keep the specialists busy. Mentally upset persons crop up everywhere, even on airplanes. We have seen insanity appear in high places and collect many followers. If anything can give sanity, it is the calm and balance of philosophy. But unless it is hidden behind magic and occultism, those who need it most are least attracted to it and least fit for it.

It is not a path suited to neurotic, weak, mentally odd, and emotionally sick persons. Such people are often attracted to mystical movements and ideas but they shrink from philosophic truth and discipline.

History shows that where people have had the opportunity to imbibe the highest truth, they still preferred occult sensationalism to it.

All this interest in and pursuit of occultism is merely an enlargement of the ego's ordinary sphere. Why should a teacher of philosophy cater to that?

How many persons have imprisoned themselves in their own mental creations or auto-hypnotic fabrications at the very moment when they had the chance to experience the Spirit in all its purity! This could not have happened had they been prepared in character and purified in intellect by philosophy. Without this safeguard, the ego intervenes and corrupts the truth and keeps as much of its illusions as it can hold onto under that dazzling light.

Philosophy is not for the thrill-seekers--there are cults and groups, "isms" and practices which will better excite and satisfy them. Even on a higher level, the mystic's, there is still a search, a longing, for "experiences." In most cases such experiences are desired as escapes from the ego's tensions and burdens, its insignificance or environment.

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