Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives > Chapter 4: Those Who Seek
Those Who Seek
Those who seek a cult because they seek a rule by which to live and a method by which to learn are entitled to do so. They comprise the majority.
The defects in these techniques, the errors in these doctrines, the limitations of these cults are many and sometimes serious; but withal they represent a good beginning on the journey away from the conventional lies of civilization. The earnest persistent truth-seeker will pass through and beyond them.
Those who go around hunting a variety of masters or joining many cults may be passing through a useful phase for beginners which is their way of making a comparative study of religion, mysticism, or philosophy. Its usefulness is not to be derided for certain types. Or it may be a sincere quest for the one master with whom they have real affinity or the one teaching in which they can find their life's guidance. This too may serve their purpose. But they should also understand that their real progress starts only when they stop this movement and concentrate their further interest on intensive work within themselves. If they do not stop the external search when it is no longer really necessary, then its prolongation will make them too dependent. Their curiosity or instability will thus weaken them further and lead them into bewilderment in the end.
The public organizations and organized cults do offer help. Such help may be commended provided there is a clear understanding that it is for beginners only and of a limited nature. If any claim is made beyond that--as it often is--be sure that it is exaggerated and unwarrantable.
However dishonest, deluded, or even insane these pretentious fanatics and their babbling followers may be, however absurd their fallacious religions and mystical aberrations are, they have one tremendous significance. They indicate the existence of a number of people at various intellectual levels below the higher ones, who are discontented with, and not willing to limit their spiritual craving to, orthodox religion or orthodox atheism.
What factors are present in this credulity? There is the unconscious wish of unimportant persons for a recognized place in the world, for a boost upward in the eyes of their co-believing fellows, however few may be in the small following of believers. There is the felt need, in a time of hopeless world-crisis, to believe in anything that offers some hope, at least.
These other paths, processes, and standpoints are preliminary and therefore unavoidable, are preparatory and therefore necessary. They are not to be rejected, even though they do not lead directly to the highest result. But, on the other hand, they are not to be clung to obstinately when they have served their purpose and a higher way opens out.
No cult that, despite its faults has enough good in it to help some people forward on the spiritual path, should be condemned.
Those who join these cults may do so through genuine aspiration, but those who remain united with them show thereby that they have no innate sense of the ridiculous.
People who seek a more reasonable solution of their life's spiritual problem than that offered by orthodox dogma, also turn to these eccentric cults.
We must recognize the fact that many people take to these fanatical cults, these nonsensical doctrines, out of blind groping reaction against the harsh prosaic materialism of their times. They clutch at the first handy rope of spiritual seeking for relief, not caring at the moment in the emotional joy of help gotten about its quality. This sharp turning of a corner in their lives is to be admired, not deplored.
The sincere seeker need not be ashamed of the false starts which his entry into these cults represents. For they are really his gropings after the true path, the right direction.
Yet these cults, however nonsensical their doctrines and untrustworthy their claims, however absurd their beliefs and dangerous their failure to see actualities, however dark their shadowy corners, must be credited with one admirable reason for existence. They are reactions--fanatic and extreme--from the conventional uninspired religious orthodoxy and the cold materialistic mechanistic science which, contrary to their promises, obstruct man from finding any higher hope in life.
These cults may be regrettable symptoms of weak intelligence or atavistic superstition in a number of cases, but in other cases they are praiseworthy indications of searching in all directions which lead to spiritual truth.
It is a common phase of their evolution for beginners to move through different cults with each new personality who impresses them. It is something which they must get out of their system and they are best left alone while doing so.
All this flitting from cult to cult is, in some cases, a search for the one right way, the way with which the seeker feels the most spiritual affinity.
The seeker may pass, in the earlier and exploratory phases of his journey, through different sects in each of which he may remain for awhile until its shortcomings become too much to be borne. He may get some measure of truth from each one, will abstract some ideas which teach and help him.
These cults serve a useful purpose in making enquirers acquainted for the first time with the existence of unorthodox mystical tradition.
If he wanders from one teacher to another, if he submits himself to the ministrations of occultists or mystics, swamis or masters, he may pick up quite a variety of approaches to the subject.
What can he gain by adhesion to a spiritual organization? The beginner may gain a limited profit, the proficient may retrogress.
It is inevitable that beginners should develop into partisans but they need not develop into fanatics.
The struggle for truth, the search for reality, may draw him to some cult and keep him in its folds for a while as he learns some elementary tenets and as he begins to develop the powers of concentration. Later, when he has become somewhat mature, he will draw away from the cult again to tread the higher path of philosophy.
We must necessarily be tolerant towards those who sample many teachings and many cults before they find the one which holds most truth or best suits their temperament.
That so many adherents to these ideas appear to be freaks or clowns, charlatans or gullibles, is painfully true. But do not stop with this criticism; go forward from it, for it is only partially true. For there were other adherents whose brains were sharp, whose practicality was unquestioned, whose places in society were high. Politicians like Georges Clemenceau and David Ben-Gurion found help in Vedantic and Buddhistic doctrine.
It is better to take short and flurried flights in these cults than to stay so long that the mind is enslaved by false dogmas, faith is entrapped by ambitious leaders, and emotion is held by perverted truths.
All such approaches including Theosophy's are useful to beginners but have to be discontinued eventually when they discover that the Quest is an individual matter.
If he is curious about them, he can visit these cults for a period, hear what their leaders and read what their teachers have to say, but he should not make any commitment to them.
Ashrams could be useful places where one can retreat for the time being only, where one can refresh the inner man for a particular period. But this is so only if they are properly conducted and if this purpose is kept in view.
There are metaphysical sects as well as religious ones.
It is true that California has produced a multitude of sects--good, bad, and merely eccentric. It is also true that some bring interesting uplifting or strange doctrines to their followers, but others spoil lives and disturb minds. But on balance it might even be a desirable state of affairs to have such a large variety of points of view, doctrines, groups, and creeds all conveniently put together in a single state of the Union. Seekers could then look at their leisure to find one that may suit them.
Even those who rightly object to the fanatical extremes in practice and exaggerated ideas in theory of these cults cannot deny that the effects are in part quite good, that cheerfulness and self-improvement are sought and got.
Why do these people run after new sects, strange cults, and heretical movements? Why are they not content to remain in orthodox religion? It can only be that the latter has been given up, and there is a vacuum in their hearts and minds demanding to be filled.
There are two types of seekers who wander the world of cults and societies. The first is mentally unstable and like the grasshopper which jumps from plant to plant but gathers nothing; the second is like the bee, which flies from flower to flower and sucks the honey at every halt.
Those who float from cult to cult may be engaged in a genuine progression or they may not. In the second case the thirst for novelty is either mistaken for the thirst for truth or else frankly avowed.
So these aspirants wander from one teacher to another, from one institution to another, but always end in disappointment. They could get from available books and with less heartburning most of what these teachers and institutions merely claim to give.
Under the magical glamour of these promised supernatural attainments, uncritical minds pursue the hope of evading the restrictions which life's tough realities place on them. When they fail, as fail they must, they do not put the blame upon their own fantastic beliefs, but try a different angle of approach by following a different cult.
They possess unlimited faith in the powers of a master. Indeed, if faith alone could bestow enlightenment they should soon get it. Even when they do cease to believe in a particular man, it is only to transfer their allegiance in the same degree to another master. Because of their initial error they may keep transferring it from one master to another. But as they do not give to the reform of their own lives the fervour they give to him, they show no results.
They merely pass from one set of opinions to a different set, and this they call "finding the truth!"
These misguided people imagine they move from a shallow thought to a deeper one, but merely move from one folly to another.
The true quest is not for those who flit from cult to cult, teacher to teacher, in short-lived enthusiasms that turn to long-lived aversions. They follow only the hallucination of a quest. Their ideals are as brittle as glass.
They repeat the same situation with each successive teacher, seeking the impossible and suffering a series of deceptions in consequence.
Their loyalty is unstable and depends on whim more than on intuition or reason. They adopt or discard several cults in their lifetime.
One reason why so many of these credulous followers are neither discouraged by their recurring disappointments nor stopped by the crash of disillusionments from joining the next foolish cult which comes their way, is because they find no place for reason in their attitude toward life.
Wandering from one cult or school to another, from one teacher to another, happens often enough on the religio-mystic level but cannot happen on the philosophic level. Where it seems to do so that is only because the person concerned never reached a correct understanding of philosophy and never properly applied it.
They float around following every teacher in turn, enthusiastically eulogizing the one currently in the ascendant, only to criticize him later--and the lesson of keeping detached, unjoined, accepting truth without tying new bonds to half-truth or nonsense, remains unreceived.
Up to a certain level, this gleaning of knowledge from diverse and various sources enriches man but beyond that level it confuses and thus weakens him.
They pass from teacher to teacher--from one venal, ignorant, selfish, insane, dishonest, or obsessed guide to another--and consequently through an unending series of disillusionments.
Enthusiastic about a particular guru or teaching in the beginning, dissatisfied with him or it in the end, they drift or move vainly seeking the magical eradication of all their problems, the rapturous illumination of all their being.
The attitude which prompts an aspirant to be always hunting down a spiritual authority outside himself who is faultless and infallible, only to drop him later when a new one appears and becomes the next quarry, belongs only to beginners.
The mentally sick neurotics who move from cult to cult, or teacher to teacher are different from the merely curious seekers after novelty.
The error which attracts them to the cult is primarily within themselves and only secondarily within the cult's own teaching. The illusion which they project upon the cult or its leader is also primarily within themselves, as is shown by their habit of simply withdrawing it when unable to endure disappointment any longer and projecting it upon another cult or leader just as faulty.
These self-duped people rarely come to see the truth about themselves and come to no discouragement from their many disappointments. As each new leader is cast down from the pedestal as an ideal, they start at once to look for another instead of starting to look at themselves for a change. Thus they spare themselves the ordeal of discovering their own deficiencies and of facing their own defeats.
Those who gather emotional security or personal companionship from membership in a group are gathering something which they need. They are not yet ready for the higher stage.
If we examine the membership of a sample cult we find those who, having more leisure than they can cope with, seek sensation, thrill; others, who are old and lonely, seek gregarious companionship; still others, suffering from physical malady or emotional maladjustment or environmental frustration, seek a near-miracle cure.
The impulse which brings them into these dubious cults is not a mistaken one, but the actual translation of it into action is.
Most beginners feel uncertain of themselves in these highly unfamiliar mental, emotional, and psychic surroundings. So they join a smug self-centered group, a cult, an organization. This gives them the feeling of gregarious support. They are no longer alone. They lack the courage to be alone.
People get the spiritual teaching they deserve. A person who is lying, deceitful, prone to exaggeration, emotionalist and credulous, accepts faith which contains extravagant interpretations, exaggerated personal claims, wild prophecies, unjustified inferences, and is riddled with inconsistencies. Thus the cult matches the character and capacities of its adherents. All are the victims of fancies--the followers of their leader's fancies, and the leader of his own.
The members of these cults not only possess untrained minds but also bewildered ones. Ignorant, as they are, of the laws of reasoning and the facts of science, incapable of testing doctrines and judging people correctly, they are easy dupes. Because of their impossible wishes and impractical natures, they inhabit a mental world that breeds self-cheating illusions and attracts them to self-deceived creators of illusions. Thus they find false roads more attractive than true ones and imaginary goals better than real ones.
Why do people join these bizarre cults? There is the feeling of spiritual loneliness, the need of social companionship with kindred minds.
Human dependence and human exploitation have produced between them a number of cults and sects, mostly organized but some not.
The incapacity to observe facts, or the refusal to accept them when observed, marks many of the followers of these cults.
They are weak or they are leaners. They want someone to whom they can take their worldly troubles, their emotional turmoils, or their domestic distresses.
It is true that these bereaved or bewildered souls get a kind of comfort from these leaders or their teachings. But it is a false comfort.
Many beginners are not really on this quest of the Overself at all, although they tell themselves and others that they are. Their quest is for a group to which they can belong--an organization they can join or a sect with which they can affiliate.
The sad, the defeated, and the frustrated who attach themselves to a devotional-path Master not seldom do so because they want the personal cheer and encouragement he offers, not because they want Truth.
The neurotics come to the mystical cult in the belief that it will solve some, or all, of their personal problems; heal some, or all, of their emotional disturbances; dissolve some, or all, of the conflicts which torment them. They do not come seeking for Truth. But they are entitled to seek such relief.
It is the ignorant who divide themselves up into sects.
These mythical masters, dreamed up by some highly imaginative neurotics living in isolation totally out of touch with the real world in accordance with ideas picked up from books written by similar neurotics, appeal to the naïve and gullible.
The theatrical figure with long hair down to his shoulders, a long beard to match, a wide flowing cloak, who makes big claims and seeks a bigger following, gets a crowd of devotees without too much difficulty. For such dupes look to, and are impressed by, externals.
They are very earnest but this does not prevent them from being very naïve.
The lack of proper education explains some of the credulousness of these followers; inexperience in the world of mysticism and ignorance of its past history explain more of it; but failure to command competent personal guidance or to obey competent literary guidance explains the remainder.
The innocent unsophisticated people who are attracted to such cults, the gullible inexperienced people who follow false Christs, undergo experiences which illustrate the folly of mankind and the diseases of imagination, while warning others of some dangers in religious seeking.
The man who gives his faith to a spiritual doctrine or a spiritual leader all of a sudden, and without examination or investigation, is either highly intuitive or highly gullible.
Like eyeless creatures they grope, this way and that, in one direction after another, toward a life that is higher, better, and more serene than the prosaic one which is all they know. This explains some, the smaller number, of cult-joiners.
These followers of cults which take the ravings of an unsound mind for the utterances of prophetic inspiration are mostly drawn from those who have not yet evolved the qualities of intellect which modern science engenders.
They band themselves together in groups because they lack the strength to look far enough within themselves to know how to belong to themselves.
In this wild extravagance of faith, with its dreams of Messianic intervention and utopian organization, credulous people find an illusory refuge from current troubles or world disasters.
Muddled minds seeking definite direction will always flock around the teacher prophet or leader who seems doubt-free, unhesitant, and certain.
Whether among the founders, leaders, or followers, some are certainly liars and others are lunatics. But there is a third group, which is quite sincere yet the victim of its own obsessive delusions.
The truth is that they are on the quest only in their personal supposition, and in the supposition of those to whom they talk about it. The actuality is that they have yet to find the entrance to the quest.
However small be the following of a cult, it gives to each member the sense of belonging.
Those who are easily dominated by theories, saturated by dogmas, and ruled by opinions, who are exploited by pseudo-intellectuals or pseudo-mystics, are so because of being incapable of thinking for themselves.
A superstitious mind will shout, "A God incarnate!" where a developed mind will turn smilingly, if not disdainfully, aside from a pinchbeck aspirant to deific honour.
Their leanings toward mysticism start and finish with tea-table talks about it.
Mysticism has inevitably attracted weak minds who seek its seeming magic, its occult powers, who hope to get through it what neither scientific procedures nor practical methods can give them.
Adolescent in mind even though adult in body, they find their comfortable level in such teachings.
Indulgence in utopianism is a great temptation--but only to the young and inexperienced, or the credulous and impractical, or the superstitious and uninformed.
There are the gullible ones, who believe too much that is false. There are the sceptical ones who believe too little that is true.
The thrill of contact with such seemingly great beings is too much for obscure persons. In its seething agitation all critical judgement is washed away.
Such aspirants are always at the mercy of the contrary currents of other people's opinion.
There is a satisfaction for those of gregarious temperaments in merging with a crowd of other people. Why is this? It may be the emotional support they feel they are getting from the presence of these others sharing a like mood at the same time. It may be a kind of emotional drunkenness brought about by the sense of camaraderie of all belonging together, but it may also be that the ego is momentarily lost in the crowd's ego and to that extent lost to the person temporarily--although not attuned, of course, to any high level. Nevertheless it is a kind of liberation from the ego.
People may become so desperate in their search for a spiritual refuge that, without the slightest critical scrutiny, they will accept romantic nonsense which promises them supernormal help. Or their level of formal education or real self-education may be so low as to leave their intelligence untrained in sound judgement.
It is not a matter of running after the showy, the exotic, the sensational, although there are many who, attracted to this sort of thing, fall into self-deception and miss the true way.
People who will not discipline their seeking, who expect to walk into the kingdom of heaven at someone else's "Open Sesame" and remain there forever, who want something for nothing, are often attracted to these self-deceptions and charlatanries, these utter idiocies and ridiculous pretensions served up with a mystical sauce or religious dressing.
We go to the meeting halls to hear the latest lecture with the hope that perchance we shall discover a shortcut to heaven. We wade through volume after volume of strange jargon. We listen to every new bird of charlatanry as it flies into our ken and flaps its unbalanced wings.
Many of their followers ardently look for, and constantly expect, some sudden magic to operate in their favour and dissolve their personal problems, or some sudden illumination to give them all knowledge and power. In both cases they believe no disciplinary struggle will be required of them in return, no special effort commensurate with the reward. They are, in short, wanting something for nothing.
Those whose experience of the world is limited to a single set of human and spiritual values, miss much.
It is the sense-bound, form-regarding type of mind which foolishly looks for verification of a true spiritual teaching by the worthless legerdemain of a country-fair exhibitionist.
Too many seekers come anxiously to mysticism in the hope and belief that it will solve their personal problems for them in some miraculous way and by some overnight method. They are in real or fancied trouble, in emotional distress or worldly entanglement, and feel unable to cope with it. So they look for the kind of assistance which primitive people look for from witch doctors--something that will bring results without any effort of their own being called for.
Balance in the spiritual life is a quality which they have seldom sought and therefore seldom found.
They congregate in little cliques and imagine their narrow dogmatism to be wide idealism, their occult superstition to be true spirituality.
The wise aspirant will not hanker after manifestations of the marvellous. He wants the highest life has to offer, and he knows that nothing could be more marvelous than the realization of God as his own self.
Such doctrine can only find a following among those who are literally unbalanced because they look at a few facts through mental magnifying glasses which allow them to see nothing else. It is always possible by such a process to mesmerize themselves into the most erroneous beliefs. It is always possible to paralyse the brain's power to consider facts which collide with these beliefs.
An insane teacher may be accepted by a sane aspirant merely because he happens to come into the latter's life just when the mystical urge has itself come uppermost.
Each adventure with a false or incompetent teacher was the result of impatience in seeking the true one. Each straying from the path into misguided cults and coteries was due to a lack of faith in the saying, "When the pupil is ready the master appears."
Those who make a fetish of their quest, more especially the "drop-outs," the escapists to Indian ashrams, and the guru-worshippers, will in no long time become narrow sectarians, still on the religio-mystic level.
If it is his purpose to come into contact with oracular teachers or holy saints, in the belief that he will possibly receive a permanent enlightenment or radical experience of self-transformation--that is, in the belief that he will get something for nothing--he would do better to save his time.
He thinks he can shed personal responsibility by taking shelter under the aegis of a group or organization.
Do they come to have the truth shatter their long-held, long-hugged fictions, or do they come to have these fictions approved and commended?
Young and inexperienced persons, as well as old and gullible ones, have been led to believe that some small closed esoteric organized group has a monopoly on truth. This is not so, as those who have been properly instructed and those who have travelled widely and investigated thoroughly confirm.
Those who seek the absolutely perfect--whether in a human love or a spiritual leader--will never find it.
As long ago as 1896, Swami Vivekananda wrote in a letter, half-jocularly, about the shiploads of "Mahatma-seekers" arriving in India.
There are temperaments which benefit by the mental effect of taking part in impressive rituals, especially initiations and inductions. They will find their way to cults suited to them. But nothing of the kind exists on this quest.
By surrendering to the sect he relieves himself of the burden of thinking for himself.
They enclose their minds in memories, confine them in ideas derived from a very limited experience, entangle them in desires, or intimidate them with fears. To expect Truth to penetrate such conditions, still more to penetrate them instantly, without first making a passageway for it, is to expect what is logically unwarranted and morally unjustified.
Those impatient persons who want the higher truth completely unrolled for their gaze during a single talk and regardless of their readiness for it will necessarily be disappointed.
Tempted by magic formulas for instant enlightenment such as drugs or easy systems of mantric meditation now widely offered, they try to bypass the more difficult methods.
They demand the truth in all its purity while remaining unwilling to purge themselves of their own impurities. They claim the right to receive the most precious of all treasures while paying only a trivial price in return. Nowhere in Nature or among men can we witness such an unequal transaction.
If these studies attract genuine seekers after truth, they also attract foolish seekers after sensational thrills and freakish seekers after weird eccentricity.
Those who complain afterward about being deceived by these occultists complain about what they deserve for their childish credulity.
Where the enquirer is eager to become convinced and the master is eager to acquire disciples, it will not be long before both achieve their desires.
Those who want to remain at the nursery stage in mystical seeking are certainly entitled to do so. But they ought not to try to impose their limitations on others who want to go farther.
They do not see that the universe gives only what is self-earned.
This current interest in Zen Buddhism is mainly an experimental one, that is, a fad. It is merely a symptom of the neurotic's quest for novelty, or a sign that he is driven by instability--seldom by a quest of the Overself. He wants to receive surprise and to feel excitement, which is ironical because the real kingdom of heaven is devoid of both. Zen is also taken up as the next fad in line by the young intelligentsia, the self-conscious poets, the broken-down Bohemians, the fashionable patrons and the thrill-seekers of the theatre and the studio, by whom it is doomed--doomed to be intellectualized. The Spirit is squeezed out, the letter remains. The latter was let in, in a very real sense. Here was something new for them, something that decried their ego yet flattered it extravagantly. Above all, it was magic, witch-doctor stuff that offered a speedy exaggerated reward quite disproportionate to the effort required.
It would be wonderful if all men could cast off their temperament and renovate their character just by a simple contact with an inspired person. Jesus and Buddha would surely have been glad to perform this service for vast multitudes, but even they were not able to do so. Why should a Subud "Helper" be able to succeed where they failed?
Too many parrot phrases circulate among the followers of gurus and the members of movements.
The followers of these cults believe what they want to believe.
The character which is apt to display a sudden enthusiastic interest in a subject but not a continuous and persistent one, the seekers who possess a queer talent for joining some movement today--not because it is better but because it is new--only to drop it tomorrow or for espousing some idea merely because it happened to be the latest in time, such tend to carry neither the interest nor the espousal through to the bitter end.
They make demands of the quest, and bring expectations to it, which could never be fulfilled.
Those who follow illusory goals and impracticable techniques waste energy and invite disillusionment. In the end they become indifferent to true ideals, or cynical about them, or even antagonistic towards them.
The process of bringing men to engage in the quest is too slow to suit the enthusiastic neophyte.
They expect to find a copy of their mental image but the actuality proves to be quite different.
They are attracted by a doctrine if it is exotic, but remain untroubled by the question of its Truth.
The extravagance of faith, imagination, and expectation which has injured their judgement must be clipped short if the judgement itself is to be corrected.
A tendency to accept false beliefs is the product of defective intelligence and defective character: gullibility is merely its outward sign.
These are the dreamers who seek, as a first step towards founding an ideal society, the founding of an ideal community. So they join some group whose leadership or doctrine promises the realization of their dream and live among other seekers with a like hope. But--man is a mixture: the good and the bad find their home in him. In the end they are usually partially disenchanted.
Those who suffer in estate or mind because they fall victim to deception and charlatanry or to incompetence and ignorance, often complain at being given such a grievous reward for their spiritual seeking. But they were never told to seek foolishly. The reward for their aspiration does come in the form of crumbs of truth and moments of peace, but the retribution of their foolishness must also come. And if the pain leads them to perceive their own faults or insufficiencies at its root, and if they work earnestly to correct them, they will gain permanently. To have averted their suffering would have robbed them of this gain.
Many seekers are simply looking for a modern version of the ancient witch-doctor, wizard, or magician when they look for a teacher. The thirst for occult powers or for the demonstration thereof--a thirst doomed in nearly every case to disappointment--rather than the thirst for truth is their dominant motive.
Those who join these cults to seek occult powers or phenomena, although with the least likelihood of attaining them, and who seldom avoid self-deception and delusions, are often those who take to these studies because they are misfits in society or because they are disappointed with the experience of life or because they hope it will bring some colour into their drab existences. But unbridled enthusiasm cannot save these fanatics from failure in achieving the new ambitions.
The path of black magic fascinates--or at least attracts--unbalanced, neurotic young people, whose naïveté and lack of experience make it easier for them to fall victim to it than for older persons.
They get a certain ego-inflating thrill from these psychical experiences, a vague feeling of uniqueness that carries the suggestion of superiority.
It is at once laughable and pathetic, this spectacle of those who misemploy their faculties and seek to become supermen when they have proved to be incapable as men.
They mostly follow "misty-cism" rather than mysticism because unfortunately they have not learned sufficiently the difference between the two.
Why is it that so many of these seekers sway dangerously on the brink of schizophrenia? The fact is that they are poor human material for the quest. They have not shown the requisite qualifications, despite several years of talk about it, and it is unlikely that they ever will. Some aspirants aim too high for their capacities, others aim in an altogether wrong direction.
What is it that attracts the spiritual fealty of eager and trusting people to such aberrations? Why do they mistake the strange for the holy? Admittedly they are without balance, without proportion, and without experience.
They hold the curious beliefs that to be spiritual one must be a simpleton, that the path to wisdom goes through foolishness, and that the advocacy of delusions is the enlightenment of mankind.
Those who enter mysticism with weak minds may become sponsors or dupes of fantastic revelations, while those who enter it with diseased minds may become similarly positioned with evil ones.
Others take to mysticism because they are neurotically unfit to cope with this world or because they are afraid to cope with it or because they are pathological invalids or because they want a faith as queer, cranky, and credulous as they themselves are.
They imagine that the Quest will take their life beyond everyday common things or that it will bring them dramatic occult powers that can be shown off to their friends. In some cases, it is mere vanity which is the source of these beliefs, but in others it is simple misunderstanding or ignorance.
So long as their ideas of what constitutes the goal most worth seeking are incomplete or unbalanced, so long will their procedures and results be of the same inadequate kind.
It is a fact which experience proclaims but which personal feeling ignores, that most people are, in some way and to some extent, emotionally, mentally, or physically unbalanced or diseased. It is a further fact that they lack self-control in one of these departments, or in most of them; their unattractive neurotic compulsions and irritating obsessional conduct plainly reveal this.
All kinds of fools follow all kinds of other fools along these fringe tracks. They may be labelled religious, mystic, occult, psychological, psychiatric, or even philosophic.
The motive which attracts many to these practices may be psychical self-aggrandizement to compensate for their ordinariness or obscurity or powerlessness in personal life. They want to be able to perform miraculous feats or to possess spectacular supernormal faculties, chiefly because of the influence, authority, and applause which can follow. But they easily deceive themselves into believing that their motives are noble, unselfish, exalted.
Those who succumb to the dubious influence of these cult-founders, half-baked gurus, and pseudo-masters are usually highly suggestible men or highly gullible women. Usually the teacher's personality is made the subject of gushing rapture and his words the subject of hysterical homage.
They flirt with the occult, seeking neither their true essence nor to have their personal egoism lifted from them, but to satisfy a dangerous curiosity or a dubious sensationalism or, worse, a thirst for conceit-breeding or temptation-bringing powers.
The naïve may be duped by absurd exaggerations, others by a pretentious occultism; both have yet to find the true quest.
Individuals who, through their own faulty characters, have failed to adjust their ordinary human problems have the temerity to add extraordinary mystical ones to them. They plunge recklessly into yoga, meditation, and occultism. They seek psychical powers when they ought to be seeking intellectual balance.
A large part of this interest in mystical subjects is attributable not to spiritual progressiveness but to intellectual backwardness.
These ill-balanced followers, who walk precipitous trails that overlook the deep ravines of lunacy, cannot be brought into philosophy and cannot be made into mystics.
It is natural for a woman to cling to a man; that is why we see that the male gurus have such a high proportion of women among their followers.
It seems inevitable that there should be so heavy a sprinkling of neurotics, fanatics, psychotics, dogmatics, and borderline cases among those attracted to these studies. The first thing they have to learn is not how to develop occult powers, but that lunacy is not philosophy, and that what they mistake for spiritual development is too often spiritual decadence.
The lunatic fringe surround the halls and vestibules of mysticism, the incorrigible cranks infest its ascetic disciplines and physical regimes. The morons are there, too, gullibly swallowing every tale and addicted to every superstition, and unaffected by logic, science, common sense, practicality, or facts. But the account is not finished with them: there are the sensible, the educated, and the thoughtful, the genuine seekers after truth or peace.
For too long these subjects have been the preserve of many who, it must be regrettably confessed, are a little shaky in the upper story and a little undisciplined in the emotional region.
It would be ludicrous, if it were not also pathetic, how often inspired lunacy is mistaken for inspired wisdom in these circles. They are quickly attracted to unspiritual interpreters of spirituality, provided the claims made are big enough or the doctrines taught are sensational enough. Prophets who are partly insane and partly bogus will not lack for a following, so long as there are seekers who are too ill-equipped in mind and experience to recognize such characteristics for what they are.
Some take up the quest because there is something wrong with them; it is not because they hope to have it put right, but because they hope that this is a medium which encourages the expression of their wrongness. In a sense they are correct, and they usually gravitate to the lunatic fringes and occultistic demesnes which abound at the quest's entrance and along its first stages. Here their egos can get full satisfaction, their craziness can find camaraderie, and their hallucinations can be strengthened and supported. The quest as it really is is not for them--for it would give short shrift to their belief that their wrongness is rightness.
The hysteric type should stringently avoid psychism and its phenomena, occultism and its powers, if she does not want to make a bad state worse. Much more should she avoid them if she wants to gain the peace of mind which the quest alone can bring.
They live in a constant round of excited expectations. They await a weekly revelation of the Infinite, a monthly meeting with an adept, a bi-monthly intervention of supernatural forces in their personal affairs, and so on.
When these people are not looking for witch doctors and wizards to cure their ills or mend their fortunes with quackery, they are looking for swamis and messiahs to fly them to romantic dreamlands or other planes with rhetoric. The fact is that they are not merely simple souls: they are also hungry ones. Their hunger is for the irrational, the fantastic, the unreal, the absurd, and the glamorously deceptive. They are seeking something for nothing, want to achieve their goals without working for them. They seek wonder-working panaceas or hunt formulas for magic dressed up in modern words, or sit at the feet of suave, mildly insane freaks and fanatics.
If materialism is to be displaced by mysticism, and if every fantastic doctrine is to be labelled and accepted as mysticism and any crackpot who claims them is to receive mystical honours, then the so-called advance will really be a retrogression. Those who accept enthusiastically any doctrine merely because it is unorthodox are not truth-seekers. They are eccentrics. And those who follow any guide merely because he wears a turban are also not truth-seekers. They are exotics. The first group may be victimized by crackpots, the second by charlatans.
The too narrow and too prolonged concentration upon one's own personal emotions creates the neurotic. This still remains true whether the man be a sceptical materialist or an aspiring mystic.
The whole horde of futile seekers, with their impotent attitudes and pale mimicries, talking constantly of a goal too distant for their feeble powers, babbling in pretentious esoteric jargon of mystical states they know only in imagination and never in experience, are heavy-lidded with hallucinations and remain sterile dreamers and neurotic egocentrics.
Instability and restlessness are features of the psycho-neurotic type of person. He changes his job or even his work too often to be able ever to succeed at anything. And he moves his allegiance from cult to cult too quickly to plead truth-seeking. His imbalance is also expressed physically, for the eyes are often dilated and nervous.
The neurotic says: "I am going to do it." Never does he do it, but remains always dreaming of these great things in the future. This is the story of his unbalanced life.
They all came into mystic cults, they all needed its promise of magic, truth, consolation, power--the lonely, the half-mad, the neurotic, the solemn, the over-thoughtful, the bizarre, the crushed, the despairing.
The presence of eccentric behaviour, dress, and appearance does not show the presence of philosophy but its absence. The signs of neurotic, hysteric, or psychotic personality point everywhere else except to a philosophic origin.
Too many ill-adjusted, ego-wrapped neurotics attach themselves to psychical, occult, mystical, Oriental, and religious movements not to get their unhealthy condition remedied but to get acceptance and sympathy or, if "inner experiences" are retold, admiration. Or, if their personal relationships or careers have failed, they hope a sudden transformation of their lives will be brought about by magical occult powers and enable them to succeed.
They have serious distortions within their own minds which are then reflected into their aims, principles, and methods. They have become pathological cases and need psychiatric treatment.
I am not too happy about my own role in helping to bring on this explosion of interest in mystical and Oriental ways. Hysterics, lunatics, simpletons, the mindless, the exploiters, and half-charlatans have stepped into this field. For when the truth gets into the hands of the unready and unfit, they first misconceive it, then adulterate and corrode it, finally embody it for foolish or egotistic purposes in pseudo-truths.
The groups and cults which young people have formed or follow--wearing clothes, head-hair, and beards of a highly exhibitionist sort, speaking a jargon about which the less said the better--are not likely to appreciate the philosophy of truth. Yet they glibly chatter of Nirvana and seek easy ways of achieving it instantly. They have tried drugs, mantrams and mandalas, Zen meditation and Art, drink and sex, as part of these ways. Needless to write that their egos remain as strong as ever, or rather, stronger. They like to gather in "loving" groups. Now and then a genius appears among them but soon finds that solitude is better for his work than these work-shy ever-talking crowds.
When psychopaths are attracted to these studies, it is the occult, the spiritistic, and the psychical that hold their interest. When neurotics are attracted, it is the religious and mystical which hold it. Before either can enter the portals of philosophy he has to part, to a sufficient extent, with some of his faults: the psychopath with his violence, fanaticism, hatreds, exaggerations, distortions, destructiveness, and hysteria; the neurotic with his impulsive urges, his extreme tensions, his emotional moodiness and disturbances, and his egocentricities.
Anyone who cares to look around in these circles will find that aberrations from the true Quest abound. They attract those who are ignorant or ill-informed about such matters, or those who need (but do not see that they need) some psychological straightening-out before pure philosophy and the correct philosophical life are acceptable.
Various forms of dementia may be recognized among these misguided seekers, but the cases differ widely from the extremely mild to the severely dangerous.
On the margins of religio-mysticism there is a recurring type which you may identify by its freakish appearance and exaggerated behaviour. It is a type which never penetrates to the true heart of mysticism but only moves over its surface. It takes the mere incidentals and makes them major affairs.
It is a deplorable fact that an unstable emotional temperament and an undeveloped intellectual faculty, when conjoined with mystical enthusiasm, easily lead to religious mania, psychopathic states, or mental unbalance. Whether they are really serious or merely borderline cases, those who become victims of such conditions cannot make authentic spiritual advancement but can only revolve within the circle of their own hallucinations.
Neurotics who know only the two extremes of licence and asceticism, who spend their lives in one or the other, or in jumping from one to the other, will be intolerant of the philosophic attitude to these matters.
Unfortunately their feelings are hopelessly confused with their beliefs.
The neurotic type acts as if its own emotions are all that matter in the world, its own beliefs the last word in wisdom. This is its danger--that it cannot climb out of itself and get a proper perspective.
The neurotic instability does not belong to the quest itself but to a personal unbalance of temperament.
Those who fall most easily enter the masses of the negative side of occultism if they are working alone, or fall into the hands of exploiting teachers and cults if they are among those with weak minds without education of any quality who seek after sensational experiences.
What has philosophy to do with these half-maniacs who pester its fringes and never enter its solid sanity, who go around half-dizzy from reading about notions too big for their small minds?
If half-demented persons take up these studies, it is because either the occult attracts them or they fall under the spell of a teacher who is more demented than they are. But they are not attracted to pure philosophy and could not get it taught to them anyway.
There are mentally disturbed persons who have aggravated their condition by taking to the quest in the wrong way, by extreme forms of asceticism, by blind naïve spiritistic mediumship, or by improper, ego-worshipping meditation.
There are psychological types--the lazy, the foolish expecters of something for nothing, the unbalanced--who are attracted to those who promise to satisfy their cravings for "instant peace": the purveyors of mind-expanding drugs and plants, the gurus who make large claims for themselves or their methods. The seekers get what they pay for--they end up with adventures in hallucination or insanity.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.