Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 2: Overview of Practices Involved > Chapter 8: The Quest and Social Responsibility

The Quest and Social Responsibility

On time and solitude

We lament the lack of time. But if we critically scrutinized our actions, and even made some kind of schedule beforehand, we would find that some activities are unnecessary and others are useless. These not only rob us of time but they deprive us of some of the energy needed for meditation, rendering it harder or even impossible.

Do not imagine that because the mystic frequently seeks seclusion he does this because he is bored with life and hence disdains the drawing rooms of society; rather is it that he is intensely interested in life and is therefore short of time, for drawing rooms are usually places where people go to kill time, because they are bored.

The quest calls for strenuous endeavours and the right use of time. Those who are indifferent to its disciplinary demands should not complain about the slow-motion character of their progress. Those who give little should not expect to get much.

It will not be enough, if he wants to find time for graver pursuits, to throw out of his life all harmful pleasures; he will also have to throw out time-wasteful and useless ones. Such exercise of self-denial proves a profitable one in the end, whatever it costs in the beginning.

If heart does not radiate silently to heart, then talk is idle dissipation of time and energy, even though it be continued for hours.

People who do not know how to get rid of time except by getting involved in time-using activities, cannot know the value of contemplation.

He may succeed in his aim only if he succeeds in not getting entangled by irrelevant activities and intruding persons.

Time is like a great treasury. Put nothing of value into it and you will get nothing out. Put philosophic study and self-training into it and at the very least you will draw out a measure of peace and understanding, at the most you may enter into realization of the Truth.

He should sometimes ask himself for how many more years may he hope to be given the chance which every lifetime gives a man to transcend himself.

To give time is to give life. To be master of one's time, for an hour or a week, free and independent, is to be master of one's life for an hour or a week.

It is a necessary rule of the aspirant's life, laid down by the yogic manuals of old and proven by experience today, that regularity should be faithfully observed in meditation practice and at least attempted in the other important duties of his spiritual career.

Those who object to contemplation as a waste of time and life, need to learn that it is also a form of activity--inner activity.

He will be forced to admit, with sorrowful head, that he had been too busy with the trivial matters of the moment to break through the mysterious barriers that bar our human way out of the prison of time and space.

Fritter--and fail.

The Quest does not demand the renunciation of worldly business but only the renunciation of a small daily fragment of the time hitherto devoted to such business. It asks for half or three-quarters of an hour daily to be faithfully given to meditation exercises. It asserts that the fullest realization of the Overself can be attained without becoming a whole-time yogi.

No man can escape responsibility for the way he uses his day. He can either carefully organize it to serve his highest purposes or he can carelessly fritter it away in trivial activity or idle sloth.

The day must be definitely apportioned and scheduled beforehand, its routine prearranged and left undisturbed. Chance visits by friends must be discouraged; he must refuse to fit them in.

The excuses given for this failure may be serious and sincerely meant, but the fact remains that those who make them can still find time to eat their meals and, perhaps, to make love. The essence of the matter lies in how important meditation is to him.

He is also too much aware of his own precarious mortality to permit useless involvements and irrelevant commitments to waste his life.

The ordinary person does not have the time to search intellectually or the desire to search adventurously for truth. This is partly because his other personal activities absorb his day. But a man who dedicates his entire time to this quest, who is willing to pay its cost, is more likely to find the truth. Yet time is only part of the price; he must also be willing to sacrifice dishonesty in his thinking.

He will find, on a strict self-examination, that he has allowed himself to be drawn into currents of time-wasting worldliness or attracted into whirlpools of time-eating frivolity.

Once he recognizes his responsibility toward the fulfilment of this higher purpose, for which the Infinite Wisdom has put him here, he will have to recognize also the obligation of devoting some time every day for study of, and meditation upon, it. The philosophic standard of measurement enables him to see plainly that however fully he has fulfilled all other demands made upon him--to the point that all his time is engaged--if he has neglected this single one, he is still at fault.

To find the time required for meditation may call for a little planning of our time and a lot of revision of our values. But this in itself is a worthwhile self-discipline. For we rush hither and thither but have yet to ask ourselves where we are rushing to. What better use could we make of the treasure of leisure than soul-finding?

Those costly hours when we abandon pleasure or deny sleep that we may take counsel of our better selves, are not wasted. They too bring a good reward--however deferred it be--and one that remains forever.

Our daily occupations and preoccupations keep our time, energies, and consciousness identified with the external world and external activities to such an extent that we have little left for reversing the situation and discovering--or at least exploring--the deeper layers of self. Yet, unless something is done about this situation, and at least simple exercises and pre-studies made as a beginning, we shall remain ignorant throughout life of what is actually of high importance to us. Twenty minutes a day at whatever time is convenient should at least be given for this purpose.

If the student finds his time fully taken up in caring for others, this must take first place. He must care for all victims of man's ignorance as though they were members of his own family; he must be as clearheaded and practical in dealing with his work as any worldly minded person, but underneath he will know that earthly life is fleeting, transient, never permanently satisfying, and therefore only the outer face of his life; deep within must be a persistent quest of truth and reality which alone confer everlasting peace.

His withdrawal from common gossip, tittle-tattle speech, and negative conversation must be deliberate until by habit it becomes natural. Such talk is unnecessary, extravagant, and harmful to his inner work.

It is not a moral endeavour, although that may enter into it, but a worthwhile plan to cut out time spent on adulterous theatre plays, "risqué" stories, and trivial television. The mental attention thus saved can be transferred and used more constructively on a higher level.

Half an hour is not enough for his high purpose. Only the whole day, all his waking hours will suffice for it.

If he values his life he will have to value his time. This means he will have to select the quality and limit the quantity of his experiences.

The man who seeks more free time for spiritual pursuits may find it by withdrawing from the fullness of human experience. By refusing to work at a job or to rear a family, he may achieve his aim.

You can throw your time away on the waste-heap, or you can transform it into a result-producer.

If you think you have not the necessary time for the practice of mental quiet, then make it. Push out of the day's program the least important items so as to make room for this, the most important of all activities.

Whoever is interested in making the most of his life and doing the best for his character needs two things among several others: he needs time and he needs seclusion. The time may vary from a few minutes a day up to a couple of hours. Seclusion may be in an attic or in a forest. A third thing needed is silence. With these three conditions he can begin the very important inner work: first of reflection, second of thought-control. The time is needed to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the world, from the triviality and futility of so much social life. It is a good thing to come out of that for a while every day, to be sequestered from society and make the effort to be in himself--that is, in his true self, his spiritual being. These few minutes of detachment from the world can become in time very valuable to him if he uses them in the right way.

The little seed from which a great tree will one day grow makes no noise as it busily germinates in the dark earth. In such silence and with such reticence, the aspirant should begin his quest and wait patiently for the day when he shall receive a mandate to speak of these things. To speak prematurely is not only ineffective but likely to arouse unnecessary and avoidable opposition.

The real work on the Quest has to be carried out within and by the mind, not the body. The aspirant must try to live his outward life as normally as possible and avoid making a public spectacle of the fact he is following the spiritual path.

The quest is his secret which he can better carry in the depths of his heart.

Holiness or spiritual greatness or a dedicated life is a secret between a man and his God. He does not need to advertise it by any outward show, by a particular kind of dress, or by the professional sanctity of the monk or yogi.

The intellectual and intuitional and mystical sides of his real spiritual life will cause him to withdraw a part of himself from social communication. He will learn to live alone with it.

The student who rushes to narrate to everyone his inner experiences, his occult visions or messages, his high glimpses, may fall into the pit of self-advertisement, vanity, conceit. He may then lose through the ego what he has gained through his efforts.

He should not mention his mystical experiences to unsympathetic persons nor discuss them with incompetent ones. It is better to keep them to himself and talk about them only to a spiritual director or an aspirant much more advanced on the road than he is.

He should try to follow this quest and to practise its regimes as unobtrusively and as quietly as he can. By doing so he will reduce to a minimum the attention attracted from those persons who are likely to criticize his faith, or worse, to obstruct his path.

It is only the novice, enthusiastic but inexperienced, who loudmouthedly tells all and sundry about each one of his surface-scratching spiritual experiences. The man who is very far advanced on the quest acquires great discretion. In fact, the more advanced he is the more secretive does he become about such matters. He will not speak a word upon them unless he is bidden by the inner Voice to do so. The Overself does not live in public but in secret. It is totally outside the world's activity. Therefore the closer you approach it, the more secretive you are likely to become concerning the event. And when you do succeed in finally uniting yourself with it, your lips will be completely shut--not only because of the ego's greater humility but because the Overself desires it so. There is a further feature of this question of secrecy which deserves comment. Those who are very far advanced tend also to withdraw increasingly from the social circles or vocational activity which formerly engaged them. They vanish into retreat and withdraw into solitude for longer and longer intervals. Unless they are charged with a public mission, the world seldom hears of them.

This need of privacy to follow one's quest in one's own way is best satisfied by the wide open spaces of ranch life, next best by the vast impersonality of large city life. It is hardest to satisfy in a small town where watching eyes and intruding feet seek to mind everyone else's business.

It must live quite hermetically and secretly in his own mind and feelings, not because he wants to conceal truth but because it is still a tender young plant needing shelter and protection.

Where emotional guidance would bid him disclose his inner affiliation with the divine order, intuitional guidance bids him move unobtrusively and quietly.

The gossip who meddles with other people's private lives, the journalist who uses the excuse of professional practice to invade other peoples' privacy--these unpleasant repulsive creatures should be avoided or if necessary rebuked.

You must remember that everyone without exception stands in life just where the evolutionary flow has brought him and that his outward life is the result of all those previous experiences in many, many incarnations. His outlook and his beliefs, his attitude towards life are all part of his evolving growth. Therefore you will not try to convert him. If, however, doubts begin to arise in his mind and he asks you questions, then it is right for you to speak to him of a higher viewpoint. But say just what needs to be said to give him the light you see he needs, and no more. If you go too far you will confuse him. If you give him just enough to carry his mind a step onward you will help him. Until then every effort you make is wasted; it is throwing seed on to stony ground. Therefore, unless you are asked in this way it is unnecessary and often unwise to advertise that you are following spiritual practices or believe in spiritual truths. If you live with others and make a fuss about these things you may arouse their hostility. If you really have something to give them they will come to you one day and ask for help. You must learn discretion in dealing with people. You must learn when to be silent and when to speak, and when you do speak how much to say.

One reason why this silence about inner experiences is enjoined upon novices is that speech about them tends to spiritual conceit; another is that it identifies the novice with his ego from which it is the very purpose of those experiences to separate him. In learning to keep them secret, he is learning to keep himself out of the subtlest forms of egoism.

The seeker is warned not to talk about his inner experiences. They have to be well-guarded by silence if they are to be kept or repeated.

It is not a reprehensible selfishness to become, for the purposes of his inner work, more seclusive, more withdrawn, more conscious of the value of privacy. The more he obeys this higher will the more will others benefit.

If others laugh at him because he does not go with the herd, he must include it in the quest's cost. But it would be well to screen those things which need not be displayed, or refrain from drawing attention to them if this is possible. The world being what it is, negativities muddying so many characters, the less he lets them put their thoughts upon him the better.

The high value of secrecy in preparation and surprise in attack is well known to those who plan military operations skilfully. But those who want to succeed with their efforts for a higher kind of life can also profitably use these two approaches.

Most novices make the mistake of talking too freely to friends and relatives about the Quest. This is a serious error, and can lead to needless suffering on both sides. The aspirant must learn that it is a test of faith to trust in the workings of the Overself to spread these ideas in Its own time and way.

All must cherish secrets and the farther anyone advances on the path of knowledge the more he must cherish in this manner, not because of their value alone but because society is not usually ready to receive them. The sage, who is full of the loftiest secrets, does not suffer in the slightest from their possession. Restrained emotions are good as signs of attempted self-discipline but bad when they are set up as a goal of living. Asceticism can only bloom successfully when it arises out of genuine, reasoned understanding. Until such understanding comes one often has to restrain himself forcibly. But nothing ought to be overdone. The overdoing of asceticism produces cranks--unbalanced, illogical, and self-deceiving persons. Confession and sharing help to relieve the soul only insofar as they are connected with the right persons. To confess to the wrong persons or to share with them only makes matters worse.

The younger people of today who are knowingly embarking on the Quest should make some effort, within reasonable limits, to appear outwardly as being not too different from those who are not embarking on it--thus avoiding the stigma of being regarded as eccentric or, even worse, insane.

Such secrecy as he is expected to maintain about his quest is also due to the utter seriousness with which he must take it. It is something too sacred and too intimate to be talked about or argued about.

The impulse to speak may be obeyed or resisted; only each individual case can determine which course is correct.

To gain more friends at the risk of losing more privacy is a move which requires the fullest consideration.

Unlike most beginners, the proficient will never speak of his inmost spiritual experiences to other aspirants except in special cases. He will, however, drop such reticence with a teacher.

The rule of secrecy does not mean that he is never to talk about the Truth to others. It means only that he shall not talk prematurely about it. He must wait until he can talk with correct knowledge and at times when it is prudent to do so, and to persons who are ready for what he has to say. He must wait until he is himself strongly established in Truth, and will not be affected by the doubts and denials of others. He should learn and remember that speech opens his private purposes to their negative thoughts or antagonistic emotions and may thus weaken him. It needs firmness and discipline but by keeping his spiritual work and goals locked up inside himself and revealing them only when the right occasion arises he will show true practicality and foster real strength.

Spiritual service

He must defend his right to an inner life against all disruptions, however well-meaning the disrupter may be. What he owes to others, to society, friends, or family in the way of devotion, attention, or intercourse can and should be given. But there is a point where his self-giving may have to stop, where his responsibility to the higher purpose of living must cancel all other responsibilities.

When a man begins to think of what service he can render as well as the common thought of what he can get, he begins to walk success-wards.

All the great prophets have made special mention of the fact that the task of spiritually enlightening others is the most important and most beneficial activity in which any man can engage. He who wishes to stimulate others to start on the spiritual Quest, to help those who have already started to find the right direction in which to travel, and to make available to the public generally the leading truths of spiritual knowledge, feels that this is the most worthwhile activity. The effective and enduring preparation for this is first to spiritualize oneself and therefore it is up to him to carry on even more ardently with his efforts than he has done hitherto.

Philosophy bids him follow its quest and practise its ethics in his own person before he bids others do so. Only after he has succeeded in doing this, can he have the right to address himself to them. Only after he has discovered its results and tested its values for himself, can he guide them without the risks of deception on the one hand or hypocrisy on the other.

He may seek, when better equipped to do so, to render service to many people. But until that time comes, it is better to go on working upon himself, improving his moral character, increasing his knowledge of the philosophic teachings, humbling himself in daily prayer and worship, and cultivating that thread of intuition which links him to the Soul.

The seeker who follows this path is and will be of some service as a channel for the inspiration and enlightenment of others less advanced than he--within, of course, his own capacity and subject to his own limitations. Because of this, he should make every effort to acquire accurate knowledge of what the Quest is, what Philosophy contributes to it, and what--in everyday language--these mean and offer to the individual's everyday life.

The acts of service are yours, the consequences of service are God's. Do not be anxious where anxiety is not your business.

He must not only apply the teaching but he must apply it intelligently. His acts must either be inspired ones or, when they cannot attain that level, considered ones. Only in this way will he avoid the reproach so often levelled at mystics, that they are impractical, fanatical, and inefficient.

Service, in its purity, must be the first as well as the last thought behind his work. He is not unconcerned about rewards but he knows that they are always the natural accompaniment of, or sequel to such service.

You talk of service. But you cannot really become a server of God before you have ceased to be a server of self.

The serious aspirant soon discovers that he has so much work to do on improving himself that he has little time left to improve others.

A novice in meditation ought not expect that he can give himself with impunity to the fully active life as an advanced practitioner can. Practical service of humanity ought therefore be limited within much narrower degrees by the former than need be done by the latter. The sphere of service should be widened only as the server develops his mystical faculties and should not outrun them. The sensible rule is that with the beginner emphasis must be laid upon self-development first and service last, but with the senior this order must be reversed. This is not to say with the reclusive minded that the beginner should be concerned wholly with himself and attempt no service at all.

Before we can help others or influence the world, we need to possess three things: knowledge, experience, and power.

It is an error to place too much stress on unselfish activity as an element in the aspirant's qualifications. We did not incarnate primarily to serve each other. We incarnated to realize the Overself, to change the quality of individual consciousness. Altruism is therefore always subordinate to this higher activity. The sage's compassion is not primarily for other people's troubles, although he certainly feels that too, but he knows that these will continue without end in some form or other--such being the unalterable nature of mundane existence. His compassion is for the ignorance out of which many avoidable troubles spring or which when they are unavoidable prevents people from attaining inner peace. Hence he economizes time and energy by refraining from devoting them merely and solely to humanitarian work and uses them instead for the root-work of alleviating spiritual ignorance.

Serve in sublime self-abnegation.

There is a common delusion that giving up selfishness in the sense of becoming utterly altruistic is the highest call of the quest. It is believed that the sage is simply a man who no longer lives for himself but lives wholly for others. Getting rid of one's own ego, however, does not mean taking on someone else's. It means taking on or, rather, being taken up by, the deeper self.

This does not mean that one is to renounce all ideas of rendering service. It merely means that one is to withdraw from premature acts of service, to withdraw for a time sufficient to prepare oneself to render real service, better service. One is to become possessed of patience and to wait during this period of preparation.

They have no adequate idea of what they mean when they use this term "service." And in its absence they are liable to do as much harm as good. For they do not know in what consists the real good of other persons.

The divine power to help, heal, guide, or instruct others begins to show itself when we begin to turn our face towards it humbly, prayerfully, and thus make the necessary connection through meditation and study, through altruistic action and religious veneration.

To refrain from premature service whilst developing oneself for better service, is not selfishness but simply unselfishness made sensible. He who has demonstrated his capacity to solve his own problems may rightly set forth to solve other people's.

Although the Buddha agreed with the mystical view that to seek one's own spiritual welfare and not that of another was a higher aim in life than to seek another's spiritual welfare whilst ignoring one's own, he said it was the highest of all to seek both one's own and another's at the same time.

But before he embarks on such service, such entry into the hearts and lives of others, he should be sure that neither personal egotism nor the desire for personal reward has mixed itself up with his altruistic impulse. If this surety is not present, he had better wait until it does arrive.

If you feel you want to spread this teaching, then do so; but do it in the right way. You don't have to organize a society or indulge in loud propaganda. Truth is not something which can be imposed on other people. They must grow through experience and reflection into the right attitude of receptivity and then they will look for whatever they need. It is only at such a critical moment that you have any right to offer what you yourself have found, just as it is only at such a moment that your offering will be successful and not a wasted one.

Another reason for not making meditation the sole path is that in these times of world crisis we deliberately have to emphasize self-forgetfulness, to stop looking so much at our own selves and start looking a little more at mankind, to forget some of our own need of development and remember others' need of development. The spiritual enlightenment, however humbly we are able to do it, of the society in which we find ourselves is at least as vital in this crisis as our own enlightenment through meditation. If we will faithfully recognize and obey this, then God will bless us and grant grace even though we haven't done as much meditation as in normal times we ought to have done.

We cannot save others until we can save ourselves. And yet the altruistic desire to share this self-salvation with others should be present from the beginning. Otherwise, it will not manifest itself when success comes.

If he begins to think what impression he is making on others, how spiritual his speech or appearance, his silence or personality must appear to them, then he is worshipping his own ego. To the extent that he does this, his value or service to them is diminished.

His first duty is to himself; only when this has been properly attended to is he free to consider his second duty, which is towards mankind. Nevertheless, he is not to fall into the error which would defer all consideration of such altruism until he has completely realized his Overself. If he does so, it may be too late to create a new attitude. It ought always to be at the back of his mind; it should be the ultimate ideal behind all his immediate endeavours.

That is pure service where the server feels no importance in himself, where he effaces the gratifying egoism that good deeds may bring to the doer. But where the opposite prevails, then the very act of service itself strengthens self-importance.

It is a human failing to wish to appear the possessor of important knowledge, and the desire to rise in the estimation of the curious may easily lead to loss of discretion.

There are those who sacrifice themselves to others under the belief that this is a virtue. But if the sacrifice is not linked with wisdom and righteousness, if it is foolish and cowardly, then it becomes the opposite of a virtue and brings harm to one's self and the others.

Only wisdom, not emotion alone, can show him how to help without becoming personally entangled. Otherwise he becomes caught in a web of lives, and no longer free to live his own.

By identifying emotionally with another's suffering, when this is based on futile, vain, or unwise demands, one does not really help him by supporting, or seeking to satisfy, those demands. One merely prolongs the fog of error around him. It is better to engage in the unpleasant duty of pointing out their unwisdom, of throwing cold water upon them. But this should be accompanied by positive suggestion, by pointing out the benefits of a self-disciplined attitude, by explaining how this is the correct way to heal the suffering emotions and bring peace to the agitated mind, because it is the harmony with the higher law.

The need of self-help precedes the duty of service. He must lift himself out of the errors and weaknesses of the flesh before he can safely or effectively lift others. He will be able to serve others spiritually precisely in proportion to the extent he has first served himself spiritually. There are profounder forms than the merely intellectual or merely muscular, too subtle for the materialists to comprehend, whose power is based on mentalist truth. Service does not primarily consist of repeating parrot-like what he has read. It consists of so deepening his consciousness and so developing his character that he can speak with authority, make every word count because of the spiritual experience behind it. If a man can deepen his consciousness, he will discover the instrumental means whereby he can help others to deepen their own. Power will flow from his mystic "heart" to any person he concentrates upon and will get to work within that other's inner being. It will take time for the results to show, however.

He who has helped himself to inner strength and knowledge, outer health and spiritual energy, becomes a positive force in the world, able to assist others instead of asking assistance from them. Self-salvation must come first.

Because your world is contained in your consciousness, as mentalism teaches, you can best help that world by improving and correcting your consciousness. In attending to your own inner development, you are putting yourself in the most effectual position to promote the development of other persons. Philosophy is fully aware of, and concerned with, the misery and the suffering which are rampant everywhere. It does not approve of selfishness, or indifference to the welfare of others. Yet, at the same time, it does not permit itself to be swept away by blind emotionalism and unreasoned impulsiveness into doing what is least effective for humanity. It calls wisdom in to guide its desire to serve, with the result that the service it does render is the most effective possible.

So long as there still adheres to his conscious mind even a fragment of the conviction that he is destined to serve humanity spiritually, much less save it messianically, so long should he take it as a sign that the ego is still dominant. With true humility, there comes abnegation of the will--even the will to serve or save.

The disciple who exposes himself too prematurely to the world as a would-be teacher, exposes himself also to new perils and dangerous temptations. It will not be easy for him to reorient himself toward the concept of pure service done disinterestedly, but without it he will fall into traps that will injure him.

Those who have been given a mission to perform, however small or large it may be, too often fall into the arrogant error of extending it beyond the proper limits. They let the ego intrude, overplay their hand, and thus spoil what might otherwise have been a good result.

What is the best charity, the truest philanthropy? It is so to enlighten a man that thereafter he will find within himself all the resources he needs to manage his life so as to bring him the greatest happiness.

Love is to be given as a first duty to our own higher self, and only then to other men. We are here on earth to find the soul, not to better the social relationship nor to construct utopia. These are highly desirable things, let us seek them by all means, but let us not make the mistake in thought of calling them first things. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. They ought to be, and can be, held side by side, but one as primary and the other as secondary.

The feeling of compassion and the doing of service help to cleanse the human mentality of its innate egoism and to release the human heart from its inborn selfishness. Thus they are useful to the aspirant who is treading the path of purification.

To rush out into the service of enlightenment too prematurely at the bidding of the emotion of pity unrestrained by the balance of reason, may do nothing worse than waste time, but it may also do something more serious. It may create confusion in others, pamper vanity in oneself.

To recognize that the conventional world is ruled by monstrous stupidity and malignity, to realize that it is useless, vain, and to no purpose to fight these powerful rulers--since failure alone can be the result--is practical wisdom. Let it be called selfishness and escapism, but to refuse the sacrifice of energy and the spending of time in so-called service of humanity is simply an acknowledgment partly that no good can come from meddling in other people's affairs that would not have come anyway, and partly that the character of humanity cannot be changed within one man's lifetime but only by the slow long processes of evolution. It is delusory to believe that anything effectual can be done to perceptibly weaken the real rulers of the world, the stupidity and malignity against which prophets have spoken and sages have warned mankind since thousands of years ago. The fruit of their denunciations hangs on history's tree before us--more stupidity and more malignity today than ever before! Time has not evolved virtue; it has only accumulated folly.

Those who criticize this refusal to engage in service prematurely, this seeming mystical isolationism--and most Occidentals do criticize it--should ask themselves the question: How can people who are unable to live in harmony with themselves, live in harmony with others? Is it not wiser, more practical, to establish harmony within oneself first and then help others to do so?

He should certainly think of his own welfare, it would be foolish not to do that. The mistake or sin is to think only of himself or to make the welfare of others entirely subservient.

People will begin to come of their own accord for help and guidance when this higher power is using him.

He who waits until he penetrates to his innermost being before he begins to play with the notion of service attains depth in the character of that service, whereas he who hurries hastily into the arena may attain width in his service, but he will lack depth. Moreover, the first will work on a world canvas, because space cannot bar the efforts of the spirit, whereas the second, using the method and manner of the body and the intellect alone, may not reach farther than his own town or land.

If his efforts to serve mankind socially are made to the utter neglect of the need to serve his own self spiritually, then they are as unbalanced and unwise as the efforts to pursue personal salvation in utter indifference to the fate of others. The proper solution has been given by Light on the Path, which counsels the aspirant to kill out desire and ambition but to work as those work who are impelled by these two great forces. But if he does do this, the impelling forces within him can then only be duty and altruism.

Service must be thoroughly practical as well as conceived in a spirit of noble and generous endeavour.

But although premature service of this kind is to be discouraged, the attempt of an advanced disciple to help a beginner is not necessarily a blunder. That depends on confining the help given to proper limits and on abstaining from treading where there is no sure-footedness. He may rightly share his knowledge, experience, and findings.

The only kind of service he may render is unpaid service. This condition he cheerfully accepts. For whatever he does to help others, he does out of love of the deed itself.

Offers of service which have unseen strings attached to them, should not be made.

The snubs and rebuffs he will meet will cure him of the delusion that society is filled with people who would eagerly take to the quest if only they were told about its existence. Thus he will be brought face to face with the problem of the general uncomprehension of mysticism, the common unsympathy to philosophy. He will discover that his own feelings, his own intuitions, cannot be communicated to others through the medium of words where neither experience nor reflection have prepared a way for them. So he cannot share them with the crowd but must perforce keep them to himself.

To improve his corner of the world is good but to improve himself is still better. Unless he receives a mandate from the higher self to set out on such reforming activities, it may be mere egoism that drives him to meddle with them.

The field of service will widen in range as the fields of capacity and aspiration themselves widen.

The attempt to improve other people's lives can easily mask a presumptuous interference with them. This is especially true when the hidden realities and long-term causes of a situation are not known, or are misread, or when the higher laws which govern mankind are ignored. In all these cases, the old evils may merely be replaced by new ones, so that the improvement is entirely fictitious. In the early Christian times, Saint Cyril saw and said what, much more than a thousand years later, Ananda Metteya the Buddhist and Ramana Maharshi the Hindu told me--that one best saves society by first saving oneself. This is why the philosopher does not try to impose on others the Idea or the Way which he has espoused. For the itch to improve them or alter them is, he now knows, a form of interference. He minds his own business. But if the higher power wants to use him to affect others, he will not resist it!

If anyone becomes idealistic and wants to help others he is told to "start a movement" and to persuade as many people as he can to dedicate themselves to it. This is excellent advice in the world of politics, economics, social reform, and material philanthropy. It is of some use even in the world of organized religion. But it cannot be applied in the world of spiritual truth without self-deception. For there a movement must not be started by a man but only by the higher power. It will then select the man it can use, and will guide and inspire him.

To dedicate life to spiritually uplifting and guiding others, to the extent one is capable of, is to make certain of receiving the same help from those beyond oneself.

If you take another man's duty off his shoulders and put it on your own, or lift his responsibility and leave him without it, because you have a laudable desire to serve mankind, you may in the end render him a disservice as well as put an unnecessary obstacle on your quest.

Do not attempt to make people act on a level beyond their comfortable traditional one if they neither want nor understand the higher one. They will resist or resent your attempt, which necessarily must fail.

The best form of social service is the one which leads others to the higher understanding of truth. For from that single cause will issue forth various effects in higher moral character, better human relations, and finer spiritual intuitions. Interfering with the freedom of others and meddling in their affairs, while the true laws of man's being and destiny are still hardly understood, leads always in history to unfortunate results.

Moreover, whatsoever we give or do to others is ultimately reflected back to us in some form by the power of karma, and if he frequently nurses the ideal of serving mankind he will attract to himself the spiritual help of those who themselves have this same aim.

Although it is true that the help we give others always returns to us in some way, somewhere, somewhen, nevertheless he is not motivated in this matter by the desire of reward or return. He will engage in the service of humanity because compassion will arise in his heart, because of the good it will do.

The desire to help the unfortunate and to uplift the depraved is a noble one, but it may also be a misguided, premature, or even dangerous one. Misguided, because some men must pay for their criminality before they will be willing to renounce it. Premature, because the philanthropist may have nothing worthwhile of a worldly or spiritual kind to give others. Dangerous, because the mental atmosphere which surrounds low circles of society is haunted by vicious and perverse unseen entities which seek to influence sensitive or mediumistic minds.

That alone is pure authentic service which asks for no return.

He is warned not to get involved in the personal problems of others, not to assume responsibility for their own duty of forming decisions, and not to believe that he is helping them when they try to evade the necessity of using their own powers and judgement. At his present stage it is safe only to communicate what he knows of the general laws of the spiritual life. Beyond this he should not usually attempt to go, but should let each person apply them for himself to his individual problems. The effort thus called forth will be more valuable to that person's own evolution than blindly obeying someone else.

In what way can the student fit himself for greater service to humanity? Usually his first need is to acquire or improve balance between the various functions. It may be that he is overweighted on the side of feelings and psychic sensitivity, and underweighted on the side of caution, practicality, worldly wisdom, and personal hardness. He ought in that case to develop the qualities which he lacks. This he can do during meditation by logically pondering upon them and by making them specific themes for his creative imagination. He can also deliberately seek opportunities to express them in practical day-to-day living. The task is a hard one and certainly not a pleasant one, but it is necessary if he wants to render real service of a tangible nature and not merely indulge in vivid fantasy about it.

If one's greatest desire is to serve God, he must first understand that he will serve Him best by making himself a constantly fitting testament of his faith.

Students frequently carry over some remnant of the religionist's urge to convert others to their own belief. Self-disciplines must be applied to curb this tendency. Actually it is a product of wishful thinking combined with ignorance. Why ignorance? Because efforts of this sort are more likely to repel than to attract others, to set up what the doctrine of relativity calls an "observational interference." One's contribution should simply be to be available for some discussions of metaphysics and mysticism in general, and to answer questions--provided one is qualified to do so. If the person is really ready for this Teaching, he or she will become aware of it through higher forces than the student's. These work through the subconscious or over-conscious mind. Usually the individual builds up artificial resistances, and time is needed to overcome them. Then, some results will begin to appear in the conscious mind. This is the way the Overself "works." It is also the way the true Master teaches.

After the student has sufficiently prepared himself--that is, after he has undergone the philosophic discipline for purifying character, subjugated his lower nature, developed his intellect, and cultivated his intuition--he will then be able to use his gifts in the practice of a higher order of meditation, which will bring him the bliss of communion with the Overself. Others, who may have benefited hitherto by association with him, will find that the earlier benefits were superficial compared with those following his transformation. Thus, one's first duty is always towards oneself--although the idea of service may and should be held in the background for later use.

There is more than one way of doing some good to suffering humanity. He should find the way which suits his own temperament, qualifications, and karmic possibilities. For instance, he must not regard a trade or a business as an activity that is neither useful nor necessary. Business is so broad that it is possible to find branches of it that are superior enough to fulfil the double function of making a livelihood and helping others.

It is incumbent upon each of those on the Quest to play his or her part in the world in a courageous manner in accord with the teachings of this noble philosophy.

As to the time taken for attainment, one has certainly to go through many incarnations before becoming a fit channel for the Overself. But this does not mean that he is not used by the higher power until then. The student who has not yet been purified of egoism can only be used brokenly, in patches, and at intervals, whereas one who has made and implemented the requisite inner delegation of self to Overself is used continuously.

By humble prayer and aspiration one may attract that kind of Grace from the Overself which manifests as a power to heal those in unhappy states of mind, bad nervous conditions, and emotional unbalance. But first, he must work on himself and develop the requisite poise, strength, and wisdom from within. The intensity of devotion to the Divine, the desire to be used as a channel for it to others, and the faith which carries on with the Quest through both dark and bright circumstances, moods, or times--these things are equally necessary to such self-cultivation.

In trying to help others in these unsettled times--perhaps one's own children--one should try to think of them in their larger relation to God, rather than in their relation to familiar surroundings, filial attachments, or the unexpected, disturbing situations which have come up, over which one has limited or no control. Prayer and positive thinking will be as much of a help at these times as anything else one can say or do.

Until the aspirant has been notified that he has attained sufficient inner knowledge, purity, and strength, he should not attempt to engage in any outward service, such as entering into meditation with others, holding classes, and so forth, and he should restrict to a minimum the number of people with whom he discusses such matters.

Whenever the aspirant volunteers spiritual help to another, or seeks it for himself, he ought not to take money in return on the one hand, nor give it in payment on the other. Such needs will be attended to by the Infinite Intelligence at the proper time.

The weak spot in his attitude is its failure to achieve full purity, its pretension to a virtue which remains partially lacking. For his altruistic service wants to take something back in return for what it gives. Such service has hooks in it.

If he seeks the realization of his mystical aims only and for his own gain and no one else's, then it is quite proper and necessary for him to concentrate all his attention upon them and upon himself. To indulge in any form of altruistic service--even if it be spiritual service--is to go astray from this path and be led afar from his goal. But if he seeks humanity's benefit as well as his own, it is not proper and necessary to do so. For he will then have to divert some compassionate thought and meditation and feeling to humanity. The kind of mystical attainment which fructifies at the end of the quest depends on the kind of effort he previously put forth in it. If his aim has been self-centered all along, his power to assist others will be limited in various ways; but if it has been altruistic from the start, then he will be able to assist them adequately, easily, widely, and differently.

If he finds that the Overself is using him at any particular time as the personal instrument for its guidance, blessing, or healing, he must take care to be detached and keep ego out of the relationship.

The student must work for the welfare of the world, yes, but he must do it in his own way, not the world's way. He must not only do the right thing at the right time, neither too early nor too late, but also in the right way. He will not desert the world, but rather transfuse his little corner of it with truer ideals.

The right move made at the wrong time may no longer be a right one. If made too late, it may lose much of its effectiveness; if made too early, it may meet with failure.)

A wise man will seek to study himself, a fool will be busy meddling with others.

All are not called to act as, nor are personally equipped to be, teachers and apostles, preachers and helpers, healers and expounders.

It is no use talking vaguely of service to humanity when he lacks the capacity to render any specific service at all. In such a case it is better first of all to set to work to develop within himself the necessary capacities.

Wisdom always relates service to need whereas ignorance relates it to desire.

The philosophic suggestion to be active in the service of mankind does not mean, as some think, that we have to be active in politics nor, as others think, to give away propagandist pamphlets.

Let it not be forgotten that goodwill towards mankind does not exclude goodwill towards oneself. The way of martyrdom, of dying uselessly for others, is the way of emotional mysticism. The way of service, of living usefully for others, is the way of rational philosophy.

If, at the insistence of other persons or of an over-tender conscience, a man takes too much on himself, he becomes less able to help those for whom he does so.

Why this eagerness to run about and set society right? If there is a God, then He has not run away from His creation and left it to fend for itself.

The Bhagavad Gita's warning about the duty of another being full of danger runs parallel with the Tao-teh-King's advocacy of the practice of non-interference. Both Indian and Chinese wisdom thus tell us to mind our own business! Lao Tzu's words are: "The sage avoids the very popular error of endeavouring to assist the processes of nature, which is what he never ventures on doing." The wisdom of minding our own business is not only validated by such teaching: it is also confirmed by experience.

Those men who have known this inner life, that other Self, and who have the talent to communicate in speech, writing, or action, have a duty laid on them to tell others of it. But if they lack this talent, they do no wrong to remain in silence about it. For, as Ramana Maharshi once said to me, "Silence also is a form of speech."

Reflection reveals and history shows that it is impossible to save the whole world. So he prudently keeps his energies for the task that holds much more favourable possibility--saving himself. It is only the individual person here and there, not the entire mass, who is ever led out of ignorance and slavery to wisdom and freedom.

He who attains even a little power to help others cannot measure where that help will stop. If it gives a lift to one man whom he knows, that man may in his turn give a lift to another person, and so on indefinitely in ever-widening ripples.

It is bitter indeed to be strong and wise in oneself yet, by identification with another person, to share his weakness and his blindness. For the suffering that inevitably follows them must be shared too under a feeling of helplessness, of inability to change the other and save him from his self-earned destiny.

Those who are searching for truth are only a small number but still they are a growing number. Each of us may repay his own obligation by saying the right word at the right time, by lending or giving the right book to the truth-hungry person.

The minor conventions must be practised if we would serve mankind and achieve our major aims thereby. We can make the world in our own image only by mingling harmoniously with it.

Who can save the sick world from itself? Possibly an Avatar but there isn't one in sight at present, so what can we do? Each can save himself, can look to himself. He can tell or show others what he is doing for himself but cannot save them.

Even though one is headed in the right direction and is most earnest, his progress, sometimes, is slow. This may be Nature's way of encouraging restraint in his attempts to help or enlighten others. Discrimination is absolutely essential in such matters and they must not be undertaken before one is ready.

There is a proper time for everything. When he has reached the age when he has to consider his own spiritual interests he should lessen his activities and save his energies for a higher service, first to himself and then to others.

Rather than placing over-emphasis on vocal propaganda, students should, instead, silently exemplify in their own persons and conduct the fruits of such acceptance of this doctrine.

Sometimes it becomes necessary for the student to drop all thought of service for a while, in order to demonstrate in his own life what he can do for himself--both inwardly and outwardly. Before this time, any talk of service to others, especially to the Teacher, is premature. The philosophic ideal of ultimate service is agreed upon; however, there is no need to concern oneself about this until one has achieved enough knowledge and experience to make such service worthwhile.

The noble and beautiful teachings of old Greece, from the Socratic to the Stoic, harmonize perfectly with the age-old teachings of the higher philosophy. Although they taught a lofty self-reliance they did not teach a narrow self-centeredness. This is symbolized vividly in Plato's story of the cave, where the man who attained Light immediately forsook his deserved rest to descend to the help and guidance of the prisoners still living in the cave's darkness.

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