Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 23: Advanced Contemplation > Chapter 2: Pitfalls and Limitations

Pitfalls and Limitations

The Long Path is unutterably irksome whereas the Short Path is gloriously attractive. The one is associated with toil and suffering; its emblem is the Cross. The other is associated with peace and joy; its emblem is the Sun. Yet, those who would prematurely desert the one for the other will find their hopes frustrated in the end, however enthusiastic and rapturous the experience may be in the beginning. This is because Nature, the Overself, will not let them enjoy permanently what must be taken into every part of their being, properly cleansed and prepared to absorb it, with the being itself properly equilibrated to endure the experience of absorption without stimulating the ego.

The introduction of the Short Path ought not to be mistimed; it ought not to be introduced until enough work has been done to prepare a moral and intellectual basis for it, and enough balance secured. Then only will its capacity to lead the seeker toward the glorious climax of his quest be actualized. If introduced too early it merely stimulates egotism, animates intellectual pride, or simulates illumination.

Most beginners are not usually ready for the entire Short Path. They ought not attempt more than its simpler practices, such as those concerned with recollection of the Quest and remembrance of the Overself. If they attempt the more advanced exercises, such as self-identification with the Overself or cultivation of the attitude which rejects evil's reality, they are likely to put themselves in a false, self-deceived position. That is, the attempt to ignore the ego does not eradicate it but merely alters its pattern. If it seems to be absent because the divine is present, the transformation has taken place in imagination, not in actuality. It would be better to postpone the advanced part until they have done enough preparatory work on the Long Path, and thus cleansed their emotions, developed mental controls, and balanced their temperament.

There is no need to think twice to understand that this is a dangerous doctrine. If a man believes that he is already divine and has nothing more to gain in that way, pitfalls lie ahead of him: first, self-deception leading to spiritual arrogance; second, indolence leading to lack of any effort to purify character and better the mind. The end could be a smug dwelling in illusion, very far from the divine reality it is supposed to be. Out of such illusions step forth the ambitious leaders of little groups or large movements, claiming special knowledge, power, vision, authority, even messiahship.

If the Long Path is to be utterly avoided and no self-restraints or trainings practised, in what way is this different from being an ordinary person who behaves as he pleases? Indeed, even the Zen master Ma-tsu admitted as much when he said, "If there is no discipline, this is to be the same as ordinary people."

Properly used--and especially at the proper time, after due preparation--the Short Path is an essential phase of every man's quest. But misunderstood and wrongly used, by the wrong person at the wrong time, regarded solely as a cheap easy and rapid way to success, an excuse for dodging labour and for evading discipline, it is turned into something meretricious.

The dangers inherent in the Short Path have to be noted and even proclaimed. The self-identification with the divine leads to the idea that since it is sinless the practiser is sinless, too, and whatever he does is right. Such an idea can come only to those who unconsciously seek excuses to justify the satisfaction of their desires. To them, the Long Path with its exhortations to self-control and self-discipline is something to be evaded. Another danger is the conceited belief that since the divine is ever-present, the goal has been attained and nothing further need be done--no exercises, no study, no meditation, and of course no ascetic regimes. It is such dangers which were part of the reasons why, in former times, the hidden teaching was not communicated to any persons until their character was first secretly and carefully tested for maturity and their mind was tested for fitness. This caution was as existent in Christian circles as in Hindu ones. Today, since it has largely been broken down, the results are to be seen in the West as well as in the East, among solitary obscure individuals as well as among publicized cults. They are to be seen in mental derangement and immoral licence, in parrot-like prattle and charlatanic deception.

Whether the ego is constantly anxious about itself, as on the Long Path, or constantly joyous in itself, as on the substitutes for the true Short Path, it is still the old ego.

Holding on to this awareness of the Overself automatically brings with it control over the body's appetites and desires. This is one of the benefits of success on the Short Path, but such easy spontaneous control lasts no longer than the awareness.

Those who use terms or utter phrases which transcend all meaning, delude themselves and mystify others to no purpose. If the experiences and insights of the Short Path are beyond intellectual comprehension, and consequently beyond intellectual communication, the proper way to consider them is in perfect silence--not in speech or writing.

Where the Short Path has been followed exclusively and without the guidance of a tested inner voice or a master competent in both paths, the man is bereft of the background of self-discipline and self-training which the Long Path provides. He will then have to pick his way over the stonefalls of hallucination and along the verge of precipices of paranoia.

The Short Path advocates who decry the need of the Long Path altogether because, being divine in essence, we have only to realize what we already are, are misled by their own half-truth. What we actually find in the human situation is that we are only potentially divine. The work of drawing out and developing this potential still needs to be done. This takes time, discipline, and training, just as the work of converting a seed into a tree takes time.

It is as sure as the sun's rising that if the mass of people are taught that good is no better than evil, both being merely relative, or no more valuable than evil, both being concerned with the illusory ego, they will fall into immorality, wickedness, and disaster. To teach them the Short Path before they have acquired sufficient disciplinary habits from the Long one will only degrade them.

Those who are attracted to the Short Path because apparently it makes none of the disciplinary demands which the Long Path makes, who are repelled or frightened by the self-subjugation and self-abnegation which the latter requires, will not have so easy an escape as they think.

To have come prematurely to this yoga would have led to confusion of planes of reference, to self-deception, unbalance, and merely verbal realization.

The Short Path leads to a continual happiness, for it refuses to look upon the world's sorrows and one's own troubles but cheerfully gazes beyond them toward the eternal and impersonal blessedness. But since it can do this theoretically only, for realization depends on Grace, the happiness may one day vanish when fact collides with faith.

Because good and bad have no meaning on the plane where there is no opposition, no struggle between them, the "enlightened" man who taught others to ignore this opposition and abandon this struggle, who told them that to do what they will is the whole of the law, would thereby prove his own lack of enlightenment. In other words, he would be a dangerous impostor or a mere intellectual.

Yes, the Short Path extremists, and especially the more poetic, imaginative, and artistic ones among them, may get their illuminations more quickly and more frequently. But, because they have not purified, straightened, and formed their characters, these are distorted, crooked, or adulterated illuminations.

Most Short Path teachings lack a cosmogony. They evade the fact that God is, and must be, present on the plane of manifestation and expressing through the entire universe. Why?

They consider themselves to be free from the possibility of committing sin, since they are joined to the divine consciousness. They do not regard the moral codes of society as binding upon them, since they are a law unto themselves. Whatever they do, it can only be right. The dangers here are, of course, first, that the ego's desire may only too easily be mistaken for the divine ordinance, and second, that all things are permitted to them. Since they feel that they are in a state of grace, there is no longer any controlling power to judge, criticize, or curb their acts, no outside help to warn them when they go perilously astray.

It would be a misconception to use the Short Path as an attempt to escape from one's own inadequacies.

The Short Path describes the consciousness to be attained but fails to prescribe the way to attain it.

The danger of Short Path, and of the "As If" exercise, is to fall into deception of oneself, or even into charlatanic deception of others.

If the conscious practice of self-discipline and the deliberate pursuit of virtue are discarded too soon, the practice of unscrupled selfishness and the pursuit of unworthy pleasures will take their place. The character begins to fall and a man who might have ennobled himself and helped his fellows degrades himself and abrases them.

To make a fetish out of freedom from dogma, from authority, from organization, from convention--as Krishnamurti does--is to worship a good idea so blindly and so fanatically that bad results follow.

The Short Pathers want to rush towards their goal in one all-sweeping operation. They lack the patience to move toward it step by step. They do not comprehend that to fully attain their wish a high degree of spiritual maturity is needed, that their way must have previously been prepared.

Men who are bundles of uncontrolled passions and grasping desires can only imagine that they are ready--much less, likely--to receive illumination because the true teaching of Sudden Enlightenment is misinterpreted by them or by their instructors.

It is an ancient error which makes unimportant the strivings for moral virtue provided they are replaced by strivings for ultimate knowledge.

It is a perilous error which besets the right and the left sides of the Short Path which lets the aspirant believe that he need no longer trouble his head with questions of what is right and what is wrong in ethics nor put upon himself the burden of any general or special discipline. If his nature has run to extremes in these matters, if he has troubled himself too long or too much with them, he will do well to relax and restore his balance. But this is no sanction to fall into self-indulgence and slackness.

Belief in their own perfection may follow the premature intellectual identification with Spirit. The belief that they have become incapable of sin may follow as a consequence of the first one. Nothing that they do can possibly be wrong. The end of all this is to bring disaster to themselves and to dislocate the lives of others.

It is understandable that aspirants would like to save themselves from the exertions demanded by the Long Path, and would prefer to receive sufficient Grace to grant them the desired higher experiences. But if they turn the existence of the Short Path into an excuse to avoid these exertions, they are unlikely to gain what they want.

To seek to jump to the highest level, while neglecting to improve bad ways of living or to correct the grievous weaknesses of feeling or to eliminate the faults of undisciplined thinking, is foolish and often useless.

Steep yourself in the pure being of Spirit; then the ego's weaknesses and faults will automatically drop away from it. This is the teaching and the truth of the Short Path. What is not told is how fleeting the purification--so magically gained--must necessarily be.

Elbert Hubbard was a great soul and a great man. The clear hard truth and Thoreauvian simplicity of his sentences show he was a great writer, too. But he fell into that abuse of Short Path ethics which holds that the man of understanding can do no wrong. He also failed to see the purpose and worth of asceticism. He would have become a greater soul and a greater man had he corrected those errors.

All stages of the quest, the advanced as well as the elementary, are forms of ambition. They are still activities of the self, continuations of its own life in different guises. All attempts to rise spiritually, to develop, to gain "better" qualities or "mystical" experiences are trying to run away from self through self-projected means. The end result is, and must be, frustration or failure.

Those who are impatient with the restraints, the labours, and the disciplines of the Long Path may take prematurely to the Short Path. The result, as seen in the cases of younger people, is unhealthy. They get intoxicated with their new freedom and may take unrestrictedly to drink, drugs, sex, and general slovenliness of speech, manner, and dress. The absence of the idea of sin from their outlook may produce an irresponsibility dangerous to themselves and disturbing to society.

Those who turn to the Short Path because they are in revolt against irksome disciplines and trying exercises, and who turn to the other extreme of letting all impulses loose, forget that if they have set themselves a purpose high above the ordinary there must be some submission of impulse to that purpose, some restraint of aimlessness by discipline. But this said, there is some wisdom in their revolt. The restraint which is imposed from outside by others is of very limited value; but that which is put upon a man by himself from within will achieve much more lasting results.

The Short Path follower who wrongly believes himself to be suddenly and miraculously changed will still show in his life and character the unmistakable signs of his old self's continuance.

Beware of losing balance in the study of metaphysical truth or in the practice of the Short Path, of imagining that you are surpassing the intellect and getting spiritually illumined. Beware of getting intellectually drunk with your own self-importance and emotionally intoxicated with your own self-glorification. Such study can be very stimulating. Beware of coming to believe that you have found the Divine in a single flash, overnight. Have you really become God? Is omnipotence really yours?

The wish to attain realization of the Overself becomes father to the belief that realization is actually happening!

The claim that if the true self is found, all the qualities and attributes which pertain to it will also be found, naturally and automatically, at the same time is a valid one. How could the qualities and attributes of the lower nature thrive or even exist in that rarefied air? They would instantly be displaced by the higher ones. But what is overlooked by, or unknown to, the makers of this claim, is that the period of such displacement would, and could, only be a temporary one. "Nature never leaps toward what she will eventually bring about," Goethe announces, and truly. As soon as the impetus which launched him into the deep waters of the Spirit exhausts itself, as it must if he is still unpurified, unprepared, and undeveloped, the man will be thrown back to the place where he belongs. His illumination will not have enough basis to be securely established and so will turn out to be only a passing glimpse.

Those who believe they can skip all this preparatory work and still realize their latent possibility are foolish. The obstructions will not remove themselves by themselves. They can be overwhelmed for a time, while the glimpse prevails, but they will certainly become evident again when the glimpse fades.

It is tempting to skip the natural order of development through various graduated stages, with all the time and patience, work and practice which that entails. But what is so cheaply gained will have a corresponding value.

Some of the literary statements by Short Path advocates are so extreme as to show that the writers are drunk with words, carried away into completely forgetting where they are (in a body), ignoring the difference between Being (knowing that the world is appearance, idea) and denying that the world exists.

Those who come to the Short Path without competent guidance or proper preparation are often either emotionally intoxicated by the prospects of easy attainment that it seems to offer or intellectually carried away into spiritual arrogance. The humility which is inbred by the difficulties of the Long Path will be thrown away to their peril.

The Short Path devotee who believes he has nothing to do and can leave all to the master, or to the Overself, believes wrongly. Such spiritual idleness may lull him pleasantly into a thin contentment but this is not the same as real inner peace won by grappling in the right attitude with difficulties as they come, or by keeping the personal will submissive during tests and obedient during temptations.

There are certain other dangers to which enthusiasts for the various Short Paths are exposed. They read books devoted to descriptions of the attainments and goals and become captivated by what they read and charmed by what they are taught. Then they begin to imitate what they can and to imagine what they cannot. In the end they fall into ego-centered fantasies and ego-fostered deceptions. They think they are more exalted in attainment than they really are. But so subtle is this disguised spiritual egoism that they are quite unaware of their peril until disaster deflates it.

The man who thinks of himself instead of the Overself when practising a Short Path exercise, who is unable to forget his little ego, is a traitor to that Path.

It is well not to be boastful about one's attainments on the Long Path, still less about one's achievements on the Short Path.

The person who has undergone little preparation or purification before feeling the mystic's peace in some unexpected experience does not feel what the person who has had both his preparation and purification feels. In the first case it is an unbalanced peace, whereas in the second case it is a balanced peace. This is one reason why it vanishes after a time in the first case and why the complementary work of the Long Path is needed.

The high-level teaching has been taken advantage of by the weak or the egotistic to defend their weaknesses or egotism. Personal freedom and self-expression are rightly sought but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

It is a matter of simple observation that these Vedantic teachings are unfortunately not adequate to meet all the demands of a worthwhile life. They have no more useful advice to give concerning the physical body than, as I was told by one guru: "Take it to the doctor when it falls sick. Give it no attention otherwise and forget it."

The Short Path schools are correct in asserting that if we gain the Overself we shall also gain the purity of heart and goodness of character which go with it. But they omit to point out that such a gain will be quite temporary if we are unable to remain in the Overself.

They believe it is possible to attain truth without tears, without discipline, and without training.

The lack of clear definition of the two approaches, and the failure to make a proper distinction between them, cause much confusion, many errors, and some self-deception.

To begin the Short Path without ever having done some of the corrective work of the Long one, may result in the old defects being supplemented by the new ones. The desire for quick gains and shortcuts is understandable but the desire for unearned and undeserved gains, to get something for nothing, leads to deception in the spiritual as in the financial world.

Although the Short Path obviously offers a far more attractive picture, it balances the attraction with the danger of neglecting those self-chastening and self-disciplinary preparations which are indispensable.

The Short Path tries to get round the ego by ignoring it altogether!

Nearly everyone would most likely choose a way which evaded all the long discipline of thought and feeling, all the stern reform of bodily habits, and yet brought him swiftly to the goal and gave him in full its glorious rewards. This choice is pardonable and seemingly sensible. But observation and experience, study and research, show that such a way exists only in theory, not in factuality; that its dramatic successes are the rare cases of a very few geniuses; that those who take this seemingly easy and short road mostly arrive, if they arrive at all, at a state of intellectual intoxication and pseudo-illumination; and that where their reward for this Short Path practice is a genuine Glimpse, they wrongly believe it to be the End of the Road and cease all further effort to grow.

People who follow the Short Path because it seems to offer miracles are trying to escape from the irksome necessity of dealing with their lower self and overcoming it, but they try in vain. No master, no cult, no particular breathing exercise or meditation practice can take the place of this necessity. All are nothing more than another help in the struggle.

The truth about sudden enlightenment

Must we crawl like the worm, inch by inch, or is there really the possibility of sudden enlightenment? Must time be allowed to do its work or can some magic act abruptly? Can there be any adequate substitute for the experiences, the reflections, and the operations of many lifetimes? Or are we merely showing ignorance when we assert that immediate awareness is too good to be true?

The Zenist who asserts that enlightenment comes all of a sudden is correct, but the evolutionist who insists that time and development are still needed is also correct.

The offer of instantaneous spiritual illumination is too good to be missed. But it may also prove too good to be true. The fact is that it is true only for a very few, false for the great majority.

It is said by the advocates of the Short method that the power of the Spirit can remove our faults instantaneously and even implant in us the opposite virtues. That this has happened in some cases is made clear by the study of the spiritual biography of certain persons. But those cases are relatively few and those persons relatively advanced. This miraculous transformation, this full forgiveness of sins, does not happen to most people or to ordinary unadvanced people. A world-wide observation of them shows that such people have to elevate themselves by their own efforts first. When they embrace the Short method without this balancing work done by themselves upon themselves, they are likely to fall into the danger of refusing to see their faults and weaknesses which are their worst enemies, as well as the danger of losing the consciousness of sin. Those who fail to save themselves from these perils become victims of spiritual pride and lose that inner humility which is the essential price of being taken over by the Overself.

Those who believe in the Short Path of sudden attainment, such as the sectarian following of Ramana Maharshi and the koan-puzzled intellectuals of Zen Buddhism, confuse the first flash of insight which unsettles everything so gloriously with the last flash which settles everything even more gloriously. The disciple who wants something for nothing, who hopes to get to the goal without being kept busy with arduous travels to the very end, will not get it. He has to move from one point of view to a higher, from many a struggle with weaknesses to their mastery. Then only, when he has done by himself what he should do, may he cease his efforts, be still, and await the influx of Grace. Then comes light and the second birth.

It is a legitimate criticism that most exponents of the Short Path make it seem just too easy: heaven is always just around the corner!

The notion that by the simple yet miraculous event of attaining union he can be rid of all his faults and weaknesses is an attractive one. But is it a true one? Can they all drop off at once? Some schools of religion and mysticism answer affirmatively. But philosophy says that the new kind of man he wants to become can be formed only by slow degrees, little by little.

That inspired and excellent little book, Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, is an example of Short Path teaching. The contemporary biographer of Lawrence writes: "He could never regulate his devotion by certain methods as some do. . . . At first, he had meditated for some time, but afterwards that went off." "All bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless," he thought, "but as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love." Now it is all very well for Brother Lawrence to decry techniques and to tell aspirants that his prayer or method was simply a sense of the presence of God. He himself needed nothing more than to attend to what was already present to, and existing in, him. But how many average aspirants are so fortunate, how many possess such a ready-made sense or feeling? Is it not the general experience that this is a result of long previous toil and sacrifice, an effect and not itself a cause?

Can we justify the Short Path Sudden Enlightenment school by the sudden, instantaneous character of spiritual healing of the body when it includes a spiritual conversion or moral "cure"? If the latter is possible, why not the former, as both are of the same family?

We would all like some magic formula which could be applied in a few minutes, at the end of which time we would be different persons. The evil, the ineffectual, and the unattractive traits in us will be dramatically shed; the good, the dynamic, and the charming ones will be strikingly enhanced. But alas! life is not so easy as that.

Whether it be through Existentialism in France or through Zen Buddhism in the United States, the attraction towards metaphysical nihilism among young men and women of the postwar world has drawn attention in cultural circles. In the States, they became known under their own title of "The Beat Generation." John C. Holmes, one of their literary leaders, said in a New York newspaper interview, "The second war ended in 1945 and by 1947 everybody was talking of the next one. By 1948 who could believe that any international organization would be able to work this thing out? So that thrust you back right on yourself. What you felt yourself, your eagerness for life, that was the important thing, and that meant jazz, liquor and fun." I might add that for many others it meant drugs too. A Greenwich Village friend who saw these types almost daily told me that by "fun" these devotees of Beat meant the free indulgence in sex.

Holmes' conclusion was exactly the same as the one I made in The Spiritual Crisis of Man, that the world-crisis forced us to look to ourselves. But whereas he thought the next step was "jazz, liquor and fun," I thought it was to develop our inner spiritual resources.

Jack Kerouac's novels have been bestsellers and have done more to make known the ideas and conduct of the "beatniks," as he called them, than any other books. Neal Cassady, the hero of three of them and once his close friend, said, "Marijuana is the mystical shortcut to beatific vision, the highest vision you can get. He also said: "Everyone is trying to get out of their mind one way or another, and marijuana is the best, the easiest way to get to the Eternal Now."

It is true that Allen Ginsberg, the leading poet of the Beat Generation movement, spoke in the same interview of "beat" meaning "seeing the world in a visionary way, which is the old classical understanding of what happens in the dark night of the soul, in Saint John of the Cross' conception. . . . The primary fact of any beat writer of any interest is that each of them has individually had some kind of Kafkaian experience of what would ordinarily be called the supernatural. I had an illumination of eternity which lasted for a few seconds and returned three or four times. These were blissful experiences . . . I was loved by God." But this further statement merely shows the confusion and chaos which has mingled liquor and jazz with mysticism and Zen Buddhism. Need we be surprised to learn that Ginsberg was treated for three-quarters of a year in an insane asylum, or that he has experimented with several different kinds of drugs?

What is the real value of illuminations when the recipient is unbalanced to start with and becomes still more unbalanced after them? Is there not a clear case here for introducing the one thing these "Beat Generation" mystics reject--the discipline of the Long Path? They want the Overself's treasure but do not want to pay the price for it.

Even as I wrote these thoughts I was delighted to hear my old friend Dr. D.T. Suzuki, then the world's leading authority on Zen and Mahayana Buddhism, make a public protest in Boston against those Westerners who take shelter for their weaknesses under Zen's umbrella. "One has to be on guard," he said, "against the misunderstanding of the idea of freedom by many who study Zen. They seem to think it means the freedom to do what one likes, and especially the freedom to be licentious. Real freedom is very different from this and comes from a deeper level."

The fact is that these young people were not really looking for truth in its highest and purest sense. They were looking for thrills. They were mostly sensation-seekers just as much as the narcotic addicts are, although in a different way and through different means. The remainder were trying to get the supreme enlightenment free of cost, without giving up anything, without giving up the ego, without undertaking any discipline. They were caught in a coil of self-deception.

They boast they have no need of moral disciplines and mystical exercises, no use for the writings, records, and biographies of the great masters.

If it were possible to mount up to this summit in a single step, as these schools claim, and then stay there, never coming down again, then would not these schools have ousted all others in the competition of ideas and practices for existence?

The Short Path teacher, such as Krishnamurti, insists on explaining their own divinity to all people and rejects the assertion that there are many incapable of understanding it.

The belief that one can take a headlong dive into the Real and stay there permanently is rife.

The truth of Zen attitude--letting go of restraints, avoiding reflection, refraining from self-observation, acting spontaneously, and being natural--is that it is true only on the intuitive level. It is there the only proper and possible attitude. But how few have really attained this level! How many have merely taken their very ordinary impulses, their very human desires, their very animal lusts, for profound intuitions! Thus they merely continue to act as they would have acted anyway, for the same reasons and by the same motives. The results will continue to be the same too. They are as far from true enlightenment as everyone else but with this great difference: that whereas the others do not pretend to be superior or illumined, they do. It is a fantastic self-deception, a foolish egoism that if exaggerated could lead to lunacy. Only a master can hold such an attitude with perfect fitness and propriety, only such a one can afford to "let go" of all self-control without falling into the dangerous swirling waters which are always ready to engulf the man who behaves as he pleases, and gives himself up with complete abandon to what he wrongly imagines is "walking on." This is why the earlier Chinese Zen lectures and writings were often prefaced by the warning that they were intended for persons who were already properly instructed and established in "the virtues." Therefore the modern Western beginners should not let the temptation to exploit Zen for their own personal purposes lead them into a trap. The only "letting go" that they can safely indulge in is to let go of the ego, the only safe "walking on" is to walk away from their attachments.

This is an old debate. More than a thousand years ago several Indian Buddhist pundits met and argued with a Chinese Zen master whether enlightenment is gradual or sudden.

Why has Zen attracted artists and intellectuals? The answer usually given is that it has favoured expression through the arts and offered relief from the strain of logic. This is true for some adherents, but for others--the easy-going, work-shy "Bohemians"--the main attraction has been its indifference to discipline, to training. Many of them are painters who put blobs of formless colour on canvas and call it a work of art, musicians who throw together a cacophony of disjointed sound and call it a melody. They have evaded the harder way of learning the techniques of art already; it is a continuation of the same attitude to evade the harder way of learning the techniques of philosophical disciplined work on themselves. The Short Path teaching seems so simple, its practices attack the goal so directly, and the goal itself is set so near that no one need be surprised to observe the rapid growth of interest in Zen recently. Who wants to work patiently through the rigours of the Long Path, who wants to toil through preparatory stages when a swifter, perhaps even sudden, way is available? Moreover, the Zenists assert that they want to be "natural" and that moral discipline is artificial imitative discipline. So they throw overboard all disciplines, all work on themselves, and give lust, passion, impulse, and egoism a full and free rein.

Those who believe that they have the right to demand a full and immediate enlightenment without previously setting up the conditions favourable to its reception, will either become disappointed by their failure or hallucinated by their imagined success. "Nothing for nothing" is Nature's law. They must give if they want to get--give up some of the barriers to enlightenment which exist in their own ego and to which they cling.

Those who seek swift enlightenment, who want to pass from their present condition of obscurity with a speed that will be miraculous, ought to ask themselves whether they are entitled to receive something for nothing.

The Short Path enthusiast wants to catapult himself suddenly from the quest's beginning to its ending, without having to pass through all the usual intervening and successive stages.

He follows Zen or some other Short Path cult, imagining it will enable him to jump out of his skin, to change the entire polarity of his essential nature in the twinkling of an eye. And this too without any effort. Does he really succeed in doing it? Only in his talk.

It is not enough to repeat a few high-sounding phrases and expect to be immediately and totally illumined.

The hope of suddenly or swiftly getting established in the Overself by way of the Short Path naturally attracts the young and enthusiastic much more than the middle-aged and blasé. For the latter have seen every development in their consciousness come on a little at a time, and often brokenly.

It is true that enlightenment can remove our accumulated moral defects all at once in a sudden and single joyous experience. But it is also true that we are unlikely to get more than the first degree if we have not previously worked upon ourselves to prepare properly for it.

Old cults like Zen and new ones like "The Undivided Mind" offer freedom from moral restrictions and ascetic controls. This attracts those who are seeking an excuse to let loose their physical instincts and impulses. They do not see that such a doctrine of freedom is only for adepts, not aspirants.

There is a special temperament which scorns the process of gradual ripening, of natural growth. It belongs to the man who is unwilling to work patiently and irritated by laborious self-discipline. He is convinced that some secret may be found. Some method exists or some teacher is available to bring about an immediate and successful result just as a push-button does. All he has to do is to seek out and discover the Secret Method or teacher.

It is easy to see why the Short Path is so attractive to so many people. Why cultivate the virtues one by one, or the qualities one at a time? Why plod through them in all their varied details? Why engage in extreme effort and undergo patient discipline? Why weary yourself labouring after what is so hard to obtain on the Long Path, when here is a way whereby they will come of themselves, springing spontaneously and almost unbidden into existence, easily and naturally?

It is really a kind of spiritual arrogance which believes it has only to jump from its present standpoint to the divinest level, as so many ill-equipped Zen adherents believe. Spiritual humility will seek, and be satisfied with, a more modest result.

Today it is needful to describe plainly and simply what the Zen Buddhist writers hide in puzzles and riddles. This is better for the modern mentality.

If he is to satisfy his quest for higher joys, his craving for inner peace, his longing for a knowledge of truth and reality, he must pay a price. Such things are not free.

They look for an abrupt rebirth like Saint Paul's, for a sudden upthrust of spiritual power.

Those who would like to get the prize all at once, without work, sacrifice, or time, should not wrongly imagine that the Short Path is for them.

They expect to be caught up in a spiritual whirlwind and borne away after minutes into a spiritual ecstasy, from which there would never again be any descent.

These schemes of spiritual redemption which claim to proceed by leaps and jumps, which abolish the climb up ladders and the crossing over bridges, will appeal to the unbalanced enthusiast and the unpractical visionary.

Are they entitled to have all their defects swiftly cast out and their deficiencies automatically supplied, just because they have given their assent to a particular cosmic maxim, or their time to a particular meditational practice?

These "Sudden Enlightenment" votaries, the "Salvation by Saturday" brigade.

Nowhere in physical nature do we observe this leap across a chasm but everywhere everything passes gradually and little by little from one condition to the next. Why should the transition from ego to Overself contradict this universal fact?

Those who are ill-qualified for the Short Path, who come to it in order to escape the tiresome disciplines of the Long Path, who want a sudden and swift enlightenment without having to pass through the gradations of slowly preparing themselves for it, usually find themselves thrown back in the end.

Limitations of the Long Path

What is the use of trying to improve oneself by Long Path methods? There will be no end to it. One can go on and on and on practising it. After all, although this will give one a better ego, it will not give one liberation from the ego itself. Furthermore, the idea of rebirth is tied in with the idea of such self-improvement through many lives. Both in turn are based on, and wholly enclosed in, the ego--hence illusory.

This constant preoccupation with the ego gives a subtle power and importance to it, and draws him away from his real being in the Overself. For it is what he takes into his consciousness which affects him in character and body, in thought and conduct.

It comes to this paradox--that the farther they travel on the path of ego-effort, the farther they move from their goal, and the less they try to approach their Source the closer they come to it!

This constant looking at oneself, this endless and exaggerated self-consciousness, may not lead to purification from fault and humility if it breeds new faults and new prides.

If the Overself is timeless, unaffected by the clock's ticking, how could acts performed in time, exercises of the mind done by the clock, bring a man into the Overself's eternal consciousness?

The Long Path, despite its magnificent ideals of self-improvement and self-control, is still egoistic. For this determination to rise spiritually is directed by willed ambition--willed by the higher part of the ego.

Most of the work of the Long Path is, in the end, ego-grounded. Many aspirants either adore or else hate themselves.

The follower of the Long Path may become filled with anxiety about his future progress and guilt about his past or present history. Or, like the early Stoics and the medieval ascetics, he may be continually engaged in fighting himself. Struggle and war then become the miserable climate in which he lives. Real peace of mind is far from him. If we penetrate analytically to the base of this situation, we find that it exists because he depends primarily on his ego's strength, not on the Overself.

Saint Teresa perfectly understood the nature of, and difference between, the two paths, and described them well and briefly. She wrote: "It is a great grace of God to practice self-examination, but too much is as bad as too little, as they say: believe me, by God's help, we shall accomplish more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves."

There are certain patterns of thought which reflect the idea that attainment of this goal is almost impossible, and that the needed preparation and purification could not be even half finished in a whole lifetime. If these patterns are held over a long period of years, they provide him with powerful suggestions of limitation. Thus the very instruction or teaching which is supposed to help his progress actually handicaps it and emotionally obstructs it. His belief that character must be improved, weaknesses must be corrected, and the ego must be fought looms so large in his outlook that it obliterates the equally necessary truth that Grace is ever at hand and that he should seek to invoke it by certain practices and attitudes.

The fact is he is depending too much upon himself and too little upon the Overself. After all, help cannot lift itself by its own bootstraps.

Is the perfecting of character a cause of enlightenment or is it an effect?

If they expect too little of themselves, they become lazy and indifferent; if too much, they undergo needless torment. Too much feverish tension or desire to make progress or get mystical experience has driven aspirants a little mad in the past, although these have never been and could never be philosophic aspirants but the religious or the occult-minded sort. Their zeal is admirable but their fanaticism needs to be firmly discouraged. They tie themselves in knots through wanting to create new virtues when it is more important to remove the old hindrances, so as to open themselves to the Overself and its grace. The belief that they alone, unaided, can attain complete enlightenment by their own personal efforts, places too heavy an obligation upon them, too large a burden, and it is not even a necessary one.

The Long Path seeker who solemnly inflicts self-denials and self-disciplines upon himself in hope of finding freedom will one day have to make the transition to the Short Path.

The Long Path keeps the mind continually searching, whether for increased holiness or increased truth. It is never quiet, content, at peace.

In looking back at the past, the more evolved men find certain things unpleasant to remember and unbearable to analyse. This is a helpful result for the Long Path: it weakens the lower elements of character by strengthening disgust with them. But it is negative and depressing. And in the end they must go on to the Short Path, where such preoccupation with the ego is abandoned, where a positive and cheerful identification with Overself is sought.

These contrary periods come to most seekers until the Short Path is discovered, entered, and travelled. A stable attitude will then be one of its natural effects; a steady calmness will be more easily maintained than before.

All attempts to liberate the self from the self by the self are obviously doomed from the start.

If self-hate becomes morbidly excessive it may lead to suicide. This is one danger of the Long Path's asceticism.

It is certainly better to remove faults and remedy weaknesses than to leave them as they are. But it is not enough to improve, refine, ennoble, and even spiritualize the ego. For all such activity takes place under the illusion that the ego possesses reality. This illusion needs to be eliminated, not merely changed for another one.

The Long Path creates a condition favourable to enlightenment, but since it is concerned with ego, it cannot directly yield enlightenment. For its work of purifying the ego, however necessary and noble, still keeps the aspirant's face turned egoward.

The principle of so improving or purifying or training or developing the ego that it will gain illumination is a fallacious one. For the ego is the false self, and nothing that is done to it can produce the true self. To believe otherwise is to go on clinging to an illusion.

A knowledge of the heavenly Overself cannot be had by studying, improving, or developing the benighted and fictitious ego. The only way in which it can be got is by direct experience of it. This axiom is the basis of the Short Path.

The Long Path exercises and disciplines are excellent but their results are inconclusive. They give the chance to progress but do not and cannot give final enlightenment and full self-mastery.

Everything that he accomplishes in the way of self-improvement, self-purification, or self-mastery is accomplished by the force of the ego. No higher power, no grace of the Overself, no faith that transcends materialism is needed for these things. Whatever it is, and however beneficial it be, reform of the ego's character will not lead directly to the destruction of the ego's rule. For although the ego is willing to improve or purify itself, it is not willing to kill itself.

The ego cannot produce an egoless result. This is why the Long Path is only preparatory and cannot be a sufficient means to a successful end.

The Long Path man makes his life into a problem and his quest into a prison. By his understanding what he has done, the problem will vanish. By his perceiving the situation as it really is, the walls of his prison will fall down.

He must free himself of this egoistic way of looking at his life, his character, his goal, which the spiritual life of the Long Path, as well as the unspiritual life before it was engaged upon, really possesses.

The Long Path of personal control and virtuous practice is necessary and must be followed. But it is still within and related to the world of darkness. It is useless as a means of entering the world of light.

Such is the fertile nature of the ego that openings for its improvement, reform, or amendment are endless. This is why the Long Path must be abandoned at some time if the ego itself is to be uprooted.

To carry the Long Path work to such excess that it fills you with powerful guilt complexes, that it makes you unrelaxedly harsh and grim with yourself--this is to destroy yourself.

These Long Pathers, these self-conscious strivers after near-perfection, are still striving within the ego and, in the end, however nobly, for the ego. For they are trying to improve it, not lose it. If the latter were their real goal they would be interested in neither its improvement nor its worsening since both activities are only aspects. Why should they deal with it at all? Why not try the opposite course, the Short Path, which silences the ego, not by striving to do so but by ignoring it through fastening attention upon the Overself?

The Short Path advocate may pertinently ask his Long Path friend, "Why not make the end into the beginning? Why not directly still the mind, empty it of thoughts, instead of attaching it to some idea and concentrating upon that in the earlier stages only to drop it in the later ones? Why let it go on what the Australians call `a walkabout'?"

Then he comes to realize the magnitude of what he undertook in the first rush of enthusiasm, and the littleness of his qualification for it. Then only does he see that the Long Path leads to an inaccessible peak. He is overwhelmed and fails to see the great preparatory service it rendered him.

Spirituality needs time to develop; the spark needs fanning; but this need not be turned into an excuse for surrendering completely to the Long Path's limitations.

The narrow limited presentation of the path to enlightenment needs rebuttal. And this can be found in the cases of men who entered and remained in the light not by the persevering practice of yoga, or by personal guru-initiation, but by fastening interest, thought, feeling, devotion, faith on the light itself solely and exclusively.

The struggles against himself, the attempts and failures to live as if outer circumstances do not matter at all, lead the Long Path follower in the end, and by stages, from arrogant enthusiastic faith to humble anguished bewilderment, from acceptance to disagreement.

On the Long Path the aspirant is likely to probe some of his shortcomings too pessimistically, to condemn himself for them, but to be blind altogether to the most serious shortcoming of all--that of clinging to the personal ego in all circumstances.

If the Long Path's searching work on shortcomings is overbalanced, it increases his self-condemnation but strengthens his feelings of separation from the Divine Being that is his root.

Yang Chu described the Long Path travellers as searchers for a missing sheep who themselves got lost in the multitude of efforts involving a plenitude of details.

The Long Path has no property in itself which can turn darkness into light, the ordinary mentality into the illumined one.

Time continues itself, and the time-bound consciousness with it. The Long Path does not liberate a man from it but only improves him, at the best, prepares him. For what? For the Short Path, which alone offers freedom.

The root of all his efforts in self-improvement and self-purification is still the egoistic consciousness. Since that is the very consciousness which must be given up to let in the egoless Spirit, he must abandon these efforts and turn sooner or later to the Short Path.

It is as valid in logic as it is in practice that nothing that is done in time can produce the timeless, therefore no amount of study, purification, and meditation can make a man more divine than he is now. Then why have such ways been given out?

Why should a man strain himself to the point of having a nervous breakdown, or acquiring an ulcer, in trying to get the inner peace which is preventive of nervous breakdowns and renders him immune to ulcers?

To go on condemning oneself for past errors until it is a fixed attitude of mind is to push Long Path work to an extreme.

He has been seeking an unbroken perfection that no one has ever reached and no one can reach.

It is not enough to uncover his faults and confess his weaknesses, not even enough to correct the one and remedy the other. After all, these things concern only the stage of development he has already reached, and the ego only. He must also turn toward higher stages and also the egoless self.

The Long Pather can never be satisfied with the work he has done on himself or failed to do.

The labours of the Long Path are good and necessary. They weaken the ego and bring him part of the way toward the goal. But they will end in despair if he does not learn that they cannot bring him the rest of the way.

Moral disciplines have a definite place in life to make us better human beings but they do not lift us to the Overself's level. The Long Path, to which they belong, has a humanitarian value but not a magically transcendent one.

In The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: "We go all wrong, by too strenuous a resolution to go all right."

If he takes an excessive clinical interest in his own moral and spiritual state, continually observing his conduct and analysing his feelings to find the flaws in them, he loses his balance and becomes inwardly unhealthy. In putting too much emphasis upon his failings, he is giving too much attention to his own ego.

The idea that a man's own virtue can bring him to the goal belongs to the Long Path.

He may well ask himself at this point, as Yen Hui, the Chinese disciple of Confucius, asked, whether the Goal is not really an inaccessible peak, attracting climbers yet always defeating them in the end.

It is not any kind of activity of the ego which brings salvation. How could that happen? How can a man lift himself up by the hair upon his own head? Just the same he cannot touch the Overself spirit by his own virtue. It is only the activity of the Overself which will save him from the ego. But this he must provoke or invoke by taking to the Short Path.

The Long Path gives many benefits and bestows many virtues but it does not give the vision of truth, the realization of the Overself, nor does it bestow Grace. For these things we must turn to the Short Path.

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