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Some Thoughts about the Notion of Self as Used by PB
in some of his writings, with passing reference to the profound
philosophic synthesis made by PB in developing the notion


The unfolded vision which found form as the doctrine of the Overself is arguably the central pronouncement of PB’s philosophic work. In his writings, he states with bell-like clarity and rock-solid certitude truths about the Self he found to be so, and made them available for those with ears to hear. Resolution of the question of the status of self in the context of real self knowledge is, as we know, an absolute problem for any student of philosophy. Without self knowledge we cannot have truth. With self knowledge we can gain wisdom and with wisdom, understanding as its natural fruit.

My original intention was to examine the concept of the Overself as found in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself. As I began to pursue this task I pushed back to include The Quest of the Overself and The Secret Path. It became apparent once again that PB’s work in these texts speaks to a complete and complex doctrine of the Overself, which while combining and synthesizing the vast comparative intellectual and mystical work he did, addresses itself to the basic orthodox questions philosophy has always asked in regard to the notion of self. From The Secret Path, through The Quest, The Hidden Teaching and The Wisdom, PB presents a graded series of teachings about the Overself. Beginning with the introduction of the Overself in The Secret Path, PB outlines an ever-deepening vista of what the self means in such a way that each advance implicates — I would like to say demands — an unfoldment that the next level explicates. Yet there are truths stated in The Secret Path that lead one to suspect that the vision was there from the beginning, waiting for the form to unfold. My attempt here is not so much an exegesis of the doctrinal points. I am sure they deserve in-depth study and meditation again by one and all. Rather, I am trying to show how clear PB’s doctrine of Self is and how, by his profound synthesis, he addresses many of the problems revolving around the question of Self. By his broad perspective and depth he resolved them conceptually for us.

There are some points that PB declares to be so and elucidates: Self is, Realization of Self is, Buddha hood and Vedantic Self Realization are the same, What Self is, What Self is not, How Self can be known, How it makes itself known, We can know it, How we know it, What Self’s knowing is, What is the world in this view, Where it comes from, Where it goes, How we know the world, What is sleep, dream, etc., How our thoughts are formed, How we have experience, What life’s purpose is, What is the goal, How to achieve it, – all in practical steps. He discusses how to transcend, are we mortal or immortal, How we have higher knowledge, How to live. . . . These and many more points are answered in these works.

As we well know, PB’s doctrine is an extremely well-crafted, philosophically synthetic view of Self, which can be shown to include within the context of a subtle dialectical weave, the meaningful parts of the historical perennial philosophy. The unfoldment begins with the bold assertion of the Overself as eternal, immortal and real. The Secret Path moves through the rudimentary mysticism to the truly profound Yogic synthesis of The Quest. The intellectualist epistemological analytic needed to support the mentalist notion — so necessary to push “past” the Overself to Truth is unfolded in The Hidden Teaching. The moral implication of the purpose of what the Quest is about – ‘helping others – as stated in The Secret Path and iterated in The Quest, is reasserted in The Hidden Teaching. The view of Self is further expanded in The Wisdom. Building on the truths of The Hidden Teaching, PB shows the Self as the ground and source of the world ultimately related to the reality principles sustaining self, world and God.

Herbert is a long-time student of Paul Brunton and teaches at Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies.

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