The question: What is truth? is the question of all ages. Many have attempted to find the answer to this question, but few have succeeded. Buddha and Jesus were among those few, but the singularity of their attainment led mankind to regard them as supernatural beings. Yet both spoke to their disciples of the truth as something that was also available to them. Buddha taught the “Noble Eightfold Path” and Jesus gave the promise: “Thou shalt understand the truth and the truth shall set thee free.” What is it that prevents man from finding objective, impersonal truth, but his own egocentricity, which, like a black shadow, always gets in his way when he tries to catch a glimpse of the radiant sunlight of truth? Chained to a tenacious egotism, man of all times has groped without hope in the dark night, and it is no wonder, therefore, that Western thought, born of this egotistic mentality, has throughout the ages doubted and denied the existence of an absolute truth, that in the unlikely event that it should exist, man with all his sad limitations should be able to know it.
The oriental mentality, less attached to the earthly and to the personality of man, had already in earlier times produced a philosophy that did not sit in the seat of the skeptics. This Indian philosophy not only taught the existence of an absolute truth, but also said that it was known to man, and that some sages had indeed known it.
Until the nineteenth century there was a wide gulf between Eastern and Western worlds of thought, but in that century the fullness of time had come when Destiny began to build the bridge that would bring the two together. Western philosophy, weary of its materialism, turned its gaze, starving with thirst, to the more spiritual East, in the hope of receiving the water of life from there. Did not even the arch-pessimist Schopenhauer say of the Upanishads – early Indian philosophical teachings – that they had been the comfort of his life, and that they would be the consolation of his death? Materialism, which had sounded the death knell over so many cherished theories, is itself on its deathbed at the end of the nineteenth century. Numerous sects and cults – many more or less influenced by Eastern teachings – have sprung up in the West, the exchange of Eastern and Western ideas being aided in part by the activity of the theosophical movement, while the rapid increase in mechanical transport and the invention of new means of communication Asian wisdom finds easier access to Western ears.
In the year 1898, as this era of spiritual revival and mutual influence of East and West begins to dawn on the world, Paul Brunton is born.
The magic word “India,” uttered by the geography teacher’s dry voice, awakens slumbering feelings and thoughts in the boy’s heart, who now begins to harbor a burning desire to see this wonderland with his own eyes. A fantastic plan to embark on the adventurous journey in the company of a schoolmate is discovered and thwarted, much to the disappointment of the youthful aspiring globetrotters. Years pass during which his deep-seated interest in India, yes, in all of Asia, continues to grow, but when he has reached manhood, the desire to travel the Orient must give way for the time being to other interests and duties that bind him.
However, this desire is not the only thing that occupied his mind during his boyhood. What is the meaning of man’s existence? What is the “soul?” Behold the great problems with which he has racked his brains and which he has thought over and over in a deep desire to find the solution, while his less meditative comrades were absorbed in sports and games. Wonderful gifts have manifested themselves in this melancholy boy. Without a guide he explores the mysterious land of mysticism, without human help he develops the gift of thought concentration, without a teacher he acquires the power of inner contemplation and repeatedly experiences the ecstasy of the mystical trance.
These heavenly treasures are in the young man’s possession when he enters life. But he considers himself an inept beginner. He craves higher progress on the spiritual path, and where better to receive instruction than at the feet of India’s yogis and sages? For the time being, however, Fate has something else in mind for him. After his college years, he goes into journalism. He becomes a contributor to several magazines, later editor of “London Forum” and “The Occult Review.” Immersed in a sea of busy and strenuous labour, he must keep his mental exercises to a minimum and is compelled to learn some of life’s less lofty lessons.
But there comes a day when he no longer has to resist the voice of his heart: the passionately cherished childhood dream comes true, the journey to India becomes reality.
His first book: A Search in Secret India (1934), translated to Dutch as Hidden Wisdom, Among the Yogis of India (1938). However, this book provides more than just a fascinating sequence of vividly colored Indian scenes, it is the – often arduous – pilgrimage of a searching soul. Paul Brunton cannot be content with anything less than the best, the holiest that India has to offer, for he is in search of truth, not spiritual acrobatics and magic tricks. And the flower of truth does not bloom along busy roads, but in the tranquility of hidden valleys. He must pay the full price of body and soul before he finds that truth of India, which is embodied in the person of the Maharshi, the Sage of Arunachala, the Holy Red Mountain. This great man revives the beautiful spiritual experiences of his pre-journalistic years, he again tastes the unspeakable peace and ecstatic happiness of his earlier meditations. Thus in this book he brings, from his own experience, the glad tidings that man’s inmost being harbors an everlasting world of goodness and beauty. It was precisely this consolation that the searching Western mind of the depressive 1930s needed most. The publication of this book also aroused much interest in India, because in 1934 the Maharshi was unknown outside the village close to his residence.
Brunton’s first trip to the East is followed after some time by a second. But on the eve of his departure, sunk in deep reverie on the banks of the Thames, he receives an important assignment. Before his inner eye rises the face of one of his Indian teachers. Gently but emphatically, this Sage shows him his duty to his fellow man. Brunton had followed the guide-star of truth, sure, but hitherto only for himself, and how many seekers there were pining for a cup of water from the celestial fountain? Would not his own soul wither if he averted his eyes from their pleading glances and shut his ears to their grievous cry? Whoever has dug out the gold of life must be ready to share that treasure with others, or it will fall to dust. Brunton acknowledges his shortcomings, and though he shrinks for a time from the wearing of the prophet’s mantle, he bows to the divine will.
The mantle described allows him to reach the greatest number of people. So in a small work he describes his own experience in meditation and a method of self-examination taught to him by the Maharshi, as well as some yoga teachings of particular interest to the West. In this booklet, published in 1935 and titled: The Secret Path, an acquaintance has been gathered, which for the most part has been lost to the modern world and which in ancient times had only been orally and in writing. the secret was accepted and the disciples were told.
In lofty but simple language, the author shows Western man how to discover the Supreme Self – called the “Overself” by him. Through an intellectual analysis of the personality, the seeker will eventually come to the intuitive conviction that his true Self is not the body, feeling, or intellect. To calm the mind, an easy but very effective breathing exercise is given, which, unlike some yoga exercises touted by others, can be done without the supervision of a personal teacher, because it is absolutely harmless. A special method of self-examination helps the aspirant to open up to intuition.
These exercises, together with the development of the higher feelings, gradually mature the seeker for the blissful experience of union with the highest Self, when the personal ego merges into the impersonal, eternal Being. The exact day of this new birth, however, depends not only on the efforts of the seeker, but chiefly on the grace of the Highest Self.
When Paul Brunton has thus discharged the task assigned to him by the Sage, he begins his second great journey, during which he also visits Egypt. The pennyfruit of his Egyptian travel adventures is: A Search in Secret Egypt (1936). This book brings extremely interesting descriptions of curious people and places, psychic experiences, beautiful thoughts and new knowledge about ancient occult Egypt. Like his work on India, this work is also a book with a message. This message is again based on personal experience – his sublime initiation during his nocturnal sojourn in the Great Pyramid – and it is the truth already known by the mystery priests of ancient Egypt, that man is more than his body and that the soul lives on after death.
Brunton’s psychic adventure in the Great Pyramid has struck many readers as an implausible hallucination. However, he has personally assured the author of this article that he can fully vouch for its truth, and where this man has devoted his whole life to the cause of truth, any doubt of his words is wholly unwarranted.
The second work that owes its origin to this journey is: A Hermit in the Himalayas (1936). It contains diary entries of the author’s lonely sojourn in the serene world of majestic white mountains and broad-branched cedar trees, where the pure atmosphere helped him practice his “yoga of silence” until he felt himself one with the Silence of Eternity. This book of deep thoughts and poetic descriptions of nature has as its “leitmotiv” the words of the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”
The Secret Path had been only a brief introduction to the method of discovering the highest Self; with his work The Quest of the Overself (1937), the author gives a comprehensive manual, in which, on the basis of his enriched experience and deepened realization, the same subject is treated in a more philosophical, scientific and analytical way. Without using Eastern terms, which even in translation would not speak to the majority of Western readers, without vagueness or long-winded descriptions, without also taking occult side-paths, the author points in clear and exact words the shortest way to the goal of both western mysticism and eastern yoga: the union with God, or as he calls it, with the “Overself.” Again, though in a more elaborate form, self-analysis and self-examination are given as powerful aids to inquiry. The latter method, taught by the Maharshi, is very effective, because here progress does not depend solely on the often laborious efforts of the seeker. In the long run, the mental attitude cultivated by this practice, which is a humble interrogative rather than an intellectual affirmative, activates a higher factor than the intellect, namely, the deepest part of man’s being, which answers its questions with irrefutable mystical experience.
Besides the mental training, the development of the aesthetic and mystical feelings is described in detail as an indispensable part of this path. A staring exercise is added to the breathing exercise, already known from The Secret Path. Both are physical aids to calm the ever-moving thoughts and induce a state of intense mental abstraction, helping the seeker to reach the highest stage of the path: focused attention on the spiritual Heart, the microscopic divine atom, irradiated by the highest Self, is located in the right ventricle of the physical heart. Ultimately, through the sublime act of complete self-surrender to the highest Self, the seeker will awaken to the sublime reality of this Self. What he achieves in meditation will gradually permeate his entire daily life and will enable him to fulfill the task assigned to him in society in a better and more effective way. Even a slight contact with the highest Self can bring about remarkable changes in his life and character. One need not be afraid of becoming a vain dreamer by this method; the path pointed out in this book is intended to benefit the western working man in all circumstances of life. Adherents of any religion or none, even atheists, can practice it successfully, because the presence of the Supreme Self in every human heart is not a fiction but a provable fact and does not depend on the acceptance of any creed or dogma.
This book has met the spiritual needs of many seekers, who were now able to benefit from the best of Eastern yoga, adapted to Western active life and mentality. The harvest of spiritual experience, which Paul Brunton had hitherto amassed and so generously distributed in his books, was undoubtedly a rich possession. With the ability to enter a mystical trance, concentrate the thoughts at will and for a long time, and enjoy an unspeakable peace, most people would have been more than satisfied for the rest of their lives. Paul Brunton, however, was not satisfied. His mind was one that – to quote an American scholar – “is not satisfied in his search for truth until he has understood the world.”
Indeed, he had found the truth about himself, he had often entered the divine Silence, but when he opened his eyes after his mystical absorption, there was always the world again with all its feverish haste and restlessness, for which the silence of meditation slowly but definitely had to clear the field. To experience this silence all the time, one had to flee the world, live like an ascetic in a hermitage or cave, and spend most of the day meditating. Many Western mystics and Eastern yogis had chosen this path of solitude, but Brunton clearly saw that the solution to the world problem could not lie in flight. He wanted a truth that could be experienced in every state of life, not just in the silence of meditation.
The advanced yogi and mystic had their feelings fully developed, but their intellects usually only a little. This was an unbalanced condition. Thinking and feeling must keep each other in balance. Brunton knew from his own meditations that yoga gave the vague sense of having reached the truth, but she certainly did not give an irrefutable knowledge of the truth, for the insight she gained was transient. Only if the intellect had discovered what feeling perceived in meditation, if it had founded this discovery on the solid ground of proven facts, and if spontaneous action was born from the perfect union of reason and feeling, then only would it whole being of man form an indissoluble and harmonious unity. Then meditation would no longer be indispensable to maintaining insight into Truth or Reality, but this insight would continue without interruption, even during the most active moments of man.
Thus, to find the truth in its entirety, one had to answer two questions: What am I? and: What is the world and the universe? The first question was answered by mysticism; the solution of the second problem belonged to the domain of philosophy. A satisfactory answer would lead to man’s perfect harmony with life in all its facets.
Paul Brunton was determined to take up this new problem and, if possible, solve it, not only to satisfy his own searching mind, but also to serve the small minority of earnest seekers who, besides inner peace, desired to find the whole truth.
Many Western thinkers have racked their brains with the problem of the nature of the universe, but the conflicting answers they produced were only so many speculative theories. Would it be possible to find a philosophy somewhere that did not theorize but based its teachings on irrefutable facts? The West had no such doctrine, but some ancient Eastern writings spoke of a philosophy based not on metaphysical speculations but on the actual discoveries of some Sages. This philosophy was called the “Hidden Philosophy,” because it had been the exclusive possession of a very small number of authorized initiates, who had passed it on from generation to generation through the ages and who had kept it strictly secret, because the uneducated minds of the masses was not ripe for her lofty doctrine. This philosophy claimed the predicate “Philosophy of Truth,” and Brunton therefore wished to study it.
Since modern India seemed to have no living Sage to aid him in his philosophical study — even the Maharshi had apparently never initiated anyone into a knowledge higher than mysticism — he had to find his own way with the help of the philosophical writers. from India’s past. Finally, through a power higher than his own laborious efforts, some works came to his attention which gave him the key. These works, which were kept secret in ancient times, clearly showed that the practice of ordinary yoga, although an excellent preparation for the search for truth, did not in itself lead directly to the ultimate Goal, but that the direct and highest path to the realization of Truth – hardly known to any modern yogi – has been called the “yoga of philosophical insight” with the highest stage being the “yoga of the irrefutable.”
These two philosophical yogas are the highest branches of the yoga family. Practitioners of lower forms of yoga try in their exercises, by forcibly banishing the thoughts, to become aware of the formless reality which is, as it were, the background of the thoughts. As the thoughts are not dissolved by this method but merely suppressed, they reappear in consciousness as soon as the exercise is finished and the temporary insight is lost again. The aim of the philosophic yogi is to let his mind settle down by itself in the state of constant insight. In order to achieve this, after the necessary training by the lower yoga in thought concentration and mental rest, he begins to direct his mind with the utmost intensity and concentration to the problem of the essence of the world and gradually push his power of reason to its utmost limits. float. When at last the moment comes when reason cannot go any further, suddenly by the “thunderbolt” of insight, as this mysterious process was called by the Sages, the ultimate Truth is comprehended, and at the same moment thought comes to rest Of course the mind is not lost after insight is attained The philosopher goes on thinking, but his thinking has become an enlightened activity.
The ancient manuscripts called the teaching of the sages, who possessed this insight, the “Hidden Doctrine,” because it was imparted only secretly to advanced students. The quintessence of this teaching was that the universe is essentially not material but mental, that it exists as an idea in a Super-consciousness, which is both immanent and transcendent. The broadening of the modern mind and the advancement of modern science have made it possible to make this doctrine public today.
The result of his studies and experiences on the Ultimate Path, Paul Brunton laid down in two works: The Hidden Teaching beyond Yoga (1941), and The Wisdom of the Overself (1943). Together they form a complete treatise on the yoga of philosophical insight and the yoga of the irrefutable. That these works, by the simple choice of words and clear line of argument, are perfectly intelligible even to laymen in the field of philosophy, provided their intellect is properly developed, must be regarded as a great credit to the author.
The “Hidden Philosophy” was not found as a complete system in a single text. Brunton discovered fragments of this teaching in hundreds of texts, many of which no longer existed in the original Sanskrit but only in translations into other Asian languages.
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga lays the foundation of this lofty philosophy, which Brunton typically calls the “doctrine of mentalism.” surrounding world, and destroy his ingrained belief in the materiality of the universe.The knowledge of the “Hidden Doctrine” on such general subjects as semantics (word meaning), relativity, space and time, the mental processes of thinking and perception, the essence of matter, etc., is gradually confirmed by the discoveries of modern science, which is moving slowly but surely in the direction of philosophy.
A very important chapter is the Philosophical Discipline. Every student who is serious and wishes to make good progress must subject himself to this strict discipline. His whole mind, thinking and feeling both, must be in good psychological condition if he is to be able to study the “Hidden Philosophy” successfully. For the shortcomings of the untrained unbalanced mind are many, and the chief one is that it views life through self-centered subjective glasses. As long as he refuses to part with it, he cannot perceive the truth. The only way to reach the Goal is to free oneself from likes and dislikes, from wishes and desires, from pride and prejudice. The whole personality must be sacrificed on the altar of Truth before entry into its temple can be gained.
In the second part, The Wisdom of the Overself, the author continues his intellectual exposition of truth with what the “Hidden Doctrine” says about the birth of the universe, the four states of consciousness: waking state, dream, deep sleep and transcendental consciousness, also called called cosmic consciousness; the meaning of death, the cause of evil and suffering, the essence of “God,” the “I” and Reality.
An intellectual understanding of the truth, however, is not enough to attain it ultimately or – as the author calls it – “ultramystic insight.” The philosophical path is a threefold path and encompasses man’s entire being: thinking, feeling, acting. Therefore, for the further development of the mystical feelings, seven meditation exercises from the “Hidden Doctrine” are given, through which the student gradually begins to experience the “mentality” of his own person and the world.
The third stage of the philosophical path is altrustic action. From this trio: metaphysical thought, mystical feeling and self-denying work, is spun the golden thread that will lead the seeker from the labyrinth of ignorance into the free field of Truth. In the last stage of the inquiry he must learn, through the yoga of the irrefutable, all appearances, both the apparent material world and his own person with all thoughts and feelings, as essentially not different from their principle: the pure spirit. The serene Stillness or Emptiness, as this principle is called by the Sages, which the mystic finds in his own heart, is also the all-encompassing Reality which underlies the universe. By patiently following the threefold path, the student will make gradual and balanced progress, until at the moment of enlightenment by the grace of the highest Self the “thunderbolt” of insight sweeps away his mental darkness and he no longer experiences any sense of separation. between his own being, the essence of the world and That which radiates through both. Without meditation he is now perpetually aware of the formless reality. Even during the deep state of sleep he is not deprived of this consciousness. The Truth he has found, with which he has united consciously can never be disproved He has reached the object of his inquiry, the highest stage of man’s spiritual development: he is free from attachment to his person, he knows his own being and that of the world and he lives henceforth in perfect harmony with the universal impersonal All.
This work, through which Brunton has made accessible to the West the most sublime teaching ever brought to mankind, is the last to come out of his pen to date.
A few earlier, smaller and less important works, which have not yet been translated into Dutch, are not included here.
It was inevitable that there were not a few among the admirers of his mystical works who could not understand and appreciate his transition from one-sided mysticism to the all-sided philosophy, and because of this accused him of instability, infidelity and renunciation of yoga. Any pioneer who makes his way through the thick jungle of an unknown territory is exposed to the sharp thorns of criticism and slander. Brunton made no exception to this rule, but adhering to his ever-followed motto “Truth Above All” was worth more to him than the praise of a few fickle admirers.
This humble great man, who humbly calls himself a student and emphatically rejects any claim to the title of “teacher” or “master”, has made his own life a clear mirror in which Truth can be seen in all its beauty. by those fortunate enough to know him personally. When the writer first met him, she felt as if she had waited all her life for this meeting. The great calm that emanated from him, the lack of any sense of his own importance, his perfect naturalness and great sense of reality made a deep impression on her. All his troubles could be told to this little petite man. It was immediately clear to her that the inner life of the visitor, with all its faults and shortcomings, was an open book; but that these calm eyes read to the bottom of her soul did not make her uncomfortable, for this man judged nothing and no one, because he understood everything.
Paul Brunton is not a vague dreamer, but a practical man with extraordinary energy, he has his feet firmly on the ground, he knows the world and does not flee from it. As an instrument of the supreme Self he has the power to effect changes for the better in the personality of those with whom he is in contact, but this happens quite unintentionally, just as in the warm rays of the sun the flower bud opens. It is far from him to want to drive someone in a certain direction. One feels at ease in his presence, one can be completely oneself. In short, Paul Brunton is a human being in the truest sense of the word. His works do not give dry theories, they are his own crystallized experience. Therefore, his words are living words, which have the power to awaken slumbering higher thoughts and feelings in every heart open to their message.
The importance of a life like that of Paul Brunton cannot be overestimated in this terrible time.
As an instrument in the hands of higher Powers he brought first Indian yoga, then India’s higher philosophy to the West in a clear, plausible and attractive form. He has shown by word and deed that Truth is not a “fata morgana” but a living reality, and that the attainment of this Truth is practically doable for anyone who is willing, for the sake of both his own salvation and that of mankind, his life. to this lofty research.
The world desperately needs a practical philosophy by which it can break its self-forged bonds. The Reverberated Doctrine that Paul Brunton has opened to an ever-widening circle of earnest seekers points the way to this blissful freedom. As long as we do not know ourselves, and are chained by egoism to ignorance of the sublime Presence that dwells in our hearts and in the universe, the corner of Truth must necessarily remain closed and sealed to us.
Let us therefore, as Paul Brunton says in The Secret Path, “submit to the grandeur of the imperishable Overself; even when we cannot understand it or grasp its Himalayan attitude, let us nevertheless yield mind and heart and body to its august behests. Thus we enter into undying life and gather the immortal fruits of truth, wisdom, peace and power.”
Overprint from “Theosofia,” April, May/June and July/Aug. 1951.
[Editor’s Note: The above is Google Translate’s version of the original Dutch article. We cannot find the original in either Dutch or English]