For kindred souls
I write for those who have felt the truth in intuitive flashes as well as for those who must be argued into it by intellectual reasonings.
My work has also been to open up new paths, both for those already interested in spiritual seeking and for those who in the past were not but are now ready to begin it.
It is not possible to estimate correctly the number of those who have ennobled their characters and exalted their purposes because of this reading experience. Small it must necessarily be, for people are too mesmerized by the prestige of old churchly institutions to listen to a new voice speaking to a new age struggling to be born.
The man whose mind has hardened around the dogmas of some sect will be unwilling to receive truth where it conflicts with those dogmas. I do not write for him. I write for those who, noting the bewildering confusion of contradictory doctrines offered to them, prefer to keep themselves free of any commitment and unjoined to any particular sect. In that way, they are open to receive additional truth and to correct previous errors.
Throughout this writing, I have tried to give one hand to the realist and the other to the idealist. Only so could I walk safely, and my readers with me. Therefore, these are positive techniques designed to fit real needs with something that yet stretches away to the ideal.
To attempt this book will be an adventure for the Warriors of Light, but the wanderers of night will put it down with much celerity. For these pages are enchanted with a white magic which can inflict no greater injury on adversaries than to permit them to resist the principles contained therein.(P)
Some of these lines are written for the few, for the few out of each million who have inborn attitudes toward spiritual development. Such people will rise to the right path once they are shown it. If I attempt to teach them the truths of directed aspiration, it is because I have myself wasted much time in misdirected aspiration, and now know the difference.
Since this is intended less for the casual reader or the academic student than for the aspirant whose earnest endeavour is to make something spiritually worthwhile out of his present life, it enters very seriously into regimes, training, self-denials, disciplines, and exercises.
We who write can only give the truth as we see it. That others have seen farther and deeper and better we must gladly proclaim, but we cannot remain in literary paralysis because of this fact. There are always readers who are not yet ready for, or do not yet seek, what is beyond their level. For them we may have some significance.
We address ourselves to those whose aim is to make themselves intelligent citizens of the world, not to those whose aim is to turn themselves into academic bookworms or whose view is bounded by the village in which they dwell.
I write for those who have to keep on working in cities, not for those who like to keep on idling in ashrams.
It is true that the limitations imposed by his own personal destiny, together with those imposed by the emotional prejudices of so many seekers, cause the number of those he is able to help to shrink to a small circle. Nevertheless, within that circle he will be continually active in self-giving endeavour to illumine its members.
I write for those who are attracted towards reading about philosophy, as well as for those who have gone further still and practise it.
I was in the peculiar position of writing both for those who had no wish at all to become saints and for those who did have one. Most of those in the first group were intellectually curious or intellectually eager for the truth. Most of those in the second group felt a compulsive urge to achieve personal inspiration.
The casual and the curious will learn little from this book, but the thoughtful and earnest may gather a few spiritual fruits.
Spiritual dabblers are hereby warned off, but the sincere are always welcome. Those who flit from craze to craze, or seek to satisfy their flirtatious souls at the expense of our strictly limited time, will do better by turning their faces due north, and not in my direction. If I am often excessively kind to innocent kittens, I can nevertheless be excessively cruel to humbugs. In this respect I am like the moon, for I wax quickly with friendly warmth to those who use words to explain their heart, and do not hide it; but I wane rapidly into arctic frigidity when the insincere approach me with a smile on their lips and something quite different in their breast.
In the past I tried to present a method, a technique, and an ideal that seemed suited to the generality of people. That is to say, the earlier books were works intended for such of the masses as were unable to find enlightenment elsewhere. That work has come to a natural close.
One method of teaching which the ancient rishees adopted was to lead the seeker gradually by way of well-defined, separate stages of enquiry. Thus the reality might first be taken to exist in Matter itself. When the disciple began to have doubts and ask questions later on, as he found this explanation insufficient, he was told that a higher reality existed and it was Life -Principle. In the course of time the limitations of this teaching were discovered by the student and the definition of nonduality was made clear to him. This is precisely the method which I have adopted in my books.
We do not expect the masses to feed on the caviar of philosophy.
I write for the individual of average intelligence and average power.
It was necessary to help all those numerous people who do not or can not take the trouble to think for themselves and who therefore have to accept the secondhand thought of other men. If I had to make these abstruse tenets more comprehensible to modern minds, I had also to make them more attractive to simple ones. Hence I have tried to transmit, in as easy and understandable a style as it was possible to achieve, these much needed philosophical ideas, mystical practices, and ethical ideals. Truth's message had to be formulated as explicitly and as clearly as possible. Such a vital presentation was not easy to create, for it had to avoid the forbidding rocks of technicality on the one hand and the deceptive shallows of superficiality on the other.
If I descended from the summits of philosophical truths to accommodate those people, I ought not to be blamed, condemned, and sneered at for having apparently repudiated what I had previously taught.
I shall write about things seldom written of, hence this is not and cannot be a book for the ordinary religionist or the ordinary mystic or the ordinary scientist or the ordinary academic metaphysician who is satisfied with his religion, mysticism, science, or metaphysic, and who does not want to go beyond its limits.
A mixed reception
Some readers will have been consciously, even anxiously, waiting for some of these ideas. Others will have been waiting unconsciously for them. Still others will find nothing here that nourishes them, so we shall bid each other farewell--amicably, I hope.
The aim is to contribute a point of view, a way of thinking which will bring about far reaching changes in a person's life. But though this way is so uncommon that it will never suffer from the fate of popularization, yet it is so fundamentally iconoclastic that it must necessarily arouse bitter opposition. It is a challenge to the mental laziness of mankind.
These writings have created an intellectual unrest in some minds, which have been piqued by the unfamiliar ideas on the one hand and provoked by the desire to understand them on the other.
Those who are slaves to tradition will not welcome these writings. How can they since I am not a copyist? I believe like them that the eternal verities remain the same at all times, but I also believe that the formulation and presentation of them can be adapted to a particular time, with much advantage to those addressed.
I keep myself in silent obscurity and outward inactivity while waiting for the times which, out of desperate need, will accept me just as I am and on my own terms. Those times will not come until after Armageddon.
Belonging, as I do, to an old generation in a young world, there is no longer a line of communication, understanding, sympathy.
I would beg my readers not to decry these thoughts as worthless dreams until they have seriously investigated them and even more seriously practised them.
It is inevitable that such unfamiliar ideas can find their place in public thinking only with slowness.
Whether the reader accepts these thoughts as veridical or not is of no great importance to me; but whether he will think them over--presented here as they are upon no other authority than their own inherent truth--is a matter of great importance to himself.
The fact that the P.B. books have been translated into all the major European languages and a few Oriental ones not only recognizes that they establish an uncommon point of view but also that they make a contribution toward answering the greatest questions man can ask himself.
Why did the late Yuvaraja of Mysore keep a photograph of P.B. prominently displayed in a central position on his writing table at the Mysore Palace? Why did the Yuvaraja of Kasmanda keep a similar photograph on his own writing table at his Lucknow Palace? Why, when most of the yogis of India were at their command, did they take lessons in meditation from P.B. and honour him with their chelaship? Why did Yogi Ramiah, then esteemed one of the leading disciples of Ramana Maharshi and later head of his own monastery, declare on January 1, 1936 in the presence of some of his own Telegu disciples to P.B.: "You have learned all about yoga. There is nothing more for you to learn about this practice." Why did Captain Mohamed Rashid, A.D.C. to the late Yuvaraja of Mysore, say in 1939 when broadcasting from the Akash Vani Radio Station in India: "My learned and distinguished friend and European yogi, Dr. Paul Brunton, is now in our midst again. He has done more to clarify the subject of yoga than any other Westerner."
He is interested in the transmission of ideas to those who are ready for them, not in the dissemination of ideas among those who are hostile to them.
His message is for those who wish to listen to him or to read his words. Whether this means a small or a large number of persons, and whether anyone is willing to believe him or not, is not primarily his concern.
Any writer who seeks to find a home on paper for such far-out ideas must expect to find also that the unbalanced, and even the lunatic fringe, will claim them, too.
I would not be at all anxious if these strong ideas gained but a weak following at first. A roaring lion could be laid flat with your little finger when it was born.
I desire to form no spiritual "tea-circles" where the dilettanti of "other-worldism" may find a new craze with which to play across the cups.
I would rather be read than revered.
It is easy for a writer who sits comfortably at a desk to give voice to such truths. But it is hard for a reader, who is struggling with the cares and duties of everyday living, to apply them.
Are we to pay the intelligence of our times so mean a compliment as to hide such thoughts for fear that they will not be understood? I am often constrained to think so; but I am willing to make the experiment at least once. If the moment proves too inopportune and the age too ignoble to receive such a message, perhaps the effort will not be entirely wasted. Some other hand may pick up the remnant of these thoughts at some future time and utilize it for a more receptive people.
What an earlier century would have regarded as the barkings of a heretical dog of a mystic in the caverns of the ecclesiastical Avernus, a more tolerant twentieth century may now regard with mild amusement as an unimportant but well-meaning attempt to reshape the philosophers. Let them, then, look at this message in this superficial light; but Time, the Great Revealer, will prove conclusively how much of truth there is in what we assert.
All this will sound wild and foolish to the superficial mob or to those with such mechanical minds that they can grant existence only to the gross and material. Great truths and little minds cannot accompany each other.
So far as my eyes survey recorded history, it has never been a pleasant task to play the prophet to a scornful generation.
There are books which break chains, and books which bind them on tighter. May this one help someone to find a greater Freedom for himself.
Perhaps these unorthodox pages will shock those who prefer their philosophy unreadable. I am sorry. The cobbler must stick to his last, and I to my native outlook.
It is not to be expected that the busy and boisterous Western world will listen long to this spiritual voice which we would bring into its midst. We shall be content to catch the ears of the few, those elect souls who have fought their way through years of suffering and lives of heart-hunger to the silent certainty of God's existence.
No idea in this book is so very novel; but if each one is considered without prejudice and without misunderstanding, that will indeed be novel.
The world of readers may cast a complacent eye upon this book but is hardly likely to take its message seriously. Man is a creature of habit and prefers the stupid Sisyphean round to which he is accustomed rather than to any other saner way.
If my books have been widely read--instead of remaining on the shelves widely unread--the reason must chiefly be that they met an unfulfilled need.
My later writings are not likely to interest those who have been mesmerized into intellectual inactivity but only those who have felt misgivings aroused in them.
I contemplate with mixed satisfaction the results to which my books have led. Many individuals have been helped to attain a higher measure of interior peace and mental tranquillity, but others have foolishly confirmed their previous superstitions through a one-sided reading of what I have written. What has distressed me most, however, is a painful realization of the opportunity I have given to religious humbugs, commercially minded mystics, and half-baked teachers of yoga to exploit earnest but credulous people. I would not have my books exploited by mystic quackery and parasitic superstition. Still worse is the fact that an ashram which I had helped to make famous now no longer possesses the character which it had in the days I found it many years ago, so that complaints may justly be laid at my door for giving it regrettable publicity. It is my present duty therefore to warn all readers against the misunderstanding of my teaching on yoga, against the exploiters of questing ignorance, and against these ashrams which I had formerly praised so extravagantly.
If the ideas seem too bold, too controversial, too disturbing, remember that they are put forward not by a hostile critic but by a well-wishing friend, not unhealthily or destructively but healthily and constructively.
I feel out of tune, out of sympathy with the generation recently arrived. There is an intolerance in their attitude, a rudeness in their manners, a hardness in their tones, a spitefulness in their criticism--which is plentiful, widespread, and severe--and an arrogance in their judgements which repels me, even sends shivers up my spine sometimes. The abyss between me and these people is too deep and too wide.
Many of the good seeds have fallen on the stony ground of the general indifference to these matters, but here and there some found room for lodgement. The seedlings have multiplied as they sprouted and grew.
Only those who feel the premonitory force of these statements are likely to have the courage to bring their thinking to a logical conclusion.
We shall sow seeds, diffuse ideas, transmit inspirations, and watch them take root in the minds of others; but it is a later generation which shall watch them grow into sturdy plants and bear good fruits in the lives of many more individuals. There is more hope for acceptance of worthwhile ideas from the younger people, for they stand at the door of life and fumble for the key.
Indeed, how many Indians of the educated classes have confessed to me that they owed their intellectual recovery of yoga or their revived faith in religion to my writings!
It is not my task to convince people of the truth of these ideas, but it may be a task for others to do. What has been found after a lifetime's experience is not to be acquired in an hour or two's debate.
In an age when men eat much and think little, the attempt to propound by ordinary means a spiritual message and prophetic warning of such profound import is hardly likely to be received with enthusiasm.
Some who had never before heard of these teachings found them so reasonable, so inspiring, and so helpful that they instantly accepted them as true.
The medical profession, the educational profession, the church ministry and priesthood have not been sufficiently aroused to the importance of my observations, reports, and findings. This is understandable since I am technically only a layman in their eyes. So, appreciation has so far been left to the general public, to those who appreciate my independence and the consequent freedom from bias in my writings.
The pseudo-great men of our time, who live on the clamour of the crowd, who perform their pantomime antics for the sake of vulgar applause, will naturally not be pleased with the pages of this book and are little likely to heed its message.
If one wishes to gain a reputation and hold respect, one has merely to treat one's subject at arm's length, to be cold and distant about the warmest and most intimate topics, and to think no further than academic conventions permit.
In an age when the armies of materialism appear to be everywhere victorious, we must yet cheerfully carry a flag on which the single word Truth is boldly inscribed. For this Godless age will pass, this execrable God-denying epoch is doomed to disappear. Our flag stands as a rallying point for the few pioneers who perceive the inner worth of That for which it stands, and who hear the tramping of invisible armies which will later appear to worship it.
The thoughts in this book have been set down for the few, since they alone can receive and take my meaning; the latter is too simple and straightforward for the many, who will much prefer to misunderstand me. For instance, some among them will prefer to dub me a mystic, still more will regard me as an arrant atheist, while a few will find me too religious to satisfy everybody. I have attempted to satisfy nobody, but dug my sword into every dark corner that was near at hand. Truth has so many facts to it that it frightens most people away; they retire to their petty corners and contemplate the paltry glimpse of the single facet they have seen, usually spending the remainder of their lives over this simple process.
Responding to critics
It is not necessary to have a beard in order to have wisdom. Increase of years may also mean increase of foolishness. After all, age is not merely a chronological matter. When a man tries to live profoundly and travel widely, when his moments are tightly packed with the most diversified thoughts, episodes, and contacts, he will pick up sufficient experience to put him in the class of centenarians! He is then able to gaze out over the vast expanse of his fellow men with all the sense of superiority and all the smug authority of a unique old age! But he cannot expect to win such a temporal attitude and communicate its results to others without paying the cost both of the ascent and the communication with many an unjustified laceration and many a personal antagonism. Yet that which inspired the ascent and prompted the communication will necessarily be developed enough to endure the laceration understandingly and even to smile at the antagonism compassionately.
One does not become a celebrity without becoming a public figure. This status opens him to everybody's watchful inspection--which is bad enough--and judgement, which is worse.
Whoever tries to put into words that which belongs to a totally different sphere should blame himself if he is misunderstood or, worse, reviled.
I must accept the blame with bowed head, grateful that it is not worse, as it could well have been. I must also accept criticism: it may instruct consciousness and educate conduct in matters where the ego is either ignorant or deficient. But I must also accept praise even though it leaves me somewhat embarrassed, for it may make clearer those positive qualities which the outside observer sees better. Both negative and positive self-regard and the outsider's view may help me to know what I am and what I am doing.
Instead of enquiring into the truth of his criticisms of their cherished dogmas or of confining their discussion to the subjects involved, they threw both reason and courtesy to the winds and degenerated into a howling mob thirsting for his blood. Any attempt to offer a calm and reasoned defense of his views brought down a fresh shower of highly emotional personal vituperation, but no real attempt to answer the points at issue. It would have been a waste of time and a completely futile endeavour to descend further into undignified controversy with such childish and malicious opponents. So he relapsed into Himalayan silence, shook the dust of debate off his feet. Why did such strong opposition to honest expression of matured reflection make its sudden appearance? Why did such intense resistance manifest itself against sincere statement of the results gained by profounder experience and more prolonged investigation? It is because they insist on taking their personal--that is, egotistical--feelings as proper criterions of truth. Such persons had followed him only because his doctrines pleased them. They had accustomed themselves to walk in fixed ruts.
Such people think a man who writes challengingly rather than colourlessly and appeals to reason as well as feeling is either not a mystic at all or one who has lost his mystical qualities.
Nevertheless, judging by my experience with the public, it is evident that so long as one writes what will please people he is celebrated, but as soon as he ventures to criticize their fallacies, he is execrated.
I know well enough what so many critics and friends have told me, that I repeat myself too often. I know also that sometimes I even contradict myself. These are admitted and regretted faults, but they cannot be helped. They arise partly out of the unsettlement of a wandering life and partly out of the unconventional methods of work which my temperament forces upon me.
Those who talk of my financial ambitions have the excuse of public ignorance--if not this, then the excuse of private malice.
The critics who have kept their worst venom for me do not belong to the materialist camp but to the mystic camp. Why is this? It is because I understand their defects to be defects.
That a man could devote himself to the study and dissemination of these tenets out of no financial incentive but out of pure love for the subject is something beyond their comprehension and, therefore, something to be regarded with suspicion.
They will--if past and present experience is any guide--unconsciously proceed to prove the imperfections of their outlook by the personal abuse which they will heap angrily on the writer of this statement, despite the fact that it is made quite impersonally and purely metaphysically. For it is one of the oldest tricks in the world to shift the point under examination when awkward questions will otherwise have to be faced and answered. It is so much easier to throw contumely on the character of an unconventional person than to discuss the character of an uncomprehended teaching.
The prime minister of an Indian state, whom I happened to be visiting several years ago, said to me during a conversation in his office: "Your book about the yogis has circulated too widely for my liking amongst the educated generation of Indians. People like myself, with a modern outlook, have been trying for years to uplift this particular generation from the superstitious, backward, inert, and medieval mental attitudes which are so responsible for the poverty, dirt, illiteracy, and misery of the masses whom they should lead. People like you are being quoted here both to sustain the faith in all those undesirable attitudes and to support the exploitation of religious impostures and mystical apathy which have harmed India for centuries. Thus you are helping to undo our good work and to retard the progressive movement in modern Indian life." This statement struck me at the time with the force of an abrupt shock. I had not dwelt in thought on this situation before. I am grateful to Sir Shanmukhan Chetty, then the prime minister of Cochin, for having given me this food for many month's thought and for having contributed towards my general awakening.
One rather expected, from men who professed to be so spiritual, criticism that was more gracious, with more comprehension and less redolent with ill will.
Candour was the one thing which was not wanted. Honesty was a crime and to be punished accordingly. Therefore the dual functioning of these two qualities in my public announcements that I had found feet of clay amongst the swamis and sadhus infuriated my critics.
I knew that if I committed truth to paper in such a personal form as a complete autobiography, the world would not believe me. Critics would rise up and remark: "This man is a complete egoist who suffers from the intolerable vanity of believing that he has solved what centuries of human history have not solved. His head is swollen, his conceit is inordinate."
Most reviewers tell us more about the state of their own mind than about a book itself and this is why I usually fail to get perturbed when a critic assails my books in the press.
So long as my views pleased those who read my earlier writings, the latter were admired and I was praised. Now that our views clash, my writings are criticized, and my character is vilified. Nevertheless, the experience has been a profitable one, for it has provided a further lesson in the fickleness of human nature when it has not undergone the philosophic training.
The well-informed do not need to waste their time over such nonsense as this criticism, but for the sake of others I deem it helpful to pen a timely answer.
I can afford to be patient and calm despite the barking of such critics, for a historical pioneering task for this generation has fallen on my shoulders. Such self-appreciation is not identical with self-conceit. The one is the unembellished knowledge of one's correct height, the other the emotional exaggeration of it to satisfy vanity.
In the next world, nothing can be hidden and everyone will be shown for what he really is. Here, in this world, a critic looks at my work and imagines that he has sounded the depths of my mind; an enemy looks at my body and imagines that she has seen me. My great comfort is that these opponents see only what they imagine to be P.B., whereas God sees the real P.B.
What critics like Douglas Ainslie call my "commercialization" of Hindu philosophy is really my democratization of it. For I have attempted to bring it down out of the rarefied atmosphere of academic circles into the common air of plain men and women, where alone it can help them. I have tried to make easily understandable what the academics and mystics have made ponderously incomprehensible. Moreover, it may be said that those who know well what they are talking about may have the temerity to simplify it, whereas those who do not know find it safer to mystify it! The first can really help truth-seekers, whereas the second can only hamper them. The reward of my efforts has been a larger circulation of my books than that achieved by writers like Ainslie himself--hence their envy and malice. I seek to serve the masses, not the classes, the many and not the few. I seek to make philosophy's message plain to the untutored mind of common people. At the same time, it will automatically be made plainer to the cultured intelligence of better educated people. If therefore my books are popular and those of the academics are not, that is not to be charged to my commercialistic spirit but to my democratic sympathy. Douglas Ainslie's article is not a genuine book review but a sorry exhibition of personal animus. The self-conceit from which Douglas Ainslee seems to think I suffer is simply the attempt to give a human feeling and personal value to ideas which have too often been ignored and neglected by non-mystical people because they seemed too inhuman and so impersonal. The deep conviction of my own importance, which he comments so sarcastically is his mistaken reading of the deep importance which I attach to the ideas which I have sought to describe intensely and put forward for the benefit of the few real seekers after truth among mystical people. If, in all these ways, I have succeeded in giving actuality to such ideas, if I have brought them to some life, then the results have adequately justified the means.
My critics argue in favour of a doctrine which I have never denied.
It was from the lips of my highly esteemed friend, Dr. A. Narasimhia--at the time principal of the Sanskrit College at Mysore, India--that I heard a sentence the truth of which became embedded in my mind with each unpleasant personal attack: "Your enemy is one of your best teachers; learn from him."
The fact that I have had practical experience of earning my livelihood as an editor has been made a subject of criticism. Were my critics not so narrow-minded they would have had the sense to see that exactly therein lies one of my merits. For this experience has purified me of the common mystical defects of writing whole pages that mean nothing, of recommending readers to attempt impossible tasks, of getting both thought and pen lost in the clouds to the neglect of the earth. It has taught me a robust realism and a healthy self-reliance--two qualities which are notoriously absent from the ordinary mystical make-up and for lack of which mystics commit many mistakes. My critics try to give the impression that earning my livelihood was a low act and that being a journalist was a kind of crime. These two facts are indeed held up against me as though they prove that I am both mercenary and materialistic, as though nobody with mystical aspirations would do the one or be the other. Such facts really pay me a compliment and do me no dishonour. But the blind unreflective followers of a dying tradition cannot be expected to perceive that. They cannot be expected to comprehend that I am endeavouring to bring mysticism into mundane life, to throw a bridge across the chasm which has so often separated them. And I know no better way than to have done so in my own personal life first before attempting to tell others how to do it.(P)
"Do not descend to the plane of malign critics and ignorant traducers," is the injunction I have constantly given myself when faced by the attacks of those who misunderstand my nature and mishandle my ideas.
How many have been talking or writing Brunton without knowing it, without acknowledging to themselves--and certainly never acknowledging to others--their debt to one they criticize or abuse so much! It may be that the debt is an unconscious one in most cases, but the influence is there.
He will study the writings or listen to the criticisms of those who reject his intellectual position, attack his philosophical world-view, and refute his mystical beliefs.
The actual and personal experience of all his friends and all those who have been allowed closer contact with him is his best defender. If they will remember only what they saw with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, and ignore gossip, they will know that he always behaved honourably.
An Indian mystic wrote me recently, criticizing what he called my "yearning to express" as being inconsistent with a true attainment of inward Peace. I do not make any claims about my personal attainments so I shall not discuss that point. But on the other point, I would like to ask him why should such a yearning be inconsistent with peace? Is not God ever seeking to express Himself through the universe? Did not Ramakrishna yearn for disciples? I seek (not yearn) to express myself primarily because some inner urge bids me to do so and secondarily because, however imperfectly and slightly, I follow an artist's profession. Neither inner urge nor untiring art denies anyone his peace. But men devoid of the aesthetic sense could not grasp this.
Sceptics who disparage these truths as dreams, who label our researches as endeavours to solve insoluble riddles, and who sneer at our ideals as attempts to attain unattainable states of mind, thereby display their own intolerance and superficiality. Converse with such unphilosophical mentalities and undeveloped hearts is unprofitable. It were better to keep a silent lip when they confront us.
The statement made by a Cornell professor reviewing one of P.B.'s books that "the author is always entertaining" is meant offensively, implying that those books are not to be taken seriously but only laughed at. That criticism was made long ago. Now, nearly forty years later, a hundred students from Cornell meet weekly in the same town to study P.B.'s and kindred authors' books, as well as to practise meditation, because they cannot get needed intellectual and spiritual help in depth from their dry professors.
The publication of a philosophical book is usually the signal for an attack by the dark forces through convenient human instruments, especially through so-called spiritual persons. Such attacks can only be met with dignified silence. It is also at such times that a student's loyalty to the Quest becomes evidenced.
I believe in the work of time, in the unseen power that uses it to weave wrong into right. In my own short life I have seen Hitler's false "thousand-year" kingdom hurtle to the ground. I have seen an Indian journalist, whose pen jabbed viciously at A Search in Secret India when he lived in London, himself engaged in the same search a few years after his return to India. In his London review he denounced as superstition what in his later life he found essential to his mental peace.
The dignity of these truths which I have sought to present to the world is so grand, so stately, that I do not have to engage in their defense. But such is the common ignorance of these high matters that I do have to guard against the misunderstandings which, experience shows me, inevitably arise.
We must meet and answer these criticisms for the sake of weak minds or ignorant ones, but we must do so without rancour and without venom.
If we prefer to attack lies because we cannot accept them, we must prepare to put up with the consequences.
They may not agree with my conclusion but they cannot deny--considering my own past reputation as a mystic--its candour, its impartiality, and even its courage.
He is indeed glad and grateful that where little men and narrow minds doubt, scorn, criticize, or distrust him, great sages and lofty spiritual personages of the Orient, who read by inner reality rather than by outward appearance, confide in and trust in him.
Why do these impertinences come to birth? Why should it be thought that because a man has once been a journalist he cannot therefore be sincere? Have only those who follow other professions and trades the right to possess souls and not journalists? Have only doctors, butchers, lawyers, shopkeepers, and peasants a desire to understand the inner meaning of life? As a matter of fact, my old work was more editorial than journalistic and an editor is more finicky about his facts than most human beings. Cannot a man be in earnest even if he does wield a pen? No, these lightly made criticisms, so easy when you depend on appearances alone, are an indication of the arrant stupidity, the suffocating conventionality, the befogged outlook of the world at large. Whoever endeavours to break away from the old manner of presenting spiritual truth; whoever tries to sandwich the cheese of attractive anecdotes or interesting interviews between the dry crusts of philosophic doctrine; whoever seeks to stimulate individuals to new avenues of thought by showing that truth, religion, philosophy, and wisdom need not bore the average reader as they often have done hitherto; and, finally, whoever seeks to make as plain as day what has hitherto been as obscure as night, may expect to be termed insincere, superficial, liar, imposter, and perverter!
When I consulted my respected friend, Sir Vepa Ramesam, late chief justice of the Madras High Court, about these calumnies emanating from those who had repaid my services with ingratitude, his advice was: "Ignore them! Whoever knows you will immediately dismiss such attacks with the hearty contempt they deserve."
He who announces a truth discovered by revelation and confirmed by personal experience should accept the scepticism of those to whom neither has happened. But this ought not prevent them from playing with the truth as if it were a theory, a possibility, and watching whether it fits, helps, completes, or casts light on what he regards as verified.
These swamis and ashrams do not accord me the tolerance which they are so fond of preaching--to others. I, on the other hand, accord them gladly complete tolerance to teach and preach what they please. They criticize me as a perverter of Hinduism and a degrader of its ideals. They denounce me as a Western journalist who has picked up a smattering of yoga for mercenary reasons. Whereas they claim that the monkish state is the highest goal of humanity, I reply that the highest state has nothing whatever to do with monasticism. It is entirely invisible because it is an inner state, whilst monasticism is a matter of yellow robes, buildings called monasteries, non-participation in physical human activities like marriage, working for a livelihood, and so on. I further reply that I make no claim to teach or lead men to the highest state because I have not attained it myself; I have repeatedly pointed this out in various prefaces to my books. I claim only to tell a few others of ideas which have appealed to me and practices which have helped me. Whether they are the highest I do not know. I am interested only in what is practicable, not in what is beyond the reach of all human beings I have met and know. I am uninterested in what is attainable by theoretical human beings whom I have never met. Therefore I say that if the swamis criticize me, I criticize them back and call them materialists! For they are preoccupied with such a highly material matter as regulating the material body, whereas I am occupied with a purely mental matter, that is, with the discovery of truth!
He announces that we deny the existence of the external world. Such a man is not really criticizing our doctrine but only his own misconceptions of it. Therefore we are not called upon to answer him. If we do put pen to paper, it is an act of grace in recognition of the difficulty of comprehending this doctrine, not as an act of controversy in refutal of absurd ideas upon which we cannot waste our time.
He has to endure the pardonable sneers of the sceptical, the unpardonable hatred of those obsessed by the same dark powers which obsessed so many Nazis, the regrettable criticisms of the suspicious, and the unjust vilification of the envious. The attempt to introduce his ideas meets with hostility and opposition not only from the quarters of religious bigotry but also from those of scientific materialism. The hostile elements all select him as a target as soon as he takes up the unthankful task of lifting any of the delicate veils of Isis in an age when, in certain countries, the brute and the boor actually sit enthroned among them. He will have to suffer both from hard materialists and from fanatical mystics, who are either incompetent to understand the integrity of his motivation or instrumental for that adverse element in Nature which is the secret source of hostility towards such pioneer pathfinders. Ambitious preachers and teachers prompted plainly by envy and charlatanic cult-leaders attack the thinker himself even though they accept or use many of his ideas.
When anyone is incapable of fair and proper criticism of a man's ideas but capable only of vitriolic abuse of the man himself, there is usually some soundness in those ideas. Doctrinal opposition, which may always be proper and honourable, is one thing; but personal enmity, which is always improper and dishonourable, is another. It will be his special lot in life to attract critics who eagerly combine both.
But whether or not vilification gives way one day to vindication is a matter of indifference, for he will have lived in the present body long enough to have learned to look elsewhere for his own happiness. That a sincere effort to put forward ideas which are helpful in life's truth-quest should arouse so much personal antagonism is as amazing to those who do not comprehend the psychological factors involved as, with the ever-present vision before his eyes of the ever-approaching terminus of this little game called earthly life, it is amusing to him.
It is the spiteful business of those who have sought the soul but failed through their own weaknesses to find it, to speak evil, to spread slander, and to invent falsehoods about the man who does succeed in this enterprise. It is the noble business of this man to remain unmoved by their attacks, to refrain in silence from answering them, and to forgive their misdeeds in patience. These human spiritual failures strew the path's hinterland like wreckage. They persist blindly and obstinately in their acceptance of evil suggestion and are not to be confounded with those finer aspirants who fall, repent, and raise themselves again. A single reply to all their worthless criticism would be best taken from an Arab poet:
These are our works which prove what we have done,
Look therefore at our works when we have gone.
He has created something which has helped mankind. His critics have not. They have simply tried to tear it down. Having done nothing of worth themselves, they seek with their foul criticisms to destroy the work he has done; having given free reign to the dark, destructive, and negative qualities of their own characters, they assail his amid the safety of their private rooms. The help which, in sheer kindness of heart, he gives out is forgotten; the hatred which, in sheer envy, they carefully cultivate is remembered. He is paradoxically punished for the good that he has done to persons of evil character and mean mind. "It was when I began to love God that I got disfavour of men," sadly wrote the dying Hans Denck, the sixteenth-century German who was hunted from city to city because of his mystical preachings--which were eminently sane and truly Christian, but which menaced the vested interests of institutionalized religion. "I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile," lamented the noble-charactered teacher Hildebrand. Each word, each hostile act, will become for them in later years a flail to beat their own shoulders. Such is the law. The harm done against anyone always reacts upon the wrong-doers eventually, but the harm done against a man who lives with head bent before the higher powers reacts more vigorously against the wrong-doer, for then they trouble not the man but the power which seeks to use him. These things happen with unfailing and clocklike regularity. But the backbiting, the thoughtless gossip, the envy and malice which prompts people to say untrue things about such a man cannot alter what he is. While they are busy concocting fresh treacheries, he will turn indifferently away from them and their world to find the divine peace which awaits everyone who has begun to commune with the higher powers. He is content to leave them to enjoy the fruits of the karma which they make. He is utterly helpless and cannot even raise his little finger in self-defense. He knows that even his enemy is not different in essence from his own inner being. Hence he has and can have nothing but goodwill towards each enemy; but the Law itself is not so kindly and will demand a hundredfold higher payment for every falsehood and every malicious word uttered against him. He has conscious knowledge of the forces that are working for him, of what they have done in the past, and of what they will do at the ripened hour.
He may not desert the broad work of human enlightenment which devolves upon him. That work has to be done and neither the malice of satanic human instruments nor the misunderstanding of the superficial and ignorant should deter him from carrying it out. He takes the advice of a wise old Tamil book of proverbs, the Kural, which says: "Patience is the first of virtues. It enables us to bear with those that revile us, even as the earth bears with those that dig it." So he sheds his shyness, continues his work, and offers malevolent enmity the silent indifference of one who knows in what sublime cause he is striving. He makes it a rule not to answer calumny, partly because he knows its true source lies in the promptings of evil entities who will continue their unseen activities whatever he says, and partly because God is his judge and he accepts no other. If enemies spit verbal venom openly at him or secretly behind him or in public print, he does not let it excite him or create bitterness against them. He remains serene and extends his goodwill to them, then comprehends that they cannot act otherwise, being what they are, and finally drops them out of his mind altogether. It is their business to plunge the daggers of malice and the stilettos of vilification into his side. It is his business immediately to assuage the pain by holding to the serenity of the Overself and to stop the bleeding by using philosophic insight.
If those books, despite all their admitted immaturity and error, rendered a modest service to mankind, then the intellect which produced them cannot be entirely unspiritual. The condemnation of the author by religio-mystical critics is therefore somewhat too sweeping.
Most critics and many readers have complained about what they called "the fault of wearisome repetition" in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself. I am well aware that the modern mind dislikes it and prefers terseness, but this is one instance where I consider the ancient Oriental mind was a little wiser. Whether or not this is a fault depends upon the circumstances under which the repetition occurs. The recorded conversations and addresses of Buddha are chock-full of repetitions, for example. The Yoga Vasistha repeats scores of times most of its leading ideas. Why then did the ancient Orientals use this device--for so it really is? The answer may be partly given by one of them in his own words: "Repetition either of thought or language is no fault in this study. Repetition serves to bring out and give us mental practice in the great truths." These words were written by Suresvara, the personal and chief disciple of the illustrious Shankaracharya. The second part of the answer is that the more important tenets of higher philosophy are intellectually extremely subtle, so subtle as not to be apparent at first contact with them, and extremely difficult to realize. The repeated contact with them, however, acts as a kind of indirect meditation and removes their unfamiliarity, renders them understandable, and causes them little by little to sink into the emotional consciousness. Alas! my scattered warnings in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga did not prevent certain misconceptions from being quickly born. They arose out of the want of completeness in the part which was first made available. The separate publication of the two parts with some interval of time between them made it advisable to omit treatment of the most advanced elements in this teaching: they were based upon the mentalistic doctrine to which I had first to lead readers by dealing only with the more elementary topics. But in refusing to pluck the fruit of this teaching prematurely and in setting aside as not being ready for consideration such subjects as the genuine intuition, the higher or ultramystic experience, the nature of Deity, and the mystery of the Overself, I apparently laid myself open to the misconception that I now regard them as unimportant or unphilosophical. Consequently, some who had formerly complimented me now rained criticisms down upon my head--and wasted their time in asserting what I have never denied!
That such incompleteness inconvenienced several classes of readers must now be admitted. The proper place for The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga is alongside The Wisdom of the Overself, and in the supplementary appendix to that book I pleaded guilty of premature publication. I deeply regret the impatience and irritation which this act caused many readers, although it was done at the importunity of not a few readers themselves. An endeavour to anticipate and appease critics was made by writing an appendix to the book and distributing it in the form of a supplementary booklet, to be incorporated later at the end of any further editions that might be called for. This certainly helped a little to put right the principal misinterpretations, but it could not in so short a space either do so adequately enough or cover the less important ones which had to be omitted. No! The only way to mollify those who--making a quick judgement on what was after all only a preliminary work--wrongly thought that I had openly deserted mysticism and yoga, was to set down the actual teachings which supplement them and thus controvert these misconceptions. So, although I had formerly hoped to leave the task until after the war, I immediately took up work on the second span of this two-arched bridge and pushed ahead with it as quickly as possible under the unsettled circumstances which then prevailed.
The Wisdom of the Overself is the fruit of that labour, and those who have the patience to read it to the end will discover their reward in the doing of it.
Corrections, revisions, development
I am not the first writer who found his opinions changing, nor shall I be the last. Why must we be bound to an iron consistency when to be human is to be subject to change--outward and inward, experiential and mental, circumstantial and emotional? But what actually happened is rather that I shifted my standpoint a little higher. The resulting changes were merely the resulting larger horizon and better perspective. If I had written these same books later, I would have written them differently. But the difference in content would not have been so much one of inconsistency as of enlargement. The difference in style would perhaps have been greater. There would have been a loss of vehemence and impressionability in the descriptive travel works, but a gain in discrimination and knowledge. There would have been a loss of iconoclasm and superficiality in the philosophic expository works, but a gain of balance and depth and carefulness.
Although I could not help seeing how a higher power protected me against some of the results of my own mistakes and egoisms, it could not protect me against all of them.
Yes, my work is of pathetically unequal value. Some parts of it were written under the authentic guidance of the Overself and will consequently carry oasis-water to desert travellers. But alas! it is also true that other parts of it were written under the baneful illusions of the underself and may consequently bring them what is worse than nothing. The remembrance of this half-failure is one of the crosses I am doomed to carry until I can lay it down with my body in the ever receptive earth. It has brought me enduring humiliation and taught me a caution which makes me shrink from printing anything again. Humbled by the discovery of these errors, I did not take up the pen again for several years. Nevertheless, those who derived much help from the truths in which the errors were inlaid pressed and pressed me to do so. I had at last to put aside my reluctance, I had to yield and consent to write for them. However, if I made mistakes then there is the consolation that most pioneers inevitably make them. If I abandoned previously held positions, then there is the comfort that all search for truth is dynamic, not static. After all, so many years spent in teaching so many people such greater truths of life cannot be wasted ones. On the contrary, they are worthwhile and fruitful.
Saint Francis of Assisi felt that he was a great sinner, yet he did not allow that feeling to impede or prevent his work for the spiritual service of his fellows. Francis Le Sales, who ranked high among the French mystics, remarked that it was precisely because the mystics felt they were so human and so simple that they turned towards the devotional life and tried the ascetic existence.
It is absurd to demand that what a man thought yesterday he shall continue to think tomorrow. Even stones, if given sufficient time, will crumble and alter: how much more ideas also? Those who find a discrepancy between my earlier writings and my later ones should, if they have enough sense, find it to be an evidence not of insincerity but of sincerity, a testimony to my own published declaration that those books represent an evolutionary movement towards truth and that they are the product of life not of its paralysis. For if riper thinking, wider and deeper experience, maturer balance, combine to bring a man to modify his former views, to revise his earlier estimates, and to correct his self-confessed mistakes, surely he has done what is laudable and not what is reprehensible? He who persists in an error, only because he is ashamed to acknowledge that he can ever be wrong, is to be blamed--not he who prefers to uphold truth rather than uphold his own vanity.
The paradoxes of my versatile profession have made me unite in a single personality something of the scholar and the explorer, the saint and the sinner, the reporter and the artist, without in fact being any one of these. The result has been that those readers who have been attracted by one particular aspect of my work are frequently confused when confronted by other elements for which they are unprepared, and sometimes in which they are uninterested. For instance, those who like to let their imagination accompany me upon the occult and psychic adventures which I narrated in A Search in Secret Egypt will probably show no great eagerness to pass through the door which is now open before them in these pages. The truth is that that former work appealed to those whom our conventional academic educationalists are likely to dismiss somewhat scornfully as the "under-brained," whilst this new book can only by its very nature appeal to those whom our conventional academic ministers of religion may dismiss as the "over-brained." This cannot be helped. If I have found that the carpet of life is not adorned with a mere medley of colours, but with a definite understandable pattern, it may be that others who are willing to make a similar investigation will discover the same kind of pattern.
If I look back to the man I was half a century ago, he seems naïve, narrow, immature, largely ignorant of the world, life, and himself. Not only have these deficiencies been made up since, but what is more I am at peace in myself. There is no need to search.
It need not be a surprise that, with the passage of one or two decades, I have shifted both emphases and proportions. But the fundamental bases remain: they were not abandoned, as some wrongly thought.
At no time did I choose the philosophic life: it chose me. If I follow mystical practices, it is because they seem a natural and necessary part of my being.
I have written on different topics as they occurred to me, but none so different as not to be connected with the quest in some way.
I have to bear the responsibility for words which, written in the half-light of thirty-five years ago, I would not write in the clearer light of today.
All the volumes that I have previously written belong to the formative stage. Only now, after thirty years of unceasing travail and fearless exploration, have I attained a satisfying fullness in my comprehension of this abstruse subject, a clear perspective of all its tangled ramifications, and a joyous new revelation from a higher source hitherto known only obscurely and distantly. All my further writings will bear the impress of this change and will show by their character how imperfect are my earlier ones. Nevertheless, on certain principal matters, what I then wrote has all along remained and still remains my settled view and indeed has been thoroughly confirmed by time. Such, for instance, are (1) the soul's real existence, (2) the necessity for and the great benefits arising from meditation, (3) the supreme value of the spiritual quest, and (4) the view that loyalty to mysticism need not entail disloyalty to reason.(P)
My earlier books were written too soon, too impulsively, and too immaturely. I ought to have waited several years. The time has come to put right the errors of past volumes.
It is a justifiable criticism of my earlier books that they make the Quest seem shorter and easier than it really is. They did that for obvious reasons yet I would not defend those reasons now.
There is too much prominence in my books for the benefits of meditation, too little for the possible dangers.
With the years I have become more careful about what I write, more aware of how small is the fragment of known truth.
One advanced mystic considers the quest of the Overself to be the most important and most exigent activity in which anyone can engage, and if he can help anyone he is happy to do so. Having made many mistakes in the past, burnt his fingers, and stubbed his toes several times, at least he can point out errors to be avoided, even if he can do nothing more.
When I wrote books about the extraordinary marvels I had seen in India and Egypt, people flocked to read them; now that I write books only about such ordinary things as mental quiet, inner stillness, truth, spiritual beauty, and the ruling of one's thoughts, few care to buy them. But I do not mind. I shall not sacrifice my art to pander to their curiosity.
Undignified and unfortunate though some of those prefatory pages were in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, they must be weighed against the very many more which rendered much service and gave great truths.
Like Saint Augustine, "I am not one of those people who try to defend everything they have written." Like him, some of my views have been modified in the course of my literary career. But there are certain views which have not changed by a hair's breath and which remain basic to all the others. I have not wandered far from my original thought and intuitive knowledge.
When at last I realized that my own experiences were important to no one but myself, and only the views distilled from them could have any value or interest for others, I resolved never again to write another of those personal prefatory chapters which mar several of my books.
The man who wrote that cycle of ten books is dead. The attitudes, the beliefs, and the standpoints out of which he wrote them have ceased to exist. None of these books has any relevance to his self, save as a milestone which has been passed and left behind.
Every writer who is worth his salt possesses at some time or another the ambition to create a single work, a magnum opus which shall be his literary testament to mankind. I, too, have possessed this ambition. The books which I have already written and published were really written to prepare the way and to introduce the present volume.
The psychical intensity of those years devoted to enthusiasm for meditation, the overconcentrative study of it, brought about a lack of perspective in my writings. It might have been better for myself and my public to have waited twenty years before submitting them to the printer's art; I do not know. But I do know that certain omissions--such as the moral and the devotional--make me dissatisfied with them. Something more is required of aspirants than the practice of meditation. If my books left the impression that it is enough to do only that, they have left a false impression. The time has now come to present my results as a better balanced and more coherent whole.
Whenever I grow introspective about my work, I perceive with regret its many deficiencies but with satisfaction its supreme service.
The rapidity with which I have worked my way upwards in this subtle world which I have chosen as my particular field of investigation, no less than the duty which I owed to the large flock of readers depending on my researches for their own guidance, renders the modification of earlier writings inescapable.
I have so minutely described the technique and practice of yoga that there is nothing more for me to write on that point. Consequently, no further books on the subject will issue from my pen.
The reflections which I gave out to the world were imperfect but they were nevertheless important. They have already changed the whole outlook of some readers and have widened the thinking of many more.
I overstressed certain points and thus disturbed the balance of the whole teaching. That is, I emphasized the intellectual and metaphysical aspects of this philosophy at the expense of the devotional and mystical aspects. That this was done partly because I had earlier emphasized the last two at the expense of the first two did not excuse the fault. A harmonious coordination is still lacking. Henceforth, I shall seek to provide it.
I have developed my previously held ideas and extended the results of my earlier researches. This has unfortunately led to unexpected modifications, to shifts of emphasis, and to revisions of values. These changes have led to a much broader outlook. People seem horrified when a man changes his views, but if it is sincerely done it is praiseworthy. That is what he is here on earth for--to change his views. They cannot be confined permanently in experience-proof and idea-tight compartments. With widening experience he should find his views widening, too. If he does not, then he is missing one of the purposes of incarnation. He is here to learn and he can not learn without modifying an old view. Each incarnation is a field of experience which he must plow, sow, and reap, not so much for immediate gains as for ultimate ones, not so much for material gains as for moral and mental ones.
There is a vast difference between growth based on the ripening of intellect and change based on the impulse of emotion. Those who do not perceive this difference accuse me of glaring personal inconsistency; those who do, know that is inevitable ideological development.
I am sometimes contradictory precisely because I am sometimes candid. I am not at all afraid if today's truth negates the maxim of yesterday. My purpose is not to present a case on behalf of any theory; it is rather to present a series of moods. If they hang together, all right; if not, they shall yet be published. I have never concerned myself to offer a thesis in the form of irrefutable syllogisms; there are plenty of clever men who can do that. I can but offer my erratic moods--do not expect more from an obscure scribbler like myself.
Re-reading these books after the lapse of several years, there is so much that I want to alter in them that they would have to be transformed into new creations in order to be in accord with my present views, impressions, knowledge, and feelings. And as my life is a continuous pressing forward to new discovery, I have neither the years nor the forces left to re-occupy myself with the outworn, old, and the faded past.
My advisors suggested that I should so construct my explanations of the revision of views as to save face and not openly contradict much of what I had previously published. But in my desperate sincerity and, as is now obvious, foolish indignation, unfortunately I did not heed them.
And yet, with all their errors and faults, which are now as deeply saddening to the blundering perpetrator as they must be deeply irritating to the perceptive reader, I have left enough sound stuff in my writings for posterity as to justify their creation. As for their continuation, that is a matter over which I exercise no legal control at all. Anyway my labours and sufferings have not been altogether in vain.
I have written many things in my earlier books which I now wish I had never written. Time has forced me to revise beliefs, impressions, estimates, and even principles. I was misled by others in some cases and went astray through my own defects in others. Again and again dark moods have come over me solely because of past mistakes. They have often caused me unhappy moments. Nevertheless, compensation creeps in now and then despite myself. For as a scientific friend at the University of Cambridge, who sees the white as well as black in them reminds me, the essence of these books is a true one, their general effect is a valuable one, and their contribution is a necessary one in these times. And, moreover, they are perhaps the most important contents, after all. If I have done nothing more than to affirm certain unalterable verities, such as the existence of man's divine soul, and to show a way to the discovery thereof, I have done something that has made many people happier and my writing has not been quite pointless. That is the credit which may balance my debits.
It is not the books which belong to my past that I have any esteem for or count important to humanity; it is the books which belong to my future. I feel intensely what Tolstoy felt in 1864: "I regard everything that I have published until today as no more than exercises."
Unfortunately I invested these men with a wisdom which I was to discover years later they did not possess; I assumed they had attained heights which I discovered later they had not climbed; I imagined their minds preoccupied with the service of humanity which I discovered later seldom existed.
The author of those earlier works is dead. He himself certainly, and perhaps many readers too, would not want to resuscitate him. The old P.B. had too many deficiencies, weaknesses, and faults for my liking. Time has turned and I with it. I have profited by past errors in dealing with individuals, but in any case larger issues will necessarily claim me henceforth.
The aim of carrying on to a new and better level the work begun so imperfectly by my earlier books is now close to my heart.
My present teachings seem to me to be on a higher level than my earlier ones.
I am not the first mystic who blundered in his quest nor shall I be the last. The very subtlety of its nature, the sad difficulty of getting expert guidance upon it, and the tests snares pitfalls and temptations that stage it, render this a common event. "I made many mistakes," confessed Madame Guyon, and perhaps it was out of these failures that she found her way to final success. In my own case the perils were greater than in most others, simply because I searched so widely and helped so many others so indiscriminately that I exposed myself to the attack of adverse forces almost incessantly. That I survived all this, that I did not lose bodily life or become a bodily wreck, that I have emerged mentally, morally, spiritually, and philosophically stronger out of all these trials was only to be attributed to the saving grace of my Guardian Angel and to nothing else. I have experienced the black depths of occult enmity and endured the harsh menaces of occult hatred. I do not refer here to their pitiful but feeble, their treacherous and vicious human echoes on our plane. They have only my silent contempt. If my nerves are today unshattered, it is because the power that has used my pen has also intervened at the last moment again and again to save my body and mind. All this need not frighten other aspirants on this quest, however, for most of them have not to play the pioneer role that I had to play and are therefore exempt from its special risks.
How much time I wasted in exploring a medley of foolish cults and a diversity of fantastic beliefs! But I did this so as to ensure intellectual integrity and emotional tolerance against any suspicion of partisanship or negligence in the search after truth. Truths do not stop being true because they are introduced into false systems. The contact is certainly unnatural. Nevertheless, it cannot alter their character or deprive them of their value. We may accept a part of these systems without having to accept all of them. We must disentangle what is worth such acceptance from what is not. Most of those which I investigated had more or less good in them but there was enough of the bad, the unsound, or the unworthy to render it undesirable to stay long with any of them.
He who sees inconsistencies in my work sees and reads it superficially.
But these errors, after all, make up not even a tenth part of my writings.
What is worthy in my work will bear consequences and be durable; the errors will be overcome by truth and time, and pass away. This is a result which I myself wish for it.
Am I a heretic to venture such criticisms? But even an ant possesses the right to its own judgement.
I do not denounce what I have taught in the past. Let this be perfectly clear. I do not reject the meditation methods which I have devised and given out in earlier books.
Those who expect me to go on repeatedly expounding the same teachings as though I were a gramophone have failed to understand me.
Whoever finds that further investigation puts at variance his earlier theories, and has the courage to expose the fallacies which led to them, is on the right road to truth. When misplaced fidelity to a wrong concept is praised in the name of honourable consistency, it bars the road to truth. A man who fears fundamentally to revise earlier conclusions, because he fears that his reputation for reliability will be damaged, may save his reputation but will forfeit more than he saves. Therefore, let us not pretend to be surprised when further effort is crowned with truer comprehension.
I am not responsible for the writings of the younger Brunton!
There are those who would accuse us of the crime of inconsistency. We plead guilty. Yet, though we have much to explain to them, we have little to retract and certainly nothing to repent. The search after truth is not a static thing. It drives the soul first here and then there, assaying and testing all the time, and if we pick up a nugget of genuine gold every now and then in the course of our quest, we may be forgiven for the jubilant whoop that accompanies each discovery.
Although those books were written at the bidding of a higher will than the merely personal, unfortunately I carried out that bidding in an imperfect and incomplete manner. In some cases this was because of the tremendously time-pressed circumstances under which they were composed, but in others because I myself was not then competent to do any better. Consequently, they appear as adolescent and immature efforts to my present-day sight. What is worse, however, is that their pages preserve what I now know to be traditional superstitions, factual errors and exaggerated estimates, wrongly placed emphases and disproportionate treatment. It might be said in a sense that their own defects usefully illustrate the general defectiveness of the mystical standpoint, which is, of course, the one from which they were written. These faults are indeed regrettable from the reader's standpoint besides being a source of personal chagrin from the writer's. Nevertheless, they must not be allowed to hide merits. The books are not useless for they still hold more of truth than of error, more of help than of hindrance, more of particularly worthwhile interest to our own generation than not.
Let me confess frankly that my books contain a number of errors, some unbalanced emphasis, and premature therefore inaccurate conclusions. For they were written at a time when I was very much on the move, both mentally and bodily. Virgil was so ashamed of its imperfections that he hoped his Aeneid would be burned. I, too, have suffered and continue to suffer still the same excruciating remorse as he. To the certain horror of my publishers (who own the copyrights), but to the certain satisfaction of my conscience, let me say that I would like them all suddenly to, in Shakespeare's phrase, "dissolve and leave not a wrack behind." But alas! there is nothing to be done in the matter now, for I can find neither the time nor energy nor interest to go over the same old ground again and rewrite them as they should have been written. The task of translating the subtlest truths and most metaphysical tenets accessible to mankind into understandable contemporary language is such a tremendous one that only a sage could have carried it out without fault and without error. Consequently, I warned readers in the prefatory chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself to expect mistakes when I warned them that I was only "a blundering student." The best that can be done is to resolve on the one hand that all future productions of my pen shall be as faultless in matter, as free from these particular defects, as they can be made, and on the other, to publish a little journal wherein readers of those older books can have their misconceptions continually pointed out and corrected.
I may have to unsay a few passages here and there and to retract a few statements which seemed factual descriptions at the time, but which were really interpretational, and perhaps expunge a few credulities; nevertheless, these earlier books are, taken generally, sound enough as guides for those who are still passing through the yogic-mystic stage of this quest.
The reflections and impressions which follow emerge out of maturer experience than those earlier and now so distant books. One learned through the years to glorify men less, but also learned to criticize them less. The insight into what is behind them, that which psychiatrists and psychoanalysts call the subconscious and unconscious mind, has penetrated deeper and magnified tolerance.
I know better than the reader the shortcomings of those books written alas! so long ago, and I do not refer to the technical blemishes, the language ones only, but also to the immaturities of knowledge.
In those early days of his quest, when he was groping like a half-blind man, some things were grossly exaggerated by his ignorance while other things were ludicrously minimized.
I have to confess that I have made my quota of errors in the past. No doubt many other human beings could make the same confession. But I do not accept such excuses from myself. My grief over the mistakes is very real. For they not only involve myself but also those who have been influenced by me.
The contradictory nature of these teachings and their visible results in action created new questions and finally turned my investigation into broader channels.
The experiences, the situations, the events which had formerly shaken his emotions and shattered his peace were now reduced to tiny proportions, leaving him unmoved and unaffected in any way. Such was the work of time. They were now like dreams, mere memories, mental pictures inspected from afar.
Philosophy itself is the unchanging verity of life but my understanding and interpretation of it, like that of most students, are neither infallible nor final. Hence my blunders. Hence the shortcomings and imperfections of my books. If I were anything more than mere student, if I were a master, these errors and defects would not have been able to insinuate themselves into my writing. But unfortunately I am not. Would it not have been better then to have remained silent, some will ask? I thought so myself for many years and, although a whole series of occult and spiritual experiences happened during my adolescence, I waited for a decade and a half before venturing to write my first book of a mystical character. Even then, I broke this silence at a bidding which was not my own and which I accepted as higher then my own. Even now, despite the poignant perception of all their faults and mistakes, I feel that my books contain much that was worth recording and was indeed too important not to record. It was enough to redeem them. Nevertheless, those faults and mistakes are there, so I thought it better to fall silent again for a while and see whether I could not do better next time.
Now comes the crux of the whole matter. So far as I can follow the teachings of the ancient sages, the path which stretches before mankind appears to have four gates set at intervals along its course. The first is open to the great majority of mankind and might be named "religion, theology, and scholasticism." The second is open to a much smaller number of persons and could conveniently be named Mysticism. The third which is rarely opened (for it is heavy and hard to move) is "the philosophy of truth," whilst the final gate has been entered only by the supermen of our species; it may be titled "Realization." Few readers would care to wander with me into the wilderness whither it leads. I refuse to tarry in the limited phases of development and have gone forward in further quest of the sublime verity which is presented to us as life's goal by the sages. I value tolerance. Let others believe or follow what suits or pleases them most; I trust they will allow me the same freedom to continue my own quest.(P)
A warning shared
If my work is to represent philosophy in practice, my critical treatment of certain subjects must be constructive, dignified, and restrained.
I have read from preface to end-page the wretched book of maya, and I know only too well what I am writing about when I indict it. If I refuse to dip my pen in the rose -water of our sentimental novelists, I have good reason.
With the end of the war, the personal karma which kept me tied for some years to the Orient's own karma, also came to an end. My limbs were liberated for wider travel once again and my energies set free for more constructive work. For many years I had foreseen that a gigantic war had first to enable mankind to put to the test all the existing theories and practices not only of a materialist character but also of a religious and mystical character. My own drift away from a self-centered and unscientific mysticism had been proceeding fitfully for some years, in consequence of reflection upon its theory and observation of its practice. With the war, however, all this came to a climax, for both the attitude of mystics towards that cataclysmic event and a series of explosive personal experiences in India, the largest stronghold of such a doctrine today, brought me to a parting of the ways.
Is there any justification for the conviction, which is held by quite a number of people, that a large section of humanity, aroused by the devastating agony of the war, wise with the tragic lessons of the terrible crises which foreshadowed and followed it, can at last come to accept a more spiritual world view? The vivid horrors of this decade, the terrible ordeal through which so many millions have passed, and the tremendous changes of environment, custom, and social contact would seem to have made a more spiritual outlook not only necessary but almost inevitable. The sufferings and upheavals of nations and individuals have brought about changes, re-alignments, and movements in the attitudes and consciousness of so many people that this is certain to result in a widespread demand for philosophic teaching and mystical inspiration. The prospects of a spiritual movement are brighter today than even a few years ago. The educated classes who led the trek towards materialism last century are indeed the very people who are now leading the trek away from it.
The beginning of the postwar period has consequently a peculiar importance. The mistakes of the years which immediately followed the First World War planted the seeds which grew not only into the miseries of the two subsequent decades but also into the struggles of the Second World War. The wisdom or foolishness which shape the next few years will likewise decide the characteristics of the experience which our own generation will enjoy or endure. For the early postwar period of dissolution, confusion, ferment, and search provides the proper atmosphere for such a venture as the "Quest." It is at such a time that a special effort is demanded of those who know a little about the laws of life to teach bewildered minds the true perspective of life to those who know even less. We can thus release constructive forces when they are most needed and, therefore, likely to be most appreciated.
Let nobody make the mistake of believing that I write such critical statements in a mood of bitter recrimination. That would be a great error, a complete misunderstanding of my attitude. The malicious tone and vicious temper of the partisan find no echo in my heart.
Preach the gospel--that is, good news--to a world which dreads that all-too-soon it may become joyless.
The world has fallen into the pit of pessimism. So, I shall write a new Jeremiah for it, though I hope the final notes will be higher and happier than one expects.
Is all our writing but a coloured veil thrown over the gaunt grey face of life? Those who can only see its hard, unsmiling features declare it to be so. They find its eyes bitter wells of tears wherein heavy shadows brood. Was it for this that they flung away so recklessly the breath that returned again and again to their bodies? If they were right, then indeed we are but decorators who paint an orange sun in a darkened room.
We are compelled to wither the preachers of a mad materialism with scathing scorn. Gentle words fall off their ears like water off a duck's back.
We must not stint our condemnation of such things as merit it. Yet it is not necessary to descend into the sewer of vulgarity in order to do this.
I will not attempt to write a learned treatise on the history of Mysticism, and so on; I must leave that for those who like to live in the past. The present and future are too ominous for me not to answer their irresistible call.
Why should we write of life in a mournful manner? Why should we take this temporary shadow-show of things, and treat it tragically?
I have jabbed my pen viciously into none; where I have covered effete and unworthy institutions with caustic comment, this has been done merely as a slight assistance to the natural process of dying which is already in full operation.
For the clairvoyant few to predict approaching disasters was to predict in vain. Wealth and Poverty hurried alike into the vortex of transient superficial pleasures; millionaire and mob gaily lived for the moment, reminiscent of that eighteenth-century person who flung the flippant remark "Après moi le deluge!" at the approaching French Revolution. Once we set to work several years before the war intending to write a small book to show the world quite ruthlessly its own subconscious, to lay bare the laws of destiny under which it was inevitably moving towards the edge of a precipice, and to pass on a message from a higher source which was at once a piece of practical advice and a tocsin of stern warning. But after the penning of the first few paragraphs, a dismal feeling of futility crept into the writer's heart, stole up to his brain in the form of clearcut deeply pessimistic thoughts, and finally passed down the appropriate nerves and muscles into the right arm and hand, which became stiff and paralytic. The task brought such a sense of vain labour, of a rolling upward of the fabled stone of Sisyphus, that the pen unresistingly fell from his fingers. He visualized the dread horror which lay in ambush for mankind if they did not turn back to insert some ethical ideals and spiritual wisdom into their social arrangements, but he visualized also the hopeless situation into which their own thoughts and deeds had forced them. For their chaos was such that they could neither draw back nor go forward nor stand still. He saw clearly that the many who needed the accompanying knowledge were too entangled in the net which their karma had woven around themselves to find any immediate profit in his words. Why then continue to waste valued time and spoil virginal paper? Why should he torment himself and others by writing such a book of bitter prophecy? The practical result could be but--nil! He put the book aside and busied himself with other matters, with philosophic researches into ultimate truths which brought him to sup with the Gods.
To put these dark forebodings between the covers of a book might help only a few readers but would thread despondency into the minds of all readers. At first this decided the question for me and I turned away from its further consideration. But six months later it suddenly intruded itself again and with it the idea that even despondency has a useful role to play in the evolution of human character and that I was merely being soft where I believed I was being compassionate. If ignorance and self-deception had contributed to creating this dark future for my fellows, not the perpetuation of these errors but their disintegration would contribute to the true welfare of my fellows. And if despondency forced reflection and this in turn exposed error, it ought to be welcomed, not evaded. Yes, it would not be wrong to persuade my reluctant pen to visit eager paper and work for humanity's best interest. For we need these great truths to steady our hearts in an unsteady and unsure time. We need to be reminded that beneath its menace and its doom, there still are eternal life, eternal peace, and eternal hope for us. We need to remember that the evil always passes, the Good alone endures. Yes, no one can really be hurt by the retelling of these truths, and someone will surely be helped by it.
Such a message, diagnosing the hidden sickness of our times and indicating the correct therapy, is too valuable, too important, to be held back because of doubts about its reception, doubts caused by its loftiness. Some part of it may still be accepted even if more of it may not.
Since the time between now and Armageddon is so short, we ought to hold nothing back but give people the chance to obtain full Truth.
The last war marked a turning point in mankind's history. Out of its pain and horror something better both materially and spiritually is going to be born, and it is our task to help this coming age as pioneers who can see a little farther ahead than others.
The Wisdom of the Overself was a most difficult book to write and must be equally difficult to read. To start one's studies with it is like starting on advanced theorems in mathematics before having mastered the simplest ones. It is better to start first with The Secret Path, go on to The Quest of the Overself, and then to read Discover Yourself. (It may be in some instances that the best book to read first is Discover Yourself.) However, there are statements in these three books which the author would now withdraw or modify.
A Search in Secret India and The Spiritual Crisis of Man were the only books written at a leisurely pace. All the others were thrown together at a somewhat fast speed, owing to the pressure and travel that accompanied the period of their composition.
Alas! The Secret Path was somewhat too encouraging to its readers. The Path asks more from its treaders than those pages seem to indicate.
In A Search in Secret India, I described the case of a hatha yogi whose heart appeared to stop at will. Several years later a French physician travelled to India, bringing with him certain scientific instruments with which to investigate yogic powers. Another yogi known to me was examined by the doctor and the electric cardiograph was applied to the yogi's heart after it had apparently ceased to function. The result on the instrument showed that the heartbeat was extremely slow, but quite perceptible beating still continued. Thus, the evidence of unaided sight and touch on the part of the observer was actually refuted by the accurate findings of a delicate instrument.
What the book contains is of unequal value, and parts of it are mere journalese intended to attract readers to the more serious portions. It would be a mistake for anyone to attach to any chapter, such as the one dealing with Mahmoud Bey, an importance which does not really belong to it. In his case, I merely reported what happened and gave his own explanation of it, neither defending nor denying this explanation. I strongly disapprove of Mahmoud Bey's using my name to advertise himself. Is there any quite tactful step to put a stop to his exploitation of my name and book? I should have written about him in the same way in which I wrote about Meher Baba, as a warning against credulity. He is a clever charlatan.
In Discover Yourself, I have used the words of Jesus as mere pegs on which to hang my own teaching. This follows the example of the ancient religion makers. It has thus helped thousands of Christians, who might otherwise not have been reached by my words, to a higher concept of Truth. Therefore, it does not really matter whether Jesus was a full philosopher or only a simple mystic.
The basic reason why I must revise A Message from Arunachala is that it has so much negative thought.
It is not correct to regard The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga as the continuation of The Quest of the Overself. It continues only the metaphysical part of that book. The mystical part is to some extent continued in The Wisdom of the Overself. The religious devotional and moral re-educatory parts have not yet been written about in any of my books, nor have I described the various stages and experiences of the aspirant on the Quest.
It was expected that The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga would give its readers a few headaches at least, since it gave its writer many more than a few! Mystical trance is not everyone's line of progress and it is not an essential stage through which every aspirant has to pass but only one through which the majority usually do pass. Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita: "By whatsoever path a man cometh unto me, O Arjuna, by that path also shall I receive him." A religious faith which is deeply felt and absolutely sincere, which affects the practical life and exalts character, is just as good as, if not superior to, the ecstasies and trances of many mystics. The sense in which the term religion was used in this book was the conventional half-faith reserved only for Sundays and kept in a watertight compartment from daily practice and ethical character, which passes so widely for religious life. But the subject of religion and God has been dealt with at length in The Wisdom of the Overself. Readers may find therein helpful and interesting explanations.
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga gave the impression that the spiritual had been set aside and a mental plane adopted; but, as the opening chapters explained, this was done deliberately in order to interest a large body of intellectual people in the West who did not accept mysticism but who might be led gradually into it if the approach were made through the reasoning faculty and they were thus convinced. This book started from their standpoint and the second volume tried to lead them right into the spiritual camp. It is not enough merely to preach to the converted. The simple spiritual teaching will help a certain number of people and no more. Owing to the advance of science there are lots of people with intellectually tangled minds who also need help.
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga has stated the reasons for this "Beyond." That Reality lies close to the terminus of yoga practice is granted; that the wall between them is very thin is also granted. But the wall is also diamond-hard: it can be penetrated only by those who have been instructed in the nature of Reality or, more easily, in what it is not; who can discriminate between it and appearances which seem like it. (Grace plays its part but it is beside the point to raise this question here.) Those without such knowledge are handicapped. For instance, the Sufi mystic who repeats the mantric phrase "Allahu Akbar"--"God is most great"--dozens of times has had the work of gathering in his thoughts made easier; they are repulsed with each repetition, and thus concentration is eventually achieved. The Indian yogi follows the same process and gets the same result with his mantram, "Jai Ram, jai jai Ram"- -"Victory to the Lord"--repeated 108 times. (Beads may be pushed along a string for counting purposes.) Both Sufi and yogi may pass into ecstasy. But is this Reality or is it self-hypnotism?
The quotation in the last chapter of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga about General Simha and war was taken from Paul Carus' book, Gospel of Buddha, Chapter 51, paragraph 17. Since then I have ascertained that it does not appear in any known Pali text and must consequently be an interpolation by Carus himself.
It is significant that two contemporary Indians have included in their teachings the very same critique of meditation which was made in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga: I refer to Krishnamurti and Atmananda.
The criticisms of mystics in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga were deliberately overstressed in order to give them a shock and wake them up. They are wedded to the forms of experience, such as mystical visions, to the duality of existence, such as spirit and matter, to the personal self, which makes them desire and gloat over meditational ecstasies. They do not see that these represent an intermediate stage towards the Real but are not the Real. This does not mean that mysticism is to be given up; on the contrary it is essential, but its limitations must be understood.
Did I overpraise action in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga? The answer is given by Emerson: "Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it he is not yet man."
Because in the second chapter of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga I mentioned three ancient texts--Bhagavad Gita, Ashtavakra Samhita and Gaudapada's Mandukya Karika--it was supposed that my exposition of the hidden philosophy was entirely drawn from them alone. A wholly exaggerated importance was thus given them by several readers. Indeed, in the case of the third title, the teaching there given is as much opposed to my own on some points as it is in agreement on others. These three titles were mentioned only in passing just to show how I was introduced to the literature of the hidden philosophy, to illustrate a single phase out of several in my mental development, and for no other purpose. They represented only a beginning of my delving into those mysterious ancient texts which were written with sharp style-point on palm leaves now time-browned. From this first start, I went on to explore a wide range until I discovered and studiously plodded through, either alone or with learned pundits, a hundred others which were equally or more important--some, like the Yoga Vasistha Maharamayana (a huge work of several thousand pages), were lying half neglected because of their forbidding bulk, whereas others like the little Ratnavali were no longer extant in modern India but had become treasured classics in cold Tibet. The bulk of my exposition consists of important material that is not mentioned by these three books. My knowledge has been derived from several other Asiatic sources besides the Indian ones. Secondly, because I prominently mentioned my interest in the palm-leaf philosophical texts, it was wrongly believed that the entire teaching presented here is only a theoretical elaboration of such musty old writings. The texts were named in the reference partly for the benefit of Indian readers, who form a noticeable proportion of my audience, and partly for the benefit of those who like to lean upon the authority of antiquity.
Another reason why I introduced these three titles into the prefatory chapter was that they were also symbolic and representative of major tenets of our philosophy. Thus, the Bhagavad Gita stood for inspired action, Guadapada's commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad for Mentalism, and Ashtavakra's Song for the concentration on Pure Thought.
A related misconception, which must now be cleared up, prevails chiefly among Indian readers. It arises out of the statement in the final paragraph of the final page of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, wherein it is asserted that every tenet of my exposition found its parallel somewhere in the old Sanksrit writings and could therefore be fitly declared Indian in origin. Here again I must remind readers of the aforementioned fact that I have refused to expound these tenets in the archaic fashion with its terse undetailed dogmatic and dry form, but have entirely reshaped them with the help of modern Western thought, adding numerous details lacking in the old texts. This reworking and renovation of the old tenets naturally tends to make them somewhat unrecognizable by Indians accustomed only to the somewhat dreary and highly condensed material in their own texts. To Hindus who criticize The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga as being unauthentic, I reply that the last chapter of Aitareya Upanishad plainly says that everything that is, is Mind. But the point I wish to explain here is that I soon ascertained the undoubted historical fact that several of the most important texts of the hidden teaching had been lost to India since at least seven hundred years ago. This was because they were the work of Buddhist sages, and they disappeared in the general stamping-out of everything Buddhist from India--a persecution practised partly by the Brahmin priests fearful for their own selfish power and financial profit and partly by the Muhammedan invaders antipathetic to what they wrongly regarded as atheism. It must here be pointed out what is not realized by most Indians today, that Buddhism and Brahminism dwelt as sister religions for several hundred years after Buddha appeared, their esoteric doctrines merely complementing each other, and their esoteric teachers friendly to each other. The philosophers of one faith showed no hostility to the philosophers of the other. It was--and ever shall be--only among the unphilosophical priests and uninitiated mystics and their followers, the masses, that mutual antagonism later reared its ugly head.
Unfortunately, in their craze for eliminating everything that seemed of Buddhist origin these persecutors--both Brahmin and Moslem--even eliminated many of their own pre-Buddhist texts because they seemed to teach similar "atheistical" doctrines. The present-day consequences of these destructive activities is that it is now so difficult to ascertain what precisely was the complete hidden teaching (as opposed to the mere fragments which are available) that whoever attempts the task alone and unaided will soon lose himself in a labyrinth of puzzling contradictions and tantalizing obscurities. The only way whereby the numerous tenets into which the general teaching ramifies can be collected in all their completeness is to enlarge one's research beyond the frontier of India itself. For thousands of Buddhist monks and scholars fled from the bitter persecutions and cruel massacres to the remote mountains of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and the interior of the Himalaya range, taking such of their texts with them as they could carry. In addition to them, there had been earlier propagandist journeys of Indian sages and philosophers to other parts of Asia, such as Tibet, China, and Cambodia, as well as the vast territory now called Sinkiang, and these ambassadors had already introduced and translated several important texts.
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga was disruptive to the unripe mystic's self-centered emotions. With the coming of the Second World War, the time had come for mysticism to arouse itself and make a worthwhile contribution to the betterment of mankind. However, these disrupted emotions were somewhat soothed by the material in The Wisdom of the Overself, which is part of the higher revelation needed by our age. The first volume represented an attempt to engage the interest of the intellectual and sceptical class who with the second volume were led right into the mystical camp. The two volumes were designed to lead their readers onward towards an understanding through reason of truths which have usually been felt through intuition or experienced through trance. In this way, they could be of service in a wider field.
The Wisdom of the Overself took up again the heavy task which was left unfinished in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, whose pages carried its reader into the strange difficult territory of mentalism and left him there as in a flinty wilderness, for the promised land of the sublime Overself still lay too far off to be discerned with the naked eye. Now, if he wished, it became possible for him to resume the mental journey and even carry it through to completion. The trail which others had cut for him would give right direction--no small gain in an enterprise which is indeed the protracted labour of a lifetime. This said, he is still likely to have hard going. The kingdom of heaven is not so easy to find as old creeds and modern cults imply by their glib tones of familiarity. Oh yes, they can lead him into their particular conception of it, their imaginary construction of it, but not into the reality itself.
The Wisdom of the Overself shows in what relation the planetary Overmind and the individual ego-mind stand to each other, and the nature and extent of the "interference" set up by the individual. The contact cannot be established by the limited operations of intellect or by the emotional ecstasies of the mystic, as an entirely new faculty has to be brought into play. This has been called "insight" (following the terminology of the Mongolian Yaka-kulgan school). It is a transcendental fusion of thought, feeling, being, and act which yields an "isolation," as it were, of the principle of awareness. When this is done one, realizes how the electrical field operating in the colloidal structure of nerve cells can only provide conditions for the expressions of this principle--that is to say, for setting up a limited representation of it. In realizing this awareness principle as it is in itself, the whole system of memories, energies, and tendencies which compose the dual, individual, world picture becomes detached and the neurological mechanism with it. One then perceives that the scientific procedure which would set the physical apart from the mental must finally fail because of its dualism, even as the materialistic procedure which would immerse the mental in the physical must fail because the five senses can be banished in yoga trance while consciousness is kept.
The basic lesson of The Wisdom of the Overself is that space, which provides a stage for things, time, which provides an order for events, and matter, which supplies the stuff of both, are all three really experiences of the mind, inseparable from the mind, constructed out of the mind, and nothing else. In other words, Mind is the essence of all existence, all life, all form, and this Mind is non-material. Pure Mind is nothing other than God and its reflection in the individual is nothing other than the divine soul. The book is admittedly difficult--mostly because of its metaphysical character and its compulsion on the reader to do much close thinking. However, it would be enough, after the first general reading, to reread only those portions which are the easiest to understand or which make the most appeal. The ground it covers can be only gradually trodden. In any case, it was written mainly to reach those who want to work their way up from the scientific standpoint to the spiritual one.
Misunderstandings among readers led to the queer notion that I esteemed reason to be capable of providing the sole key to the mysteries of man, life, and the universe--"queer" because a more careful study of the book would have revealed hints here and there of a tenet in this teaching that there exists the supramystic faculty of insight, which was stated to transcend rational thinking. Admittedly no further explanation of it was given, but this was because the subject was too advanced for treatment there and had to fall into its proper place. Critics fell into such a misunderstanding of this doctrine by abstracting the part of it contained in the first volume from the rest and by ignoring the precautionary sentences sprinkled in that volume. Their error would have been impossible if they had been able to take the two volumes as a whole, which they were not able to do until now.
Some people get frightened at the mental toughness of those books. I had to write in such a tough way in order to appeal to the dominant authority of this particular age in which I happened to be born--the said authority being science, intellect, high-browism, and so on, which are worshipped as though they were God. The whole subject is really much simpler than it will appear to be from the books and not at all difficult to grasp.
The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga makes stiff reading because it was intended for the critical scientific and philosophic minds who are drawing nearer to this line of thought, but there are a number of paragraphs throughout the book which will be helpful to the student of mysticism also. He should study the portions that appeal most to him. This book tells something of the Ultimate Path, although the actual practices are reserved for The Wisdom of the Overself. The ultimate aim is to build a balanced personality, where reason and feeling will both be well-developed and harmonized. In the advanced stages of the final path, the faculty of true insight will be born, and it is this which acts as the harmonizing agent. The last chapter of the book indicates a desire to serve mankind. This may be done by contributing to the reconstruction which must come later. This is the justification of the Quest, that it can and shall not only give the individual inner peace, intelligent understanding, and a perfect world-explanation, but that it also can and shall give society guidance in solving the great problems which face it.
Whoever will attend to what is most plainly said in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself will then know that philosophy accepts, includes, and preserves everything that is worthwhile in religion and yoga and that it does not give up the attitude of prayerful worship or cease from the exercise of daily meditation. This being so, only those who misconceive what it is can allege that I have faltered in my spiritual quest and retracted my advocacy of yoga. But such misconceptions still thrive powerfully and even naturally amongst those whose approach to mysticism is solely on the emotional, personal side, and it seems we must endure them always as part of the penalty for attempting to point out a wider horizon to such people.
There are parts of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga which are discouraging to those who have hitherto held the mystical ideal alone, but from the second volume, The Wisdom of the Overself, they will realize that this discouragement was unjustified. There is a great deal of absolutely new material in this book--dealing with higher mysticism, meditation, religion, and God--which should be a practical help not only to advanced students but even to beginners on the Quest. No doubt a first reading of the first volume was destructive to the emotions of many people; but the rational, intellectual, and practical side of philosophy was deliberately overstressed to help readers become better balanced human beings.
The Wisdom of the Overself represents the results of long arduous research conducted in several ways, a research which has shattered health and shortened life but which has not been without some success.
In these two volumes there was an endeavour to bring together in a unity the elements of a scattered doctrine.
So began a line of research which in the months and years to come finished up as a two-volume affair: The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself. They were the eventual and first results of that day's reflection. Now, half a lifetime later, something properly may be deleted from the pages, and new material added to them. Furthermore, a brief summing up should not be unwelcome.
The Spiritual Crisis of Man was indifferently received. It got neither attention nor circulation of any account. This was regrettable, for I had been allowed a peep behind the curtain of world events, behind the present pattern of the human scene on this planet, and there was a real necessity for knowledge of it if all of us were not to go down into the gravest catastrophe.
The Spiritual Crisis of Man was addressed to the man in the street bewildered by the world's fateful crisis. It was written out of compassion for his need of guidance and hence in general, nontechnical, simple terms. It had deep feeling, yet it was not an emotional book. It spoke of the soul that each may find in his own heart. It told him and his fellows that they cannot build their new and better world aright until they have looked within, found the soul's light to guide them, and made certain inner changes. These cannot be avoided. Man may consciously co-operate with the inner purpose of this crisis and intelligently participate in it to his own benefit. If, however, he blindly resists or lazily delays, he will suffer the consequences.
It was not easy for me to write the chapter on suffering in The Spiritual Crisis of Man, but it was immensely harder for others to read it and bear what was said.
Although I deny the criticism that The Spiritual Crisis of Man was a negative and pessimistic book, still some people thought that it was a dirge for a decaying civilization. They objected to being reminded of their grave peril and thereby made miserable.
In writing the book, The Spiritual Crisis of Man, I used all possible discretion in my references to the future course of events. I took every care to avoid giving grounds for possible accusations like war-mongering and depressing the public morale.
I wrote The Spiritual Crisis of Man as Jeremiah wrote in his own times. It was partly intended to be a warning of grave calamity which I knew positively was due to come if no new attitudes were adopted in public policies. I was not permitted to utter this warning plainly, nor in detail, but only to sound a vague hint.
I also wrote my book as a humble contribution to "other-mindedness" in a fear-and-money-ridden world, when all the basic values of life seem to be in the melting pot. I am told that life here in Europe is so difficult and the speed of it so rapid that one has no time to study the beautiful around one, but my point is just that it is we ourselves who make it so rapid and so difficult. If only we were content to search for less material wealth, we should have more time to devote to the search for "the beauty of life," and it is only, in my view, an appreciation of this "beauty of life" so absorbed by the hearts and minds of a truly religious art-loving people as to appear in our daily lives, that can save this present civilization from destruction. I feel I must unburden myself of this profound conviction and give the message which I feel it is my duty to give. If it passes unheeded, at least I am free from the accusation of not having had the moral courage to fulfil this duty.
If a new term is helpful, why not use it? It need not and does not displace the existing ones. The "Overself" was chosen just because it lacked precision but served an idea.
The term "Overself" was used in one sense in some passages of the books and in another sense in other passages. This is confusing to the philosophically minded. However, these books were written primarily to extend the doctrine of mysticism or meditation. From this standpoint, the inner self of man is the goal; from the philosophic standpoint, the Universal Self is the goal. The latter, of course, includes the former.
The Overself has not expressed itself in matter simply because there is no matter! It has not improved itself by evolution, but finite, individual minds have done so. The universal gods are the Overminds, the sum totals of each system--that is, concepts of the human mind which are dropped by the adept when they have served their purpose in bringing him to That which is unlimited. Seek the kingdom first, and all these occult powers will be added unto you.
The planetary Overmind is the active aspect of the Overself but still only an aspect. It works with space and time, although the latter assumes dimensions far beyond that with which waking human capacity can cope. The Overself in its passive purity is timeless and spaceless.
The word Overmind should never have been introduced, but now that it is here it must be explained. There is only one Reality. The nearest notion we can form of it is that it is something mental. If we think of it as being the sum total of all individual minds, then it is Overmind; if we can rise higher and know that it cannot be totalized, it is Overself. The first explanation was originally introduced to explain why abnormal phenomena can happen but not as a final explanation of what Mind and Reality are. People have confused the two aims. Actually there is only One thing, whatever you call it, but it can be studied from different standpoints and thus we get different results. That thing is Mind--unindividuated, infinite.
It is needful to define here what is meant by the word "spiritual." The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga points out how ambiguous it has become, how wide a range of connotations it now possesses. To simplify, it can be used generically to cover any or all of the three aspects of human culture which oppose themselves to a materialistic interpretation of life, aspects which may conveniently be named the religious, the mystical, and the philosophic.
The word "philosophy" is really insufficient for my purposes. I have always considered its unsatisfactory usage to be tentative and temporary, but it will have to be continued until an alternative can be found.
Shall I connect with Interior Word the "breaking of silence," the Logos or Word, Kabir's Shabda, Divine Word?
The word "lifeless" as used in the book Discover Yourself is not quite correctly interpreted as "impersonal." It is an ambiguous word as used there. It really refers to that condition wherein everything is latent, potential, unexpressed, unindividuated, unmoving. The best way to understand it is to think of the mind during deep sleep. It is not functioning then and is apparently without life. Yet the potentialities are all there.
Theosophy, esoteric Buddhism, and Hindu sects like the Vedantists come at several points of contact quite close to the Hidden Teaching, but diverge at others. The septenary constitution of man is somewhat theoretical--as actually there are only two entities, the ego and the Overself--but it may be useful for analytic purposes.
Your understanding of different ways in which I use the word ego, and in which Theosophy uses it, is correct. What happens metaphysically to the further existence of the being resulting from the conscious union of the ego with the Overself is guarded as a mystery, and may not be discussed.
Those who call Madame Blavatsky an unmitigated quack are talking nonsense. Although her teachings were partly unreliable, there was nevertheless a great deal of truth in them; and although she herself was imperfect, and occasionally unreliable, she was mostly sincere.
I do not perceive any fundamental difference between the Buddhistic teachings and the philosophic teachings expressed in my books, although it may be that I have written about some matters which Buddhism does not deal with. Much in Mahayana Buddhism is acceptable to me, even though I do not care to put any labels on what I have written.
I read my own books as if they were those written by a stranger.
The words which had flown out of my pen were now bubbling and boiling in the linotype machine and would soon settle into cold leaden slugs.
The responsibility for such statements which have appeared on the paper jackets of my books does not rest with me but with my publishers. Had those statements been submitted to me prior to publication, I would certainly have corrected all the errors they contain.
My publisher, with motives laudable enough from a commercial viewpoint but reprehensible from a spiritual one, has done me a serious disservice in glaringly stressing the sensational elements of my books.
A shrewd reader will observe, as he courageously travels through these pages, that in dealing with the remarkable personalities selected for mention, I have offered little of comment and less of criticism. So far as my pen permits me, I would play the part of a descriptive reporter. Very likely, in some later books whose date I know not, I shall don the philosophic mantle and ascend the rostrum.
The aforementioned shrewd reader, if he is inclined to be somewhat critical, may easily retort that in that event it is as well that I do not philosophize excessively now, since by that time I shall be older and therefore wiser. But of this I am not so certain as formerly.
The subject of this work is no less than the total regeneration of man. No more practical subject could be written about, yet it is too often deemed interesting only to dreamers or fanatics. No more important one could be brought to our attention, for it is the very purpose for which the infinite power has put us into existence on this earth today. Jesus proclaimed it when he said, "Ye shall be born again." It is the process which plants, grows, and ripens all those attributes of the true human being that distinguish him from the merely animal being.
The time came to give public expression and coordinated form to doctrines which I had hitherto either not received at all or else received in disjointed fragments and torn scraps. I not only tried to simplify these metaphysical ideas for ordinary readers, but also to systematize them for intellectual ones, and to expound the whole teaching in a clear and continuous manner. Indeed, some readers have been kind enough to say that they find that these two books (The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself) possess a logical development of their argument which helps to clarify the difficult subjects they deal with. Whether this be true or not, the fact is that it is normal for me to write merely disjointed fragments, but abnormal to write a sustained thesis; easy to throw off a short article for a periodical journal but hard to elaborate patiently a complete book. I like to announce in short staccato jerky sentences the truths I intuit, but self-discipline has made me argue them out in long flowing ones. All that smooth transition from paragraph to paragraph which is rightly held to be one of the prominent features of literary artistry, is absent from my natural capacity. What little I may have gained has been gained with great labour. Like Beethoven I have a habit of working at three or four compositions at the same time. And like him I often transfer a short fragment or even a complete piece from one composition to another. But the method of composition which is most predominant of all in my make-up is the peculiar one of jotting down my ideas about a theme without any order whatsoever, so that its end middle and beginning are jumbled together anyhow. Only after a certain period has elapsed do I undertake the task of arranging it in proper sequence.
My fashion of approaching the same topic from a number of sides, as well as of emphasizing the importance of certain neglected or ignored sides, led to frequent repetition which bored, irritated, or disappointed a section of my readers. But it was deliberate, and it helped other readers. It was an ancient Oriental style which was really a special method of illuminative teaching and a tested means of assisting the mind to open tight-fitting or obdurate closed doors, and of becoming aware of hitherto unperceived truths or getting to understand more easily what was before hard to understand. It was much used by the Buddha. I felt that my explorations of the spiritual realm had to be made as explicit as my pen could make them, and this was one way of doing so.
After so many years the endeavour to reconstruct from memory alone a conversation correctly would be a vain one, giving either a distorting caricature of truth or a misleading shift of emphasis. It would be better to make the report quite a short one if scraps of notes written at the time, however hurriedly, are available. This is why so many of the accounts are so brief. Where no notes at all are available, no mention of the meeting has been published, except in certain cases where a high degree of importance warrants the recording of impressions, atmosphere, trend, and general attitude.
They started as disorganized notes written at odd times. They grew into a compact bungle and remained so for quite a while until I sensed one day that they were pleading to be united into a properly embodied form--so they were born as a book.
My books have grown up--where they were not travel reports--somehow. They were not made up in orderly sequence from beginning to end. I cannot work that way although it is the usual one, and certainly the one most suitable for most writers. My ideas come separately, unjoined to other ones: each is independent and they are not attached to a single theme.
A strict coherence of paragraphs and sentences is something I manage somehow sometimes to achieve, but only with great difficulty and by some kind of underground travel.
I went into myself first, and what I found there I put down on paper.
The egoism and conceit which appeared in some of my pages were a pretense, the traits of a literary figure whom I had to set up to give thought-provoking individuality and stronger emphasis to certain ideas.
If a book is to be given scholarly academic form, if documents are to be cited continuously in support of the statements made, that is as good a presentation as could be expected. But it is not mine.
A scrupulous author will substantiate his assertions by documentary references and abundant footnotes; he will give source and date for each one. I alas! do not come into this admirable category.
Poetry is at its best when it leads man towards spiritual beauty. This indeed is the mission of all the other arts also. To write a book that will sustain a single theme through three hundred pages is an admirable intellectual achievement, but it is not really my way; I have done with it since long ago. A man must express himself in his own way, the way which follows the nature he is born with. I prefer to write down a single idea without any reference to those which went before or which are to follow later, and to write it down in a concentrated way. The only book I could prepare now would be a book of maxims of suggestive ideas. I have not the patience to go on and on and on, telling someone in a hundred pages what I could put into a single page.(P)
If a conversation helps to illuminate this dark subject, it is worth recording.
The writing I have done is in fragmentary form; there is no whole completed record of what philosophy means to me.
These disconnected sentences of mine are like beads waiting to be properly matched and strung together on a string.
Much of my unpublished writing consists of disconnected paragraphs standing by themselves, isolated from each other. I call them my seed thoughts. They are ideas which come to me at odd moments, almost every day, and I have not the time, when they arise, to develop them; but I do not want to lose them, and hence jot them down. Since they are incomplete and also not in literary form, but require being thought out and written out, I save them for some future time when the work needed on them will be possible.
This disjointed style of writing lessens its continuity and thus limits its readership. It seems regrettable but I have had to accept it.
The paper lies passive, waiting to receive the inked symbols of rational thought, or, with luck, of intuitive thought.
I put down phrases and paragraphs in a disjointed manner, for that is the way in which I can best write. It is like stitching little pieces of cloth together. This is not a good way to write, for it does not give a good smooth result, nor a sustained one. I cannot, like a businessman, sit down at an office desk and work for some hours and then get up. I have to take my thoughts and ideas as and when they come, a little at a time.
These are not manuscripts for books but random notes for books.
I write in pieces and patches upon a great variety of subjects--mostly short pieces, very short and incomplete patches. However if I did not do so and threw aside the material I would lose the freshness of the impact when the thought or idea came into my mind. Naturally when all these notes are brought together I will find that there is a good deal of repetition and of course a great deal to be thrown out in consequence. Revisions and changes, corrections and improvements will also be necessary. But all that does not really matter so long as the first vital impact of the concept was saved and not lost.
I have given a few illustrative anecdotes of cases that are personally known to me, to make plainer the principles taught and to add interest to their expositions. If the names of some persons concerned are withheld, it is for the understandable reason that private confidence must be respected. On the other hand, I have also included a few historical and biographical references from the annals of famous names--whenever I have found them peculiarly apt as definite examples.
At odd times and in different places I had developed a habit of turning time into thought and thought again into written phrases or manuscript articles which were jotted down on paper but never got sent into the world. Friends who had been allowed to read some specimens of these scraps had persisted, like Oliver Twist, in asking for more. The availability of a better medium would enable me to melt those words into the leaden slugs of linotype and thence enflesh them in a new incarnation in the printed pages of a stitched periodical, thus extending their circulation to a wider audience than one. But apart from that, each issue would always contain two special articles from my pen. The first would be the leading editorial and of an inspirational character; the other would be definitely instructional.
The task of keeping personal news or instructions to friends distinct from the more general communications and the teachings for correspondents, readers, and strangers could easily be achieved by separating the essentially private pages from the rest of the matter and printing them as a small special bulletin to be loosely enclosed only in those copies of the journal which were addressed to friends.
To put them into acceptable form, I have strung these sheets together as on an invisible thread, by their harmony of subject rather than by their date or place of birth.
This repetitiousness is a fault, I fully agree, yet its aim, being clearer definition of obscure subjects, is paradoxically a merit.
I have given a glimpse of myself in some of my books, and that must suffice.
I could, indeed, have penned it in the stately style of the Victorians, but that might have proved rather slow for our quick age.
Those who complain that there is nothing new in all this, who look for sensational and novel revelations but find none, may be answered with the words of wise Goethe: "The truth must be repeated over and over again, because error is repeatedly preached among us; . . . everywhere error prevails, and is quite easy in the feeling that it has a decided majority on its side."
My unfortunate tendency to labour a point too long has irritated some readers but helped others. The intention of all this repetitive statement was to present the same idea in its various aspects and thus help to make it clearer. Where such difficult and subtle metaphysical ideas as mentalism are in question, this clarification is needful.
It is thought proper and respectable by many, if not most, writers to emasculate their pens before putting them to paper. I am not of such a way of thinking. I possess a heart as well as a brain, whatever those gentlemen may have, and I will not approach the modern horrors of materialistic civilization with kidgloves.
I jot down the ideas that come into my head. But they come when I am relaxed. I cannot force them by concentration, by sustaining a unifying theme. I must let them arrive in their own good time, not mine. As a result, they are independent of each other, separate and unrelated.
Repetition may give boredom to a reader, but it may also give what it is intended to do--not only emphasis, not only importance to an idea, but also suggestive power and even hypnotic rhythm.
Buddha and Jesus deliberately preached to the unlettered mass of people. This is one of the reasons why Gautama repeated himself so often and why Jesus used simple parables so much.
To put a large world-view into a little phrase may puzzle some readers but will enlighten other ones.
Unless one made an immediate note of his words--and too often that was emphatically not possible--some of the material would be lost.
Sustaining the effort to make a consistent single whole which is a book is not in my temperament, not one of my skills. I have written several books, but they are really a number of ideas linked together, ideas which emerged at different times and at varying intervals.
It may not be prudent to write down statements which may be negatively received by the reader or which may be over-emphasized to a degree that upsets his or her balance.
If memory has not failed me, this is what he said, but not only memory is at stake here. There may be some rightness in Hazlitt's assertion that "authors in general are not good listeners."
It found its way to the crumpled pages of my much travelled notebooks.
Repetition is not without value in an exposition of subjects which are exotic, unfamiliar, new, or obscure, as most of those about which I write are to most general readers.
My chapters were not dogmatic. I tried to write so as to lead the readers by a chain of questions or analysis or reasoning to the truth.
The pen trembles in his hand when he thinks of that humbling moment and tries to find a fitting sentence for his private journal.
If these thoughts seem much too ragged and imperfect, why, blame my pen which put them down, for its nib is grown somewhat cross and no longer interprets the mental messages I send as once it did.
I begin to write something which any other capable writer could turn to good account, when lo! my pen runs into wide generalities and leaps up to airy abstractions; so my scene is forgotten amid the philosophical implications into which it has landed me. However, by a frequent retracing of steps I eventually make some amends, though never sufficient to restore my literary self-confidence.
I consciously developed the habit of turning all that happened in life to philosophic analysis and literary purposes.
Those thoughts could no longer be contained within my own mind. I was forced to express them. No sooner was a meditation ended, an intuition formulated, a vision completed, or a communion consummated, than I was driven to reach for my pen and put at least some fragment of it down on paper. I went fishing with a long rod in philosophic waters, with what results my readers may themselves gauge from the catch here presented to them.
A sacred vocation
We who struggle to put the Wordless into words, driven by memories of a single glimpse or illumined by an overwhelming revelation, are blessed by the mere effort alone.
This strange thing I found--that my writing not only recorded spiritual experience which had been mine but also creatively contributed to forming new experience.
I work at research because destiny has guided me to it and temperament has fitted me for it, not only because of outer compulsion but also because of inner fascination.
Some of us have literally written our way out of ignorance to some sort of knowledge, if not truth. Perhaps this was why we were so happy when actually working?
Writing is not only the medium in which I can best express myself but also the one in which I must express myself.
The vocation was there. I had to write, however badly. I was driven to it in childhood and now, in old age, it is more than a mild pleasure.
There are times--and they are the times when, looking back, I love my profession most--when writing becomes for me not a profession at all but either a form of religious worship or a form of metaphysical enlightenment. It is then, as the pen moves along silently, that I become aware of a shining presence which calls forth all my holy reverence or pushes open the mind's doors.(P)
Writing, which is an exercise of the intellect to some, is an act of worship to me. I rise from my desk in the same mood as that in which I leave an hour of prayer in an old cathedral, or of meditation in a little wood.(P)
May this book be as moving a reading experience as it was a writing one.
I do not wilfully neglect correspondence, it is that I am unable to attend to it when my heart is forcefully pulling me in a different direction--toward creative literary writing.
When I look at all these manuscripts, I am reminded of Shakespeare's exclamation: "Words, words, words!" Millions after millions of them have flowered out this past half-century yet mankind continues the downward and perilous course. Of what use to add more? "Why do we write books?" Wei Wu Wei asked me one day. I can reply only that it is my profession to do so. But the truth is really different: I have to write them and would produce them even if I were a baker and not seeking publication. Their creation gives me intense satisfaction. Through them I feel that I have justified my existence. Through them the thought is now there on the mental plane for my own benefit. If sensitive minds can come to its acceptance later, let it be so: perhaps it will be for theirs, too. If not, then that is its fate.
Even if, when I put pen to paper, a spiritual belt sometimes seems to drive my mental engines, and even though I have tried to unchain the pen that once served Mammon alone, I still write to fill the pantry!
Sometimes his mind is flooded with divine images that bubble up from some secret depth and crowd the tip of his pen, trying to find themselves fair bodies of words.
This inky but attractive profession to which I have committed myself has helped my intellect become more active, has both retarded its subsidence and yet encouraged it, too!
I want to write. I want to set down those wonderful swinging rhythms of the soul that leap up so joyously in my heart.
Perhaps I have too generously given away counsel which I need myself!
I amuse myself with penning these thoughts in an age which can barely understand them, and with publishing them to an epoch which is unlikely to accept them. If I derive no profit and gather no audience, at least I derive some entertainment and gather some smiling hours.
In the actual work itself of writing down such spiritual thoughts, I find its finest reward. This explains why my work is superior to myself.
My head is filled with thoughts and ideas. I am never discouraged when confronted with a piece of blank writing paper. For there is always something that I have to set down and communicate, if not to others, then to my ordinary self from my Other Self.
Perhaps I am too preoccupied with ultimate issues: I have not that smooth onward flowing facility which can come only to a mind simple enough to fling aside the fascinations of intellectual bypaths and patterns, and confident enough to write without wondering at every line whether it was written truly enough. Where this strange hankering after abstruse and difficult philosophizing has come from, I do not know.
What does it matter whether I write books or whether I permit the white paper to remain blank? The world struggled on for quite some time before I appeared, and I am not vain enough to imagine that a few words of mine will ever cease its struggles appreciably. If it were not partly for the necessity to subsist and to gain a livelihood, and partly for the pleasure I get from phrasing my thoughts, I doubt whether any volumes of mine would ever have been born.
My interest in mystical studies has never been a professional one only. It is true that as a writer I could have made myself equally at home in several other subjects and indeed did so in my earlier years. But none of them could so engage my heart, so fascinate my mind, as these. I wrote about them out of love for the research into them.
People tell me of the mental benefit they have gotten from reading my writings. It is encouraging to hear them. But not one of them has so benefited mentally from this self-expression as myself!
Writing is my life-work. I had to play the scribe in modern Euramerica as I once did in ancient Asia because I could not think of doing otherwise.
All the learning was not on one side. From the responses which came to my writings, the narratives, the spiritual autobiographies, the praise and criticism, I gained a larger view of the subject, confirmations of truth and corrections of error.
Up to the last few years I have philosophized but little on paper, preferring to write my thoughts with the pen of action.
Mystics do not usually possess the hands of Midas and therefore we do not look forward to much monetary return for the time and labour put into this work.
Writing is not really my professional career. It is my God-given avocation. I am compelled to write by an inner necessity, not by any outer one. Fame, money, or power are not the baits. This necessity itself arises out of the profound dedication to human enlightenment which has burned like a flame in my innermost being for nearly thirty years.
Writing is a sphere of activity which now assists and does not hinder any pursuit of self-realization. When a man's work is absolutely congenial to him, it becomes a channel of creative art; but when it is repulsive, it becomes a sin in which he engages at his peril.
I write to instruct myself, and if the world gets instructed in the process, it is well--but if not, no matter, for that is not my main intention.
We writers are privileged persons. We ourselves benefit by the mental effort needed to see clearly or think logically while expressing ourselves. But we writers are also in a perilous position. For life tests us by our words and matches them against our actions.
Writing is in my blood. Consequently, when duty demanded that I share with my fellows such little knowledge as I have attained, the logic of temperament pointed out a single way alone and I naturally began to set down this knowledge on paper.
I live with words: they make me happy or tense me with truth; they give peace or excite with discovery.
I have long carried certain thoughts in the pockets of my mind which I wanted to embody in ink.
If some report that I have written a helpful message without preaching a ponderous sermon, that would be nice to hear but it would not represent my primary aim. As my slow pen plods over the white sheets--unconscious symbol of my ruminative mind--I am aware of but one driving impulse. That is simply the desire to play with thoughts as they arise and to print such of them as seems pleasant to me.
I began to ask whether I had written myself out and whether my writing days were no more. The making of a book was not all: the making of a man was more. Had I reached a maturer state where what mattered was life itself, not the recording of life?
I feel happy when writing some lines of higher interest, something touching the philosophical plane, but happier still if the pen falls to rest leaving me transfixed, as it were, by a sacred power which commands both stillness of body and silence of thoughts.
The contribution of silence
I prefer the pleasure of having become an obscure writer to the earlier rewards of being a famed one. I am happier under the comforting shelter of anonymity than in the open arena of public turmoil. The promptings of personal ambition fail to move me; serenity is worth more to me than success. But although the publishing period of my life seems to have ended, the writing period never did. My jottings continue. I have become insignificant but not idle.
My books were written for and served their generation. Now they are dated and so unwanted. But a time will come when they will find fresh readers. If I have not published for twenty years it is in part because I write now for posterity.
What does it matter if the words I write are published now or after my death? Why must I hurry them into print and thus blindly imitate every other contemporary author, whose ego is irritated by the criticism which follows the appearance of his work, or inflated by the praise?
During my intermittent disappearance from the Western world, I gained a theoretical knowledge and practical experience of the processes by which the soul could be brought within the field of awareness.
If there is any regret to be mentioned, it is that despite my desire to help, clarify, and warn those who follow this way, some things have perforce to remain unsaid. Only those who really understand the nature of human nature, as well as the true character of our times, can understand this silence, as well as the total silence into which I fell for so many years.
The fear of professional oblivion does not touch me. The silence of modest retirement is now welcome, but I remember what an expert reader of handwriting said to a chance Indian acquaintance who knew P.B.: "P.B. is over a thousand years ahead of his time. Follow him blindly."
I deliberately sought obscurity without and oblivion within.
Whether I shall, at a later time, retire from this retirement, is something that I do not at present know. I am not a rigid dogmatist, so this is a possibility.
It would be understandable if anyone found the wrong reasons for my long silences, but it would be unjust.
One day I felt impelled to ask myself the questions: "What have I to say that has not already been said?" and "To whom am I to address these writings?" When I worked out the full implications of the answers, I stopped writing for publication in print, and continued it only for my private files and pleasure.
During more than sixty years, so many scattered observations and reflections were left unfinished or undeveloped, so many insights were gleaned in the quarter century since my retirement but deliberately left unpublished, that the appearance of these pages is self-explanatory.
I have to laugh sometimes at this situation: for many years now I have been putting down these ideas of mine with a view to non-publication. Time enough to print and publish them after P.B.'s passing away. The joke, which at decent intervals provokes this laughter, is that it won't be long before I shall return again and then, since I am attracted to such reading material anyway, and will certainly be more than attracted to--in fact will be swept off my feet and become an ardent follower, advocate, and propagandist of--the posthumous P.B. books, holding so much that I will agree heartily with--yes, the joke is that I shall be my own reader for certain even if no one else will care for them. I shall enjoy the printing format and the cloth binding just as much as P.B. himself might.
I have retired but my mind has not. It is active. These pages are the fruits of solitude.
I have since wandered through many lands, a few of which are not even on earth.
I have waited many years to write this book [The Spiritual Crisis of Man--Ed.&]. I have been silent for several years, not because I was indifferent to the mental difficulties of others nor because I was unable to help them, but because the proper time had not yet come to do so. I waited in inwardly commanded patience, but it is with some relief that I now find I need not wait any longer. Those years since December 1942, when I wrote the last paragraph of The Wisdom of the Overself, may seem to have been totally unproductive. But in reality they were years of hidden gestation. I remained silent in obedience to this command, but not idle.
Those who thought I had written myself out may be surprised by the appearance of this book.
I spent a long time following my return from the Orient in organizing a large bundle of scattered notes.
I worked at this book so intermittently and so slowly that some thought it would never be finished at all. But remembering how I wrote The Secret Path in four weeks, The Quest of the Overself in four months, and The Wisdom of the Overself in fourteen, I smiled. For what lay behind this seeming procrastination was not to be told and had to be left a mystery.
I would love to retire into the peaceable life and obscure name of an unrecognized writer. Fame, like other things, must be paid for: the rewards it brings are not exempt from penalties. But they are penalties only to a certain type of person, to the possessor of a certain temperament. Such a type, such a possessor am I.
The Writer who sometimes sits behind the writer of these lines smiling at my puny attempts to translate the Untranslatable, once bade me put away for an indefinite period the thought of any future publications. I obeyed and there was a long silence in the outer world--so long that two obituary notices were printed by newspapers! I had enough leisure to discover the faultiness of the earlier work and felt acutely that the world was better off without my lucubrations. But a day came when I felt the presence of the Presence and I received clear guidance to take the pen again.(P)
To the outside observer, my declining years have been dead ones, apparently spent in inactivity and futility. But this is only one side of the picture. For they have also been spent in a hidden activity on a higher plane, as much for my own spiritual growth as for the world's peace.(P)
I consider myself fortunate to have experienced in my own career and not after death the evanescence of fame and the ephemerality of success. There were other lessons, too, that I was able to gather from this occurrence, so that, all told, the spiritual profit far outbalanced the material loss.
I could not remain silent any longer as it would then be inferred that I had taught a doctrine which had no basis to withstand criticism.
It must not be taken to mean that I accept and endorse whatever people tell me, merely because I listen quietly and make no criticisms. I have learned to keep my judgements to myself.
I looked around for my pen and was about to take it up when I realized that it was better to contribute my silence than my thoughts.
These writings were kept from publication deliberately. Now, after a quarter century, and during the last lap of physical existence, the writer releases them. Some of the ideas will serve younger persons and some will offend older ones.
The results of my twenty-year-long researches are not to be published during my lifetime, but this does not mean the work is wasted. It is probable that some portion of them will be made public by me but how little or how much or when I do not know.
Jonathan Swift wrote, "I resolved to exceed the advice of Horace, a Roman poet, that an author should keep his works nine years in his closet before he ventured to publish them."
By deferring publication until some later year, I am able to write without the pressure of a contracted dateline, in freedom and satisfaction, what and when I like. Perhaps later the fates will grant me a secretary and a suitable home so that no time need be given to household chores and office correspondence but only to creative work, research, and meditation--which are basic. It would then be possible to organize book production. Until then let me enjoy these necessities.
Rather than suspend truth it is better to suspend publication. Rather than expound versions falsified or perverted to suit certain interests, it is better to keep silent.
I am forced to cover my present residence and future movements because there are too many persons who are either half-mad or unmannered enough to force their presence on me whether I invite them or not, whether I want it or not.
He is not necessarily, as most people seem to believe, an uninterested non-observer of his time and therefore standing quite aloof from it. He may be, but he may also be concerned enough to make a personal contribution to it.
Most of my life has been hampered by unsatisfactory surroundings and inferior service. Its work has needed uninterrupted quiet but seldom found it. It has often had to accept uncongenial meals. Yet these needs are important to the inner research after truth and outer confirmation of its findings. I have now reached an age when nothing must be grudged to produce the best results.
My biographer will arrive with the cremator and attempt to portray my soul which, unfortunately for him, will already have fled. He will write about incidents in my external life, no doubt, and analyse my works with his dissecting knife, but my soul will be beyond him.
I once wanted to adopt as my profession the same avocation which Voltaire took up and which he described in these inimitable words: "My trade is to say what I think." But time has taught me wisdom and I discovered it is well to reserve your best thought.
The restraint in expressing my private experience, which has governed my writing, was imposed on me by the particular conditions of my time.
Such are the thoughts which come shyly out of the winding convolutions of my brain. I have no intention of pouring out my mind on paper: rather do I desire to set down a few hints only, and to reserve all else.
Shall we reveal our spiritual thoughts to a sensual world, or shall we slip a few robes of metaphor upon them, wherewith to cover their fragile bodies?
"Silence is golden" is a common proverb with most nations but has been a common practice with true mystics only. There was and is a necessity of reserving as well as of publishing many things. The great mystics have often lived in secrecy and solitude because of the defamation that greeted them whenever they ventured out of their hermitages. But I hope in this more spacious and more tolerant century their thoughts can find safer harbourage when expressed to the world than they did in former times. The urgent needs of this sorrow-stricken age call for a bolder dispensing of the sweet waters of true life today. Ridicule will come but it must be risked; I for one, though but the humblest of their pupils, intend to annihilate the future malice of detractors by present scorn.
Those books represent a part of the history of my mind and a fraction of the record of my activities, but after all they are only a part. There are things which one does not utter in the street.
Has anyone ever known enough about anyone else to write his true biography? I completely doubt it.
Does anyone ever reveal all the truth in an autobiography? Or even is what he does reveal the whole truth about each matter? I could never accept "Yes!" as the answer to these questions.
When a man's fame has stretched across five continents, he has a better chance to evaluate its real worth than do those who live outside its glare. I personally would be more content and more comfortable without it.
When, with such dawning perceptions and advancing years, I saw all this, the desire to write left me, the urge to help others ebbed away. It was not that my craftsmanship had failed me but that the will to exercise it had ceased to exist. I realized that it was better to be silent, better to leave others to God's care, than to speak so faultily and to meddle so clumsily. I had to separate myself from the self and work of the younger Brunton. I must refuse to identify myself with them any longer. I could never again go to their defense. There was now an indefinable opposition between us. It was certainly the end of an eventful cycle; it might be the end of all labour for me. I had nothing more to give the contemporary world, but if I studied patiently and attentively why this situation had come about, I might have something to give posterity.
There are some things which are better left a while in sacred silence, and that is where they must be left until the appropriate hour for speech is indicated on destiny's clock.
So much deliberately chosen evil prevails in human character that I would like to resign from the human race!
If I fell silent it was partly because I found speech deceptive in promise but futile in performance.
Zangwill's belief that biographies are never true, and his consequent refusal to permit one to be written about himself, is a belief which I share. Zangwill entered into the public life and affairs of his time, which I hardly ever have done, so his experience and observation, his knowledge on this point, are far wider than mine.
When a man loses his literary ambitions and deliberately drops out of public notice, it may be because he has heard another, perhaps higher, call.
I am happier when I attract no attention at all. I enjoy being quite anonymous. That was one, but only one, of the reasons why I published nothing for the twelve years between The Wisdom of the Overself and The Spiritual Crisis of Man and nothing during the more than a quarter century since then.
If he is to be reproached for not having given out enough to readers, he must plead a necessary prudence.
People who ask pertinent or impertinent questions shall receive Ramana Maharshi's answer: Silence. Or I may reply, "My biography is irrelevant."
The value of solitude
In my early efforts to advance, I withdrew frequently from the world and lived for several months at a time in cave or cottage. The time was well spent in meditation and study. Such retirement was not selfish. It was absolutely indispensable to further advancement, which in its turn was indispensable if my ideal of serving humanity was to be better realized.
Solitude is a necessary condition at this time of my life, in this phase of my career. Nobody must claim my time or person: it belongs to me now, my inner life and written work. Nobody is thrown out--everyone is still there within my goodwill--but too much of high importance needs to be done and time is too short.
The presence of another person becomes an invasion of one's own being and creates a nervous situation between us. This is intensified when, usually at the very beginning of the encounter but sometimes during the course of it, he betrays himself as a neurotic by showing compulsive habits. I then have to deal not only with the matter he has come for but also with the other's troubled self-consciousness--a generator of negative feelings and thoughts which impinge themselves on my peace and disturb it. Is it any wonder that I find solitude more enjoyable than its contrary state?
There are certain disadvantages in being a literary celebrity. The first is the multitude of letters readers feel swayed to write the author, nearly all demanding an answer. The second is the readership's curiosity about the author.
The telephone is an instrument which renders useful service in bringing together, with miraculous swiftness, one man with another whom he needs. But if it also brings him together with an unwanted person, a demanding person, an obnoxious person, or a pestering person, then it becomes a scourge at the worst, a harassment at the least. Robert Louis Stevenson detested the telephone; I merely dislike it. "The introduction of the telephone into our bed and board partakes of the nature of intrusion," he wrote in a letter. "I dare never approach this interesting instrument myself." His words, written at least half a century ago, may sound too extreme, old-fashioned, and out of touch with present-day living. But allowing for this, and recognizing the useful service of this device, there remains an echo in my heart of what Robert Louis Stevenson felt. Much of my time is devoted to long stretches of intensive research on a high impersonal mental level, or to absorbed writing, or to deeply relaxed meditation. When I formerly permitted the noise of a telephone bell to burst in abruptly, unexpectedly, or violently upon the silence without or the stillness within, the effect was to give a harsh shock to my nervous system. Nor was this all. It dragged me out of my delicately poised concentration, wasting the time and effort needed after every interruption to work my way back again and to re-adjust myself again. Let all this happen over and over again throughout the day and a state will be reached where the mere sound of the telephone bell will be like the sound of doom.
When my writings became known, a large financial burden was added to me. The expenses of secretarial correspondence and the loss caused by time given to numerous interviews drained away more of my income than I could afford.
I dislike being pressed into too intimate and too immediate a friendship, more especially where personal revelations are made and then demanded in return.
To secure privacy and protect solitude--two essentials for the research, writing, and meditation which fills this period of my public retirement--I have only a postal address.
A withdrawn temperament keeps me from easily made and easily dropped friendships.
My inability to answer letters is a serious defect. Ramana Maharshi had it, too. But my justification was not the same as his. Attention to a world-wide correspondence would leave no time for other work.
My correspondence is so often conducted with long intervals of two or three years between my letters that it is an off-and-on affair, never a regular one. This is one reason why it is often fated to wither away.
The researcher and writer concerned with such topics as I deal with must reject the social obligations of convention. His time is too valuable to be wasted and his personal contacts must be carefully limited if he is to do his work properly. Therefore, he guards both freedom and independence despite the disapproval of those who would rob him of one or the other.
The solitary hermit's life, where no telephone bell rings, no visitors call, no engagements need be made, and no problems come up to disturb, is for now my personal ideal.
If my communications are rare and their length is short, please understand that they must be so out of necessity.
My lifelong reluctance to be put in a false position cannot be abandoned at this point of time. I do not wish P.B.'s name or person to be put forward whenever this can be avoided. I myself cannot avoid having it put on the books. Please help me to protect my privacy.
He really is content at heart to live alone. But it is imprudent and unwise for a man so old to do so as completely as he does and as far distant from friends as he is. It seems perhaps somewhat cold-blooded or unkind to maintain this situation. A change may soon be due but will not be easy for him to make.
When people become too intrusive and make unreasonable demands on one's time, work, and privacy because they have read one's book, they must be firmly brushed off, however politely or gracefully the firmness is covered up.
Many days pass when I have not spoken to a single human being. This does not depress me in the slightest way. I have become well-accustomed to seclusion and find it quite acceptable. The feeling of boredom and loneliness are alien to me.
I need leisure in my daily life, space outside my windows, quiet from my neighbours, and privacy--obscurity even--as defense against invading crackpots. Yet how little I have these conditions.
He will not care for the formal and public character of a reception, dinner, or party in his honour, but will much prefer a simple and private meeting with one or two persons at a time.
Because of this detachment, not a few will judge him to be a cold man. They will not be entirely wrong, nor will they be right.
I must avoid letting readers maneuver me into personal relationships. This is what they want; it would serve their interests but would be against my own. I need freedom to serve many thousands who would be robbed of this service if I gave the same time to a single person. So I ask them not to write asking for this.
The high priest's Buddha saw much Siamese history in the making in his time, heard many important conversations and confessions in that far land. Now he hears little talk, for I am mostly alone; but he does sit in on all my meditations.
Theoretically I would like to reply to every letter received promptly and fully, but actually I find this impossible. Yet I acknowledge that all those who write are not members of the lunatic fringe, that many are sincere seekers. Although too often with inadequate equipment for the search, they are searching and need encouragement--for the world around them has if anything an adverse effect. The mere fact that I have placed my ideas and experiences before the public through the medium of a book makes me a public servant, and if the kind of book I wrote inevitably produces the urge to write a letter to the author, I have no right to complain and no right to ignore those letters.
Prudence. It is a matter of forethought not to get mixed up in unwanted obligations just as it is a matter of care not to get mixed up in unwanted friendships or acquaintanceships. In both cases, because of my public standing, people will try to push personal responsibilities off their own shoulders and on to mine.
Owing to the shortness of time and the pressure of inescapable urgent or important activities, I am compelled to write the replies to letters in telegraphese style, as if I were merely putting down the headings, the subjects, the principal points of a rough draft in order for a secretary to compose a letter.
It is unfortunate that my chosen profession of authorship mocked my inherent dislike for personal publicity.
The exertion needed to write personal letters irks me, whereas the exertion needed to write philosophical notes inspires me. Why wonder that I neglect the one and cultivate the other?
The burden becomes so heavy that sometimes I wish myself back in the eighteenth century, when people sent few letters in a year because paper was costly, postage expensive, and facilities for transmission slender.
How pleasant it would be, after paying fame's penalties, to creep back into the grey anonymous obscurity of earlier years!
If I meet a man who comes hoping that I will impart something to him, I counter his hope with a similar one on my own side.
I look around and see only a rare few of my compeers drawing their life's breath from the diviner heights.
It comes to this: because of the tremendous returns he is drawing from his solitude spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, he must be content to be an exile from his neighbours and expatriated even whilst living among them.
What is he to do with these persons who penetrate his privacy by means of unsolicited and uninvited letters? If he refuses to answer them, the writers will be hurt and he himself may be accused of rudeness. If he answers them, he will be disloyal to his own inner guidance to maintain the flow of outer creativity and inner deepening.
I am wary of those who make overtures for better acquaintance. There is not much time left, and life's demands are heavy. I may not waste these few years which could be so fruitful if I stand firm--and alone.
I make no promises and enter no commitments. This is better for both parties in the end where one of them--namely myself--is such a fierce lover of independence.
I want nothing to do with those who jar my nerves, who create physical worldly or personal problems or seek to involve me in their own, or who would involve me in gossip or any other form of wasting time which I desperately need for my work or personal activities. I don't want to get immersed in other people's auras. Theirs are different from mine; they are comfortable in them. I ask only that I be allowed to have the comfort of my own which has taken so many lives on earth to fashion. The others have other attributes which jar on me, which are abrasive to my temperament and habits. All this is not only because my personal history is different from theirs, but primarily because the practice of meditation and the inner-outer work of refining consciousness and tastes, of acquiring culture and improving character has made me feel almost as if I belong to a species apart--so few are those who care for the same things, whose manner, speech, courtesy, and inner calm betray their real caste. So I am compelled to seek solitude, to reject intrusion on my privacy, to ask to be left alone to enjoy a little space around me when travelling, dining out, or resting in a park. The spiritual doctrine of unity with all mankind does not appeal to me; let those seek its realization who find it to their taste. The ethical doctrine of goodwill to all mankind does appeal to me and I try to practise it. But this can be done without having other auras foisted on me. I must not only follow Shakespeare's dictum "Be true to thyself" but must go farther and be myself. Those religions and teachings which tell us to destroy the ego do not appeal to me. But if I am asked to destroy the tyranny of the ego, to make it subservient to the Overself, it is certainly my duty to try and do so. Yet I consider that this is not the same as destroying my individuality.
I must escape these loud, noisy, and talkative neighbours. This is negative, but it is an essential need for a writer, a meditator, and a lover of good literature. If I could sit down facing a window with a long view where I could admire the sunset in peace and solitude, I should call a halt and not demand much more. The immense volume of undone work presses upon me but needs a settled and suitable home. Will karma permit me to have such a home at last with no more wandering from place to place?--a home where there is a vista across a lake and a picture window overlooks the scene from a hillside or from outside a city? I prefer the Mediterranean warmth and dryness and perhaps I shall return there, but meanwhile I must accept the Swiss snows and Alpine peaks to greet me with the cold winds that blow so often in such areas. There is, of course, good spiritual instruction in my situation, for the duality of life, the mixture of good and evil, is reminding me of its existence through everything--whether in nature or in human experience. It is yin and yang again.