Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives > Chapter 6: Delusions and Painful Awakenings
Delusions and Painful Awakenings
The illusion of perfection
It is common enough to find among seekers the illusion of perfectionism. It shows itself in the belief that somewhere there exists a Master who is perfect in every respect: in his spiritual consciousness, his feelings, his intellect, his physical health, his appearance, and his behaviour. It shows itself also in their hopes of finding an ideal environment where they can live a fully spiritual existence, particularly in some ashram where everyone practises brotherly love and meditation all the time. Let them give up such vain dreams, for nowhere on earth will they find the one or the other.
The childish worship of every illumined man as if he were the World-Mind itself and the blind reception of his every utterance as if it were sacrosanct--these are defects to be regretted. And they occur not only among the Orientals, where it is to be expected, but also among the increasing number of those Occidentals who accept the doctrine of the Orientals and imitate their attitudes. They point to excessive attachment to the limited personality of their spiritual leader, so that it is disproportionate to the pure impersonal Spirit of which he is but the channel. They reveal the devotee to be on the religio-mystical level, to have advanced beyond popular religion but not to have travelled sufficiently far into mysticism proper to feel comfortable there. He has escaped from the crowd which is so taken in by the mere outward forms of religious observance, but he cannot yet escape from the olden habit or need of depending on some outward thing or person. So, he transfers to his master's body the devotion he formerly gave to popular pieties.
The religio-mystical mind easily falls into cults or personality idealization and worship. The philosophic mind rises to a higher level and emphasizes the importance of Principles. For persons are ephemeral whereas principles are enduring. The cultists attribute to the worshipped one all sorts of godlike qualities, especially omniscience and omnipotence.
As soon as a cult is formed around a seer or prophet, fixed dogma and unalterable creed go with it. His revelation is turned into a final declaration, his inspiration into a fixed and finished tenet of faith.
Not only is no one perfect but also there is no one--be he husband, master, saint, or neighbour--about whom you may expect to find everything to your liking. When therefore we hear of a "Perfect Master" in Meher Baba, about whom everything was sadly imperfect, and find thousands of followers accepting him as such, including Western followers, we may understand why philosophy, not less than science, warns against credulity and gullibility.
It is hard to find an upright spiritual guide, easy to find his insincere imitator, easier still to find a crooked one. So long as they adoringly surround him with a halo of perpetual infallibility, so long will his disciples fail to think rationally or observe realistically.
If only they would give to the infinite being of God the faith they give to the finite and faulty being of some charlatan, how quickly they would progress!
Legends like this grow around the person of an Oriental recluse or ascetic faster than he himself knows. He could only slow the pace of this growth and not stop it even if he wanted to. And this while he is yet alive--how wildly will it progress after he is no longer alive to check it. How baseless the tales of miracles that will pass from mouth to mouth.
The cult of saint-worship is popular in the East both in religious and in mystical spheres. Its very foundation being a blasphemous misapprehension of the true relation between man and God no one need be surprised at learning that it teems with superstitions, abuses, and exploitations.
They fall into a new sectarianism when they make success solely dependent on a guru, and when they make their own guru the chosen and perfect one decreed for contemporary humanity.
The folly of refusing to recognize that his guru is certainly not as all-knowing as God, is a defect in this type of disciple. Nor can the guru himself stand exempt from censure if he allows the error to remain.
When all men are holy in the divine sight, why proclaim a few only and set them apart from others?
To become a disciple is to become an enthusiast, one who exaggerates, distorts, or overlooks the real facts. He will grossly misrepresent the true state of affairs because his guide is no longer reason but emotion.
Experience teaches us to be a little wary of those disciples who indiscriminately laud their teachers to the skies. A robust common sense is not usually accredited to mystics.
Just as they shamefully caricature the true Infinite Being by their personified and symbolized idea of It, so they shamefully falsify the true characteristics of a Master by their exaggerated and sentimentalized idea of him.
We must remember that a leader's name has acquired special meaning for his followers, that it is charged by their own minds, through the effect of suggestion, with a certain stimulus and exceptional symbolism. Hence they react to it favourably in a way in which non-followers do not.
They see and make no difference between the human instrument and God himself. Such exaggerated worship may be harmful both to the worshippers and to the man worshipped. It makes them too dependent on some one person, too ignorant or neglectful of the real source of his power. It may fill his head with grandiose notions and far-stretching ambitions. Simply because he feels that he is communing with God is not enough basis for him to claim, or for others to accept, that he is really doing so. The remedy for all this is to teach them the truth concerning such dependence as well as to show them how to establish their own direct contact with the source.
Idolizing followers are not concerned to know what is factual and what is imaginary: they need to have their bias satisfied.
It is idol worship, only they substitute a living idol for a stone figure.
Even the qualified teacher is no perfect man; he is fallible and mortal; indeed, he even makes mistakes. The attitude found in simple Occidentals or superstitious Orientals of regarding him as above all possible criticism, the attitude which elevates him to the status of a divine being, is ill-informed and ill-judged.
To set up these good and great men as being even better and greater than they are, and especially to deprive them of their humanity and replace it by some supernatural status, is to render a disservice to them as well as to truth.
All these gurus possess inevitable human limitations and some human deficiencies. To see any one of them under an appearance of perfection and make him into a demigod is a superstitious error which will not bring us nearer the world of truth and reality. He who is over-awed by the claims of these teachers suspends his reasoning faculty, dismisses his critical judgement, lets his intellectual integrity collapse, and falls victim at their feet.
To demand impossible perfection in any human being--spiritual master or wifely mate--is as silly as to make impossible idealizations.
The ideal master can be found only in the imagination of seekers who are either over-fanciful and unrealistic or else hypercritical and unable to understand that to be at all human is to be imperfect.
This guru is not a nonhuman or superhuman being. Take away the prestige, the ashram, the theatrical settings, and he is left a person, perhaps on a superior level but not infallible, still liable to make mistakes.
With a few exceptions, most Orientals consider the connection with an instructor rigidly necessary. But when it is made, he is turned into a deity and worshipped. Both learning and teaching may then get submerged in an emotional bath.
There are gurus who literally enjoy the atmosphere of devotion, exaggeration, and exploitation which surrounds them, as well as disciples who enjoy helping to make and sustain this atmosphere.
Just as the Renaissance brought forward brilliant minds and talents in scattered places, so we see today spiritual geniuses rising here and there. The followers of some lose their balance, get swollen with pride, and talk proudly that the avatar is here, each claiming his own leader as the avatar. Let us not be taken in by such sectarianism.
There is something blasphemous in placing human figures on a pedestal of the highest worship. Such worship should be reserved for the Infinite Intelligence alone. Nevertheless, as institutions of organized religion go, one may be much better conducted and far more to be recommended than most others. Undoubtedly, some conversation and companionship with a friend who attends such a superior type of place may be helpful to the seeker--if he can recognize and ignore the superstitious admixtures to be found in all religions and cults.
It is wiser to keep attention upon the teaching and not upon the teacher's personality.
The psychic structure of a person contains a light and a shadow side. It is naïve to see in him only one side, for that usually leads to an exaggerated view of it. A fantasy is then built around the person by those who fall into this error and they no longer meet, think of, or speak with a realistic person. There is also the other case where people build up fantasies about themselves even more than about others.
They make the mistake of affirming the divinity of man without taking the trouble to notice that this is still only in a potential state.
One common fault is to greet the latest master with adoring emotion, then to follow him with a strongly personal clinging attitude and to talk of him only in superlatives. In such an atmosphere the ego thrives unsuspected where it is supposed to be most absent!
The myth of superhumanity, even of divinity, created around the gurus will remain undeflated for their followers despite all the historical facts and psychological principles involved.
Though the transcendental power may be using him as a channel, he himself is still a very human human being. Only youthful, inexperienced, untravelled, or fanatical naïveté can so deceive itself as to think otherwise. The commonest error made by the guru-seekers or guru-greeters is to believe him to be perfect. The haze which surrounds their eyes prevents them from noting the flaws.
Most aspirants possess extremely hazy notions of the powers of a mystical adept. Many even possess quite fantastic or quite exaggerated notions about him, while few seem to realize that he has any limitations at all. This is not altogether their fault. It is largely the fault of irresponsible loose-thinking muddleheaded enthusiasts for mysticism, or incompetent half-baked exponents of it, or incorrect teaching about its goal. When an adept is supposed to have attained complete union with God Almighty, when there is supposed to be no difference between his mind or power and God's mind or power, where is the miracle we may not legitimately expect him to perform?
The merits are magnified out of all proportion, the drawbacks minified almost to nothing. Such is the way of enthusiastic believers with any system they adopt or any master they follow.
The prophet may be personally discredited, his prophecies may fail to be fulfilled, yet the blind faith of his adherents may still continue unshaken.
An ageing master, surrounded by a court of reverent admirers, an echoing group of disciples who behave as if they were in physical proximity to the Deity--this is the inevitable end.
After making all allowance for the awe and affection which, quite properly, well up in the guru's presence, it is still a fact that Oriental devotees are unduly laudatory of him.
None of these biographies written by overzealous disciples ever shows up the master's faults or even suggests that he had a single one.
The illusion that some human being has somewhere achieved perfection gives the naïve a curious kind of satisfaction.
The intense, unbalanced, and anti-human attitude which is so often favoured by the over-devout followers of these cults and which renders them ridiculous to the sight of sceptical outsiders, is one which will never be found among philosophers. This foolish attitude makes men morally indignant with their contemporaries, impatient, and highly charged with propagandist aggressiveness. Their wild assertions and exaggerated claims show what a startling lack of proportion exists in this attitude.
A famous case of the unfortunate results of excessive guru-worship was, of course, that of the Rasputin-Empress Alexandria relationship. It led in the end to loss of the throne and defeat in war.
These disciples assume so much, such as that the guru knows everything about them, what they should do in their particular and private situations--everything about everything.
They glamourize their guru, provide him with qualities and powers he does not possess and perhaps does not even claim.
The glamourous myth of infallibility surrounds such a person. Neither he nor his followers dare confess a blunder. Once having declared such a thing impossible, they have to cover any slur on the myth with supernatural whitewash.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that because someone has gone farther than they, he has gone to the end of the Way.
Superstition, imagination, and self-deception
Worse than failing to comprehend the truth is thinking that you comprehend it. It is harder to climb out of the pit of error than out of the pit of illusion.
Philosophy does not accept the literal inspiration of every page of scripture. It knows that human fallibility and human preferences may be present. Another important factor which broadens or narrows the nature of an individual's revelation is the breadth or narrowness of his general cultural experience.
A mystical interpretation may be shaped to fit almost any scriptural text. Twenty different interpretations may be shaped to fit one and the same text. For the same heightened imaginative faculty which operates during the dream state operates during certain mystical ones. That in the latter case it is conjoined with genuine revelatory insight does not alter the doubtful character of its own contribution.
It is pleasant to hear that so many mystics have communed with God, but if the word "God" means the ultimate principle of the universe then their words must usually represent wishful thinking rather than true statements of fact.
They accept such beliefs as are their own wish-fulfilments.
Mere chance happenings are made to hold deep esoteric significance.
Their pleasant belief that all cults teach substantially the same thing relates to the world of their private thoughts and wishes, not to our world. How can the results of totally different spiritual positions be other than different themselves?
One and the same psychical experience can be interpreted to support ten different religious tenets.
The occultist who sees esoteric mysteries wherever he looks, the mystic who reads allegorical meanings into every text--such a man is merely projecting his own mentality.
He has a peculiar capacity for self-deception, bringing himself to a point where he sincerely believes in the truth of false reasonings and egotistic promptings.
We must beware of those who are obsessed by fanatical delusions which walk endlessly round and round within the brain like a tiger in a cage.
Ignorant persons turn coincidence into miracle because they are unable and unfit to distinguish between reason and imagination.
It is easy for the superstitious to assign a supernatural origin to a perfectly prosaic event and see the work of a magician in a perfectly material circumstance.
There is a moronic credulity which too often passes for mystical faith.
The habit of seeing more in his words than what he says is likely to become delusional.
They become willing partners to their own self-deception because it flatters their vanity and panders to their conceit.
People throughout history have been able to think themselves into any belief or conclusion; have been able to deceive themselves into acceptance of whatever is offered them; have been susceptible to the most opposite, contradictory, and varied suggestions which the human mind can formulate.
Too many times he assumes that what he desires for himself must be the same as what God desires for him.
Charlatanic occultists and half-insane mystics take the great sayings as sanction for their misdeeds in the one case, and for their misleadings in the other.
It is right and necessary to seek inward guidance for each important step in life, but it is wrong and foolish to accept any and every inward impression as being divine guidance. What is taken to be the voice of the Lord can very easily be the voice of the ego.
They easily mistake their ego's doings for God's doings, their human ego's healing for divine healing, and their own ideas for imperishable truths. This happens, and can only happen, because they are so attached to themselves and so unable or unwilling to forsake themselves.
These texts and symbols, these memorials and characters, pyramids and bibles, can be construed to mean nearly anything or everything that pleases anyone's temperament or taste or to support any of the fanatical beliefs which thrive on human credulity. All such interpretations which are prejudged from the beginning are either of little worth or teach nothing at all. Whether ingenious or foolish they diminish the sum of human knowledge--the very opposite of their claim to enlarge it!
It is impossible for the fanatic to receive or give truth, for even in his most inspired moments he holds up a cracked mirror to truth's face.
Imagination can find support in any fact for what it wants to support. Faith can discover relations and connections between things, persons, events which are simply not there at all. Superstition can misinterpret statements and twist texts to mean what speaker and writer did not dream of.
Belief in the protective power of the Overself is valid only if it is really the Overself with which you establish a connection. Otherwise you fall into mere superstition or, worse, into the hands of lying evil spirits making false promises. In one or the other of these classes were the following instances, the first two occurring in our own century and the last two in the previous one. The Tibetan army believed that it had been made invulnerable against the howitzers of General Younghusband's British forces. Their spiritual guides, the lamas, were responsible for this pathetic error. The Moplah rebels in southwest India were told that the bullets of their Indian army would be averted by magic power. Chembrasseri Thangal, their leader, made this promise. The Boers, in South Africa, following Van Hansburg, were convinced by him that they were under special divine protection. Lastly, those Maoris of New Zealand who adopted the new religion of Hauhavism were fully persuaded by their prophet, Te Va, that the English troops would be defeated and that the Angel Gabriel would cause the English guns to have no effect.
They want these occult experiences so much that the smallest ones are greatly magnified, the most trivial happenings are greatly exaggerated. The results--wrong interpretations, mistaken deductions, and premature claims--are then inevitable.
Every piece of gibberish is not to be accepted as momentous revelation merely because it is the product of so-called mystical processes.
They are consoled by their imaginings, which, being completely divorced from realities, are shaped to please their egos.
Those who believe themselves to be in mystical communion with God do not usually admit that they may be mistaken.
Some of these facts of occult research and experience have no existence anywhere, no reality at all, outside of the occultist's own mind.
Too many have only an imaginary understanding of the truth, arising mostly from books they have read or lectures they have heard.
In the end almost all teaching, doctrine, and revelation is someone's interpretation, opinion, or imagination.
Men who delude themselves with false ideas may go on from there to impossible ideals.
Penalties of delusion
There are three well-defined stages in the master-disciple relationship. In the first one the master is enthusiastically loved and exaggeratedly appreciated. In the second there is revulsion of feeling against him; he is depreciated, criticized, and finally rejected. In the last stage the disciple either attaches himself to another master and repeats the entire situation or decides to walk alone without any master at all and take care of his own further development.
When they find that their paths do not lead to the expected results, dissatisfaction is sure to arise. This in turn will lead to some painful thinking, questioning and revision of views. They will eventually recognize their mistakes. In the effort to rectify them, they will start learning anew.
So long as fools allow themselves to be duped, so long is it spiritually necessary for them to be duped.
In brief, those who look for light where it is not, lose their labour.
Those who carry their faith too far and place it too foolishly must pay the penalty of their mistakes.
There will one day be a stupefying awakening from these superstitious dreams and these misplaced loyalties.
The enthusiasm, the zeal, and the fervour with which they give themselves to these cults are in many cases displaced in the end by disappointment, disillusion, and even cynicism.
Those who expect him to play God may get the foolishness and tyranny they deserve.
Those who revered him as the embodiment of spiritual sincerity may later shun him as the embodiment of spiritual quackery.
To idealize them and later, if one has judgement, discernment, and balance, to suffer disappointment, upsets rather than advances one's spiritual progress.
The failure of his predictions ought to open their eyes to the fallacy of his doctrines. But so weak-minded are many mystical believers that it fails to do so. What they will not learn from experience, what they could more easily have learned from reason, they will later have to learn from suffering.
Those who, in their green innocence or intellectual folly, accept such doctrines and follow their expounders will necessarily have to accept the tart fruits of their decisions.
The spell of black magic which such a sinister man casts over his pupils has to come to an inevitable end. Their awakening brings them to reactive mental depression and merited emotional misery.
Their romantic enthusiasms for false teachings and knavish masters can rarely be cooled down by forewarnings: they are usually brought to an end only by having to experience the bitter consequences of such misplaced faith.
They hanker after divine illumination but these lampless guides bring their feet upon the path of stony man-made enigmas.
I have seen criticism vaporize into discipleship as the years passed, and I have also seen other cases where discipleship has evaporated into criticism.
Those who attach themselves to an incompetent teacher usually pay the penalty in a double form, for they merely inflate his ego at their own expense.
They expect the master to support and even save them in many senses, and not only in a spiritual one. When they find that he cannot do so, they turn on him with a resentment as great as their former adulation.
It is a pathetic scene. They squat, sit, recline for minutes or years, serenely futile, living in their private world.
They are unwilling to surrender their occult dreams as their leaders are unwilling to surrender their pretensions. Both, then, must fall into the ditch.
Those foolish aspirants who are mulcted of their financial means by so-called masters deserve exactly what they get. In no other way can their stupidity be shown up to the outside world as a warning to others who would imitate them. For quite often they persist in stubbornly continuing their misplaced adherence despite their own bad experience and despite the good teaching of genuine master's books.
Those who succumb to the wiles of the cult-leaders sometimes get what they ask for, but sometimes deserve our commiseration.
By following such a false teacher he may become mentally disabled for years.
It is well known that some persons struggle for years along a quest that brings them in no way nearer to God but only nearer to mental chaos or emotional fanaticism. They are mostly to be found as members of organizations whose leaders are themselves imperfectly and incompletely developed.
The harm these gurus do is proportionate to the faith they arouse.
Experience shows that many seekers take up the position that they have been led by God to meet their "master" or "teaching" and that it is useless to reason or even expostulate with them. They know, and all one's longer years of wider experience count as nothing against their dangerous emotionality or conceited ignorance or misplaced stubbornness or open egotism. The dementia of the so-called master and the falsity of the supposedly inspired teaching will be able to reveal themselves only by the melancholy consequences of following them.
A sham mystic may deceive himself for a time and dupe his followers for a further time, but he will one day be found out and then turned out.
The mental world they have built up will prove a tower of Babel. They will come close to inner collapse.
The danger of this personal deification is that the person is expected to exhibit his perfections and when he exhibits his imperfections there is an emotional fall.
Those who fall for the bait of a quick and easy spiritual path get only what they have paid for--no more. I refer to the advertising methods some use. That which is bought cheaply is usually of according worth.
The frenetic evangelist, worked up to a state of unbalanced excitement, may incite his audience either to melodramatic holiness or to religious hysteria. They are so overwhelmed by their emotions--which in turn are prompted by hypnotic suggestion--that when the wave subsides later, they may repudiate what is now accepted.
The value of disillusionment
Everything is seen, on the contrary, through the spectacles of narrow intellectual preconception and biased emotional belief. They suffer from mental sleeping sickness, a dangerous lethargy from which they rarely awake; but when they do, it is only because the pain of repeated bitter disappointments and the ache of constant ugly disillusionments have become completely intolerable. A persistent capacity for throwing a romantic veil over ugly facts merely reveals an equivalent incapacity to review instructive events. In short, they lack the intelligence to recognize their errors and the courage to learn from them even when recognized.
It is not helping anyone's spiritual progress to let them go on living in a fantastic realm of supposed attainment. It is better to arouse them from their hallucinations, however painful to both teacher and student such an act may be.
He is seldom disillusioned, but merely shifts from one hallucination to another. If it be true that experience is the best teacher, he remains stubbornly untaught.
They dream of a perfect state or a perfect being. This is their start but not their end, which must needs be arrived at through progressive frustration and disappointment to finish in disillusionment.
The naïveté of many occult seekers is so evident, that only time, experience, and mental growth can supply what is lacking.
Both these conclusions are unpalatable to the purblind enthusiasts among such seekers and, therefore, when they subconsciously recognize the dilemma, they prefer to quell the revolt of reason and look the other way. They have neither the courage to be starkly realistic and descend from their clouds nor the capacity to be impartially reasonable and perceive aright what is happening beneath their noses.
Untaught by the disappointing consequences of many previous self-deceptions, they greet each new hope as though it were the absolutely certain one.
The self-deceived mystic may continue to nourish himself on delusions but, with time, the impact of facts becomes uncontradictable and inescapable.
Those who let themselves be taken from the true path by grand words or great promises or colossal claims show by that a certain mental incapacity, a lack of discrimination. This will have to be adjusted by their own efforts. But they will neither become aware of this need nor be willing to put forth such efforts until forced to do so by disappointment or by being awakened by calamity. Meanwhile they will live as dreamers, without respect for actualities and without being able to look at everyday happenings just as they are.
They take a long way to reach, in the end, a recognition which they ought to have reached in the first encounter.
If he were to put aside all this fancy and jargon, all this suggestion which others have put into his head, he would come back to sobering sanity with a bump. Alas, it is unlikely that this will happen while he is thoroughly mesmerized both from outside and from inside.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.