One of the more integral thinkers of the last century was Paul Brunton and here are some of his reflections on the question:
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?
People sometimes ask me to what religion I belong or to what school of yoga I adhere. If I answer them, which is not often, I tell them: “To none and to all!” If such a paradox annoys them, I try to soften their wrath by adding that I am a student of philosophy. During my journeys to the heavenly realm of infinite eternal and absolute existence, I did not once discover any labels marked Christian, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Zen, Shin, Platonist, Hegelian, and so on, any more than I discovered labels marked Englishman, American, or Hottentot. All such ascriptions would contradict the very nature of the ascriptionless existence. All sectarian differences are merely intellectual ones. They have no place in that level which is deeper than intellectual function. They divide men into hostile groups only because they are pseudo-spiritual. He who has tasted of the pure Spirit’s own freedom will be unwilling to submit himself to the restrictions of cult and creed. Therefore I could not conscientiously affix a label to my own outlook or to the teaching about this existence which I have embraced. In my secret heart I separate myself from nobody, just as this teaching itself excludes no other in its perfect comprehension. Because I had to call it by some name as soon as I began to write about it, I called it philosophy because this is too wide and too general a name to become the property of any single sect. In doing so I merely returned to its ancient and noble meaning among the Greeks who, in the Eleusinian Mysteries, designated the spiritual truth learnt at initiation into them as “philosophy” and the initiate himself as “philosopher” or lover of wisdom.
Now genuine wisdom being, in its highest phase, the fruit of a transcendental insight, is sublimely dateless and unchangeable. Yet its mode of expression is necessarily dated and may therefore change. Perhaps this pioneering attempt to fill the term “philosophy” with a content which combines ancient tradition with modern innovation will help the few who are sick of intellectual intolerances that masquerade as spiritual insight. Perhaps it may free such broader souls from the need of adopting a separative standpoint with all the frictions, prejudices, egotisms, and hatreds which go with it, and afford them an intellectual basis for practising a profound compassion for all alike. It is as natural for those reared on limited conceptions of life to limit their faith and loyalty to a particular group or a particular area of this planet as it is natural for those reared on philosophic truth to widen their vision and service into world-comprehension and world-fellowship. The philosopher’s larger and nobler vision refuses to establish a separate group consciousness for himself and for those who think as he does. Hence he refuses to establish a new cult, a new association, or a new label. To him the oneness of mankind is a fact and not a fable. He is always conscious of the fact that he is a citizen of the world-community. While acknowledging the place and need of lesser loyalties for unphilosophical persons, he cannot outrage truth by confining his own self solely to such loyalties.
Why this eagerness to separate ourselves from the rest of mankind and collect into a sect, to wear a new label that proclaims difference and division? The more we believe in the oneness of life, the less we ought to herd ourselves behind barriers. To add a new cult to the existing list is to multiply the causes of human division and thence of human strife. Let those of us who can do so be done with this seeking of ever-new disunity, this fostering of ever-fresh prejudices, and let those who cannot do so keep it at least as an ideal–however remote and however far-off its attainment may seem–for after all it is ultimate direction and not immediate position that matters most. The democratic abolishment of class status and exclusive groups, which will be a distinctive feature of the coming age, should also show itself in the circles of mystical and philosophic students. If they have any superiority over others, let them display it by a superiority of conduct grounded in a diviner consciousness. Nevertheless, with all the best will in the world to refrain from starting a new group, the distinctive character of their conduct and the unique character of their outlook will, of themselves, mark out the followers of such teaching. Therefore whatever metaphysical unity with others may be perceived and whatever inward willingness to identify interests with them may be felt, some kind of practical indication of its goal and outward particularization of its path will necessarily and inescapably arise of their own accord. And I do not know of any better or broader name with which to mark those who pursue this quest than to say that they are students of philosophy. (20-1.18)
It may be asked why I insist on using the word “philosophy” as a self-sufficient name without prefixing it by some descriptive term or person’s name when it has held different meanings in different centuries, or been associated with different points of view ranging from the most materialistic to the most spiritualist. The question is well asked, although the answer may not be quite satisfactory. I do so because I want to restore this word to its ancient dignity. I want it used for the highest kind of insight into the Truth of things, which means into the Truth of the unique Reality. I want the philosopher to be equated with the sage, the man who not only knows this Truth, has this insight, and experiences this Reality in meditation, but also, although in a modified form, in action amid the world’s turmoil. (20-1.127)
The practice of philosophy is an essential part of it and not only consists in applying its principles and its wisdom to everyday active living, but also in realizing the divine presence deep, deep within the heart where it abides in tremendous stillness. (20-1.17)
The Advaitin who declares that as such he has no point of view, has already adopted one by calling himself an Advaitin and by rejecting every other point of view as being dualistic. A human philosophy is neither dualistic alone nor nondualistic alone. It perceives the connection between the dream and the dreamer, the Real and the unreal, the consciousness and the thought. It accepts Advaita, but refuses to stop with it; it accepts duality, but refuses to remain limited to it; therefore it alone is free from a dogmatic point of view. But in attempting to bring into harmony that which forever is and that which is bound by time and space, it becomes a truly human philosophy of Truth.
Two things have to be learned in this quest. The first is the art of mind-stilling, of emptying consciousness of every thought and form whatsoever. This is mysticism or Yoga. The disciple’s ascent should not stop at the contemplation of anything that has shape or history, name or habitation, however powerfully helpful this may have formerly been to the ascent itself. Only in the mysterious void of Pure Spirit, in the undifferentiated Mind, lies his last goal as a mystic. The second is to grasp the essential nature of the ego and of the universe and to obtain direct perception that both are nothing but a series of ideas which unfold themselves within our minds. This is the metaphysics of Truth. The combination of these two activities brings about the realization of his true Being as the ever beautiful and eternally beneficent Overself. This is philosophy. (20-4.134)
Viewed from the standpoint of the house in which we all have to live–that is, the body–Advaita Vedanta seems to deal only in ultimate abstractions–however admirable and lofty its outlook. The body is there and its actuality and factuality must be noted and, more, accepted. This is why I do not give any other label to the ideas put into my later books than the generic name philosophy. I do not call it Indian philosophy since there are ideas in the books which do not belong to India at all. I do not identify it with any particular land, race, religion, or teacher from the ancient past or the modern present. Philosophy can not be limited only to abstract ideas. It includes those ideas but it also includes other things. Its original Greek meaning “love of wisdom” concerns the whole of man, and not only his abstract thoughts, intellect, feelings, body, or relation to the world around him. It concerns his entire life: his contacts with other people, the morality which guides him in dealing with them, and finally his attitude towards himself. Philosophy must be universal in its scope; therefore, it may embrace ideas which originate not only in India or in America or in Europe, but in every other country and in every other period of civilization. Not all ideas are philosophical, but only those which are true, useful, in harmony with the World-Idea, and able to survive the test of practice and applicability. (20-1.128)
Truth will not insult intelligence, although it soars beyond intellect. Let the religionists talk nonsense, as they do at times; but holiness is not incompatible with the use of brains, the acquisition of knowledge, and the rational faculties. (20-4.61)
To view the inferior mystical experiences or the ratiocinative metaphysical findings otherwise than as passing phases, to set them up as finally representative of reality in the one case or of truth in the other, is to place them on a level to which they do not properly belong. Those who fall into the second error do so because they ascribe excessive importance to the thinking faculty. The mystic is too attached to one faculty, as the metaphysician is to the other, and neither can conduct a human being beyond the bounds of his enchained ego to that region where Being alone reigns. It is not that the mystic does not enter into contact with the Overself. He does. But his experience of the Overself is limited to glimpses which are partial, because he finds the Overself only within himself, not in the world outside. It is temporary because he has to take it when it comes at its own sweet will or when he can find it in meditation. It is a glimpse because it tells him about his own “I” but not about the “Not-I.” On the other hand, the sage finds reality in the world without as his own self, at all times and not at special occasions, and wholly rather than in glimpses. The mystic’s light comes in glimpses, but the sage’s is perennial. Whereas the first is like a flickering unsteady and uneven flame, the second is like a lamp that never goes out. Whereas the mystic comes into awareness of the Overself through feeling alone, the sage comes into it through knowledge plus feeling. Hence, the superiority of his realization.
The average mystic is devoid of sufficient critical sense. He delights in preventing his intellect from being active in such a definite direction. He has yet to learn that philosophical discipline has a steadying influence on the vagaries of mystical emotion, opinion, fancy, and experience. He refuses to judge the goal he has set up as to whether it be indeed man’s ultimate goal. Consequently he is unable to apply correct standards whereby his own achievements or his own aspirations may be measured. Having shut himself up in a little heaven of his own, he does not attempt to distinguish it from other heavens or to discover if it be heaven indeed. He clings as stubbornly to his self-righteousness as does the religionist whom he criticizes for clinging to his dogma. He does not comprehend that he has transferred to himself that narrowness of outlook which he condemns in the materialistic. His position would be preposterous were it not so perilous.
Mysticism must not rest so smugly satisfied with its own obscurity that it refuses even to make the effort to come out into the light of critical self-examination, clear self-determination, and rational self-understanding. To complain helplessly that it cannot explain itself, to sit admiringly before its own self-proclaimed impalpability, or to stand aristocratically in the rarefied air of its own indefinability–as it usually does–is to fall into a kind of subtle quackery. Magnificent eulogy is no substitute for needed explanation. (20-4.23)
We do not claim that an entirely new teaching has been given to the world. But we do claim that a teaching and a praxis which we found in a primitive antique form have been brought up-to-date and given a scientific modern expression, that some parts of it which were formerly half-hidden and others wholly so, have been completely revealed and made accessible to everyone who cares for such things. (20-2.103)
This is a pioneer work, this making of a fresh synthesis which draws from, but does not solely depend upon, the knowledge of colleagues scattered in different continents as well as the initiations of masters belonging to the most different traditions. (20-2.67)
There is a kind of understanding combined with feeling which is not a common one here in the West, indeed uncommon enough to seem more discoverable and less puzzling in the Asiatic regions. It is puzzling for four reasons. One is that it cannot be attributed to the intellect alone, nor to the emotional nature alone. Another is that it provides an experience so difficult to describe that it is preferable not to discuss it at all. A third is that although the most reverent it is not allied to religion. A fourth point is that it is outside any precise labelling as for instance a metaphysics or cult which could really belong to it. Yet it is neither anything new or old. It is nameless. But because there is only one way to deal with it honestly–the way of utter silence, speechless when in contact with other humans, perfectly still when in the secrecy of a closed room–we may renew the Pythagorean appellation of “philosophy” for it is truly the love of wisdom-knowledge. (20-1.129)
Such a revolutionary acquisition as insight must necessarily prove to be in a man’s life can only be developed by overcoming all the tremendous force of habitual wrong thinking, by neutralizing all the tremendous weight of habitual wrong feeling, and by counteracting all the tremendous strength of habitual wrong-doing. In short, the familiar personal “I” must have the ground cut from under its feet. This is done by the threefold discipline. The combined threefold technique consists of metaphysical reflection, mystical meditation, and constant remembrance in the midst of disinterested active service. The full use and balanced exercise of every function is needful. Although these three elements have here been isolated one by one for the purpose of clearer intellectual study, it must be remembered that in actual life the student should not attempt to isolate them. Such a division is an artificial one. He who takes for his province this whole business of truth-seeking and gains this rounded all-comprehensive view will no longer be so one-sided as to set up a particular path as being the only way to salvation. On the contrary, he will see that salvation is an integral matter. It can no more be attained by mere meditation alone, for example, than by mere impersonal activity alone; it can no more be reached by evading the lessons of everyday external living than by evading the suppression of such externality which meditation requires. Whereas metaphysics seeks to lift us up to the superphysical idea by thinking, whereas meditation seeks to lift us up by intuition, whereas ethics seeks to raise us to it by practical goodness, art seeks to do the same by feeling and appreciating beauty. Philosophy in its wonderful breadth and balance embraces and synthesizes all four and finally adds their coping stone, insight. (20-4.178)
Philosophy must critically absorb the categories of metaphysics, mysticism, and practicality. For it understands that in the quest of truth the co-operation of all three will not only be helpful and profitable to each other but is also necessary to itself. For only after such absorption, only after it has travelled through them all can it attain what is beyond them all. The decisive point of this quest is reached after the co-operation between all three activities attains such a pitch that they become fused into a single all-comprehensive one which itself differs from them in character and qualities. For the whole truth which is then revealed is not merely a composite one. It not only absorbs them all but transcends them all. When water is born out of the union of oxygen and hydrogen, we may neither say that it is the same as the simple sum-total of both nor that it is entirely different from both. It is a fluid and therefore possesses properties which they as gases do not at all possess. We may only say that it includes and yet transcends them. When philosophic insight is born out of the union of intellectual reasoning, mystical feeling, and altruistic doing, we may neither say that it is only the totalization of these three things nor that it is utterly remote from them. It comprehends them all and yet itself extends far beyond them into a higher order of being. It is not only that the philosopher synthesizes these triple functions, that in one and the same instant his intellect understands the world, his heart feels a tender sympathy towards it, and his will is moved to action for the triumph of good, but also that he is continuously conscious of that infinite reality which, in its purity, no thinking, no emotion, and no action can ever touch. (20-4.183)
The hidden teaching starts and finishes with experience. Every man must begin his mental life as a seeker by noting the fact that he is conscious of an external environment. He will proceed in time to discover that it is an ordered one, that Nature is the manifestation of an orderly Mind. He discovers in the end that consciousness of this Mind becomes the profoundest fact of his internal experience. (20-4.132)
Truth existed before the churches began to spire their way upwards into the sky, and it will continue to exist after the last academy of philosophy has been battered down. Nothing can still the primal need of it in man. Priesthoods can be exterminated until not one vestige is left in the land; mystic hermitages can be broken until they are but dust; philosophical books can be burnt out of existence by culture-hating tyrants, yet this subterranean sense in man which demands the understanding of its own existence will one day rise again with an urgent claim and create a new expression of itself. (20-5.262)
Those who would assign philosophy the role of a leisurely pastime for a few people who have nothing better to do, are greatly mistaken. Philosophy, correctly understood, involves living as well as being. Its value is not merely intellectual, not merely to stimulate thought, but also to guide action. Its ideas and ideals are not left suspended in mid-air, as it were, unable to come down to earth in practical and practicable forms. It can be put to the test in daily living. It can be applied to all personal and social problems without exception. It shows us how to achieve a balanced existence in an unbalanced society. It is truth made workable. The study of and practice of philosophy are particularly valuable to men and women who follow certain professions, such a physicians, lawyers, and teachers, or who hold a certain social status, such as business executives, political administrators, and leaders of organizations. Those who have been placed by character or destiny or by both where their authority touches the lives of numerous others, or where their influence affects the minds of many more, who occupy positions of responsibility or superior status, will find in its principles that which will enable them to direct others wisely and in a manner conducive to the ultimate happiness of all. In the end it can only justify its name if it dynamically inspires its votaries to a wise altruistic and untiring activity, both in self-development and social development. (20-1.177)
We may begin by asking what this philosophy offers us. It offers those who pursue it to the end a deep understanding of the world and a satisfying explanation of the significance of human experience. It offers them the power to penetrate appearances and to discover the genuinely real from the mere appearance of reality; it offers satisfaction of that desire which everyone, everywhere, holds somewhere in his heart–the desire to be free.
It is the joyous duty of philosophy to bring into systematic harmony the various views which mankind has held and will ever hold, however conflicting they seem on the surface, by assigning the different types to their proper level and by providing a total view of the possible heights and depths of human thought. Thus and thus alone the most opposite tendencies of belief and the most striking contrasts of outlook are brought within a single scheme. All become aspects, more or less limited, only. None ever achieves metaphysical finality and need never again be mistaken for the whole truth. All become clear as organic phases of mankind’s mental development. Philosophy alone can bring logically opposite doctrines into harmonious relation with each other by assigning them to their proper places under a single sheltering canopy. Thus out of the medley of voices within us philosophy creates a melody. (20-1.481)
The quest has three aspects: metaphysical, meditational, and morally active. It is the metaphysician’s business to think this thing called life through to its farthest end. It is the mystic’s business to intuit the peaceful desireless state of thoughtlessness. But this quest cannot be conducted in compartments; rather must it be conducted as we have to live, that is, integrally. Hence it is the philosopher’s business to bring the metaphysician’s bloodless conclusions and the mystic’s serene intuition into intimate relation with practical human obligations and flesh-and-blood activities. Both ancient mystical-metaphysical wisdom and modern scientific practicality form the two halves of a complete and comprehensive human culture. Both are required by a man who wants to be fully educated; one without the help of the other will be lame. This may well be why wise Emerson confessed, “I have not yet seen a man!” Consequently, he who has passed through all the different disciplines will be a valuable member of society. For meditation will have calmed his temperament and disciplined his character; the metaphysics of truth will have sharpened his intelligence, protected him against error, and balanced his outlook; the philosophic ethos will have purified his motives and promoted his altruism, whilst the philosophic insight will have made him forever aware that he is an inhabitant of the country of the Overself. He will have touched life at its principal points yet will have permitted himself to be cramped and confined by none. (20-1.173)
Philosophy takes its votaries on a holy pilgrimage from ordinary life in the physical senses through mystical life in the sense-freed spirit to a divinized life back in the same senses. (20-4.113)
The sincere, who are honestly desirous of discovering Truth at whatever cost, will be helped within their limitations; the insincere, who seek to support their petty prejudices rather than to follow Truth, will have their hearts read and their hollowness exposed. (20-1.174)
Is there a universal truth? Is there a doctrine which does not depend on individual opinion or the peculiarities of a particular age or the level of culture of a particular land? Is there a teaching which appeals to universal experience and not to private prejudice? We reply that there is, but it has been buried underneath much metaphysical lumber, much ancient lore, and much Oriental superstition. Our work has been to rescue this doctrine from the dead past for the benefit of the living present. In these pages we explode false counterfeits and expound the genuine doctrine. (20-5.194)
We may generally distinguish three different views of the world. The first is that which comes easily and naturally and it depends on five-sense experience alone. It may be called materialism, and may take various shapes. The second is religious in its elementary state, depending on faith, and mystical in its higher stage, depending on intuition and transcendental experience. The third is scientific in its elementary state, depending on concrete reason, and metaphysical in its higher state, depending on abstract reason. Although these are the views generally held amongst men, they do not exhaust the possibilities of human intelligence. There is a fourth possible view which declares that none of the others can stand alone and that if we cling to any one of them alone to the detriment of the others we merely limit the truth. This view is the philosophic. It declares that truth may be arrived at by combining all the other views which yield only partial truths into the balanced unity of whole truth, and unfolding the faculty of insight which penetrates into hidden reality. (20-1.19)
There are three things man needs to know to make him a spiritually educated man: the truth about himself, his world, and his God. The mystic who thinks it is enough to know the first alone and to leave out the last two, is satisfied to be half-educated. (20-4.95)
The first step is to discover that there is a Presence, a Power, a Life, a Mind, Being, unique, not made or begot, without shape, unseen and unheard, everywhere and always the same. The second step is to discover its relationship to the universe and to oneself. (20-4.133)
It is not enough to attain knowledge of the soul; any mystic may do that. It is necessary to attain clear knowledge. Only the philosophic mystic may do that. This emphasis on clarity is important. It implies a removal of all the obstructions in feeling, the complexes in mind, and obfuscations in ego which prevent it. When this is done, the aspirant beholds truth as it really is. (20-4.62) (20-4.168)
In the first stage of progress we learn to stand aside from the world and to still our thoughts about it. This is the mystical stage. Next, we recognize the world as being but a series of ideas within the mind; this is the mentalist-metaphysical stage. Finally, we return to the world’s activity without reacting mentally to its suggestions, working disinterestedly, and knowing always that all is One. This is the philosophical stage.
The faith in and the practice of reverential worship into which he was initiated by religion must not be dropped. It is required by philosophy also. Only, he is to correct, purify, and refine it. He is to worship the divine presence in his heart, not some distant remote being, and he is to do so more by an act of concentrated thought and unwavering feeling than by resort to external indirect and physical methods. With the philosopher, as with the devotee, the habit of prayer is a daily one. But whereas he prays with light and heat, the other prays with heat alone. The heart finds in such worship a means of pouring out its deepest feelings of devotion, reverence, humility, and communion before its divine source. Thus we see that philosophy does not annul religious worship, but purifies and preserves what is best in it. It does annul the superstitions, exploitations, and futilities connected with conventional religious worship. In the end philosophy brings the seeker back to religion but not to a religion: to the reverence for a supreme power which he had discarded when he discarded the superstitions which had entwined themselves around it. Philosophy is naturally religious and inevitably mystical. Hence it keeps intact and does not break to pieces that which it receives from religion and yoga. It will, of course, receive only their sound fruits, not their bad ones. Philosophic endeavour does not, for instance, disdain religious worship and humble prayer merely because its higher elements transcend them. They are indeed part of such endeavour. But they are not, as with religionists, the whole of it. The mystic must not give up being religious merely because he has become a mystic. In the same way, the philosopher must not give up being both mystical and religious merely because he has become a philosopher. It is vitally important to know this. Philosophy does not supersede religion but keeps it and enlarges it. (20-1.454)
Science suppresses the subject of experience and studies the object. Mysticism suppresses the object of experience and studies the subject. Philosophy suppresses nothing, studies both subject and object; indeed it embraces the study of all experience. (20-1.21)
Although philosophy propounds statements of universal laws and eternal truths, nevertheless each man draws from its study highly personal application and gains from its practices markedly individual fulfilment. Although it is the only Idea which can ever bring men together in harmony and unity, nevertheless it becomes unique for every fresh adherent. And although it transcends all limitations imposed by intellect emotion form and egoism, nevertheless it inspires the poet, teaches the thinker, gives vistas to the artist, guides the executive, and solaces the labourer. (20-1.150)
Philosophy is faced with the problem of educating each individual seeker who aspires to understand it. There is no such thing as mass education in philosophy. (20-2.289)
The theory of philosophy is suited and available to everyone who has the intelligence to grasp it, the faith to accept it, the intuition to recognize its supreme pre-eminence. The practice of philosophy is more restricted, being for those who have been sufficiently prepared by previous inner growth and outer experience to be willing to impose its higher ethical standards, mental training, and emotional discipline upon themselves. To come unprepared for the individual effort demanded, unfit for the intellectual and meditational exertions needed, unready for the teacher or the teaching, is to find bewilderment and to leave disappointed. A premature attempt to enter the school of philosophy will meet with the painful revelation of the dismaying shortcomings within oneself, which must be remedied before the attempt can be successful. (20-2.120)
It is the business of philosophy to cast out error and establish truth. This takes it away from the popular conceptions of religion. Philosophy by its very nature must be unpopular; hence it does not ordinarily go out of its way to spread its ideas in the world. Only at special periods, like our own, when history and evolution have prepared enough individuals to make a modest audience, does philosophy promulgate such of its tenets as are best suited to the mind of that period. (20-2.7)
Such a teaching cannot indulge in propagandist methods or militant sectarianism. It must live quietly and offer itself only to those who are intellectually prepared and emotionally willing to receive it. (20-2.290)
The spiritual seekers who followed Rene\q Gue\qnon and the poets who followed T.S. Eliot fell into the same trap as their leaders. For in protesting, and rightly, against the anarchy of undisciplined and unlimited freedom, both Gue\qnon and Eliot retreated backwards into formal tradition and fixed myth. Both had served their historic purpose and were being left behind. Both men were brilliant intellectuals and naturally attracted a corresponding type of reader. Their influence is understandable. But it is not on the coming wave of the Aquarian Age. New forms will be needed to satisfy the new knowledge, the new outlook, the new feelings. The classical may be respected, even admired; but the creative will be followed. (20-2.66)
The esoteric meaning of the star is “Philosophic Man,” that is, one who has travelled the complete fivefold path and brought its results into proper balance. This path consists of religious veneration, mystical meditation, rational reflection, moral re-education, and altruistic service. The esoteric meaning of the circle, when situated within the very centre of the star, is the Divine Overself-atom within the human heart. (20-1.23)
Whatever were the motives which dictated the exclusive reservation of ultimate wisdom in former centuries and the extraordinary precautions which were taken to keep it from the larger world, we must now reckon on the dominant fact that humanity lives today in a cultural environment which has changed tremendously. The old ideas have lost their weight among educated folk–except for individuals here and there–and this general decay has passed by reflex action among the masses, albeit to a lesser extent. Whether in religion or science, politics or society, economics or ethics, the story of prodigious storm which has shaken the thoughts of men to their foundations is the same. The time indeed is transitional. In this momentous period when the ethical fate of mankind is at stake because the religious sanctions of morality have broken down, it is essential that something should arise to take their place. This is the supreme and significant fact which has forced the hands of those who hold this wisdom in their possession, which has compelled them to begin this historically unique disclosure of it, and which illustrates the saying that the night is darkest just before dawn. This is the dangerous situation which broke down an age-old policy and necessitated a new one whose sublime consequences to future generations we can now but dimly envisage. (20-2.8)
The goal of self-elimination which is held up before us refers only to the animal and lower human selves. It certainly does not refer to the annihilation of all self-consciousness. The higher individuality always remains. But it is so different from the lower one that it does not make much sense to discuss it in human language. Hence, those who have adequately understood it write or talk little about its higher mysteries. If the end of all existence were only a merger at best or annihilation at worst, it would be a senseless and sorry scheme of things. It would be unworthy of the divine intelligence and discreditable to the divine goodness. The consciousness stripped of thought, which looks less attractive to you than the hazards of life down here, is really a tremendous enlargement of what thought itself tries to do. Spiritual advance is really from a Less to a More. There is nothing to fear in it and nothing to lose by it–except by the standards and values of the ignorant. (20-5.5)
It is perhaps the amplitude and symmetry of the philosophic approach which make it so completely satisfying. For this is the only approach which honours reason and appreciates beauty, cultivates intuition and respects mystical experience, fosters reverence and teaches true prayer, enjoins action and promotes morality. It is the spiritual life fully grown. (20-1.22)
Not to escape life, but to articulate it, is philosophy’s practical goal. Not to take the aspirant out of circulation, but to give him something worth doing is philosophy’s sensible ideal. (20-1.340)
The philosophic student will not make the mistake of using the quest as an excuse for inefficiency when attending to duties. There is nothing spiritual in being a muddler. The performance of worldly duties in a dreamy, casual, uninterested, and slovenly manner is often self-excused by the mystically minded because they feel superior to such duties. This arises out of the false opposition which they set up between Matter and Spirit. Such an attitude is not the philosophical one. The mystic is supposed to be apathetic in worldly matters, if he is to be a good mystic. The philosophical student, on the contrary, keeps what is most worthwhile in mysticism and yet manages to keep alert in worldly matters too. If he has understood the teaching and trained himself aright, his practical work will be better done and not worse because he has taken to this quest. He knows it is perfectly possible to balance mystical tendencies with a robust efficiency. He will put as much thought and heart into his work as it demands. (20-1.434)
It is not enough to negate thinking; this may yield a mental blank without content. We have also to transcend it. The first is the way of ordinary yoga; the second is the way of philosophic yoga. In the second way, therefore, we seek strenuously to carry thought to its most abstract and rarefied point, to a critical culminating whereby its whole character changes and it merges of its own accord in the higher source whence it arises. If successful, this produces a pleasant, sometimes ecstatic state–but the ecstasy is not our aim as with ordinary mysticism. With us the reflection must keep loyally to a loftier aim, that of dissolving the ego in its divine source. The metaphysical thinking must work its way, first upwards to a more and more abstract concept and second inwards to a more and more complete absorption from the external world. The consequence is that when illumination results, whether it comes in the form of a mystical trance, ecstasy, or intuition, its character will be unquestionably different and immeasurably superior to that which comes from the mere sterilization of the thinking process which is the method of ordinary yoga. (20-4.62)
The activity of analytic thinking has been banned in most mystical schools. They regard it as an obstacle to the attainment of spiritual consciousness. And ordinarily it is indeed so. For until the intellect can lie perfectly still, such consciousness cannot make itself apparent. The difficulty of making intellect quite passive is however an enormous one. Consequently different concentration techniques have been devised to overcome it. Nearly all of them involve the banishment of thinking and the cessation of reasoning. The philosophical school uses any or all of them where advisable but it also uses a technique peculiarly its own. It makes use of abstract concepts which are concerned with the nature of the mind itself and which are furnished by seers who have developed a deep insight into such nature. It permits the student to work out these concepts in a rational way but leading to subtler and subtler moods until they automatically vanish and thinking ceases as the transcendental state is induced to come of itself. This method is particularly suited either to those who have already got over the elementary difficulties of concentration or to those who regard reasoning power as an asset to be conserved rather than rejected. The conventional mystic, being the victim of external suggestion, will cling to the traditional view of his own school, which usually sees no good at all in reasoned thinking, and aver that spiritual attainment through such a path is psychologically impossible. Never having been instructed in it and never having tried it, he is not really in a position to judge. (20-4.65)
Continued and constant pondering over the ideas presented herein is itself a part of the yoga of philosophical discernment. Such reflection will as naturally lead the student towards realization of his goal as will the companion and equally necessary activity of suppressing all ideas altogether in mental quiet. This is because these ideas are not mere speculations but are themselves the outcome of a translation from inner experience. While such ideas as are here presented grow under the water of their reflection and the sunshine of their love into fruitful branches of thought, they gradually begin to foster intuition. (20-4.66)
The logical movement of intellect must come to a dead stop before the threshold of reality. But we are not to bring about this pause deliberately or in response to the bidding of some man or some doctrine. It must come of its own accord as the final maturation of long and precise reasoning and as the culmination of the intellectual and personal discovery that the apprehension of mind as essence will come only when we let go of the idea-forms it takes and direct our attention to it. (20-4.67)
The use of metaphysical thinking as part of the philosophic system is a feature which few yogis of the ordinary type are likely to appreciate. This is both understandable and pardonable. They are thoroughly imbued with the futility of a merely rational and intellectual approach to reality, a futility which has also been felt and expressed in these pages. So far there is agreement with them. But when they proceed to deduce that the only way left is to crush reason and stop the working of intellect altogether, our paths diverge. For what metaphysics admittedly cannot accomplish by itself may be accomplished by a combination of metaphysics and mysticism far better than by mysticism alone. The metaphysics of truth, which is here meant, however, must never be confused with the many historical speculative systems which exist. (20-4.64)
This is the paradox that both the capacity to think deeply and the capacity to withdraw from thinking are needed to attain this goal. (20-4.68)
We cannot afford to dispense with mysticism merely because we take to philosophy. Both are essential to this quest and both are vital in their respective places. The mystic’s power to concentrate attention is needed throughout the study of philosophy. The philosopher’s power to reason sharply is needed to give mystical reverie a content of world-understanding. And in the more advanced stages, when thinking has done its work and intellect has come to rest, we cease to be a philosopher and dwell self-absorbed in mystic trance, having taken with us the world-idea without which it would be empty. We can only afford to dispense with both mysticism and philosophy when we have perfectly done the work of both and when, amid the daily life of constant activity, we can keep unbroken the profound insight and selfless attitude which time and practice have now made natural.
The mistake of the mystics is to negate prematurely. Only after reasoning has completed its own task to the uttermost will it be psychologically right and philosophically fruitful to still it in the mystic silence. (20-4.69)
The highest contribution which mysticism can make is to afford 5its votaries glimpses of that grand substratum of the universe which we may call the Overself. These glimpses reveal It in the pure unmanifest non-physical essence that It ultimately is. They detach It from the things, creatures, and thoughts which make up this world of ours, and show It as It is in the beginning, before the world-dream made its appearance. Thus mysticism at its farthest stretch, which is Nirvikalpa samadhi, enables man to bring about the temporary disappearance of the world-dream and come into comprehension of the Mind within which, and from which, the dream emerges. The mystic in very truth conducts the funeral service of the physical world as he has hitherto known it, which includes his own ego. But this is as far as mysticism can take him. It is an illuminative and rare experience, but it is not the end. For the next task which he must undertake if he is to advance is to relate his experience of this world as real with his experience of the Overself as real. And this he can do only by studying the world’s own nature, laying bare its mentalistic character and thus bringing it within the same circle as its source, the Mind. If he succeeds in doing this and in establishing this relation correctly, he will have finished his apprenticeship, ascended to the ultimate truth and become a philosopher. Thenceforward he will not deny the world but accept it.
The metaphysician may also perform this task and obtain an intellectual understanding of himself, the world, and the Overself. And he has this advantage over the mystic, that his understanding becomes permanent whereas the mystic’s rapt absorption must pass. But if he has not passed through the mystical exercises, it will remain as incomplete as a nut without a kernel. For these exercises, when led to their logical and successful issue in Nirvikalpa samadhi, provide the vivifying principle of experience which alone can make metaphysical tenets real.
From all this we may perceive why it is quite correct for the mystic to look undistractedly within for his goal, why he must shut out the distractions and attractions of earthly life in order to penetrate the sacred precinct, and why solitude, asceticism, meditation, trance, and emotion play the most important roles in his particular experience. What he is doing is right and proper at his stage but is not right and proper as the last stage. For in the end he must turn metaphysician, just as the metaphysician must turn mystic and just as both must turn philosopher–who is alone capable of infusing the thoughts of metaphysics and the feelings of mysticism into the actions of everyday practical life. (20-4.115)
The crucial point of our criticism must not be missed. Our words are directed against the belief which equates the criterion of truth with the unchecked and unpurified feeling of it–however mystical it be. We do not demand that feeling itself shall be ignored, or that its contribution–which is most important–toward truth shall be despised. Our criticism is not directed against emotion, but against that unbalanced attitude which sets up emotion almost as a religion in itself. We ask only that the reaction of personal feeling shall not be set up as the sole and sufficient standard of what is or is not reality and truth. When we speak of the unsatisfactory validity of feeling as providing sufficient proof by itself of having experienced the Overself, we mean primarily, of course, the kind of passionate feeling which throws the mystic into transports of joy, and secondarily, any strong emotion which sweeps him off his feet into refusal to analyse his experience coldly and scientifically. Three points may be here noted. First, mere feeling alone may easily be egoistic and distort the truth or be inflamed and exaggerate it or put forward a wanted fancy in place of an unwanted fact. Second, there is here no means of attaining certainty. Its validity, being only personal, is only as acceptable as are the offerings of poets and artists who can also talk in terms of psychological, but not metaphysical, reality. For instance, the mystic may gaze at and see what he thinks to be reality, but some one else may not think it to be so. Third, the path of the philosophical objection to appraising feeling alone as a criterion of truth and of our insistence on checking its intimations with critical reasoning may be put in the briefest way by an analogy. We feel that the earth is stable and motionless, but we know that it traces a curve of movement in space. We feel that it is fixed in the firmament, but we know that the whole heliocentric system has its own motion in space. The reader should ponder upon the implications of these facts. Are not the annals of mysticism stained by many instances of megalomaniacs who falsely set themselves up as messiahs merely because they felt that God had commissioned them to do so? This is why the philosopher is concerned not only with the emotional effects of inner experience, as is the mystic, but also with the truth about these effects. (20-4.24)
The philosopher is satisfied with a noble peace and does not run after mystical ecstasies. Whereas other paths often depend upon an emotionalism that perishes with the disappearance of the primal momentum that inspired it, or which dissolves with the dissolution of the first enthusiastic ecstasies themselves, here there is a deeper and more dependable process. What must be emphasized is that most mystical aspirants have an initial or occasional ecstasy, and they are so stirred by the event that they naturally want to enjoy it permanently. This is because they live under the common error that a successful and perfect mystic is one who has succeeded in stabilizing ecstasy. That the mystic is content to rest on the level of feeling alone, without making his feeling self-reflective as well, partly accounts for such an error. It also arises because of incompetent teachers or shallow teaching, leading them to strive to perform what is impracticable and to yearn to attain what is impossible. Our warning is that this is not possible, and that however long a mystic may enjoy these “spiritual sweets,” they will assuredly come to an end one day. The stern logic of facts calls for stress on this point. Too often he believes that this is the goal, and that he has nothing more about which to trouble himself. Indeed, he would regard any further exertions as a sacrilegious denial of the peace, as a degrading descent from the exaltation of this divine union. He longs for nothing more than the good fortune of being undisturbed by the world and of being able to spend the rest of his life in solitary devotion to his inward ecstasy. For the philosophic mystic, however, this is not the terminus but only the starting point of a further path. What philosophy says is that this is only a preliminary mystical state, however remarkable and blissful it be. There is a more matured state–that of gnosis–beyond it. If the student experiences paroxysms of ecstasy at a certain stage of his inner course, he may enjoy them for a time, but let him not look forward to enjoying them for all time. The true goal lies beyond them, and he should not forget that all-important fact. He will not find final salvation in the mystical experience of ecstasy, but he will find an excellent and essential step towards salvation therein. He who would regard rapturous mystical emotion as being the same as absolute transcendental insight is mistaken. Such a mistake is pardonable. So abrupt and striking is the contrast with his ordinary state that he concludes that this condition of hyper-emotional bliss is the condition in which he is able to experience reality. He surrenders himself to the bliss, the emotional joy which he experiences, well satisfied that he has found God or his soul. But his excited feelings about reality are not the same as the serene experience of reality itself. This is what a mystic finds difficult to comprehend. Yet, until he does comprehend it, he will not make any genuine progress beyond this stage. (20-4.125)
What science calls the “critical temperature,” that is, the temperature when a substance shares both the liquid and gaseous states, is symbolic of what philosophical mysticism calls the “philosophic experience,” that is, when a man’s consciousness shares both the external world of the five senses and the internal world of the empty soul. The ordinary mystic or yogi is unable to hold the two states simultaneously and, quite often, even unwilling to do so, because of the false opposition he has been taught to set up between them. (20-4.122)
There is a fundamental difference between mystical escapism and mystical altruism. In the first case, the man is interested only in gaining his own self-realization and will be content to let his endeavours stop there. In the second case, he has the same aim but also the keen aspiration to make his achievement, when it materializes, available for the service of mankind. And because such a profound aspiration cannot be banished into cold-storage to await this materialization, he will even sacrifice part of his time, money, and energy to doing what little he can to enlighten others intellectually during the interval. Even if this meant doing nothing more than making philosophical knowledge more easily accessible to ordinary men than it has been in the past, this would be enough. But he can do much more than that. Both types recognize the indispensable need of deliberately withdrawing from society and isolating themselves from its activities to obtain the solitude necessary to achieve intensity of concentration, to practise meditative reflection upon life, and to study mystical and philosophical books. But whereas the first would make the withdrawal a permanent, lifelong one, the second would make it only a temporary and occasional one. And by “temporary,” we mean any period from a single day to several years. The first is a resident of the ivory tower of escapism, the second merely its visitor. The first can find happiness only in his solitariness and must draw himself out of humanity’s disturbing life to attain it. The second seeks a happiness that will hold firm in all places and makes retirement from that life only a means to this end. Each is entitled to travel his own path. But at such a time as the present, when the whole world is being convulsed and the human soul agitated as never before, we personally believe that it is better to follow the less selfish and more compassionate one. (20-4.222)
Life is not a matter of meditation methods exclusively. Their study and practice is necessary, but let them be put in their proper place. Both mystical union and metaphysical understanding are necessary steps on this quest, because it is only from them that the student can mount to the still higher grade of universal being represented by the sage. For we not only need psychological exercises to train the inner being, but also psychological exercises to train the point of view. But the student must not stay in mysticism as he must not stay in metaphysics. In both cases he should take all that they have to give him but struggle through and come out on the other side. For the mysticism of emotion is not the shrine where Isis dwells but only the vestibule to the shrine, and the metaphysician who can only see in reason the supreme faculty of man has not reflected enough. Let him go farther and he shall find that its own supreme achievement is to point beyond itself to that principle or Mind whence it takes its rise. Mysticism needs the check of philosophic discipline. Metaphysics needs the vivification of mystical meditation. Both must bear the fruit in inspired action or they are but half-born. In no other way than through acts can they rise to the lofty status of facts.
The realization of what man is here for is the realization of a fused and unified life wherein all the elements of action, feeling, and thought are vigorously present. It is not, contrary to the belief of mystics, a condition of profound entrancement alone, nor, contrary to the reasonings of metaphysicians, a condition of intellectual clarity alone, and, still less, contrary to the opinions of theologians, a condition of complete faith in God alone. We are here to live, which means to think, feel, and act also. We have not only to curb thought in meditation, but also to whip it in reflection. We have not only to control emotion in self-discipline, but also to release it in laughter, relaxation, affection, and pleasure. We have not only to perceive the transiency and illusion of material existence, but also to work, serve, strive, and move strenuously, and thus justify physical existence. We have to learn that when we look at what we really are we stand alone in the awed solitude of the Overself, but when we look at where we now are we see not isolated individuals but members of a thronging human community. The hallmark of a living man, therefore, ought to be an integral and inseparable activity of heart, head, and hand itself occurring within the mysterious stillness and silence of its inspirer, the Overself.
The mistake of the lower mystic is when he would set up a final goal in meditation itself, when he would stop at the “letting-go” of the external world which is quite properly an essential process of mysticism, and when he would let his reasoning faculty fall into a permanent stupor merely because it is right to do so during the moments of mental quiet. When, however, he learns to understand that the antinomy of meditation and action belongs only to an intermediate stage of this quest, when he comes later to the comprehension that detachment from the world is only to be sought to enable him to move with perfect freedom amid the things of the world and not to flee them, and when he perceives at long last that the reason itself is God-given to safeguard his journey and later to bring his realization into self-consciousness–then he shall have travelled from the second to the third degree in this freemasonry of ultimate wisdom. For that which had earlier hindered his advance now helps it; such is the paradox which he must unravel if he would elevate himself from the satisfactions of mysticism to the perceptions of philosophy. If his meditations once estranged him from the world, now they bring him closer to it! If formerly he could find God only within himself, now he can find nothing else that is not God! He has advanced from the chrysalis-state of X to the butterfly state of Y.
If there be any worth in this teaching, such lies in its equal appeal to experience and to reason. For that inward beatitude which it finally brings is superior to any other that mundane man has felt and, bereft of all violent emotion itself though it be, paradoxically casts all violent emotions of joy in the shade. When we comprehend that this teaching establishes as fact what the subtlest reasoning points to in theory, reveals in man’s own life the presence of that Overself which reflection discovers as from a remote distance, we know that here at long last is something fit for a modern man. The agitations of the heart and the troublings of the head take their dying breaths. (20-4.148)
The principle of balance is one of the most important of philosophic principles. (20-3.269)
The basis of the universe is its equilibrium. Only so can the planets revolve in harmony and without collision. The man who would likewise put himself in tune with Nature, God, must establish equilibrium as the basis of his own nature. (20-3.279)
The required condition of balance as the price of illumination refers also to correcting the lopsidedness of letting the conscious ego direct the whole man while resisting the superconscious spiritual forces. In other words, balance is demanded between the intellect which seeks deliberate control of the psyche and the intuition which must be invited by passivity and allowed to manifest in spontaneity. When a man has trained himself to turn equally from the desire to possess to the aspiration to being possessed, when he can pass from the solely personal attitude to the one beyond it, when the will to manage his being and his life for himself and by himself is compensated by the willingness to let himself and his life be quiescent, then his being and his life are worked upon by higher forces. This also is the kind of balance and completeness which the philosophic discipline must lead to so that the philosophic illumination may give him his second birth. (20-3.278)
But it is of the highest importance to note that the principle of balance cannot be properly established in any man until each of the elements within him has been developed into its completeness. The failure to do so produces the type of man who knows truth intellectually, talks it fluently, and does the wrong in spite of it. A balance of immature and half-developed faculties is transitory by its very nature and never wholly satisfactory, whereas a balance of fully matured ones is necessarily durable and always perfectly gratifying.
Those who talk or write truth, but do not live it because they cannot, have glimpsed its meaning but not realized its power. They have not the dynamic balance which follows when the will is raised to the level of the intellect and the feelings. It is this balance which spontaneously ignites mystic forces within us, and produces the state called “born again.” This is the second birth, which takes place in our consciousness as our first took place in our flesh. (20-3.385)
It is most important to get rid of an unbalanced condition. Most people are in such a condition although few know it. For example, intellectuality without spirituality is human paralysis. Spirituality without intellectuality is mental paralysis. No man should submit to such suicidal conditions. All men should seek and achieve integrality. To be wrapped up in a single side of life or to be overactive in a single direction ends by making a man mildly insane in the true and not technical sense of this word. The remedy is to tone down here and build up there, to cultivate the neglected sides, and especially to cultivate the opposite side. Admittedly, it is extremely difficult for most of us, circumstanced as we usually are, to achieve a perfect development and equal balance of all the sides. But this is no excuse for accepting conditions completely as they are and making no effort at all to remedy them. The difficulty for many aspirants in attaining such an admirably balanced character lies in their tendency to be obsessed by a particular technique which they followed in former births but which cannot by itself meet the very different conditions of today. We must counterbalance the habit of living only in a part of our being. When we have become harmoniously balanced in the philosophic sense, heart and head will work together to answer the same question, the unhurrying sense of eternity and the pressing urge of the hour will combine to make decisions as wise as they are practical, and the transcendental intuitions will suggest or confirm the workings of reason. In this completed integral life, thought and action, devotion and knowledge do not wrestle against each other but become one. Such is the triune quest of intelligence, aspiration, and action. (20-3.280)
This perfect harmony between the various elements of his personality is not to be achieved with some in the state of half-development and others of full development. All are to be brought up to the same high level.
Even our understanding of balance has to be corrected. It is not, for philosophic purposes, the mean point between two extremes but the compensatory union of two qualities or elements that need one another. (20-3.277)
The danger of a lopsided character is seen when humility reverence and piety are largely absent whilst criticism logicality and realism are largely present. The intellect then becomes imperiously proud, arrogantly self-assured, and harshly intolerant. The consequence is that its power to glean subtler truths rather than merely external data is largely lost. (20-3.386)
The balance needed by faith is understanding; by peacefulness, energy; by intuition, reason; by feeling, intellect; by aspiration, humility; and by zeal, discretion. (20-3.410)
Inner balance is not established by setting two polar opposites against each other, as miserliness against extravagance, but by combining two necessary qualities together such as bravery with caution. (20-3.412)
Manifested life remains no less real because we belittle it with the harsh cognomen of “illusion.” Our active existence requires no apology on its behalf to the one-eyed philosophers who accuse Westerners of being entrapped by “Maya.”
Neither the Buddhistic emphasis on suffering nor the hedonistic emphasis on joy are proper to a truly philosophical outlook. Both have to be understood and accepted, since life compels us to experience both. (20-3.411)
A well-balanced person is not necessarily one who takes the measured midpoint between two extremes but one who lets himself be taken over by the inner calm. The needed adjustment is then made by itself. Although this avoids his falling into lopsided acts or exaggerated views, a merely moderate character is not the best result. More important is the surrender to the higher power which is implicit in the whole process of becoming truly balanced. (20-3.283)
It is good for an ascetic or monk to sit idle and inactive whilst he contemplates the futility of a life devoted solely to earthly strivings, but it is bad for him to spend the whole of a valuable incarnation in such idleness and in such contemplation. For then he is fastening his attention on a single aspect of existence and losing sight of all others. It is good for a metaphysician to occupy himself with noting the logical contradictions involved in the world’s existence and in the reason’s own discoveries, but bad for him to waste a whole incarnation in fastening his attention on a single aspect. It is good for the worldling to accumulate money and enjoy the good things it can buy, marry a wife and adorn his home with comforts, but it is bad for him to waste his valuable incarnation without a higher purpose and a loftier goal. Nor is this all. Mysticism, metaphysics, and worldliness are useless unless they succeed in affording a man a basis of altruistic ethics for everyday living. The average mystic does not see that his lapse into loss of interest in the world around him, his indifference to positive and practical service of mankind, in short his whole other-worldliness, is not a virtue as he believes, but a defect. Hermits who withdraw from the troubled world to practise the simplicity, monks who retreat from the active world to muse over the evanescence of things, defeatists who flee from their failure in life, marriage, or business to the lethargy which they believe to be peace, thereby evidence that they have not understood the higher purpose of incarnation. It is to afford them the opportunity to realize in waking consciousness their innermost nature. This cannot be done by turning their face from the experiences of human existence, but by boldly confronting them and mastering them. Nor can it be done by retreating into the joys of meditation. The passionate ecstasies of lower mysticism, like the intellectual discoveries of lower metaphysics, yield only the illusion of penetrating into reality. For the world, as well as the “I,” must be brought into the circle of meditation if the whole truth is to be gained. The one-sided, monkish doctrine which indicts the world’s forms with transiency and illusiveness must be met and balanced by the philosophic doctrine which reveals the world’s essence as eternal and real. There will then be no excuse for lethargy, defeatism, or escapism. A metaphysical outlook often lacks the spark of vitality; a mystical outlook often lacks the solidity of reasoned thought; and both often lack the urge to definite action. The practical failures of metaphysics are traceable to the fact that it does not involve the exercise of the will as much as it involves the exercise of the intellect. The intellectual failures of metaphysics are due to the fact that the men who taught it in the past knew nothing of science and those who teach it in the present know nothing of higher mystical meditation, whilst both have usually had little experience of the hard facts of life outside their sheltered circle. The failures of mysticism are due to the same causes, as well as others we have often pointed out. Finally, the failure of metaphysicians to produce practical fruit is partly due to the fact that they perceive ideas of truth and not truth itself, as the failure of mystics is partly due to the fact that they experience feelings of reality and not reality itself. The successes and services of the sage on the contrary are due to the fact that he perceives truth and experiences reality and not merely thoughts or feelings about them. (20-4.223)
It is not only balance inside the ego itself that is to be sought, not only between reason and emotion, thought and action, but also and much more important, outside the ego: between it and the Overself. (20-3.281)
From all these studies, meditations, and actions the student will little by little emerge an inwardly changed man. He comes to the habitual contemplation of his co-partnership with the universe as a whole, to the recognition that personal isolation is illusory, and thus takes the firm steps on the ultimate path towards becoming a true philosopher. The realization of the hidden unity of his own life with the life of the whole world manifests finally in infinite compassion for all living things. Thus he learns to subdue the personal will to the cosmic one, narrow selfish affection to the wide-spreading desire for the common welfare. Compassion comes to full blossom in his heart like a lotus flower in the sunshine. From this lofty standpoint, he no longer regards mankind as being those whom he unselfishly serves but rather as being those who give him the opportunity to serve. He will suddenly or slowly experience an emotional exaltation culminating in an utter change of heart. Its course will be marked by a profound reorientation of feeling toward his fellow creatures. The fundamental egoism which in open or masked forms has hitherto motivated him will be abandoned: the noble altruism which has hitherto seemed an impracticable and impossible ideal, will become practicable and possible. For a profound sympathy of all other beings will dwell in his heart. Never again will it be possible for him wilfully to injure another; but on the contrary the welfare of the All will become his concern. In Jesus’ words he is “born again.” He will find his highest happiness, after seeking reality and truth, in seeking the welfare of all other beings alongside of his own. The practical consequence of this is that he will be inevitably led to incessant effort for their service and enlightenment. He will not merely echo the divine will but will allow it actively to work within him. And with the thought comes the power to do so, the grace of the Overself to help him to achieve quickly what the Underself cannot achieve. In the service of others he can partially forget his loss of trance-joy and know that the liberated self which he had experienced in interior meditation must be equated by the expanded self in altruistic action. (20-4.224)
In observation a scientist, at heart a religious devotee, in thought a metaphysician, in secret a mystic, and in public an efficient honourable useful citizen–this is the kind of man philosophy produces. (20-5.22)
He who has sufficiently purified his character, controlled his senses, developed his reason, and unfolded his intuition is always ready to meet what comes and to meet it aright. He need not fear the future. Time is on his side. For he has stopped adding bad karma to his account and every fresh year adds good karma instead. And even where he must still bear the workings of the old adverse karma, he will still remain serene because he understands with Epictetus that “There is only one thing for which God has sent me into the world, and that is to perfect my nature in all sorts of virtue or strength; and there is nothing that I cannot use for that purpose.” He knows that each experience which comes to him is what he most needs at the time, even though it be what he likes least. He needs it because it is in part nothing else than his own past thinking, feeling, and doing come back to confront him to enable him to see and study their results in a plain, concrete, unmistakable form. He makes use of every situation to help his ultimate aims, even though it may hinder his immediate ones. Such serenity in the face of adversity must not be mistaken for supine fatalism or a lethargic acceptance of every untoward event as God’s will. For although he will seek to understand why it has happened to him and master the lesson behind it, he will also seek to master the event itself and not be content to endure it helplessly. Thus, when all happenings become serviceable to him and when he knows that his own reaction to them will be dictated by wisdom and virtue, the future can no more frighten him than the present can intimidate him. He cannot go amiss whatever happens. For he knows too whether it be a defeat or a sorrow in the world’s eyes, whether it be a triumph or a joy, the experience will leave him better, wiser, and stronger than it found him, more prepared for the next one to come. The philosophic student knows that he is here to face, understand, and master precisely those events, conditions, and situations which others wish to flee and evade, that to make a detour around life’s obstacles and to escape meeting its problems is, in the end, unprofitable. He knows that his wisdom must arise out of the fullness and not out of the poverty of experience and that it is no use non-cooperatively shirking the world’s struggle, for it is largely through such struggle that he can bring forth his own latent resources. Philosophy does not refuse to face life, however tragic or however frightful it may be, and uses such experiences to profit its own higher purpose. (20-1.175)
When a certain balance of forces is achieved, something happens that can only be properly called “the birth of insight.”
He who knows and feels the divine power in his inmost being will be set free in the most literal sense of the word from anxieties and cares. He who has not yet arrived at this stage but is on the way to it can approach the same desirable result by the intensity of his faith in that being. But such a one must really have the faith and not merely say so. The proof that he possesses it would lie in the measure with which he refuses to accept negative thoughts, fearful thoughts, despondent thoughts. In the measure that he does not fail in his faith and hence in his thinking, in that measure, the higher power will not fail to support him in his hour of need. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “Take no anxious thought for the morrow.” In the case of the adept, having given up the ego, there is no one left to take care of him, so the higher Self does so for him. In the case of the believer, although he has not yet given up the ego, nevertheless, he is trying to do so, and his unfaltering trust in the higher Self is rewarded proportionately in the same way. In both cases the biblical phrase, “The Lord will provide,” is not merely a pious hope but a practical fact. (20-3.97)
The free soul has brought his thought and actions into perfect harmony with Nature’s morality. He lives not merely for himself alone, but for himself as a part of the whole scheme. Consequently, he does not injure others but only benefits them. He does not neglect his own benefit, however, but makes the two work together. His activities are devoted to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities set for him by his best wisdom, by his higher self.
The world is necessarily affected by his presence and activities, and affected beneficially. First, the mere knowledge that such a man exists helps others to continue with their efforts at self-improvement, for they know then that the spiritual quest is not a vain dream but a practicable affair. Second, he influences those he meets to live better lives–whether they be few or many, influential or obscure. Third, he leaves behind a concentration of spiritual forces which works on for a long time, through other persons, after he leaves this world. Fourth, if he is a sage and balanced, he will always do something of a practical nature for the uplift of humanity instead of merely squatting in an ashram. (20-5.180)
A mystic experience is simply something which comes and goes, whereas philosophic insight, once established in a man, can not possibly leave him. He understands the Truth and can not lose this understanding any more than an adult can lose his adulthood and become an infant. (20-4.198)
“Intuition” had come to lose its pristine value for me. I cast about for a better one and found it in “insight.” This term I assigned to the highest knowing-faculty of sages and was thus able to treat the term “intuition” as something inferior which was sometimes amazingly correct but not infrequently hopelessly wrong in its guidance, reports, or premonition. I further endeavoured to state what the old Asiatic sages had long ago stated, that it was possible to unfold a faculty of direct insight into the nature of the Overself, into the supreme reality of the universe, that this was the highest kind of intuition possible to man, and that it did not concern itself with lesser revelations, such as giving the name of a horse likely to win tomorrow’s race, a revelation which the kind of intuition we hear so much about is sometimes able to do. (20-4.152)
Insight is a function of the entire psyche and not of any single part of it.
This is the true insight, the permanent illumination that neither comes nor goes but always is. While being serious, where the event or situation requires it, he will not be solemn. For behind this seriousness there is detachment. He cannot take the world of Appearances as being Reality’s final form. If he is a sharer in this world’s experiences, he is also a witness and especially a witness of his own ego–its acts and desires, its thoughts and speech. And because he sees its littleness, he keeps his sense of humour about all things concerning it, a touch of lightness, a basic humility. Others may believe that he stands in the Great Light, but he himself has no particular or ponderous self-importance. (20-4.205)
He who possesses insight does not have to use arguments and reach conclusions. The truth is there, self-evident, inside himself as himself, for his inner being has become one with it. (20-4.170)
Whenever I have used the term “the centre of his being,” I have referred to a state of meditation, to an experience which is felt at a certain stage. Because the very art of meditation is a drawing inwards and the finer, the more delicate, the subtler this indrawing becomes, the closer it is to this central point of consciousness. But from the point of view of philosophy, meditation and its experiences are not the ultimate goal–although they may help in preparing one for that goal. In that goal there is no kind of centre to be felt nor any circumference either–one is without being localized anywhere with reference to the body, one is both in the body and in the Overself. There is then no contradiction between the two. (20-4.136)
Philosophy seeks not only to know what is best in life but also to love it. It wants to feel as well as think. The truth, being above the common forms of these functions, can be grasped only by a higher function that includes, fuses, and transcends them at one and the same time–insight. In human life at its present stage of development, the nearest activity to this one is the activity of intuition. From its uncommon and infrequent visitations, we may gather some faint echo of what this wonderful insight is. (20-4.150)
Attention is forever being caught by some thought or some thing, by some feeling or some experience. In the case of the ordinary man, consciousness is lost in the attention; but in the case of the philosophic man there is a background which evaluates the attention and controls it. (20-5.81)
Insight is the flower of reason and not its negation.
The ever changing world-movement is suspended and transcended in the mystical trance so that the mystic may perceive its hidden changeless ground in the One Mind, whereas in the ultramystic insight its activity is restored. For such insight easily penetrates it, and always sees this ground without need to abolish the appearance. Consequently the philosopher is aware that everyday activity is as much and as needful a field for him as mystical passivity. Such expression, however, cannot be less than what he is within himself through the possession of insight. Just as any man cannot express himself as an ant, do what he may, simply because his human consciousness is too large to be narrowed down to such a little field, so the philosopher cannot separate his ultramystic insight from his moment-to-moment activity. In this sense he has no option but to follow and practise the gospel of inspired action. (20-4.203)
To arrive at great certitude is to arrive at great strength. Truth not only clears the head but also arms the will. It is not only a light to our feet but is itself a force in the blood. (20-5.196)
The mystic will not care and may not be able to do so but the philosopher has to learn the art of combining his inward recognition of the Void with his outward activity amongst things without feeling the slightest conflict between both. Such an art is admittedly difficult but it can be learnt with time and patience and comprehension. Thus he will feel inward unity everywhere in this world of wonderful variety, just as he will experience all the countless mutations of experience as being present in the very midst of this unity. (20-4.121)
Where we speak either metaphysically or meditationally of the experience of pure consciousness, we mean consciousness uncoloured by the ego.
The mastery of philosophy will produce a supreme self-confidence within him throughout his dealings with life. The man who knows nothing of philosophy will declare that it has nothing to do with practical affairs and that it will not help you to rise in your chosen career, for instance. He is wrong. Philosophy gives its votary a thoroughly scientific and practical outlook whilst it enables him to solve his problems unemotionally and by the clear light of reason. He will, however, be under certain ethical limitations from which other men are exempt, for he takes the game of living as a sacred trust and not as a means for personal aggrandizement at the expense of others. (20-1.176)
It may be said that the world’s supreme need is exactly what the illumined man has found, therefore his duty is to give it to the world. This is true, but it is equally true that the world is not ready for it any more than he himself was ready for it before he underwent a long course of purification, discipline, and training. Accepting these realities of the situation, he feels no urge to spread his ideas, no impulse to organize a following. However that does not mean that he does nothing at all; it only means that he will help in the ways he deems to be most effective even if they are the least publicized and the least apparent. He is not deaf to the call of duty but he gives it a wider interpretation than those who are ignorant of the state and powers which he enjoys. (20-4.264)
Whoever attains this, the topmost peak of the philosophic life, will naturally possess the capacity–rather the genius–to help the internal evolutionary advance of mankind. Indeed, it will be the principal and secret business of his life, whatever his external and conventional business may be. Those who stood closest to Jesus were asked to preach the gospel. Clearly therefore he conceived the spreading of truth to be their primary task. That other tasks, such as feeding and clothing the poor, had their own particular importance too, was acknowledged in his injunction to other persons. But that such tasks were secondary ones is clear inference from his instructions to the apostles. And in this critical passage of humanity from a used-out standpoint to a newer one which confronts it today, such a service is more than important. In his own humbler way and in a quiet unobtrusive manner, remembering always that people will find the best account of his beliefs in his deeds, even the neophyte who has still to climb the foothills of philosophy can and must communicate so much of this knowledge as he finds men may be ready for, but not an iota more. His task is not, like that of the apostles, to convert them but to help them. He may be only a firefly with little light to shed but he should desert the esotericism of former centuries and try to enlighten others because he must understand the unique character of this century and see the dangerous gaping abyss which surrounds its civilization. Moreover he may take refuge in the words of Tripura, an archaic Sanskrit text, which, if its archaic idiom be translated into modern accents, says: “An intense student may be endowed with the slenderest of good qualities, but if he can readily understand the truth–however theoretically–and expound it to others, this act of exposition will help him to become himself imbued with these ideas and his own mind will soak in their truth. This in the end will lead him to actualize the Divinity within himself.” (20-4.292)
When he first attains to this clear vision, he sees not only that which brings him great joy but also that which brings him great sorrow. He sees men bewildered by life, pained by life, blinded by life. He sees them wandering into wrong paths because there is no one to lead them into right ones. He sees them praying for light but surrounded by darkness. In that hour he makes a decision which will fundamentally affect the whole of his life. Henceforth he will intercede for these others, devote himself to their spiritual service. (20-4.226)
After the desire for the fullest overshadowing by the Overself, which must always be primal, his second desire is to spread out the peace, understanding, and compassion which now burn like a flame within him, to propagate an inward state rather than an intellectual dogma, to bless and enlighten those who seek their divine parent. (20-4.227)
The man who lives in the physical senses alone reaches and affects those other men only whom he can come into contact with physically. He is entirely limited by time and space. The man who lives in the developed intellect or feelings also reaches and affects those other men who can respond to his written or printed ideas or his artistic inspirations. He is limited only partially by time and space. But the man who lives in the godlike Overself within him is freed from time and space and uplifts all those who can respond intuitively, even though they may never know him physically. For in the spiritual world he cannot hide his light. (20-4.263)
The philosopher accepts his predestined isolation not only because that is the way his position has to be, but also because his physical presence arouses negative feelings in the hearts of ordinary people as it arouses positive ones in the hearts of certain seekers. The negatives may range all the way from puzzlement, bewilderment, and suspicion to fear, opposition, and downright enmity. The positives may range from instinctive attraction to a readiness to lay down life in his defense or service. All these feelings arise instantly, irrationally, and instinctively. And they are unconnected with whether or not he reveals his true personal identity. This is because they are the consequence of a psychical impingement of his aura upon theirs. The contact is unseen and unapparent in the physical world, but it is very real in the mental-emotional world. It is truly a psychical experience for both: clear and precise and correctly understood by him, vague and disturbing and utterly misunderstood by ordinary people as well as pseudo-questers. It is both a psychical and a mystical experience for those genuine questers with whom he has some inward affinity, a glad recognition of a long-lost, much revered Elder Brother. Unfortunately, despite the generous compassion and enormous goodwill which he bears in his heart for all alike, it is the unpleasant contacts which make up the larger number whenever the philosopher descends into the world. Let him not be blamed if he prefers solitude to society. For there is nothing he can do about it. People are what they are. Most times when he tries to make himself agreeable to them, as though they both belonged to the same spiritual level, he fails. He learns somewhat wearily to accept his isolation and their limitation as inevitable and, at the present stage of human evolution, unalterable. He learns, too, that it is futile to desire these things to be otherwise. (20-5.151)
The peace to which he has become heir is not self-absorbed rest from old activities that he deserts, but a divine awareness that subsists beneath new ones that he accepts. (20-4.225)
Notebooks of Paul Brunton © 1988