Paul Brunton

From study one should proceed to practice (yoga) and from practice to study.
Self is revealed through perfection in study and practice. 
(Vishnu-Purana 6.6.2)

PB called himself a ‘researcher.’  What was he researching?  We know for sure that he was an avid reader of sacred literature and that he had a large library of books and typed notes copied from books that he brought with him whenever he changed residences, which was every few years in the last part of his life.  (FYI: PB’s library is now housed at Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies – notice the title ‘Center for Philosophic Studies’ – founded by his foremost student, Anthony Damiani.)  So, one aspect of PB’s ‘research’ was study.

Study and understanding of sacred texts is considered important in traditional Hindu Philosophy.  A modern writer on Hindu philosophy commented on the two aspects of this form of ‘research’:

Swadhyaya is self-study.  In Nidhidhyasa you probe deeper into the knowledge which you acquired with the help of contemplation and self-inquiry. It is not a mechanical effort… but a determined effort to examine, analyze and evaluate what you learned with pointed and stable intelligence… to exert or absorb the mind or intellect upon the treasure trove of knowledge or the hidden treasure itself.

And Raphael, a contemporary teacher of sacred wisdom comments:

One must study and meditate on the Doctrine… one must assimilate the founding principles of the darsana (teaching)

Now, from PB:

It demanded no less than hundreds of interviews with different teachers and hermits, thousands of miles of travel to reach them, and at least a hundred thousand pages of the most abstruse reading in the world before I could bring my course of personal study in the hidden philosophy to a final close…

I am a researcher, that is my special job. Then I go on to convert the results of my researches into notes and reports, into analyses and reflections. Later I draw upon this material for my published writings.

Two sections of the Notebooks are relevant to our theme: Books as Teachers in the ‘Student-Teacher’ section of Volume 2 (The Quest) and Books in the ‘The Development of the Intellect’ section of Volume 5 (The Intellect).

From Books:

The understanding of such deeply metaphysical writings calls for an effort on the reader's part to use their own mental energy as actively as the author had to use his own during their creation. The reader's task is, of course, immeasurably easier than the author's for the readers have had the pioneer work of track-laying performed for them; but even so it is hard enough.

The reflective study of these high-grade writings forces the mental growth of the student. The absorption of their spirit elevates them for a while to the spiritual plane of the author.

Notice the similarity in PB’s language to the definitions of Swadhyaya and Nidhidhyasa above.


PB continues sharing with us on the importance of sacred texts, how to study them, and the limitations of study:

The very fact that texts were composed thousands of years ago and that they have been written continuously ever since shows that there is a real need for them. They can and do help seekers.

Metaphysical books are best studied when alone. The concentration they need and the abstraction they lead to, are only hindered or even destroyed by the presence of others.

The final realization of truth is not found in any documents however sacred and however worthy of our highest regard they are held to be. But they may confirm the realization, may also give a reference-point when attempting to communicate it to others.

PB counsels us to not be passive in our reading but actively engage our attention and intellect:

The reading of metaphysical books requires a continual exercise of reason, a constant effort to concentrate thought, and a keen probing into the precise meaning of its words.

What is the purpose of your reading? Is it merely to kill time? But if you are out to learn, if you want to feel that you have progressed as a result of your reading, then you must realize that there is a wrong way and a right way to read. Remember you have not mastered any study until you can restate it in your own words. The best way to master the essence of a book or lecture is to select only the meaning of it, state it in your own words, and apply the meaning to examples drawn from your own experience, and not from the lecturer's or author's.

We must also use care, says PB, in selecting what to read and only choose texts that are of an inspired and elevated character:

Live in the atmosphere which great books bring, their truer and wider ideas, their finer exalted ideals

The writings of these Masters help both the moral nature and the intellectual mind of the responsive and sensitive, who are excited to the same endeavour, exhilarated to the same level, and urged to realize the same ideas. These stand out from all other writings because they contain vivid inspiration and true thought.

If the literature on these subjects is so much larger today, the problem of choosing correctly what is most reliable is so much more difficult.

Thus, books can be a means for inspiration and attainment of spiritual knowledge:

From these great writings, we will receive impulses of spiritual renewal. From these strong paragraphs and lovely words we will receive incitement to make ourselves better than we are. Their every page will carry a message to us; indeed, they will seem to be written for us.

Every book which stimulates aspiration and widens reflection does spiritual service and acts as a guru.


In the Metaphysics of Truth (Chapter 7 in ‘The Intellect’) PB presents the need for us to develop a comprehensive intellectual understanding of reality, to complements the mystical development that is also necessary, with each balancing the other. 

He said:

Constant reflection on metaphysical and ethical themes reaches a point where one day its accumulated weight pushes you around the corner into a mystical realization of those themes no less surely than meditation might have done.

Metaphysics is ordinarily concerned with the criticism of superficial views about the experienced world and the correction of erroneous ones, whilst it seeks to construct an accurate systematic and rational interpretation of existence as a whole…  

It is quite clear however that metaphysical systems cannot alone suffice for our higher purpose, for being based on personal assumptions, reasoning, or imaginations, if they partially enlighten humankind they also partially bewilder by their mutual contradictions. Hence philosophy steps in here and offers what it calls "the metaphysics of truth." This is an interpretation in intellectual terms of the results obtained from a direct mystical insight concerned with what is itself incapable of intellectual seizure. Through this superior insight it provides in orderly shape the reasons, laws, and conditions of the supersensuous experience of the Overself, unifies and explains the experiences which lead up to this consummation, and finally brings the whole into relation with the practical everyday life of mankind. It is the sole system that the antique sages intellectually built up after they had actually realized the Overself within their own experience. Such a point needs the utmost emphasis for it separates the system from all others which carry the name of metaphysics or philosophy. Whereas these others are but intelligent guesses or fragmentary anticipations of what ultimate truth or ultimate reality may be and hence hesitant between numerous "ifs" and "buts," this alone is a presentation from firsthand knowledge of what they really are. It bars out all speculation.

Just as science is a rational intellectualization of ordinary physical experience, so the metaphysics of truth is a rational intellectualization of the far sublimer transcendental experience. It is indeed an effort to translate into conventional thought what is essentially beyond such thought. As expressed in intellectual language, it is scientific in spirit, rational in attitude, cautious in statement, and factual throughout. It is devoted to the relentless exposure of error, the fearless removal of illusion, and the persevering pursuit of truth to the very end - irrespective of personal considerations. It seeks to understand the whole of life and not merely some particular aspects of it.


PB emphasizes the need for both practice and study and refers to this wholistic approach as ‘the yoga of philosophical discernment.’

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 their 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.

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 our true Being as the ever beautiful and eternally beneficent Overself. This is philosophy.

Whereas these others are but intelligent guesses or fragmentary anticipations of what ultimate truth or ultimate reality may be… this alone is a presentation from firsthand knowledge of what they really are.

This inter-relationship of these themes illustrates how the Notebooks material is carefully and coherently organized.  PB’s outline for the twenty-eight ‘ideas’ – of which these topics are sub-themes – was refined over a period of decades at the end of his life and the Editors of his Notebooks were personally trained by him to classify his notes according to it.  (The complete outline of all 28 ideas can be found at the end of Volume 16, as well as in some others and also at: