Paul Brunton

We have seen how PB at all times kept a spirit of independence and critical thinking even while accepting the tutelage of a teacher or spending time in a spiritual group or center.  In the Notebooks we can find his views on this theme under the heading of “Independent Path” in Volume 2, Chapter 3.

He says:

One who seeks the truth about these matters will discover that it is contrary to current opinion, and therefore they will have to discover it by themselves and for themselves.

We should verify the truth not by reference to book or bible but by reference to our own private experience.

In Volume 8, Reflections, PB reminds us that this was true for him as well:

As a writer I have been my own master.  As a student of truth I ended as my own guru.

The fierce independence I have maintained for so many years, the stubborn refusal to part with my freedom at the bidding of any cult or clique, has contributed, I believe, to my salvation.

If my starting point was the same as that of most other mystics around me, my finishing point was not. I was compelled by the nature of my experience to take a different and independent position.  The change that was worked in me could not be kept out of my writings.

Let us then, go back to PB’s writings:

The longer I live the more I am impressed, to the point even of awe, by the tremendous power of suggestion on the human mind. Where is the person who is able to cultivate her or his own intelligence without being conditioned by ideas and examples put into it by their environment or by their reading, by their religion or their family, by their social tradition, or by the personal fears and desires connected with others? It is others, whether of the long-dead past or of the living present who partly or wholly imprison us in their thoughts and imaginations, their conflicts.

Thus, we must ask ourselves:  “What belief’s, habits or ideas imprison me?  Am I motivated by insecurity, fear, or desires?  Can I take the courageous step of trusting my inner being and judgement, as PB himself did?


There is a teaching principle in each of us which can provide us with whatever spiritual knowledge is needed. But one must first take suitable measures to evoke it. These include cleansing of body and mind, aspiration of feeling and thought, silencing of intellect and ego.

As we have said, cultivating an attitude and life of spiritual, intellectual and emotional self-reliance does not mean that we should not learn from others, or adopt someone as a teacher – as PB himself did.  He said:

And somewhere, sometime, for every person who sincerely seeks there must come a Guide, merely because this personal opening of the gate is part of Nature’s program.

Thus, it is more a question of how we seek guidance from others who can help us, and if we can do so without diminishing our critical faculties and intellectual freedom.  Thus, while emphasizing the need for the “Independent Path” at the same time P.B. reminds us (in Volume 2 of the Notebooks, chapter 6, “Student-Teacher”) of the importance of a spiritual teacher.  Is this a contradiction?  Can one be on the independent path and also have a teacher?  PB says ‘yes’ – that is it ‘both/and’ and not ‘either/or’ – and that the quality of the student-teacher relationship depends on a certain amount of spiritual freedom and independent thinking on the part of the student, qualities that a good teacher will in fact encourage.

From Reflections:

There is no contradiction between advising aspirants at one time to seek a master and follow the path of discipleship, and advising them to seek within and follow the path of self-reliance at another time. The two counsels can be easily reconciled. For if the aspirant accepts the first one, the master will gradually lead him to become increasingly self-reliant. If he accepts the second one, his higher self will lead him to a master.

This was true in PB’s own life, and in fact none of his own teachers (for example, Ananda Metteya, Ramana Maharishi, and V. Subramanya Iyer) objected to PB’s independence and critical thinking.  On the other hand their students – wanting PB to accept their guru and no other – often objected to PB’s independence, but not the teachers themselves.

In the student-teacher chapter PB wrote:

Not by our own exertions alone, and not by the gift or grace of an external being alone, can we be brought to final realization, but by both.

Happiness depends on our understanding of life, understanding depends upon the penetration of insight, insight depends upon right instructions received from a competent teacher.

The inspirational and moral, the intellectual and meditational helps which a competent guide can give to a worthy disciple are valuable. If such a worthy, honourable, selfless, experienced, and expert guide can be found - and this may be counted exceptionally good fortune - the disciple should certainly submit to their tutelage and surrender to their influence.

We may help the Overself in drawing us to the goal by surrendering to the guidance of a competent spiritual adviser or we may obstruct it by clinging to the ego's. But an incompetent adviser will also obstruct it, and in fact become a channel for the ego's truth-obscuring tactics.

Volume 11 of the Notebooks, titled “The Sensitives: The Dynamics and Dangers of Mysticism,” contains much valuable information on problematic teachers and how they can ‘become a channel for the ego’s truth-obscuring tactics.’

When entering into a relationship with a teacher or teaching, it may however be important to temporarily suspend judgment and to fully immerse oneself in it so as to later be able to evaluate it.  Thus, PB said:

Because my research is independent, because I have no ties to any cult, group, creed, or organization, I have been free to arrive at unbiased conclusions. When I began any study or investigation, I gave up my independence of judgement; but when I approached the end, I resumed it.

And as always, PB promotes a balanced view of each issue, and reminds us that what he writes is based on his own experience:

I write all this in no sneering or disparaging manner, but rather as one who understands sympathetically the need of most beginners and many intermediates to find guidance outside themselves for the all-sufficient reason that they cannot find it inside. Indeed it is because I have been a disciple that I myself know why others become one, and can approve of their action. But that experience is also why I know the limitations and disservices of a discipleship.

Yet a teacher is not always available – at least a competent one – and PB counsels us that we need not despair, and that guidance can come from within, as well as from books:

It is not essential to find a teacher in the flesh - he may be in print. A book may become a quite effective teacher and guide.

Nothing that I have anywhere written should be regarded as meaning that instruction can be dispensed with. But in view of two factors - the rarity of competent instructors and the over-emphasis of Indian-originated suggestions upon the need of a teacher - I have tried to show aspirants that the way to success is still open to them.

 In the absence of a sage's personal society, one may have recourse to the best substitute - a sage's printed writings.

The perspicacious student will cling steadfastly throughout his life to the writings of illumined masters, returning to them again and again. Their works are the truest of all, pure gold and not alloys.

We may therefore consider ourselves blessed to have PB’s own writings – especially the Notebooks which are themselves ‘the writing of an illumined master’ – as a teacher.