Paul Brunton

One of the fundamental elements of the teachings of Ramana is what he called ‘Self-Inquiry’ – inquiring within oneself as to who or what one really is.  This also became an important element of Paul Brunton’s re-statement of Ramana’s teaching, and is the subject of a chapter in the Quest of the Overself, written in the 1930’s when PB was still spending time at RamanaAshram.

Ramana: “Ask yourself the question, ‘Who Am I?’  The body and its functions are not ‘I’.  Enquire further.  The senses and their functions are not ‘I’.  The next step is the question, “Whence do these thoughts arise?”  Thoughts are spontaneous, superficial or analytical.  Who is aware of them?

Ramana was asked: “What are the first steps to spiritual practice.”  “In the beginning, one has to be told that he is not the body, because he thinks that he is the body only. The body is only a part. Let him know it firmly.”

“The enquiry should be where the ‘I’ is. After the rise of the I-thought, there is false identification of the I with the body, the senses, the mind, etc.  Self is wrongly associated with them, the true self is lost sight of. In order to sift the pure ‘I’ from the contaminated I this discarding (of the sheaths i.e. bodies, mentioned in the Shastras) is mentioned.

Now from PB:

“The practice of self-inquiry begins with the self's environment and ends with its centre. It asks, "What is the world?" Then, "What is the Body?" Next, "What is the Mind?" Then, "What is the source of happiness?" And finally, "What am I?" at the threshold of its innermost being.”

PB’s task was to organize this teaching into a systematic form that could be taught to Westerners who did not have contact with Eastern philosophy or a qualified teacher and to make it available through the medium of a book.  This he did in the Quest of the Overself, in chapters titled: “The Analysis of the Physical Self”, “The Analysis of the Emotional Self”, “The Analysis of the Intellectual Self” and “The Path of Self Inquiry.”

In the introduction to the Quest PB shares with us how he understands his task: 

… I have sought to work out the thesis of this volume a little more philosophically, scientifically and analytically, than in my previous volumes, because, more than ever, I wish to show how the truth concerning human existence may be philosophically and rationally reached…   …I endeavour to lay bare in these pages some of the secret, subtle, but definite laws that govern the working of man's inmost mind, his soul, so far as I have been able to ascertain them…  the purpose of these pages should not be misconstrued. They are designed to show a yoga-path suited to Western people, a path whose fruit is serenity of mind, control of thought and desire, and power to utilize higher forces of being… The method of approach here shown is a psychological and philosophical one, a method particularly chosen so as to accord with the scientific outlook of the modern world. This one practice of self-enquiry stands in a category apart.

And then, later on:

“Thus our thought has turned inward upon itself. It could not do that immediately we began our quest. First it had to be detached from the body and to view its bodily life as something outside. Then it had to turn on the emotional nature and view that also as some-thing apart from itself. Lastly it has faced itself and learnt to look upon the multitude of thoughts as something objective. The secret of penetrating to the deeper self thus involves the reversal of attention from the external to the internal worlds. Truly speaking, this self cannot possibly live behind us, but rather within us.”

PB and Ramana both speak of the state of consciousness of the Sage and his or her work, their uniqueness, and how they are a channel for a greater, Universal Mind.

Ramana here describes what happens upon enlightenment:

When one has realized, a universal life current takes possession of him and uses him henceforth.  His own separate will is gone. He becomes but an instrument in its hands. This is the real Self-surrender. This is the highest kundalini, this is the real bhakti, this is jnana.

Here PB develops this theme of self-surrender and universal service further: 

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.

And here PB further describes the state enlightenment and what it means to be a Sage,

From time to time, someone is born predestined to give a spiritual impulse to a particular people, area, or age. He is charged with a special mission of teaching and redemption and is imbued with special power from the universal intelligence to enable him to carry it out. He must plant seeds which grow slowly into trees to carry fruit that will feed millions of unborn people. In this sense he is different from and, if you like, superior to anyone else who is also inspired by the Overself. But this difference or superiority does not alter his human status, does not make him more than a man still, however divinely used and power-charged he may be. Such a man will claim no essential superiority over other men; on the contrary, he will plainly admit that they, too, may attain the same state of inspiration which he possesses.

And Ramana here tells us more about the “universal intelligence” behind the Sage’s actions

The cosmic intelligence manifesting in some rare being is able to effect the linkage in others, of the individual (weak) mind with the universal (strong) mind of the inner recesses. Such a rare being is called a Guru or God in manifestation.