Paul Brunton

Prior to his retirement in the 1960’s into a period of seclusion and retreat away from the public eye, PB’s work was as a well-known author.  In the introductions to the Quest of the Overself and Discover Yourself (also published as The Inner Reality) as well as in Reflections (Volume 8 of the Notebooks), he shares with us about his destiny as a writer, how he was being used by higher powers to provide a service to spiritual seekers, and his own development.  He also reminds us frequently, again and again, that he had no desire to be a public person as well as to have to endure the negativity and criticism that frequently came his way, along with the many appreciations that encouraged him to continue.

In Reflections PB wrote:

In these pages I have tried to tell how consciousness of God and how knowledge of God's value came to me.

As this work went forward, I felt and knew some presence in myself that took a part in its making. If I were to say that these pages were written by me, there would be an uneasy feeling of untruth in me. If I were to say the contrary, there would be a sense of the absurd in such a statement. I leave the reader to make what he can of these paragraphs.

Rather than be the scribe of ephemeral fact let me, O Lord, be the scribe of eternal vision. Let me write down word-for-word those divine messages which come to me out of the ether.

It is both my fate and my joy to labour to the last as a medium for this voice within me. I shall put down my pen only when I put down my life.

Thus we can see how PB was being used for a higher purpose, and that his own evolution was in service of a greater one – to be a catalyst for the enlightenment and spiritual development of his readers, even while not wanting to be seen as a teacher or as an authority himself.  Here he comments on the inter-relationship of his own development with his work as a writer:

…I wrote down these creative ideas not only because of a wish to assist other seekers but also because of the struggle to work out my own intellectual salvation.  Much of my writing has thus not only been an attempt at communication but also an effort to work out my personal salvation: I wrote for myself as well as for others.

At other times he shared with us his own awareness of this greater task, also aware of the danger that speaking about it could lead others to perceive him as arrogant:

My work is a "prophetic" message to our times, a religious revelatory work…

It is not my fault if my style insists on sounding forth an authoritative and prophetic tone. I do not create it by any act of will. It is as if some ethereal presence stands behind the mind and bids me utter its message.

Each oracular sentence carries a message for someone, somewhere. The writer does not need to know who it is.

In PB’s first ten books, the ‘messages for others’ that he received were the product of a dynamic taking place between him and his readers, whose need he was sensitive to and which called forth out of him the books he was to write, accompanying his own development as it went forward in parallel.  As we have seen, PB correspondence included letters from thousands of students who after reading a new book of his, wrote him with questions and shared their confusions.  He commented:

When my writings became known, a large financial burden was added to me. The expenses of secretarial correspondence and the loss caused by time given to numerous interviews drained away more of my income than I could afford.

But whatever the sacrifice, PB had consciously or unconscioiusly taken the ‘bodhisttva vow’ and he could not say no to the powers that were using him, while his compassion and love for humanity would not allow him to ignore the needs of others that were being presented to him.  In the Prefatory to Discover Yourself he wrote:

So I have found myself forced, little by little, along a path which I had never intended to tread, the path of writing sequels to my own works and explaining my own explanations. In short, I have unconsciously become more and more a tutor, and less and less a seeker. And although I still hold strictly to my fixed attitude of complete independence, demanding absolute freedom from all who cross my path and gladly bestowing upon them the same freedom which I ask from them, refusing to accept either pedestal or following, organization or cult, nevertheless I could not forever resist the many calls for further enlightenment which have come to me. And so I have yielded to the call which has induced me to put these pages together in the midst of a busy life. I must make it clear that I do not set myself up as a teacher, that I make no personal claims whatever about my own spiritual status, and that I am writing only to give what friendly information and help I can, as any other traveller might have done.

Thus, we can see how PB was obedient to his inner guides and also receptive and compassionate to the needs of his readers, and that  these two forces together pushed him in a direction that he would never have personally chosen – that of a world-famous author who was looked upon by many as a teacher and even as a ‘guru.’  Here we excerpt more of what PB said in the Prefatory to Discover Yourself:

I do not desire to convince others, but simply to radiate whatsoever of truth I have found; then others can pick it up or not as they wish. They must approach me of their own free will and not because I wish to act as a missionary to them. I do not seek to convert, much less compel, but to show others what they, too, can find within themselves. Frankly, I have not become conscious of possessing any mission to this world, but the only one I would care to undertake, if the gods were to grant me the ability, would be to make people aware of the value of their own souls. Moreover, this personal freedom is not without some peculiar value of its own. Because I am independent of all allegiances and because I obey no other authority than that of my own inward monitor, I can freely afford to set down truths which have either been selfishly hidden or foolishly distorted in the past.

To be “independent of all allegiances” was critical for PB.  His spiritual journey took him in unexpected directions and he needed to be free to follow his inner impulses and outer circumstances where they led him.  Thus, he refused to be part of any group or the devotee of any teacher, and strove assiduously to preserve his independence, even when this aroused negativity in others.  In what later came to be called “the Notebooks” PB called this the ‘independent path’ and said the following (Volume 2)

It was Ramana Maharishi of Arunachala who said, "You yourself are your own guru. Be that."

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

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

It is not necessarily an unstable mind which pushes him from guru to guru, or from belief to belief, or from group to group. It may be that he is really seeking the one Truth and has not by his own standards found it in any of these yet.

It is the individual who refuses to be cast in a mold who brings inspiration, inner contact with the divine, not the institution.

Here, as always, we see how the knowledge that PB shares with us was based on his own experience and lived in his own life, i.e. it is secretly biographical.  He was what he wrote.  Unlike other writers, whose work is more ‘theoretical’, there is no gap between what PB taught and who PB was.  In this way he can be a model for us all for what is possible.

Continuing with our excerpts from the Prefatory of Discover Yourself, PB tells us more about his search and its results:

I made a wide research in consequence, and my studies embraced books which litter the shelves of little-known libraries; they included intimate conversations and long-drawn-out discussions with the masters of Occidental knowledge, and, finally, I studied with the best of all tutors, personal experiment and first-hand experience. In the end, fate put my feet on strange journeys to lands whose slender palm trees called to me with their out-stretched leaves and bade me, as they bid all of us, to tie anew the earthless bonds which yoke the reluctant soul of humans to God. Few Westerners have the time and the training, the will and the money, which these researches required; and so I tried to do for them what they could not do for themselves: I tried to recover from the obscurity of vanished epochs some secrets which the world needs today. Again and again as I stood under those star-panoplied Eastern skies, or as I walked in solitude in the mysterious silence of the menacing jungles, I was haunted by an overpowering sense of the strange paradox of human life. I followed a lone track in studying the ways and wisdom of the Orient, and still more so in trying to put the mysterious feats and doctrines of the yogis and fakirs upon a scientific basis.

My records of spiritual adventures under those fierce Oriental suns have been written down; I have tried to reveal to the person in the street what profound spiritual resources and what amazing psychological powers may be found within her or himself…I wanted to address myself to the person of ordinary experience, even though my own has been so extraordinary. As I have seen them, during my wanderings around the world, I have found that they are painfully working out for themselves an understanding of life's meaning which could be bought at far less cost.

PB keeps reminding us that he walked this path for us and not only for himself, that it is for us that he has written these books, and that it is our needs and our questions which force him to take up his pen and share what he has received.  The following excerpt is from the Prefatory to the Quest of the Overself:

People who had read, and apparently profited by, that little book (The Secret Path) , began to ask me for a further development of the teaching contained therein, for a volume which would treat the same subject but in greater detail. Again and again I was asked one question after another which had arisen during the course of the reader's efforts to understand and practise the teaching of The Secret Path. I discovered, moreover, that different readers repeatedly asked the same questions and seemed to encounter the same problems, and this to such an extent that I soon began to realize that there certainly was a very real need for a larger work giving a more exhaustive treatment of the subject.

The need of a book of this character was constantly brought home to me by the flood of letters received from readers of my other books, who wished for further explanations of points raised therein, or who met with difficulties in their efforts to practise meditation and sought to have their problems solved… I again hesitated to write, however, for I not only feared but definitely knew this time, that a further work would set me up still more firmly in the popular mind as a spiritual teacher, a label which would probably stick to me forever, and which I disliked to wear so much that a chill would creep over me at the thought.

How many spiritual teachers are so free of ego that “a chill creeps over them at the thought” of being seen as a teacher?  How many lifetimes did it take for PB to develop this sense of inner freedom and his ability to resist the snares and temptations of praise and adulation?

He reminds us:

I know honestly and must say at the beginning that it is not through any egotistical conceit that I have told this story here. Others have told me, and I have also come to see for myself, that there is a special value for all of us in the description of such personal experiences. I want to share this experience with others and especially with those who have heard about it, who have recognized its supreme worth, and have unsuccessfully sought it for years. I feel that they need it more than other people. I want to help them give it to themselves.  (Reflections, Chapter 3)

Our reflections on PB and his work, on his relation to his readers and how he viewed himself and his task, continues with the following excerpts from Reflections, Volume 8 of the Notebooks:

During these sacred communions I receive philosophic revelations or take delivery of celestial messages. It is understood that they are not for my own benefit, and that in due course I will pass them on to others.

I write out of no other authority than my own metaphysical reflections, my own mystical experiences, my own studies and observations of other people's spiritual quests - ancient, medieval, and modern - throughout the world. Much of what I have described, here or elsewhere, has been what I myself have experienced. If nothing else hinted it, surely the precision of my statements, the vividness of my phrases, and the reality of my descriptions hint at firsthand experience? If I did not know from personal knowledge the course which this quest usually takes, if I had not endured its crushing darknesses and sacrificial anguish, its perplexing distresses and tantalizing oscillations - as much as its dazzling illuminations and unforgettable ecstasies, its benedictory graces and healing serenity - surely I could not have written about it as I did?

That so slight a cause as a few pages of printed matter should lead to so serious a result as giving a totally new direction to some people's lives, is one reason why writing has come to mean for me a ministry whose character is almost as sacred as any vocation could be.

I discovered with the years that the prayer I had made, so often and so earnestly, as a youngster near the threshold of adult manhood, was being adequately answered. It was a simple prayer, nothing more than to be used for the spiritual awakening of others through the written word. It did not go beyond that.

Yet even while PB was serving as a channel for a higher purpose and fulfilling his own wish to be of service to others, he was always aware of his own imperfections and the imperfections of his writings:

Not that I have ever been satisfied with what has been done – knowing only too well its numerous defects – but it has been done usually under difficult circumstances and against great pressure of time and therefore represents only what was possible at the time, quite apart from the further defects imposed upon by my personal limitations…. There were difficult circumstances in my personal life: the vicissitudes of frequent travel, the labours of constant and ever-widening research, the enervation and illnesses of tropical climates, the ever-present need of carrying on unremittingly with literary work which succeeds in reaching thousands…. 

In these reflections on “A Writer on His Writings” we must remind ourselves that the PB who we have described here is the PB who wrote ten books in twenty years and who was following a destiny which eventually led to a profound inner transformation and deepening some time in the 1960s, when he entered into a period of solitude and retreat which continued until his dis-incarnation.  Thus, to get the full picture of PB, we must also examine how this later more enlightened PB looked back at his literary output and the writer who produced it. 

In this final phase of his life, when most of the Notebooks material was produced,  PB looked back at his earlier work with a critical eye and with a sense of impersonality which led him to become a stranger even to his former self, to the person or personality that had been PB.  Thus, when one student asked him a question about something written in one of his books, his reply was to ask: “who wrote that?”  And in the Notebooks he shares:

I have to bear the responsibility for words which, written in the half-light of thirty-five years ago, I would not write in the clearer light of today.

Re-reading these books after the lapse of several years, there is so much that I want to alter in them that they would have to be transformed into new creations in order to be in accord with my present views, impressions, knowledge, and feelings. 

My present teachings seem to me to be on a higher level than my earlier ones.

The reflections and impressions which follow emerge out of maturer experience than those earlier and now so distant book 

I read my own books as if they were those written by a stranger.

Thus, in reading his first ten books, we can follow PB in his journey and evolution and see him as a model for moving forward in our own.  And in the Notebooks, we can experience the fruit and final result of his path, teachings that are in ‘accord with his present views, impressions, knowledge and feeling’ which is to say, teachings that flow out of a being who was ‘liberated in this life’ and who now used a different means of communicating his wisdom to others. 

About this new method of helping others, he said: 

I have withdrawn from the world and now live in retirement, which is not to say that I live in inactivity. But I find that I can help others with less misunderstanding and with more smoothness by confining my efforts to the inner worlds of being and the outer world of occasional writings than by personal intercourse with them.

In earlier years I communicated verbally through the printed symbols of a published book, but in later ones silently through the telepathic emanation of a felt divine presence. Anyone, anywhere in the English-speaking world might read the one if he cared to, no one could receive the other unless he cared to do so.

I refuse to write letters under pressure of business and hurry the words and sentences because of lack of time. I prefer to reduce the size of my letters, perhaps to a single paragraph, perhaps to a single sentence, maybe even a short phrase; but if these are pregnant with meaning they will suffice.

And finally, about his writings during this last phase of his life, which were to posthumously be published as the “Notebooks,” PB said:

…I prefer to write down a single idea without any reference to those which went before or are to follow later, and to write it down in a concentrated way.  The only book that I could prepare now would be a book of maxims of suggestive ideas…

The results of my twenty-year-long researches are not to be published during my lifetime… 

During more than sixty years, so many scattered observations and reflections were left unfinished or undeveloped, so many insights were gleaned in the quarter century since my retirement but deliberately left unpublished, that the appearance of these pages is self-explanatory.

As PB himself reminds us, what is important is not PB or the details of his life, but the knowledge that was delivered through him, for our benefit.  In sharing about PB and his writings it is our hope that you will be able to approach the knowledge that PB’ offers us with a deeper understanding of the material and a deeper appreciation of the person who provided it, thus deepening your own search for Truth and to come closer to what he himself found.


Telepathic Communication between Master and Student

PB has advised us that students be receptive to mental messages from him sent by him in response and that this receptivity pertains to much more than PB’s answering of answering letters. Rather, it pertains to the fundamental nature of the student-teacher relationship itself.  In its more advanced stages physical contact between student and teacher is not necessary.  We can find many examples of this in the spiritual biographies of different teachers in relation to their own Masters.

PB said in “The Sages Service” chapter of Volume 16 of the Notebooks:

He has a peculiar power which acts on the subconscious minds of those who have any contact or association with him.

This was true in PB’s own relationship with Ramana Maharishi. After Ramana had left the body PB said:

There were times when Ramana Maharishi actually appeared before me, advised or discussed. Death had not ended our relationship or barred our communions. He still existed in my mind, life, as a veritable force, an entity bereft of the flesh but clearly present at such times.

And, in a message from Ramana to PB, Ramana said:

“Tell PB who I love with all my heart I have never left him…Tell him also that I am in his heart even now: I am with him constantly, even when he does not know it. I love him as my son.  He will walk with me, for my soul it dwells within him” (Italics added).

Here we see in PB’s own experience as a student what PB himself as a Master has advised his own students: that the teacher is in communication with the student even when the student is not aware of it.

Again, in Volume 16 of the Notebooks PB said about the Sage:

By his being what he is, there is nothing to impede the flow of pure consciousness from him to those he contacts.  The ego does not intervene, the lower nature does not interrupt, and without his making any deliberate effort something passes through him to benefit them 

And also: 

From that moment the master’s presence will be felt constantly as close to him, not leaving him but remaining with him.  They will be together in a tender, indescribable relationship.

On the Master’s ability to influence his or her students, as well as others who are receptive to his message, PB said:

He is the silent background counsellor for a few who have the opportunity and capacity to serve humanity.


The impact of such telepathic blessings upon the disciple’s mind may be instantaneously felt. Or it may first start a subconscious process working which will produce the same result more slowly and less certainly.

A contemporary example of this inner influence and contact has been shared by the late Jose Trigueirinho Netto, a Brazilian spiritual teacher who was also a student of PB.  In one of his lectures, Trigueirinho shared how for many years he felt a force within himself impelling him forward on his path as a spiritual teacher, but that it was only when he met PB in person that he realized that this force was from PB himself.  Here we see the truth of PB’s words above, that the Sage is “the silent background counsellor for a few who have the opportunity and capacity to serve humanity” which was certainly true in Trigueirinho’s own case.

PB also comments:

“Discipleship is a mental relationship that needs only a single meeting on the physical plane to become established…”

An example of a one-time physical meeting between student and teacher can be found in the biography of Sri Atmananda, an Indian Advaita Vedanta teacher who was a contemporary of PB and who PB met many times during his visits to India.

During a period of spiritual dryness, Atmananda experienced an inner yearning for a teacher.  One day, while walking home from the train station, he was irresistibly drawn to a man who was quietly sitting on a wall along the road.  This man had taken a train all the way from the other side of India for this meeting, and the two then went into an abandoned house and spent the whole night together, with Atmananda receiving the initiations and awakening that led to his being a great teacher himself.  They never met again.

We conclude this theme with the following from PB:

The illuminate can transmit his grace directly from mind to mind or indirectly by means of the visual glance, the physical touch, the spoken word, or the written letter.

He finds that, by the strange magic of telepathy, he can pass on to certain other minds something of the illustrious beatitude which pervades his own heart.