Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was a British author of spiritual books and an awakened mystic in his own right. Although he authored 11 books, he may be best known as for his bestselling work, A Search in Secret India (1934), which has been translated into over 20 languages.
My pen would wander on into some account of the scenic life around me, and into further record of many talks with the Maharshi, but it is now time to draw the chronicle to a close.
I study him intently and gradually come to see in him the child of a remote Past when the discovery of spiritual truth was reckoned of no less value than is the discovery of a gold mine today. It dawns upon me with increasing force that, in this quiet and obscure corner of South India, I have been led to one of the last of India’s spiritual supermen. The serene figure of this living Sage brings the legendary figures of his country’s ancient rishis nearer to me. One senses that the most wonderful part of this man is withheld. His deepest soul, which one instinctively recognises as being loaded with rich wisdom, eludes one. At times he still remains curiously aloof, and at other times the kindly benediction of his interior grace binds me to him with hoops of steel. I learn to submit to the enigma of his personality, and to accept him as I find him. But if humanly speaking, he is well insulated against outside contacts, whoever discovers the requisite Ariadne’s thread can walk the inner path leading to spiritual contact with him. And I like him greatly because he is so simple and modest, when an atmosphere of authentic greatness lies so palpably around him; because he makes no claims to occult powers and heirophantic knowledge to impress the mystery loving nature of his countrymen, and because he is so totally without any traces of pretension that he strongly resists every effort to canonise him during his lifetime.
It seems to me that the presence of men like the Maharshi ensures the continuity down history of a divine message from regions not easily accessible to us all. It seems to me, further, that one must accept the fact that such a Sage comes to reveal something to us, not to argue anything with us. At any rate, his teachings make a strong appeal to me, for his personal attitude and practical method, when understood, are quite scientific in their way. He brings in no supernatural power and demands no blind religious faith. The sublime spirituality of the Maharshi’s atmosphere and the rational self-questioning of his philosophy find but a faint echo in yonder temple. Even the word “God” is rarely on his lips. He avoids the dark and debatable waters of wizardry, in which so many promising voyages have ended in shipwreck. He simply puts forward a way of self-analysis, which can be practised irrespective of any ancient or modern theories and beliefs which one may hold, a way that will finally lead man to true self-understanding.
I follow this process of self-divestment in the effort to arrive at pure integral being. Again and again I am aware that the Maharshi’s mind is imparting something to my own, though no words may be passing between us. The shadow of impending departure hangs over my efforts, yet I spin out my stay until bad health takes a renewed hand in the game and accelerates an irrevocable decision to go. Indeed, out of the deep inner urgency which drew me here, has come enough will power to overthrow the plaints of a tired sick body and a weary brain and to enable me to maintain residence in this hot static air. But Nature will not be defeated for long and before long a physical breakdown becomes threateningly imminent. Spiritually my life is nearing its peak, but — strange paradox! — physically it is slipping downwards to a point lower than it has hitherto touched. For a few hours before the arrival of the culminating experience of my contact with the Maharshi, I start to shiver violently and perspire with abnormal profuseness — intimations of coming fever.
I return hastily from an exploration of some usually veiled sanctuaries of the great temple and enter the hall when the evening meditation period has run out half its life. I slip quietly to the floor and straightway assume my regular meditation posture. In a few seconds I compose myself and bring all wandering thoughts to a strong centre. An intense interiorization of consciousness comes with the closing of eyes.
The Maharshi’s seated form floats in a vivid manner before my mind’s eye. Following his frequently repeated instruction I endeavour to pierce through the mental picture into that which is formless, his real being and inner nature, his soul. To my surprise the effort meets with almost instantaneous success and the picture disappears again, leaving me with nothing more than a strongly felt sense of his intimate presence.
The mental questionings which have marked most of my earlier meditations have lately begun to cease. I have repeatedly interrogated my consciousness of physical, emotional and mental sensations in turn, but, dissatisfied in the quest of Self, have eventually left them all. I have then applied the attention of consciousness to its own centre, striving to become aware of its place of origin. Now comes the supreme moment. In that concentration of stillness, the mind withdrawn into itself, one’s familiar world begins to fade off into shadowy vagueness. One is apparently environed for a while by sheer nothingness, having arrived at a kind of mental blank wall. And one has to be as intense as possible to maintain one’s fixed attention. But how hard to leave the lazy dalliance of our surface life and draw the mind to a pin-point of concentration!
Tonight I flash swiftly to this point, with barely a skirmish against the continuous sequence of thoughts which usually play the prelude to its arrival. Some new and powerful force comes into dynamic action within my inner world and bears me inwards with resistless speed. The first great battle is over, almost without a stroke, and a pleasurable, happy, easeful feeling succeeds its high tension.
In the next stage I stand apart from the intellect, conscious that it is thinking, but warned by an intuitive voice that it is merely an instrument. I watch these thoughts with a weird detachment. The power to think, which has hitherto been a matter for merely ordinary pride, now becomes a thing from which to escape, for I perceive with startling clarity that I have been its unconscious captive. There follows the sudden desire to stand outside the intellect and just be. I want to dive into a place deeper than thought. I want to know what it will feel like to deliver myself from the constant bondage of the brain, but to do so with all my attention awake and alert.
It is strange enough to be able to stand aside and watch the very action of the brain as though it were someone else’s, and to see how thoughts take their rise and then die, but it is stranger still to realize intuitively that one is about to penetrate into the mysteries which hide in the innermost recesses of man’s soul. I feel like some Columbus about to land on an uncharted continent. A perfectly controlled and subdued anticipation quietly thrills me.
But how to divorce oneself from the age-old tyranny of thoughts? I remember that the Maharshi has never suggested that I should attempt to force the stoppage of thinking. “Trace thought to its place of origin,” is his reiterated counsel, “watch for the real Self to reveal itself, and then your thoughts will die down of their own accord.” So, feeling that I have found the birthplace of thinking, I let go of the powerfully positive attitude which has brought my attention to this point and surrender myself to complete passivity, yet still keeping as intently watchful as a snake of its prey.
This poised condition reigns until I discover the correctness of the Sage’s prophecy. The waves of thought naturally begin to diminish. The workings of logical rational sense drops towards zero point. The strangest sensation I have experienced till now grips me. Time seems to reel dizzily as the antennae of my rapidly growing intuition begin to reach out into the unknown. The reports of my bodily senses are no longer heard, felt, remembered. I know that at any moment I shall be standing outside things, on the very edge of the world’s secret.
Finally it happens. Thought is extinguished like a snuffed candle. The intellect withdraws into its real ground, that is, consciousness working unhindered by thoughts. I perceive what I have suspected for sometime and what the Maharshi has confidently affirmed, that the mind takes its rise in a transcendental source. The brain has passed into a state of complete suspension as it does in deep sleep, yet there is not the slightest loss of consciousness. I remain perfectly calm and fully aware of who I am and what is occurring. Yet my sense of awareness has been drawn out of the narrow confines of the separate personality; it has turned into something sublimely all embracing. Self still exists, but it is a changed, radiant self. For something that is far superior to the unimportant personality which was I, some deeper, diviner being rises into consciousness and becomes me. With it arrives an amazing new sense of absolute freedom, for thought is like a loom-shuttle which always is going to and fro, and to be freed from its tyrannical motion is to step out of prison into the open air.
I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet, which has so far harboured me, disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive.
I touch, as in a flash, the meaning of this mysterious universal drama which is being enacted in space, and then return to the primal point of being. I, the new I, rest in the lap of holy bliss. I have drunk the Platonic Cup of Lethe, so that yesterday’s bitter memories and tomorrow’s anxious cares have disappeared completely. I have attained a divine liberty and an almost indescribable felicity. My arms embrace all creation with profound sympathy, for I understand in the deepest possible way that to know all is not merely to pardon all, but to love all. My heart is remoulded in rapture.
How shall I record these experiences through which I next pass, when they are too delicate for the touch of my pen? Yet the starry truths which I learn may be translated into the language of earth, and will not be a vain one. So I seek, all too roughly, to bring back some memorials of the wonderful archaic world which stretches out, untracted and unpathed, behind the human mind.
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I return to this mundane sphere impelled by a force which I cannot resist. By slow unhurried stages I become aware of my surroundings. I discover that I am still sitting in the hall of the Maharshi and that it is apparently deserted. My eyes catch sight of the hermitage clock and I realize that the inmates must be in the dining room at their evening meal. And then I become aware of someone on my left. It is the seventy-five year old former station-master, who is squatting close beside me on the floor with his gaze turned benevolently on me.
“You have been in a spiritual trance for nearly two hours,” he informs me. His face, seamed with years and lined with old cares, breaks into smiles as though he rejoices in my own happiness.
I endeavour to make some reply, but discover to my astonishment that my power of speech has gone. Not for almost fifteen minutes do I recover it. Meanwhile the old man supplements the further statement.
“The Maharshi watched you closely all the time. I believe his thoughts guided you.”
When the Sage returns to the hall, those who follow him take up their position for the short interval which precedes the final retirement for the night. He raises himself up on the divan and crosses his legs; then, resting an elbow on the right thigh, he holds his chin within the upright hand, two fingers covering his cheek. Our eyes meet across the intervening space and he continues to look intently at me.
And when the attendant lowers the wicks of the hall’s lamps, following the customary nightly practice I am struck once again by the strange lustre in the Maharshi’s calm eyes. They glow like twin stars through the half darkness. I remind myself that never have I met in any man eyes as remarkable as those of this last descendant of India’s rishis. In so far as the human eyes can mirror divine power, it is a fact that the Sage’s do that.
The heavily scented incense smoke rises in soft spirals the while I watch those eyes that never flicker. During the forty minutes which pass so strangely, I say nothing to him and he says nothing to me. What use are words? We now understand each other better without them, for in this profound silence our minds approach a beautiful harmony, and in this optic telegraphy I receive a clear unuttered message. Now that I have caught a wonderful and memorable glimpse of the Maharshi’s viewpoint on life, my own inner life has begun to mingle with his.
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I fight the oncoming fever during the two days which follow and manage to keep it at bay.
The old man approaches my hut in the afternoon.
“Your stay among us draws to an end, my brother,” he says regretfully. “But you will surely return to us one day?”
“Most surely!” I echo confidently.
When he leaves me I stand at the door and look up at the Hill of the Holy Beacon — Arunachala, the Sacred Red Mountain, as the people of the countryside prefer to call it.
It has become the colourful background of all my existence; always I have but to raise my eyes from whatever I am doing, whether eating, walking, talking or meditating, and there is its strange, flat headed shape confronting me in the open or through a window. It is somehow inescapable in this place, but the strange spell it throws over me is more inescapable still. I begin to wonder whether this queer, solitary peak has enchanted me. There is a local tradition that it is entirely hollow and that in its interior dwell several great spiritual beings who are invisible to mortal gaze, but I disdain the story as a childish legend. And yet this lonely hill holds me in a powerful thrall, despite the fact that I have seen others, infinitely more attractive. This rugged piece of Nature, with its red laterite boulders tumbled about in disorderly masses and glowing like dull fire in the sunlight, possesses a strong personality which emanates a palpable awe creating influence.
With the fall of dusk I take my farewells of everyone except the Maharshi. I feel quietly content because my battle for spiritual certitude has been won, and because I have won it without sacrificing my dearly held rationalism for a blind credulity. Yet when the Maharshi comes to the courtyard with me a little later, my contentment suddenly deserts me. This man has strangely conquered me and it deeply affects my feelings to leave him. He has grappled me to his own soul with unseen hooks which are harder than steel, although he has sought only to restore a man to himself, to set him free and not to enslave him. He has taken me into the benign presence of my spiritual Self and helped me, dull Westerner that I am, to translate a meaningless term into a living and blissful experience.
I linger over parting, unable to express the profound emotions which move me. The indigo sky is strewn with stars, which cluster in countless thousands close over our heads. The rising moon is a thin crescent disc of silver light. On our left the evening fireflies are making the compound grove radiant, and above them the plumed heads of tall palms stand out in black silhouette against the sky.
My adventure in self-metamorphosis is over, but the turning axle of time will bring me back to this place, I know. I raise my palms and close them together in the customary salutation and then mutter a brief goodbye. The Sage smiles and looks at me fixedly, but says not a word.
One last look towards the Maharshi, one last glimpse by dim lantern light of a tall copper-skinned figure with lustrous eyes, another farewell gesture on my part, a slight wave of his right hand in response, and we part.
I climb into the waiting bullock cart, the driver swishes his whip, the obedient creatures turn out of the courtyard into the rough pate and then trot briskly away into the jasmine-scented tropic night.
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After his encounter with Ramana Maharshi, Paul Brunton travelled the world extensively studying and translating esoteric teachings of the East in order to make them accessible to people living in the modern world. In his notes he writes, “The age of esotericism has come to an end, and the age of open teaching is upon us.” For more information visit www.PaulBrunton.org
From The Maharshi and His Message, by Paul Brunton. Copyright © Sri Ramanasramam. www.SriRamanaMaharshi.org