PAUL BRUNTON (1898-1981) WAS ONE of the 20th century’s greatest explorers of the spiritual traditions of the East. He was also a journalist with a healthy regard for critical impartiality and for common sense. These characteristics, together with a rich inner life, made him a superb writer on the spirituality of the Orient.* He was born Raphael Hurst and was a British theosophist and spiritualist who was one of the first to introduce a modern form of Hinduism into western mysticism.
I have his wonderful book, A Search in Secret India: The classic work on seeking a guru, which is impossible to put down as he minutely describes his travels across the subcontinent talking to holy men, saints, fakirs and outright charlatans – and then he finds Ramana Maharshi at Arunachala. Of this holy and luminous man of Vedanta, he says, “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…”
Inside my copy on a page right at the end , I have written in capitals in the top margin (and dated 2014) ‘SUPERLATIVE’, and there is a big asterisk in the side margin. This is what I highlighted, italics are mine:
“But how to divorce oneself from the age-old tyranny of thoughts? I remember that the Maharishee (Ramana) has never suggested that I should attempt to force the stoppage of thinking.
‘Trace thought to its place of origin,’ is his reiterated council, ‘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 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 gradually begin to diminish. The workings of rational sense drop towards zero point. The strangest sensation I have experienced till now grips me. Time seems to reel dizzily as the antenna 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 any moment I shall be standing outside (his italics) 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 some time and what the Maharishee has confidently affirmed, that the mind takes rise into a state of complete suspension, as it does in deep sleep, yet there is not the slightest loss of consciousness.”
Consider the following written by Yuanwu Keqin, (1063-1135), Zen Master, who wrote the following description of the Great Death of Zen (edited):
“A man who has died the great death has no Buddhist doctrines and theories, no mysteries and marvels, no gain and loss, no right and wrong, no long and short. When he gets here, he just lets it rest this way.
An Ancient said of this, On the level ground the dead are countless; only one who can pass through the forest of thorns is a good hand.
Yet one must pass beyond that Other Side too to begin to attain.
Even so, for present day people even to get to this realm is already difficult to achieve. If you have any leanings or dependence, any interpretative understanding, then there is no connection.”
The mind rises out of the transcendent. This is seen, understood and experienced, and when the Great Death** is undergone, there is no way back. It is a physiological, psychological and outright PROFOUND shift in existential perception. There are no connections to anything and thoughts just come and go and then they drop back into the transcendence. Life becomes like the graph of a sine-wave…
Thoughts do not have any intrinsic meaning and are seen to be empty because there is no longer a mechanism to interpret the meaning, but this does not detract from using imagery to create a unique and glorious life, or a God-awful existence if your patternings are negative. It is very difficult to describe because regular language fails us, but Sanskrit, for sure, has exquisite nuances to explain this.
Your question about how I know how to write and interpret; how I put together my books and blogs, run my life and family, etc., is valid. I would say that life continues and it is full and joyous with much mandatory silliness, but it is experienced within a vast ocean of silence and ‘that’ watches it all arise and fall.
Once the intellect returns and things fall back into place, life is experienced as form, glorious colour, geometry, Venn diagrams, sounds of differing amplitude and frequency (viz., bird-song to Iron Maiden), but without labelling until the intellect darts in like quicksilver to classify and formulate its surround all within a micro nano-second.
Every morning when I arise, I stand up and experience the absolute nothingness that I am. I always marvel to myself there must be a contour somewhere although I cannot feel nor see it. The body is a thought-form – when we wake and before we move, we do not really know it is there. Intellect reminds us we are alive… I was recently performing Nadi Sodhana – a type of yogic breathing – and all there that was present was the breath, and that breath is the universe.
This can be an alarming consideration for the mind, and it IS perplexing and inconceivable. There can be a desperate nihilism that can occur after experiencing the Great Death, obviously, which I have also seen annotated in various writings across the spiritual canon. I experienced this as part of the death of the self as I have already recorded.
However, the most extraordinary realisation of all is that everything that has ever been written in the spiritual genre becomes as obvious a truth as the blink of an eye with piece of grit. It is simply the same garment in many colour ways – when your wardrobe is full, there is no more seeking.
This is why I implore those on the path to self-realisation to be kind and gentle to themselves. Kindness not only to the other, but to the self. Self-flagellation just leaves the body sore and sad, depressed and down. I purport modern, practical spirituality and insist upon this. If this demystifies the mystical, it will be understood that the ordinary becomes something unimaginably extraordinary. Granted that as the adventure continues finer dimensions appear, but never is lost the overwhelming gratitude for life and its infinite possibilities.
You are asking the self to die, to vanish and and leave you be. Please, therefore, be gracious and give it an honourable and respectful discharge.
Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.
Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.
Free copies of her books are available for download here: https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.
* Brunton, P., 1934. A Search in Secret India: The classic work on seeking a guru. Rider. London SW1V 2SA – from the back cover.
** I prefer to capitalise Great Death.