Paul Brunton – one of the original East-West bridges

Paul Brunton

Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was one of the first westerners to visit Sri Ramana Maharshi in the 1930s. He arrived at the sage’s abode after a long search that led him to the feet of many faqirs, yogis, and saints.
His extensive journeys were chronicled in the books A Search in Secret Egypt and A Search in Secret India, where many westerners were introduced to the fascination and allure of the east and its teachings, and perhaps most importantly, that of Ramana Maharshi.
In his later years “PB” went far beyond the scope of his early writings, rejuvenating the ancient meaning of the term “Philosophy” for the modern age.
Brunton wrote that he was no stranger to mystic rapture as a child. A burning desire for truth caused him to set aside his position as a journalist, while yet in his thirties, and travel the world in pursuit of the higher wisdom. His passion was intense, and he once even considered suicide.
He went on to write thirteen books between 1935 and 1952 converting a wealth of ancient doctrines into forms understandable by modern men and woman. His historical significance was that of being one of the original East-West bridges, putting traditional religious and philosophic teachings into a contemporary form consistent with science and a global world-view, and, in the opinion of many, for making a creative reinterpretation of the perennial wisdom teaching which had only existed in incomplete fragments in both the East and the West at the time.
Brunton’s experiences with Ramana as detailed in A Search in Secret India culminated with an episode of mystical absorption under Maharishi’s influence in which he was drawn into the heart and experienced an infinite expanse of supra-physical light.
This appears to have been an exalted form of savikalpa samadhi, or transcendental consciousness where the subject-object distinction persists. (His experience was later clarified by Ramana who said “Since the experience is through the mind only, it first appears as a blaze of light. The mental predispositions are not yet destroyed.
The mind is, however, functioning in its infinite capacity in this experience…When you wake up from sleep a light appears, which is the light of the Self, passing through Mahatattva. It is called cosmic consciousness. That is arupa (formless). The light falls on the ego and is reflected therefrom.”
Brunton later went on to write about the further realization of the spiritual heart, the inner source of attention, in jnana or jnana-nirvikalpa samadhi (the transcendental subject, exclusive of body and world, which he termed the Overself), in The Quest of the Overself and supra-mystical realizations beyond that, in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, but it was this first contact with Maharshi that revolutionized his quest.
He acknowledged Ramana as the inspiration behind much of his early writing efforts, and affirmed years later that his inner link with the sage had remained unbroken. While Ramana remained his “root” guru, he had many other teachers and influences who elaborated different aspects of the higher teachings to him and “filled in the gaps” or intellectual blind spots that his experience with Ramana did not provide.
Among these were the sage Atmananda (Shree Krishna Menon), the Shankaracharyaof Kanchipuram,and Vedantist V.S. Iyer, the latter whom Brunton referred to as “my teacher” and said “made the scales fall from my eyes.”
Indeed, it is impossible to fully appreciate the writings of PB without studying those of Iyer. Iyer was both a scholar and realizer who was also influential in the lives of important Ramakrishna monks Nikhilinanda and Siddeswarananda who spread the teachings of Vedanta to the United States and Europe, respectively.
Iyer actually tried to get PB to stop meditating at one point, so he could move on to the more complete realization of Sahaj samadhi, wherein one “understands the world through the mind’s intelligence,” as Atmananda once said.
Peter Holleran

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