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A Few Notes on Self-Enquiry

He who would attempt to know his Overself must learn to retire into his mind as a tortoise retires into its shell.
Cape Cod tortoise by Raymond Clarke

By Paul Brunton

HE WHO WOULD ATTEMPT TO KNOW his Overself must learn to retire into his mind as a tortoise retires into its shell. The attention which has hitherto been dissipated on a succession of external objects must now be concentrated on a single internal focus.

The path of concentration is simple to describe, but difficult to practise. All you have to do is but to abstract your mind from all other thoughts save this one line of reflection which you set down as the subject of your concentration — but try it!

Thought control is hard to attain. Its difficulty will astonish you. The brain will rise in mutiny. Like the sea the human mind is ceaselessly active. But it can be done.

At the centre of our being dwells this wonderful Self, but to reach it we must cut a channel through all the thought-debris which rings it in and which forces us to pay unceasing attention to the material world as the only reality.

We like to turn inwards and let the mind rest in itself — not in the physical sense world — about as much as we like to hear the morning alarm clock.

We moderns have begun to bridle nature, but we have not learnt yet how to bridle ourselves. Thoughts hunt and harry us in endless packs; they torment us out of sleep at night, and fatten freely upon us throughout the day. If we could but learn the secret of their control and suppression, we could then enter upon a marvellous repose, a peace similar to that which Paul described as passing understanding.

For the five senses cling to the material world like glue; they yearn for contacts with it in the forms of things, people, books, amusements, travel and activities of every kind. You can only kill the enemy in the moments when the senses are silent. When you think of going into mental rest, the senses immediately begin to object; they cry out against it. The say to you: ‘We want to stay in our own physical world which we know; we are afraid of this inner spiritual world of mystery and meditation. It is natural for us to cling to the physical world.’

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And so they try their utmost to keep you attached to the material sphere; and that is the true reason why you think you dislike meditation or at any rate shirk it, when the time for it comes. It is the senses that dislike it — not you; therefore, fight them and try to rule them. Mental effort comes first, then comes mental quiet.

The mastery of mind is the mastery of self. The soul that can conquer the ever-rising spray of thoughts can put on its captain’s uniform and bid its whole nature stand to order. The power to hold on to a train of thought with great tenacity, to grasp it with scorpionic claws and not let go is the power to concentrate and makes MEN. The masters of thought are the true masters of men. Are you weak in concentration? Then by a little practice every day you can become stronger. He who tries every day to do so, albeit for only half an hour, shall master his wandering thoughts in time.

A warning: When moral weaknesses and emotional unbalance are conjoined with mystical practices, the result is not elevation of the mind into spirituality but degeneration of the mind into mediumship. The practice of meditation without the cultivation of ethical and intellectual safeguards can lead to self- deception, inflated egoism, hallucination and even insanity. Therefore it is not a quick and easy passage into occult experiences that the aspirant should seek, so much as a careful improvement of character, a resolute attack on faults, and a correct equilibrium of intuition, emotion, thought and action.

Copyright © 1934 Paul Brunton. From The Secret Path: A Technique of Spiritual Self-discovery for the Modern World.

Photo of tortoise by Raymond Clarke.

Paul Brunton (1898–1981) was a yogi and a writer. His first book, A Search in Secret India, helped make Ramana Maharshi famous.

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Recommended Books

Paul Brunon, A Search in Secret India

A Search in Secret India

By Paul Brunton

This book is a galloping adventure story, a sort of spiritual Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it's also an accurate description of spiritual experience and a summary of important spiritual teachings. It was a tremendous best-seller in many countries in the 1930s and 40s, appealing to the general public and not just spiritually-oriented people. The author, a young Englishman, tells the true story of his adventures travelling up and down India looking for a genuine guru. His search ends when he finds Ramana Maharshi. This is the book that made Ramana Maharshi famous outside India. Brunton’s description of Ramana’s teachings is still useful and accurate today. This book is much better written than most spiritual books — it was a general best-seller, not just a spiritual best seller — and it’s a lot of fun to read.


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This page was published on May 12, 2017 and last revised on May 16, 2017.


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