Brunton, Dr Paul - A Hermit in the Himalayas - The Retreat
Type of Spiritual Experience
In Paul Brunton's case, his use of a retreat marked the last stage of his spiritual path and as we shall see, this environment coupled with his use of his contemplation techniques produced intense spiritual experiences
Paul went to the Himalayas and stayed in a bungalow up in the mountains – this was a true ‘Safe House’. He used contemplation techniques and found himself a quiet isolated spot out of doors for his exercises. So peaceful and beautiful were the surroundings that all sense of threat was removed. Furthermore he went to the same spot for months on end and thus saw exactly the same view every day, thus he had slowed down his reasoning system and his learning function – he knew the place – the view was no more 'novel'.
Paul was not a believer in the ascetic life. Interestingly enough neither were most of the truly spiritual men he met, all of them led lives that involved human contact, decent food and active teaching or support for their followers.
This observation is quite long because I have included more detail
A description of the experience
A Hermit in the Himalayas – Paul Brunton
He who seeks a retreat cannot go far nowadays, perhaps no farther than the next county... is the way closed then? No. It is still open for all men, albeit differently.
A half hour stolen from the day's activities or the night's rest set apart for meditation in his own house, will in the end yield a good result. A useful suggestion for those who cannot get the right conditions at home or in the open air, is to try a church outside of service hours. It is admittedly harder than trying the same exercise in a peaceful mountain valley, but wherever he is it is his mind alone that counts.
The tranquil passivity he sets out to reach, will eventually deepen and deepen until a point is felt where thinking is still and the mind emptied. Into this inner silence there enters, we know not how, the Overself's godlike consciousness
Those who spend sufficient time on the mystical quest and with sufficient keenness and guidance, find it infinitely inspiring, because it links them – however remotely, weakly and momentarily – with an infinite power, an infinite wisdom, an infinite goodness.
The fruit of such meditation comes in the form of brief glimpses of the soul's flower like beauty. Although it comes only for a few minutes in most cases, its bloom endures and recurs in memory for years afterwards. Only the adept, he who has travelled far on his inward journey, is able to return at any time, and at will, to the serene beatitude of this high consciousness
No better setting for this battle may be found than these remote and lonely Himalayan wilds. In none of the many countries which I have visited – for I only feel at home when I am abroad – have I found an atmosphere so conducive towards spiritual tranquillisation as in these mountains to which my destiny has finally brought me. Here, best of all, can one realise, make real, the saying of the Psalmist
'Be still and know that I am God'.
Let them retire from active life for periods of retreat, periods which can vary from one day, one week, one month up to a few years even, but let them then return to the world which they have deserted and plunge into active existence as the next phase of their being. And they should stay until they feel the world is becoming too much for them again; then spiritual retreat should be sought once again. Such a life is a balanced one, and obeys the ordered rhythms of the universal creation itself. The social life with then express the spiritual life, the inner will influence the outer and both will be better for the change. The coordination of spirit and matter can hurt no one.
Those who vegetate for a lifetime in monasteries and hermitages are doing what is perhaps best for them, or they would not continue to stay there, but sometimes it is the worst for them. In several cases their fancied spiritual growth would disappear like pollen blown by the wind were they to put themselves to the test of city life. The more institutional and the more intellectual amongst them would be wiser to seek an integral freedom by using the world from time to time as springboards on which to try their diving capacity.
and of what shall my activities consist? The principal one is just sitting still! I am quite serious. It is indeed, I must admit, a queer kind of work, the queerest which I have yet undertaken, ever since my ship weighed anchor and turned its bow from the British shore; it is certainly not the kind for which anyone will care to pay me a single rupee in remuneration. Yet that is the absolute truth, the sole purpose of my cutting adrift from the generality of men and settling for a while in this unfrequented Himalayan kingdom. I expect no excitements, no hair raising situations, no perils, in this new adventure of mine.
'Be still and know thy God!'
That is the phrase of the Hebrew Bible. It bids me to go to the Himalayas, not as an explorer nor as researcher, but simply to cease my external activities and to tranquillise my mind to the point of utter placidity. I am not even to continue my ancient labours of self conscious meditation it counsels, but just to be still.
I am to seek no outer adventures, nor even inner ones, I am to take Nature as my tutor, to merge my spirit into the absolute silence of her surroundings and to let every thought lapse away into mere nothingness. I am to become a living paradox, seeking to attainment of a higher order of being by the curious method of making no effort! In short the Psalmist's saying, which I am obeying like an injunction is to be taken in its literal fullnes.
Shall I exaggerate and say that the man who does nothing at all engages in the highest form of activity; that the man who is always busy really does nothing at all; that in fact the supreme mission of man for which he was sent down to this word is precisely to do nothing? But alas few will understand this though
In a multitude of other places a multitude of other men are agitating the molecules of their heated brains in intellectual reflections upon a hundred subjects. I, in the contrary, take symbolic ice from yonder summits and apply it for a time to my head in the hope of freezing away all manifestations of reflective action.
And in all the five continents of the world other men are cajoling their Creator with offerings, rites, self torture, aspirations, incantations, prayers and ceremonies. I, in final insurrection against all these mummeries, keep my heart as quiet as a placid pool and await the Creator's revelation with the proud patience of one who knows he is eternal
One more evening on the leaf strewn sanctuary is markedly fruitful. The inward presence has been waiting unweariedly for me. The air vibrates with loveliness for I begin to bathe in the beautiful element of Truth. The mind quietly settles down into its own centre with hardly any effort. The tide of blessed serenity begins to inundate the heart. Peace, divine and delectable, rolls over my head wave after wave. Breathing sinks away into the gentlest of movements, so gentle as to be almost unnoticed.
The procession of eternity passes by. All the petty irritations and egoistic twists, the deep scarred bitternesses and rebellious cynicisms and trivial cares, fall for a time out of my character as dead brown leaves falling from sapless darkening trees in autumn. How can they continue to exist in such a grand rarefied atmosphere as now overwhelms me with such well defined strength? How can these futile pain bringing elements continue to afflict me when another self – the Overself – now arises in all its sublimity and makes me its temporary victim, seizing mind, heart and body in its grip as a cat seizes a mouse with its white teeth?
Ah! but the victim is all too willing. For he is utterly helpless. He is penetrated through and through with the subtle aroma of those words
'Not my will, but Thine, O Lord, be done'
Herein lies the primal felicity. We must needs love the absolute good when we perceive it.
Helpless and yet what joyful freedom. The binds of the personal ego are flung aside by the unseen hand and with their going goes all care, all anxiety, all concern for the past errors and future uncertainties. The Overself in announcing its presence, announces also that it comes as liberator. It commands – and everything mean, petty and cramping shrinks back and disappears. It glances – and a flowing sea of love, adoration, humility surges up to its feet. How soothing is the sense of Its benign enfolding presence. All inner conflict is stilled. The blood no longer wars with the brain, nor passion with thought. When our minds have been totally subdued by logic we are lost. The divine transcends logic.
Himalaya has opened the golden windows of heaven for me and I must bless the day that I entered this quiet realm.
All thoughts are stilled like a lamp in a windless place. My mind is as quiet as the still ravine below me.
I can neither shut nor open my half shut eyelids, nor exert myself sufficiently to get out of this half trance, nor do I wish to do that, so pleasurable is the sensation.
It is a serene and beautiful experience, an ecstatic reverie so intense as really to be indescribable. I discover anew that our existence is embosomed in divinity. All words merely hint, suggest, touch the fringe of its garment.
To describe accurately one must write like a scientist and analyse exhaustively; the analytic scientific process merely converts the glowing fire of beauty into dismal ashes; yet perhaps even the ashes may be welcome in a world where such ethereal beauty is remote and rare.
Within the circle of inward quiescence, my happiness is made perfect and complete.
How long I remain thus I do not properly know, although I know it is less than half an hour. The Overself alas, takes its egress from the mind as well as its ingress. Only the superman can stay for ever within its sublime grasp.
I rise reluctant.
I think the final news which I shall bring away from these peaks is also extremely ancient – that of God's reality. The higher power is no mere article of belief to me but a verity – authentic, undeniable and supreme, even though it be so hidden.....
God will not lower his mode of speech in order that unfamiliar mortals may comprehend. We must learn his language or go without his message. His language is nothing else than this stillness. And he is no more distant from us than our own selves....
I know this, not because some bible or clergyman has told me so, but because I have entered the Silence.
When I sat in my mountain sanctuary, I felt myself being lifted at times out of my body and floating gently upwards into the air. I could see all the landscape around, all the familiar sights and scenes of forest, ridge, ravine and snowy summit. I was not asleep and I was not dreaming, yet once, when a servant came to call me, I was unable to move hand or limb although I heard him. I was incapable of speaking or moving yet I could quite clearly observe my surroundings in a totally detached manner. My body was as dead, yet I was still alive.
This convinced me that I shall survive a thousand arguments for it showed me how it was possible for the mind, the inner man, to move in and out of the flesh at birth sleep and death