A book summary with quotes & personal comments
The Secret Path describes a practical way for everyday working people to unlock the powers of the Overself. The Overself, as described by Paul Brunton (PB), is “the God within us” of whom we can become aware during meditation and in life.
Paul Brunton (PB) is the person who introduced the Western world to the Indian guru Ramana Maharshi. Much of what PB has to say in The Secret Path can ultimately be traced back to Ramana’s teachings on self enquiry.
PB spent most of his life on a spiritual quest looking for answers to the important questions of life. He extensively traveled, living on every continent with a focus on India and Egypt, and was the author of 28 books. Before he took his second journey to the East PB had a vision of his own guru, Ramana, which caused PB to delay his journey in order to write The Secret Path in only four short weeks in 1934.
The book starts with some interesting discussions about PB’s background and about the important questions of spiritual life. It does not promise to give you a simple answer to these questions (such answers cannot be expressed in words … they can only be known by direct experience) but it does promise to provide an efficient path towards those answers so that you can find them yourself.
PB claims to have found enlightenment so, if his claim is true, this secret path is well worth studying. I personally found the directions to be much clearer, more complete and simpler than most others. And, they are generally consistent with ideas from great seers such as Jesus, Buddha and Emerson which adds to their veracity in my opinion.
PB speaks from a Western point of view and claims that there is one ultimate source or Overself. He claims that seers such as Jesus and Buddha are all talking about the same thing, that is, becoming one with the Overself. The differences have to do with their different cultures and the different approaches they are taking to the same destination.
Basically he says the personal self (personality) is provided the life energy which holds it together and is provided its very existence by the Overself quietly residing behind it. However, the personal self has become so entranced by this world’s external sensations that it has lost awareness of its true source. The Secret Path is a practical way to help the personal self see the spiritual, versus the material, realities of life.
THE PRACTICE OF MENTAL QUIET p.45
Quieting the mind is fundamental to PB’s recommendations. The personal self is so entranced by its external senses and thoughts that it cannot see the more subtle truths that lie behind them.
Mental quiet is another name for what is usually called meditation. The practice of meditation helps one to develop the abilities to quiet the mind and to concentrate attention.
PB recommends that the fundamental thing to concentrate on during meditation is “who am I.” This is not a question asking “about” who I am but is a mental intention “to become aware” of who I am. Initially in one’s practice of meditation this involves concentration. Later, as one develops one’s ability to easily quiet the mind, meditation becomes more of an intention to receive awareness of who I am.
A TECHNIQUE OF SELF-ANALYSIS p.56
PB recommends starting down the path by first applying the logical and analytical powers of our personal minds to help unravel the fundamental questions “Who am I” and “Who is this being that dwells within this body?” p.75
He provides extensive discussion to help convince one’s self that I am not my body, emotions or thoughts. Rather I am the watcher behind them who uses these worldly tools. I.e., who I really am is the watcher and a chooser behind the personal self. I am the life force that holds the body together and chooses for it to exist.
Once one has convinced one’s self that the real “I” is the watcher rather than, for example, his body or his thoughts then this stage is over.
BREATHING EXERCISE TO CONTROL THOUGHTS p.69
PB says slowing one’s breathing one also slows down the racing thoughts that keep flowing through one’s intellect. He recommends a safe, simple breathing exercise to do this (versus some of the other breathing methods practiced by Yogis which in his opinion have dangers).
THE TECHNIQUE OF SELF OBSERVATION p.80
This technique involves stopping almost unexpectedly at odd times of the day and observing what you are saying, doing, thinking and feeling. Do this from a detached, impersonal point of view asking questions along the lines of “who is doing this” or “who is thinking these thoughts?”
This will tend to separate the thoughts and desires from the sense of selfhood which normally seem inherent within them.
“Indeed, it might be said that the three practices, self observation, daily quiet and placid breathing, are complementary. All aim at overcoming the tendencies towards complete self-identification with the body, the desires and the intellect which are today regarded as normal and natural.” p.80
Once we develop these habits we begin to see “our changing emotions, desires, thoughts and action to us in the light of the Overself, i.e. as things which are being experienced within ourselves but are merely mechanical responses to external stimuli.” p.81
THE AWAKENING TO INTUITION p.75
After going through the above practices one continues his meditation. In so doing “He does not endeavor to obtain an answer by thinking about the Thinker; he begins to let all thoughts drop away and to fasten his full attention upon becoming aware of this being who has been covered over by the screen of never-ending thoughts.” p.77
“Fixing your attention upon the question, “Who am I,” and attempting to pursue its solution with all the ardour you can command, a time will come one day, during your half-hour practice of mental quiet, when you shall be so deeply engrossed in this effort as to be largely unmindful of what is around you. This condition of intense reverie provides you with the appropriate state wherein the great event of self-revelation can take place.” p.83
What is important is not to overstrain. “It is the subconscious reaction to your conscious effort which is now all-important.” p.78 One must watch patiently and carefully for small signs and glimpses of the Overself.
We cannot force the Infinite. We can only receive what the Infinite gives by Grace. One can only patiently humbly wait for the Overself to illumine itself via the thread of intuition. Exactly how the Overself enlightens an individual differs depending on the individual. But, if the Overself allows, “A mysterious condition gradually arises wherein one becomes strangely aware of this ‘otherness.’ It is as if one part of your nature watches what the other part does.” p.85 “Within its strange clasp we become conscious of an intense awareness of infinitude” which cannot be described by words. p.89
THE AWAKENING TO THE OVERSELF p.91
“Whoever has patiently practised the exercises in meditation prescribed in this book and has thereby won through to the inner contact with his diviner self, will no longer need to repeat these exercises in the identical manner which he has heretofore followed.” p.91
“He need only practise the breathing exercise which has been given and then place his mind in the half-question, half-prayer condition which is described in the preceding chapter. After the necessary pause, the waiting period of humble expectancy, the response of the Overself will usually be forthcoming and he will temporarily enter the state of partial or complete inner illumination.” … “The stream of mental quiet has at last carried him beyond the intellect.” p.91
Be warned that this result is not achieved “merely by practising certain exercises.” It is a much more subtle subject than that. Ultimately “Grace is the essential pre-requisite for enlightenment. Yet you cannot supply it; only your Overself or a true Adept can do that.” p.92
“To obtain this Grace we must ask for it.” p.93 “For most of us we must ask with our whole life.” And Grace ultimately decides if and when when it will provide enlightenment. So, be patient. Be humble.
Ultimately enlightenment cannot be expressed by words. You can only know it from the authority of one’s personal experience, one’s own first-hand realization that these things are true.” p.97
This book appears to offer a far more reasonable path to enlightenment than most of the others I have seen. It does not attempt to explain the unexplainable but points the way to “enlightenment,” a state which apparently PB has personally and regularly experienced.
I also like that it appears to be saying, in a somewhat different and more comprehensible way, what other spiritual systems indicate. PB’s muse, Maharshi, did not make any claims or efforts for worldly success. This I like too.
The book concludes by saying that “the Secret Path of mental quiet will prove to be of use in every kind of situation” p.119 It can be applied to a normal everyday Western life; one does not have to become a monk or yogi to follow this path to enlightenment.
These are attractive promises for an approach which appears quite practical. Hopefully the above summary provides an overview that you find helpful as you read the book itself.
- The page numbers above are from The Secret Path: A Modern Technique for Self Discovery, used copies of which are sold by Amazon. The original book was published in 1934.
- Download The Secret Path and other books by Paul Brunton for free.
- Youtube video of written quotes from Paul Brunton’s notebooks on why to meditate.
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