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Prefatory - 'The Wisdom of the Overself'

The Wisdom of the Overself by Dr. Paul Brunton
"I write for the few who, awakened by the world war into seeing that neither dead materialism nor blind mysticism can alone suffice, have had many a question brought to their lips and who therefore seek a higher truth which includes what is of worth in both views and yet transcends their defects. Men must come and knock at the doors of such a school out of their own interior prompting, out of their own hard reflections upon the meaning of the afflictions and elations of life, out of their own awakened desire to suffer blindly no longer. They must come to the condition written of by Virgil: "Weary of everything except to understand."And the awful experiences of this war-mangled era, with its living horrors and buried hopes, will have brought not a few amongst mankind nearer to such a condition."

Prefatory - 'The Wisdom of the Overself'

"This book was written in fulfilment of the promise made in 'The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga' which, indeed, was really an attempt to clear an intellectual pathway for its abstruse and abstract tenets.

The Indian villager who has hoarded his money, coins, gold or jewels (for he has not yet acquired the banking or investment habit) proceeds to bury his most valuable treasure in the deepest ground, to be dug up only by the hardest labour. I too, have placed my best-regarded truths deep in the work which has been offered last to an audience drawn from the four corners of the civilized world. Consequently some plain hints were scattered here and there in the first volume that until the reader had the whole teaching put into his hands, he could not judge it aright and was indeed liable to form misconceptions.

It was as natural that hasty criticisms should arise upon the appearance of 'The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga', as it was natural that it should offend readers who looked for pleasing pages rather than truthful ones. Nevertheless if I gave offence it was only because I sought to save mysticism from its worst foes, who are not outside its frontiers but within them.

Narrow, small and intolerant minds can never comprehend the double interpretative and creative nature of the task here undertaken. Therefore I can extend to my critics—and especially to those who have been so prolific in ill-informed snap judgement—an intellectual sympathy and humble good will. We shall understand each other well enough one day. But it will not be in this world where everything—as well as everyone—is judged by appearances. I am quite content to wait.

The two volumes now lay before readers a teaching which constitutes an endeavour to acquaint this epoch with the fundamental meaning of existence and which, in such explicit fullness, is for the first time written down in a Western language. An exposition in such an ultra-modern form was until now quite non-existent. Readers who bore patiently with the first volume until they could receive the total impression, the integral statement of the hidden teaching instead of complaining that they were confused because they could not see to what end it was all leading, who refused to detect contradictions where none really exist, may now find that they have not gone unrewarded.

They may begin to understand better why the earlier volume had to clear up the intellectual foreground and leave hidden in the background the real goal of all this effort, the Overself. They may perceive why it had first to prepare their minds for the teaching which is here specifically set forth and why it had to provide the aspirant with mental glasses to help him see through the ideological mist that so often surrounds him, so that he need no longer sway like a pendulum of pitiful credulity between conflicting doctrines and contending beliefs. They may also begin to appreciate why the serum of mentalism had to be heavily injected to counteract the poison of materialism, which generally infects not only most rational thinking but also, if more subtly, much religious and some mystical thinking. What mentalism seeks to get home to people is the difference between mind and brain, between an untouchable essence and a touchable thing, between an invisible principle and a visible lump of bone-covered flesh. If they grudge the amount of space given to this subject, we must plead the grave necessity not only of proving such a little-known and hard-to-believe truth in a manner acceptable to educated modern minds, but also of impressing the seeker after the Overself with the overwhelming importance of comprehending this bold tenet.

All this work was not only preliminary but in a different sense primary. For whilst it cleared a path for the still subtler revelations of the present volume it also established a view of the universe which may be radically new for most readers. And even those who had neither the time nor taste for the intellectual strenuousness of metaphysical matters could at least profit by noting the findings of someone who had both.

It may well be that these pages will appeal only to those who have the perseverance to get over their first fright at unfamiliar forms of thought and who are prepared to force their way, however slowly, through a subtle metaphysic to the subtler truth about this God-dreamed universe which it seeks to express. For the intellectual study of the way to what transcends intellectual experience cannot be an easy activity. But if any cannot comprehend this teaching in all its completeness, let not this fact depress them. Its profundities and difficulties exist and are admitted but its surfaces and simplicities also exist and are within their grasp. Let them take the latter therefore and leave the rest unworriedly for future personal growth, whether it be within the present incarnation or a later one. Even their faith and interest will alone suffice to bear good fruit. And even those who feel they have neither the external conditions nor the internal inclination to undertake such a quest may feel heartened merely to know that the Overself 'is', that life is significant, that the world makes a rational whole and that righteous conduct is worth while.

It is now needful to explain that I went to great pains to explore the most recondite sources in quest of the material which has partly gone into the making of this book, and that in the course of this exploration the hidden teaching was discovered not in a perfectly unified system but in scores of broken fragments which have been scattered in different hands amongst Asia's present-day cultural inheritors—not a few of them being non-Indian. And although the first volume mentions that the texts were Sanskrit—because this also was at one time the sacred language of Eastern Turkestan, Tibet and China—it must not be thought that they all were necessarily Indian. Moreover not every text has survived to this day in its original language but quite a number of the most important now exist only in Tokhari, Chinese and Tibetan translations for example. Their disappearance from India would alone, were this the sole reason, suffice to explain why uninitiated Indian critics find certain features of this teaching unfamiliar and unorthodox.

Hundreds of texts were examined in the effort to trace and collate basic ideas. The conflict of venerable and respected authorities over many momentous points shrouded them in grey shadow but opened my eyes to the inescapable need of disentangling myself from all authority whatsoever. This was a course contrary to Asiatic traditions and notions but it could not be avoided if I were to remain faithful to the ideal which had been glimpsed.

If therefore I began these studies with Indian texts I was compelled to abandon my original premise that the full and pure teaching could be found in them alone and had to widen my research until it again became an all-Asiatic one. The Ariadne's thread which finally led me through this metaphysical maze was indeed placed in my hands whilst visiting Cambodian China where I encountered amid the deserted shrines of majestic Angkor another visitor in the person of an Asiatic philosopher. From him I received an unforgettable personal esoteric instruction whose final vindication unfortunately had to wait a little longer and whose inspiring demonstration of the value of a human guide to make a clearing through this thick jungle of obscurity and mystery, was memorable.

All this is but a preamble to the statement that with these volumes a doctrine is presented which in all essential principles is not a local Indian tradition but an all-Asiatic one. According to the testimony of this philosopher who personally initiated me into the Yaka-kulgan (Mongolian) metaphysical school, which studies a particular phase of this doctrine, so far as India is concerned the teaching spread there from its original home in Central Asia. But dead history does not lie in my domain and this point need not detain us.

It would have been much easier to emulate a portentous academic parrot and merely write down what other men had written or said as it would have been more self-flattering to parade the breadth of my learning by peppering both volumes with a thousand Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese quotations, names or words. But life to-day points a challenging sword at us. I was too sensitive to the iconoclastic spirit of our age, too enamoured of the austere figure of truth rather than of her discarded robes, too troubled by what I had physically seen and personally experienced in this world-shaking epoch to be satisfied with anything less than a fresh living reconstruction.

For these reasons there was no hesitation in making use of sources unknown to antiquity just as there was none in recasting everything learned into a form shaped by the scientific experience and metaphysical knowledge of the West. Not that I—who claim no higher status than that of a blundering student—arrogantly sought to improve on the ancient teaching, for its basic essentials are indeed impregnable and will remain untouched for all time, but that I sought both to improve on its contemporary presentation and to make a human application of what often seems to Western view an inhuman metaphysics. Despite our incursions into celestial realms, we still want—and want rightly—to remain incorrigibly human. Hence although this book has been written in an intellectualistic form to meet the requirements of our time, whoever believes it to be inspired by purely logical concepts alone or to be merely a modernized re-interpretation of mildewed ancient documents and ant-eaten palm-leaf texts, will be greatly in error. For the encouragement of aspirants let it be categorically noted that several of its statements are the outcome not only of such re-interpretation but also of present-day living experience.

Were these the sole reasons they would nevertheless alone have justified heretical innovations, for that which actuates these pages is the simple desire to help others over life's stiles to the fulfilment of its higher purpose. And to implement this more effectively I have sought, creatively instead of imitatively, to help a widely-scattered group born in this epoch work out its own inner understanding of existence and display its own cultural vitality. The need to-day is not old dogmas but new dynamisms. Our century must speak for itself. We must let the past instruct us, not enslave us. In such a way alone can these difficult doctrines be made as clear to modern man's mind as the water of a Swiss lake is to his eye. Therefore this teaching will henceforth be offered on its own merits, not on the value of any tradition which may lie behind it, and offered to free minds, not to shackled ones.

Let it finally suffice therefore to say that in the effort to provide these ideas with a systematic form and scientific presentation, in the desire to help students by progressively deducing one truth from another in an orderly and consistent manner, in the aspiration to couch these doctrines in a medium understandable by living contemporaries and in the need to ground the whole on verifiable facts rather than on dictated dogmas, I have had veritably to reconstruct this aged pyramid of external revelation along modern lines from base to apex. That which is here presented is a fresh reincarnation and not a revivified corpse.

In any case, culture is becoming cosmopolitan. No idea can nowadays hope to remain a merely national possession. Whatever is worth while tends to spread its wings over all frontiers. And after all, the best reply to Eastern critics is that the inner light is present in all men, Western no less than Eastern; that the flash of insight into Truth may come to them anywhere; and that the discovery of the Real is not conditioned by geographical limits but by personal ones. Philosophy, in my integral sense of the term, is no longer a living force in the present-day East although metaphysics still continues a somewhat precarious existence and mysticism a somewhat anaemic one. To picture the Asia of today through these two to seven-thousand-year-old Sanskrit texts which are the available remnants of this teaching—as enthusiasts who say the Orient is spiritual and the West is materialist often do—and as I in the inexperience of youth once said—is as romantically erroneous as to picture present-day Europe through the Latin books of medieval scholastics. Such enthusiasts are dazzled in the present by what the East was in the perished past.

Today I walk in utter independence of thought and, like Emerson," without school or master."My life has been a constant seeking after truth and if I have passed at any time from one standpoint to another, the goddess who has lured me on must also share the blame, if blame there be. I have for years been engaged in examining and testing within my own experience—no less than in the observed experience of numerous other men—a host of ideas and exotic exercises which were alleged to offer theoretical or practical paths to various promised mystical, yogic, occult and sacred lands. It is not my fault if the results have not always been conducive to consistency.

I have said it before and must make it plain once again that I do not write as one wearing the mantle of a teacher—much less as one wielding his ferrule—but only as one sharing the struggles of a student. I know well the difficulties and darknesses, the errors and falls which measure every mile of this quest. But I know also unearthly visitations and heavenly communions; and something that brooks no denial bids me leave a record before I pass from this earth. Any higher rank than that of a student among students is hereby disclaimed, but this need not minimize the importance of what is here communicated.

The letter of the present attempt is admittedly a bold one but the spirit behind it is only a humble one. The temerity of printing these thoughts may be great but the timidity of withholding them at such a time as the present will surely be greater. Amid the confusions and despairs of a desolate epoch wherein the structure of civilization has tumbled over our heads like a house built of thin cards, it is the inescapable duty of whoever knows that a higher Hope exists for mankind to speak the lost Word for the sake of those who will listen. Therefore those of us who do care for humanity's true welfare must put forward such ideas, must burn reverent tapers before them not for ourselves alone but for others also, for men live by their dominant ideas however false or however true these may be.

I write for the few who, awakened by the world war into seeing that neither dead materialism nor blind mysticism can alone suffice, have had many a question brought to their lips and who therefore seek a higher truth which includes what is of worth in both views and yet transcends their defects. Men must come and knock at the doors of such a school out of their own interior prompting, out of their own hard reflections upon the meaning of the afflictions and elations of life, out of their own awakened desire to suffer blindly no longer. They must come to the condition written of by Virgil: "Weary of everything except to understand."And the awful experiences of this war-mangled era, with its living horrors and buried hopes, will have brought not a few amongst mankind nearer to such a condition.

If these thoughts were really too far out of the world to reach the people who are haplessly inside it, then they would have no right to lift a pen and stir ink. But because mind is the unacknowledged basis of all living, knowledge of the truth about mind cannot do other than provide a better support to such living. And that this is so, that the hoariest truths about reality and its shadows can be brought into touch with the practical concerns of personal and national life, should become abundantly clear to anyone patient enough to study the teaching in its fullness.

These leaves are sent out across the window without adolescent illusions about their reception and if a few of them shall flutter down to rest awhile beside a friend or two and remind him of his divine origin and destiny, it shall surely be enough."

Dr. Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself,
Samuel Weiser, Inc., (1970) p. 11-17

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