Monday, May 3, 2010

Paul Brunton's Background

In the last few days there have been a few comments about Paul Brunton and the role he played in disseminating Bhagavan’s teachings. This discussion prompted me to have another look at a long academic paper – ‘Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi’ – that was published online a few years ago. Its author was Dr J. Glenn Friesen, a Canadian scholar, and the link can be found here:

Dr Friesen investigated and summarised all that is known about Brunton’s life before he came to see Bhagavan. It is a commendable piece of research. I suspect that very few readers here will have come across even a fraction of the incidents and stories that are collected there. However, Dr Friesen was not merely interested in uncovering the facts of Brunton’s life. He wanted, in addition, to demonstrate how Brunton’s ideas and terminology had influenced Bhagavan’s own teachings. The position that Dr Friesen takes is that Bhagavan did not derive the vocabulary and style of his teachings from his own experience but from the books he read and from the devotees he encountered during his teaching career. This central idea is laid out in another long paper he wrote entitled: ‘Ramana Maharshi: Hindu and non-Hindu Interpretations of a Jivanmukta.’ This can also be found online. The link is:

I concluded my previous post with a quotation from Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (talk no 189) in which Bhagavan specifically stated that his teachings derived from his own experience of the Self, and not from reading the words of philosophers such as Sankara. I will repeat it again here:

Mr M. Oliver Lacombe, a middle-aged Frenchman who was on a visit to India, being delegated by the Institute of Indian Civilisation of the University of Paris, came here from French India. Among others he had desired to meet Maharshi; he came and stayed here about three hours. He had read, in the Sanskrit original, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Sutras with commentaries by Sri Sankara and Ramanuja.

He asked: Is Maharshi’s teaching the same as Sankara’s?

Bhagavan: Maharshi’s teaching is only an expression of his own experience and realisation. Others find that it tallies with Sri Sankara’s.

Devotee: Quite so. Can it be put in other ways to express the same realisation?

Bhagavan: A realised person will use his own language.

No space in Dr Friesen’s paper was devoted to discussing the possibility that Bhagavan’s own comments on the source of his teachings might have been true. Last year I had a brief email exchange with Dr Friesen in which I asked him why he had not even considered that Bhagavan’s words came from the Self. His response was to say that such a position would be unscholarly.

Dr Friesen does seem to accept that Bhagavan realised the Self, but he does not accept that such an experience was the source of everything he said and wrote. He goes to extraordinary lengths in these two papers to track down and isolate all the influences that Bhagavan was subjected to during his life, before going on to posit that these external factors determined Bhagavan’s teaching style, his vocabulary, and even to some extent his world view.

I confess that I went through these two papers, over 200 pages in total, with a mounting feeling of amazement. I am used to talking to people whose ignorance of Bhagavan and his teachings come from unfamiliarity with the texts on his life and teachings. In this case, though, I was encountering a sophisticated academic mind that had thoroughly immersed itself in the Bhagavan literature, thought about it, analysed it, and then come to a conclusion that, to me, was utterly bizarre and completely unsustainable.

Don’t let my negative comments put you off reading these papers. There is a lot of information on Bhagavan in them that may be new to people here. Caveat emptor, though.

Dr Friesen was a scholar and student of Swami Abhishiktananda, the French monk who stayed with Bhagavan in the late 1940s and who, in the years that followed, wrote many books about Christianity and Hinduism. Dr Friesen speaks about Swami Abhishiktananda’s life and summarises his own ideas on Bhagavan in the following interview:

If any of you have the energy to go through all these sources and then wish to comment on them, feel free to post your comments here.


Rama said...

Dear David,

I went through the interview, the note on Mr. Brunton's interests and the attachment. I was just reminded of Swami Vivekananda's warning to Sadhak's not to read any work from non-enlightened people. That has come true. Suprising to read this measure up by Dr. Freisen in page 64," Finally, it does not seem that Ramana had the certainty of union with the Self that is so
emphasized by his biographers." Inference from biography and from " inconsistencies" this " seeming" conclusion is drawn. This is hardly scholarly.

When thieves entered the make shift ashram in early days, Bhagavan prevented any retaliation stating that it is not Dharma. The grounding of ethics is so evident. The sense of equality in kitchen, serving of food were so grounded in ethics. You have even once stated that when a Brahmin tried to intervene due vedic chants stating only Brahmins can hear, Bhagavan strongly reprimanded the questioner.

I am not a scholar. I value Bhagavan's teaching and the importance Bhagavan puts on knowing the reality. Imagine if one had to read scriptures in esoteric terms, understand the way traditionalist wants us to understand. The path would be truly " razor's edge". Bhagavan has placed before a simple, direct path. As the Buddist saying goes, when we go in search of medicinal herbs, we also get poisonous herbs. The followers and interpreters, who "pegged" Bhagavan to interpret their way or promote their view are the same poisnous herbs. Dr. Freisen seems to some " reborn" ..... who writes with a finite mind. The candle cannot hold and value the sun.

As Bhagavan has taught us:- It is the nature of mind to perceive differences.

Sometimes (In fact always) these differences are amplified by partisans with their puny minds to confound others. When there is no mind, how can there be an influence as the author claims? The blotting paper ( mind) has been torn apart, how can there be any trace of anyone view or colour?

As Astavakara Gita also says: Mind always divides. It can measure up. Words can't reach THAT, let's forget evaluation and measurement of Jivanmuktas.

This also reminds of a question put to Bhagavan on Shankara's enligtenment. Bhagavan rightly said to care about one's own deliverance than bother about others.

Funny David, i used to fight in school and college that only so and so is right. So and So has said this. Mr. X is greater than Mr. Y. This comparison goes even in " scholarly" circles on a more nuanced subject. If you are controversial, you are not heard. !

David, should we care? Your views pls. You are more incisive and more clear than any of us here, atleast i look up to you.


Anonymous said...

It is not a contradiction for me that even though emmersed in the Self, Ramana may not have had a conceptual framework to draw upon and with which to express that emmersion.

As such he may very well have borrowed the necessary conceptual framework from others and books, in order to clearly express himself.

If he did, as far as I am concerned, this in no way detracts from his Self-realisation.

m said...

All good points- and I'd like to add that to question Bhagavan's realization is to also question all his disciples' Realization - and possibly their disciples too.

Bhagavan didn't see separation, so I don't understand how he could state if he did or didn't get this or that from him or her - like we are so adept at doing. But no one ever had any reason to think otherwise about Bhagavan. He never gave any indication that his path was anything other than holy.

Once again, as is tradition in our world, we have another person attempting to use the intellect to understand or define That Which Is.

Finally, as I've read so many gurus of saying, "Everything is as it should be". Dr. Freisen can have his way with his concepts and beliefs. I'm going to get back to being :)

David, thanks again for all the writing youre doing.

Ravi said...

I have not gone through the link that you have provided.However,I can understand what you are alluding to.I concur with what anonymous has posted.
This is what Sri Ramakrishna has said:
"A nail-knife suffices to kill oneself. One needs sword and shield to kill others. That is the purpose of the sastras."
This indeed is also the traditional view of Sanatana Dharma-as to who is a Guru-It says that there are two requirements:1.He must be a Brahma Nishta and 2.He must be well versed in the Sastras.
Sri Bhagavan definitely fits into this category.
'The sword and shield'-means systematised knowledge.This anyone born on this earth has to acquire by reading only.this is the same as whether Bhagavan learnt Tamil,Telugu or Malayalam.(We are so fond of intellectual knowledge,that we would like to venerate it and club it with self knowledge!)
The 'experience' is one's own,but its step by step expression of it is definitely an acquired skill.
Like in music,many of the Great ones are usually poor teachers of their art!Many are simply not interested!
When Beethoven was asked about the meaning of the Fifth Symphony,he simply pounded the four notes(da da da daa on his piano!).Today how scholars and music entusiasts 'know' that it stands for 'inevitability','Fate' etc.
More later.

David,I truly appreciate your suggestion to others that they may find reading that article helpful despite some disagreement.


Losing M. Mind said...

Well, I haven't read those things, but it makes alot of sense to me, that Maharshi Realized this unitary, perfect, experience called Self-Realization, and that he as anonymous said, used ideas and words that tallied with that Realization, or is the other way around? There are things that Maharshi says that sound very original, and there are others that sound exactly like Shankara, or things out of the Upanishads. Even Thayamanavar sounds alot like Maharshi. So is it a coincidence, taht Maharshi's teachings have a very Vedantic, Hindu sound to them? He was just speaking in his own words, and it happened to perfectly tally with those earlier sources? What it suggests to me, is that Maharshi was able to convert words and ideas so that they were attuned to the perfect Realization he was speaking from. And the first ideas, very high, attuned to the Self texts like Ribhu Gita, and Ashtavakra Gita, and Shankara. He was like, "this describes my experience", and started explaining using that terminology. I mean, "the Self" seems to pre-date Maharshi by a long-shot. That seems to me the most likely explanation. And it would not surprise me that Maharshi would appropriate ideas from other sources as well. Like he did such an excellent job of cutting to the chase of what the Bible was about, "the kingdom of Heaven is within you", "I am that I am". So it seems, there is definitely in Realization atleast with some, genius's like Maharshi an ability to skillfully appropriate language, and ideas to use as tools to root out the bad ideas (vasanas) of devotees. Like, I would assume being around a jnani like Jesus, or the Buddha, would in experience have been almost indistinguishable from being around Maharshi.

Nandu Narasimhan said...

Dear Rama,

Dr. Friesen's effort, though well-written, seems to be another effort to try and put science and reasoning to use, to explain something which is beyond both.

I for one am not sure if the good doctor met Swami Abhishtikananda after the latter's final experience, as recounted in 'Nothing Ever Happened'.

Nandu Narasimhan

Losing M. Mind said...

Actually I thought the author of that text on Ramana, posted in this last blog-post did an excellent job. I thought his scholarship, was excellent. I think his understanding of Maharshi's teachings is pretty good as well. But when he started talking about Brunton. I got the impression, of a superficial egotist interested in supernatural powers, and unable to question his own ideas. Which is kind of the impression I had before, which was why I was not interested in his teachings? And now i see that Brunton was just another who could not mind the reason he came? It seems the getting caught up in ashram politics is the first thing those immersed in ignorance do. I think there is, it seems to me, a misunderstanding of ethics. (maybe with Brunton, though I didn't sense it from the text author) An extremely evil person, who is in practice, cruel (or interested in supernatural powers), may preach 'ethics' or 'morality'. But I think real ethics and morality come from awareness of the bliss of being. And I don't from reading that essay. I don't understand the connection of the seeming trance-like states that Maharshi seemed to be in. Other then, perhaps his trance-like states really did come from immersion in the Supreme state, and were not common 'trances'. And it was the peace that got devotees, not the outward appearance. From being around Nome. Whether someone agrees with my assessment that Nome is a jnani. The experiences I had around him, were of a wholly different character then something just observed. I think they are beyond description. And yes...perhaps they are filtered through my subjective mind, so that Nome seemed to be a statue as if 50 feet tall. I can explain hallucenations like that, but they don't really convey...And I think it was those tremendous experiences around Maharshi that led to his fame so to speak. That author makes a good point, while it is maybe likely that Maharshi was fully Realized after that death experience. I don't know that for certain, and these things as I was saying so transcend description. That's why I'm in a sense wanting to even root out my ideas, about what this teaching means, and get to the direct, real experience. Many of the things Brunton says about Maharshi strike me extremely, extremely ignorant, and ego-absorption. It can be so subtle in word the differences between a true jnani, and someone who is a complete fraud. But there are things like the obsession with telepathy, that are ignorant and superficial. In a weird way, it gives me a deeper faith in the teachings, because I've had experiences that blow everything Brunton said out of the water.

Losing M. Mind said...

It's noteable that Paul Brunton had to be violently escorted out of the ashram, whereas Maharshi's Realized devotees didn't. And the contrast between Brunton's relationship with Maharshi's brother, versus Annamalai Swami. i.e. Brunton couldn't mind the reason why he had come. And then had to rationalize it away as flaws in Maharshi's teachings, to save face with his western audiences.

Murali said...

One small thing:

"The link is:

For some reason this link will not open by clicking on it. You can get to it, though, by copying and pasting it into your browser address bar, and then opening it from there."

Though not visible, the link has a "." after ".pdf". That is why it does not open. So, the link tries to open the site

Regards Murali

T E Gautham said...

For some reason this link will not open by clicking on it. You can get to it, though, by copying and pasting it into your browser address bar, and then opening it from there.

The above link has a dot after "..../jivanmukti.pdf" and hence, the browser tries to open


instead of


The presence of the dot after "../jivanmukti.pdf" is leading to the problem.

As you would know, becomes a link on account of an HTML tag called "a href." The site address in the "a href" tag has a dot after ../jivanmukti.pdf.

The link will work once you remove the dot in the link.

Anonymous said...

If you read of Brunton's interaction with the Mussayef (Masson) family you get a broader picture of Brunton and his failings.
Papaji's encounter with Abhishiktananda revealed that as a monk he was most sincere but found the baggage of Christianity hard to shake.
Muruganar sings:
Like a tree which on a scorching day
Offers cool shade to every corner
by nature, not by choice,
even so stands Ramana
Calm, immutable, impartial.
Liking or disliking none,
But saving all who reach his feet.

David Godman said...

Thanks for the tip from two readers on making the link work.

When I checked the link before I posted yesterday, it didn't open. I looked, spotted the period, removed it, and it still didn't open directly.

In the private part of the blog where I do my editing, the final period is missing, as it is in the public version which is available here.

How do I remove a dot which is not visible, and which appears not to exist, in the place where I do my editing?

Anonymous said...

"How do I remove a dot which is not visible, and which appears not to exist"

sounds like a Zen koan David ;)

Maneesha said...

I did not read the 174 page work. I went thru the first one though. I was amused to find him quote from Chadwick's intro. 'Coz in the same book, there is mention about about PB claiming Maharshi's teachings to be his own, which Chadwick has, of course, not approved of.

Ravi said...

Dr Freisen's article on Sri Bhagavan is well resrarched but he does not seem to have a grasp of what is 'traditional' and attributes it to 'neo'.
An example:
"The issue of how the realized person or jvanmukta is supposed to relate to the external
world is a problem that bothered many of Ramaa’s followers. Some, like Paul Brunton,
 2006 J. Glenn Friesen
rejected Ramaa’s teachings in favour of another guru whose neo-Hinduism emphasized
social and ethical obligations. Can Ramaa’s ethical behaviour be criticized? Or is a
jvanmukta beyond ethics? The conflict here is partly the issue as to whether the external
world has reality. For if, as Ramaa sometimes says, there are no others to help, then of
course we have no ethical obligations. It is possible that neo-Hindu ideas, which
emphasize ethical obligations, are more influenced by Western traditions, or by Buddhist
traditions of the bodhisattva. Such traditions regard liberation as a state where the ego is
transcended, and there is a sense of inter-relatedness with others and the world, and of
seeing Brahman everywhere. But tantra accords a relative reality to the world. And neo-
Hindu ideas say that the jvanmukti is involved in doing good."
'Doing Good' to others is not a 'neo-hindu' idea borrowed from the western or buddhist 'ethical teachings'.Here the author is completely ignorant of the basic tenets of Sanatana Dharma.There is an interesting talk by the Sage of Kanchi that debunks this 'idea' and with clear evidence.
I am going through this article and many of the 'associations' with the various 'influences' are indeed interesting and valid.Especially Sri Bhagavan using the word 'Thagappanar'(Father in heaven)is a classic example that does imply the familiarity and influence of having read the bible in school.
The article makes for interesting reading and I need to go through it a couple of times before I can draw any defenitive idea about what the author has concluded.

Anonymous said...

There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric. I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether it be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. His religion has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit. It would profit us little to study this second hand religious life. We must make search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct. These experiences we can only find in individuals for whom religion exists not as dull habit, but as an acute fever rather. But such individuals are 'geniuses' in the religious line; and like many other geniuses who have brought forth fruits effective enough for commemoration in the pages of biography, such religious geniuses have often shown symptoms of nervous instability. Even more perhaps than other kinds of genius, religious leaders have been subject to abnormal psychical visitations. Invariably they have been creatures of exalted emotional sensibility. Often they have led a discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features in their career have helped to give them their religious authority and influence.
Interesting reading from William James ' Variety of religious experience'

David Godman said...


If you cut and paste material with diacritical marks, they will not display here.

Hriday said...

The understanding of the scholar Dr Friesen reminds me of the proverb:
'when a pick-pocket meets a saint he sees only his pockets.'
Bhagavan to me is a matter of heart.
I am a sceptical mind but i see it as His Grace that i could never doubt Him because this connection is not of the mind as most others are.On the level of language and expression Bhagavan was certainly formed during his entire life. He was fluent in 3 South-Indian languages plus a good understanding of Sanskrit and English. His memory was close to photographic. But Friesen cannot diffentiate between these outer mind-tools and the spontanous Self-expression that may use them.

About Brunton:
Has anyone read this book:

'Jeffrey Masson is the son of Jacques Masson, a French Mizrahi Sephardic Jew of Bukharian ancestry, and Diana (Dina) Zeiger from a Ashkenazi strict Orthodox Jewish family. Both of his parents were followers of the Jewish mystic Paul Brunton. Masson's mother later became a follower of British Jewish mystic John Levy.[3] During the 1940s and 1950s, Brunton often lived with them, eventually designating Masson as his heir apparent. In 1956, Diana and Jacques Masson moved to Uruguay because Brunton believed that a third world war was imminent. Jeffrey and his sister Linda followed in 1959.
At Brunton's urging, Masson went to Harvard University to study Sanskrit. While at Harvard, Masson became disillusioned with Brunton. Brunton and his influence on the Masson family form the subject of Masson's autobiographical book My Father's Guru: A Journey Through Spirituality and Disillusion' (Wikipedia)
It seems that PB showed his low-level mind quite clearly towards the end of his life deluding people with absurd fantasies.
Besides being used by the SElf to bring a message about Bhagavan to the west there is not much quality in him.

David Godman said...

Thanks to everyone (especially T E Gautham) who emailed me or sent messages about the malfunctioning link. It seems to be working properly now.

Ravi said...

Here is an excerpt from 'Reflections on Paul Brunton':
"The Sage's Mind

One afternoon I asked him, "What exactly is it about a sage's mind that makes that mind so different from the rest of us?" It was one of many questions I asked that he didn't originally seem to intend to answer. But I persisted and finally he asked me, "Well what do you think it is?"

I said that I had never been able to believe that it could be omniscience in the sense of knowing everything at once; but I didn't think it unreasonable to conceive that when a sage wants or needs to know, he could turn his mind toward it in a certain way and that knowledge would just arise.

P.B. laughed heartily and answered, "It's not even that good!"

"Well, how good is it?"

"It has really nothing to do with knowledge, or continuity of intuition, or frequency of intuitions. It's that the mind has been made over into the Peace in an irreversible way. No form that the mind takes can alter the Peace."

"You could say it's a kind of knowledge," he continued, "in this sense. If the mind takes the form of truth, the sage knows it's truth. If it doesn't , then he knows that it's not. He's never in doubt about whether the mind has knowledge or not. But whether it does or not, his Peace is not disturbed."

I asked if that meant that someone could go to a sage for help and the sage would be unable to help them. He replied that sometimes the intuition comes, sometimes it doesn't; he explained that when it doesn't come, the sage knows he has nothing to do for that person. The continuity of frequency of the intuitions has to do with the sage's mission, not with what makes a sage a sage.

"You must understand," he said, "that there is no condition in which the Overself is at your beck and call. But there is a condition in which you are continuously at the Overself's beck and call. That's the condition to strive for."

As he spoke these words, he was the humblest man I had ever seen before or since. For all the extraordinary things about him, all the glamorous inner and outer experiences, all the remarkable effects his writings and example have had on others, that humility is what seems to be the most important fact about him."

Those interested may look up this link:


Losing M. Mind said...

"You could say it's a kind of knowledge," he continued, "in this sense. If the mind takes the form of truth, the sage knows it's truth. If it doesn't , then he knows that it's not. He's never in doubt about whether the mind has knowledge or not. But whether it does or not, his Peace is not disturbed."

But in Realization, does the mind take any form at all. And is truth, a form the mind takes, or no form at all? I'm just asking.

Ravi said...

This is something like this-I am quoting from David on what Matru Sarada said:
"Saradamma: Some people think that jnanis are omniscient, that they have access to all the information in the world. The jnani doesn’t have all this information, or need it. If someone came up to me and said that Hyderabad is the capital of India, I might believe him if I didn’t already know that it is Delhi. There is nothing in jnana that reveals whether things that people say about the world are correct or not. But if someone tells me something about the Self, then this is something I really know about. If someone says, for example, that he has met a jnani who says he is going to reincarnate, I immediately know that this person is not a jnani. There is something about jnana that contains within itself the absolute certainty that rebirth in any form is not possible. Jnana is the ending of all births. If that knowledge, that jnana, is there, there is also the knowledge that another birth is impossible."
I have given the above example to show that 'jnanis' seem to 'know' somethings and 'not know' somethings.
In any case they certainly have their mind intact-only it free from Raga and Dvesha-like,dislike(prejudice).

Ravi said...

Here is another excerpt from reflections on paul Brunton,by a different writer:
"In The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga, Brunton put forward a powerful critique of conventional mysticism, which seeks to abandon the world in favor of mere solitude and silence. He explained:

Meditation on oneself was a necessary and admirable pursuit, but it did not constitute the entire activity which life was constantly asking of man. It was good, but it proved to be not enough. For the efflux of time had shown me the limitations of mystics, and more time showed that those limitations were accountable by the one-sidedness of their outlook and the incompleteness of their experience.*7

His critique of ordinary Yoga and mystical trance perplexed many readers of his earlier works and outraged many Indians. They could not understand Brunton's quest for a more integral approach and culture.

In particular Brunton had expressed some criticism about the teaching of Ramana Maharshi, which people promptly misunderstood to be a criticism of the sage himself. Brunton was greatly pained by this misunderstanding, which his own works had provoked. His relationship to Sri Ramana was always one of purest admiration, gratitude, and spiritual affinity.

In his second book, entitled The Secret Path, he had called Sri Ramana "the most understanding man I have ever known" who "possessed a deific personality which defies description."*8 The book was inspired by a vision of Ramana Maharshi he had in England. Today we would perhaps say that it was channeled wisdom. Brunton always stood by this description of the sage he called his "Beloved Master" all his life."

Those interested may read:


Losing M. Mind said...

"In any case they certainly have their mind intact-only it free from Raga and Dvesha-like,dislike(prejudice).

Funny then, that the book that quote is from is called, "No mind, I am the Self". That seems to me, to suggest otherwise.

Losing M. Mind said...

"Meditation on oneself was a necessary and admirable pursuit, but it did not constitute the entire activity which life was constantly asking of man. It was good, but it proved to be not enough. For the efflux of time had shown me the limitations of mystics, and more time showed that those limitations were accountable by the one-sidedness of their outlook and the incompleteness of their experience.*7"

I recall he had similar criticisms of Maharshi. (laugh). Because of that, I reject these statements, as not useful. I've discovered experientially otherwise. I was even thinking about that earlier today. How, meditation, does take care of all. One can immerse oneself totally in meditation and never leave it, and it isn't in contrast to functioning in the world. But there is a difference, it seems, and I would say a higher level of functioning takes over, that is sensitive and responsive, as opposed to, imposing my will on the world.I should add, I don't think this dichotomy, that I've heard you express, seems in my experience true. I need to meditate sometimes, but I also need to take care of my worldly obligations.I don't see that dichotomy.

In my own life, right now, I'm looking for some kind of work, at the same time, parents are paying rent on my cheap apartment. I'm relying on that, because of alot of difficulties in my early twenties. But I also am looking for work. But I'm learning that I can rely totally on the meditation, it isn't that I forsake doing other things, but that I approach worldly things in a way that is sensitive, the best analogy I can think of, is like a spider feeling for vibrations on the strand. Responding to things naturally, but in a joyful state, no stress.

I think that's why I even started meditation stuff. (and this is just my level, not a jnanis level, though is there even that dichotomy really? And is it not harmful to admit of jnanis seperate from the Self?) Paul Brunton was criticising Maharshi for those reasons. But I was interested in Maharshi, not Brunton, I think because I recognized, that Maharshi's 'style' was a much higher level of functioning then most people's. Even in a worldly sense.

Someone can say Maharshi was an ascetic. But at what he did, he was extremely fluid, and functional from that, from That! (laugh). I was thinking about that earlier today, how untrue this dichotomy is, that I have to forsake worldly life to go in a spiritual direction. And I see that expressed differently by both Ravi and Anonymous.

Anonymous, that, I'm giving up the pleasures of the world, maybe it would be better to go for pleasure. E. E. Cummings, "Kisses are a far better fate then wisdom". Ravi, kind of expresses the other...that one needs to strive externally in their field as well as pursuing spirituality, as if spirituality doesn't absolve one of worldly duties.

But I think it's different in actual results from depth of meditation, or inquiry. Where I'm immersed in my own joy. What seems to happen, is that there becomes less of an idea of who I am, or what I'm doing, or what I want to accomplish. There get to be more fluid in the moment ideas, but no stress, and feeling like it needs to be a certain way. Like I can be totally happy in solitude, without a job, but I can also pursue a job, happily, and maybe, something will happen. So it's a life where the sense of a suffering ego, is dropped, and immersed in joy, and with no idea, or care what the life will look like. But in that, I think a much higher level of competence takes over. Because someone coming more from the ego standpoint may be very driven in their field, but not sensitive, and aware of changing conditions, and able to respond to unexpected adversity very well.

Losing M. Mind said...

And I think, what I'm describing is from my own level, my own understanding, and even in that understanding, I already from experience, and earnestness, sense something incorrect about what Brunton is saying.

I would guess, that probably when I fully understand experientially these teachings, it will be more so. I will realize that the ego is truly not needed at all. I would say, that if I function in any way better then I did in my "mad" early twenties, it is because I have relinquished ego. I think that is kind of like not understanding that the master martial artist is not acting from herculean effort.

To the outsider, who has to use herculean effort to punch fast, it looks like the effort must be huge on the part of the actor. But really it is effortless. I think in a similar way, a truly egoless Realized master, appears to have a very able ego. They interact better often with the world. Papaji is a great example. So it seems that more effort must be being applied.

Maybe the reason Papaji is unaffected is because he is able to think his way out of anger so much better. But no, the angry thoughts don't even really arise for Papaji. The ego, doesn't any more have such manifestations. That's my guess. And I think I've had enough of a glimpse to know that my angry thoughts, my sad thoughts, my delusional thoughts, are rooted in core delusions and assumptions. i.e. they are not natural. So this idea, that a sage would still have these tendencies arising, seems dubious to me. When even I (laugh), sometimes have success at abiding in a state where those tendencies do not arise, even in a normally stressful situation.

Shows me that there is a state completely without. As Muruganar said, paraphrasing, better to shave the whole scalp clean. I think probably Ramakrishna who you quote extensively had a completely shaved scalp. That's why I don't think it is necessary to be externally boisterous in the world, before turning to shaving the scalp clean. And not only that, I think in my own experience, the meditation alone, causes there to be an increase in virtue, and sensitivity in the world.

And that nothing else is necessary to enact that transformation. And so in the inquiry into the I, it will be a steady increase in one's poise in the 'world', while realizing that the 'world' experience is rooted in my own false sense of ego-I. In that inquiry into the ego-I, the behavior in the world will get more and more in harmony, until Realization. So it will be progressively, better and better responses to things on the way to Realization. And that the focus can be totally on Realization and nothing else, meditation and nothing else, and everything else will be taken care of.

Subramanian. R said...

All Brahma Jnanis think alike.
Both Tayumanavar and Bhagavan
stress the word mounam, silence
in their works. Sankara and Bhagavan
stress the word Aham in their works.
But unlike school boys, they do
not copy from each other's notebooks.
Because Brahma Jnanam, brings out
the same vocabulary from the Jnanis
of different periods of time and

Ravi said...

"I think in my own experience, the meditation alone, causes there to be an increase in virtue, and sensitivity in the world."
You have often expressed your 'experiences of Bliss',how you were very 'close' to Nirvikalpa,etc,etc.
I have posted Sri Ramakrishna's parable of the Wood cutter and the sadhu who advised him to go deeper into the Forest.This is the essence of sadhana.

I did not say that one has to 'strain and stress'in order to participate in the world process.I have only said that external activity need not be abandoned;not just that,we also have to give back what we receive from others.We are dependant on somebody else toilng in the Fields for food,on some body else toil for clothing,etc.We need to pay back this debt in some way.This paying back is called 'yagnya' in Sanatana Dharma.


Ravi said...

This is not to pick on the resarcher.Just noticed this first mistake:
He writes:
"In 1914 she got ill with typhoid and Ramana
composed verses in her honour. Verse 3 says,
Arunnchala! Thou blazing fire of Wisdom! Deign to wrap my mother in
Thy light and make her one with Thee. What need then for cremation?
(Narasimha, 125)(Pages 9-10)

After Ramana’s mother died, there was an issue as to whether her body should be
cremated or buried. The bodies of saints are buried, not cremated. Was his mother a
saint? Ganapati Muni reminded Ramana of his answer in 1917 to the question whether a
woman-saint should be buried; it was decided to bury her body (Narasimha, 132)."

He adds
"It is
not clear why no one remembered the poem that Ramana had composed in 1914 when his
mother was ill with typhoid, and where he says, “What need for burial?”(cremation-Ravi) It raises the
issue of whether that poem was in fact composed before her death."

Here the author has got mixed up between 'words', 'cremation' and'burial'.
Traditionally,even a Sanyasi is beholden to the mother;Like Sri Adi Sankara did the last rites of cremating his mother.


Unknown said...

Having edited Paul Brunton's works for publication, and having worked with him as his secretary in his last years of life, I can say unequivocally that he held Ramana Maharshi in the highest regard, and was even considering accepting the invitation extended to him by the Ramana Ashram to come live there when he died.

What Paul Brunton criticized was the lack of intellectual training and framework in Ramana's teachings--a lack that PB saw as limiting Westerners from appreciating the depth and subtlety of Ramana's teachings. As another person said, PB never criticized Ramana, only remarked upon how his teachings were being received by the uninformed Westerner.

With respect to Dr. Friesen's work, I too, have emailed back and forth a few times, and have been surprised that he could be so thorough in some aspects of his research and so short-sighted in other aspects.

Paul Brunton NEVER claimed to have 'taught' Sri Ramana anything! He himself (PB) acknowledged many teachers that guided his early years, including Sri Ramana, and Subramanya Iyer, as well as some individuals within the Theosophical Society. Eventually he formulated his own views and language, but viewed his own contributions to be just that--contributions to the great river of wisdom-teachings that circumambulates the world.

Anonymous said...

I met Jeffrey Masson at a book launch many years ago on the psychology of animal behaviour.
If Jeffrey was heir apparent to Brunton, he certainly seemed uneasy and reluctant discussing spiritual matters.
His mother Dianne became a devotee of Nisargadatta years later.

David Godman said...


V Ganesan invited Paul Brunton to come to Ramanasamam for the 1980 Centenary of Bhagavan's birth in 1980. He didn't reply, and he didn't attend. I also wrote to him in 1980, asking if he had any unpublished material on Bhagavan. I didn't get a reply either, but when Brunton passed away in 1981, his son found my letter and sent me the manuscript that was later turned into the first edition of 'Conscious Immortality'.

Ravi said...

I do not know PB,have never read anything about him or his personal life.However,I do recognize that he is a Great soul;or else he could not have come in touch with the likes of The Sage of Kanchi,Sri Bhagavan and Master Mahasaya like he did,besides expressing the felicity of such meetings in such a deep manner.There may always be some idiosyncrasies(who has not!),things that are human-and as long as one does not justify those as inspired from the 'Divine'-and PB was equally critical of himself in these narrations-as long as this discerment is there-the 'genuineness' of the quest is all that matters.
coming to his not accepting Sri Ganesan's invitation or not answering david's letter-one cannot conclude anything from this.
To say that PB was even willing to consider spending his last years at Sri Ramanasramam-I take this statement as only to mean that he held nothing against the asramam.

Coming to PB's using 'Sri Ramana as a peg' to portray his 'own' experience-this is nothing to be wondered at-This is one of the best way of writing about the Masters.This is what Sri Aurobindo said-'No one can write about my life as it has not been on the surface to see!'
If one has to write about a Sage,one definitely needs to dive 'within' and be at onement with the Spiritual Reality that that Sage Represents-And I feel PB had this facility to a Large extent.(Just read how he describes his meeting with The Sage of Kanchi,Sri Ramana and Master Mahasaya-This by itself will reveal this aspect).


Losing M. Mind said...

Conscious Immortality sounds intriguing.

Subramanian. R said...

Dear David,

Someone has written that Sri Sankara
cremated his mother and not buried her. This is because, Sankara wanted
her whether she would like to go to
Sivalokam and she said yes. And Sankara placed her in Sivalokam. She
became afraid of bhuta ganas, the retinue of Siva and so Sankara had to
place her in Vishnulokam, where the
'atmosphere' was pleasant to her.
In either way, it was not liberation. Both Sivalokam and
Vishnulokam are only waiting sheds
before liberation at the end of eons. Someone asked Bhagavan whether as a true Vaishnavite, he could go to Vaikunta. Bhagavan
said yes. Then what will happen -
asked the Vaishnavite. You will be in the company of Narayana. Then the devotee asked: What would happen further? Bhagavan Ramana said: Narayana would be very much pleased with you. Then what would happen, pursued the Vaishnavite. Bhagavan Ramana said: If he is so pleased, he would ask you to come near and then say: Find out "Who am I?" i.e Who you are!!


Anonymous said...

Interesting but missing the point :)

on Page 164
Ramana’s teachings need to be viewed in
terms of the books that he read while living in the caves, in the decades before the
ashram was formed.

I think Ramana's teachings need to be viewed in terms of the Life he lived.

Anonymous said...

With due respect, we should not be bothered with what western academics write about issues like Self realization. I say this since I have worked with western academia for over a couple of decades. As Dr. Freisen himself has confessed, he cannot even consider certain aspects since they would 'not be considered scholarly'. Academia is all about spinning different theories and getting papers published. Nothing else matters. Let them live in their own make believe world. Bhagavan has answered the question. So has the World Teacher (Krishnamurti) in plain English regarding how the expression will vary. Dr. Freisen and his ilk can be safely left to hallucinate as they please.

srinivasan said...

Dear David,
Bhagavan submerged all in his presence in utter silence and
profuse grace. Mind losing body
in that intense moment, when utterly silent- which he works on, with everybody universally. He never taught.One is transformed in his presence. Tune to him, allow him to work, only way.

Akira said...

Interesting article.

Carl Yung wrote somewhere that Ramana's thoughts lack originality. Scolars' see things in that way. What to say...

A few weeks ago, I asked a question about the quotes 'Do not meditate - be!, Do not think that you are - be!, Don't think about being - be!'.
The quotes are from Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux)'s book.
I am still not sure if the quotes are Le Saux's creation or actual Bhagavan's words.

As for Paul Brunton, I read a book 'My Father's Guru' by Jeffrey M.Masson, an American scholoar, many years ago. The book is about P.Brunton's misbehaviours after he left Bhagavan, having tried to become a guru himself, deceiving followers (including the author's father) with absurd promises, etc., The book seemes to be out of print now.

p.s. The both links open the same 174page document. and 'Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi' is missing.

David Godman said...


Thanks for pointing out the bad link. I have fixed it.

Anonymous said...

Well the author starts under the premise that his thought and rational is the absolute. How many times we have seen the science correcting it's models one after another. When Maharshi refer to that WHICH IS ( beyond the mind and matter, as we have to use some form of communication however lacking that may be ) how can one look into such in the plane o mind and matter?

One who is blind cannot SEE, however much one tries to compare it to hearing faculties...

A form of intellectual entertainment. Too much theory with no experience...I couldn't finish reading it as it was too dry.

Vasu said...

If only Dr. Friesen spent his valuable time in meditation or something useful, instead of such a futile analysis! What use of all the "intellectual" jugglery? Just to prove a few points? What the Maharishi knows, Maharishi knows well. Those who haven't experience, would just not know. Another guy may come tomorrow and in the name of "scholarly" can de-rationalize all of Friesen's "conclusions". Friesen may satisfy himself for what he is trying to prove, but its only the satisfaction of his own mind, not the discovery of truth.

Anonymous said...

One time a group of devotees reported to Ramana Maharshi that Seshadri
Swami (who knew Ramana well but had now passed on) was being channeled by a
man in town. The devotees discussed how the dead Swami was being channeled
by this man, and how surprising it all was. The Sage of Arunachala smiled
and said light heartedly, " We knew Seshadri well and moved together often on
the hill. It is a pity that he does not come and speak to us but instead
chooses to channel through this other man!" :-). The devotees roared with

Anonymous said...

The Simple Path

Traditionally the Eightfold Path is taught with eight steps such as
Right Understanding, Right Speech, Right Concentration, and so forth.
But the true Eightfold Path is within us - two eyes, two ears, two
nostrils, a tongue, and a body. These eight doors are our entire Path
and the mind is the one that walks on the Path. Know these doors,
examine them, and all the darmas will be revealed.
The heart of the path is so simple. No need for long explanations.
Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are.
That is all I do in my own practice.
Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into
anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you
sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist
Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop
samadhi and many kinds of viassana. But it all comes back to this -
just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle.

Why not give it a try? Do you dare?

Anonymous said...

I've tried to obtain whatever material I could from Ramana. I have bought two of his books back home, and I have some PDFs that are freely available.

Enquiring "Who Am I" is definitely too difficult for me, not something I can ever achieve in this life time. I don't even know what the next thought must be. So I'm doing Gayathri and Sandhya vandanam, but that is also mechanical and sort of forced. When I close my eyes and utter the gayathri or even try to "feel" its meaning it only brings some peace for a few moments, after which all my worries of the external world comes screaming into my head. I tried breath control, it makes it a bit better.

I read in one place Ramana talked highly of gayathri, but obviously I must be doing something wrong. Since I'm still pretty young, I'd like to do it the right way.

David, could you find any references to what Sri Ramana had to say about Gayathri mantra and how it should be practiced? Even in the mantra he had said "find out who is saying the mantra". It is not so simple to try find that out :)


Losing M. Mind said...

@ Anonymous. I'm kind of in the same boat. Because of that, I do things like listen to audio of sages as I walk around and do things, or at home, I have the computer on playing for instance Nome, and Robert adams on repeat. So that I'm always inundated in the message. This really helps a lot. You'd have to decide what sages you respect, that have audio. Also, I think often, I've moved on to the level of spiritual discrimination. For instance, Nome gave me some important things to contemplate. Where is the source of happiness? One big thing, I have to fight is anger. Anger is the grossest assertion of my ego. It's arising, and feels justified in it's ignorance. Adhering strongly to ahimsa (in body, speech and mind), has been very helpful to move on to a deeper inquiry. Sometimes I have to question the identifications that I am embodied, or the mind, instead of the pure un-moving Consciousness. Correspondence with Nome has been greatly helpful in my case.

Anonymous said...

Hello Anonymous, Yes peace is what we want! I agree that concentrating on ones breathe is helpful.I find Self enquiry is difficult to do when one is troubled.
Sometimes just being able to be in the present moment is also helpful.
Unfortunately I know little about the Gayatri mantra. I certainly do know all about a troubled mind and how hard it is to subdue all the tormenting, unnecessary thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Dear David,

"...reading the words of philosophers such as Sankara. I will repeat it again here:"

I don't mean to compare or anything but Shri Shankara was not merely a philosopher. He was a realized man just as Sri Ramana.


Unknown said...

Dear David,

On a related note, I always wondered about the life and background of another Ramana devotee, namely Mouni Sadhu (the person who wrote "In Days of Great Peace"). I read this book long time back and really enjoyed it. I also read some of his other books on meditation and concentration techniques. David, do you know any other information about Mouni Sadhu, who he was, where he was from etc.



Anonymous said...

Kannan, Below are the thoughts of Arthur Osborne, a critique on Mouni Sadhu's writing;
"In his latest book Mouni Sadhu turns back from his unfortunate attempts to expound Hinduism to Christianity, with which he seems far more familiar. By "Theurgy" he seems to mean Christian devotional worship, though on the rather low level of seeking boons in reward for one's worship(p.15) On a more spiritual plane the worshipper turns to God for love alone with no thought of reward. What vitiates the book is the author's obsession with powers and occultism and his constant self-advertisement as a master of these. There is no doubt that ritual can be effective, in Christianity as in any other religion, but only when it is prescribed by tradition and conducted by duly ordained persons. A hotch-potch of ritual from ecclesiastical and occult sources prescribed by a self-styled authority and conducted by unauthorised persons is something from which it would be well to abstain."

Unknown said...

Namaste David,
With all due respect, Mr. Frieswen is entitled to his point of view and shall also have it. My view is based on what I read Bhagavan to have said, "This is what the Rishi in the past did, this is what they do today and this is what shall be done in the future as well." Maybe this is not an accurately phrased sentence here, but it conveys what Bhagavan referred to -- the PRACTICE of moving towards the source of the mind. Currently referred to as Self Inquiry, and in the past, as the practice of "Deham / Naham / Soham / Koham?" done in conjunction with Pranayam. Without PRACTICE, Mr. Friesen's view is just like my own. It matters only for those who care.
Thanks and Regards,

Ania said...

This is nice blog and post

Arvind Lal said...

I haven’t read such unmitigated crap in a long long time as Friesen has put up. His website has this little shocker concerning Bhagavan:

“He was deeply influenced not only by traditional Hindu thought, but also by western-oriented neo-Hinduism, as well as by Christian and other western mystical traditions.”

It just shows how little he really knows about Bhagavan. And sorry folks, there is nothing commendable about any research, or scholarship for that matter, if it produces conclusions that are patently incorrect, nay, as hare-brained as this.

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Dey christiva devadiya pasangala, Ramanara patti pesa ennada yogyata irrukku. Don't believe Dr friesin for he is the disciple of Abshiktananda a christian monk. Ramana himself t00k interest after his silent month for 4 years after realisation to speak when asked by true seekers and he was slowly getting into the worldly activities and learnt malayalm, sanskrit etc and the books on self realisation. He did not do it discreetly, He did do it straight in the full glare of his devotees.Why? I twas bhagavat sankalpa. He lived his life pulicly before everyone. He did not hide himself in seperate room, unlike these modern self appointed gurus.

Ravi said...

I am shocked to see this comment by Anonymous on this wonderful website.Please delete this uncouth comment,if possible.

Anonymous said...

DEy ravi naye, unmaya sonna enda eriyudu. These are all constructed by christian mafia.Paul brunton is one of the most advanced devotees and the truest devotees of sri ramana maharshi.Shut up these discussions.

Ravi said...

"Paul brunton is one of the most advanced devotees and the truest devotees of sri ramana maharshi.Shut up these discussions."
My email id is case you are interested,we may correspond.This Blog is surely not the place to use the language that you have been using.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ravi,

I am sorry to have used those words.But please do not encourage and condemn outright the slanderous camapaign that ramana learnt from paul brunton and that ramana only preached from learning the esoteric books and not from his own experience.


Udayarka said...

Even in the heart of a person who doesn't believe Ramana Maharshi, It is He the Ramana Maharshi who is speaking that "I dont believe"

Anonymous said...

I haven't read through all the other comments so I don't know if someone else has already made this point. But if to the Jnani all is seen as the Self, including all the phenomena of this universe, then in the eyes of the Jnani, everything that happens is the direct expression of the Self, including Mr Paul Brunton and any terminology he may have used. It is only in the eyes of the non-jnani that there is any such conception as 'self and other' and only such a one who would analyse and make such distinctions as to where Sri Ramana got his lingo from.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog. We are using our limited mind to describe the unlimited ramana. Unless we transcend our mind, it's conclusions are bound to fall short. I am also practising hard but going nowhere. We miss Bhagwan very badly.

Anonymous said...

Brunton seem a spiritual nomad (even confused) to me ... exploring a plethora ... right on from Occultism to Theosophy to Indian Advaita? to Eygptian to Zen ... to Meher Baba to Ramana to Subramanya Iyer ... he never settled ... and to add to it, he was on a publication spree esp. in the 30's.

As far as Ramana is concerned, getting into a philosophical debate as this only invites activity ... regardless of scholarly interpretations, the best is to realize the truth he describes experientially ... a whole lot of discussions explain why silence still wins because there is no limit to our imaginative mind. Ramana might have recommended Brunton's text because of the language or portions that he resonated with but there are a host other writers whose works were duly verified by Ramana. Again, the best course seem intuition.

Anonymous said...

...There is a saying, something like: "When a thief meets Buddha, he sees only his pockets."

Anonymous said...

"100. Take my words of abuse as words of blessing, treat my
slander as praise, accept me as a subject of your
sovereign grace, keep me as your own and never
forsake me, O Arunachala."
(Marital Garland of Letters)