The Scholar, the Yogi, and the Philosopher
We can best understand the two higher levels of the Metaphysical-Psychic and the Spiritual-Philosophical-Dialectical by examining the life and thought of some of the persons who operated at these levels. William James advanced beyond the traditional level by attaining the ability to receive inspiration--as evidenced by his writing--and experiencing higher states of consciousness through experimenting with psychotropic substances. He achieved the status of the true scholar. This is on a level much above that of the mandarin
5 or scholastic, such as Leo Strauss or Martin Heidegger.
Paul Brunton (1898-1981) 6 is an interesting study in how a person highly advanced in yogic meditation can, in his later development, realize the transcendence and momentousness of the spiritual-philosophical-dialectical realm, but fail to achieve full realization of that higher domain.
Brunton was introduced to Near Eastern thought and methodology by Charles Henry Allan Bennett, 7 a British occultist interested in Buddhist thought. Brunton traveled widely in the Near East and the Orient, writing numerous books about his travels which brought him wide repute and financial independence. Brunton became a student of an unknown Indian yogi by the name of Ramana Maharshi in 1931. Brunton's 1934 book A Search in Secret India brought fame to Maharshi.
Brunton's early almost credulous acceptance of the yogi-meditation tradition and his naive adulation of unenlightened "gurus" such as Maharshi stunted his spiritual growth for many years. He later realized this and tried to gain proficiency in philosophy, but because he failed to investigate the quintessential Platonic formalization of philosophy, Brunton remained merely a scholar in that domain.
Pretenders such as Maharshi hide their state of ignorance and unenlightenment behind silence. When Brunton first came to Maharshi, the yogi remained silent for two hours. The next day, Brunton and his friend Bhikshu spoke with Maharshi during a short encounter.
- Bhikshu: We have travelled far and wide
in search of Enlightenment. How can we get it?
- Maharshi: Through deep enquiry and confident meditation.
- Brunton: Many people do meditate in the West but show no signs
- Maharshi: How do you know that they don't make progress? Spiritual
progress is not easily discernible.
- Brunton: A few years ago I got some glimpses of the Bliss but
in the years that followed I lost it again. Then last year I again got
it. Why is that?
- Maharshi: You lost it because your meditation had not become
natural (sahaja). When you become habitually inturned the enjoyment
of spiritual beatitude becomes a normal experience.
- Brunton: Might it be due to the lack of a Guru?
- Maharshi: Yes, but the Guru is within; that Guru who is within
is identical with your Self.
- Brunton: What is the way to God-realization?
- Maharshi: Vichara, asking yourself the 'Who am I?'
enquiry into the nature of your Self.
Brunton's disillusionment with Maharshi, unfortunately, occurred only after he experienced extremely negative aspects of this charlatan. After an absence of three years, Brunton had returned to Maharshi's ashram in January 1939. He had expected to stay there three months, but he left Maharshi's ashram after only three weeks, because, Brunton says, he was forced to leave.
Maharshi's brother, Niranjananda Swami, who managed the ashram, felt that Brunton had plagiarized many of Maharshi's ideas and presented them as his own in his books. So Maharshi's brother objected to Brunton continuing to take notes of what Ramana said to disciples. Niranjananda asked a disciple to tell Brunton that he could no longer take notes in the hall. Brunton asked whether this was also Maharshi's own view. The disciple didn't reply. Maharshi had overhead Brunton's question but refused to respond. Brunton immediately discontinued taking notes in the hall and began distancing himself from the ashram and Maharshi.
After writing nearly a dozen books and studying with a number of Indian, Egyptian, and Mongolian teachers, Brunton had come to the realization that the higher aspects of philosophic wisdom had as yet eluded him. He realized that Maharshi lacked any ability to teach about such transcendent matters, even though he might be an expert in yogic meditation.
"With all the deep respect and affection I feel for him, it must be said that the role of a teaching sage was not his forte because he was primarily a self-absorbed mystic." 8
Brunton began to realize the artificial, quietist nature of yogic meditation, and soon turned to more comprehensive questions.
"From What am I? I had graduated at last to What is the Meaning of this World-Experience? and What is the Object of all Existence? I had come to recognize that the questions involved an ascent from advanced mysticism to pure philosophy itself." 9
Brunton then made the age-old mistake of assuming that current scholastic, debased embodiments of philosophy are the only ones available in the West. So, once again, repeating his earlier mistake of assuming that Truth could only be found in the East, Brunton began his search for Higher Wisdom by becoming the student of a new Indian teacher, V. Subrahmanya Iyer. Reader in philosophy for the Maharajah of Mysore, Iyer was a follower of Vivekananda (1863-1902), a popular Indian guru. Iyer was essentially an academic teacher, however, which meant that even though his thought was more comprehensive than Maharshi's, he was not able to initiate Brunton into the mysteries of Platonic Dialectic.
Iyer taught Brunton that "the practice of meditation was an excellent mental preparation for the quest of truth but by itself could never yield truth, that ninety-nine perecent of Indian yogis practised preparatory disciplines under the widespread but mistaken notion that all of them led directly to the same highest goal . . ."
It was Iyer's claim that a person could attain the realization of ultimate truth only through the "yoga of philosophical discernment" (jnana-yoga) culminating in the Highest Truth through the "yoga of the uncontradictable" (asparsa-yoga). Iyer claimed that jnana-yoga can best--or only--be mastered through study of a Hindu classic titled Ashtavakra Samhita, while asparsa-yoga is mastered through the study of the Mandukya Upanishad.
The Mandukya Upanishad is a series of teachings almost identical to most of the other
Hindu texts--certainly nothing transformative. The Ashtavakra Samhita consists of a dialogue between the twelve year old "Perfect Master" Ashtavakra and Janaka, the King of Mithila. Like all Hindu spiritual treatises in dialogue form, this is not true dialectic but merely a "perfect master" declaiming unquestioned truths in answer to a disciple's questions. There is no reciprosity or joint search for truth, among other factors essential to true Platonic Dialectical Interchange.
Hence, even when Brunton attempted to move beyond the Metaphysical-Psychic domain, he settled for a teacher who was unable to initiate him into the Spiritual-Philosophical-Dialectical realm. Had he been more perspicacious, he could have gained the understanding that Plato's writings, when explicated and taught by a Perennialist Teacher, still possess the power of conveying a serious student to the dominion of Dialectical Truth.
Betty White, a twentieth century Perennialist Teacher, 10 achieved the quintessence of realization in the metaphysical-psychic domain, ultimately attaining a continual state of Higher Consciousness. She also crossed over into the Spiritual-Philosophical-Dialectical realm in her interchanges with terrestrial and supersensuous personalities.
Ordinary study--the search for presumed knowledge through an academic teacher or scholastic book--will not enable you to grasp the essence of reality: being and existence, events, sensations, objects, mathematical formulae, and ideas. To gain understanding of Essence or Form, a Perennialist Teacher capable of dialectical interchange