Dr. J. Glenn Friesen

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Paul Brunton


Paul Brunton
Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi:
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© J. Glenn Friesen
( 2005)

Paul Brunton


Author of A Search in Secret India,
the book that made Ramana Maharshi well known


Paul Brunton and Ramana Maharshi
Dr. J. Glenn Friesen


This article available in .pdf format.

I. Introduction

Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was an English writer on Yoga and esoteric subjects. He is probably best known as the one who made the western world aware of the Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950). In this article, I will explore how Brunton’s background influenced what he wrote about Ramana, and how Brunton’s books in turn influenced Ramana.

Brunton tried to keep secret many details about his early life. We know that his original name was Raphael Hurst. He was a bookseller and journalist. Brunton wrote under various pseudonyms, including Raphael Meriden and Raphael Delmonte. When he first visited Ramana in India in January 1931, he referred to himself by his real name, Raphael Hurst [1]. Later, he chose the pen name Brunton Paul [2], but for some reason, perhaps a printer's error, the names were reversed to Paul Brunton, a name that he kept.

In 1934, he published a book about his meeting with Ramana. The book was called A Search in Secret India [3]. The book was immensely popular. Many people came to visit Ramana as a result of reading Brunton’s book. Even Indian writers refer to Brunton’s works. For example, Yogananda visited Ramana in 1935 after reading Brunton’s books. He met Brunton at Ramana’s ashram, and praised his writing [4].

Ramana himself makes several references to Brunton’s book; Ramana expressly says that the book is useful for Indians (Talks, 121, par. 136). And as we shall see, Ramana was himself influenced by Brunton’s ideas.

My primary interest is to explore the ideas that Brunton had prior to meeting Ramana, and which determined the way that he wrote his book. Now this does not mean that I accept a constructivist view of reality, where all of our experiences are formed and determined by our thoughts. It seems to me that such a constructivism actually overemphasizes the rational and the conceptual, missing both the unconscious as well as the superconscious or transpersonal part of our Selfhood from which all of our temporal functions arise, including the rational. And as Perovich has pointed out, constructivism is really a hyper-Kantianism [5].

But in this case, we know that Brunton constructed his experience. He tells us so. He confesses that he used his book about Ramana as a "peg" on which to hang his own ideas:

It will therefore be clear to perspicacious readers that I used his [Ramana's] name and attainments as a convenient peg upon which to hang an account of what meditation meant to me. The principal reason for this procedure was that it constituted a convenient literary device to secure the attention and hold the interest of western readers, who would naturally give more serious consideration to such a report of the “conversion” of a seemingly hard headed critically-minded Western journalist to yoga. [6]

In view of this startling admission, we need to look at the following issues:

1. How did Brunton's own western background influence what he wrote about Ramana?

2. Did Brunton's own ideas influence the way that Ramana and his teachings have been perceived, both by Ramana himself as well as by his disciples? This is important in view of the fact that Ramana himself praised Brunton's book and incorporated what Brunton said in some of his own teachings.

To my knowledge, neither of these two questions has been previously investigated.

II. Previous Biographies of Ramana Maharshi

Brunton was not the first westerner to write about Ramana Maharshi. The first English reports about Ramana were by Frank H. Humphreys, a policeman stationed in India in 1911. Humphreys published the book Glimpses of the Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. The book is based on articles that Humphreys first published in The International Psychic Gazette in 1913 [7].

Humphreys had interests in occult powers and theosophy. This is important, because as we shall see, Brunton was also interested in occult powers. Glimpses reports some of Humphreys’ own psychic abilities, such as having a vision in Bombay of his future Telegu teacher, S. Narasimhayya, before he met him in Vellore (Glimpses, 8). Humphreys was also able to identify his teacher's guru, Ganapati Sastri, from a series of photos (Glimpses, 9), although he had never met Sastri. And he had a vision of Ramana in his cave before he met Ramana (Glimpses, 11).

When Humphreys first arrived in Vellore, his first question was to ask his teacher of the Telegu language whether he knew any astrology. He then asked whether the teacher knew of any Mahatmas in the vicinity. This idea of Mahatmas is an idea emphasized by Madame Blavatsky’s kind of theosophy [8]. As a result, Humphreys met Ganapati Sastri (also known as Ganapati Muni). Humphreys met Sastri in Tiruvannamalai, where Sastri was at a theosophical society conference. Tiruvannamalai is also where Ramana’s ashram is located.

Humphreys says that Sastri was the first Master that he met in India (the second Master would be Ramana). Humphreys says that a Master does not use occult powers, but Humphreys nevertheless reports extensively on Sastri’s powers of clairvoyance and psychic gifts (Glimpses, 30, 31). Humphreys also says that Sastri learned the Tamil language “by meditation” in 15 days, not using any book or grammar. Humphreys compares this to Christ’s Apostles having the ability to speak in tongues (Glimpses, 14).

Sastri was a disciple of Ramana, and Sastri was in fact the first disciple to refer to Ramana as ‘Bhagavan’' or ‘Lord.’ Together with Ganapati Sastri, Humphreys visited Ramana in 1911.

The reports about Ramana by Humphreys were the basis of all future biographies of Ramana, especially since Humphreys was the first to report on Ramana's pivotal experience of the Self at the age of 16. But even here we must be careful, for Humphreys says that the story of Ramana’s awakening was not told to him by Ramana himself, but by a disciple or chela (Glimpses, 27).

Humphreys’ writings were also used as the basis for the first major biography of Ramana, which was by Ramana's disciple Swami B.V Narasimha. In 1931, Narasimha published (in English) Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi [9]. Narasimha reports that even in 1931, there were divergent interpretations of Ramana:

Maharshi is regarded by many as a sphynx. He speaks little and only as to what is asked. He is mostly silent. His works are cryptic and are capable of diverse interpretations. Saktas go to him and think he is a Sakta, Saivas take him for a Saiva, Srivaishnavas find nothing in him inconsistent with their Visishtadvaitic ideal. Moslems and Christians have found in him elements of their “true faith” (Narasimha, 197-98).

I have analyzed some of these divergent interpretations of Ramana in my work “Ramana Maharshi: Hindu and Non-Hindu Interpretations of a Jivanmukta.” [10] In that work, I show that Ramana should not be regarded as a traditional advaitic sage. Ramana was influenced by tantra and by neo-Hinduism [11]. I explore Ganapati Sastri’s significant tantric influence on Ramana. But there were other tantric influences on Ramana in the books that he read and translated. In addition to these non-traditional Hindu influences, there were also Western influences. I discuss the many Christian references and Biblical quotations both in Narasimha’s biography of Ramana and in Ramana’s own thought. And Ramana was also influenced by western philosophical ideas, including the writings of Ramana.

Brunton's book A Search in Secret India was much more influential than either of the previous biographies by Humphreys and Narasimha. In subsequent editions of his biography of Ramana, Narasimha added two chapters on Brunton. In these revised chapters, Narasimha mentions that Brunton was interested in theosophy, spiritualism hypnotism, thought-reading, and had obtained some first-hand experiences in some of these fields (Narasimha, 231). Thus, Brunton’s interest in occult powers was evident to Narasimha.

And because Brunton’s book is so important, we need to look at Brunton's own background, and the ideas that he used in interpreting his experience with Ramana Maharshi.

III. Brunton’s Own Life and Thought

1. Previous Studies of Brunton

The most comprehensive study to date regarding Brunton is Annie Cahn Fung's doctoral thesis: Paul Brunton: un pont entre l'Inde et l'occident (Sorbonne, 1992). The English translation of this thesis, Paul Brunton: A Bridge Between India and the West is available online [12]. Although there is a great deal of useful information in this thesis, Cahn Fung does not mention the fact that Brunton confessed he had used Ramana as a peg for his own thoughts. Nor does she explore how this influenced Brunton’s reporting of Ramana, or how this might have in turn affected Ramana self understanding.

Cahn Fung does question whether Brunton's teachings are really advaitic. She points to Brunton's individualistic and anti-institutional view of enlightenment. She says that this was based on Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was one of Brunton's favourite authors:

He was fond of Emerson’s remark, “Souls are not saved in bundles,” and maintained that only alone can we find Truth, in the depths of our own innermost being, alone with the Alone (Cahn Fung, I, 10).

Brunton's son Kenneth Thurston Hurst also reports Brunton’s interest in Emerson. Emerson used the term 'Oversoul' for the ray of divinity within us [13]. As we shall see, Brunton uses this idea of a ray of divinity. And the relation of the term ‘Oversoul’ to Brunton's term 'Overself' seems obvious. Cahn Fung has questioned whether Brunton's use of the term ‘Overself’ was derived from the Vedantic view of the Self (atman), whether it is this idea of atman in western disguise, or whether it is a new concept. She asks how Brunton can maintain the idea of the Overself as a “higher individuality” and still maintain the idea of nonduality. She says that Brunton's idea of the Overself is “an intermediary between the finite and the human,” and that this idea is more accessible to contemporary thinkers who are attached to the idea of individuality. But she says that Brunton was also nondual because his mentalistic philosophy reduced "subject and object, in a purely rational way, to the one stuff of which both are made: Mind" (Cahn Fung, I, 11; II, 4-5).

I have difficulty with Cahn Fung’s attempted reconciliation of Brunton’s idea of the Overself with nondualism. To me, a reduction of subject and object to Mind is not nondualism unless advaita is understood as monism. In my own thesis, Abhishiktananda’s Non-Monistic Advaitic Experience [14] I have argued that advaita is neither dualistic nor monistic.

Furthermore, prior to his use of the term ‘Overself,’ Brunton’s philosophy was not nondual, but dualistic. Brunton made a sharp distinction between mind and matter. But I do believe that Cahn Fung is correct that Brunton's solution to these issues of relating the Overself to nondualism is related to what he learned from the guru that he chose after his meeting with Ramana, V. Subrahmanya Iyer. Iyer was very much within the neo-Hindu tradition–that is, the interpretation of Hinduism that has been influenced by Western philosophy.

Brunton first uses the term ‘Overself’ in his book The Secret Path (1935) [15]. That was after his meeting in 1931 with Ramana. But Cahn Fung is incorrect that the term ‘Overself’ was a new term coined by Brunton (Cahn Fung II, 5). The term 'Overself' appears in a 1932 book by Gottfried de Purucker (1874-1942). That book is a collection of lectures that he gave between 1924 and 1927 at the Theosophical Society regarding Madame Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine (1888). Purucker there uses both the terms ‘Oversoul’ and ‘Overself’:

Thyself–what is it? It is consciousness; it is also the heart of the universe. Thyself, that self which is the same in thee and in me, in you and in all others, which is not different in any one of us, as compared with any other one of us. It is the ultimate self, the spiritual oversoul; and therefore it is the one self, the heart of the universe. It is the consciousness in you which says simply "I am," and that same consciousness is in me and in all others: in the Teacher, in the chelas of the Teachers, in the Teachers of the Teachers, in the Silent Watcher of our supernal sphere–that overself is the same in all entities comprised in any hierarchy.

But while that overself is the same in you, and in me, and in all that is, not different anywhere from what it is anywhere else; yet this does not comprise all there is of us psychologically speaking. There is something else within us, not different from the oversoul but a ray of that oversoul, so to say, and this something else in each one of us is the individual ego: that part in each of us which says not merely "I am," but "I am I," and not you. [16]

Purucker was a leader of the Theosophical Society from 1929 until his death in 1942. The book referred to is considered the classic commentary on Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine. It was published in 1932, two years before Brunton even published his book Search. The term 'Overself' is therefore a term associated with Blavatsky's theosophy. I am not aware whether Blavatsky herself uses the word 'Overself,' but the world 'Oversoul' is certainly used, and she makes references to Emerson [17]. Purucker's idea that the ego is a "ray" of this Overself is something that is also found in Brunton, although Brunton could also have obtained it from Emerson’s writings directly. But Purucker’s book appeared shortly before Brunton’s writings, and as we shall see, Brunton was interested in theosophical topics. Brunton’s interest in theosophy continued even after he met Ramana, so it is very likely that he read Purucker’s book.

2. Brunton's Boyhood and Youth

Brunton's real name was Raphael Hurst. Cahn Fung says that he was born in London on November 27, 1898, the son of Jewish parents. But there is some confusion as to his exact birthday. His own son says that Brunton's real birthday was October 21, 1898, and that Brunton did not want astrological charts made for that date (Hurst, 219).

Brunton's mother died when he was young, and he was brought up by a stepmother whom he called "Auntie." Brunton was a sensitive young boy. He writes, "Boyhood years had been shadowed by a terrible and tremendous yearning to penetrate the mystery of life's inner meaning" (Hidden Teaching, 23).

As a boy, Brunton was already practicing meditation:

Before I reached the threshold of manhood and after six months of unwavering daily practice of meditation and eighteen months of burning aspiration for the Spiritual Self, I underwent a series of mystical ecstasies. During them I attained a kind of elementary consciousness of it. If anyone could imagine a consciousness which does not objectify anything but remains in its own native purity, a happiness beyond which it is impossible to go, and a self which is unvaryingly one and the same, he would have the correct idea of the Overself....(Hurst, 42-43).

Brunton says much the same thing in Hidden Teaching, where he "confesses" that he was not a novice in yoga before he met Ramana:

Before I crossed the threshold of manhood the power of inward contemplation had been laid up as treasure in heaven, the ineffable ecstasies of mystical trance had become a daily occurrence in the calendar of life, the abnormal mental phenomena which attend the earlier experience of yoga were commonplace and familiar, whilst the dry labours of meditation had disappeared into effortless ease […] In the deepest stage of trance I seemed to become extended in space, an incorporeal being (Hidden Teaching, 23).

3. Allan Bennet (Bhikku Ananda Metteya)

Allan Bennet (1872 -1923), also known as the Bhikku Ananda Metteya [18], introduced Brunton to Buddhist thought and Buddhist methods of meditation. Brunton kept a photo of Bennet on his living room wall. It is reported that Bennet was a British occultist, and that he was a teacher of Aleister Crowley when they both were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn [19]. Bennet was the author of several books on Buddhism [20]. Bennet also wrote articles for the Theosophical Review [21]. Bennet had been influenced by Edwin Arnold’s poem, “The Light of Asia.” As a result, he journeyed to Sri Lanka and Burma to study Buddhism and, in 1901, was ordained in Burma as Venerable Ananda Metteya, the first Westerner to become a Buddhist monk [22]. In 1903, Bennet founded the International Buddhist Society (Buddhasasana Samagama) in Rangoon. An English monk from that Society, Frederic Fletcher (known as Prajnananda), accompanied Brunton on his visit to Ramana.

4. The Theosophical Society

Brunton joined the Theosophical Society (which had been founded in 1875 by Madame H.P. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott). He later left the Theosophical Society, but as we shall see, he continued with his interest in occult subjects, and he joined a similar society.

5. Michael Juste

At the Theosophical Society, Brunton met Michael Juste (also known as Michael Houghton). They became friends, and opened a bookshop together, although it failed after only six months. Juste wrote the book, The White Brother: an Occult Autobiography [23]. The book refers to their theosophical studies, and specifically mentions Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. A student in Juste's book named David was modeled on Brunton. This character appears in the book as a pale and slender youth:

Here I met David, who was to become my partner and companion in many spiritual and material ventures, and a fellow-pilgrim in the quest of realization. […] David was of short and somewhat slight stature, pale and intensely sensitive (he originally disliked me because I was too crude, and argued with him), serious, and, I used to think, much too casual about the incidents of the world, and much too deeply, engrossed in the world within. He always appeared to move in a perpetual haze. He had had some most interesting experiences of an occult nature when young, which helped me to prove the existence of unknown states of consciousness, and when I first met him his air of other-worldliness puzzled me greatly. I remember particularly one day, when I was waiting for him in the shadow of a staircase, he touched me to see if I was real or a ghost. Life to him was then very insubstantial, although since that period he has had experiences which have taught him the wisdom of planting his feet firmly on earth (Juste, 15).

Juste writes that all of these students were unbalanced and neurotic, although they called their behaviour merely unconventional and bohemian. But Juste says that the mystic is “the mystical fool of God who has to learn Balance, Discrimination and Understanding” (Juste, 15).

Juste says that Brunton (or "David") sometimes studied astrology, generally wandering about as though caught in the "misty maze of a dream” (Juste, 19). He refers to their opening a bookshop together in Bloomsbury, which closed in 6 months. They then sought a cheaper place for their bookshop (Juste, 27, 32). It appears that Juste later opened the famous Atlantis Bookshop in Bloomsbury, which specializes in occult books. It is unclear whether Brunton had an ownership interest in that bookshop. Here is a picture of the Atlantis Bookshop today:

6. Thurston ('M')

Hurst says that in 1922, Brunton met an “American painter” living in London named Thurston, whom he said was a kind of clairvoyant. The meeting occurred in the bookshop in Bloomsbury (Hurst, 59). Juste was also present at this meeting. Thurston predicted that Brunton would discover and publish ancient mysteries. Brunton said that he regarded Thurston as his first teacher. In fact, Brunton named his son after Thurston, who claimed to have contacted his son while still in the womb. Brunton's son Kenneth Thurston Hurst, was born the next year, 1923.

Although Thurston was obviously of great importance to Brunton, very little is known about him. We don't know his first name or date of birth. Cahn Fung says that he died in the mid-1920's. I have wondered whether he is perhaps Frederic W. Thurstan, who contributed articles to the Occult Review and the Theosophist. F.W. Thurstan wrote about the Mahatmas of India as well as of the mysteries of ancient Egypt. He wrote about Hindu rishis and angelic powers. If Thurstan was indeed Thurstan, then there is a remarkable convergence in that Humphreys, the first person to write about Ramana, was encouraged to send his reports because of interest generated by Thurstan's previous articles in the International Psychic Gazette (Glimpses, 13). However, to identify Thurston with Thurstan remains speculation on my part [24].

Whether or not Thurston is the same as Thurstan, we do know about Thurston's ideas through his books. He wrote The Dayspring of Youth [25]. The author of the book is identified as "M". According to the preface, M. also wrote The Lord God of Truth Within [26]. Both books were published posthumously. Hurst says that Juste assisted in editing Dayspring (Hurst, 59). Thurston also translated and annotated the occult book Le Comte de Gabalis, written in 1652 by l’Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars (1635-1673) [27].

Juste confirms the meeting with Thurston, whom he refers to as 'M.' Both he and Brunton met Thurston. Thurston made many visits to their bookshop. On his first visit, he brought a book. It was Le Comte de Gabalis (Juste 24, 25). Juste found the definition of a Master in that book:

A master is an evolved being who has perfected a mental body in which he can function consciously while out of his physical vehicle. (Juste, 25).

Juste also quotes the following passage from Le Comte de Gabalis regarding concentration in meditation:

By concentration in meditation upon a given subject, and by the effort of regular breathing, the inhalation and exhalation occupying the same space of time, the mind may be held so that it is not subject to other thought than that pertaining to the object or symbol of expression about which man desires knowledge. And if man will persist in this practice, he can enter into an harmonious relationship to the Divinity within, and from that source can gain knowledge which is the result of the soul’s own experience while passing through the higher and lower states of matter. At the same time, if man will concentrate upon the highest, he can evoke from within self, that Solar Force and Power which if directed upwards will awaken and revitalize those ganglia or organs of perception hitherto withheld from his use. If it be true from God we came, to God we return, life is but the attainment of that consciousness which is of God. And man is therefore shut out from the knowledge of his true being and estate until he seeks atonement with his own Divine Life-principle, and its evolution and manifestation in him (Juste, 51).

Juste never mentions that Thurston was either an American or an artist. There are a few references to art. Juste says a "sylph" of wonderful beauty once visited Thurston. Sylphs are among the beings referred to in Le Comte de Gabalis. The sylph had a magnificent head of hair, and Thurston said it “would take a painter a month to draw” it (Juste, p 31). And Thurston said that the (American) artist Whistler taught the world to see (Juste, 56). Thurston's book Dayspring is worth looking at in order to understand Brunton. Thurston says that the book refers to a cosmic hierarchal energy, which appears at the beginning of a new age in man’s development. Through yoga, a student attempts to tune himself into this directing consciousness, and that this is done through the agency of “the Brothers”:

A Fraternity known as The Brothers has existed before man descended into matter, and have worked and still work out in the world upon the Path of activity. They appear only as an active Brotherhood when the cosmic energy of a Dayspring of Youth brings them into manifestation to bring its vibration into the minds of those who seek their Innermost (Dayspring, 12).

Thurston refers to "the Higher Self," which he says is created from the best of man’s aspirations during his descent and evolution through matter. It is the intermediary between man and his Innermost, and pleads for the remission of our past evil after we have reviewed this through Yoga practice (Dayspring, 14). Juste also refers to Thurston's use of the term ‘Higher Self’ (Juste, 27). And Thurston uses the term ‘Innermost’ to refer to that part of the Reality (God) within man to which the Yogi seeks to attune himself before attaining cosmic consciousness (Dayspring. 15). In Thurston's idea of an intermediary, we have an early parallel to Brunton's idea of the Overself as intermediary.

We can also see parallels to Brunton's later idea of “mentalism”:

Occultism teaches us that the visible universe is but the lower counterpart of the higher one which, if perceived, would give us youth and happiness. All that we see about us is illusory and but a fragment of something greater; for our minds are imprisoned and held subject to our own illusion world. When we can pierce this we shall perceive in the depths of Nature a mind that directs and guides all things (Dayspring, 21).

And like Brunton was later to do, Thurston opposes mere mysticism to the "science" of yoga:

We are not blind like the mystic who, though radiating great love, has little to demonstrate; for the mystic and Yogi of this science are far apart. The mystic with fasting and praying weakens his body, seeking to make it subservient to its Higher Self, of whom he is ignorant, and only Its fragrance and peace remains in his heart; but the Yogi will develop and learn from his atomic intelligence his own great truth (Dayspring, 31).

Thurston was certainly interested in occult powers. Thurston says that as we pass through each division of Nature we are taught the laws and customs of each sphere. From these we learn what is known as Nature’s magic. The elementals working with us can manipulate mind-stuff and produce illusions that to the beholders would seem miracles (Dayspring, 72). He speaks of the importance of Importance of gaining the “knower consciousness,” to know a thing without thought. It is an instantaneous method. He gives the example of a yogi, who can say immediately where you would be at ten o’clock the following morning (Dayspring, 86). The advanced Yogi increases and diminishes his own wavelength; he seeks to attune his mind to move in harmony with each sheath (Dayspring, 107). Thurston refers to White Magicians, who seek to serve humanity impersonally and obey the directions of their Innermosts according to the degree of their occult development. A mantra is used to harmonize body and its centres with the finer forces in Nature and in man.

Thurston refers to Michael Juste’s book, The White Brother. This reference is a bit odd, since as we have seen, this book by Juste book contains a good deal of information about Thurston or ‘M.’ There is therefore a kind of self-reference here by Thurston in referring to Juste’s book. Thurston refers to a passage in The White Brother regarding levitation, and the power to pass from a dense state of mind matter into a finer state (Dayspring, 72). The reference would appear to be to Juste's report of his experience with M. in mentally traveling to visit a friend who was in Africa. A letter from the friend later confirmed the details of their mental vision.

Thurston also refers to Le Comte de Gabalis (Dayspring, 85).

It can be seen from this brief review of Dayspring that Thurston was very much concerned with developing special powers. Thurston’s writings were an important and continuing influence on Brunton, especially in regard to the seeking of such powers.

7. Brunton’s continued interest in occult powers

Brunton says that he left the Theosophical Society after only two years. But by that time, he says that he had obtained certain psychic powers:

I developed in little time powers of mediumship, in particular clairvoyance and clairaudience, and thus obtained the best kind of proof in the existence of a psychic world, in other words by personal experience, without having recourse to professional mediums. After I had completely established the truth of the afterlife for myself, I turned toward the study of Theosophy and I belonged to the Theosophical Society. I am aware of what I learned there in the course of this second phase; but at the end of two years I left the Society. I felt that the adepts who had presided over its foundation were now retired, abandoning the society to its own devices. But it was Theosophy which gave me my first introduction to Oriental thought... [29].

Brunton’s use of the word ‘adept’ here is important, since he will later refer to Hindu and Egyptian masters as adepts. And Brunton continued to maintain an interest in special powers or siddhis. For a time, Brunton joined the Spiritualist Society [30]. Brunton also wrote numerous articles for the Occult Review. That journal was published by William Rider and Sons, the same company that had published Le Comte de Gabalis, and that would later publish Brunton's books about Ramana [31]. Some of these articles were written under his real name, Raphael Hurst. But others were written under the pseudonyms 'Raphael Meriden,' 'Raphael Delmonte.'

Cahn Fung says that Brunton later unequivocally condemned occultism [32]. But even if Brunton repudiated occultism in later life, I am interested in looking at his views at the time that he met Ramana in 1931, and at the time he wrote A Search in Secret India. Brunton told his son Kenneth Thurston Hurst, that he had occult and clairvoyant powers, including astral travel. He told his son that he had an American Indian as a guardian angel. And he recommended that his son read Madame Blavatsky's Key to Theosophy (Hurst 42, 51, 91). Since his son was only born in 1923, that would indicate that Brunton’s interest in these matters continued long after he met Ramana. And even later, Brunton related similar powers to a young disciple, Jeffrey Masson. Masson says that Brunton always carried a magic wand or glass rod [33]. And, as will be discussed below, it seems that one of Brunton's disappointments with Ramana was that Ramana did not impart more special powers to him.

Even after he met Ramana in 1931, Brunton continued to publish in the Occult Review. In 1932, under the name ‘Brunton Paul,’ Brunton published an article in that journal entitled "With a Southern Indian Tantrist" [34]. The article does not mention his visit the previous year with Ramana. It is about someone he met in Madras named Bramasuganandah. Brunton says that he met him not many miles from where the Theosophical Society has its headquarters. Brunton relates the story Bramasuganandah's life. "At about the age of twelve he had heard of the occult path, the way of yoga…" Thus even in 1932, after meeting Ramana, Brunton regarded Indian yoga in terms of occultism. Bramasuganandah told Brunton that he himself had a guru who was over four hundred years old. He told Brunton about secret herbs that prolong life, and how yoga is also a means of attaining longevity. He gave a tantric diagram (yantra) to Brunton and told him that if he glanced at it, Brunton would be able to connect with him on the astral plane. Now it is true that Brunton expresses skepticism regarding these powers. But the focus of the article is on the siddhis. Later that same year, Brunton published a review of the occultist Aleister Crowley, also in the Occult Review.

8. Materialism before the Spiritual Quest

It is curious that before Brunton went to India, he participated in a very materialistic venture. He founded a magazine called Success. The magazine contained interviews of leaders of industry like J.W. Woolworth, Lord Leverhulme, and Sir Herbert Austin (Hurst, 63). But he started the magazine in 1929, the year of the stock market crash, and the magazine soon folded (Cahn Fung, I, 18). The next year, Brunton left for India. It seems that Brunton did not disclose to those he met the fact of this business failure. Narasimha says that Brunton rejected a profitable journalistic proposal and started out to India in 1930 (Narasimha, 231).

IV. Brunton’s Books

We now need to examine the books written by Brunton, particularly those that refer to Ramana. It will be evident that Brunton’s preoccupation with occult powers continued even after he met Ramana, and that it influenced the way that he wrote about him.

1. A Search in Secret India (1934)

Brunton first visited Ramana for two weeks in January 1931. Brunton then moved on in search of other gurus and miracle workers. He was about to leave India when he thought back on Ramana. A “voice” told him to return. The next day he received a letter from someone at the ashram, “You have had the good fortune to meet a real Master” (Search, 273). He saw this as a confirming sign and went back to visit Ramana. This second visit also lasted several weeks.

During his second visit with Ramana, Brunton became ill (“blackwater fever”) and he then returned to England. The fever lasted intermittently for two years (Cahn Fung, I, 38). Brunton wrote A Search in Secret India in a small Quaker village in Buckinghamshire (Hurst, 73). Every Sunday he would join the Quaker meeting in the village (Cahn Fung I, 38). The book was published in 1934, and he sent one of the first copies of this book to Ramana.

a) The impact of A Search in Secret India

Brunton’s book Search was enormously influential. Many people visited Ramana as a result of reading this book.

As early as January 6, 1935, an English lady, Mrs. M.A. Piggot came to see Ramana because she had read Search [36]. Douglas Ainslie, nephew of a former Governor of Madras came to see Ramana with a letter of introduction from Brunton (Talks, 7; Jan. 19, 1935). So did W.Y. Evans-Wentz, the scholar of Tibetan religion from Oxford (Talks, 9; Jan. 24, 1935). A Muslim is reported as having tried the method of self enquiry, as described by Brunton (Talks, 11; para. 123; Jan. 3, 1936).

Major Chadwick came to Ramana’s ashram on Nov 1, 1935, having heard of Ramana though Brunton’s book Search. Chadwick had met Brunton in London. When Chadwick first met Ramana, Ramana was very interested to hear about Brunton, who would be returning to India in a few months. Chadwick became a disciple, and wrote the book A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi [37]. Chadwick says, “I have always felt that his [Brunton’s] chapters in the book which refer directly to Bhagavan were certainly inspired by Bhagavan himself (Chadwick, 16). Ramana himself read the book and recommended that others read it. There are several references to Brunton’s book in Talks, and Ramana expressly says that the book is useful even for Indians (Talks, 121, par. 137). As already mentioned, Swami Yogananda visited Ramana in 1935 after reading Brunton’s books. He met Brunton at the ashram, and praised his writing.

A visitor mentioned Brunton's reference to the peace that Ramana bestowed on visitors, as mentioned by Brunton. He asked Ramana whether peace is the sole criterion of a Mahatma's Presence. Ramana seemed to concur, saying that subduing egos is "a much more formidable task than slaying a thousand elephants” (Talks, 216, par. 262).

Another visitor, evidently a friend of Brunton's, was seeking a spiritual experience. She had a vision of Ramana with a child-like, cherubic face. Ramana refers to Brunton's vision of himself. He said, "Paul Brunton saw me as a giant figure; you saw me like a child. Both are visions. (Talks, 264, par. 304).

Ramana was asked about the last chapter of Search, where Brunton says it is possible to be conscious without thinking (Talks, 49 para. 43).

S.S. Cohen, a disciple of Ramana, asked for an explanation of the “blazing light” referred to by Brunton in the last chapter of Search. Ramana said,

Since the experience is through the mind only it appears first as a blaze of light. The mental predispositions are not yet destroyed (Talks, 167; June 14, 1936).

This incident of interpreting Brunton’s reference in Search to the “blazing light” is also reported elsewhere:

It is said that during their exercises, yogis experience several lights and colours, before they actually realize the Self. (Conscious Immortality, 42).

Ramana says he had “thousands of such experiences” (visions and hearing mystic sounds). Another questioner referred to Brunton's saying that the experience of realization was indescribable. It seems that Ramana agreed with that statement. "The answer was there." (Talks, 464, par. 485).

Another visitor asked Ramana about Brunton's statement that he had one hour's samadhi. He asked whether samadhi can come and go. Ramana seemed to be critical of Brunton’s account in Search. He said that Brunton's peace of mind was the result of his own efforts. But the real state is effortless and permanent (Talks, 552-53, para. 597).

Brunton’s book Search continued to attract interest. In January, 1946, Ramana was shown a small pamphlet called ‘Divine Grace Through Total Self-Surrender’ by D.C. Desai. It contained extensive quotations from Brunton, and Ramana read them out to those who were listening.

I remain perfectly calm and fully aware of who I am and what is occurring. Self still exists, but it is a changed, radiant Self. Something that is far superior to my unimportant personality rises into consciousness and becomes me. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. I sit in the lap of holy bliss.


Divine grace is a manifestation of the cosmic free-will in operation. It can alter the course of events in a mysterious manner through its own unknown laws, which are superior to all natural laws, and can modify the latter by interaction. It is the most powerful force in the universe.


It descends and acts, only when it is invoked by total Self-surrender. It acts from within, because God resides in the heart of all beings. Its whisper can be heard only in a mind purified by self-surrender and prayer.


Rationalists laugh at it and atheists scorn it, but it exists. It is a descent of God into the soul’s zone of awareness. It is a visitation of force unexpected and unpredictable. It is a voice spoken out of cosmic silence…..It is cosmic will which can perform authentic miracles under its own laws. [38]

The first quotations are not exact, but are clearly derived from Search (p. 305). The source of the other quotations is unclear.

Ramana’s ashram continues to distribute Brunton’s writings about Ramana. They were collected in a smaller book entitled The Maharshi and his Message [39].

After Brunton’s death, his son Kenneth Hurst gave the ashram Brunton’s notes from his visits with Ramana in the 1930’s. From these and other notes by Munagala Venkataramiah, another book was compiled entitled Conscious Immortality [40]. It was first published in 1984, and then revised in 1996 in what was considered to be a more systematic manner, and “amended” in accordance with other sources of the same facts. It is therefore a little difficult to know which are Brunton’s own words, but I will also refer to it.

We need to examine what Brunton says in A Search in Secret India. In view of Brunton's later confession that he used Ramana as a “peg” for his own ideas, we need to look at his descriptions of both his own experience and the experience of Ramana in terms of Brunton's previous interests and ideas.

b) Existing biographies and materials in English

Brunton says that he consulted both Ramana and other disciples in order to write his book (Search, 281). Brunton must also have consulted books in order to obtain the information set out in Search. Narasimha says that Brunton visited Ramana after Narasimha’s own biography of Ramana had been published (Narasimha, 231). As already mentioned, Narasimha relied on the previous account by Humphreys for his biography. So these two biographies were available to Brunton by the time that he arrived at the ashram in 1931, or at least by the time of his second visit.

In subsequent editions of his biography of Ramana, Narasimha added two chapters on Brunton. In these revised chapters, Narasimha mentions that Brunton was interested in theosophy, spiritualism hypnotism, thought-reading, and had obtained some first-hand experiences in some of these fields (Narasimha, 231). We will examine in more detail Brunton’s interest in these occult powers. But it is important to note that Brunton’s interest in these powers was also evident to Narasimha.

c) Brunton’s account of his encounters with Ramana

Brunton claims that he visited Ramana with Yogi Subrahmanya (Search, 132). The clear implication is that this was a Hindu disciple of Ramana. But there is an independent account of Brunton’s first visit [41]. In this account, Brunton is still known as R. Raphael Hurst. His companion is identified as an English Buddhist monk, Prajnananda. Prajnananda is reported to have founded “the English Ashrama in Rangoon.” Graeme Lyall gives information about a Prajnananda who seems to fit this description:

In 1922, a British expedition set out for Tibet in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. They reached the southern Tibetan city of Shigatse but were refused permission to proceed to the capital Lhasa where they had hoped to meet the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. However, one of their number, Frederic Fletcher, ordained in the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat tradition under the name of Lama Dorje Prajnananda. He later also received Theravada ordination in Sri Lanka and therefore had dual loyalties to both the Theravada and Vajrayana traditions [42].

Prajnananda therefore seems to be the Englishman Frederic Fletcher. Lyall gives no sources for these statements, but there was an English expedition to Tibet in 1922, led by George E. O. Knight [43]. If Fletcher had been to Tibet, then that would be one explanation for Brunton’s later attempt to visit Tibet for himself. Furthermore, there appears to be a connection with Brunton’s Buddhist mentor Allan Bennet. For it was Bennet who founded the International Buddhist Society in Burma. Bennet and Fletcher must have known each other in London. Both of them also appear to have written articles for the Theosophical Review [44].

But why did Brunton not acknowledge that his companion was Frederic Fletcher (Prajnananda)? Why did he change these facts about his visit? Was he afraid that if he acknowledged the Tibetan Buddhist and theosophical connections to his quest that it would be seen that he was not the naïve journalist he pretended to be? Brunton’s lack of candour here is the first indication we have that his account of his visit is not completely trustworthy.

d) Ramana’s Silent Healing Vibrations

There are two accounts of why Ramana was silent for two hours on Brunton’s first visit. Brunton says that he seated himself before Ramana, but that there was no response. Brunton says that as he waited in silence, his questions slowly started to disappear.

But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, restless change which is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I have prepared in the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away (Search, 141).

Brunton also describes the mysterious peace that he felt:

I begin to wonder whether, by some radioactivity of the soul, some unknown telepathic process, the stillness which invades the troubled waters of my own soul really comes from him (Search, 142)

Brunton says that not till after two hours did someone ask if he had questions.

But Brunton’s report of the reason for the silence is contradicted by the independent report of his visit. That report says that an initial silence was broken by the person who brought them, asking if the visitors had any questions. But “They were, however, not in a mood to do so, and thus and hour and a half passed.” According to this version, the lengthy silence was due to Brunton, not Ramana. Everyone else was waiting for something to happen. Thus, the silence was equally unexpected for them.

The report says that after that hour and a half, Hurst [Brunton] asked a question:

In a voice of intense earnestness he said that he had come to India for spiritual enlightenment. "Not only myself," he added, "but many others also in the West are longing for the Light from the East.

The report says that Ramana “sat completely indrawn and paid no attention.” That hardly sounds like someone radiating peace.
The report says that someone then asked Ramana and the English monk if they were studying comparative religion. The monk replied,

No, we could get that better in Europe. We want to find Truth; we want the Light. Can we know Truth? Is it possible to get Enlightenment?

But Ramana still remained silent and indrawn.

It is then said that Brunton and the monk wanted to take a walk. So the conversation ended and everyone dispersed.

Now which version is correct? Brunton’s or the independent account? I prefer the independent account, because if Brunton’s first visit was so wonderful, it is hardly likely that he would have left Ramana to seek other gurus. Ramana’s silent rebuff to his earnest question must have seemed an affront. In fact, Brunton’s version in Search is that he did not ask any questions at that time. If Ramana was teaching Brunton by his silence, that is hardly the way that it appeared to the onlookers and was reported by them. And they report no evident experience of ecstasy in Brunton. The only report is that Brunton and his companion, the Buddhist monk, wanted to go for a walk. And we have every reason to distrust what Brunton says, since he has admitted that he was only using Ramana for his preconceived ideas.

Now it is certainly true that Ramana sometimes refused to talk to visitors or to answer their questions. And that is the treatment that Ramana appears to have given Brunton, at least on the first day.

Brunton repeats this idea of healing vibrations in his account of his second visit to Ramana later that year. Brunton speaks of “benign radiations” (Search, 279 ). And he says that one enjoys tranquility merely by sitting in his presence. There is a “reciprocal inter-influence” (Search, 280). He says,

At first I wonder whether he has heard me, but in the tense silence which ensues, and which I feel unable or unwilling to break, a force greater than my rationalistic mind commences to awe me until it ends by overwhelming me. The realization forces itself through my wonderment that all my questions are moves in an endless game, the play of thoughts which possess no limit to their extent; that somewhere within me there is a well of certitude which can provide me with all the waters of truth I require; and that it will be better to cease my questioning and attempt to realize the tremendous potencies of my own spiritual nature. So I remain silent and wait. For almost half an hour the Maharishee’s eyes continue to stare straight in front of him in a fixed, unmoving gaze. He appears to have forgotten me, but I am perfectly aware that the sublime realization which has suddenly fallen upon me is nothing else than a spreading ripple of telepathic radiation from this mysterious and imperturbable man (Search, 280).

There is an “unseen power of the sage being powerfully impacted on my mentality” (Search, 293), “beneficent radiation which emanates from him” (Search, 300). And Brunton wants to link these telepathic radiations with science:

I am learning to see that this is the Maharishee’s way of helping others, this unobtrusive, silent and steady outpouring of healing vibrations into troubled souls, this mysterious telepathic process for which science will one day be required to account (Search, 290).

In these emphases on radiating energy, Brunton seems to follow Humphreys’ report from 1913. Humphreys also reported a first silent meeting with Ramana:

For half an hour I looked Him in the eyes which never changed their expression of deep contemplation. I began to realize somewhat that the body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost–I could only feel His body was not the man, it was the instrument of God, merely a sitting motionless corpse from which God was radiating terrifically. My own sensations were indescribable (Glimpses, 15).

This idea of a Master radiating energy is something that Humphreys would have been familiar with from theosophy. Humphreys also says that when he first met Ramana he “felt lifted out of myself” (Glimpses, 15). And Brunton reports the same thing:

Suddenly, my body seems to disappear, and we are both out in space! (Search, 163).

Humphreys also reports Ramana as saying that when you attain realization,

…mind and body physically (so to speak) disappear and the only thing that remains is Being, which is at once existence and non-existence, and not explainable in words and ideas (Glimpses, 21).

It appears that Brunton was appropriating these reports by Humphreys into the report of his own visits. Brunton would have been aware of Humphreys’ reports at least by the time of his second visit to Ramana. If he did not read Humphreys directly, he would have seen Narasimha’s book, which incorporates them. It is even possible that Brunton knew about Humphreys’ work before he arrived in India, since the accounts had been published in London in 1913 in the International Psychic Gazette. F.W. Thurstan was also writing in the Gazette, and if he is indeed the same person as Thurston, then Brunton would almost certainly have known about Ramana It was not only Humphreys’ ideas that were appropriate, for as we shall see, Brunton also copied many sayings of Ramana and passed them off as his own. This was one of the major reasons why the ashram later disallowed Brunton from taking notes of disciples’ conversations with Ramana, and then finally barred Brunton from visiting the ashram altogether. But we will discuss his disagreements with Ramana and the ashram in more detail below.

Whether or not Brunton was following Humphreys’ earlier reports, it seems apparent that Brunton altered the facts regarding his first meeting with Ramana. In making this alteration, for which of his preconceived ideas was he using Ramana as a “peg?” Is the idea of the beneficent radiations from Ramana one of Brunton’s preconceived ideas? And if so, did it correspond to how Ramana viewed himself at the time? These are very important questions.

Brunton’s repeated comments about these radiations of healing vibrations from Ramana involve several interrelated although inconsistent ideas:

(1) Brunton says that the radiations have a telepathic effect. Telepathy is one of the special powers or siddhis that interested Brunton. But as we shall see, Ramana does not at all emphasize the importance of siddhis.

(2) The idea that a realized Master can help others in silence is a theosophical idea. According to the teachings of the Theosophical Society, a Master or Mahatma was believed to possess extraordinary powers that were available to others. Already in 1989, Madame Blavatsky wrote the book The Voice of the Silence [45]. In their commentary on that book, Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater say,

The strength of many a man who is doing vigorous work in the world comes largely from others who are engaged in radiating spiritual force in meditation [46]. Brunton himself believe that a true sage would help others. He said that the term sage must be reserved for those who have sacrificed every future nirvanic beatitude in order to return to earth until all are saved. They feel for others and must return, since they have found the unity of all human beings [47].

(3) Brunton wanted to link these special powers with science. That was a common concern of both theosophy and of neo-Hinduism.

(4) The idea of helping the external world is also an idea of neo-Hinduism. Hacker says that there are passages in the Hindu scriptures that refer to loving others. For example, a wife may love her husband “because of the Self in the husband.” Ethics presuppose relationships. Relations between persons cannot be reduced to an egoism of the universal One (Hacker, 277, 306). An “egoism of the Ultimate” is not really the same as compassion towards others as others, which he sees developed in Vivekananda’s neo-Hinduism. Although Ramana was acquainted with the neo-Hindu ideas of Vivekananda as early as 1901 [48], and although Ramana adopted some of their ideas, he also makes some very traditional advaitic statements that there is no external world to help. For example, Ramana was asked by a disciple, “How can I help others?” Ramana replied:

Who is there for you to help? Who is the ‘I’ that is to help others? First clear up that point and then everything will settle itself [49].
Inasmuch as there is no ego in him, there are not others for him. […]When there is no mind he cannot be aware of others (Talks, 552; Dec. 20, 1938).

The scholar of Tibetan Studies, Evans-Wentz asked Ramana whether it not be better if a saint mixed with others? Ramana replied “There are no others to mix with. The Self is the one and only Reality” (Talks, 16).

A very interesting account of Ramana’s silence is given by Major A.W. Chadwick, also known as Sadhu Arunachala. Chadwick came to Ramana’s ashram on Nov 1, 1935, having heard of Ramana though Brunton’s book Search (Chadwick, 11). Chadwick asked Ramana about his vow of silence. Ramana said there was never any vow, but he had observed how convenient it was:

…while living in temple at one time he found himself seated for a while by a Sadhu who was observing such a vow and saw how convenient it was as the crowds did not worry the Sadhu in the same way as they worried him. So for convenience he pretended to copy him. “There was no vow, I just kept quiet, I spoke when it was necessary,” he explained. I asked him how long this had continued. “For about two years,” he replied. (Chadwick, 18)

Chadwick understood Ramana’s silence in terms of traditional advaitic monism, where there are no others to influence by any radiations. He says that Ramana’s mouna [silence] was mythical. Once he had achieved perfection, he just sought out quiet places where he thought that he would not be disturbed and where he might enjoy Bliss.

It was all a dream anyhow, so why do anything about it? Just sit somewhere and enjoy the Self. What did teaching others and helping the world signify? There were no others (Chadwick, 19).

If we look at reports of visits prior to Brunton, most of the emphasis is not on his silence but on how Ramana provided oral or written answers to disciples. Humphreys emphasizes that Ramana called forth appropriate words in response to questions by disciples. He says

A Master when instructing is far from any thought of instructing; but to feel a doubt or a difficulty in his presence is to call forth, at once, before you can express the doubt, the wonderful words which will clear away that doubt. The words never fail and the Master with his heart fixed on GOD, realising perfectly that no action is a personal one, making no claims to have either originated the thought or to have been the means of destroying a doubt, saying never “I” or “Mine”, seeing only GOD in every thought and action, whether they be yours or his, feels no surprise, no especial pleasure to himself in having allayed your doubt (Glimpses, 26).

So for Humphreys, the allaying of doubts is done by words, even if these words appear before one has expressed his doubts. He compares this to Jesus, whom he says was “utterly unconscious when He worked His miracles, and spoke His wonderful words” (Glimpses, 25).

Humphreys does say that Ramana had observed silence for two years. He broke this silence when he spoke to Ganapati Sastri. He says that this meeting with Sastri occurred six years before Humphreys visited Ramana in 1911 (Glimpses, 28). But even during his silence, Ramana was giving instructions by answering questions on written slips of paper. Some of these slips of paper were collected into Ramana’s book Self-Enquiry [50]. The emphasis was not on silent teaching, but on obtaining answers. Sometimes Ramana would just pick up a book and point to a passage in answer to a question (Narasimha, 73). It is interesting that Ramana later commented on this practice:

How could real mowna [silence] be achieved? Some people say that they are observing mowna by keeping their mouths shut but at the same time they go on writing something or other on bits of paper or on a slate. Is that not another form of activity of the mind? [51]

Thus, Ramana himself casts doubt on whether his silence in the caves was real mouna.

Narasimha also emphasizes that Ramana’s teaching was in words. He says that most people turn up to see Ramana with a vague desire to see a Swami noted for his selflessnesss and equanimity (Narasimha, 188). And he repeats Humphreys’ view that Ramana addresses some devotees on the very matter that they were seeking his help, but without their expressing themselves (Narasimha, 190). But when people come in to test Raman’s learning or skill in dialectics, it is then that Ramana becomes silent:

When such people arrive, he remains quiet in samadhi; and not infrequently the spirit of peace enters them, and they go away wiser (Narasimha, 191).

For example, if someone questioned Ramana about evolution or biology, he would remain silent. By his silence he would be “pointing out the inappropriateness of those questions” (Narasimha, 191). These references to Ramana’s silence are quite different than Brunton’s enthusiastic claims that Ramana was teaching and radiating energy by his silence. But there are also some writings that pre-date Brunton’s visit that emphasize the radiating power of Ramana’s presence. We have already referred to Humphreys’ account. Humphreys first met Ramana with Ganapati Sastri. Both had theosophical interests.

But as I have shown in Jivanmukta, Sastri also had many non-traditional Hindu influences, including tantra. If Ramana believed that his silence radiated power, then Ramana was probably also influenced by Sastri and these non-traditional sources. Kapali Sastri, a disciple of Ganapati Sastri, writes about the radiating power of Brahman as the universal fire within each individual:

His living is a source of joy and power ot the living of others, to the general progress of the world, of all beings, and of the human kind in particular that is closer to his level. Whether the others in the outer world know it or not, he radiates the rays of wisdom, throws out waves of life-giving strength, emanates the concrete influence spontaneously exercised for the onward march of the soul’s progress in others. Therefore other souls feel joyous and satisfied when they are drawn to him [52].

Narasimha’s refers to accounts by M. Sivaprakasam Pillai of visits with Ramana in 1902 and 1913. From these accounts, Narasimha infers that Ramana

…has a powerful, magnetic personality, that by staying with him for some time a person may change his life habits and instincts, and that by this grace one can receive faith in God as tangibly and certainly as one receives a fruit or a book (Narasimha, 76-77).

Another source for the idea of silent instruction is Shankara’s work on Dakshinamurti (a form of Siva used in mediation). Dakshinamurti is said to have taught by this silence. Ramana was asked about the significance of the silence of Dakshinamurti. His answer was

Many are the explanations given by scholars and sages. Have it any way you please (Talks, 119; Jan 6, 1936).

Ramana therefore seemed to allow disciples to project whatever views they wanted on his silence. Chadwick reports that Ramana “was like a mirror which seemed to reflect back your own feelings” (Chadwick, 15). But later Ramana said that Dakshinamurti gave initiation (diksha) by silence (Talks, 402; Dec. 26, 1937). And a year later, Ramana gave a more extended talk on Dakshinamurti’s silence. Ramana said that those who saw Dakshinamurti as he sat in perfect repose themselves fell into samadhi and their doubts were at an end (Talks 528; Nov. 7, 1938). There was a picture of Dakshinamurti painted on the wall next to Raman’s dais. There was also a portrait of Sri Ramakrishna (Osborne, 146). Ramakrishna was the teacher of Vivekananda, who transformed Ramakrishna’s teachings into the neo-Hindu concern for the world.

Go to Part 2 of this Article


[1] The Maharshi 7, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1997), online at [http://www.arunachala.org/NewsLetters/1997/sep_oct.html].

[2] Paul Brunton (under the name Brunton Paul): "With a Southern Indian Tantrist," Occult Review 56 (July, 1932).

[3] Paul Brunton: A Search in Secret India (London: Rider & Co., 1934) [‘Search’].

[4][ C. Richard Wright: “The Spread of Self Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Sat-Sanga) over the Earth” [www.ananda.it/yogananda/india1935/india19.html]. The visit is also described in Ramana Maharshi: Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramansramam, 1994, first published 1939), 101-103 [‘Talks’].

[5] Anthony N. Perovich, Jr.: “Does the Philosophy of Mysticism rest on a Mistake?” in The Problem of Pure Consciousness, ed. Robert K.C. Forman (Oxford, 1990).

[6] Paul Brunton: The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (London: Rider & Co., 1969, first published 1941), 25. [‘Hidden Teaching’]. Note: Brunton’s books have been published several times, and page references in these various editions are not uniform.

[7] Frank H Humphreys.: Glimpses of the Life and Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (Tiruvannamalai 1999) ['Glimpses’]. The book is based on articles that Humphreys first published in The International Psychic Gazette, May 1913, 295ff; June 1913, 327ff; and July 1913, 357ff.

[8] Although Humphreys and Brunton were clearly interested in Madame Blavatsky’s type of theosophy, it should be pointed out that not all theosophy is of that type. Notwithstanding Blavatsky’s belief that she incorporated previous theosophy, there are other kinds of theosopy. For example, Gershom Scholem says that ‘theosophy’ should not be understood in the sense of Madame Blavatsky’s later movement of that name:

Theosophy postulates a kind of divine emanation whereby God, abandoning his self-contained repose, awakens to mysterious life; further, it maintains that the mysteries of creation reflect the pulsation of this divine life. Gershom G. Scholem: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1961), 206.

And I have written about the Christian theosophy of Franz von Baader and the tradition of Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme. These writers rejected occult powers. Although they believed that creation is an expression of God’s wisdom, they did not regard creation in a pantheistic identification with God. Creation reflects, images the dynamic movement out of the Godhead, but it is also distinct from it.

[9] Swami B.V. Narasimha: Self Realization: The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (Tiruvannamalai, 1993, first published 1931) [‘Narasimha’].

[10] J. Glenn Friesen: “Ramana Maharshi: Hindu and Non-Hindu Interpretations of a Jivanmukta.” [‘Jivanmukta’].

[11] By 'neo-Hinduism', I am using Paul Hacker’s meaning of Hinduism that has been influenced by western thought. He particularly focuses on Vivekananda’s incorporation of Western ideas. See Wilhelm Halbfass, ed., Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedanta (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995)

[‘Hacker’]. Also Wilhelm Halbfass: India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988).

[12] Annie Cahn Fung: “Paul Brunton: A Bridge Between India and the West,” Doctoral thesis, Sorbonne, 1992). Online at [http://wisdomsgoldenrod.org/publications/] [‘Cahn Fung’].

[13] Kenneth Thurston Hurst: Paul Brunton: a Personal View (Burdett, N.Y.: Larson Publications,1989), 63 [‘Hurst’].

[14] J. Glenn Friesen: Abhishiktananda’s Non-monistic Advaitic Experience (University of South Africa, 2001), online at [http://www.members.shaw.ca/abhishiktananda/].

[15] Paul Brunton: The Secret Path (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1935) [‘Secret Path’].

[16] Gottfried de Purucker: Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, first published 1932), chapter 48. (Available online [http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/fund/fund-1.htm].

[17] H.P. Blavatsky: The Secret Doctrine (London: Theosophical Publishing Co., 1888). The following references appear in the index to that work:

brooding over the Earth I 375
Emerson's, not world soul I 140
Emerson's, or Alaya I 48
identity of all souls w I 17
universal sixth principle I 17

[18] The name Ananda Metteya means “bliss of loving kindness.”

[19] Alan Bennett: A Biographical Sketch of a Friend and Acquaintance of Aleister Crowley,” [http://www.redflame93.com/BennettAlan.html].

[20] Allan Bennet (Ananda Metteya): The Religion of Burma (Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1923). Allan

Bennet (Ananda Metteya): The Wisdom of the Aryas (London: Kegan Paul, 1923).

[21] Allan Bennet: “Buddhist Gratitude to Henry Steel Olcott,” Theosophical Review 42, (June, 1908), 363. Col. Olcott was of course one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society.

[22] Graeme Lyall: “Buddhism and the Future of Humanity,” [http://www.buddhistcouncil.org/budfut.htm].

[23] Michael Juste: The White Brother: an Occult Autobiography (London: Rider & Co., 1927). It is available for download online [http://wisdomsgoldenrod.org/publications/]

[24] Frederic W. Thurstan was one of the incorporators of the London Spiritualist Society. See

[http://www.spirithistory.com/98lond.html]. Two article sthat he wrote for The Theosophist are: "The Visit of Apollonius to the Mahatmas of India," Theosophist 11 (Feb. 1890) and "Ordeals & Mysteries of Ancient Egypt," Theosophist 16 (Jul 1895). See also footnote 25.

[25] M [‘Thurston’]: Dayspring of Youth (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970; first published London: Putnam, 1933) [‘Dayspring’]. The title ‘Dayspring’ appears to be a reference to Jacob Boehme’s Aurora: The Dayspring, or the Dawning of the Day in the East.

[26] M [‘Thurston’]: The Lord God of Truth Within (Los Angeles: Phoenix Press, 1942).

[27] Villars, Nicolas Pierre Henri de Montfaucon, Le Comte de Gabalis: Discourses on the secret sciences and mysteries, in accordance with the principles of the ancient magi and the wisdom of the Kabalistic philosophers, Newly rendered into English with commentary and annotations (London : William Rider & Son, 1922). There may be an earlier undated edition; some antiquarian bookshops suggest a date of circa 1914.

[28] Juste reports that he and Brunton broke their ties to the Theosophical Society because they came under the influence of a “false prophet" referred to as 'S.' (Juste, 40). Thus, it is not necessarily the case that Brunton left the Theosophical Society because he was no longer interested in occultism. Besides, Brunton later became a member of the Spiritualist Society.

[29] Excerpt from an article in The London Forum, ca. 1930, cited by Cahn Fung, I, 15.

[30] As mentioned in footnote 24, F.W. Thurstan was one of the incorporators of the London Spiritualist Society. Since it appears that Brunton joined the Spiritualist Society after leaving the Theosophical Society, then this would be a time when he was influenced by Thurston. This is further, although still inconclusive, evidence that Thurstan and F.W. Thurstan may be the same person.

[31] See The Builder Magazine (July 1922 - Volume VIII - Number 7 ) online at [http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1922_july.htm] regarding publishing of the Occult Review.

[32] Cahn Fung I, 16, citing The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, NY: Larson, 1984), VIII, 4, 148) [‘Notebooks’].

[33] Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson: My Father’s Guru: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1993), 91 [‘Masson’]. The title of this book summarizes Masson's experience with Brunton. Masson has raised some serious criticisms of Brunton, who acted as a guru to Masson's father and uncle Bernard for many years. In 1967, Brunton fraudulently tried to cause a table to rise, lifting it with his own hands when he had told everyone to keep their eyes closed for a demonstration of powers.

[34] Paul Brunton (under the name Brunton Paul): "With a Southern Indian Tantrist," Occult Review 56 (July, 1932).

[35] Paul Brunton: Paul Brunton: Essential Readings, ed. Joscelyn Godwin (Aquarian Press, Northamptonshire, 1990), 12 [‘Essential’].

[36] Ramana Maharshi: Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramansramam, 1994, first published 1939), 4; Jan. 6, 1935 [‘Talks’].

[37] A.W. Chadwick (Sadhu Arunachala): A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramansramam, 1994, first published 1961) [‘Chadwick’].

[38] A. Devaraja Mudaliar: Day by Day with Bhagavan (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1995, first published 1968), 77 [‘Day by Day’].

[39] Paul Brunton: The Maharshi and his Message: A Selection from A Search in Secret India (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasraman, no date).

[40] Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramiah: Conscious Imortality (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramansramam 1984, revised in 1996) [‘Conscious Immortality’].

[41] See “From the Early Days," The Maharshi 7, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1997, online at [http://www.arunachala.org/NewsLetters/1997/sep_oct.html]. This article was first published in the September 1931 monthly magazine called PEACE, the journal of Swami Omkar's Shanti Ashrama in Andhra Pradesh. It was later reprinted in the April, 1966 issue of the Mountain Path, a journal started by Ramana’s disciple Arthur Osborne.

[42] Graeme Lyall: “Buddhism and the Future of Humanity,” [http://www.buddhistcouncil.org/budfut.htm].

[43] George I.E. Knight: Intimate Glimpses of Mysterious Tibet and Neighbouring Countries (1930). The publicity for the book reads as follows:

While riding on a bus in London in 1921, the author came upon the following paragraph in a discarded magazine: "What a splendid opportunity now exists for securing the first motion pictures of Lhasa, the Forbidden City of Tibet."
This chance occurrence inspired a merry little jaunt for five friends to visit Tibet. Not for a moment did they consider the many political and physical obstacles that stood in their way. Their view was: "If the Governments of India and Tibet refused to grant us permission to proceed to Lhasa in a gentlemanly way, there was an alternative course of action.

[44] F. Fletcher wrote a review of The Sixth Sense: Psychic Origin, Rationale & Development in Theosophical Review 41 (February 1980), 574. And as mentioned in footnote 21, Bennet, under the name of Bikkhu Ananda Metteya wrote an article linking Buddhism and theosophy: “Buddhist Gratitude to Henry Steel Olcott.”

[45] Helena Petrovna Blavatsky: The Voice of the Silence: Being an Extract from the Book of the Golden Precepts (1989).

[46] Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, Commentary on the Voice of the Silence (Madras, 1926) online at [http://www.anandgholap.net/Voice_Of_Silence-Commentary-AB_CWL.htm].

[47] Paul Brunton: The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Vol. 10,”The Orient” 2:470).

[48] See footnote 50 below.

[49] Ramananda Swarnagiri: Crumbs from His Table (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramansramam1995, first published 1963), 30-31 [‘Crumbs’].

[50] Narasimha reports (p. 23) that from 1900, G. Seshier of Tiruvannamalai visited Ramana. Seshier was studying yoga, especially Vivekananada’s English lectures on Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga and an English translation of the Rama Gita. He brought these books to Ramana and mentioned his difficulties. Ramana

…then went through each of them and wrote out in easy Tamil prose the gist of these works on bits of paper and answered similarly supplemental questions. Thus Seshier had quite a sheaf of these slips written by the swami in 1900, 1901 and 1902, and he copied them into a small note-book.

Narasimha says that it is from these slips and Seshier’s notebook that Ramana’s book Vichara Sangraha (Self-Enquiry) was published (pp. 73-74). This fact is of enormous importance, since it shows that Ramana was exposed to Vivekananda’s neo-Hinduism at a very early date.

[51] Suri Nagamma: Letters from Sri Ramanasramam, (Tiruvannamali, 1995, first published 1962 and 1969), 236, Sept. 3, 1947 [‘Letters’].

[52] T.V. Kapali Sastri, Collected Works I, 215. Cited in Prema Nandakumar: T.V. Kapali Sastri (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1998).


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