A Search in Secret India by Paul Brunton
Created: Sat Mar 20 16:06:16 2010 | Last modified: Sat Mar 20 16:06:16 2010
Paul Brunton is one of the most well-known spiritual seekers of the 20th century and in this book, he shows us his fascinating journey of exploration of those lesser known aspects of India in search of a true spiritual guru.
When I read this book, I was simply fascinated by two aspects: first, how a westerner approaches some of the wildest parts of India alone and fully prepared to meet disappointments and obstacles. Secondly, the immense thirst for spiritual progress that is within Brunton which allows him to seek out the true Yogis and Rishis while distinguishing them from the lower aspirants, the dark practitioners of occult (the Black Magicians), the street jugglers and performers and the plain frauds. It is obvious from the beginning that Brunton was not satisfied with theories but that he needed a true demonstration of a Yogi's powers. In the first half of his quest, we read about his meeting with a few Yogis who show him the right path and also some self-proclaimed Messiahs who have much to say but little to show. Paul Brunton's ruthless logic, analysis and his stubborn insistence on proof of spirituality and Yogic powers sometimes helps him and sometimes confuses him. The true Yogis are not interested in showing off their powers, and Brunton quickly realises this.
The turning point of Brunton's journey comes when he meets one of the greatest spiritual giants of India and indeed the world, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi - one of the highest gurus in the most revered lineage of spiritual supermen. With the guidance and blessings of the Shankaracharya, Paul Brunton's journey becomes less sporadic and more focussed. The clear difference in this half of the book is seen by the way he approaches the holy men of India. He unconsciously loses some of his cynicism, but still holds on to his science and logic to help him on his quest. He finally ends the journey at Arunachala hills - the home of one of the spiritual beacons of the 20th century: Ramana Maharishi.
At this point one would have suspected that Brunton would have found true peace at last. But his western training, his in-built cynicism and natural doubts start taking over his mind once again and he becomes restless again. Once again he starts his travels around India in search of Yogis and spiritual men who can really give him solid, physical proof of their powers. Once again, and unsurprisingly, he meets a few disappointments and ends up a confused man. Finally just before he decides to leave India for good, he has another inspiration (a vision or a dream?) which brings him back to Ramana Maharishi, and Brunton realises at long last that he has found his true spiritual Guru.
For those interested in spirituality and religion, Brunton's book is a real eye-opener. His writing style is smooth and easy, and yet slightly awkward at times. Brunton sometimes also irritates the reader with traces of egotism when he easily dismisses something as being nonsensical. His insistence of physical proof also grates the reader sometimes, because spirituality and religion don't always lend themselves to proof but to personal experience. The turning point comes when Brunton realises this fact, thanks to his experiences at the Ramana Ashram. Brunton's curiosity also helps him seek out some of the lesser, but more interesting characters, like the snake charmers, the street jugglers and the low-down black magician who work on the streets for the sake of a few pies or annas. His recounting of some of these experiences also help the book flow and lighten up the atmosphere. In that way, his two meetings with the "Messiah" Meher Baba is one of the most hilarious parts of the book.
On the whole, a truly fascinating book that shows the physical and spiritual journey of a true aspirant and also a book that provides a road-map to future spiritual seekers. That his book is targetted at a Western audience is very clear. Though written in the early part of the 20th century, this book continues to inspire even today. At a time when most Westerners considered India to be a dark land of primitive people, Paul Brunton takes the time and trouble to show otherwise. Truly a laudable effort. I give it a 5/5 purely for its authenticity and readability, if not anything else.