An overview of what\'s to be done

The Notebooks of Paul Brunton volume 3
Practices for the Quest /
Relax and Retreat
by Paul Brunton
Philosophy / Spiritual Life


5.75 x 8.5, softcover
(hardcover edition is available)
390 pages


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Part 1, Practices for the Quest, goes to the heart of various disciplines, exercises, and techniques that are useful at various stages of spiritual self-discovery and self-development. It explains what qualities must be developed, why they must be developed, how they can be developed, and how that development is tested by life itself.

Part 2, Relax and Retreat, lays the cornerstone for a modern life of inspired sanity. It addresses the urgent need in our times to neutralize the hectic pace and mounting tensions of contemporary life with a deliberately cultivated spiritual equilibrium. To that end, it is a practical course in balancing periods of extroverted activity with recuperative periods of creative inner stillness. The skills developed through applying the techniques of this category provide a foundation for stable progress in all aspects of the spiritual Quest.


Contents of this volume



What is the Long Path?
Purification and development of character
Confronting the obstacles within
Attitudes that help or hinder
Sources, signs, and stages of growth
Understanding the pace of development
Facing the problems of development
Its nature
Its development
Engage the whole being
Cultivate balance
Be objective
Apply the will
On time and solitude
Spiritual path
The development of the work
The working of Grace


Balance inner and outer
Shorter pauses
Longer pauses
Price of excessive extroversion
The true place of peace
What is needed today?
Motives for entering
Problems, limitations
Dangers of solitude

Review highlights

“. . . a veritable treasure-trove of philosophic-spiritual wisdom.” —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“. . . sensible and compelling.  His work can stand beside that of such East-West bridges as Merton, Huxley, Suzuki, Watts, and Radhakrishnan.  It should appeal to anyone concerned personally and academically with issues of spirituality.” —Choice

“Vigorous, clear-minded and independent . . . a synthesis of Eastern mysticism and Western rationality. . . A rich volume.” —Library Journal

“. . . a great gift to us Westerners who are seeking the spiritual.” Charles T. Tart

“A person of rare intelligence. . . thoroughly alive, and whole in the most significant, 'holy' sense of the word.” —Yoga Journal

For reviews of the complete Notebooks series, click here.

Editors Introduction


EDITORS' INTRODUCTION for category two, Practices for the Quest

Practices for the Quest goes to the heart of various disciplines, exercises, and techniques useful at various stages of spiritual self-discovery and self-development. It explains what qualities must be developed, why they must be developed, how they can be developed, and how that development is tested by life itself.

The previous category, The Quest, concerns itself with the discovery of the quest for self-realization and the general principles involved in spiritual seeking. Practices for the Quest concerns itself with an overview of the actually living the Quest, insofar as its goal can be approached through our own daily efforts. Many of the themes introduced here are developed more in the next eighteen categories of The Notebooks. This category presents the interrelationship of the various facets of the work involved. It makes clear the extent to which every element of our being must eventually be turned to that greatest of goals.

P.B. specified less by way of structure for this category than for any other in his overall outline of The Notebooks. He provided only the main title (Practices for the Quest, which he subtitled "An Overview of the Practices") and two principal subdivisions: "Ant's Long Path" and "Work on Oneself." Those of us working on this material found these two divisions--particularly the second--much too broad to give readers an adequate notion of the details the category explores. So we devised the structure and titles of all but the first chapter in this section. We structured the section as follows.

Chapters one through three are primarily for the person about to enter, or newly entered upon, the Quest. They examine what kind of development is necessary, and how to evaluate one's progress. Though these issues are somewhat abstract and theoretical, the perspective they offer is indispensable for getting a clear idea of what such a person is trying--or is about to start trying--to accomplish.

Chapter four begins a second level of approach to the practices: an approach that is relevant for all questers, no matter how long they have been practicing, no matter what experiences they have lived or what development they have achieved. This chapter and the rest in the category deal with issues that confront novice and proficient alike--both the person who has yet to experience any reliable inner illumination and the one who has achieved an abiding measure of success. P.B. makes eminently clear that while character development may not seem relevant at all stages of the Quest, it becomes--in the final stages--one of the most deciding factors in the passage to permanent enlightenment.

Most importantly, this category as a whole distinguishes, clarifies, and begins to reconcile two fundamentally different attitudes underlying and preconditioning stages of spiritual development: the "Long Path" of self-improvement and character development, and the "Short Path" of ego-renunciation and illumination. It shows the relative usefulness of each of these attitudes at appropriate stages of self-development. As P.B. clearly considered a certain amount of Long Path development an indispensable prerequisite to fruitful use of Short Path techniques, this section emphasizes the techniques and developments of the former. The Short Path attitude and its corresponding techniques, touched upon only briefly here, are fully developed in category twenty-three.

Editorial conventions for this category are the same as explained in the introductions to Perspectives and The Quest. Likewise, (P) at the end of a para here indicates that the para also appears in Perspectives.

EDITORS' INTRODUCTION for category three, Relax and Retreat

Relax and Retreat lays the cornerstone for a modern life of inspired sanity. It addresses the urgent need in our times to neutralize the hectic pace and mounting tensions of contemporary life with a deliberately cultivated spiritual equilibrium. To that end, it is a practical course in balancing periods of extroverted activity with recuperative periods of creative inner stillness. The skills developed through applying the techniques of this category provide a foundation for stable progress in all aspects of the spiritual Quest.

The category title and the broad general divisions that serve as chapter titles are P.B.'s own. We have provided only the tertiary divisions.

Editorial conventions for this category are the same as explained in the introductions to Perspectives and The Quest. Likewise, (P) at the end of a para here indicates that the para also appears in Perspectives.



Excerpts from Notebooks category two, Practices for the Quest


Attitudes that help or hinder

He will have to recognize that not only the universe outside but his own nature inside is governed by precise laws, and that his spiritual progression is subject to such laws, too.

If the request for enlightenment comes from the bottom of your heart, the answer will likewise be given there. It may come at once, or after a long time. If you are too impatient, if you don't find it worth waiting for, if you give up too soon, you do not deserve it.

So long as he is measuring every inch of his progress along the spiritual path, so long as he is constantly measuring and often admiring his own virtues, he is really so preoccupied with his own ego that his bondage to it becomes more dangerous as it becomes more deceptive.

To the extent that he opens himself out passively to the higher self, its guidance, instruction, and messages, to that extent he will make real and safe progress. But he must be careful not to try to impose his own ideas upon this guidance, not to seek to instruct the mystic Instructor, not to interfere with the process of transmission from the higher self to the egoic mind.

With the intelligence to perceive and the frankness to confess his faults and shortcomings, progress becomes possible. Without them it remains slow and halting.

The key to understanding Lao Tzu's book, The Simple Way, is to understand that it describes a goal and not a path to a goal. It does not give advice to aspirants as to what they should do, but it describes the actualized condition of an adept. Hence it would be foolish for aspirants to adopt its policy of Wu-wei, meaning inaction, doing nothing, to take one instance, and let everything be done for them - as it would be foolish for a sheep to dress itself up in the skin of a lion and then attempt the exploits of a lion. It would be foolish for a beginner to apply the technique, adopt the way of life, assume the power, and expect the results of an adept. He would begin with self-deception and end with confusion. He would fail because he has not yet himself attained contact with the ruling power.

Progress does not consist in picking up different scraps from a medley of cults and sects. It consists in hard work in meditation, in taking oneself well in hand, in reflective study.

The way to make these changes for most people is not the herculean sudden way. It is to make them gradually and progressively, as the direction to do so comes from within themselves. Until then they will wait; they will not heroically go over to the new regime prematurely, just because some book or some reformer or some lecturer urges them to do so. This may not be the most self-flattering way but it is the most prudent way. They will not be troubled by secret longings for the abandoned regime.

It would be wrong to expect that he must duplicate somebody else's mystical experiences and equally wrong to regard himself as a failure because he does not have these experiences.


Understanding the pace of development

If the purpose of life on earth be a wide and deep spiritual growth, and if one attends above all else to that purpose, then whatever the future may bring it could only bring fresh material for such growth. Its own uncertainty cannot dissipate this certainty. One's growth is guaranteed, whether the future be pleasant or unpleasant, so long as one lives in the present strictly according to his dedicated ideal.

Life is a struggle and man is frail. Hindrances are around him on every side and limitations are within him on every occasion. Therefore, what is essential is that right direction should always be present, and what is important is that the ideal of the quest should never be abandoned.

The direction in which we are to move and the purpose which is to engage our striving are more valuable, more important, than program and plan. They are more flexible, leave one freer.

Such aims are not going to be achieved in a single day. They will take years, nay an entire lifetime, even to approach. The defects inside himself and the hindrances outside himself may in the end prove too much for a man. What then is he to do? Shall he show his humility and realism by renouncing these lofty aspirations altogether and give up trying to improve himself? Or shall he carry on with a hopeless fight, one foredoomed to unbroken defeat? He should do neither. He should inwardly hold to his aspirations as firmly as ever but he should outwardly defer his attempts to promote them until the next birth. He must fix them before his eyes as something to work for one day or he will not get nearer them at all. A sound aim, a right intention, is of the first importance. Let personal limitations and external circumstances create what delays they will, he will know at least that his feet are planted on the right path, his movement headed in the right direction.

In most cases this quest requires a change in the way of life, both mental and physical. But the aspirant may set his own pace if he is unwilling or unable to make the change more drastically or more rapidly. The essential point is that he knows and accepts the direction and the ideal - both.

The aspirant who gets discouraged because no light falls upon his path, no Glimpse flashes into his mind, no mystical experience comes to delight his heart, no revelation opens secret doors, may make a last attempt to secure one by threatening to leave the quest altogether unless it is received quickly! A neophyte I knew practised a certain exercise for about a year, then gave it up, folded his tent, and left; another delivered a challenge to the higher power, giving It two months in which to appear. Otherwise he, too, would abandon the quest, which he did when the time passed. What was this second man doing but dictating to the Overself and demanding that It conform to his little ego's requirements? The correct attitude would have been to declare that even if he died before any encouraging experience occurred, he would still be faithful to the quest. It is still worthwhile for its own sake, quite apart from its rewards. If these impatient aspirants really understood its preciousness, they would then understand that it is not the distance travelled but the direction taken which really matters!

From chapter 5, BALANCE THE PSYCHE

Engage the whole being

What we can do is to prepare favourable conditions for the Light of the Overself's appearance or for the manifestation of its Grace. This is the role and function of mystical technique and is as far as it can go. There is no technique which can guarantee to offer more than such preparation. If it does, it is quackery.

The impelling force of an ardent desire for self-improvement must unite with the attracting spell of the Overself's beauty to give him the strength for these labours and disciplines. On the one side, he reflects on the disadvantages of yielding to his faults and weaknesses - on the other, to the benefits of establishing the virtues and qualities of his higher nature.

A rich, many-sided personality may still be in the process of accumulating experience and unfolding potentialities. Experience alone is a hard path; it should be backed by reason, intuition, and correct counsel. But reason is useful for truth-finding only when it is detached and impersonal; intuition must be genuine and not camouflaged impulse or wishful-thinking; and correct counsel may be obtained only from the most inspired, and not the merely sophisticated, sources.

Whoever wishes to develop beyond the spiritual level of the mass of mankind must begin by changing the normal routine of mankind. He must reflect, pray, and meditate daily. He must scrutinize all his activities by the light of philosophy's values and ethics. He may even have to change his residence, if possible, for serenity of mind and discipline of passion are more easily achievable in a rural village than in an urban city.

He should never forget that in his metaphysical studies or mystical practices he is working towards an ultimate goal which lies beyond both metaphysics and mysticism. He is preparing himself to become a philosopher, fitting himself to be granted the Overself's Grace, unfolding passive intuition and critical intelligence only that the transcendental insight may itself be unfolded.

He has to learn how to surrender his egotism and swallow his pride. He has to cleanse his heart of impurity and then open it to divinity.

The philosophic life is a steadily disciplined, not a severely ascetic one.

The aspiration toward the higher self must be formally repeated in daily prayer, cherished in daily retreats, and kept vivid in daily study.

So long as man is imperfect in character, defective in intelligence, and mechanical in sense-response to his environment, so long must he seek to improve the first, perfect the second, and liberate the third. And there is no better way to achieve these aims than to pursue a philosophic course of conduct and thought.


Excerpts from Notebooks category three, Relax and Retreat


The world clamours for attention and participation. God alone is silent, undemanding, unaggressive.

It is not that the soul cannot be found in populous cities but that it can be found more easily and more quickly in solitary retreats. Its presence comes more clearly there. But to learn how to keep it, we have to return to the cities again.


Perhaps these pages may impart a flavour of that unforgettable quiet which counters the tumult of today's existence.

He must make two demands on society if he is to accomplish his purpose - solitude and time. And if society is unprepared and therefore unwilling to grant them, he must take them by force. If this leads, as it may, to the false criticism that he is self-centered and proud, he must accept this as part of the cost of growth.

A modern way of spiritual living for busy city-dwellers would be to carry out all normal duties but to retreat from them from time to time into rural solitude for special meditation and study. In the town itself, they should manage to find a half to one hour every day for prayer and mental quiet.

If you begin the day with love in your heart, peace in your nerves, and truth in your mind, you not only benefit by their presence but also bring them to others - to your family or friends, and to all those whom destiny draws across your path that day.

This withdrawal from the day's turmoil into creative silence is not a luxury, a fad, or a futility. It is a necessity, because it tries to provide the conditions wherein we are able to yield ourselves to intuitive leadings, promptings, warnings, teachings, and counsels and also to the inspiring peace of the soul. It dissolves mental tensions and heals negative emotions.

We need these interludes of mental quiet.

Lucky is the man who, in these days, can extricate himself from society without passing permanently into the cloister. Yet luck is only apparent, for no one can do it without firm determination and stubborn persistence.

The aggressive world of our time needs to learn how to get out of time. The active world needs to learn to sit still, mentally and physically, without becoming bored.

If we give a part of the day to the purposes of study, prayer, meditation, and physical care, it may begin as a duty but it may end as a joy.


The beauty we see in a single flower points to a MIND capable of thinking such beauty. In the end Nature and Art point to God.

The most spectacular of all full moons in the western hemisphere and the one which lingers longest is the harvest moon which ends the summer and precedes the autumn. This provides a special chance for meditations.

Even if we take the Buddhistic view that all is transient, all is subject to change, and all is doomed to decay, we need not deny that the beauty and the pleasure to be found in physical life, however momentarily, still have their value. Is a field of flowers utterly worthless? Is the loveliness of a sunset to be utterly rejected?

Nature produces new or nobler feelings in the more sensitive wanderers into her domain. The sunset's peace, the dawn's promise of hope, and the pleasure of beauty's presence are always worthwhile and should fill us with gratitude.

His true father or mother is Nature.

Even the huge anthropoid apes - so near to man - have been observed to bow their heads solemnly and respectfully before the brightness of the rising moon.

It is a mysterious fact that high aspirations and good resolutions born between Christmas and Easter will be more successful during the subsequent twelve months than those born later in the year.

It is an error to confuse the inert simplicity and animal naturalness of the peasant with the dynamic simplicity and spiritual naturalness of the sophisticated philosopher.

The wisdom of the Overself is the wisdom of Nature. When the new spring leaves arrive birds build their nests the better to hide them.

He will accomplish this disciplinary work best if he retires to the quietude and contemplation of Nature, to a country seclusion where he can be least distracted and most uplifted. Here is the temple where aspiration for the Higher Self can find its best outlet; here is the monastery where discipline of the lower self can be easiest undertaken.


The two great daily pauses in Nature offer wonderful minutes when we, her children, should pause too. Sunrise is the chance and time to prepare inwardly for activity; sunset to counterbalance it. We do not take proper advantage of the gifts of Nature but let ourselves be defeated by the conditions in which we have to live under our times and civilization.

Dusk is my mystic hour. With its soft coming I am drawn again to turn away from the world and recognize the divine presence within me.

The diurnal miracle of sunrise and the nocturnal fascination of sunset are worth much more than every minute we give them. This is not only because we owe so much to the great orb, but because we can get so much from the salutations themselves.

A profound feeling of reverence for the Sun should be a part of the worship, the visible orb being regarded as the vesture worn by the Great Being behind it.

The distant horizon, bathed in a sunset of quivering amethyst light, gives joy to the heart, uplift to the reverent worshipper of the Holy and Benign.

How lovely are those reddened evenings when the sun is about to bid us adieu! How the heart is warmed and the mind enlightened as it harmonizes with the hush of eventide. It is then so easy to receive what the poet called "intimations of immortality."

The sun's dying touch turned the field to sudden gold.

The minutes between light and dark just after the sun's setting are precious to him.

Fascinated by the utter beauty of a fiery sunset, held and hypnotized by it, the turning away merely to continue a piece of work, to eat a meal or to go out on some business seems reprehensible sacrilege. And perhaps it is. It is in such moments that a glimpse of God's presence becomes possible. For the consciousness is carried outside the ego, desire is diverted to savouring the mysterious stillness, and thought's constant labour is subdued or, if good luck prevails, even suspended.

The Incas of South America plainly taught that God was unknown and unknowable and therefore unworshippable, but that his highest creation being the Sun, the latter was the visible God for man and fit to be worshipped.

11 Plato tells us of the Greeks prostrating themselves before the sun at its rising and setting. Hence it is not only an Indian custom but one which other enlightened ancients practised.