Daily life as practice, world-crisis, beauty

The Notebooks of Paul Brunton volume 9
Human Experience
The Arts in Culture
by Paul Brunton
Fine Arts / Spirituality


5.75 x 8.5, softcover
(hardcover is available)
400 pages

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Part 1, Human Experience, examines the spiritual lessons implicit in daily living, the need for educational reforms, the causes and purposes of personal suffering, special problems and opportunities of youth and age, problems of marriage and relationship, and how to convert contemporary crises into opportunities for dramatic spiritual growth.

Part 2, The Arts in Culture, reverently explores the role of the Beautiful in human culture, with sections on inspired art, creativity, genius, and the relationship of art and spiritual life.

Table of Contents

Category Thirteen: HUMAN EXPERIENCE

          Daily life as spiritual opportunity
          Spiritual laws structure experience
          Experience as personal teacher
          Spiritual truth in practical life
          Getting the point
          Sunshine and shadow
          Causes of suffering
          Different reactions to suffering
          Purpose of suffering
          Transformation of suffering
          A play of opposites
          Status of the herd
          Reconciling the mystical and mundane
          How to treat opportunity
          Seeking guidance
          Worldly success
          Effects of environment, change
          Cultivate an active attitude
          Relations with others
          Reflections on youth
          Reflections in old age
          Crisis and visible effects
          Causes, meaning of crisis
          Historical perspectives
          New era in evolution
          New age directions
          Role of philosophy, mysticism now
          Need for wisdom, peace
          Good will ultimately prevail

Category Fourteen: THE ARTS IN CULTURE

          The arts and spirituality
          Value of aesthetic environment
          Sacred mission of art
          Criticism of "modern art"
          Genius, inspiration, technique
          Writing, literature, poetry
          Inspired revelatory writing
          Stage, cinema, dance
          Painting, sculpture, architecture

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 13, Human Experience

This category explores the spiritual demand to cultivate one's full humanity.

Human Experience radiates the sun of spiritual meaning and purpose through the opportunities and vicissitudes of daily living. Throughout his long career of spiritual service, Paul Brunton constantly reiterated this theme: every human experience has meaning and is related to a universal purpose. He considered it "a paradox of the strongest irony that the place where we can best find the Overself [the individual link with God] is not in another world, but in this one, that the chance to grow enduringly out of darkness into light is better here.''

The comprehensiveness of P.B.'s approach to full human development matured into an outlook that incorporates classical Eastern and contemporary Western ideas, yet transcends both in its universality and relevance for modern spiritual practitioners. Through it we can combine the best points of the mystical and the humanistic views.

Like a humanist, P.B. insists that spiritual maturity and integrity are best expressed through bringing tolerance, compassion, rectitude, and dependability into character and conduct. Like a mystic, he reverently acknowledges the benefic omnipresence of a greater God and the urgency of seeking ecstatic mystical union with it. Unlike the secular humanist, however, he does not extol the virtues of human character as a suitable substitute for conscious inner communion with deity. Unlike the majority of mystics, he does not return from his ecstatic raptures either to belittle everyday human experience as worthless illusion or to overpraise it as even more lovely than God intended. His rich, balanced, and thoroughly rational insight exposes and leads us beyond the various shortcomings of each of these points of view.

For P.B., a higher power has invested in us being, life, intelligence, intuition, and numerous other potential powers. Events and circumstances are intelligently ordered as opportunities intended to elicit our qualities and our exercise of those powers. Yet it is we who choose whether the qualities we respond with are positive or negative, whether the powers we actualize are used for good or ill. In the same moment that unalterable fate presents its stimulus, we exercise the freedom of our own personal response. The inner qualities we choose to align ourselves with, and express in our reactions to what life presents, indicate what is needed for the next step in our spiritual growth. In this sense life tests us, not to give us a grade, but to show us ourselves and the consequences of the self we have chosen. Through the consequences we learn the wisdom or lack of wisdom in our past choices and revise our future ones on the basis of what we have learned. It is a process of forming our own character, and in so doing, contributing to our collective destiny--that is, to what life can offer humanity as a world to live in today.

In this context of the interaction of self-chosen character and consequent circumstance, P.B. explores in chapter four various aspects of the present world-crisis. Though many readers may feel as we did for quite some time--that the material in this section fits more appropriately with the material in the third chapter The Negatives (category eleven)--P.B.'s outline does indeed call for placing the world-crisis material in the context of Human Experience.

In arranging the material to accommodate this outline, we have come to see the sense of doing so. We hope that readers likewise will see the usefulness of having been prepared for this world-crisis chapter by material in the preceding chapters of Human Experience. Nonetheless, there are significant points of overlap between the world-crisis material and The Negatives: we recommend that the two sections be considered together for a full view of P.B.'s thoughts on this subject.

Editorial conventions here are the same as stated in the introductions to Perspectives and The Quest. Likewise, (P) at the end of a para indicates that it also appears in Perspectives, the introductory volume to this series.

EDITORS' INTRODUCTION for category 14, The Arts in Culture

While opportunity and choice may be keywords for Human Experience (the previous category), beauty is unquestionably the keyword for The Arts in Culture. What the previous category does for the cultivation of unassailable integrity, this one does for the cultivation of aesthetic refinement. In this section, P.B. reverently explores the role of the Beautiful in human culture, including subsections on the mission of inspired art, creativity, genius, and the relationship of art and mystical experience. Here he also comments on specific works in a variety of art forms that have special value for individuals consciously seeking spiritual inspiration.

We should point out that P.B. placed his observations on literature and the art of writing in three different areas of his notebooks. Some appear in category twelve, Reflections on My Life and Writings. Another portion of them appears in the final chapter of The Arts in Culture. The vast majority of them, however, were placed into a complete notebook separate from the 1-28 "Ideas'' series. If copyright issues can be resolved, this third section will be published along with other independent notebooks in the future.

Editorial conventions here are the same as stated in the introductions to Perspectives and The Quest. Likewise, (P) at the end of a para indicates that it also appears in Perspectives, the introductory volume to this series.



Excerpts from Notebooks category thirteen, Human Experience:


All the experiences which life brings us are meaningful. Let us use our intelligence and learn these meanings. For life is trying to develop that intelligence in us until she can make us aware of the highest meaning of all - the Soul.

The human situation is a paradox. We are at one and the same time inhabitants of a world of reality as well as a world of appearance. A true human life must embrace both aspects, must be spiritual as well as physical, must integrate the intuitive as well as the intellectual.

From chapter 2 LIVING IN THE WORLD

A play of opposites

Is this a world of exile from our spiritual home or is it a world of education for our spiritual home? If it is the first then all experience gained in it is worthless and useless. But if it is the second then every experience has meaning and is related to this universal purpose.

The truth does not lie wholly with the Hindus, who liken life to the illusions of dream, nor with the Buddhists, who despise it as a burden and a misery, nor with the hedonists, who value it only for the pleasure it yields. Surely the truth must contain and reconcile all these points of view?

Where is the incentive to improve oneself or society, to make something of one's career, one's life, to be ambitious or enjoy art - what is there to live for if everything is illusion?

The value which so many put on life is paltry compared with its real value.

No man has any choice as to whether or not he should seek the kingdom of heaven, his higher Spiritual Self. Every man is seeking it, knowingly or unwittingly, and is preordained to do so. There is no escape. There is no satisfaction for him outside it.

It is not necessary to divide mankind into two categories - the believers and the infidels - for all alike are on this quest, only many do not know it.

The difference is that the seeker consciously enters on this quest whereas the ordinary man, although also pursuing it, does so blindly and unknowingly.

From chapter 3: YOUTH AND AGE

Reflections on youth

Among the young there is a section which, if it could be convinced that there is a higher purpose in life, would respond to the call. There is also another section which would not respond because it is stupefied by life, passion, and, especially, negative feelings.

Young persons, whose enthusiasm is fresh and whose minds are open, especially need to become convinced by these teachings. In this way they would not only lay one of the best possible foundations for their future, but also be of the greatest possible service to others.

The young do not know, but some among them want to know. They want to know why they are here and what is the purpose of their lives, how they are to conduct themselves, and whether or not there is a deity. But for all this they need guidance and they need instruction. They come more quickly with faith to a teaching than their elders do, and that which could be their uplift could also be their downfall. For they are more easily misled than their elders. Those who know and can ought to do something to assist them.

Those who come to this quest in their early years - with all the hopes, enthusiasms and energies of youth - are lucky. But they have also the naïveté, inexperience, imbalance, and unrealistic expectations of youth.

A new type of youngster has been coming into incarnation since the war - or rather types, for there are good, bad, and mixed among them. They are different from the earlier generations. Here and there one finds open minds with wider outlook who are seeking Truth and that are not limited to their background, their environment, or their traditions, but imbued with a willingness to look to the Orient also.

Youth rightly refuses to be overwhelmed by tradition but wrongly refuses to take up its share of tradition.

Contemporary youth has been born into a world where for the first time they can see as a definite possibility destruction of life upon this planet, including human life everywhere. Inevitably and naturally they protest, some very violently, against this immoral misorganization which their elders have brought about.

Excerpts from Notebooks category fourteen, The Arts in Culture:


Art brings beauty to the body's senses, yet if we wish to pursue it farther we must withdraw from them, inwards, keeping the mood they started, etherealizing and developing it until we penetrate to its abode. There, under enchantment, we are beauty.

From chapter 1: APPRECIATION

The arts and spirituality

Beauty has its own holiness.

A life devoid of the contributions which the arts can make is an arid life. Aridity is not the same as simplicity.

Philosophy includes no narrow type of asceticism. It does not reject, like some of the forms of religious mysticism or Oriental yoga, but gratefully accepts the ministrations of Nature's beauty and man's art. It knows that what calls forth our attraction toward fair scenes and our appreciation of lovely sounds is, at its final degree, nothing other than the exquisite beauty of the Overself. Therefore the productions of talented artists are to be welcomed where they are true responses to this call, true aspirations to answer it, and not mere representations of the artist's own diseased mind. For the same reason, the introduction of art into the home and of artistic design into industry is also to be welcomed.

I cannot separate, as the old Greeks could not separate, the love of beauty in Nature and art from the love of Truth in thought and experience.

From chapter 2: CREATIVITY, GENIUS


The true self is the creative centre within us.

The creative mind brings forth the Eternal Present out of the unlimited; the ordinary mind brings forth mere echoes out of its limited past experiences alone.

A work is creative if it is originally conceived, that is, if the process of giving its basic and fundamental ideas birth is an intuitive, illuminating, and inspirational one.

It is a mistake to believe that this creativity comes only by a sudden flash. It may also come by graduated degrees. The difference depends on the resistance met.