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Ten Signs of Progress on the Spiritual Path by Elizabeth Lesser
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The Essence of Spiritual Life: A Companion Guide for the Seeker
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Part 1, World-Mind in Individual Mind: While all the parts of this volume are short, their profundity more than makes up for their brevity. He makes it clear that while there is an interchange, there is never a complete merger or dissolution of the individual—and he explains why. He goes on to describe the degrees of enlightenment, culminating in the realization called sahaja, which generates the capacity in the sage to be simultaneously present in the Absolute and in appearance. After describing the qualities—and imperfections—of the sage, PB concludes this topic with guidance on how to seek the sage, how to recognize a sage, how to interact with the sage, and how to participate in a relationship with a sage, should one become blessed by such an extraordinary opportunity.
PB deepens our understanding of change, introducing the different modalities of polarity, complementarity, and duality. An understanding of the Idea of humankind as it is eternally evolving within the World-Mind is fundamental to understanding the true goal of spiritual life, and that in turn will guide our footsteps towards those practices and teachings most aligned with the True, the Mysterious, and the Real.
He lifts his own gaze upwards from the World-Idea and the perfection of humankind to the eternally dynamic progenitor, conascent with the World-Idea and cooperative with the Sage.
PB then considers the various religious and natural views of God, and how they reveal or conceal aspects of the Infinitely Sacred. He does what he can to articulate the attributes, characteristics and powers of the World-Mind, while explaining the ontological necessity that It remain essentially unknown to humankind. Even in life PB was reluctant to voice much about the World-Mind or Mind, not out of cleverness or intellectual incapacity, but out of sheer, intimate reverence. Where many others boldly go, guided only by their speculation, PB humbly approaches, illumined by the impersonal consciousness within.
The first of the two chapters in this part addresses the various ways in which the Real can be described: as Mind, as Alone, as Absolute, as Void, as Consciousness. Store Welcome to our Bookstore! Instructions for Spiritual Living by Paul Brunton pp. Listen to interviews about this book with Foundation Board member Jeff Cox here.
There is only one such guide for us all: the Higher Self, the Overself. For more information about each Notebook , go to Publications. PB wanted his categories to be studied as a whole and in a specific order. Reading this book is a simple, singular treat that will open your mind and heart to many new perspectives of the spiritual journey.
Keep one copy in your suitcase and the other by your meditation pillow; this is a true and accurate map of the modern spiritual journey, from its inception in mild curiosity to its realization in the compassionate immersion in Mind Alone. Without these disciplines, error and harm will eventually befall us; with them, we will maintain a grounded relationship to the world and our loved ones even as we seek the inner reality of the Overself.
PB discusses various types of retreats and provides many safe exercises including breath control to help us relax our bodies and our minds. Here he presents us with all the ingredients essential for a successful entry into the world of meditation. He tells us what time of day and what environment is best for meditation; how to begin and end a session; and he provides a wide selection of exercises suited for different needs and temperaments.
The sixth chapter includes a wonderful list of mantras and affirmations, all of which we will return to with renewed understanding over the years. For if the vehicle is weak, polluted, distracted or unshaped, the influx of Grace will inevitably exaggerate these tendencies; in contrast, the incorporation of genuinely natural habits will increase our sensitivity to, and pleasure of, the presence of the Overself.
There are many specific exercises for educating our feeling function, disciplining our desires, and civilizing our relationships with family and fellow students.
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While these disciplines are challenging, PB shows us their fruit: the ease and beauty of being a truly good human being. The first group is reluctant to abandon the logic and cleverness commonly associated with western philosophy, while the second is equally reluctant to forsake the emotional environment of mysticism and enter the arid chamber of the mind.
PB describes the specific ways in which the ego is the fundamental problem of the quest, even when it appears to be cooperating. This category contains advice on how to prepare for death oneself, as well as how to best help another person before and after they have passed over.
Can I Care about How I Look—and Still Be Spiritual?
PB continues with a discussion of reincarnation, which leads into the topics of karma, fate, freewill, and even astrology. He concludes with some early teachings on the World Idea, a topic he will return to in category 26 volume Here he records what he has gleaned from these very personal experiments and researches. He was keenly aware of the importance of a strong healthy body to facilitate spiritual progress and describes many ways to restore the health when lost, starting with the most scientific, including the occult, and concluding with the spiritual healing power of the Overself itself.
He teaches us about the special challenges facing those who would go against the ego in themselves and others and how to survive such confrontations—and even how to arrive at a positive outcome! This material, while a bit heavy, is absolutely practical, and worth studying, as it will invariably become intimately relevant at some point in our journey. He talks about how to extract the lessons it offers us, both "in sunshine and in shadow. He also discusses various phases of life, especially youth and old age, and concludes with his reflections on the fate and future of the world.
PB writes about the sacred mission of the arts and explores the positive or negative impact that art has upon our sensibilities and character—and even the whole social environment in which we live. There are many beautiful paras here, worthy resources of inspiration in their own right. PB has both criticism and praise for each hemisphere and clearly demonstrates the ongoing need for a fusion of these paradigms as the only panacea to the problems and opportunities of our times.
There are lots of little gems throughout this book and a veritable treasure-trove of information about the great lights of 20th century India, including Shankaracarya, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo, Ananda Mayee, and Gandhi. PB presents a fully rational and objective evaluation of the esoteric, occult, mystical and magical realms—and those who are drawn to them.
Although there is much to learn from these realms, it is also easy to get lost, distracted, and even seriously harmed by them. To confuse the occult with the spiritual is to lose the true value of both; PB clearly distinguishes them here, and details the specific ways in which the occult can be used to help—or hinder—our spiritual journey.
This is a very practical guide for any who become—or already are—aware of the grand and sometimes exquisitely inspiring forces at play within our ordinary lives. Read it carefully, and know that it was written by a man who directly experienced all that he writes about here. He discusses the truth of prophets and messengers, the wisdom and ignorance found in familiar scriptures, the specific shortcomings and contributions of many well-known religions of today and of the past. He speaks of the greatest Love we can experience: the love of the Overself, and he tells us how to become aware of that Love in our daily lives: through prayer.
It is not enough, he tells us, to meditate; we must also learn to pray with devotion and to have the humility to surrender to the true light within; otherwise our efforts will be stunted when they could flourish, nourished by the deep waters of spiritual grace. PB closes this section with an extraordinary chapter on Grace where he blends inspiration and wisdom to show us how to prepare for Grace, seek forgiveness, understand its absence, and finally, recognize its miraculous presence in our daily lives.
However, PB does not exclude the wisdom of the East; he introduces several key ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism here. From Hinduism he introduces the study of the four states of consciousness—waking, dreaming, sleeping, and the absolute, or "fourth state"—and he brings in the teachings of the Buddha on the transience of the world, and pure emptiness as a necessary metaphysical fact. Furthermore he manages to do all this without burdening the text or the reader with unfamiliar jargon or ritualized logic; he simply asks that we actively enquire into ourselves, our world, and our consciousness, and let reason be our guide.
Part 2, What is Philosophy? PB certainly answers his own question here. There he outlines the requirements for philosophy, which he regards as demanding a far greater discipline than mystical yoga or metaphysics—he considers the mastery of this essential to its realization. Throughout PB emphasizes the importance of Balance in all things and demonstrates the subtle power this can have on all aspects of the quest, the quester, and his or her impact on the world.
In chapter 4 PB introduces the unique faculty of the sage: Insight. He gives us a glimpse of significance and its operation here, while reserving a full explanation of how it works for the final volume of the Notebooks. While it is simple to summarize—all we know is mind—it is quite another thing to comprehend and directly experience. This experience begins with the first authentic contact by the Overself, passes through several intermittent phases, and concludes when it has prepared the seeker for permanent illumination. It is foreshadowed by a strengthened intuition, and PB is careful to describe both its genuine arisal as well as pseudo-illuminations.
He tells us of the Interior Word, of spiritual Light, and of Grace. PB describes how to prepare for—and even attract—a Glimpse and describes its effect on the ego during and after such an exalted experience, for it must pass away, as must all states that have a beginning. PB students love this volume.