Review by Joey Madia
“You cannot acquire what is already here. So drop the ego’s false idea and affirm the real one” (p. 15)
I was first introduced to the work of philosopher Paul Brunton in 2012, when I was asked to review The Gift of Grace: Awakening to Its Presence. I found it to be a profound and moving read. The Short Path to Enlightenment, like the previous book, is compiled and administered by the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation (PBPF) and it culls passages from some of Brunton’s earlier publications.
Paul Brunton (1898–1981) was, like Joseph Campbell, of whom parts of his philosophy remind me, a student of the world’s sacred wisdom teachings. Trying to encapsulate his well and broadly lived life is nearly impossible in a book review, so I encourage the reader to spend some time researching Brunton on his or her own.
The Short Path to Enlightenment reminds us that we are already connected to Source, or a higher self, outside of Time and Space, which Brunton labeled the Overself, so there is, essentially, no gap between who we are and who we wish to be. What we need is Awareness of where we are. What I find most valuable, 12 years on in my own spiritual journey, is that there is no goal, per se, in our meditations and other rituals and disciplinary practices. To look for such things on what Brunton defines as the Long Path is to take Awareness from the Now and mis-invest it in a results-oriented approach that often leaves us frustrated and feeling like we will “never get there,” like we are somehow less worthy than the Enlightened ones in books and ashrams. Brunton also situates the Short Path in a place of Non-Duality, where the Ego and the Overself are no longer perceived at odds. How much damage has been done by the misunderstandings in so many spiritual and religious practices that tell us, falsely, that the Ego must be suppressed, obliterated? Brunton renders this misconception both dangerous and unnecessary, and that itself is reason enough to recommend this book.
To produce this edition, the editors have taken passages from the “posthumously published material in The Notebooks of Paul Brunton” (p. 8). The source category, chapter, and paragraph number are provided for each selection from the source material, which is available at paulbrunton.org/notebooks. Brunton’s writing can at times be dense and uses an older, formal syntax often found in the works of philosophers, so I find the Larson/PBPF books to be invaluable in making this material accessible, no matter your level of knowledge and practice. The editors have organized the material into chapters with titles such as “What is the Short Path?,” “The Ego & the Overself: ‘What Am I’”?, “Warnings on the Short Path,” and “Practices for the Short Path.” They have also provided a glossary for terms that might be unfamiliar to the reader. I consulted it several times.
The Short Path to Enlightenment is arranged in such a way to provide a fluid and balanced mix of theory and practice, both because of the work of the editors and because of Brunton’s approach. For those new to spiritual practice, the passages provide all of the essentials of non-attachment, visualization, manifestation, and the necessity of stillness and silence, but also how they lead to traps in the Long Path, because we wind up being results-oriented (how long we meditated, how deep we went, what “mystical” experiences were had, etc.) and engaging in the fruitless, self-harming attempt to battle our ego into submission.
The chapter “Awareness: Who Am I?” offers answers to many of the fundamental questions we are pursuing through spiritual discipline. When Brunton asks, “Am I here in the fleshly body or in the invisible mind?” (51) it reminds me of Joe Campbell’s “Are you the light bulb or the light?” Another parallel with Campbell is Brunton’s exploration of the nature of Reality, wherein he says, “It is all like a giant dream, with every human inserting his own private dream inside the public one” (62). Compare this to Campbell’s often-quoted: “Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”
Nowhere in the book is it said that the Short Path will be labor and effort free, which is important. The work still has to be done, and done continually—there is no sudden, lasting enlightenment—but the difference is that the work is done in the presence of the Source rather than in trying to get to it. The chapter “Warnings on the Short Path” is essential reading on the journey. I appreciated that Brunton was quick to say that this is a path with many merits, but that there are other paths as well. He does, however, caution against paths administered by a guru or other individual set up to be an expert (again reminding me of Campbell), and further cautioning that the experiences that the aspirant has along the way needn’t be legitimized by an outside figure to have meaning and value.
In the chapter “Experiences Along the Way,” there are several passages relating to matters of pain, fear, loss, and working through the times of darkness and confusion that come on the spiritual path. These passages are succinct and will be valuable to the reader as guideposts on the journey. I have experienced most of the feelings and thoughts that Brunton covers in this chapter and they can be daunting without a context such as he provides.
I hope that Larson and the PBPF continue to produce compilation guides such as these from the works of Paul Brunton. They are texts that I refer to often in my practice, and quote from at length in my writings and curriculum on storytelling and parallels between the artistic and spiritual paths.
TITLE: The Short Path to Enlightenment: Instructions for Immediate Awakening
AUTHOR: Paul Brunton
PUBLISHER: Larson Publications, 2014, for the www.larsonpublications.com, for the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation). ISBN 978-1-9360120-30-5