The Illusions of Perfection – Paul Brunton



The Digital Notebooks of Paul Brunton

Chapter 6: Delusions and Painful Awakenings

Paul Brunton sitting with Bhagavan around 1930



The illusion of perfection


It is common enough to find among seekers the illusion of perfectionism. It shows itself in the belief that somewhere there exists a Master who is perfect in every respect: in his spiritual consciousness, his feelings, his intellect, his physical health, his appearance, and his behaviour. It shows itself also in their hopes of finding an ideal environment where they can live a fully spiritual existence, particularly in some ashram where everyone practises brotherly love and meditation all the time. Let them give up such vain dreams, for nowhere on earth will they find the one or the other.


The childish worship of every illumined man as if he were the World-Mind itself and the blind reception of his every utterance as if it were sacrosanct–these are defects to be regretted. And they occur not only among the Orientals, where it is to be expected, but also among the increasing number of those Occidentals who accept the doctrine of the Orientals and imitate their attitudes. They point to excessive attachment to the limited personality of their spiritual leader, so that it is disproportionate to the pure impersonal Spirit of which he is but the channel. They reveal the devotee to be on the religio-mystical level, to have advanced beyond popular religion but not to have travelled sufficiently far into mysticism proper to feel comfortable there. He has escaped from the crowd which is so taken in by the mere outward forms of religious observance, but he cannot yet escape from the olden habit or need of depending on some outward thing or person. So, he transfers to his master’s body the devotion he formerly gave to popular pieties.


The religio-mystical mind easily falls into cults or personality idealization and worship. The philosophic mind rises to a higher level and emphasizes the importance of Principles. For persons are ephemeral whereas principles are enduring. The cultists attribute to the worshipped one all sorts of godlike qualities, especially omniscience and omnipotence.


As soon as a cult is formed around a seer or prophet, fixed dogma and unalterable creed go with it. His revelation is turned into a final declaration, his inspiration into a fixed and finished tenet of faith.


Not only is no one perfect but also there is no one–be he husband, master, saint, or neighbour–about whom you may expect to find everything to your liking. When therefore we hear of a “Perfect Master” in Meher Baba, about whom everything was sadly imperfect, and find thousands of followers accepting him as such, including Western followers, we may understand why philosophy, not less than science, warns against credulity and gullibility.


It is hard to find an upright spiritual guide, easy to find his insincere imitator, easier still to find a crooked one. So long as they adoringly surround him with a halo of perpetual infallibility, so long will his disciples fail to think rationally or observe realistically.


If only they would give to the infinite being of God the faith they give to the finite and faulty being of some charlatan, how quickly they would progress!


Legends like this grow around the person of an Oriental recluse or ascetic faster than he himself knows. He could only slow the pace of this growth and not stop it even if he wanted to. And this while he is yet alive–how wildly will it progress after he is no longer alive to check it. How baseless the tales of miracles that will pass from mouth to mouth.


The cult of saint-worship is popular in the East both in religious and in mystical spheres. Its very foundation being a blasphemous misapprehension of the true relation between man and God no one need be surprised at learning that it teems with superstitions, abuses, and exploitations.


They fall into a new sectarianism when they make success solely dependent on a guru, and when they make their own guru the chosen and perfect one decreed for contemporary humanity.


The folly of refusing to recognize that his guru is certainly not as all-knowing as God, is a defect in this type of disciple. Nor can the guru himself stand exempt from censure if he allows the error to remain.


When all men are holy in the divine sight, why proclaim a few only and set them apart from others?


To become a disciple is to become an enthusiast, one who exaggerates, distorts, or overlooks the real facts. He will grossly misrepresent the true state of affairs because his guide is no longer reason but emotion.


Experience teaches us to be a little wary of those disciples who indiscriminately laud their teachers to the skies. A robust common sense is not usually accredited to mystics.


Just as they shamefully caricature the true Infinite Being by their personified and symbolized idea of It, so they shamefully falsify the true characteristics of a Master by their exaggerated and sentimentalized idea of him.


We must remember that a leader’s name has acquired special meaning for his followers, that it is charged by their own minds, through the effect of suggestion, with a certain stimulus and exceptional symbolism. Hence they react to it favourably in a way in which non-followers do not.


They see and make no difference between the human instrument and God himself. Such exaggerated worship may be harmful both to the worshippers and to the man worshipped. It makes them too dependent on some one person, too ignorant or neglectful of the real source of his power. It may fill his head with grandiose notions and far-stretching ambitions. Simply because he feels that he is communing with God is not enough basis for him to claim, or for others to accept, that he is really doing so. The remedy for all this is to teach them the truth concerning such dependence as well as to show them how to establish their own direct contact with the source.


Idolizing followers are not concerned to know what is factual and what is imaginary: they need to have their bias satisfied.


It is idol worship, only they substitute a living idol for a stone figure.


Even the qualified teacher is no perfect man; he is fallible and mortal; indeed, he even makes mistakes. The attitude found in simple Occidentals or superstitious Orientals of regarding him as above all possible criticism, the attitude which elevates him to the status of a divine being, is ill-informed and ill-judged.


To set up these good and great men as being even better and greater than they are, and especially to deprive them of their humanity and replace it by some supernatural status, is to render a disservice to them as well as to truth.


All these gurus possess inevitable human limitations and some human deficiencies. To see any one of them under an appearance of perfection and make him into a demigod is a superstitious error which will not bring us nearer the world of truth and reality. He who is over-awed by the claims of these teachers suspends his reasoning faculty, dismisses his critical judgement, lets his intellectual integrity collapse, and falls victim at their feet.


To demand impossible perfection in any human being–spiritual master or wifely mate–is as silly as to make impossible idealizations.


The ideal master can be found only in the imagination of seekers who are either over-fanciful and unrealistic or else hypercritical and unable to understand that to be at all human is to be imperfect.


This guru is not a nonhuman or superhuman being. Take away the prestige, the ashram, the theatrical settings, and he is left a person, perhaps on a superior level but not infallible, still liable to make mistakes.


With a few exceptions, most Orientals consider the connection with an instructor rigidly necessary. But when it is made, he is turned into a deity and worshipped. Both learning and teaching may then get submerged in an emotional bath.


There are gurus who literally enjoy the atmosphere of devotion, exaggeration, and exploitation which surrounds them, as well as disciples who enjoy helping to make and sustain this atmosphere.


Just as the Renaissance brought forward brilliant minds and talents in scattered places, so we see today spiritual geniuses rising here and there. The followers of some lose their balance, get swollen with pride, and talk proudly that the avatar is here, each claiming his own leader as the avatar. Let us not be taken in by such sectarianism.


There is something blasphemous in placing human figures on a pedestal of the highest worship. Such worship should be reserved for the Infinite Intelligence alone. Nevertheless, as institutions of organized religion go, one may be much better conducted and far more to be recommended than most others. Undoubtedly, some conversation and companionship with a friend who attends such a superior type of place may be helpful to the seeker–if he can recognize and ignore the superstitious admixtures to be found in all religions and cults.


It is wiser to keep attention upon the teaching and not upon the teacher’s personality.


The psychic structure of a person contains a light and a shadow side. It is naïve to see in him only one side, for that usually leads to an exaggerated view of it. A fantasy is then built around the person by those who fall into this error and they no longer meet, think of, or speak with a realistic person. There is also the other case where people build up fantasies about themselves even more than about others.


They make the mistake of affirming the divinity of man without taking the trouble to notice that this is still only in a potential state.


One common fault is to greet the latest master with adoring emotion, then to follow him with a strongly personal clinging attitude and to talk of him only in superlatives. In such an atmosphere the ego thrives unsuspected where it is supposed to be most absent!


The myth of superhumanity, even of divinity, created around the gurus will remain undeflated for their followers despite all the historical facts and psychological principles involved.


Though the transcendental power may be using him as a channel, he himself is still a very human human being. Only youthful, inexperienced, untravelled, or fanatical naïveté can so deceive itself as to think otherwise. The commonest error made by the guru-seekers or guru-greeters is to believe him to be perfect. The haze which surrounds their eyes prevents them from noting the flaws.


Most aspirants possess extremely hazy notions of the powers of a mystical adept. Many even possess quite fantastic or quite exaggerated notions about him, while few seem to realize that he has any limitations at all. This is not altogether their fault. It is largely the fault of irresponsible loose-thinking muddleheaded enthusiasts for mysticism, or incompetent half-baked exponents of it, or incorrect teaching about its goal. When an adept is supposed to have attained complete union with God Almighty, when there is supposed to be no difference between his mind or power and God’s mind or power, where is the miracle we may not legitimately expect him to perform?


The merits are magnified out of all proportion, the drawbacks minified almost to nothing. Such is the way of enthusiastic believers with any system they adopt or any master they follow.


The prophet may be personally discredited, his prophecies may fail to be fulfilled, yet the blind faith of his adherents may still continue unshaken.


An ageing master, surrounded by a court of reverent admirers, an echoing group of disciples who behave as if they were in physical proximity to the Deity–this is the inevitable end.


After making all allowance for the awe and affection which, quite properly, well up in the guru’s presence, it is still a fact that Oriental devotees are unduly laudatory of him.


None of these biographies written by overzealous disciples ever shows up the master’s faults or even suggests that he had a single one.


The illusion that some human being has somewhere achieved perfection gives the naïve a curious kind of satisfaction.


The intense, unbalanced, and anti-human attitude which is so often favoured by the over-devout followers of these cults and which renders them ridiculous to the sight of sceptical outsiders, is one which will never be found among philosophers. This foolish attitude makes men morally indignant with their contemporaries, impatient, and highly charged with propagandist aggressiveness. Their wild assertions and exaggerated claims show what a startling lack of proportion exists in this attitude.


A famous case of the unfortunate results of excessive guru-worship was, of course, that of the Rasputin-Empress Alexandria relationship. It led in the end to loss of the throne and defeat in war.


These disciples assume so much, such as that the guru knows everything about them, what they should do in their particular and private situations–everything about everything.


They glamourize their guru, provide him with qualities and powers he does not possess and perhaps does not even claim.


The glamourous myth of infallibility surrounds such a person. Neither he nor his followers dare confess a blunder. Once having declared such a thing impossible, they have to cover any slur on the myth with supernatural whitewash.


Many people make the mistake of thinking that because someone has gone farther than they, he has gone to the end of the Way.

Superstition, imagination, and self-deception


Worse than failing to comprehend the truth is thinking that you comprehend it. It is harder to climb out of the pit of error than out of the pit of illusion.


Philosophy does not accept the literal inspiration of every page of scripture. It knows that human fallibility and human preferences may be present. Another important factor which broadens or narrows the nature of an individual’s revelation is the breadth or narrowness of his general cultural experience.


A mystical interpretation may be shaped to fit almost any scriptural text. Twenty different interpretations may be shaped to fit one and the same text. For the same heightened imaginative faculty which operates during the dream state operates during certain mystical ones. That in the latter case it is conjoined with genuine revelatory insight does not alter the doubtful character of its own contribution.


It is pleasant to hear that so many mystics have communed with God, but if the word “God” means the ultimate principle of the universe then their words must usually represent wishful thinking rather than true statements of fact.


They accept such beliefs as are their own wish-fulfilments.


Mere chance happenings are made to hold deep esoteric significance.


Their pleasant belief that all cults teach substantially the same thing relates to the world of their private thoughts and wishes, not to our world. How can the results of totally different spiritual positions be other than different themselves?


One and the same psychical experience can be interpreted to support ten different religious tenets.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.

Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 16: The Sensitives

The Digital Notebooks of Paul Brunton

The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (PB) comprise the major body of posthumously published works of PB. Twenty eight categories were created by PB for his philosophic writings. After his passing, these writings were edited by teams of philosophic students under the guidance of two students trained by PB. They were published by the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation and Larson Publications in 16 volumes over a period of eight years, and are presented here in their totality.

The first volume of the 16 Notebooks of Paul Brunton is titled: Perspectives. It contains an overview of the entire 28 categories. You might like to explore this online presentation first.

Visit the Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation home page here:

Paul Brunton, 1981


Paul Brunton was born in London in 1898. He served in a tank division during the First World War, and later devoted himself to mysticism and came into contact with Theosophists. Being partner of a occult bookshop, The Atlantis Bookshop, in Bloomsbury, Brunton came into contact with both the literary and occult British intelligentsia of the 1920s. In the early 1930s, Brunton embarked on a voyage to India, which brought him into contact with such luminaries as Meher BabaSri Shankaracharya of Kancheepuram and Sri Ramana Maharshi. Brunton’s first visit to Sri Ramana’s asram took place in 1931. During this visit, Brunton was accompanied by a Buddhist Bhikshu, formerly a military officer but meanwhile known as Swami Prajnananda, the founder of the English Ashram in Rangoon. Brunton asked several questions, including “What is the way to God-realization?” and Maharshi said: “Vichara, asking yourself the ‘Who am I?’ enquiry into the nature of your Self.”[1]

Brunton has been credited with introducing Ramana Maharshi to the West through his books “A Search in Secret India” and “The Secret Path”.[2]

One day—sitting with Ramana Maharshi—Brunton had an experience which Steve Taylor names “an experience of genuine enlightenment which changed him forever”. Brunton describes it in the following way:

I find myself outside the rim of world consciousness. The planet which has so far harboured me disappears. I am in the midst of an ocean of blazing light. The latter, I feel rather than think, is the primeval stuff out of which worlds are created, the first state of matter. It stretches away into untellable infinite space, incredibly alive.

The times of World War II Brunton spent in India, being hosted a guest by the Maharaja of Mysore, His Highness Sri.Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV. He dedicated his book “The Quest of the Overself” to the Maharaja and when the Maharaja died in 1940, he was present at his funeral.

After two decades of successful writing, Brunton retired from publishing books and devoted himself to writing essays and notes. Upon his death in 1981 in Vevey, Switzerland, it was noted that in the period since the last published book in 1952, he had rendered about 20,000 pages of philosophical writing.

A longtime friend of Paul Brunton, philosopher Anthony Damiani, Founder of Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies in 1972[6], coordinated the publishing effort together with a team of people including Paul Cash and Timothy Smith. The Swedish-American publisher Robert Larson started publishing the 16-volume set in 1984.

The Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga

If Brunton could not be credited with introducing Yoga to the West because of the existence of other previous luminaries such as BlavatskyVivekananda and Yogananda, at least he holds a preeminent position in bringing to the West the best the Orient has to offer: the doctrine of Mentalism. No other writer but Brunton has declared Mentalism to be the esoteric doctrine of the Orient. Brunton is also the only writer to differentiate Oriental Mentalism from Berkeley‘s.

As the theory of relativity, according to Einstein, brings space and time together so does mentalism unites spirit and matter; this phenomenon is explained by Brunton as being inherent in imagination.[8]

Paul Brunton expounds the doctrine of mentalism in his magnum opus, first in part one which is introductory and preparatory titled The Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga and last but not least in a revelatory work named The Wisdom of the Overself. According to Joscelyn Godwin, “…Since discovering Brunton’s work in the 1960’s I have found no reason to discard their philosophical principles.”[9]


American author and former psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson, the son of a Jewish American friend of Brunton[10] published a memoir of his childhood under the title My Father’s Guru. In the 1940s and 1950s, Brunton lived with Jeffrey Masson’s family. Masson’s parents were among his handful of close disciples. Initially influenced by Brunton, Masson gradually became disillusioned with him. According to Masson, Brunton singled him out as a potential heir to his spiritual kingdom. In 1956, Brunton decided that a third world war was imminent and the Massons moved to Montevideo, since this location was considered safe. From Uruguay, Masson went at Brunton’s bidding to study Sanskrit at Harvard. Brunton himself did not move to South America, instead spending some time living in New Zealand. Masson subsequently became proficient at Sanskrit, and realized that Brunton did not have the facility with the language that he claimed.


See also




  • Are You Upward Bound with William G. Fern (1931)
  • A Search in Secret India (1934)
  • The Secret Path (1935)
  • A Search in Secret Egypt (1936)
  • A Message from Arunachala (1936)
  • A Hermit in the Himalayas (1936)
  • The Quest of the Overself (1937)
  • Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture (1939)
  • The Inner Reality (1939) [published in the U.S. as Discover Yourself, same year]
  • Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941) [13]
  • Wisdom of the Overself (1943)
  • Spiritual Crisis of Man (1952)