Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Volume 12, Part I, p. 96, #14:
He alone can be an atheist who has never experienced a glimpse, or who has been caught and become embedded in a hard dry intellectualism, or in whom ethics and conscience have withered.
The point is quite defensible if put in less ringing terms. Most atheists have either (1) never had a religious or mystical or paranormal experience, or (2) have succumbed to the hypertrophy of the critical faculty, or (3) are bereft of conscience or moral sense, or all three or any two of the above.
Ad (1). A prosaic fellow, earth-bound, who believes only in the visible, the tangible, and the edible, who has never had an unusual experience of the the sort that intimates a reality beyond the sensible, or beyond the grossly sensible, will of course not be inclined to take seriously the claims of religion or the beliefs in God and the soul. He believes in what the outer senses reveal to him and will be inclined to dismiss as incredible the belief that there exist things external to his consciousness that are not certifiable by the five outer senses or by the instrumental extensions (telescopes, etc.) of the five external senses. If he had had a mystical experience or a religious experience or a paranormal experience such as an out-of-body experience then he might have been budged from his narrow empiricism. But lacking these sorts of experience, he sees no need to believe in anything but the objects of sense experience and such scientific posits as may be necessary to explain their behavior.
Our prosaic worldling's attitude is not irrational. He bases himself on what is given, but what is given to him are only the deliverances of the outer senses. He is aware of various a posteriori arguments for the existence of God but they find no purchase with him. For the sheer obtrusiveness of the sense world makes it impossible for him to believe in anything beyond it. And in a battle between the massive testimony, at every waking hour, of this gnarly world of time and change, and the output of abstract reasoning, the former is sure to win in the mind of our sense-bound worldling. And so he uses his intellect to resist the arguments, making of each modus ponens a modus tollens.
And of course there is that not unimportant matter of our worldling's enslavement to the pleasures of the flesh. As Plato observed, each pleasure and each pain does its bit to pin the soul to the body so securely and in such a manner that nothing can be real to such an enslaved soul except that which has a bodily nature. (Phaedo St. 83) Our man may even have had a mystical or religious or paranormal experience or two; but they will be no match for his ground-conviction of the ultimate reality of the material world, a conviction made impossible to break because of his attachment to sensuous pleasure.
Ad (2). A dessicated intellect honed on the whetstone of analysis and powered by the will not to believe will have no trouble finding reasons for disbelief. Anything can be argued, and any argument can be turned aside. Reason in us is a frail reed indeed, easily suborned by the passions and other irrational factors.
Ad (3). Can an atheist be moral? Well of course. There are plenty of atheists who are more moral that some theists, e.g., Muslim terrorists. A different and much more interesting question is whether atheists are justified in being moral. I pursue this question in Sam Harris on Whether Atheists are Evil. And then there is the matter of conscience. What exactly is it? Atheists are typically naturalists. Is there a decent naturalistic theory of conscience? Could there be? Or is the fact of conscience in us not an indicator of our higher origin? And so while it is not true, pace Brunton, that atheists lack a conscience, I would argue that (i) their atheism prevents them from fully plumbling the depths of its deliverances, and (ii) they are in no position to provide an adequate theory of conscience and its normativity.
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, vol. 13, part II, p. 10, #48:
It is the first operation of philosophical training to instill doubt, to free the mind of all those numerous suggestions and distortions imposed on it by others since childhood and maintained by its own slavish acceptance, total unawareness, or natural incapacity.
Or as I have put it more than once in these pages: Doubt is the engine of inquiry, the motor of mental development. Of course, doubting and questioning are not ends in themselves, but means to the attainment of such insight as it is possible for us to attain.
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, Part 2, p. 58, entry #179:
In the end man has to arrive at this conclusion: that there is no resting place for him in any earthly desire, and that the satisfying and enduring peace of desirelessness is immensely superior to the always partial and transient fulfullment of such desire.
Some have the religious sensibility (inclination, predisposition, call it what you will) and some don't. Here is one of several possible tests to see if you have it. Get hold of Augustine's Confessions and Pascal's Pensées. If you read these books and they do not speak to you at all, if they do not move you, if they leave you cold, if they do not in any measure inspire you to reform your life, then it is a good bet that you don't have a religious bone in your body. It is not matter of intelligence but of sensibility.
The same goes for the Brunton passage. If you can 'relate' to it, then you are probably religiously inclined; if not, you probably aren't.
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, vol. 9, Human Experience, p. 126, #520, emphasis added:
Politicians -- more interested in their own careers than in sincere public service, ambitious to gain their personal ends, unwilling to rebuke foolish voters with harsh truth until it is too late to save them, forced to lead double lives of misleading public statements and contradictory knowledge of the facts, yielding, for the sake of popularity, to the selfish emotions, passions, and greeds of sectional groups -- contribute much to mankind's history but little to mankind's welfare.
Dead on in substance, but also stylistically instructive. A good example of how to write a long sentence. Interesting because most of the content is sandwiched between the dashes. The thesis flanks the dashes with the supporting considerations between them.
Few read Brunton. But I read everything, ergo, etc.
Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of P. B., vol. 12, part 2, p. 34, #68:
A public place is an unnatural environment in which to place oneself mentally or physically in the attitude of true prayer. It is far too intimate, emotional, and personal to be satisfactorily tried anywhere except in solitude. What passes for prayer in temples, churches, and synagogues is therefore a compromise dictated by the physical necessity of an institution. It may be quite good but too often alas! it is only the dressed-up double of true prayer.
Where would we be without institutions? We need them, but only up to a point. We are what we are because of the institutions in which we grew up, and natural piety dictates that we be appropriately grateful. But their negative aspects cannot be ignored and all further personal development requires those who can, to go it alone.
We need society and its institutions to socialize us, to raise us from the level of the animal to that of the human. But this human is all-too-human, and to take the next step we must tread the solitary path. Better to be a social animal than a mere animal, but better than both is to become an individual, as I am sure Kierkegaard would agree. To achieve true individuality is one of the main tasks of human life. In pursuit of this task institutions are more hindrance than help.
For some, churches and related institutions will always be necessary to provide guidance, discipline, and community. But for others they will prove stifling and second-best, a transitional phase in their development.
For any church to claim that outside it there is no salvation -- extra ecclesiam salus non est -- is intolerable dogmatism, and indeed a form of idolatry in which something finite, a human institution contingent both in its existence and configuration, is elevated to the status of the Absolute.
Do I live up to this admonition? Or am I posturing? Is my posture perhaps a slouch towards hypocrisy?
Well, it depends on how broadly one takes 'join.' A while back, I joined a neighbor and some of his friends in helping him move furniture. Reasonably construed, the motto does not rule out that sort of thing. And being a fair and balanced guy, as everybody knows, I recently joined the Conservative Book Club to balance out my long-standing membership in the left-leaning and sex-saturated Quality Paperback Book Club. (It would be interesting to compare these two 'clubs' in respect of their target memberships -- but that's another post.)
And what if I join you for lunch, or join in a discussion in a chat room? A good while ago, the anonyblogger who ran The Will to Blog, but then lost the will to blog and deleted his site, opined that my motto ought to preclude my being a conservative. But surely one does not join a set of beliefs. One joins a political party, an organization, a church, and the like. Our anonyblogger might have been making the mistake of thinking that an independent thinker cannot arrive at any conclusions, for, if he did, then he would be joining something, and lose his independence.
In the context of Paul Brunton's thought, "Study everything, join nothing" means that one ought to beware of institutions and organizations with their tendency toward self-corruption and the corruption of their members. (The Catholic Church is a good recent example.) "Join nothing" means avoid group-think; avoid associations which will limit one's ability to think critically and independently; be your own man or woman; draw your identity from your own resources, and not from group membership. Be an individual, and not in the manner of those who want to be treated as individuals but expect to gain special privileges from membership in certain 'oppressed' or 'victimized' or 'disadvantaged' groups.
Every puzzle that fascinates innumerable persons and induces them to attempt its solution -- be it mathematical and profound or ordinary and simple -- is an echo on a lower level of the Supreme Enigma that is forever accompanying man and demanding an answer: What is he, whence and whither? The quester puts the problem into his conscious mind and keeps it there.
I am not enamoured overmuch of this modern habit, which forms a society at faint provocation. A man's own problem stares him alone in the face, and it is not to be solved by any association of men. Every new society we join is a fresh temptation to waste time.
Seriously, there is something dubious about societies. Were I to read a paper the least bit critical of Thomas Merton at the Merton Society, I would receive a hostile response no matter how good the paper was. I would be taken as attacking their man, someone with whom they identify. In a one-on-one exchange, it is not uncommon for an interlocutor to 'get his back up' if one criticizes, however judiciously, something or someone in whom the interlocutor has invested time and energy. But when there is a bunch of these people reinforcing each other, look out! They close ranks and their critical acumen goes to zero.
Merton, Heidegger, Ayn Rand and so many others who inspire a cult-like following need to have their works discussed critically, and that means: not by followers and not by dismissers, but by the independent. But what happens for the most part is that their works get chewed over lovingly in uncritical enclaves while being ignored or dismissed by those outside the charmed circles.
Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, vol. II, The Quest (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1986), p. 24:
We are regarded as odd people because we trouble our heads with the search for an intangible reality. But it never occurs to our critics that it is much more odd that they should go on living without pausing to inquire if there be any purpose in life at all.
I take comfort in the continental proverb,"A hundred years hence we shall all be bald." (Notebooks, VIII, 202.)
I am not bald and the genetics of my lineage suggest the unlikelihood of my becoming bald. But the occasional dream reveals a subconscious anxiety. In one, I caught a glimpse via an array of mirrors of the beginning of a bald spot on the back of my head. But why should the thought of balding induce anxiety if not because the bald spot is a harbinger of the meatless skull each head is headed for?
‘Meditation’ has two main senses. The first refers to disciplined discursive thinking. Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy classically illustrates this first sense. If we use ‘thinking’ as short for ‘discursive thinking,’ we can say that the second sense of ‘meditation’ refers to disciplined nonthinking. Accordingly, meditation2 is an attempt to silence the discursive mind and enter into a nondiscursive state of awareness.
With this clarification in mind, we are ready to appreciate a passage from Paul Brunton:
All thinking keeps one’s awareness out of the Overself. That is why thinking about the Overself merely produces another thought. Only in the case of the sage, who has established himself in the Overself, is thinking no barrier at all. In this case, thinking may coexist with the larger awareness. So it is not enough to be a good thinker; one also has to learn how to be a good non-thinker. Of course, the way to do this is through the practice of meditation. (Inspiration and the Overself, p. 144)
He is not a joiner because of several reasons: one of them is that joiners are too often too one-sided in approach, too limited in outlook, too exclusive to let truth in when it happens to appear in a sect different from his own. Another reason is that too frequently there is a tyranny from above, imitated by followers, which forbids any independent thought and does not tolerate any real search.
On the other hand, going it alone does not guarantee safe or speedy arrival in the harbor of truth. It can just as easily leave one rudderless in the samsaric storm.