Saturday, 17 November 2012

Paul Brunton and Meher Baba: In Search of Brunton’s Secret – Part One

Paul Brunton: Early Life

Following the partition of the Kingdom of Poland, life for the Jews in Eastern Europe became harsh under Russian rule. In the 19th century they were confined to living in an area of Western Russia between the Baltic and the Black Sea, known as the Pale of Settlement. The local population was hostile, and the Jews protectively formed themselves into separate communities that had little interaction with their Christian neighbours. They were restricted to working in permitted occupations as artisans or in trade; entry to the professions was limited. Many were tailors, or less commonly, metal workers, cobblers and carpenters. Anti-Semitism was rife. But it suddenly got worse. 1881 saw the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. One of the assassins was a young Jewish woman, and this provided an excuse for attacks on the Jews: appalling pogroms in the major cities occurred. An exodus of Jews and other minorities in the Tsarist Empire followed. The majority of refugees had their hearts set on the United States, but many made it no further than Britain. They arrived by steamers from Hamburg and docked at Irongate Wharf by Tower Bridge. In London the Jews lived mostly in the least desirable Spitalfields and Whitechapel areas, close to the docks. They had little choice but to settle there. The majority could not afford alternative accommodation, and besides they probably would not have been accepted as tenants elsewhere in London. The East End subsequently became known as a Jewish neighbourhood.

Paul Brunton (1) was born in East London as Raphael Hurst on October 21, 1898, (2) the son of emigrants to England from Eastern Europe. According to Wikipedia, he “was probably born as Hermann Hirsch….” Whatever his real name, Brunton appears to have been self-conscious of his Jewish appearance, and according to Jeffery Masson (1993: xi), “had cosmetic surgery performed on his nose and encouraged some of his Jewish disciples (including my parents) to do the same.” Almost nothing is known regarding his childhood, apart from his mother died of tuberculosis when he was thirteen, and that his father subsequently remarried. Throughout his life he would refer to his stepmother as ‘Aunty’, thus distinguishing her from his real mother. (3) In fact, Brunton appears to have deliberately remained secretive about his early life (possibly due to his social background) and chose not to disclose many details, even to his son. (4) He was described in later life by Irene Conybeare, daughter of the Oxford scholar F C Conybeare, as “an agreeable little man of Jewish origin though his speech was somewhat marred by a strong Cockney accent” (1961: 70).

As to his education, there are no reliable details. The Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology (2001) states he was “educated at Central Foundation School, London, and McKinley-Roosevelt College [University], Chicago, Illinois.” Whilst the former could be credible, (5) the latter remains in doubt: “there is no evidence that he had any higher education at all, although he claimed that he had studied philosophy at ‘the Astral University’ …” (Storr, 1996: 164). In his posthumously published Notebooks, Brunton states (1987: 235, 6:216) that he held a doctorate of philosophy which “was granted not on the basis of examination, but partly on a philosophical thesis submitted which was judged as showing capacity for original research and as making a contribution toward existing knowledge and partly in recognition of distinguished service to the cause of Oriental research.”

Leaving such astral matters aside, by August 1945 Brunton was using printed notepaper bearing the title ‘Dr Paul Brunton’. Reprints of some of his books now displayed his alleged academic achievement on the cover. One reprinted copy of Secret India, published in 1985, still bears that same title, and the opening sentence “A Personal Note” in that book, written by his son, Kenneth Hurst, states: “Dr Paul Brunton died July 27, 1981 …” According to his son, the book Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture, first published in 1939, (6) “was my father’s doctoral thesis” (Hurst, 1989: 79). Despite such claims, Brunton’s assertion that he had obtained a PhD from Roosevelt University in Chicago was nothing more than a sham. (7 )

A self-conscious five foot tall, slightly built and a sensitive teenager, his uncommon reading had included the Letters of St Paul, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Rosicrucian occult novel Zanoni (1842), and The Awakening of the Soul by Ibn Tufail. (8) The latter being a 12th century Sufi work, an allegory of the path towards enlightenment, and for Brunton the “first book which brought me into mystical ideas … The book opened my knowledge in a vague general way to the possibilities of meditation, so I embarked upon the practice—unguided, uninstructed, groping my way in what, at first, was absolute darkness” (1987: 219, 6:123).

It has been suggested by Annie Cahn-Fung (2004: 6) that “the early passing of his mother contributed to the already sensitive child’s inclination towards the supernatural and spiritual” and that “in the months following her death, he became more and more introverted, and at the age of sixteen he was having his first spiritual experiences.” This would therefore have occurred around the beginning of the First World War. Retrospectively, in 1941 he wrote, “Boyhood years had been shadowed by a terrible and tremendous yearning to penetrate the mystery of life’s inner meaning.”

According to Brunton (1987: 8, 9):

“Before I reached the threshold of manhood and after six months of unwavering daily practice of meditation and eighteen months of burning aspiration for the Spiritual Self, I underwent a series of mystical ecstasies. During them I attained a kind of elementary consciousness of it. If anyone could imagine a consciousness which does not objectify anything but remains in its own native purity, a happiness beyond which it is impossible to go, and a self which is unvaryingly one and the same, he would have the correct idea of the Overself.…The glamour and freshness of mystical ecstasies subsided within three or four weeks and vanished. But the awareness kindled by them remained for three years.”

These experiences are said to have increased his sensitivity, and his son relates, “as a result he found himself out of tune with the harsh materialistic big-city vibrations surrounding him. In fact, he told me, they became unbearable” (Hurst, 1989: 43). Brunton decided to end his life and proceeded to put his affairs in order. Yet the thought arose: What happens after I die? This led him to the British Museum Library where the librarian suggested books on Spiritualism, a belief system, or religion, which claims spirits of the dead residing in the ‘spirit world’ can communicate with the living. He found the subject appealing and thoughts of suicide were eventually annulled by the new interest. He was not alone; there was a surge of interest in the beliefs of Spiritualism during the First World War as a result of the massive battlefield casualties.

In an article for the London Forum Brunton informs the reader:

“I developed in little time powers of [Spiritualist] mediumship, in particular clairvoyance and clairaudience, and thus obtained the best kind of proof in the existence of a psychic world, in other words by personal experience, without having recourse to professional mediums. After I had completely established the truth of the afterlife for myself, I turned toward the study of Theosophy and I belonged to the Theosophical Society.”

Following the First World War, Brunton became friends with Michael Juste (pseudonym of Michael Houghton), who had shared the same Spiritualist interests and also joined the Theosophical Society at that time. Juste subsequently wrote The White Brother: an Occult Autobiography, in which Brunton appears in as the character of David—described (1927: 16) as being “short and somewhat slight stature, pale and intensely sensitive … serious, and, I used to think, much too casual about the incidents of this world, and much too deeply engrossed in the world within. He always appeared to move in a perpetual haze.”  They later both shared an apartment together in Tavistock Square, London, and belonged to a small group of friends who led ‘bohemian’ lifestyles, with an interest in spiritual matters and a love of books. Juste, who became a minor poet and wrote several small volumes of verse, states (1927: 16, 17), “With the exception of one or two practically all our small group were unbalanced in one way or another.… The greatest desire of the group, with the exception of myself, was to visit India and Tibet, dwell in the jungle, and by meditation ultimately attain Nirvana …” One of the group, whom Kenneth Hurst names as ‘Bud’, later travelled to Burma and became a Buddhist monk. His real name was Frederic Fletcher, and he acted as Brunton’s guide in India, though Brunton failed to acknowledge this in his book Secret India.

Apart from an interest in Theosophy (with Brunton “sometimes studying astrology, generally wandering about as though caught in the misty maze of a dream”), on most evenings and weekends the voyeuristic group visited the cafés of Soho, and “here our little group would sit and watch the fantastic pageant, drinking from thick glass tumblers weak and highly priced Russian tea, and listening to the loud, shaggy voices of women and low-pitched, giggling, sexual laughter of young students and frowzily clad men.” According to Juste, Brunton visited these places “because he hoped to become acquainted with those who had mystical beliefs,” and he “met a few dreamers.” The cafés of Soho were frequented by a colourful array of artists, writers, models, actresses, dancers, and those seeking to escape from a standardized, conventional life. Along with Chelsea and Fitzrovia, Soho in London was a neighbourhood associated with boheminanism: where one could work creatively, live cheaply, and behave unconventionally. Juste wrote, “Only later did we realize the sham that lay beneath this way of escape …” (1927: 19, 20, 22).

Becoming disenchanted with Theosophy, the group also visited other schools of mysticism and the occult in London. These were small but numerous in their diversity of teachings, and Juste was amazed at “the number of small societies teaching occultism and mysticism, most of them being offshoots of Theosophy, Modern Rosicrucianism, Buddhism and Gnosticism, Christian Mysticism and Indian Yoga.”  Again, disappointment: “Like so many hucksters in the market-place they shouted out the beauty of their spiritual wares; some were costly and some were cheap, some were highly and garishly decorated, and some were primitive and simple. They were mental contortionists and conjurers who juggled and used all possible arts in order to gain money.” (1927: 18, 23).

Yet ironically, in 1922 Michael Juste (Michael Houghton) became the proprietor of Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street, London, specializing in occultism. He knew most of the leading occult figures of the day; he edited the Occult Observer (1945–1950) and privately printed Gerald Gardner’s novel High Magic’s Aid in 1949, which dealt with magic and witchcraft in mediaeval England, and according to Francis King “seems to have been a resounding flop—five years later I saw the publisher’s shelves still groaning under the weight of unsold copies…” King describes Gardner, the founder of the modern witch-cult (Wicca), as “a sado-masochist with both a taste for flagellation and marked voyeuristic tendencies.” (1989: 180). (9) The basement of the Atlantis bookshop had been converted into a temple used by a private magical occult fraternity called the Order of the Hidden Masters, until the founder and long-time head of the Order, Jean Michaud (d. 1961), ran off with Juste’s wife.

Before joining the Theosophical Society, Brunton was for a while a member of a Spiritualist Society. Spiritualism differed from the occult movements of the day insomuch as communication with the ‘spirits’ was not with the intention of obtaining occult powers (with the exception of the power of healing). But Brunton definitely did claim to possess such powers. “It was during this time that his occult powers were most active,” he told his son, and further related the “incident that occurred during the time which demonstrated his occult powers. He discovered that a well-known public speaker was using black magic for immoral purposes. So my father attended the next public lecture by this person. As soon as the ‘magician’ began to speak, my father concentrated his own force and thereby extinguished every light in the hall. When the lights were switched on again, [he] this time concentrated with such force as to explode every light bulb!” (Hurst, 1989: 47). Brunton’s colourful storytelling appears to have been heavily influenced by his boyhood reading of the fictional occult novel Zanoni, which had “opened a new and eerie world for me, a stripling yet at school! It gave me dark brooding ambitions. I, too, would take the path of the Rosicrucian neophyte and strive to fling aside the heavy curtain which hides the occult spheres from mortal gaze” (Brunton, 1987: 232 6:202). In that book the hero of the title employs his occult powers to defeat the machinations of a number of villains.

Brunton apparently “found these occult practices fascinating. Gradually they occupied much of his time. He found himself revelling in them. And then, he said, he received an inner message, a warning: he had to choose between the sensational and the true albeit less spectacular avenue of solid spiritual progress.” Once he had made the decision, apparently “his occult powers left him and he was no longer able to indulge in them” (Hurst, 1989: 47).  Be that as it may, his book A Search in Secret India reveals a fascination with such ‘powers’. And even in later life he would attempt to demonstrate his alleged abilities by causing a “table to rise up in the air and float there…” In the presence of eight people seated with their hands flat on the table, with their eyes closed as instructed, it was discovered by one of the participants, Jeffrey Masson (1993: 164–165), that the diminutive Brunton had his hands firmly under the large heavy table desperately pushing it, causing a slight movement.

Among the early spiritual influences Brunton significantly encountered was Allan Bennett (Ananda Metteya), who provided him with an introduction to Buddhist thought and meditation. In an article written for the London Forum in 1934, he wrote:

“I was fortunate enough to become a close friend of the Bhikkhu Ananda Metteya, who was undoubtedly the first great authority on Buddhism to step out of the cloistered retreat of an Eastern monastery and come to Western shores. He taught me something of the inner side of his faith; he initiated me into Buddhist methods of meditation; and he provided an unforgettable lesson in ethics by the beauty of his own personality. He lived the doctrine of love for all beings to its fullest extent; none was exempt from the sweep of his compassion” (Hurst, 1989: 57).

Charles Henry Allan Bennett (1872 –1923) was certainly an important figure in the early Buddhist movement in England. The son of a civil and electrical engineer who died when he was a boy, Bennett was raised by his strict Roman Catholic mother, who later remarried. He was educated at Hollesley College and at Bath, and showed an aptitude for physical sciences. After leaving college he trained as an analytical chemist under Dr Bernard Dyer, official analyst to the London Corn Industry. He was also an innovator in the up-and-coming field of electricity and conducted his own experiments with a variety of inventions. But none of his inventions or patents proved financially viable. Severe chronic asthma since childhood affected his health and ability to earn a living. “To counteract the symptoms, he lived by a cycle of medication, during which he first took opium orally then, after a week or two, switched to injecting morphine. This gave way to cocaine, but when this started to cause him to hallucinate, he went on to inhaling chloroform. The congestion in his lungs by now removed, he would convalesce until his next asthma attack, when the cycle would recommence” (Booth, 2000: 99).

During his late teens and early twenties, he became attracted to occultism and Theosophy. The first organization he joined was the Theosophical Society at London’s Brixton Lodge in March 1893. He also became involved with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, into which he was initiated as a ‘Neophyte’ in February 1894, and went on to achieve the initiate grade of ‘Adeptus Minor’ in the Second Order at the age of twenty-three in March 1895, taking the motto Iehi Aour (“Let there be light!”). Always poor and unwell, Bennett was living in a dilapidated shared apartment in London, south of the Thames. A fellow young initiate of the Golden Dawn at the time was occultist Aleister Crowley, who first met Bennett at a ceremony at Mark Mason’s Hall in London, where the former had warned him against meddling with the Goetia (The Lesser Key of Solomon), which referred to ritual practices that include the invocation of angels or the evocation of demons. Crowley clearly recognised and admired Bennett and was aware of the ‘spiritual and magical force’ emanating from him during the ceremony. In early 1899, after a shock visit to his slum lodgings, he invited Bennett to stay at his Chancery Lane flat and become his magical tutor. In the flat two of the rooms were fitted out by Crowley as temples, one white and the other black. “Bennett taught how to acquire, understand and apply magical knowledge. Together, they worked various ceremonies, invoked spirits and created talismans”—and used drugs. One of Crowley’s biographers, Martin Booth (2000: 101), informs: “It is apparent that they enhanced their magical activities with drugs. Bennett certainly used cocaine in achieving magical ends, for he stated as much in a notebook written at this time, and he had ready access to a wide variety of drugs because of his asthmatic condition. He used his medicinal supplies, as 1960s hippie parlance would have it, to expand his consciousness, which he had also sought to do before meeting Crowley by partaking of hallucinogenic plants and fungi.”

In addition to his occult and theosophical interests, Bennett was acquainted with the works of Hindu and Buddhist religion then being published, such the Sacred Books of the East, a monumental 50-volume set of English translations of Asian religious writings, edited by Frederic Max Müller and published by the Oxford University Press between 1879 and 1910, and also the series of Sacred Books of the Buddhists. Towards the end of 1899, his asthma was getting worse and Bennett needed to move to a warmer climate, but had no funds to do so. Crowley, though a moderately rich man at that time, did not financially assist his mentor. “Instead he decided to evoke on Bennett’s behalf the demon Buer, an entity whose appearance and attributes are described as follows in the Goetia … ‘He appeareth in Sagittary, and that is his shape when the Sun is there. He teaches Philosophy, both Moral and Natural, and the Logic Art, and also the Virtues of all Herbs and Plants. He healeth all distempers in man …” Eventually a former mistress of Crowley’s supplied the necessary funds, though perhaps not due to the magical ritual, but more likely “because Crowley threatened to inform the woman’s husband of his affair with her unless she did so” (King, 1977: 26).

Bennett left for Asia hoping to relieve his asthma and to study Buddhism. He travelled to Ceylon where served as a private tutor to the sons of the Hon. P Ramanathan, Solicitor-General of Ceylon. In return, Ramanathan tutored Bennett in the practice of Yoga. Bennett also studied the Pali language until he could converse fluently. He then left Ceylon and travelled to Burma, first to Akyab in Arakan, where he was ordained as a Buddhist. Subsequently he travelled to Rangoon, and in December 1901 was formally declared a samanera (novice), the first step to entering the Buddhist Order as a Theravadin monk. On Wesak Full Moon day (21 May 1902) he received the higher ordination as a bhikkhu and was given the name Ananda Metteya. In 1903, as part of his ‘mission’ to bring Buddhism to the West, he founded the Buddhasasana Samagama, the International Buddhist Society, and the journal Buddhism: An Illustrated Review.

Whilst in Burma, Bennett had been in correspondence with a number of Buddhist scholars and lay-Buddhists in Europe, and on 3 November 1907, in a private house in London, twenty-five lay-Buddhists and sympathisers formed themselves into the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland and also founded the journal the Buddhist Review. In 1908 Bennett sailed from Rangoon to Liverpool to help in the establishment of Buddhism on his native soil and was met by a small party from the Buddhist Society. In London he gave a number of lectures, but these did not receive much enthusiasm from the British public. Bennett apparently was not a very good speaker. But the lectures were later reprinted as pamphlets or included in various issues of the Buddhist Review.

There is an interesting sketch of Bennett at this time:

“… No sooner had the mission landed than the difficulties attended on a member of the Sangha, keeping his Bhikkhu vows in the western city, became embarrassingly apparent. He was not allowed to sleep in a house where women slept; hence the need for two houses at Barnes. His food could only be eaten at special hours, nothing later than noon. He slept on a bed on the floor, to avoid breaking the precept against ‘high and soft beds’, and in every other way tried to preserve the ascetic dignity of his adopted life. The most awkward situations, however, arose not in the house but out of it. He was not allowed to handle money, so could never travel alone. He wore at all times the bright yellow robes of the Sangha, and such a garb brought wondering crowds and ribald comment …” (Humphreys, 1968: 6)

Returning to Burma in that same year his health began to deteriorate still further.

In 1914 Bennett de-robed and came again to England just before the First World War broke out in hope of emigrating to California to live with his sister, who had arranged to meet him in Liverpool, but his health was so bad he was refused passage by the ship’s doctor. Stranded in England, friends from the Buddhist Society helped house him in Liverpool for two years. Attempts were made to get him to America by means of the United States Embassy, but this was constantly frustrated due to the war. Bennett eventually relocated to London, where he continued his ‘mission’ to introduce Buddhism to the West and by the winter of 1917 presented a series of six lectures on Buddhism, and in 1918 began contributing to the Buddhist Review again. It was probably during this period that Brunton first encountered his Buddhist teacher. The Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology states: “Brunton assisted Bennett to publish his journal the Buddhist Review.” (According to Wikipedia, Brunton “served in a tank division during the First World War,” but  there is no citation and I have been unable to confirm this.)

It is said that during his final years Bennett’s interest in occultism and magic revived, causing him to lose a number of his former Buddhist friends and sympathisers. Be that as it may, an acquaintance of Bennett’s, Clifford Bax, penned a moving portrait:

“As a Buddhist, he was an alert and powerful personality: as a poor man, dwelling unknown in London, he was a sick creature prematurely old. [His lodgings were] small and in bad repair. His furniture—and that is to say, his worldly goods—consisted of two wicker chairs, a washing basin, a camp-bed, a number of books and reviews, neatly stacked on the floor, and a Burmese Buddha that presided over the room from the mantelpiece.”

Living in poverty and illness in the small sparely furnished rented room in Lavender Hill, Clapham, Allan Bennett died in 1923, aged 51. The Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology also mentions: “Brunton … stated that around the time of Bennett’s death, Bennett had ‘sacrificed his body in an effort to extricate me from a dangerous position’” —doubtless another occult phantasy on Brunton’s part.

In his Notebooks (1987: 209, 6:56), Brunton wrote, “It was said of Allan Bennett: ‘His mind was pure, piercing, and profound beyond any other in my experience. His fame as a magician was immense.’ He carried a glass rod, potent with magical power. Bennett was tall, stooping, with raven black hair, a high broad forehead, and pallor on his face. An expert in electricity and mathematics, Bennett was one of the most valuable lives of our generation.” More realistically, perhaps, ‘one of the most tragic lives’ would be a fitting epitaph for Bennett. He is mostly remembered for being the second Englishman in history to become an ordained Buddhist monk, introducing Buddhism to the West, being associated with Aleister Crowley, and for his “blasting rod” —“He possessed a magical wand … a long glass prism which he used as a blasting rod. On one occasion, Crowley reported Bennett using this on a theosophist who doubted its powers, ‘It took,’ Crowley reported, ‘fourteen hours to restore the incredulous individual to the use of his mind and his muscles’” (Booth, 2000, p. 99).

Though Brunton was clearly impressed by reports of a  ‘magical wand’, he does not appear to have been favourably disposed towards the occultist Aleister Crowley, who infamously came into the public eye during 1922–23 after a number of sensationalist articles appeared in the Sunday Express newspaper, and also John Bull. The latter had dubbed Crowley ‘The wickedest man in the world,’ In a review of Crowley’s book Magick in Theory and Practice, written for the November 1932 edition of the Occult Review, Brunton “mocks the author for his vanity and love of provocation, and he wonders if Crowley, figurehead of the new English magic, should be considered a true magician, a fool, or a charlatan of genius” (Cahn Fung, 2004: 15–16).

Around this period Brunton became a ‘free-lance journalist’, yet apart from the Occult Review (a.k.a. the London Forum from September 1933 to April 1938) there is a deficient record of any mainstream newspapers or magazines that he wrote for. In November 1919, under the pseudonym of Raphael Meridan, he had initially contributed a poem to the Occult Review, “Along the Mystic Road.”  And in November 1921, under his real name of Raphael Hurst, wrote the article “The Occult Value of the Scientific Attitude,” followed in May 1922 by “The Two Faces of Man”—neither of which could be viewed as journalism.

In 1922, Brunton and Juste opened a bookshop together in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, although this joint venture failed after only six months. Juste would thereafter become the sole proprietor of what became known as Atlantis Bookshop. It was during this time that they both came into contact with an ‘American painter’ living in London named Thurston, who became their spiritual guide. Dr J Glenn Friesen (2005: 29) speculates that the Thurston in question “is perhaps Frederic W Thurston, who contributed articles to the Occult Review and the Theosophist.” He was portrayed in Michael Juste’s occult autobiography as Brother M. The meeting occurred in the bookshop. Brunton writes, “I … met an advanced mystic—an expatriate American living in Europe—who told me that I was near the point where I could advance to the next higher degree of illumination” (Hurst, 1989: 60).  But the “result was a failure … [and for] three years he had neither time nor capacity to meditate, or even sustain aspiration” (Godwin, 1990: 10). He described Thurston to his son as being “a phenomenally gifted clairvoyant and an adept in the better sense who passed through the world quietly, unobserved but unforgettable by those he helped” (Hurst, 1989: 60).  Brother M is said to have specialized in painting lacquer and was employed by one of the largest department stores in London, which sent him all over the world to execute commissions for wealthy buyers. Brother M also apparently travelled ‘astrally’ and many times took Brunton along. He had taken him to an ‘astral university’, but Brunton was unable to give any details to his son (Hurst, 1989: 62). In that same year Brunton married Karen Augusta Tottrup (the first of three wives), who he had first met at a meeting of the Theosophical Society, but the marriage only lasted six years, during which his son Kenneth Thurston Hurst was born. His son would later write a biography of his father, which has been described as an “adoring hagiography” (Masson, 1993: p. xi).

Brunton told his son “that there were three major influences upon his professional writing style. These were Arnold Bennett, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Elbert Hubbard” (Hurst, 1989: 63). Hubbard, an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher, certainly appears to have been an inspiration for the next commercial venture. Elbert Hubbard had founded a cooperative printing and publishing company known as Roycrofters. He published a magazine, The Philistine, in which he expressed forthright opinions. His short truisms based on positive thinking, and in line with the Truth movement and Transcendentalists, became popular, and were collected and published in such works as Love, Life & Work Being a Book of Opinions Reasonably Good-Natured Concerning How to Attain the Highest Happiness for One's Self with the Least Possible Harm to Others, which ended with the words: “We are weaving character every day, and the way to weave the best character is to be kind and to be useful. THINK RIGHT, ACT RIGHT; IT IS WHAT WE THINK AND DO THAT MAKE US WHAT WE ARE.” Hubbard was a renowned figure in his day. He died aboard the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland on 7 May, 1915.

In 1929, at the age of thirty-one, Brunton self-published a magazine aimed at ambitious young men interested in achieving success in the business world, and described by his son as “a dynamic miscellany of inspirational business writings.” He sought to make a living by emulating Hubbard’s style of writing:

“The whole message of Success magazine can be briefly summed up in seven simple words:
You Can Scale the Heights of Fortune!
Oh yes, many things will be necessary—ambition, hard work, clear thinking, courage, ideals, persistent effort—much time must pass; the demons of self-doubt and discouragements must be exorcised; but—You Can!

… If they can feel deep in their hears that here is a thing they ought to do, but are too weak to do it, let them strengthen themselves with positive suggestion; let them utter that last affirmation:

I am the Master of my fate; I am the Captain of my soul! And so reach to the untapped sources of Power which lie deep in the recesses of ever man’s soul” (Hurst, 1989:65).

From his small office in Duke Street, London, the magazine called Success was published by Torus Publishing Company, a direct mail book service he had founded following the failed bookshop venture with Michael Juste. Brunton has been portrayed (Godwin, 1990: 10) as a “successful editor and writer of publicity material,” but according to his son (Hurst, 1989: 64–65) there “were only six issues of this magazine … [he] not only designed and published the magazine, and went out soliciting advertisements for it, but also wrote most of the contents under various pen names.” The unsuccessful venture commenced in the same year as the stock market crash.

Following this further business failure, the next year Brunton embarked for India.


  1. The name apparently arose due to a printer’s error. The pen name Brunton Paul had initially been chosen, but became reversed.
  2. Hurst (1989: 219). There is some confusion as to the exact date of birth. Brunton’s son states: “He deliberately fostered an erroneous date because he did not wish to have people drawing up astrological charts of him all over the world: The official date of birth was given as November 17, 1898 … but the true date was October 21, 1898, as he himself confirmed to me in a letter dated October 7, 1969.” The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation somewhat credulously states: “PB said that there were two reasons he gave out a false birthday: political and occult. During the end of the British Raj both the British and Indian governments suspected him of spying for the other side—an activity he had no interest in. He therefore took the measure of travelling under his ‘nom-de-plume’—including a new birth date! The other motivation has to do with the dangerous meddling with magic and the occult prevalent amongst seekers during his early years as a well-known figure in mystic circles. He little cared about the biographical significance of his birthday, but cared very much indeed that his horoscope not fall into unfriendly hands…”
  3. According to Hurst (1989: 42), after Brunton’s father died he “helped support Aunty for the rest of her life.”
  4. Hurst (1989: 41). “Many people ask me about my father’s family, his parents. Truth is, I know little about them.”
  5. The Central Foundation Boys’ Grammar School, a voluntary-aided secondary school situated on Cowper Street, in the London Borough of Islington, was founded in 1865.
  6. The English edition was first published in London by Rider & Co in a duodecimo format that runs to 92 large type pages (six to eight words per line and 24 lines per page). There are no annotations or a bibliography, and the book is largely quotations from published Indian scriptures and western scientists of the day. Brunton dedicated the book to V. Subramanya Iyer, formerly registrar of the University of  Mysore, India: “This thesis is dedicated to you with much affection and much respect in remembrance of the jewelled time we spent among silent jungle-covered hills far from the haunts of men. There you unfolded to me the higher wisdom of your land, expounded its most ancient books and explained its most imperishable philosophy. I was indeed fortunate to have the privilege of your instruction, for you yourself were an initiate in the esoteric tradition of the great Sankara.” The small volume had nothing original to contribute either academically or philosophically. Brunton “was quite dissatisfied with it in later years … requesting his publishers not to reprint it” (Hurst, 1989: 79).
  7. When Jeffrey Masson, whose parents were admirers of Brunton, called the University “and spoke to the chair of the department of philosophy, as well as to the office of the president.… Nobody had heard of him.… The degree was fraudulent, the scholarship non-existent…” (1993: 163, 162).
    Update: 25/04/2014. I have recently become aware of the blog “Paul Brunton – A realised person or fake?" ( by David Falvey, described as being “established to start a discussion of Jeffrey Masson’s book, ‘My Father’s Guru’ which was critical of Paul Brunton.” The blog contains email correspondence to Falvey in 2005 from Paul Cash, Director for Larson Publications (who had known Brunton), and Jeffrey Masson. On the subject of Paul Brunton’s “Ph.D.”, David Falvey asks Paul Cash the question: “Was Paul Brunton a ‘doctor’”? Cash replied: “… PB did get a degree, of which we have a copy here [Larson Publications]. Hence there is no dishonesty on PB’s part in using the credential. It was granted through a process that was a bit atypical even for its time, but nonetheless bona fide. Masson was not able to track any records, because he checked with Roosevelt University. PB’s degree was from Roosevelt College, which no longer exists. PB’s degree was atypical because the college gave him credit for his work in the field and only required him to write a dissertation. PB engaged their requirements sincerely and did all that was asked of him diligently and in good faith. This dissertation eventually was published as Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture.” In response to the same question, Jeffrey Masson replied: “I really don’t have more to say than is in my book. I grew up with PB and I give my version of events. … The degree, I understand, is not a true Ph.D., but something given by a correspondence course, much like those offered daily on the net. PB told me he had had a Ph.D. from Roosevelt University in Chicago. I checked with them, and they had not given one, even though they are, in fact, a correspondence school. But you will have to make up your own mind.” In a subsequent email, Masson wrote “… I would be delighted to see a Ph.D. Certificate. I remember asking PB himself about it, and he was evasive. Should it be from an accredited university, I would be happy to emend my comment that he did not.” As to Roosevelt College, it was originally chartered as Thomas Jefferson College in 1945, but just two weeks later following the death of Franklin Roosevelt was renamed. It had no library, campus, and no endowment, but the mission was “to make higher education available to all students who qualify academically, regardless of their socio-economic status, racial or ethnic origin, age or gender.” In 1959 the college was rededicated as Roosevelt University. It should be noted that Brunton's book Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture, in which he wrote "This thesis is dedicated to [V. Subramanya Iyer]," was in fact first published in the USA and UK in 1939, yet the Roosevelt College was not chartered until 1945. Perhaps one way to resolve the matter would be for Brunton’s doctoral thesis to be academically assessed – would he satisfy the requirement for a Ph.D. by an accredited university? See also Kevin R D Shepherd: and
  8. For a modern translation, see The Journey of the Soul: The Story of Hai bin Yaqzan, by Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Tufail, trans. Dr Riad Kocache (London: Octagon Press, 1982). The book can be described as a philosophical romance and is regarded as the prototype for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
  9. According to the Afghan writer and Sufi, Idries Shah, who as a young man had acted as Gardner’s secretary: “[Gardner] ‘confessed’ that he had concocted the entire cult of witchcraft which he called Wicca. It had naked ‘rituals’ because he was a voyeur and it had chastisement because he liked being ‘gently whipped.’” (The Englishman’s Handbook, London: Octagon Press, 2000: 209).

Next post – Meher Baba: Early Life

Copyright © 2012 Stephen J Castro

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Paul Brunton and Meher Baba: In Search of Brunton’s Secret - Introduction

A year ago I wrote an annotated article for Wikipedia on the subject of Meher Baba’s two influential western critics: Paul Brunton and Rom Landau. Despite being a condensed article, what I wrote at the time was deemed to be a ‘personal essay’ by more ‘experienced’ editors and in their view did not fulfil the ‘encyclopaedic’ requirement for Wikipedia. Even the ‘reliability’ (in the very specific and limited Wikipedia sense of that term) of the published sources was questioned. This was ironic given the fact that the annotations for three-quarters of the Wikipedia ‘Meher Baba’ article were based on devotionally published texts from publishers who had produced books solely about or related to Meher Baba, and in a number of instances were linked to charities connected to their personality cult figurehead. I, too, had used a number of those texts as they were relevant to the subject, but I had also included other appropriate texts not linked to Meher Baba, and which included the writings of the independent scholar, Kevin Shepherd, who was the first writer to investigate the subject of Paul Brunton and Meher Baba in detail, and indeed was recognised as such in one of the devotionally published books (Parks, 2009: 223 n. 31): “Though no devotee of Meher Baba and a sharp critic of Meher Baba’s followers, Kevin Shepherd turns a critical eye on Brunton’s account, in Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge, England: Anthropographia Publications, 1986), pp. 146–76.” Unfortunately narrow-minded editorial interests prevailed and independent scholarship was censored. The story can be found here: ( I attempted a revision, but after a while requested that the article be withdrawn as the editorial constraints meant that far too much detail necessary for the understanding of events would have to be left out. I had included over 140 annotations to assist the reader and validate the text. Despite the brevity of the article, and perhaps the inappropriateness of using the medium of a blog rather than a website, I decided to post the article here in its entirety. Recently, however, I felt it could be a useful exercise to expand the blog into something more substantial. So, following on from the brief Introduction below, my intention is to post a revised and expanded version of the original article in instalments. As the title suggests, the blog will principally be concerned with Paul Brunton’s encounter with Meher Baba and the events that Brunton chose not to reveal to his readers in the book A Search in Secret India. I shall include Rom Landau at a later date. This time the annotations will be kept to a minimum as I am now free to include far more information in the text. A Bibliography will be provided once the project is completed. 


Paul Brunton, born Raphael Hurst, is often described as a writer, traveller, mystic and philosopher, someone who had done much to bridge the philosophical heritage of the East and West. He published eleven books that had varying degrees of commercial success, the last being in 1952. Yet on closer inspection he appears very much a Walter Mitty character. The fictional Mitty is depicted as an ordinary, often ineffectual, meek and mild person with a compensatory vivid phantasy life. Brunton, too, had a phantasy prone personality that became increasingly accentuated throughout his life. He had grown up in East London as a introspective Jewish child, and was so ashamed of being Jewish that in later life he had cosmetic surgery performed on his nose; his speech was marred by a Cockney accent; he lost his mother at an early age; he was self-conscious of being only five foot high; he went bald in his twenties; he became alarmingly thin because of his vegetarianism; and was unsuccessful in his early business ventures. According to the distinguished psychiatrist Anthony Storr, it was “not surprising that such a person should entertain compensatory phantasies of being important.” Certainly, Brunton’s early obsession with occultism and eastern mysticism led to the beliefs that he had: ‘mystical’ experiences; ‘occult and clairvoyant powers’; ‘relived’ previous incarnation experiences; came to earth from another planet; received information from higher powers, Archangels; was involved in the ‘fate of millions’; and studied philosophy at an ‘astral’ university—classic signs of a phantasy prone personality. Following the commercial success of his first book, A Search in Secret India, published in 1934, further books for a general readership that fitted same genre followed, such as A Search in Secret Egypt and A Hermit in the Himalayas. He was now able to live out his phantasy life through his writings, and Raphael Hurst, “an insignificant person with no special gifts” was turned into Paul Brunton, “the teacher of esoteric wisdom whose doctrines are still promulgated …” Storr further observed: the phantasies “were reinforced and validated by the eager responses of his readers” (1996: 162, 163). In later life Brunton was portrayed (Masson, 1993: 89–90) as having “no noticeable gifts; he knew he was less talented as a writer than many; he was unassuming in size and physical appearance; he had little money and no valuable possessions; in the eyes of the world, he had no power, counted for little. His friendships were not, by and large, spontaneous, based on mutual attraction, but came from his supernatural claims. He had students more than friends. Although he maintained that he could teach in any university he wished, there were no offers to teach. Whenever he claimed to influence people in ‘higher’ spheres, either the people were dead or he did not feel free to reveal their identity.… Perhaps it was to compensate for all of this that [Paul Brunton] began methodically to create an alternative reality. In that alternative world he was a man of immense significance.… [He] developed certain physical traits that somehow made up for what he regarded as his physical defects. He began to look the part of the Oriental sage.”

 Meher Baba, born Merwan Sheriar Irani, was an Indian mystic and spiritual teacher (of Irani Zoroastrian background) who achieved a notable following in the East and to a lesser extent also in the West. He had controversially declared publicly in 1954 that he was the Avatar of the age. Yet according to Charles Purdom (1964: 399), “He referred to himself by implication as God-Man in America in 1932.” A similar claim had been made to a small band of western devotees during a visit to England in 1931, which in turn led to the sensationalist newspaper headline the ‘Indian Messiah’ during Meher Baba’s second visit to England in 1932. As one scholar noted: “While many of the adherents of the personality cults claim that their founders were, or are, avataras, and the founders themselves apparently accept this designation, Meher Baba explicitly declared himself to be ‘the Avatar for this age’” (Harper, 1972: 54–55). Such a claim was invariably going to attract criticism, yet Meher Baba appears to have been aware of this: “When I say I am the Avatar, there are a few who feel happy, some who feel shocked, and many who take me for a hypocrite, a fraud, a supreme egotist, or just mad.” As a consequence he had a number of detractors, both during his life and since his death in 1969. But it was Paul Brunton who wrote the most influential critique of Meher Baba. At the time Brunton was an insignificant ‘freelance journalist’ with strong personal interests in mysticism and the occult who had travelled to India and stayed at the Meherabad and Nasik ashrams in late 1930 and early 1931 respectively. His account of Meher Baba appeared in the popular spiritual travel book entitled A Search in Secret India, and which “enabled him to jump from the position of an ordinary journalist into a certain amount of fame” (Conybeare, 1961: 70). Secret India has been cited many times over the years, and by diverse parties, as proof of the aberrant nature of Meher Baba’s career. Two chapters in that book describe Brunton’s encounters with, and impressions of, Meher Baba, and it has been duly noted by scholars that he “is the only prominent figure in the book of whom Brunton is really critical” (Rawlinson, 1997: 197, n. 1). According to the layperson diagnosis of Brunton (1934: 259), Meher Baba “shows signs of the mental disease of paranoia. He exaggerates everything which pertains to his own self. This condition is also found among religious enthusiasts who experience sudden but temporary states of ecstasy.” He gave his readers the impression that he was an impartial critic who could not be duped by the sham ‘messiah’. As a result, “Brunton’s attack on Baba had an enduring influence - A Search in Secret India is still in print; it stands at the fountainhead of one of the major streams of adverse commentary during Meher Baba’s lifetime” (Parks. 2009: 223). Yet he only provided a selected version of the facts insofar as Meher Baba was concerned, and as other extant documentation reveals. Brunton’s account of his (brief) visit to India omits various neglected but crucial details which require due attention if an accurate historical record is to be achieved.

Copyright © 2012 Stephen J Castro