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.
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).
- The name apparently arose due to a printer’s error. The pen name Brunton Paul had initially been chosen, but became reversed.
- 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…”
- According to Hurst (1989: 42), after Brunton’s father died he “helped support Aunty for the rest of her life.”
- Hurst (1989: 41). “Many people ask me about my father’s family, his parents. Truth is, I know little about them.”
- 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.
- 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).
- 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,
Update: 25/04/2014. I have recently become aware of the blog “Paul Brunton – A realised person or fake?" (http://paulbrunton.blogspot.co.uk/2005/11/paul-brunton-realised-person-or-fake.html) 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: http://www.citizenthought.net/Meher_Baba_and_Paul_Brunton.html#Esotericist and http://www.independentphilosophy.net/Meher_Baba.html#Disputed
- 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.
- 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).