This article was culled from Swami Omkar’s monthly magazine PEACE, dated September 1931. It describes the first visit of Paul Brunton to Sri Ramanasramam. His book, A Search in Secret India, did more than anything else in the early years to make Sri Bhagavan widely known. When Paul Brunton first came to India he was using the name of R. Rafael Hurst. Paul Brunton was his pen-name, which he later permanently adopted because the book he wrote under it brought him much recognition. It is interesting to note that an event of a visit from a foreign journalist to the Ashram was in those far-off days something to be written about in the newspapers!
It was half past four in the afternoon and the disciples were sitting before the Maharishi in the hall and were talking about a notification that had appeared in the dailies to the effect that a Mr. Hurst and a Buddhist bhikshu were intending to visit the Ashram. The clock struck five and there entered the hall a man in European costume bearing a plate of sweets, followed by a Buddhist monk. The visitors offered the sweets to the Maharshi and then, after making obeisance in the Eastern way, they both squatted on the floor before him. These were the visitors of whom the disciples had been talking. The man in English clothes was R. Raphael Hurst, a London journalist who was then on a visit to India. He was keenly interested in the spiritual teaching of the East and thought that by an intelligent study and appreciation of it the cause of cooperation between East and West might be greatly promoted.
He came to Sri Ramanasramam after visiting many other ashrams. The bhikshu who came with him is also an Englishman by birth. He was formerly a military officer, but is now known as Swami Prajnanananda. He is the founder of the English Ashram at Rangoon. Both visitors sat spellbound before Maharshi and there was pin-drop silence.
The silence was broken by the person who had brought the visitors asking them if they would like to ask any questions. They were, however, not in a mood to do so, and thus an hour and a half passed. Mr. Hurst then stated the purpose of his visit. In a voice of intense earnestness, he said that he had come to India for spiritual enlightenment. “Not only myself,” he added, “but many others also in the West are longing for the light from the East.” The Maharshi sat completely indrawn and paid no attention. One of those who were sitting there asked them if they had come to the East for a study of comparative religions. “No,” the bhikshu replied, “we could get that better in Europe. We want to find Truth; we want the light. Can we know the truth? Is it possible to get Enlightenment?” The Maharshi still remained silent and indrawn, and as the visitors wanted to take a walk the conversation ended and all dispersed.
Early next morning the visitors entered the hall and put some questions to the Maharshi with great earnestness. The conversation reproduced below is from rough notes taken while it was going on.
Bhikshu: We have travelled far and wide in search of Enlightenment. How can we get it?
Maharshi: Through deep enquiry and constant meditation. Hurst: Many people do meditate in the West, but show no signs of progress.
Maharshi: How do you know that they don’t make progress. Spiritual progress is not easily discernible.
Hurst: A few years ago I got some glimpses of the Bliss, but in the years that followed I lost it again. Then last year I again got it. Why is that?
Maharshi: You lost it because your meditation had not become natural (sahaja). When you become habitually inturned the enjoyment of spiritual beatitude becomes a normal experience.
Hurst: Might it be due to the lack of a Guru?
Maharshi: Yes, but the Guru is within. That Guru who is within is identical with your Self.
Hurst: What is the way to God-realization?
Maharshi: Vichara, asking yourself ‘Who am I?’, enquiry into the nature of your Self.
Bhikshu: The world is in a state of degeneration. It is getting constantly worse, spiritually, morally, intellectually and in every way. Will a spiritual teacher come to save it from chaos?
Maharshi: Inevitably. When goodness declines and wrong prevails He comes to reinstate goodness. The world is neither too good nor too bad: it is a mixture of (both) the two. Unmixed happiness and unmixed sorrow are not found in the world. The world always needs God and God always comes.
Bhikshu: Will He be born in the East or in the West?
The Maharshi laughed at the question but did not answer it.
Hurst: Does the Maharshi know whether an avatara already exists in the physical body?
Maharshi: He might.
Hurst: What is the best way to attain Godhood? Maharshi: Self-enquiry leads to Self-Realization. Hurst: Is a Guru necessary for spiritual progress? Maharshi: Yes.
Hurst: Is it possible for the Guru to help the disciple forward on the path?
Hurst: What are the conditions for discipleship?
Maharshi: Intense desire for Self-realization, earnestness and purity of mind.
Hurst: Does a Guru want to take control of the disciple’s worldly affairs also?
Maharshi: Yes, everything.
Hurst: Can he give the disciple the spiritual spark that he needs?
Maharshi: He can give him all that he needs, this can be seen from experience.
Hurst: Is it necessary to be in physical contact with the Guru, and if so for how long?
Maharshi: It depends on the maturity of the disciple. Gunpowder catches fire in an instant, while it takes time to ignite coal.
Hurst: Is it possible to develop along the path of the Spirit while leading a life of work?
Maharshi: There is no conflict between work and wisdom. On the contrary, selfless work paves the way to Self-knowledge.
Hurst: If a person is engaged in work it will leave him little time for meditation.
Maharshi: It is only spiritual novices who need to set aside a special time for meditation. A more advanced person always enjoys the beatitude whether he is engaged in work or not. While his hands are in society he can keep his head cool in solitude.
Bhikshu: Have you heard of Meher Baba? Maharshi: Yes.
Bhikshu: He says that he will become an avatara in a few years.
Maharshi: Every one is an avatara of God: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, all are in you. One who knows the Truth sees every one else as a manifestation of God.
Bhikshu: Will the Maharshi make a statement about Meher Baba?
Maharshi: What statement? That (the existence of an outer avatara) is a question which seekers of Truth need not consider.
Bhikshu: Will the world be rejuvenated?
Maharshi: There is One who governs the world and it is
His business to look after it. He who has created the world knows how to guide it also.
Bhikshu: Does the world progress now?
Maharshi: If we progress the world progresses. As you are so is the world. Without understanding the Self what is the use of understanding the world? Without Self-knowledge, knowledge of the world is of no use. Dive inwards and find the treasure hidden there. Open your heart and see the world through the eyes of the true Self. Tear aside the veils and see the Divine Majesty of your own Self.