My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Search in Secret India is a travelogue by Paul Brunton as he wondered through India in search of sages. In the process, he found a number of masters of body, mind, and both. However, he finds these individuals as rare nuggets in a sea of frauds.
Brunton states up front that he won’t waste time with any of the blatant frauds or suspected frauds, but he does devote space to a number of the more impressive ones. Impressive either by way of a large following or artfulness of technique. He also finds individuals he doesn’t know what to make of. These individuals appear to have impressive otherworldly skills, but skills that he can neither reconcile with known scientific understanding nor uncover as hoaxes despite his best skeptical inquiry. Given Occam’s Razor, he seems to be left suspecting that these are masters of illusion, but he maintains skepticism of his skepticism. A prime example of this is a Yogi who seems to be able to conjure any scent upon request.
Brunton also runs across individuals who are able to do amazing things that are inconsistent with his knowledge of the world, but which his exhaustive investigations leave little room to dispute. For example, there is one yogi who can completely cease his respiration for a seemingly impossible length of time, and who resumed breathing not with a gasp but with a slow, calm series of breaths.
As suggested above, this book is really an attempt to analyze India’s spirituality through the lens of Western logical and scientific approaches. The author is a Brit and the book was first published in the 1930’s. His worldview is consistent with that status. While Brunton would like to master his own mind, he is unwilling to let himself be duped.
There is another side to this juxtaposition of East and West. The yogis and gurus with which Brunton comes into contact often have trouble grasping the Western mindset (there is one notable exception.) What these wise-men have difficulty understanding is why a people, like the British, devote so much time to mastering the external world (and with a great measure of success it must be added), but put so little effort into mastering or understanding the self. Most of the gurus appreciate that a Brit is taking an interest in the spiritual and yogic ways of India, but with their own skepticism. They find Westerners materially rich, but bankrupt of the mind. They find the Brits strong, but lacking the supple power that yoga introduces.
After completing his travels, it seems the book is set to draw to an end. However, Brunton realizes that while there were a number of skilled individuals that he came across in his travels,there is one that stands out as someone he should not miss an opportunity to learn more from. Therefore, instead of getting on a steamer back to England, he returns to South India to a man called the Maharishee in order to find out if the guru will take him as a student. The last couple chapters describe his time under the Maharishee’s tutelage as well as under one of the guru’s most advanced students. The Maharishee is a sage the likes of which Brunton has not seen in all his travels. The guru has the humility to say that he cannot teach Brunton anything, but instead can only show him some things that he learned on his own journey.
If there is a lesson for those who would like to follow in Brunton’s footsteps, it seems to be that there is an inverse relationship between how easy a guru is to find(/how eager a guru is to talk to one) and the level of skill of that teacher. In almost all cases, Brunton had to take great initiative and steer off the beaten path to find the true masters. On the other hand, most of the individuals who were easily found, and eager to talk, were just con men.
I recommend this book for those interested in development of the mind and body.