Paul Brunton was the pen-name of Raphael Hurst (21 October 1898—27 July 1981), a British author of spiritual books. In 1930, he embarked on a voyage to India, which brought him into contact with Meher Baba, Vishuddhananda Paramahansa, Paramacharya of Kanchipuram and Ramana Maharshi. At the Paramacharya’s insistence, he met Ramana Maharshi in 1931, which led to a turn of events culminating in revealing Ramana to the western world. He became famous on the publication of his book, A Search in Secret India in 1934 which was followed by many others like The Secret Path (1935), A Search in Secret Egypt (1936), A Message from Arunachala (1936), A Hermit in the Himalayas (1936), The Quest of the Overself (1937), Indian Philosophy and Modern Culture (1939), The Inner Reality (1939), The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941), Wisdom of the Overself (1943) and Spiritual Crisis of Man (1952) which also were widely read. He was instrumental in making Ramana Maharshi known all over the world. In the 1930s he asked permission to visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He was allowed on the condition that he would write nothing on Sri Aurobindo: the Ashram did not want publicity. Knowing his own ability to make the Ashram popular in the world’s eyes, he was greatly amazed at the restriction put on him, but he has stuck to the order throughout his life and confined himself in his books to making general statements of his admiration for Sri Aurobindo with no view to popularization or propaganda.
During his stay in the Ashram he became very friendly with Amal Kiran alias K. D. Sethna and the friendship continued beyond his stay. One of the important statements he made to Sethna was: ‘The pictures I had seen of Sri Aurobindo had not prepared me for the surprise I had when I stood before him at darshan. Immediately I recognised a figure I had seen in one of my visions. Sri Aurobindo had appeared to me at a time when I had to make a decision and he had helped me to take the correct course.” The Mother told Amal Kiran later that she had found Brunton a man who had an opening and a freedom on the mental plane which had made it possible for him to come into occult contact with physically unseen people. Brunton paid two visits in all to the Ashram. His secretary, Miss Margaret Oddwinkle, decided to become a member of it. She was accepted by the Mother and, on request, received a new name ‘Pavita’—by which she was known ever after.
Amal Kiran met Brunton a third time in Bombay and his interview was published in the Bombay weekly newspaper Blitz. This was at the time when Hitler had attacked Russia in World War II. The interview dealt with that event as well as with spiritual topics and recorded Brunton’s high opinion of Sri Aurobindo’s world-vision. A correspondence went on between him and Amal Kiran at intervals over two or three years. Some letters from the former have been found in an old file and are offered to the readers of Overman Foundation. Four letters of Amal Kiran’s have already been published in his book, The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo, under the titles: ‘Sri Aurobindo and the Philosophers’, ‘Aurobindonian Viewpoints’ (in two parts) and ‘The War behind the War.’ Brunton published a review of Amal Kiran’s book of poems The Secret Splendour in a Bangalore periodical, New Thought, edited by a brother of the well-known novelist, R. K. Narayan.
With warm regards,
Amal Kiran alias K. D. Sethna and Paul Brunton
Vani Vilas Road, Mysore, 18th February 1943
Your last interesting letter to me dated 27-10-41 has remained unanswered along with a pile of very many others, not because I want to break off correspondence, but simply because of my own difficulties and over-pressure of work. At last this pressure has come to an abrupt end and it is now possible for me to relax a little to keep better time with correspondence. So please pardon my silence. It did not mean that I have forgotten you at all. On the contrary I often wish we can meet again under more leisurely circumstances than before to discuss various matters which I would like to discuss with you. However, it may be that one day you will perhaps be revisiting your old Ashram at Pondicherry. If so, you will probably have to travel via Bangalore. In that case I would request you to break your journey there and go a little way farther to Mysore to spend a few days with me as my guest.
Did you ever hear from Prof. Eagleton about your book “The Secret Splendour”? He has not said anything further to me and I have hesitated to ask him. I would like to make a suggestion in connection with brining your name to the western reading public. Please send a copy of your book “The Secret Splendour” by Registered Post to my old friend Mrs. R. W. Hutchinson, c/o English-speaking Union, Dartmouth House, Charles Street, London, and write her at the same time saying that I have asked you to do so with a view to her recommending the publication of one or more individual poems in the American magazine “Tomorrow” for which she is British Representative. She will, I know, be delighted with your work as she has written much mystical poetry of the same kind under her maiden name Hesper Le Gallienne, and is the daughter of the late Richard Le Gallienne who was famous 30/40 years ago as poet, playwright and essayist. You will probably have to point out that the book is privately published by yourself. Otherwise the magazine might hesitate to reproduce any of the poems. You will also have to take the risk of the book failing to reach the destination owing to enemy action causing the loss of so many ships. In any case she will be glad to make your acquaintance, is a much more satisfactory correspondent than I, and you might be able to give each other useful suggestions in your work.
I wonder also whether you have been doing any work for “Blitz” weekly. If so, please let me know which articles have been from your pen, because as a one-time editor I might be able to give you useful suggestions. I have been getting it on order through a local news agent ever since you introduced me into it. I see they appear to have dropped the astrological articles by “Astro” which would be a pity. I have a feeling that the writer is a Sadhu whom I once met whilst he was journeying to Lake Manasarovar.
One of the higher officials of the Mysore Government at Bangalore is a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and on his last visit to Mysore a few months ago he let me read a report of an address which Nolini Kanta Gupta was to give from All India Radio, Delhi, upon the ‘world war and its inner bearings’. I was delighted to find so many of my own thoughts expressed in this talk and also admire the boldness of the Ashram in coming forward and saying what so much needs saying during these dark days.
Here are the two phrases which were used by Gupta in his talk and which recur in Sri Aurobindo’s writings. I am rather doubtful whether I interpret the meaning in a different sense from which they are used by the Ashram and would be grateful if you could give me a precise interpretation of these phrases from the Ashram’s standpoint. The phrases are: (1) adverse or dark forces and (2) the asuras.
How are you getting on generally? It is undecided whether I should go north this year to Delhi on a visit for a week or not. But if I do, I shall certainly include Bombay in my programme and thus have the pleasure of meeting you again.
With kind regards,
Until mid-July: The Rosary, COONOOR,
Nilgiris, June 4-43.
My dear Sethna,
Your letters of 1-3-43 & 2-5-43 were received with pleasure and once again I have to send the usual apology for my silence. I must be the world’s worst correspondent! But I did not gain the expected freedom and have had a lot of extra work to tackle, besides being lately ill from severe fever, from which I have now to recuperate in the hills. I shall not be back in Mysore until the third or fourth week of next month, as I was badly knocked.
I like the remark in your letter about ‘the superb amplitude of Sri Aurobindo’s realisation’ and heartily agree with it. The few metaphysical and practical points on which I do not see eye to eye with his teaching do not detract from the respect and admiration which I do feel for it; and for your Master too.
It was with regret that I found myself unable to go West and North this year but I believe it will be likely next year. I shall then look forward to discuss with you personally many things which I haven’t the time to write about.
About Prof. E and your book: I am sorry he never wrote. I don’t know why and cannot easily ask him as the reason may be, I suspect, a religious one. I can’t say more.
Yes I read your article in the symposium and congratulate you on it; it states the essence of the matter in a charming way… Thank you for explaining the term ‘adverse forces’ as used in your teaching. I have worked out a more or less similar definition except that I have not been able to accept the Indian view of Avatar as a special descent of the highest Divine, but that does not matter. I take it from what you say that the time is almost ripe—or will be when peace returns—for the appearance of such an Avatar.
As I am having an enforced rest I am able to devote much time to contemplation, which is most satisfying as you know. Mystical experience of different kinds keep on coming daily, but the terrible contrast of external world conditions keeps on intruding into my after-thoughts. What can we do, when this holocaust ends, to relate the two?
Please accept my kind regards and peace,
Government House Road, Mysore
December 29, 1943
My dear Sethna,
I take this opportunity of sending you my seasonal greetings and good wishes for your spiritual and physical welfare during the coming year.
It is six months since I last wrote you and the better part of a year since I last heard from you. I hope your work goes on. You may like to know that when Beverly Nichols was here I recommended your book ‘The Secret Splendour’ to him and he told me that he had already seen it whilst in Bombay and admired it very much.
I am going to be less pressed for time during 1944 and will be free to discuss with you some of the points in Sri A’s [Aurobindo] philosophy which still seem debatable to me. So I hope to hear from you.
With my peace
21, Government House Road, Mysore
12th January, 1944
My dear Sethna,
Thank you for your welcome letter. I am sorry to hear that you do not feel your period of inner storm and stress to be over yet. However it is perhaps enough with our human limitations to be moving in the right direction and that I am sure you are doing whatever the rises and falls. The path is tremendously difficult and Gita reminds us how few succeed in finishing it successfully. It is enough therefore perhaps to have found it and to be making valiant efforts to overcome the adverse influences which surround mankind and seem so determined to keep us from the goal. It is my belief too that every sincere seeker finds a certain compensation in a beautiful and ethereal world after death for the failures, disappointments and miseries which make up so much of the stuff of the human story.
The mystical experience which you had one night last April is interesting. You may take it as a hopeful augury of future developments. I have had very much the same experience on occasions in the past and it was usually the prelude to favourable phases of inner development.
You ask to mention the points in Sri Aurobindo’s teaching which still seem to be debatable to me. Well, some of them are his rejection of idealism in the Berkleian sense, his advocacy of the Avatara doctrine and his acceptance of the mystical possibility of union with God. On these points in the first case I find it impossible to escape from the truth that mind is the only reality we have ever known and can ever know so that there is no place for matter in my scheme of things. In the second case I cannot conceive how the infinite mind can become confined in the finite flesh of no matter how divine an incarnation may be. In the third case God, as the ultimate reality, is incomprehensible, intangible, absolute and unthinkable. No human capacity however stretched out it may become can so transcend its finite limitations as to achieve direct union with it. It is my belief, therefore, what we mystics do achieve is union with our own individual divine soul which is quite another matter. If you can dissipate these difficulties in the way of my agreement with Sri Aurobindo’s complete teaching I would be grateful. There are some other points of difference also but I must leave them for a later letter. As you already know I feel no disagreement with the major portions of his teaching and in addition admire him personally as being the most outstanding of contemporary Indian yogis.
In answer to your question about Beverly Nichols I am not in correspondence with him at present as he is tremendously busy and dashing about from place to place when I last heard. In any case he was due to leave India this month and for all I know may have left already. So I am sorry there is nothing that I could do with him at present on behalf of your book.
With my peace and kindest thoughts
“Jasmine Villa”, Hyderali Road,
Mysore, 14th July 1944
My dear Sethna,
Your letter of January 31 has been lying all this time in my desk simply because I have had a series of illnesses which deprived me of the necessary energy for tackling correspondence or carrying on my usual work. Now I am very much better and you are amongst the first to be written to now that convalescence is over. Thank you for sending three book packets containing “All-India Weekly”. Naturally I read your articles in them with much delight. And satisfaction too, because of the implied recognition and appreciation of your fine talents.
The piece of work which I liked best was the creative translation from Dante.
Since when have you been writing for this journal and are you going to write every week for it?
With reference to the four principal points raised in your letter:
(1)The absence of a universal consensus of opinion amongst philosophers certainly does indicate the inability of intellect to arrive at indisputable truth. But the alternative which you propose, of an integral satisfaction of all sides of our nature, is superior but still not enough. For the other sides which complement intellect, viz. feeling, mystical intuition and mystical experience will also suffer from the same deficiencies. There is the same possibility of endless contradiction here. I therefore arrive at the conclusion that a new faculty is really needed wherewith to ascertain ultimate truth, one which, if its possession is gained, will function in precisely the same manner in all persons. Such a faculty was I believe used by sages like Krishna and Buddha, I give it the name of ‘insight’. The purity of this insight must necessarily be a consequence of the purity of the entire character and mentality of the man who has it. This applies not only in the moral realm but also in the intellectual and emotional realms of his being. For the very sanskaras of a virtuous nature which helped his progress in earlier stages must now be discarded as much as those of a vicious nature. The very tendencies of the intellect which brought him to his spiritual standpoint, must also be discarded. Only by this ruthless self-pruning can he respond utterly impersonally to reality and not falsify it. It is, I presume, the same as the divinisation of the human mind of which you write.
(2)Metaphysical idealism could certainly be interminably argued about, as you say, especially with the neo-realists. It is however as worthy of consideration by the spiritually minded as other doctrines because it has been held by a number of leaders in the mystical field and that not merely through intellectual activity but also through mystical experience. It is difficult for me to get over this hurdle of anti-mentalism in my appreciation of the Aurobindonian world-view, with which otherwise I am largely in close accord. But here of course we are up against the same difficulty of the equally contradictory character of such experience. You are however incorrect in stating that the drift of science is away from Berkeley. It is true that Berkeley’s view of mentalism was a limited and imperfect one, only a beginning in fact. But it was a beginning in the right direction. The lately published book of Sir James Jeans entitled “Physics and Philosophy” shows that the contrary to your belief is the actual case. He concludes, “As we pass from this phenomenal world of space and time to this substratum we seem, in some way we do not understand, to be passing from materialism to mentalism and so possibly from matter to mind… Modern physics has moved in the direction of mentalism.”
(3)The thirst for perfection is certainly present within us. I believe with you that the thirst is a pointer to its eventual slaking. But there is no necessary implication that this will be attained whilst we are in the flesh and on a level of existence where everything is doomed, as Buddha points out, to decay and death. It is more likely to be done on a higher level where such limitations could not exist. The perfection we seek and the immortality we hope for are more likely to be mental rather than physical achievements. For all mystics including yourself are at least agreed that there is such a level of untainted purely spiritual being.
(4) I could very easily put myself in the receptive mood which would see Sri Aurobindo’s teaching in the light that you see it. I understand and sympathise greatly with such a standpoint. But I would have to emerge from it again, for the critical intellect would come back to renewed activity and ask insistent questions. I have however tried to keep a proper relation between the critical intellect and the mystical intuition, despite appearances which may have misled you to believe otherwise.
I must say that you are the best advocate of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching amongst all his disciples whom I know of. And this is true not only because you have a most convincing pen but also because you have a human personality which reflects that splendid integrality which is rightly the outstanding characteristic of the Sage of Pondicherry’s teaching. I should be delighted to hear from you again and hope you will pardon the delay in writing you, a delay which will not be repeated again.
How are things with you in Bombay? I have the idea at the back of my head of paying a visit to your city at the end of this year but whether it would be possible to do so will depend upon my state of health.
With my peace and all good wishes,
“Jasmine Villa”, Hyderali Road, Mysore
23rd August, 1944
My dear Sethna,
Thank you for sending me the copy of ‘‘All-India Weekly’’ containing your article on “The Birthday of Sri Aurobindo”. I found it particularly interesting because it includes a topic we discussed a couple of years ago and I must say the views you express therein seem more acceptable now to me than they did then, although still not completely so.
I wrote you a long letter on July the 14th. So will now conclude with my best wishes for your literary career, and with my peace.
“Jasmine Villa”, Hyderali Road,
MYSORE CITY June 12, 1945
My dear Sethna,
Your letter of November 26th was read with pleasure. I dislike having to apologise to you each time for the belated character of my replies but there is no help for it. I fell ill again last December and was in bed for some weeks. I have recovered fairly good health but owing to the nature of the fever there has been an aftermath of physical and nervous weakness. My physician ordered me to cut down all desk work 75% so I simply let all correspondence slide.
I read your arguments and appreciate their force. You put up an excellent case. But I am sure I can answer it in a personal discussion. It would demand an effort of which I am not now capable to put my answer into writing. So we must postpone this for a personal meeting, which will surely occur eventually somewhere.
I get “All-India Weekly” and must compliment you on your articles. I particularly liked “The Fetish of Theory” about six weeks ago and I hope you will include it in the preface to your next book of poems.
Sri Aurobindo’s fame and work is getting a wider and wider notice in the West, to judge from my mailbag. This pleases me greatly.
Did you ever hear from Mrs Hutchinson? Now that the European war has ceased it is safe to send a copy of your book to her, if she did not receive the other one. Her latest address is: Hesper Hutchinson, Ambassador Club, Bournemouth, Hants, England.
With all good wishes and my peace,
Box 34, Station D, New York 3, U.S.A.
September 19, 1946
My dear Sethna,
I left India several months ago on such short notice that I had no time to say farewell; otherwise I would certainly have informed you. It took me some months to reach America, as I was ship-wrecked on the way and had to spend two months in Egypt, waiting for another vessel.
However, the change of climate has greatly benefited my health, which was becoming very urgent.
The news from India is tragic—and now that there is an Interim Government, the internal peace which we had all hoped would follow that event, has not so far shown itself. And yet, given the cooperative spirit, the problems could surely have been ironed out.
You wrote me last year asking about the interest which Westerners are taking in the teaching of your Guru Sri Aurobindo. I know only from occasional book reviews in library journals, and from letters which I get from people I know, that more and more of his writings are being read and studied and appreciated every year. He is coming to be recognized as the authentic spokesman of modern Indian mysticism, as apart from the medieval type represented by the missionary swamis.
I was sorry to note that “All-India Weekly” had become more of a competition journal than a literary one, so that your own articles disappeared, in the three issues which have reached me since April. Please let me know if you are likely to write for them again; otherwise I shall not renew my subscription. If you are not likely to do so, there are no doubt several other high class journals who would be glad to print your work—so please advise me should you change over to one of them, in order that I might subscribe to it.
I think of my peaceful life in Mysore against the vivid contrast of the frenzied existence here, and have to smile at all these millions of people running hither and thither when they are not engaged in going on strike. I shall soon have cleared up the business which keeps me here, and then retreat to California for the colder months. However, the above will be my permanent mail address.
With kindest regards,
11 Replies to “Epistolary Exchanges between Amal Kiran and Paul Brunton on Sri Aurobindo”
Excellent! Very interesting reading. It would be nice to read even Mr. Sethna´s replies. Thank you!
Arindam Gupta is justified in pointing out the readers’ expectation concerning Amal’s replies, as usual radiant in his way of thinking and expressing his topic.
Anurag owes our thanks for revealing at last this well-known author’s faithful admiration for f Sri Aurobindo.
Pavita as we knew her was a curious personality enjoying her “reign of terror” at the Kindergarten and in the heart of her loyal servant Muthu.
Thanks Anurag, great job done.
Thank you so much u always bring something new and interesting. I always eagerly wait for your mail.
Thank you for the information.
Dear Anurag Banerjee ji
I am indebted to you for sharing such a wondrous wealth of knowledge and wisdom!
The more I read the Paul Brunton’s letters, the closer I feel to Sri Aurobindo.
Paul Brunton’s letters are the windows to Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and his work.
Paul Brunton’s respect for Shri. Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna ji) is obvious in his words, as he quotes in his letter dated 14th July, 1944:
“I must say that you are the best advocate of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching amongst all his disciples whom I know of. And this is true not only because you have a most convincing pen but also because you have a human personality which reflects that splendid integrality which is rightly the outstanding characteristic of the Sage of Pondicherry’s teaching. ”
Many thanks for sharing this treasure full of sparkling rays of wisdom enlightening the path we tread.
(Editor, Creative Artist, Writer, International Poetess, Reviewer
Anurag has a knack to pull out and present such historically important documents from the treasure trove of the Overman Foundation. I had read these letters to Amal Kiran years ago in Mother India magazine when they were first published. In fact, they had answered my then perplexing query – ‘How come Paul Brunton traveled across India in search of spiritual teachers in 1930s and yet, there was no reference to Sri Aurobindo in his book “In Search of Secret India” which is based on his travels?”
Amal Kiran’s observation that “He was allowed on the condition that he would write nothing on Sri Aurobindo: the Ashram did not want publicity” may be only partially true. Another reason could well be that Sri Aurobindo did not want that he and the Mother be classified or placed among other spiritual figures of the time whom Paul Brunton was interviewing. They were (and they are not) two more gurus, two more spiritual teachers among many others and the Ashram was / is not one more Ashram among many others. Hence, the condition not to write about Sri Aurobindo and the Ashram in any of his writings.
In my teenage, Paul Brunton was my earliest connection with what is called the “spiritual literature”. My father had bought a Gujarati translation of his book ‘ In Search of Secret India’. I must have been 14 or 15 at that time. Sitting on a boundary wall that separated a housing colony where I lived with a cotton growing field in a village, I would read the book with the sense of awe for the people involved in the spiritual search and secrets. . That was Paul Brunton’s talent – to communicate in a clear language his curiosity and quest for people involved in spiritual endeavors.
Starting from that first teenage connection, I have several sweet ‘catch-ups’ with Paul Brunton. Let me write a few of them.
A decade later, when I visited Raman Ashram in Tiruvannamalai, I requested the senior manager of the Ashram to show me the photo of Paul Brunton with Ramana Maharshi and he obliged. Later, I also happily surprised to know that an elderly Western lady cleaning the public roads outside the Ashram main building in the mornings in Pondicherry in 1974 was formerly Paul Brunton’s secretary, Pavita.
In 1987 or so, while traveling by train from New Delhi to Ahmedabad, there was a question as to how to spend the time during the long 25+ hours journey. But there was a miracle, a grace, In a small bookshop on the platform of the Delhi railway station, I spotted a book “A Hermit in the Himalayas” by Paul Brunton. Just a ₹15 or ₹20 book describing his visit to and stay in a solitary place in the Himalayas made such a pleasant and absorbing reading that the entire journey became a self & world forgetting happy concentration in the company of Paul Brunton in the Himalayas!
Sri Aurobindo had a high regard for Paul Brunton. This can be gauged from his remark during an informal conversation with the disciples. “Paul Brunton is a seeker of Truth” said the master when the attended said to the effect that Paul Brunton was making a good deal of money from his books in America.
I believe Paul Brunton’s connection with Sri Aurobindo was just a starting point. In his new life in a new body, his psychic being would come to Sri Aurobindo, and trade the path that leads to a new world, a new evolution, a new creation. Paul Brunton may be among us in a new coat (body).
Thank you, Anurag, for the opportunity to read these letters again and to recall my sweet reminiscences of PB.
It was quite interesting to find in the letter dated Sept 19, 1946 that Paul Brunton mentions he met with a ship wreak accident as predicted by the Astrologer from Benares Sudhei Babu on pg 211 of Search in Secret India. P
Prophetic and insightful.
This is really great..I am interested in the journey of Paul Brunton..
It was a nice feeling reading the letters exchanged between these greats. Thank you very much Anurag for such great work.
AVM SS Lahiri
I hope that Amal’s replies can be posted here at some point.
I used to have the full exchange in a book by Amal, but unfortunately, that book is not available now.
At the very end of their correspondence, to the best of my recollection, Amal ends up agreeing with Brunton, and it appears their difference about “idealism” or “mentalism” was a matter of semantics. Amal had been taking Brunton’s use of the word “mind” to refer to manas and buddhi. It turns out that – while not exactly the same – Brunton was using Mind (with a capital “M”) in a similar way to how Sri Aurobindo uses the “supermind.”
Amal thoroughly accepts Brunton’s ‘idealism” after having clarified this point about what Brunton meant by “mentalism.”