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Journal

The 1814-1816 Diary
of a French Philosopher
 
 
Maine de Biran
 
 
 
Maine de  Biran (29 November 1766 - 20 July 1824) and
the opening page of the “Journal”, 1954 edition, Switzerland
 
 
 
A 2012 Editorial Note:
Biran, or a Page in the Book of Life
 
 
“La religion de l’avenir est la religion du coeur...”
 
 
 
Living is a science, and it demands reflection.  For many centuries it has been the custom of students of esoteric wisdom and truth-seekers to keep diaries, so as to record and evaluate their experiences in the art of observing life, and of observing themselves.
 
Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer, and Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Roman emperor, are two among many well-known examples; and Marcus Aurelius, it must be said, never meant his “Meditations” to be published. In more recent times, the idea of silently keeping regular notes about one’s spiritual efforts has been a central factor in the lives of many students of theosophy. An Eastern Master of Wisdom specifically recommended the daily practice of reading and writing, in a letter to Ms. Laura Holloway:
 
“How can you know the real from the unreal, the true from the false? Only by self-development. How get that? By first carefully guarding yourself against the causes of self-deception. And this you can do by spending a certain fixed hour or hours each day all alone in self-contemplation, writing, reading, the purification of your motives, the study and correction of your faults, the planning of your work in the external life.”[1]
 
In the early 19th century, French philosopher Maine de Biran (1766-1824) followed the same time-honoured tradition and used his diary as a tool for obtaining self-knowledge. He often practised self-observation in parallel lines with the observation of Nature and of the weather conditions around him. His studies in the mutual interaction between the state of physical nature and the state of one’s mind are also of theosophical interest.
 
Biran had a project for observing and improving the way he used a rather special natural resource: time. In doing this, he was influenced by an 1808 book by Marc-Antoine Jullian, entitled “Essai Sur L’Emploi du Temps” (“Essay on the Use of Time”). [2]
 
Jullian proposed a daily timetable for planning, observing and evaluating one’s actual use of time with regard to the various dimensions of life; sleep, rest, physical exercise, religious exercises, work, family, domestic activities, cultural activities,  intellectual work, and so on. [3]
 
The topic has not deserved enough attention. In any occasion or circumstance, chronological time is a natural resource of decisive importance.  Timing constitutes a science in itself. One second can make a decisive difference. The practice of observing one’s daily, monthly, and yearly use of time leads to a gradual improvement in one’s energy-efficiency. An effective use of it is inseparable from the ability to save one’s life-energy.
 
An entire lifetime is but a page in the Book of Life, and it is up to each individual author to decide about the contents of such a page. But time-planning must not be too rigid: while the general structure can be defined, actions and events should be allowed to flow.
 
Maine de Biran never cared too much about having his writings published. For him, they were mainly personal records of an individual research. When he died, his writings remained forgotten and abandoned for a few years, before being rescued from destruction and then published, little by little. The striking honesty and directness of Biran’s Journal gives the reader a first-hand report about the thoughts of a wise truth-seeker living in France 200 years ago.
 
Four fragments from the present online edition of his “Journal” for 1814-1816 will show an aspect of his approach to the mystery of life, and of his views about happiness:
 
* “Mon bonheur actuel consisterait dans une paix intérieure, unie avec un sentiment assez plein de vie et d’activité, aussi intérieure. Les agitations des passions ne laissent point de calme; la tranquillité de la sécheresse et de la médiocrité d’esprit tue la vie de l’âme; il n’y a que dans le sentiment religieux (ou dans un goût vif et  soutenu pour l’étude et la recherche de la vérité), qu’on trouve une réunion parfaite du mouvement e du repose.” (pp. 92-93)
 
* “La religion de l’avenir est la religion du coeur.… Comment méconnaître cette force plus qu’humaine qui nous arrache à nous-mêmes, tout ce qui est au dedans de nous et qui nous rapproche par la puissance de son action d’une nature plus grande que la nôtre....?” (pp. 119-120)
 
* “Il faut réconcilier son coeur avec ses lumières, sa conscience avec ses moeurs, ses devoirs avec ses plaisirs, et arriver par là à la paix du Coeur, à cette paix intérieure, sans laquelle il n’y a pas de bonheur possible.” (pp. 121-122)
 
* “Avec de la patience et de la modération, tour le bonheur dont nous sommes susceptibles pourrait se répartir entre les divers moments de notre existence si fragile et si courte. Le seul exercice instantané et réglé de notre puissance active  ne devrait-il pas suffire  à notre bien-être, sans projets excentriques?” (p. 184)
 
Maine de Biran strongly influenced philosophers like Victor Cousin (who is mentioned by Helena Blavatsky once or twice for his “History of Philosophy”);  Félix Ravaisson (who is quoted in her article “Memory in the Dying”);  Henry Bergson (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927), and others. But it is the value of Maine de Biran’s books in themselves which must be taken into consideration above all. He made an important investigation on the relation between the Physical and Moral Consciousness in man [4], a subject which is of critical importance for those who try to live and to act according to elevated ideals.
 
Biran wrote revealing texts on the influence of habit on the ways of thinking and on the process of heightened attention. [5]
 
He was a thoughtful member of the Masonry [6], and actively took part in the social and historical events of his time, which he comments in the present Journal. Biran died in 1824, exactly seven years before Helena Blavatsky was born. His life, his ethics and ideals show that he had much in common with modern theosophy, of which he was a precursor among others.
 
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
 
 
 
NOTES:
 
[1] “Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom”, First Series, edited by C. Jinarajadasa, TPH, Adyar, India, 183 pp., 1973.  The volume includes a collection of letters to L. Holloway; see Letter II, p. 149.
 
[2] “Maine de Biran  Par Lui-Même”, Henri Gouhier, Éditions du Seuil, Collection Écrivains de Toujours, copyright 1970, Paris, France, 190 pp, see pp. 73-90. See also “Essai sur L’Emploi du Temps (1808)”, Marc-Antoine Jullien,  Édité et présenté par Kareen Illiade, Economica-Anthropos, Paris, 2006, 136 pp.
 
[3] Although Biran did not concentrate his efforts on the science of using time, the planning of such a natural resource is clearly present in his personal writings.
 
[4] Among other texts and books, see “Rapports du Physique et du Moral  de L’Homme”, Tome VI Des Oeuvres de Maine de Biran, Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, Paris, 1984, 207 pp. And see “Nouvelles Considérations sur les Rapports du Physique et du Moral de L’Homme”, text included in the “Tome III” of the “Oeuvres de Victor Cousin” (pp. 413-461), Société Belge de Librairie, Hauman Et Co., Bruxelles, 1841, 530 pp.
 
[5] “Influence de L’Habitude sur la Faculté de Penser”, Maine de  Biran, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1954, 242 pp.
 
[6] “Maine de Biran - Oeuvres Choisies”, Aubier, Éditions Montaigne, Paris, 324 pp., MCMXLII (1942), see p. 18.
 
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