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Wrapping up 1995

Jan 01, 1996 02:48 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

1995 was a remarkable year for the Theosophical movement in the
United States which attained a level of literary prominence it
has not had for many decades. Five books and a dozen or so
reviews of them showed great diversity in approaches to HPB and
her influence in history. Sylvia Cranston's HPB first
published in hardcover in 1993 was released in paper in 1994
and continues to be widely available in bookstores and
well-represented in libraries. Its reviews were decidedly
mixed with Theosophical journals unanimously enthusiastic but
pans in Library Journal Publisher's Weekly and elsewhere.
Although evasive on many key issues of HPB's life the book did
successfully establish her significance as a historical and
literary influence and conveyed a large amount of information
hitherto scattered among many obscure sources. In 1993 Peter
Washington's Madame Blavatsky's Baboon first appeared in
England. Although rather shallowly researched Washington's
book was so well-written and entertaining that when reprinted
in the US in 1995 it was extremely successful in sales and reviews.

Occupying the middle ground between Cranston and Washington
were Joscelyn Godwin's The Theosophical Enlightenment late
1994 and my The Masters Revealed 1994 and Initiates of Theosophical
Masters 1995. All three books approached HPB with
considerably more respect and appreciation than did Washington
but with considerably less uncritical adulation than Cranston.
The Masters Revealed has so far been a surprising critical and
popular success despite some scathing letters and reviews from
Theosophists. My own opinion in that Godwin's is by far the
best of the current crop of Theosophical history books and is
being ignored because less controversial and polarizing than
the others.

In the midst of such a literary explosion one would hope that the
leaders of the Adyar and Pasadena TS's and the ULT would be
rejoicing. After all a fairly clear goal of the Cranston book
they unanimously promoted was to include HPB in the world's
consciousness at this moment in history. She is vastly better
known to the American public at the end of 1995 than she was at
the beginning of 1993 but instead of welcoming this as an
opportunity many Theosophists are reacting as if it were a
spiritual crisis. Large numbers of letters denounced a fairly
friendly article on Olcott in Smithsonian magazine as well as a
clearly hostile piece in Wired on HPB. A positive review of
The Masters Revealed attracted mainly negative letters to the
Editor of The Quest. In general the mood within the inner sanctum of
Theosophy in America does not seem to be celebratory of the
movement's newfound visibility but rather outraged at
scrutiny by a world that does not accept Theosophical claims
at face value. What seems to be happening is that inclusive
rhetoric is belied by the karma of exclusive attitudes.

Theosophists have long talked in inclusive terms. Theosophy is
held to be a universal spiritual current present in a vast
variety of traditions. All people are said to be welcome in
the Theosophical movement as long as they believe in universal
brotherhood. Tolerance of diverse views is proclaimed and
truth is held to be the highest ideal than which there is no
dharma higher. Each Theosophist is invited to nourish his or
her own unique spiritual perceptions through the literature of
the movement. But what happens when there is an explosion of literature
looking at HPB and Theosophy from many different standpoints?
Does the leadership of any of the three Theosophical
organizations encourage members to read *all* the various
books to weigh them carefully *not in comparison to a litmus
test of Theosophical belief but according to their instrinsic
plausibility*? What appears to be happening is quite the
contrary. The implicit message from many quarters has been: *only*
Sylvia Cranston's book has any value as a guide to
understanding HPB and Theosophical history. *Everything* else
being written even though by members of Theosophical
societies is fundamentally *threatening* to Theosophy
*heretical* in its view of HPB and to be ignored if possible
and attacked when necessary.

As I look into 1996 wondering about the future of the
Theosophical movement the key questions occupying my mind
concern the balance between inclusive and exclusive trends.
Will the organizations continue to encourage a fortress
mentality among Theosophists that sees our Truth under attack
by Opposing Forces? Will articles and books presenting a less
than Cranstonian halo around HPB continue to attract fierce
denunciation? Will the mindset persist that has seen
Cranston's book as the Last Word about HPB the final
refutation of Calumnies and Slanders after which there is no
more left to write? Will this mindset continue to poison Theosophical
minds with the idea that anything slightly varying from
orthodoxy must be denounced as evil?

Or will there be a dawning recognition that the evolution of a
body of literature is a *dialectical* process in which each
thesis inevitably suggests its antithesis in which each honest
work attempts to synthesize what has gone before and in which
there will be an endless succession of new and conflicting
interpretations? That *progress* means not the final and
absolute triumph of *our way of seeing HPB* but rather an
evolving literature that probes all the possibilities
inconsistencies implications?

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