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Jul 03, 1996 05:21 PM
by Alan


Would any of the Theosophical Societies be what they are today if
   a series of letters purporting to emanate from certain Mahatmas
   had not been written to Mr. A.P. Sinnett?  I doubt it very
   much.  They may have developed, but, as he himself tells us,
   The original society formed in 1875 had quite different ideas
   about its possible role than any Theosophical Society today.

After C.W.Leadbeater had resigned, but before A.P.Sinnett himself
   had left the Society along with some 200 members of the British
   Section in protest at the reinstatement of CWL, he clearly had
   some serious concerns about the developments the Theosophical
   Society was taking.  Presumably he regarded this of such
   importance that he rushed into print in July, 1907, an article
   that would have seen the light of day quite soon in the natural
   course of events, and ensured that it was circulated among the
   members of the T.S.  His insights, way back in 1907, are of more
   than passing interest today, and it might be said by some that
   some of his greatest concerns as to the future of the Society
   have proved to be more than justified.

In any event, it is an insightful and worthwhile publication with
   which to conclude what I have called "The CWL Affair" in these
   recent postings to the Internet theosophy list, "theos-roots."

There is more to come, but we shall be taking a small jump to the
   nineteen-twenties for this ... A.B.



[By A.P.Sinnett]

THE following article will appear in the next - the August number -
   of BROAD VIEWS, but having so important a bearing on recent
   events it has seemed to me desirable to circulate it in advance
   as an independent address to the members of the Theosophical

Hitherto in these pages I have said but little concerning the
   history or work of the Theosophical Society, choosing rather as
   my task the effort to show how occult research in the last
   thirty years has illuminated a great many other problems besides
   those to which it is specifically related, and has been
   effective very often in putting a new complexion on problems of
   science, politics and sociology. But in view of recent events
   within the Society, it seems worth while to attempt a survey of
   its past history, its present condition, and its possible
   future, for the information, not merely of those who may be
   looking on at its progress from the outside, but also for that
   of the vast majority within its pale, who have lost sight of the
   circumstances under which that progress has been accomplished.
   As almost the only survivor of those associated with the early
   growth of the Society, much that I might say if the subject were
   to be reviewed with entire candour would probably be surprising
   to many of those in whose minds a mythological period of
   theosophical history has gradually been evolved. By many of
   those who have been attracted to theosophy since its literature
   has been abundant, an impression has certainly been derived, no
   matter how for the moment, to the effect that this mighty wave
   of regenerating thought is the product of clearly designed,
   specific action, in the first instance, by those representing
   accomplished evolutionary progress, spoken of in theosophical
   writing as the great Masters of Wisdom, sometimes as the Elder
   Brethren of Humanity, or the Adept Chiefs of that "Occult
   World," concerning which I wrote more than a quarter of a
   century ago. People have been led to believe that a certain
   Russian lady, of very wonderful gifts and characteristics was
   chosen by the adept Masters as their representative in the world
   of ordinary life and sent out to inaugurate the theosophical
   movement.  As we see it now, spreading its branches all over the
   world, those coming at late date within the range of its
   influence have been encouraged to believe that the seed was sown
   in the beginning with a conscious foresight concerning the
   nature of the tree that would grow.

Beliefs of this kind belong to the mythology of the theosophical
   movement. The little society founded in America in the year
   1875, and happily selecting the word "Theosophical" as its
   designation, had no very clear idea concerning its own purpose,
   was professedly aiming at the study of Egyptian antiquities, and
   seems to have interested its original members, chiefly because
   it was associated with a wonder-working magician, Madame
   Blavatsky. A scoffing crowd has always supposed that because the
   doings attributed to her were of a kind that seemed miraculous,
   she must be an impostor. This stupid misconception, culminated
   much later on in misleading publications issued by the Psychic
   Research Society, but meanwhile those who were in personal touch
   with the lady in question, and who knew that she possessed
   extraordinary and abnormal power over hidden laws of nature as
   yet unfamiliar to physical science, were carried away with
   enthusiasm on her behalf and invested her in their imagination
   with attributes as foreign to her real nature as those of a
   contrary order imputed to her by the representatives of
   contemptuous incredulity.

During the earliest period of bewildered excitement amongst the
   little group personally cognisant of Madame Blavatsky's
   wonder-working powers, she and her staunch ally, Colonel Olcott,
   drifted to India, vaguely believing that important results would
   ensue if they attached themselves to a Hindoo religious
   association, the Arya Sumaj, of which a certain native
   philosopher, Swami Dyanand Saraswati, was the chief. The scheme
   ultimately came to nothing; but the fact that at one time it
   engrossed the zealous efforts of those generally spoken of as
   the "founders" of the Theosophical Society will be enough to
   show how tentative in the beginning were the efforts they were
   concerned in making. They had indeed attempted, on their way out
   to India, to establish a European branch of the Theosophical
   Society in London, but the handful of people whose excited
   interest in Madame Blavatsky's wonder working induced them to
   constitute themselves members of this branch, had no definite
   purpose in view, and their organisation faded almost out of
   existence within the next few years. But then it came to pass
   that in India, becoming acquainted with Madame Blavatsky, I came
   through her intervention into close relations with some of those
   great Elder Brethren of the Adept world, of whom, for the first
   time, I had heard from her. The results which followed are
   matters of literary history, although, in the confusion of later
   events, the true course of that history has generally been
   forgotten.  I found the Master who responded to my appeal ready
   to answer questions of a penetrating character; ready, also, to
   give me unmistakable proofs of his abnormal power, proofs which
   naturally contributed to render me eagerly respectful with
   reference to his teaching. This in the beginning did no more
   than illuminate my mind to some extent concerning the place in
   Nature of the Adept Brotherhood. Thus my first book, "The Occult
   World," did no more than pass on this illumination to my

But after its publication, a more important correspondence began.
   The Master encouraged me to inquire more and more boldly
   concerning the mysteries of life and evolution, the laws
   governing re-birth and existence on superphysical planes. His
   letters on these great subjects were of thrilling interest to
   Madame Blavatsky as well as to myself, for their teaching was as
   new to her as to me, as she frequently assured me in the frank
   conversation of that period. Her magic powers that rendered her
   so interesting a personage had been acquired under circumstances
   that did not invest her with the theoretical knowledge we have
   since accumulated.

When I left India in the beginning of 1883, Madame Blavatsky and
   Colonel Olcott, representing the Theosophical Society, were
   already established in a comfortable house at Adyar, Madras,
   bestowed upon them by a wealthy native sympathiser. There Madame
   Blavatsky declared, it was her intention to remain for the rest
   of her life. She had found her final resting place!  Her work
   she conceived to lie entirely in the Eastern world. The Western
   races, and the European especially, she held to be quite
   incapable of appreciating occultism, and altogether outside the
   pale of her operations. But by this time the teaching[s] of my
   Adept Master were embodied in the volume which had so curious a
   destiny, "Esoteric Buddhism." It was published immediately on my
   return to England, and excited attention to an extent for which
   I had been but little prepared. The fact was that far from being
   incapable of appreciating the results of occult research, a
   considerable proportion of the European world was so ripe for
   its appreciation, that the moment some of its results were
   available for consideration, intelligent readers in considerable
   numbers eagerly embraced the magnificent philosophy thus
   unveiled for the first time. It represented for the West a new
   development of thought, though the body of knowledge from which
   it sprang had long been in the possession of initiates pledged
   to secrecy. The justification of that earlier policy will be
   found in the literature itself, and I need not interrupt my
   present story to review it.

Around the minute nucleus of the British Theosophical Society the
   influence of "Esoteric Buddhism" gathered ever increasing
   numbers, and the new revelation, for it was little less, was
   most quickly appreciated by people of the highest culture.  In
   the beginning the Theosophical movement in Europe first took
   root in the classes representative of that culture. Within the
   first twelve months, the growth of the Society in London was of
   a kind at once surprising and encouraging; associated also, by
   reason of its character, with magnificent promise concerning
   future possibilities. For it had become rooted amongst those who
   were capable of exercising influence in the world. The habits of
   civilisation have greatly changed during the progress of the
   Christian era. In the present day, new views of life and
   spiritual science are not expected to emanate from the
   carpenter's shop.  In the Western world no one can be respected
   as a teacher unless he has to some extent the prestige of
   intellectual achievement, impossible on the lower levels of
   social life. New thought, to put the matter crudely, may grow
   from below upwards in the East, it must descend from above in
   the West, and thus it seemed to those of us who were concerned
   with the Theosophical movement at its inception, highly
   desirable that, as far as Europe was concerned it should become
   firmly established amongst those whose social and intellectual
   prestige would protect it from ridicule and discredit.

Unhappily, however, a curious change soon came over the scene.
   Madame Blavatsky changed her mind in regard to the permanent
   character of her settlement at Adyar. Attracted by the
   unforeseen expansion of the movement in Europe under the
   circumstances I have described, she, herself, accompanied by
   Colonel Olcott, came over to this country. Undoubtedly her
   presence inspired the movement with extraordinary force. Her
   personal magnetism was marvellously powerful, but while exciting
   passionate regard with some, it was provocative of exactly the
   opposite feeling with others. It is improbable that the inner
   history of the events leading up to the dispatch by the Psychic
   Research Society, of a Commissioner appointed to investigate
   Madame Blavatsky's doings in India, will ever be publicly
   written. But for the time, the result was the utter collapse of
   the Theosophical Society in Europe, as regards the public esteem
   in which it was held in the beginning. A mere remnant survived
   the storms of that period.  But Madame Blavatsky was not a
   person whom it was easy to crush. Gathering by degrees around
   her a few of those who were still faithful to the original
   inspiration, Madame Blavatsky, after a stay of some year or two
   in seclusion at Wurtzburg and Ostend, was brought back to London
   by a committee of admirers, and her personal influence was
   revived; although the second growth of the Society bore but
   little resemblance to that which had been swept away.

For the rest its history comes within the recollection of
   multitudes besides myself. Madame Blavatsky published her great
   work. "The Secret Doctrine," a book the history of which as
   regards the circumstances of its production would itself be not
   a little surprising for many of those who have been taught to
   revere its curiously variegated contents. Later occult research
   has invested us with capacities for judgment which show us "The
   Secret Doctrine," a rather dangerous study for those who take it
   up without being fully armed with knowledge enabling them to
   steer their course amongst the frequent passages which later
   experience has discredited. But, indeed, for all who have come
   into the movement in the period succeeding the publication of
   the "Secret Doctrine," that book itself, like so much that
   belonged to its wonderful authoress, is already tinged with
   theosophical mythology.

I should have some curious explanations to give if I went at
   length, in connection with the history of "The Secret Doctrine,"
   into the subject of my original correspondence with the Master -
   and Mme. Blavatsky's relations therewith. Some - though by no
   means all - of the letters in question came to me through Mme.
   Blavatsky's intermediation, and some - though by no means all -
   were curiously amplified in transmission. I am the last person
   in the world to underrate the powers Mme. Blavatsky exercised
   during the wonderful period when the Theosophical Society was
   going through its early vicissitudes, though such powers had
   nothing to do with the philosophical teaching then in process of

With what motive, it may be asked, have I thus reviewed the strange
   history of the movement to which the latter part of my life has
   been devoted? Recent circumstances will suggest the answer. The
   stream of events which my own humble efforts first set flowing
   has become a roaring torrent over which I have long since ceased
   to have any appreciable control. And now it has taken a new
   departure since the death of the original President, Colonel
   Olcott, under circumstances which are regarded from different
   points of view with widely different feelings. A lady of
   remarkable personal magnetism, unrivalled eloquence, and
   unquestionable devotion to the theosophical cause, has been
   accepted as the new President of the Society, on the nomination
   of the one who has passed away, with enthusiastic approval by
   enormous majorities. Probably that approval would have been
   quite unqualified had it not been that the nomination is
   described as having been prompted by the appearance at the dying
   President's bedside, under what the world at large would
   conceive to be miraculous conditions, of two great Adept Masters
   undeniably associated with the movement from the beginning, one
   of them being supposed to be the great teacher from whom that
   early flood of occult information embodied in "Esoteric
   Buddhism" originally emanated. It would be impossible here to
   set forth in detail the reasons which induce some of those
   amongst theosophists of the largest experience, to regard these
   alleged manifestations as having been - we know not exactly what
   - but certainly not what they seemed. It is hardly necessary to
   say that no one supposes they were the product of any
   contemptible imposture, of the kind not infrequently associated
   with alleged appearances of materialised spirits through the
   agency of mediums.  I entertain no doubt whatever that two
   figures closely resembling the Masters in question, actually
   stood by Colonel Olcott's beside, materialised and visible to
   physical plane eyesight. But if they were not those whom they
   represented, it is obvious that they may have been in reality
   the result of occult activities distinctly antagonistic to the
   true welfare of the movement. Should that view be a correct one
   - and I hold it to be nothing less than my duty to declare that
   in my opinion the theory that they were what they seemed is
   absolutely untenable - we may have arrived at a curious turning
   point in the history of the great movement. It is premature as
   yet to make any forecast as to the probable course of events.
   With these we can only deal as they may arise, and amongst the
   possibilities of the situation, even from the point of view of
   those who share the disbelief I have just expressed, it will be
   recognised that loyalty of intention on the part of those
   concerned with the direction of the movement on the physical
   plane, may, after all, disconcert any attempts to misdirect its
   force proceeding from mysterious superphysical agencies.

At the same time we must be prepared for the worst, even though the
   worst need not be of very great moment. The Theosophical Society
   might vanish off the scene like a burst soap bubble, but the
   literature that now embodies the results of the last thirty
   years of occult research will remain for the service and
   enlightenment of mankind throughout the coming generations,
   destined beyond any possibility of doubt to play an enormously
   greater part in the thinking of this century in its later
   decades than it has been able to perform for a generation
   amongst which it has arisen. Those few of us who have been in
   touch with the original sources of its inspiration have long
   been aware that the seed sown has taken root. We have long been
   assured, and with advancing knowledge can now understand the
   assurance, that within the current century all that body of
   knowledge relating to human evolution, the conditions of its
   normal progress, and the possibilities of its abnormal
   acceleration, will be the common property of all cultivated
   thinkers in the civilised world. And the influence of such
   knowledge on human welfare will be grandly independent of the
   fate that may attend specific organisations of a transitory
   character, or individual activities that may have contributed to
   the result. The final moral of all this is, that the teaching
   concerning the great natural laws governing human evolution, set
   afloat in the first instance under the conditions I have
   described, and fortified by the manifold results and records of
   later investigation, constitute, in fact, the Theosophical
   movement, the health and future of which is independent of all
   personalities known to the world so far. But even though it may
   be probable that, in the long run, future generations will
   devise some better machinery for the promotion of theosophical
   study than any which exists at present (and is more or less
   tainted with unhappy traditions), it seems to be the business of
   those of us who have been working with this machinery so far, to
   do the best we can with it, as long as our present life's
   activities may last. For some reasons, looking back on the
   curious record of my own experiences in its service, it would be
   a personal relief to me if I could think it right to stand
   altogether aside, and leave the future developments of theosophy
   to work out their own assured destiny, perhaps, by shaking
   themselves altogether free from the embarrassments of the past -
   and the present. But undoubtedly the great masters from whom,
   and from whom alone, the teaching I have been able to put
   forward for the service of the world, has come, have been
   interested in the Theosophical Society as a useful organisation
   - though by no means blind to its defects and vagaries, as I
   have had the means of knowing. I think they would wish all of
   us, who have had to do with its beginnings, to work on in
   connection with it, each doing our best to guide it into
   desirable channels.

At present its organisation is unhealthy and unpractical to a
   grotesque degree. If it is destined to survive and be a leading
   influence in the religious and philosophical thinking of the
   European and American worlds, it is ridiculous to suppose that
   its affairs can be continuously controlled, and its government
   carried on from so remote and inconvenient a headquarters as
   that at present established in a suburb of Madras. It is absurd
   in only a minor degree that its General Council should consist
   of members of diverse nationality, scattered all over the globe
   and incapable of meeting. But it is unnecessary at this moment
   to go into further criticism of its chaotic rules. It will be
   enough for those, who, with myself, may be disposed to regard
   them in that light, to consider with me, perhaps, at some future
   date (if circumstances should appear to prompt such an attempt),
   the possibility of putting them on a more reasonable footing.


July, 1907

Scanned and uploaded by Alan Bain, July 1996

Ancient Wisdom for a New Age

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