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Masters, letters, Washington

Nov 04, 1996 08:04 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

The last few digests have been so full of questions and
comments that are "right up my alley" that I can't resist the
temptation to respond, despite a number of bad experiences on
theos-l in the past.  But those who have been aggressive or
contemptuous before are mostly gone now, and I hope that the
present company can discuss these matters with less passion and
more contemplation.  Especially since I'm about to post several
disagreements with previous comments.

First, to Mark, I applaud you for bringing up this question and
am sorry you took my reply as flippant.  I didn't mean to
*excuse* the Founders on the basis of being Leos; the point was that
unrealistic expectations lead to either disappointment or
self-delusion.  I once deluded myself about the Founders, and
then I was disappointed in them-- but have ended up in a state
of equanimity, able to weigh the good and the bad and conclude
that the former outweighs the latter.  All your points are
still well taken; Theosophy can never again be my religion (I
never called that spade a spade but was a true believer
nonetheless) in the way it used to be.  There is to a certain
extent a justification for the misrepresentations of the
Masters made by HPB, which you will find in my books.  She was
obliged to conceal their true names and much else about them in
order to protect their privacy.  And having revealed more about
them than was prudent, she then had to cover up by generating
contradictory stories to confuse the issue.  For example, M.
and K.H. are portrayed as a Hindu and a Sikh respectively,
residents of Northwest India, in early sources.  But later they
become Buddhists who live a thousand miles to the East in
Tibet.  My conclusion is that the first story was the true one
and the second designed to throw people off the scent.

To Doss, Triaist and others who uphold the genuineness of the
MLs: what does it really mean to say they are genuine?  I would
place possible meanings of this claim on a scale of credibility
ranging from proven, through probable, plausible, and possible,
down through improbable, implausible, and impossible.  Were
these letters the product of some kind of thought transference
between HPB and her sources?  Possible.  Was the language in
them her own rather than theirs?  Probable, close to proven.
Was the handwriting hers? Plausible.  Was the handwriting the
Masters'? Improbable.  Was the doctrinal content of the letters
simply out of HPB's own mind, without any adept sources feeding
her information?  Implausible.  And so on.  Don't ask me to
justify these judgments; others can make their own and I just
mean to point out what a "hall of magic mirrors" we are in and
how wrong it is to dichotomize between "genuine" and
"fraudulent" in such a complex situation.  I think HPB entered
a yogic state in which she believed herself taking dictation
from the Masters; if the handwriting isn't "hers" that doesn't
mean she didn't write them-- perhaps she was overshadowed
enough to write in someone else's.  Or maybe she made them up
and got someone else to copy them.  If the handwriting is hers,
that doesn't mean the contents were.

As to Peter Washington's book: Doss, it is untheosophical to
make up stories about other people's motivations when you don't
really know them, especially when they are demeaning.  In the
absence of proof of your conjecture, I choose to assume he
wrote it because he felt a creative impulse to do so and not
for pecuniary gain.  Bart, you are dead on in saying that
Washington's book is not well-researched.  In two pages on the
Masters, he makes about 50 factual errors, attributing to HPB
dozens of teachings about them that appeared after her death in
other people's books.  My books were compared unfavorably to
his in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, and my
reply, with more trashing of me by the reviewer, appears in the
current issue.  More on that in another post.

Michael R., you put me in the vulnerable position of
recommending my own books.  When you say "We have no proof that
the `Masters' were not fragments of HPB's personality" I can
only assume that you have not read *The Masters Revealed* and
its sequel or else that you dismiss them entirely.  Although
some Theosophists, most notably John Algeo, have reacted with
contempt and anger to my effort to ground HPB's claims in
history, most reviewers outside the TS and within it have
accepted my fundamental thesis.  TMR got raves in the New York
Times Book Review and The Skeptic of all places.  That claim is that
every figure of note in the pantheon of HPB's Masters can be related
by historical evidence to real people she can be shown or plausibly hypothesized
to have known.  And moreover that her knowledge of esoteric and Oriental
traditions can be observed to have gradually developed through her
life due in part to acquaintance with a series of initiates in
various traditions who were widely regarded as experts in them.
The correspondences between such acquaintances and the Masters
as she depicted them are not simple one-to-one equivalences, which
Algeo and others falsely accuse me of claiming to have provided.
And they range from very strong to quite weak, with every stage
in between represented among the 32 characters nominated as
Masters. But they are substantial enough to prove that HPB didn't make
the Masters up out of whole cloth, or imagine them, or project
them as multiple personalities.  She fictionalized real people
who had many of the traits attributed to the Masters.

When writing the books I hoped that the Theosophists would be
happy to find out just how much truth I could find in HPB's
stories about her sponsors and teachers.  But it turned out
that for many if not most, the cup was half empty rather than
half full, and they'd rather have no historical prototypes for
the Masters at all than accept the fictionalization hypothesis.


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