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Mahatma Letters (Gilbert)

Nov 06, 1996 01:14 PM
by Dr. A.M.Bain

PREFACE to Reprint of "Koot Hoomi Unveiled"

by R.A.Gilbert

All of the central tenets of Theosophy - as the term is understood
within the Theosophical Society - are contained in The Mahatma Letters,
which were transmitted to A.P. Sinnett and others between 1880 and
1884. Extracts from the letters were published by Sinnett in The Occult
World (1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (1883) but they were not published
in their entirety until 1923 when A.T. Barker issued them as The Mahatma
Letters to A.P. Sinnett. The letters provide an effective source-book
for the doctrines elaborated in H.P. Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine
(1888) and espoused by the great majority of latter-day theosophists,
but the origin of the letters remains problematic.

Sinnett believed that they were miraculously 'precipitated', travelling
thousands of miles to reach him in India or England from the Mahatmas'
home in Tibet. Others remained sceptical, arguing that the letters
were not only delivered by Mme. Blavatsky but also composed and written
by her. The battle-lines are still drawn up, with believers and sceptics
hurling a steady stream of invective at each other and rarely supporting
their positions by rational argument. Perhaps the most sober defence
has been offered by Geoffrey Barborka in The Mahatmas and their Letters
(1973), while the most devastating attack upon the supernatural origin
of both the letters and their authors is Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters?,
by H.E. & W.L. Hare (1936) - a critique which has yet to be rationally

Arguing over the source of the letters may seem pointless if one
considers that the real issue is the spiritual merit, or otherwise, of
their content. But spiritual truths are not best served if they are
disseminated by fraud, and it is as well to establish the truth about
the origin of the letters (insofar as it can ever be fully known) if we
are to judge the contents on their value as spiritual philosophy. For
this reason, if for no other, Arthur Lillie's forgotten pamphlet of 1883
deserves to be read and studied with care.

At the time of its publication Koot Hoomi Unveiled was attacked with
vitriolic abuse but with precious little reason, and Lillie's strictures
have remained largely unanswered. With hindsight it is possible to
point out the superficial nature of some of his comments on Tibetan
Buddhism, but his critics necessarily used the same texts and
commentaries as were available to him and their counter arguments thus
carry very little weight.

Such ripostes as they did make were fully answered in Lillie's long
letter justifying his case that appeared in the journal Light in August,
1884, and which is reprinted here. [Text available - AB]

It should also be borne in mind that Arthur Lillie was neither an
hysterical defender of the claims of Spiritualism against those of
Theosophy, nor an unthinking, fundamentalist Christian opponent of
'Esoteric Buddhism'. He was a sound scholar with a profound knowledge
of, and sympathy for, the Buddhist religion. From 1883 to 1912 he
produced a series of scholarly works on the life of the Buddha and
on Buddhist and Vedantist influences upon both early Christianity
and classical Greece. He was a Member of the Royal Asiatic Society,
in whose library his books are still to be found. On a more popular
level he wrote brief biographies of mystics and other esoteric writers,
ranging from Boehme and Swedenborg to Stainton Moses and Madame

While he clearly rejected the ideas of H.P.B. he remained scrupulously
objective when he wrote his studies of her, and his views on the Mahatma
letters deserve careful consideration - whether or not we agree with

Indeed, it is only by emulating Lillie's meticulous attention to detail
that we shall be able to arrive at a true understanding of the origin
and nature of the Mahatma letters, and only then can we truly be said
to have stood firm by the motto of the Theosophical Society: 'There
is no Religion higher than Truth.'

Bristol, September 1995
THEOSOPHY INTERNATIONAL: Ancient Wisdom for a New Age:

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