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In the world but not of it

Nov 08, 1996 06:32 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

The issues raised by Mark and others about how to separate the
message from the messenger, or the good from the bad, in the
case of HPB has been resonating for a while inside me without
any clear direction-- just bouncing around.  One good thing about
the Crews article is that it made me ask myself if I make too many
excuses for her, avoid facing harsh implications and so on.

It is a noteworthy change after starting to take melatonin
regularly at bedtime that I often awaken with some "message"
about a problem or issue that has been lurking for a while.
This especially seems to occur if meditation preceded sleep the
night before.  This morning was one of those times, and the
thought upon awakening was "the problem with HPB is that she
failed to be `in the world but not of it.'" (Hardly something
F. Crews would accept!)  In her 1872 letter to the Third
Section Director (Russian spy agency head) she wrote: "I must
confess that three-quarters of the time the spirits spoke and
answered in my words and out of my considerations, for the
success of my own plans.  Rarely, very rarely, did I fail, by
means of this little trap, to discover people's hopes, plans
and secrets...I have played every role, I am able to represent
myself as any person you may wish."  This may be immediate
reason to dismiss the letter as a forgery, for some
Theosophists.  But if it is genuine, it seems to point to a
crucial character flaw indeed.  Deceptiveness alone is not as
problematic as when combined with manipulation and
self-seeking.  Even if we admit that HPB was not acting simply
on her own agenda, but on one developed with the advice and
guidance of many others-- recognized as spiritual leaders in a
number of traditions perhaps-- there is still something here
that doesn't measure up to what most of us expect from a
spiritual teacher.  There's a kind of partisanship, a
willingness to use people, and a love of intrigue for its own
sake that bothers me more than simple deception.

This may explain why Edgar Cayce feels so much better to me as
a research topic, a mentor, a founder of an organization to
which I belong.  Although he certainly lacked HPB's mental
brilliance, global perspective, and cultural sophistication, he
also lacked her worst qualities.  No one, even his greatest
critics like James Randi, has ever credibly questioned his integrity.
He doesn't seem to have been moved by worldly motives, by
partisanship, by the desire for fame, and so on.  I think, when
I look within, that we do have a real need to believe that
somewhere there are spiritual teachers who are sincerely
altruistic, who are universal in their sympathies, who really
love humanity.  That doesn't mean we need them to be inerrant
in factual matters (Cayce would be in a heap of trouble on that
score) or morally immaculate.  But they do have to reflect the
highest within ourselves, and not the combative kama-manas.

Toward the end of her life I think HPB got to that point.  But
there were so many missteps, so much partisanship and
manipulation and deception along the way, that her legacy is
decidedly mixed.  If the Theosophical Society today is marked
by partisanship, secrecy, manipulation, and deception, perhaps
we should look to its primary source rather than assuming that
the corruption came in somewhere down the line.

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