The Theosophical Forum – September 1936


24th July, 1936.

Dear Brother:

Your undated letter — but postmarked "Jul 20," 1936, — reached me this morning; and naturally I gave to it the attention and thoughtful consideration which it struck me its contents well merited. You are dead right in calling me "a busy man," for, as a matter of fact, my official duties and other routine-work have been increasing since I assumed office so greatly that at the present time I am literally driven to find time to take care of the many things that come under my hand. Therefore, please forgive me for this present letter which may seem to you rather inadequate. I simply cannot find time for a longer chat with you.

I turn immediately and without preliminaries to what seems to be the gist of your very brotherly and kind communication to me; but first let me say straight from my heart to yours, that there is not the slightest need of asking my pardon for your "bluntness," nor for your straightforward speech. There is nothing in the world that I respect so highly in a man as intellectual honesty; and if this be coupled with spiritual discernment, I do my best to make such a man my brother, attempting to establish between us bonds that will withstand foolish human folly. How could I, as a Theosophist, and a Theosophical Leader to boot, object to a man's writing to me the convictions of his heart, and on any subject whatsoever, as you do in this letter to me, on the matter of that perhaps most difficult of all our Theosophical tenets, Karman? We might call this wondrous doctrine a hundred-faceted truth, and a hundred men will see, each one, a facet; and in the dazzling brilliance emanating from the source of illumination, be blind to the existence of the other ninety-nine facets, and hear nevertheless of the existence of the other ninety-nine opinions about karman, and perhaps look upon these other ninety-nine opinions as fallacious or "pernicious," as you qualify my understanding of karman, and my teachings on it, Now, I fully agree with you that outside of the difficulty of a fully rounded understanding of the doctrine of karman, it has a most especial application to the human life of us men, and therefore has not merely a metaphysical significance, but a very important, a highly important, moral and ethical one.

First, let me disabuse your good and brotherly mind of the fallacy which it is evident you cherish regarding my teaching about karman, which, if I understand you, you seem to think "inculcates unconscious fatalism." In this you are utterly wrong. My understanding of this wondrous doctrine runs diametrically counter to such a conception; for to me karman is the only doctrine which will logically destroy the theory which the West calls Fatalism — whether unconscious, or conscious and explicitly taught. However, here is no place to labor this point, for if you are interested in my conception or teaching of karman, you have but to consult my many books, lectures, and various statements on the subject, and — not making the mistake of taking one statement as the key to all other statements, but taking them all together, you will be able to get a synthetic view of what I mean to say about it when I write about it.

That people should misunderstand the doctrine of karman, and that many should have many differing views about it, is not only to be expected, but in my judgment is one of the very best possible things that could happen in the T. S., for it does away with the dogmatic attitude; it leads us to have charity for the opinions or convictions of others; it introduces freshness and variety of thought in our intercommunications of ideas; and above everything else perhaps it brings about that healthy respect for the convictions of others which can never be obtained by shallow, superficial, and often unconsciously hypocritical adherence to others" opinions merely in order to attain surface unanimity.

I do hope you understand what I have in mind, for what I have in mind is exactly, and word for word, and sentence for sentence, what H. P. B. so nobly wrote in her first message to the American Theosophists in 1888, and which, although I doubt not you know it well, I venture to quote here: "Orthodoxy in Theosophy is a thing neither possible nor desirable. It is diversity of opinion, within certain limits that keeps the Theosophical Society a living and a healthy body, its many other ugly features notwithstanding. Were it not, also, for the existence of a large amount of uncertainty in the minds of students of Theosophy, such healthy divergencies would be impossible, and the Society would degenerate into a sect, in which a narrow and stereotyped creed would take the place of the living and breathing spirit of Truth and an ever growing Knowledge."

Now these words grandly say what I myself feel and believe; and I repeat once more, as I have said a thousand times if once, that one of my first duties is to keep the platform of the T. S. free and open, exactly as H. P. B., our grand first Teacher, gave it to us as one of our most sacred heritages. This does not mean that the platform of the T. S. should be thrown open to every lunatic or crank or self-seeking place-hunter who wants to air his views, usually for selfish and often for obliquely ethical reasons, for this would be sheer folly, and would at the best make of the platform of the T. S. a mere debating ground of amiable and superficially-minded people, and at the worst cause the T. S. to degenerate into a mere forum so to speak devoted to the airing of opinions of often aggressive and possibly selfish individuals, and a losing of the inner Light and of our first purpose in the T. S., which is the giving of the blessed God-Wisdom of the archaic ages to the hungering hearts of men and women.

In my judgment, the T. S. platform should be devoted to Theosophy, and Theosophy alone, first, last, in between, and all the time; but just because of this reason, I believe in healthy divergencies of opinion, and the right of every true Theosophist, or indeed of any F. T. S., whatever his private convictions or opinions on Theosophical doctrines may be, to have at least his "day in court," as the lawyers say — which does not mean that liberty should degenerate into license, and that the free and full expression of one's inner convictions should degenerate into argumentative and fruitless controversy. This last I am irrevocably opposed to; and I try to set the example myself in never answering attacks made upon me, in invariably refusing to enter into controversial discussions or argumentative exchanges of opinion, or wordy quarrels; for these are not only "pernicious," but waste time, misuse energy which is so badly needed for our Theosophical work among men, and indeed in their worst aspects often make Theosophists ridiculous in the sight of normal men and women who are looking for truth, but who know enough of the world and its follies to sheer away in disgust from stormy or argumentative and therefore always fruitless controversial proposition and answer followed by reply and rejoinder succeeded by surrejoinder, etc., etc.

The world is not interested in the differences of opinions as among Theosophists, and it is our duty to give them the Theosophical teachings; but it is equally as right for us Theosophists to preserve a free and open platform as among ourselves, so that we shall have a free and honorable exchange of opinions. Thus X is convinced that his understanding of a doctrine Y is correct; I say, let X freely and fearlessly but always courteously state his convictions, verbally or in writing; if they differ from the convictions of Z, then give Z the same right; but once that Z and X have each had his chance to point out each one's understanding of the doctrine Y, and when each has thus had his say, let him be modest and decent and drop the matter; for if carried into a controversy, it would simply result in both X and Z being firmly convinced that the other is a fool or nearly so, or teaches a pernicious doctrine or an evil one, and neither will convince the other, and the world will laugh at us as a lot of squabbling, quarreling cranks. "See how these Christians love one another!" It is the foregoing general reasons, which I do not think I have ever written before to any single individual, or, indeed, to any group of individuals, which will show to you why I adjudge it both unwise and untimely, as well as contrary to my own convictions, to enter into a controversy on any point of Theosophical teaching, or on any point of fact whatsoever, with anybody whatsoever. My teachings are before the world; let them stand as stated; from time to time I may enlarge them or clarify them; let others accept them or reject them, as these others think well. If some one else likes to write or say his opinion about a Theosophical doctrine such as Karman, let him state it, and then, yield the platform to some other F. T. S., who may be much more interested in some other aspect of Theosophy than he is in the one that might interest me or you or X or Z.

I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in controversial argumentations; I think they are mischievous in the last degree. What we want and need, and should cultivate, is independence of thought, independence of judgment, healthy divergencies of conviction and of opinion, and retain a free platform for their expression; but should never allow a platform to be the field of wordy argumentation or the bandying of arguments about this, that, or some other facet of teaching which X or Z or A or B may foolishly flatter himself he knows better than some other man. Let each man state his conviction, and then leave the field open to some other man who will then have his chance to give his opinion about some other doctrine which may interest him more greatly.

I do hope you understand this. As long as I live, I think I can safely say I shall never be drawn into any controversy, although always willing, as I am at the present moment in writing to you, to state my opinion about things; if you don't like it, drop it, for that is your undoubted right; and I believe that it is by thus learning respect for each other's healthy divergencies of feeling and opinion that the T. S. as H. P. B. gave it to us will be best preserved into the future, and do its finest and highest work among men.

Never think for a moment that you would ever be ostracized in our T. S., or judged unkindly or wrongly or meanly, because you at any time may express an honest conviction in the courtesy which I know to be an innate attribute of your character. This is your undoubted right in the T. S., and anyone who would call your opinions "heretical" or a "heresy" would be looked upon by me as acting or speaking in an untheosophical manner.

By the way, wouldn't you like to write an article on karman, giving your opinions about it, which we could print in our Theosophical Forum? I think it might be interesting, and, in fact, I am sure it would be. It is quite possible that it might evoke some other F. T. S.'s opinion about karman, which we would also print, and possibly a third; but if there were ever the first sign of such a healthy exchange of fine divergencies of conviction verging into a controversy, then I should feel it my duty to suggest to our editors to devote the space given to karman to something else of equal importance in a way. This is following H. P. B.'s tradition.

Now, for heaven's sake, get any foolish little bee that may be buzzing around in your bonnet that we of Point Loma dislike healthy divergencies of opinion — get such a bee out of your bonnet and kick it over the North Pole. What I do like is healthy divergencies of opinion, courteously, candidly, expressed, orally or written. But I will not tolerate any more of the abominable, often insulting, usually bigoted, windy controversies that have so often disgraced the different Theosophical Societies since H. P. B.'s days. I believe in freedom of conscience, in freedom of speech, and in H. P. B.'s principles — "healthy divergencies of opinion," for this saves us from orthodoxy, "its other ugly features notwithstanding."

Bless you for the good work you have been striving so hard to do for fraternization. It has my deepest sympathy as long as it remains work for fraternization; but should it ever degenerate into mawkish sentimentalism or superficial friendliness covering a mass of festering and ignominious hatreds, I will wash my hands of it. The fraternization-movement was started in a very sincere attempt to bring Theosophists of different Theosophical Societies together, in order that they might know each other somewhat better, and learn to respect the good points that each group of individuals holds as individuals, and also so that we might openly and publicly and honorably and sincerely profess our common alliance on those points of the teaching of the Masters and of H. P. B. which we all accept. Is not this but another instance of putting into action H. P. B.'s clarion call for the retention of healthy divergencies of opinion so as to prevent orthodoxy?

The best of good wishes to you.

I am, as always, my dear Brother,

Fraternally and faithfully yours,


P.S. I have just got word from Clapp that he has been corresponding with you about the matter of Karman. As I think it would interest him to hear what I have written to you, I am sending to him a copy of this my letter to you, as it does not seem to be private, I hope you will agree with me that I have not done wrong, as there seems to be no violation of any confidence whatsoever. — G. de P.

Later. After writing all the above, I felt I must add just a few lines, expressing my emphatic agreement with your good self in the matter of the common need of all Theosophical Societies, our own dear T. S. included, of a fuller and more adequate preparation of and presentation of elementary Theosophy to the public — to the world. This is one thing upon which I have been hammering ever since I took office, and it is extraordinary how difficult it is to find capable presenters of elementary Theosophical teaching. Scholars in Theosophy abound, profound students are everywhere; but those who are capable of stating Theosophy to the public simply and attractively seem very few, and yet it is our greatest common need, I do believe. I am constantly talking of this. — G. de P.

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