H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement by Charles J. Ryan

Copyright © 1975 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.

Chapter 15


A Defense Committee had been established to counteract the bad effect of the Coulomb charges, but a careful Analysis and Report drawn up in defense of H. P. Blavatsky, which had been prepared as a substitute for the abandoned lawsuit, was apparently suppressed, and no resolute public protest was made in India. Damodar had been called to the Himalayas, and Subba Row had become profoundly disturbed by the dissensions and cabals, as he called them, within the managing council in India after H.P.B.'s departure into exile in Germany.

Further, he had disagreed with H.P.B. about her method of presenting the "principles of man," and the controversy that arose between them was published in The Theosophist. Finally, in 1888 Subba Row resigned from the Society. But of course he remained faithful to the principles of theosophy and to his Master till his death in 1890, and he never had the least doubt that H. P. Blavatsky was an occultist and a high chela of Master M. Colonel Olcott writes:

A dispute — due in a measure to third parties — which widened into a breach, arose between H.P.B. and himself about certain philosophical questions, but to the last he spoke of her, to us and his family, in the old friendly way. — O. D. L., IV, 235

Olcott was a close friend of Subba Row and, with his usual kindly feeling, he used his experience in magnetic healing to relieve Subba Row's suffering during the painful illness which ended his life at the age of thirty-four. The cause of his affliction was unknown. His early death, and the distressing symptoms falling on a young man of blameless life, belong to the class of events which are explained only by the fact that unexpended karma has often to be met before further progress is possible.

In his obituary notice of Subba Row, Colonel Olcott writes:

. . . T. Subba Row gave no early signs of possessing mystical knowledge: . . . I particularly questioned his mother on this point, and she told me that her son first talked metaphysics after forming a connection with the Founders of the Theosophical Society: . . . It was as though a storehouse of occult experience, long forgotten, had been suddenly opened to him; recollections of his last preceding birth came in upon him: he recognized his Guru, and thenceforward held intercourse with him and other Mahatmas; with some, personally at our Headquarters, with others elsewhere and by correspondence. He told his mother that H.P.B. was a great Yogi, and that he had seen many strange phenomena in her presence. His stored up knowledge of Sanskrit literature came back to him, and his brother-in-law told me that if you would recite any verse of Gita, Brahma-Sutras or Upanishads, he could at once tell you whence it was taken and in what connection employed. — Theos., XI, 577-8, July 1890

When Hume and Sinnett tried to get information from him about practical methods of producing psychic effects instead of the theoretical knowledge of what he calls "the ancient Brahminical Religion and Esoteric Buddhism" (note the combination!) he became dissatisfied with their attitude. Further complications ensued which can be followed in the Masters' and H. P. Blavatsky's correspondence; and finally, when Hume included him with H.P.B. in Hodgson's ridiculous Russian spy charge, his indignation knew no bounds.

Subba Row was a most conservative and rigid Brahman, an initiate into the deeper side of the Brahmanical teachings, and he was not only horrified by the vulgar profanation of the Masters' names and all that they stand for in the Orient, but, as a Brahman, he strongly disapproved of H.P.B.'s revelation of some of the inner meanings of the Hindu scriptures, hitherto concealed in the secrecy of the temples and utterly unsuspected by outside scholars. In his excitement he must have overlooked the fact that in giving these theosophical teachings to the world she was obeying her (and his) superior officers, when he wrote her:

"You have been guilty of the most terrible of crimes. You have given out secrets of Occultism — the most sacred and the most hidden. Rather that you should he sacrificed than that which was never meant for European minds." — Blavatsky Letters, 95-6

She was sacrificed by the persecution and slander which was heaped on her and which had the effect with so many of discrediting her teachings, and therefore of obscuring them in the view of Western scholars. H.P.B. frankly admitted that Subba Row's protest was not unreasonable; she was, however, carrying out her instructions as best she could and she had to take the responsibility of any mistakes she might make. Her position was extremely delicate and of course utterly incomprehensible to the Western mentality, at least at that time. K.H., writing to Sinnett, says that although "most if not all of the Secrets are incommunicable," because the true "Illumination must come from within," and that it is with the greatest reluctance that the Masters have opened the doors to their secret knowledge a very little way, their action has been called forth by the great development of psychism in the West with all its potential dangers. They felt that by giving certain teachings to the few receptive minds who might be ready they risked a great deal, but it was necessary in order to attract such persons from the psychic lure by showing them glimpses of true occultism. (See page 284 of the Mahatma Letters.)

The significant point in regard to H.P.B.'s knowledge and rank in the eyes of those who were competent to judge is brought up by this matter, for Subba Row had not the least doubt that she possessed occult power and knowledge and that she was in close touch with the Mahatmas. His complaint was that she was lacking in caution in presenting the teachings — a heinous fault to an initiated Brahman — not that she had invented them, as her enemies said.

At the T.S. Convention in 1885, the Society recognized Subba Row's great learning and ability by establishing a Subba Row Medal in his honor, to be given annually for the best work on Eastern or Western philosophy.

When H. P. Blavatsky's teachings appeared, many learned Brahmans were horrified at the possibility of a Western woman possessing their cherished secrets, and yet Subba Row, Damodar, and other high caste Brahmans had to yield to evidence that they knew could not be simulated. Among these was Rai B. Laheri, F.T.S., who passed away in 1936, and who wrote most emphatically about this shortly after her death:

There is not the least doubt that H.P.B. is a woman of mysterious and wonderful occult powers, . . . now-a-days it is very rare to find out, i.e., to recognise, a powerful Yogi in India, . . . the more so by a woman born of Mlecha tribe [outcast or foreigner]. That, however, . . . she has succeeded in getting the key of the true Hindu and therefore of the subsequent Buddhistic Secret Philosophy, there can be no question, . . . Those who really understand anything about the sublime and mysterious philosophy of the Hindus . . . can at once find out what she knows and what she is; it does not require the demonstration of her occult powers to convince such a person. A few words on the real point, nay, only one word and the sign of a particular place, and he knows at once what she is.

. . . Is it not sufficient for the Westerns to know that a proud Brahmin, who knows not how to bend his body before any mortal being in this world, except his superiors in relation or religion, joins his hands like a submissive child before the white Yogini of the West? Why so? because she is no longer a Mlecha woman; she has passed that stage; and every Hindu — the purest of the pure amongst the Brahmins — would be proud and delighted to call her Hindu and a mother. . . . I myself certainly do not like the idea of publishing the Secret Philosophy of the East for the information of the people of the West, who have nothing but contempt and hatred for everything called Eastern, and especially Indian; there may be very, very few exceptions to these; but there is one consolation in this; that those books are dead letters for the Saheb loks unless fully explained, and H.P.B. is the only person who can explain them in the West. . . . As a Brahmin, I would always object, and I consider it my duty to do so, to the publishing of the secret sublime Truths of my religion and ancestors, especially amongst the people whose food is beef, who drink spirituous liquors, . . . — Lucifer, VIII, 309-11, June 1891

It was not unnatural that the proud Brahmans would cherish more passionately than life itself their ancestral knowledge and should have looked with little friendliness upon the theosophical revelations. But in the wider view of the Mahatmas, Brahmanism had degenerated into another of the "religions of pomp and gold" and was reeking with idolatry and other superstitions believed in by the masses, and tacitly if not deliberately encouraged by the exclusive coterie who exploited them. In the famous "Prayag Letter" republished in the Mahatma Letters, page 146, the Master M., addressing the Brahmanical Fellows of the Prayag (Allahabad) Lodge, declares in his characteristically trenchant language that if a man wished to come in touch with the Great Lodge he must become a "thorough" theosophist and "do as D. Mavalankar did, — give up entirely caste, his old superstitions and show himself a true reformer." Otherwise "he will remain simply a member of the Society with no hope whatever of ever hearing from us." M. shows that he has no sympathy with exoteric "Orthodox Brahmanism," and that even though the Europeans may have distasteful physical customs in eating and drinking, such things are far more easily corrected than are ingrained and bigoted habits of thought.

The Masters recognized not only the dangers of psychism in the Occident but also the increasing call for true occultism in the West. In line with their policy which, as Tsong-kha-pa stated, was largely intended for the benefit of the Western "barbarians," they had chosen their messenger from the West, one who, in addition to special training, had the understanding and world perspective gained by years of travel and study of human nature.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the recognition of that messenger as a genuine occult teacher, possessing real knowledge, by a goodly number of high-caste and well-informed Brahmans, deep students of their own philosophy, is one of the strongest proofs of her sincerity and of the significance of her mission. It is also important to remember that her teaching was far from being welcome to all the Brahmans, and that there would have been no great regret among many if it could have been quietly suppressed and confined to their exclusive caste. Is it mere coincidence that the Committee of the Adyar Convention which recommended that no legal action be taken against The Christian College Magazine, such as she so earnestly desired, was composed of ten Brahmans and only four Europeans? The name of G. N. Chakravarti, at one time professor of mathematics at Muir College, Allahabad (Prayag) occurs in the list, and the same learned professor and lawyer became a notable figure in the circumstances which caused the split in the Society ten years later. According to Mr. Judge, some Brahmans were greatly annoyed at the Master M.'s Prayag Letter, and he says that Chakravarti tried to make him believe it was "a pious fraud by H.P.B."! Colonel Olcott, living in India and surrounded by Brahmans, professed to be shocked at the plain speaking in the letter regarding the Brahman superstitions and bigotry, and suggested that it was a "mediumistic" production by H.P.B. and not genuine. This astonishing and utterly unfounded statement, which Olcott published in The Theosophist, XVI, 475-6, April 1895, after H. P. Blavatsky's death, brought forth a magnificent arraignment of Olcott's inglorious fling at his teacher, written by Judge in The Path, in which he defends with conclusive logic the authenticity and great importance of the letter. He says:

Olcott does not like the one in question because he lives in India, and it is too gallingly true. . . . For my part, the message in question testifies to its genuineness by its text, except for those who are hit by it, or those who have the Indian craze and think themselves Brahmans, or those whose self-interest and comfort are against it. — The Path, X, 82, June 1895

Chapter 16