The Path – October 1892



Smith. — I have been dipping a little into Theosophy lately and have become quite interested. Some persons of ability seem to be taking part in the movement, and I like many things that they say, but many others seem to me to be fanciful, either unproved, or in their very nature wholly unsusceptible of proof.

Jones. — To what points do you especially refer?

S. — Well, for instance, I have read and heard a good deal about Mahatmas; the authority of these real or imaginary beings seems to count for a great deal, but I have yet to come across any real proof of their existence.

J. — What kind of proof do you want?

S. — Any proof. I should like to see one. That would be the best kind of proof.

J. — Why would it? What would he look like?

S. — Like a Mahatma of course.

J. — What does a Mahatma look like?

S. — How should I know, never having seen one? If I had, of course I would be less skeptical.

J. — Very logical: but I am really trying to put myself in your frame of mind so as to understand you, so I will change the form of my question. What have you decided a real Mahatma should look like, if merely seeing one is to be proof to you of the existence of such a being?

S. — [After a little thought.] I see what you are driving at. I was speaking off-hand when I said that seeing a Mahatma would prove that he was one. I should not expect to see a monster; he would have to look like any other man of course, except that his face might show some evidence of nobility and power. That alone I know would not prove anything, but what was really in my mind was the exhibition of some powers transcending those of common men.

J. — What would you expect him to do?

S. — I don't know exactly; some miraculous thing such as floating in the air, making gold, dematerializing something, himself for instance, and again reappearing, doing all this, of course, under test conditions so that I could be sure that there was no fraud.

J. — What would be the use of his taking so much trouble?

S. — To prove to me and through me to others that he was a Mahatma, and that consequently if there was one there might be more of them.

J. — Would these performances prove that he was a Mahatma?

S. — It seems to me that they would.

J. — What is your idea of a Mahatma?

S. — I am told that the word means "great soul". If so, it should refer to one who has overcome all animal and selfish passions and ambitions, whose knowledge and wisdom extend far into the unseen world, and who is therefore able to give tangible proof of this wisdom.

J. — I will not criticize your definition; but the proof you demand, apparantly considered by you so exacting, would seem to me wholly inadequate. I should be more skeptical, and you, on the other hand, would be more credulous than I take you to be, if the production of these phenomena, genuine and remarkable as they might be, would be sufficient to convince you of the wisdom and purity of the producer.

S. — Perhaps I may still be a little off; but what are you driving at?

J. — If you lived in India, a half-naked juggler might come into your court yard, and on your own ground, surrounded by your own friends and servants and in broad daylight, produce phenomena as remarkable as anything you have named. You might see the floating of heavy bodies in the air, the production and disappearance of solid objects, even of living persons, without any possibility of stage machinery, the visible growth of plants, even of trees reaching a height of fifty feet or more, solid and tangible, yet vanishing into thin air at the close of the performance. These and many similar things are exhibited by these strolling performers, who receive your coins with a thankful salaam and depart like an organ-grinder to repeat the performance elsewhere. Would you call these men "great souls"? Mr. Crookes, the eminent English scientist, made many experiments in the phenomena of so-called materialization, and was nearly turned out of the Royal Society for saying that he believed in occult forces, although specially organized committees of experts were unable even to suggest an explanation. Would you say that the ignorant school-girl through whom many of these phenomena were produced was a "great soul"? Mr. Home, the celebrated medium, has floated in the air scores of times, in many places, and in presence of many competent and critical witnesses. Other phenomena, if possible still more extraordinary, have been produced either by or through him under the most exacting test conditions, yet his life was one long exhibition of petty jealousy and ill-temper, and not a sentence of his has left the world wiser or better. Would you call him a "great soul"?

S. — Hold on there. I will come down of my own accord, like the coon, so you need not load again. I see that phenomena alone are insufficient, although I confess I had not fully realized it before; but still I think you will admit that the Mahatmas need not make themselves so scarce. They might show some phenomena, just enough to attract and interest people, and then having arrested attention might proceed to explain the phenomena and give some of their higher wisdom to the world.

J. — What would you have them say?

S. — Jones, seeing that it is you I do not mind telling you that you have a most exasperating and disagreeable way of asking questions when I am trying to get some solid information, or at least some points from you, yet I don't suppose you intend it in that way.

J. — I certainly do not, and am glad you do not really misunderstand me. Even a single question will often clear up an issue amazingly, so with your leave please consider my question repeated.

S. — Of course I don't know what they would say, for if I did it would be because I knew these things myself: you must see that. But I should expect them to tell us things that were wise and true, susceptible of verification and tending to the elevation of mankind.

J. — How would you know that they were wise and true?

S. — Why, because some things we might know to be true, and others we would feel must be true, and others again if they seemed strange and incredible ought to be capable of verification.

J. — Very good. Now let me analyze your answer. It involves no wisdom to tell us things that we already know to be true; this alone would be mere repetition and platitude, although a starting point from the well-known is necessary. Other truths which are new we feel to be true because the elements of this new experience are already in our minds, although not brought to the surface or combined before. New truths are truths relatively only to a certain number of persons, those who are ready to receive them. The simplest geometrical demonstration would sound like nonsense to a savage; a lecture on calculus would be unintelligible to a class of school-boys. This would be because the elementary conceptions of abstract form and of indiscrete and simultaneously varying qualities exist in but a rudimentary stage in undeveloped minds. An Adept's power of explaining consciousness and modes of existence on other planes would be limited by the capacity of the listeners and could compel the attention of but very few. You say also that statements seeming strange and incredible ought to be capable of verification. That of course is true, broadly speaking, but wholly untrue if coupled with the tacit assumption that the verification must of necessity be an easy thing, convenient to the idly curious. We may listen to a lecture from an astronomer, but to verify his statements would require a telescope like his own, to say nothing of the skill to use it and the mathematical knowledge involving long years of patient study. If there are Adepts, their powers are the results of lives of constant effort, carried on under the most favorable circumstances. How many are there who will even enter upon the rough and rugged road that leads to adeptship, and even of these few how many will follow it for any great distance?

S. — I appreciate the force of your remarks, but still it appears to me that the Adepts or Mahatmas, without going wholly into incomprehensible profundities, could give to the world some of their wisdom in a form that would be partly understood by the more intelligent or intuitional, could at least indicate the lines of research that would lead most directly to new discoveries. They might smooth the path that leads to higher knowledge and better life, hard enough for common humanity, even if it be less rugged and dangerous than that which leads more directly to adeptship. They might tell us something of the past of our own race and this globe, and of its probable future; something of the unseen world and its forces, even if language could not be found to make it all very plain.

J. — Suppose that they did so and that people were not interested enough to read or to listen.

S. — You are making a very foolish supposition. I do not overrate the numbers of the really thinking portion of the community, for I know them to be relatively small, but still if such knowledge was put in book form the printers would hardly be able to work fast enough.

J. — Are you quite sure of that? I will venture to say that it would be a long time before it would be read by any considerable proportion of the members of the Theosophical Society, still longer before the majority would really study it.

S. — You astonish me. You seem to place a very low estimate upon the intelligence of your fellow members. I should have rated them more highly, although I am not a member of the Society.

J. — I do not underrate them. On the contrary, I consider them a body of men and women of more than average intelligence; but I do rate the proportion of really independent opinion in any community at a very low figure. People are not so hungry for the higher knowledge as they think they are.

S. — I do not agree with you, and should like to see the matter put to the test.

J. — It has been put to the test. The knowledge you are so eager for has been published in book form.

S. — When, where? Is it in English or any language I can learn?

J. — You will not have to study Sanskrit. You know all about the book and have looked into it. It is called the Secret Doctrine.

S. — What, that book! Why yes, I have seen it and looked into it a little bit here and there, but then you know there is so much of it, and it seemed rather dry, and you have no idea how busy I have been.

J. — I don't suppose I have.

S. — Besides, I thought Madame Blavatsky wrote that book.

J. — Suppose she did; some human fingers had to be employed, whether those of an Adept or an agent. She drew almost wholly upon the wisdom of the Masters, unless she lies. That book goes straight to the center of every great question in science, religion, and metaphysics, with a boldness of statement and clearness of thought for which there is no parallel in the history of literature. Setting aside its philosophy and history drawn from occult records, no single writer ever equalled its wealth of learning, illustration, and quotation; drawn from the most varied and often recondite sources, from history, theology, and comparative mythology, from science in all its branches and from the philosophical writings of all ages. It is well known and can be amply proved, that this great work was written rapidly and without library or references; yet its quotations and statements are accurate and there is food for profound thought on every page. H. P. Blavatsky was a woman of remarkable intellect, it is true, but neither scholarly nor systematic. During her life of travel and adventure she had no opportunity of evolving this wonderful philosophy or accumulating this enormous mass of literary and philosophical learning, nor did she ever make any pretense of having done so. In my judgment she could no more have composed that work from her own resources than she could have built the pyramids of Egypt. If after reading it with more attention you still find no evidence of the existence of more highly evolved men, call them what you will, further search would be a waste of time.

You must excuse me, Smith, for I have an appointment elsewhere and am overdue.

Come and see me if you think I can help you at any time.

S. — [Soliloquizing.] Now that is the way with these Theosophical people. I have an independent mind and have attended several of their meetings and asked a good many questions with a view of finding things out for myself without so much studying. They seem to answer you, but have an annoying way of throwing a man back upon himself that I don't like.

I wish I knew whether there are any Mahatmas, without reading all of that big book.

I don't much believe there are, perhaps shouldn't know when I got through. [Exit Smith with a puzzled and somewhat disgruntled air.]

The Path