H. P. Blavatsky: As Friends and Colleagues Knew Her

"Worn out by heavy suffering, years of sickness, incessant toil . . . she passed away peacefully in her favorite armchair on May 8, 1891 at 19 Avenue Road, London." The long and complicated incarnation of H.P.B. had come to an end — and, as was to be anticipated, scores of tributes to the great theosophist were being received from all quarters from her many friends and coworkers. Some of these were first published in the monthly magazine, Lucifer, and in book form later that year under the title H.P.B. — In Memory of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky by some of her Pupils. To read this work is a profound and moving experience, containing as it does the deep-felt expression of those who had been taught the greatest lessons, and revered the Teacher. A very brief selection of passages from these tributes is presented hereunder. — L. Merkel, comp.
William Q. Judge:

H.P.B. had a lion heart, and on the work traced out for her she had the lion's grasp; let us, her friends, companions and disciples, sustain ourselves in carrying out the designs laid down on the trestle-board, by the memory of her devotion and the consciousness that behind her task there stood, and still remain, those Elder Brothers who, above the clatter and the din of our battle, ever see the end and direct the forces distributed in array for the salvation of "that great orphan Humanity."

Annie Besant:

On the other hand, she was rigidity itself in the weightier matters of the law; and had it not been for the injury the writers were doing themselves by the foulnesses they flung at her, I could often have almost laughed at the very absurdity of the contrast between the fraudulent charlatan and profligate they pictured, and the H.P.B. I lived beside, with honour as sensitive as that of the "very gentil parfait knyghte," truth flawless as a diamond, purity which had in it much of a child's candour mingled with the sternness which could hold it scatheless against attack. Apart from all questions of moral obligation, H.P.B. was far too proud a woman, in her personality, to tell a lie.

Herbert Burroughs:

If those who talk so foolishly about her magnetising people could but know how she continually impressed upon us the absolute duty of proving all things and holding fast only to that which is good!

To go once was to go again, and so it came that after a few visits I began to see light. I caught glimpses of a lofty morality, of a self-sacrificing zeal, of a coherent philosophy of life, of a clear and definite science of man and his relation to a spiritual universe. These it was which attracted me — not phenomena, for I saw none. For the first time in my mental history I had found a teacher who could pick up the loose threads of my thought and satisfactorily weave them together, and the unerring skill, the vast knowledge, the loving patience of that teacher grew on me hour by hour. Quickly I learned that the so-called charlatan and trickster was a noble soul, whose every day was spent in unselfish work, whose whole life was pure and simple as a child's, who counted never the cost of pain or toil if these could advance the great cause to which her every energy was consecrated. Open as the day to a certain point, she was the incarnation of kindness — silent as the grave if need be, she was sternness personified at the least sign of faithlessness to the work which was her life. Grateful, so grateful for every affectionate attention, careless, so careless of all that concerned herself, she bound us to her, not simply as wise teacher, but as loving friend. Once I was broken down through long bodily and mental strain and the wheels of my life ran so heavily that they nearly stopped. Through it all her solicitude was untiring and one special proof of it that she gave, too personal to mention here, would have been thought of, perhaps, but by one in a million.

Francesa Arundale:

It was her custom while with us to devote the earlier part of the day to writing; she usually began at seven o'clock, but often earlier, and it was very rarely indeed that when I went into her room at about eight o'clock in the morning I did not find her already at her desk, at which she continued with a slight interval for lunch till about three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Then it was that the reception time began, and from early afternoon to late evening, one constant succession of visitors arrived. The old lady sitting in her armchair in the small drawing-room, which was barely large enough for the influx of guests, would be the centre of an enquiring circle. Many, of course, drawn by the fame of her great powers, merely came from curiosity. In those days the Psychical Research Society had not issued its famous report, and some of its members were often present, seeking the signs and wonders they so much desired to behold. [During the summer of 1884 H.P.B. was the guest of the Arundales at their home at Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill, London. — ed.] . . .

But the Psychic Society Researchers and phenomena hunters, and those who only came to see and wonder, were but one portion of the great crowd. Many earnest minds engaged in scientific or philosophic study would come again and again, attracted by the power of an intellect that showed its vast strength in the way in which she dealt with the many subjects put before her.

Grave professors from Cambridge came and spent an occasional afternoon in her company, and I can see before me now the bulky form in the loose robe in the big armchair, with the tobacco basket by her side, answering deep and learned questions on theories of cosmogony and the laws governing matter, while twisting the little cigarettes which she constantly smoked herself and gave to her guests.

William Kingsland:

Those who have learnt the lesson of the illusory nature of that which most men call life, whether here or hereafter, need to draw their inspiration from a deeper source than is available in the external world of forms. But to the born Mystic there is often a long period of waiting and seeking before that source is found. Many years are spent in testing and rejecting first one system, then another, until it seems perchance as if life could be naught but a hopeless problem. And perhaps just when all seemed darkest and most hopeless, when it even appeared best to abandon the quest, to take up the position, "we do not know, and we cannot know," just then it has been that the light has dawned, the teacher has been sent, the word has been spoken, which has recalled the lost memory of that hidden source of truth for which we have been seeking; and we have taken up once more, at the point at which we dropped it in a previous lifetime, that great task which we have set ourselves to accomplish.

And thus she did something more than teach us a new system of philosophy. She drew together the threads of our life, those threads which run back into the past, and forward into the future, but which we had been unable to trace, and showed us the pattern we had been weaving, and the purpose of our work. . . .

It is inevitable that the term Theosophy should come to be associated with a certain set of doctrines. In order that the message may be given to the world it must be presented in a definite and systematic form. But in doing this it becomes exoteric, and nothing that is exoteric can be permanent, for it belongs to the world of form. She led us to look beneath the surface, behind the form; to make the principle the real motive power of our life and conduct. To her the term Theosophy meant something infinitely more than could be set before the world in any Key to Theosophy, or Secret Doctrine. The nearest approach to it in any of her published works is in The Voice of the Silence; yet even that conveys but imperfectly what she would — had the world been able to receive it — have taught and included in the term Theosophy.

The keynote of her teachings, the keynote of her life, was — Self-sacrifice. . . .

And so H.P.B. often pointed out to us those men and women who were true Theosophists, though they stood outside of the Theosophical movement, and even appeared antagonistic to it. Already in the world a Theosophist has come to mean someone who believes in Reincarnation and Karma, or some other distinctive doctrine. But the term was never so limited in its application by the great founder of the Theosophical Society. She taught these doctrines in order that men might dissociate themselves from all forms of doctrine, and reach "Alaya's Self." There is no older doctrine than this of Divine Compassion, of Universal Brotherhood. It is the essence of all the teachings of all the Buddhas and Christs the world has ever known. It is above all doctrines, all creeds, all formulas; it is the essence of all religion. Yet men ever miss it, miss the one principle which alone can save the world, and take refuge instead in the selfish desires of their lower nature.

Individualism is the keynote of modern civilization; competition and survival of the fittest, the practical basis of our morality. Our modern philosophers and scientific teachers do all that is possible to reduce man to the level of an animal, to show his parentage, his ancestry and his genius as belonging to the brute creation, and conditioned by brutal laws of blind force and dead matter. What wonder then that one who believed so ardently in the divine nature of man, in the divine law of love, should oppose with scornful contempt the teachings of both religion and science which thus degrade humanity.

And she paid the inevitable penalty.

Henry S. Olcott:

I helped H.P.B. on that first of her wonderful works, Isis, and saw written or edited every page of the MSS. and every galley of the proof-sheets. The production of that book, with its numberless quotations and its strange erudition, was quite miracle enough to satisfy me, once and for all, that she possessed psychical gifts of the highest order. But there was far more proof than even that. Often and often, when we two were working alone at our desks far into the night, she would illustrate her descriptions of occult powers in man and nature by impromptu experimental phenomena. Now that I look back to it, I can see that these phenomena were seemingly chosen with the specific design of educating me in psychical science, as the laboratory experiments of Tyndall, Faraday or Crookes are planned so as to lead the pupil seriatim through the curriculum of physics or chemistry. There were no Coulombs then above the mud, no third parties to befool, none waiting for jewelry presents, or Yoga powers, or special tips about the short cut to Nirvana: she merely wanted my literary help on her book; and, to make me comprehend the occult laws involved in the moment's discussion, she experimentally proved the scientific ground she stood upon. . . .

And what wonder that I, who have been favoured beyond all others in the Theosophical Society with these valid proofs; who was shown by her the realities of transcendental chemistry and physics, and the marvellous dynamic potencies of the human mind, will, and soul; who was led by her into the delightful path of truth which I have ever since joyfully trodden; and who was made personally to see, know, and talk with the Eastern Teachers — what wonder that I have loved her as a friend, prized her as a teacher, and evermore keep her memory sacred?

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, November 1975. Copyright © 1975 by Theosophical University Press)


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