A Salute to William Quan Judge

By Grace F. Knoche

In April a hundred years ago William Q. Judge turned 35 and embarked upon a publishing venture which was to bring theosophy to the attention of the American public. He founded and edited The Path,a monthly journal devoted to the "Brotherhood of Humanity, Theosophy in America, and the study of Occult Science, Philosophy, and Aryan (From the Sanskrit arya meaning noble; a name used for the Indo-European settlers in Northern India and their languages) Literature."

Although drawing inspiration from thetheosophical philosophy and its ideals, the magazine was not an official spokesman for The Theosophical Society which he had helped Helena P. Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott organize in 1875. Rather, his intent and that of his co-founder, Arthur Gebhard, was firstly, "to point out to their fellows a Path in which they have found hope for man," and secondly, "to investigate all systems of ethics and philosophy claiming to lead directly to such a path." While practical occultism (the occult arts and sciences) would receive due attention, "it was not the object of this journal." As Judge stated in his first editorial, whatever might be attained by means of phenomena would be "incidental to the journey along the path, . . . The very first step in true mysticism and true occultism is to try to apprehend the meaning of Universal Brotherhood."
For ten years until his death in March 1896, W. Q. Judge pursued his chosen course, and his editorials and numerous articles (signed, unsigned, or under one of many pen names,were eagerly read throughout the States and abroad. "Pure buddhi" was the way H. P. Blavatsky described The Path: Judge not only had intuitive comprehension of profound theosophical truths but also the rare power to reexpress them in succinct, clear language. Equally important, he had the gift of sympathy, of identifying with the "pressing needs" of ordinary folk to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Knowledge about "the spiritual condition of man, his aim and destiny" would indeed nourish the "highest minds" but such knowledge was for all, irrespective of education, religion, race, caste, color, or sex.

Using the wide-angle lens of theosophic wisdom, Judge provided trenchant commentary on a variety of themes: Astral Intoxication; Christian Fathers on Reincarnation; Spiritualism Old and New; Is Poverty Bad Karma?; Psychometry; Kali Yuga — the Present Age; Reincarnation of Animals; Suicide is not Death; Comets; and many, many more. A felicitous by-product of Judge's broad coverage of subject matter both in The Path and on his lecture-tours was the popular interest aroused in the study of comparative religion and in the epics and philosophical scriptures of India. He recognized in the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads, and in the accounts of the life andmission of the Buddha, a strong affinity with the theosophic ethic and teaching. To meet the growing demand for explanations of theosophical and Oriental doctrines a printing press was purchased in 1889 to issue pamphlets, tracts, and a small 8-page magazine, TheTheosophical Forum. The same year The Path office published an inexpensive pocket edition of Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, followed in 1890 by Judge's Recension of the Bhagavad-Gita, both with introductions by W. Q. Judge.
It is difficult for us today to realize the paucity of knowledge among the general public a century ago about the scriptures and oral history of peoples other than their own. Even among the elite community of scholars and poets only a relatively few, such as theTranscendentalists in Europe and America, were responsive to the riches of mythic and legendary lore of the ancient Norse, Germanic, Celtic, Persian, Indian, Chinese, and traditional peoples. Judge would have liked Emerson's journal entry of October 1, 1848:

Books are like rainbows to be thankfully received in their first impression . . . I owed — my friend and I — owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavat Geeta. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spake to us, nothing small or unworthy but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us. — (From The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. x, p. 360.)

For several years before Judge started his Path magazine, he had longed to go to India and give himself entirely in the service of those who had sponsored The Theosophical Society. But he was a young married man not yet established in his profession (commercial law). By 1884 his situation had changed, and it looked as though his dream could be realized. Stopping over in Paris on his way to India in order once again to meet H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, he was invited to assist her on The Secret Doctrine. He worked with her a little over three months, and then set sail for India, arriving in Bombay in mid-July. After lecturing at several places he went to the Society's headquarters at Adyar, Madras, where he expected to remain for life.
It was not long, however, before it became clear to Judge that his real work was not in India. It was in America. So he returned forthwith, a new man, one who knew his direction and pursued it with vigor. Where before theosophical work in the United States had languished, now study centers and Branches began to spring up across the land. An informal vehicle for the expression of theosophical teachings and their serviceability in daily living was patently needed, along with a broadened view of the world's religious and philosophical heritage. Within two years The Path was born.
In addition to his law practice, editorial and official duties — he had been elected General Secretary of the newly-formed American Section of the Society in October 1886 — Judge wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters, often by hand, to those who sought his counsel. Those written to Julia Campbell Ver Planck (Jasper Niemand) were published under the title Letters That Have Helped Me in 1891; after Judge's death a second collection was issued, comprising extracts from his letters to other students. Now printed in one volume, Letters has been for decades friend and companion to many an aspirant, especially to those experiencing the pain of catharsis and self-examination.

Along the path of the true student is sadness, but also there is great joy and hope. — I, 10

In 1893 a historic event occurred when the World's Fair in Chicago sponsored a Parliament of Religions. This was the first time that exponents of the world's major faiths had met together for the purpose of sharing their respective religious doctrines. By invitation of the Parliament of Religions, The Theosophical Society, presided over by its Vice-President William Q. Judge, held a Theosophical Congress on September 15-16, during which leading members from Britain, India, and the United States outlined the principal doctrines and ideals of theosophy to packed halls. In his letter to President Olcott in India, dated 21st September, 1893, Judge wrote:

Summing up the Congress briefly in advance, I can assure you that it was an entire and extraordinary success. . . . public interest was so great that the managers of the Fair assigned us an extra meeting on Sunday night, the 17th, in the largest hall in the building. This meeting was held and was filled with 3,500 people, who stayed until half-past ten at night. And this closed the proceedings.

The Congress was indeed a towering success, so much so that the next year, when San Francisco featured a Religious Parliament at its Midwinter Fair, W. Q. Judge was invited to speak on "Points of Agreement in All Religions." On the centenary of the founding of The Path and all that it signified in seeding the thought world of America, we salute William Quan Judge, friend of humanity and valiant defender of the privilege and duty of every human being to seek out and live the truth that is his.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1986. Copyright © 1986, Theosphical University Press)


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