Just forty-nine years ago yesterday H. P. Blavatsky laid down her physical body and entered into a period of rest. H. P. B. was one of the outstanding personalities of the nineteenth century. Professor H. Corson, who was professor of literature at one of the American Universities, called her the greatest individual that he had contacted; and many others have paid tribute to the magnificence and the opulence, one might say, of her character and personality.
Around the world during the last twenty-four hours a wave of loving remembrance and commemoration has flowed steadily. Somewhere in America it will terminate within the next few hours, and for another year there will be opportunity for all those who love the name of H. P. B. to continue quietly in the work that she inaugurated.
I would like to stress tonight the fact that H. P. B. can be described in three different ways, or as the expression of three different capacities: the woman of noble birth, born in Russia, she was first and foremost a great artist — not only a great musician but a very great artist in the use of words, and in at least three of the world's languages. She was an artist in the masterly delineation of character such as marked her description of the Nilgiri tribes in India. She produced a volume which represented the "thriller" type of short story at its very finest. So you have got the woman who was an artist in every sense of the word. She was also an outstanding pianist at one period of her career; her love of music remained with her right to the time of her death.
Her noble birth as well as her high physical courage enabled her to meet every class of society and wherever she went there were attracted to her those who were able to appreciate the greatness of soul and the stupendous talent that she possessed. That is the first, as it were the outer, H. P. B.
And she was not only a great artist. Her physical characteristics as well as her great courage enabled her at certain periods of her career to don male attire and do physical battle for the righting of physical wrongs. She served as a soldier in the Italian army that helped to free Italy. She served under Garibaldi as one of those that helped to bring freedom into certain of the Papal States. That still belongs to the outer aspect of H. P. B.
Then a little later we find her as the H. P. B. possessed of powers that were far beyond the normal powers of men and women, the H. P. B. of phenomena, who was able to duplicate all those extraordinary happenings that had been associated with medium-ship in the world of spiritism. But, as she was careful to explain, these wonders were performed of and at her own volition and not as the operations of any discarnate entity: by her own use of the power she possessed over the forces of nature. These phenomena were sometimes regarded by some people as fraudulent; but the most careful examination into them — an examination which has extended into our own day — has never been able to provide a shadow of proof that any of these things were brought about by apparently mechanical means or by actual fraud.
During this period she was in America, in India, and on the continent of Europe, and always these extraordinary happenings, which, mind you, were under the control of her will at all times, attracted those who were interested in the study of curious phenomena.
And there is the third and the deeper side of this amazing and remarkable woman, which endears her to so many people and which will keep her name ever green in the history of modern Teachers: that is that she was the presenter to the world of Theosophy in its modern guise.
Her written words are open to all those who care to study them. You will find that there is no chapter of religion, philosophy, or science that she did not illuminate by the greatness of her knowledge. And yet of this knowledge she claimed nothing for herself, but insisted and emphasized that she was but the servant of those Great Men whose existence has been acknowledged in all ages — those possessors of super-human, super-physical powers, who have tried and tested for themselves this age-old, universal philosophy, and who chose her to be their representative in the outer world in the nineteenth century.
At the very commencement of her greatest of all books — The Secret Doctrine — you will find a little quotation from the French writer Montaigne, in which, quoting this French writer, she says that those things she had brought together were like a nosegay. All that she claimed to have provided was the string that tied them together. But she claimed nothing further; above all, she did not claim that she was the originator of the teachings. Yet she brought them home not only to the hearts and minds of students of her own day, but to ever widening circles of thinking people during the years since she herself finished her physical work and went into the Peace.
The Theosophical teaching represents the greatest philosophical system the world has ever seen. That is a very great claim to make but it is one that can be substantiated, because there is practically no department of philosophy that has not been illumined by the light that she brought. It was an illumination that touched the physical world as well as the mind and soul. She brought together isolated facts; she gave hints of new discoveries in the world of science and the world of the mind; so that she antedated and preceded most of the great discoveries that have taken place in the last fifty years.
Beyond all that, it was the priceless teaching of the spirit in man that she revealed — a teaching that had been largely forgotten — and of the composite nature of man's being. It is true that she challenged many of the religious conceptions of the world and particularly of Christian theology of the period in which she lived; but her reverence for those who were true disciples of any of the world's great religions, was always forthcoming. Never did she offer the slightest challenge to any teaching that was universally true; but only those things which belonged to the present or to the immediate past. Her teaching constantly epitomized St. Paul's words: "The things which are seen are temporal; the things which are unseen are eternal." She was forever seeking to draw men's minds and hearts and aspirations to those things which are of the eternal.
And so, in addition to influencing a great many of those associated with her, she also provided a repository of teaching in her books, and those books cover every aspect of the universal philosophy which she presented. I have already mentioned The Secret Doctrine, which is a veritable treasure-house of information, an encyclopaedia in which are set forth a spiritual cosmogony and an anthropology which will be recognised for its universal application in ages yet to come.
She was so great a transmitter of Eastern thought that she gave to us The Voice of the Silence — three priceless little Buddhist scriptures or sermons which she claimed she had learned in the period of her own probation.
A literary artist and spiritual Teacher combined, in the very last years of her life when from day to day she was almost on the very verge of physical dissolution, she gave us The Key to Theosophy, which is still in its way one of the very finest textbooks we can ever refer to. Any statement ever made, pertaining to Theosophical teaching, which does not dovetail with The Secret Doctrine and The Key to Theosophy, should be unhesitatingly laid aside as something to be tried and tested but not accepted merely because it is labeled "Theosophical."
During her last years she made her greatest efforts for the uplifting of men and women. She was a great exponent of esotericism, the inner meaning of life, of the divine in man and in nature, of the divine principle in the heart of the heart of man. This was perhaps her greatest, most universal teaching.
Of the priceless treasure of these teachings she gave unstintingly; but behind and beyond all other things she sounded the keynote of the century and of the age that was just then coming into being — the keynote of universal brotherhood. Living as we are now in the shadow of war, we realize how desperate is the need on the part of humanity to recognise that fundamental, basic principle of universal brotherhood. Because without it there is nothing else that will serve to satisfy man's physical and mental needs and provide him with the leisure that will enable him to cultivate the things of the spirit.
It is my private belief that H. P. B. visualized a great deal of what was ahead for humanity. Again and again she stressed the fact that unless we could develop this conception of universal brotherhood, based of course on the principle of the unity in man, it would be impossible to get through this present century without some tragic conflict. So you see she set the keynote for the years that are to be. I myself have very strongly the feeling that she was the beginner, the forerunner, of a more spacious and more gracious mode of life in which there will be more co-operation between men and women. I like to think of her as being regarded, from the viewpoint of a thousand years hence, as a sort of woman Buddha, setting the keynote of a new Age in which, amongst other things, the influence of women, the feminine aspect of Humanity, was to be stressed. Future generations will learn to know and to respect and love the likeness of the Teacher who so profoundly influenced the period in which she lived, and she will be to them an inspiration to build for the magnificence and the splendor of the future. In her teachings can be discerned "the shape of things to come."
There is no cause for feeling any sorrow at her passing. Her work for the time being was accomplished. She had laid the foundation of a superstructure which was yet to be built. She knew it would take some time to change the level of the thoughts of men. I like to think of her as the artist who outlined a magnificent painting just in the very barest outline, stupendous in conception and grandiose in design. It was for those who were to come after her to fill in all the details, to provide the color, to add the glow to that superb outline. If we can do that, if we can direct our aspirations along the same line that she inaugurated, if we can show our gratitude and reverence for her by following the path that she presented before our feet, then indeed her work will not have been in vain.
Her last words as she was dying in London forty-nine years ago were: "Keep the link unbroken, so that my last incarnation shall not have been in vain." To achieve this each year we must consecrate ourselves anew, and pledge ourselves with unfailing loyalty to keep that link unbroken by standing four-square in alignment with the teaching that she gave, by living the life that she indicated, and by making as widely known as possible the spiritual birthright that is part of her message. I sincerely hope it will be to each one of us an inspiration to rededicate ourselves to the work which she founded — which she started, after all, only sixty-five years ago. And yet in that period round and round the world has gone the ringing challenge of her voice and of her words; and all those who have really partaken of the teaching she gave have found a new interest in life, a new inspiration in living, a new philosophy upon which to base their daily thoughts, an inner spiritual wealth that goes on into the future. Above all there is an interior peace that comes to us as we begin to realize that only those are Theosophists who endeavor to live Theosophy. Life takes on a new color, a new splendor, and there comes to each and every one of us a new and greater love of humanity, a new desire to serve and to work.
It is a wonderful inspiration that is to be found in the life of H. P. B., the lightbringer of the twentieth century. In spreading her teaching peace will come to us, for the spiritual side of things upon which she taught us to rely, is full of peace.
1. Address on White Lotus Day, 1940, Sydney, Australia, by the President of the Australasian Section, T. S. (return to text)