"Happy Damodar! He went to the land of Bliss, to Tibet, and must now be far away in the regions of our Masters."
H. P. Blavatsky undoubtedly wrote these words with a mingling of many feelings in her heart. There must have been genuine happiness for her young co-disciple who had attained in so short a time the goal of his one-pointed will; and a warm affection for the faithful friend who, with a loyalty to the cause of Theosophy equal to her own, stood by her day after long arduous day in the task of issuing her magazine, The Theosophist. She must have felt also a nostalgic wistfulness as she thought of the time when she too, her herculean task at last completed, would return "Home."
But she had not yet written The Secret Doctrine (it was only 1885); and while it was her lot to struggle on in the world of men for six more years of intense labor, it was Damodar's to be admitted to the Tibetan Mystery-School whose graduates become the spiritual Teachers of the race. This privilege he had won by natural right; but he knew, and H. P. B. herself knew, that it was not a matter of going to a "land of Bliss." It would be for the boy a period of the most intense and severe training; for Masterhood is not cheaply won.
Damodar's story from the time he "disappeared" in 1885 is, of course, a closed book; and his childhood and youth were much like that of other boys brought up in a well-to-do Brahmin household. So that it is the few short years between 1879, when he joined the T. S., and the spring of 1885 that embrace that portion of his life-story so interesting to Theosophists. This story has been told in a lively and sympathetic way by Col. Olcott in his Old Diary Leaves, but Damodar's own writings, (1) found scattered through the pages of the early numbers of The Theosophist, as well as his letters to W. Q. Judge and others, add much to our understanding of the character and capabilities of this remarkable figure in the group of workers at the Headquarters during the early days of the T. S. in India.
Damodar tells us that it was the reading of Isis Unveiled that first awakened him in this life, and he lost no time in joining the Theosophical Society and starting right in to work. He says:
It is really no exaggeration to say that I have been a really living man only these few months; for between life as it appears to me now and life as I comprehended it before, there is an unfathomable abyss. I feel that now for the first time I have a glimpse of what man and life are — the nature and powers of the one, the possibilities, duties and joys of the other.
He seems to have been entirely free from a tendency to the vacillation which so often assails the new aspirant to wisdom when faced with grave issues. When he found that remaining in his caste was not compatible with his ever-increasing breadth of vision and compassionate feeling towards his countrymen, and indeed towards all mankind, he made the decisive move of stepping outside his caste, though it cost him the love of his nearest of kin. He tells about this in his article "Castes in India," and his profession of faith becomes truly eloquent through the burning sincerity of conviction that shines through the simple and straightforward language.
Though Damodar never writes about his own state of health, we have, besides the testimony of Olcott, references from H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters as to his frail physique and constant ill health. To carry on unremitting labor from early dawn until far into the night is difficult enough even for the robust; but here was Damodar constantly ailing, "just off the school bench," and quite untrained, and moreover handicapped by the discomforts of an impossible climate, yet doing the work of at least three men, and doing it in such a way that the Master K. H. speaks of him as "indispensable at Headquarters," and H. P. B. cries, on one occasion when the Masters had taken him to one of their asramas in Kashmir for a few days: "What shall we do in the office without Damodar!"
One can imagine that there were some pretty lively times at Headquarters in the efforts of the understaffed editorial office to get out The Theosophist on time each month. When one looks through the old volumes of this magazine and notes the odd editorial slips and printer's errors that occur here and there throughout its pages, one is reminded of H. P. B.'s own words in a letter to Sinnett written in one of her fits of desperation: "Damodar is loony as a March hare!" How many times must Damodar have had such epithets heaped upon his devoted if not always brilliant head!
Whatever his shortcomings, his writings show a consistent steadiness and concentration that is praiseworthy. Among his duties as Joint Recording Secretary he wrote for The Theosophist a great many Reports and Notices of activities, and these are all done with an earnest thoroughness that never falters. On occasion too he could wield a lively pen when he felt called upon to defend the Mahatmans and the Founders of the Society, and one is reminded, when coming upon this pugnacious spirit, that he did indeed write under the aegis of H. P. B., than whom there never has been a more royal battler for Truth.
Working as he always was at top speed, it is only natural that he should not have had the opportunities of a leisured man of letters to turn out elegant essays, but his qualities of resoluteness and uncompromising honesty, noticeable in every smallest item he penned, mark his style with a certain distinctive charm.
On more than one occasion it fell to his lot to review books for the magazine, and there is never anything perfunctory in the way he attacks his job. With great energy he dissects the toughest metaphysical themes, marking, not without some skill, the inadequate or faulty lines of reasoning; and when he has thoroughly torn the whole into bits, with the consideration of a good chela he graciously finds some excellent point of the book to recommend to the reader. His consideration is not so active, however, when it comes to the matter of paragraphing! He seemed to have an unnatural aversion to paragraphs, so that his columns in The Theosophist nearly always present an unbroken and formidable mass of print.
His occasional answers to Questions are handled with impersonal bluntness, and he nearly always manages to put the Inquirer in his place, firmly reproving him for asking questions already clearly dealt with, or for not framing his questions clearly, etc. To one inquirer he says: "Question Three would never have been put by one who had properly studied the article . . ." It was this same quality of blunt sincerity together with his zealous loyalty to the Masters that led him at times into errors of judgment the results of which he had to answer for, as the Mahatmans mention in several of their letters.
It is interesting, however, that with all his directness of approach and his unequivocal methods of handling matter under discussion, he yet manages to avoid even the suggestion of anything dogmatic. It was probably his genuine modesty that saved him from this latter fault. He recognises no hard and fast formulas — whether in running a T. S. Lodge, in meditation, vegetarianism, or prayer, but in all cases stresses the broad and general principles of the philosophy, believing that the interpretation of these should be left to the intuition and initiative of each student. His article "Answer to * * * "s Misconceptions" contains an excellent discussion of the free platform of the Theosophical Society, whose ideal is to maintain harmony among its members not by the enforcement of a uniform creed but by fostering in each member a large-hearted appreciation of the views of his fellows. And further than that, he urges an approach to the plane of thinking where differences vanish and Truth is revealed. The true student of occultism "tries to penetrate into the spirit of everything. For him, all exotericism is a mere wrangling of terms." Yet he recognises that it is no more right to ignore than to overestimate the outward aspect of things. "Both the objective and subjective standpoints are essential for the attainment of true knowledge."
It is such traits as these which mark Damodar as one who came into this life with the memory of training along the lines of those age-old principles that are the fundamentals of the esoteric tradition. And there are three other qualities noticeable in his writings which still more single him out as a student well advanced in training. The first is his attitude of reserve in discussing certain deeper aspects of the teachings; the second, his total lack of interest in rituals, postures, etc.; and the third — an attribute which includes the other two — his unerring comprehension of the true nature of occultism.
He speaks with the voice of authority when he says in his article "Contemplation":
Raj Yoga encourages no shams, no physical postures. It has to deal with the inner man whose sphere lies in the world of thought. To have the highest ideal placed before oneself and strive incessantly to rise up to it is the only true concentration recognised by Esoteric Philosophy which deals with the inner world of noumena, not the outer shell of phenomena.
He shows how futile it is for members to want to rush into Occultism through some sentimental feeling of disgust, however genuine, at the shallowness of the worldly life; or to imagine that the T. S. was formed for the purpose of providing every member with a Teacher ready-made who would take the aspirant under his special charge for training in the attainment of "powers." He felt passionately, as his own self-sacrificing years at the Headquarters testify, that in return for the soul-quickening philosophy the members received, the most practical thing they could do to show their gratitude was to fit themselves by service to become in time co-workers with their spiritual benefactors.
Yet it is not all these excellent qualities of the young Damodar, not his arduous work on the editorial staff of The Theosophist (and later as Manager), not his fidelity to duty nor his loyalty to H. P. B., that give him the place of distinction he holds in the history of the Theosophical Society. So lightly are we apt to pass over qualities of character, that the young Hindu lad, not a particularly attractive figure as the world judges things, might almost have been forgotten after these fifty years or more, were it not for the one significant fact: he was found worthy to be, almost from the first, and as the months went by, in increasing degree, under the special attention of the Masters themselves, and after only four years of probation was found to be a fit candidate for special training in Tibet.
Damodar writes that as a child, during a severe fever, a vision of some great personage appeared to him, and though through the years of his formal education the image had become indistinct, it was always there in the background of his consciousness, and with his first meeting with H. P. B. he felt that it would be in some way through her that the mystery of his early experience would be explained.
It was not long before his Teacher, the Mahatman Koot Hoomi made himself known to him, and from that time, running parallel with his Theosophical duties and responsibilities, he went through a series of remarkable experiences which read as though drawn from the pages of the most enthralling occult story. These Damodar tells about in a number of letters written to W. Q. Judge in 1880 and 1881; and they are the basis for the series "A Hindu Chela's Diary" that appeared in Judge's Path several years later. It seems likely that it was Judge himself, who with the instinct of the true story-teller, saw the narrative possibilities in these most unusual experiences of Damodar, and wove them into the tale of occult mystery and wonder that has intrigued so many Theosophists.
There is one of Damodar's letters to Mr. Judge which is of quite a different character from those just mentioned. It was his first, written in October, 1879, when these two remarkable men were as yet unacquainted with each other. H. P. B. and Col. Olcott had set sail for India, via England, just a year before this, and the dynamic force of the titan energy H. P. B. was withdrawn from the group of American Theosophists. There was Judge left stranded, harassed by family and professional duties, almost alone Theosophically speaking. Is it any wonder that in writing to H. P. B., a note of despair must have been present in his letter? H. P. B. evidently asked Damodar to answer Judge's letter for her and he does so in his characteristically thorough but somewhat unimaginative way. To the Theosophist, aware to some extent at least, of Mr. Judge's superior stature, the letter reads like the most blatant bit of patronizing. But when we remember that Damodar himself had just joined the T. S., and wrote with the zeal of an enthusiastic neophyte, our feeling changes to one of understanding. It is interesting to note also, that in his second (extant) letter to Judge he assumes quite a different tone, saying: "I cannot give you my reflections on this matter for the reasons already stated to you, and because (judging from your letter) I find you are far superior to me in intellect and have made a greater progress."
Wherever Damodar throughout his writings mentions things of an occult nature, there is never the slightest touch or suggestion of psychic unbalance. He was called upon on various occasions to testify to the existence of Mahatmans as real men, not just dis-imbodied spirits, and in every case, he narrates whatever he has to with a frankness albeit modesty that one instinctively feels is wholesome above all else. He came in for his share, just as H. P. B. did, of being called a "medium" influenced by a "spirit guide," and his reply to one of such charges is both spirited and witty. He said he was visited on this occasion by his Master in the body "for three nights consecutively for about three hours each time, I myself retaining full consciousness." And he continues that he never heard of a medium who could, with complete consciousness, meet his "spirit guide" by previous appointment in the compound of his dwelling-place, invite him in, offer him a seat, and converse with him for three hours or more, the while the medium himself retained full consciousness!
Though Damodar does not dwell on the subject of occult powers — continually pointing out, in fact, that they are only for the few — when he finds it necessary to explain any point along this line he does so in that natural and lucid way which proves him to be writing from first-hand knowledge. In his article entitled "Phenomena" he stoutly defends the Masters against the charge of merely using their occult powers in a cheap and flamboyant way for the amusement of their admirers. He shows that, as a matter of fact, where perfect rapport exists between Master and Chela, there is no undue use of extraordinary power, but that sending messages by the "Astral Telegraph" is as natural a phenomenon as is the sending of ordinary messages by wireless.
He explains that, like other intelligent beings, the Mahatmans use the most efficient means at their disposal to carry on their work. He himself was in constant communication with his Teacher; in fact he tells Mr. Judge that if he were to mention all the communications he had received from his Teacher they would fill a small volume.
Among other occult powers which Damodar had well developed was that of being able to leave his body when required to do so on business for his Master. He stands as an excellent example of a truth so often repeated in Theosophical literature, and which has so often been criticized as being nothing more than a bit of adroit side-stepping, i. e., that when the disciple reaches a certain stage of development the higher psychic powers develop naturally, with no strain and no evil results, and are performed by conscious will. This is a point to keep well in mind, for the accomplishments of Damodar along occult lines are to be considered as far removed as possible from the specious glamour of mere psychic tricks.
Damodar's own writings in The Theosophist cease in January, 1885, and like echoes from a faraway country there appear after this time jottings here and there in H. P. B.'s and the Masters" letters which assure us that all is well with him. In 1886 there appeared in The Theosophist an official notice signed by H. S. Olcott and T. Subba Row, containing the last word we have of the Hindu chela: ". . . we are happy to state that we have positive news as late as the 7th of June that he has safely reached his destination, is alive, and under the guardianship of the friends whom he sought. . . ."
This authoritative statement silenced the rumors that had been abroad that Damodar had perished in the snows on the borders of Tibet. To the uninitiated it was indeed a "hare-brained scheme" to set out towards an uncertain and to some minds even a mythical goal, without adequate food and clothing, and leaving even his guides near the Tibetan frontier. But faith born of knowledge was the urge that spurred him on; and viewed from the inner world, where cause and effect write their flawless record, success marked his journey from the first step. The words of the Mahatman K. H., written on an occasion quite different in character, are significant here: "Those whom we desire to know us will find us at the very frontiers. Those who have set against themselves the Chohans . . . — would not find us were they to go [to] L'hassa with an army."
1. Damodar's writings have now been gathered in a book entitled Damodar: The Writings of a Hindu Chela. It contains also Biographical Notes by C. J. Ryan, extracts from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, and the fascinating tale, "A Hindu Chela's Diary," which first appeared in W. Q. Judge's magazine The Path. (See back cover of this issue for further information.) (return to text)