A careful study or reading of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, and its companion Volume, The H. P. B. Letters, using Margaret Conger's valuable chronology as a guide to the sequence of the Letters, makes the Theosophical student realize that a great debt of gratitude is owed to Mrs. Conger for the illumination brought to these Letters by her work of arranging them in the two books in chronological order. It enables the student to get a much clearer picture of the unfolding scene in those early days of the starting of the Theosophical Movement, which form a background making much that has happened since more understandable.
In those days the Masters had to start "from scratch" as it were, as regards calling upon trained workers for their Cause. As they themselves tell us in one of their Letters:
After nearly a century of fruitless search, our chiefs had to avail themselves of the only opportunity to send out a European body upon European soil to serve as a connecting link between that country and our own. — The Mahatma Letters, p. 203
Bringing H. P. B. into acquaintance and association with Colonel H. S. Olcott, they then had to begin seeking among those whose minds were turned towards occultism for fit material from which to start the Theosophical Movement and to spread its doctrines.
The reading of these Letters shows how, among the many contacted, A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume, especially the former, stood out for a time as among the most active and intelligent workers, who received, principally through the channel afforded by H. P. B., more or less direct communication with the Masters. As the picture revealed by the Letters unfolds, one's sympathy and understanding for the position of these two men and other Theosophists of that time, become greater; and far from judging them harshly for their mistakes and failures, one inevitably puts oneself in their place, realizing first of all that anyone who is brought within the radius of the brightness of superior men, such as the Masters, will almost certainly have his faults and shortcomings brought almost painfully into the focus of public view. This is a fact often not understood by those who have not themselves gone through the experience of close association with a Teacher, and they are thereby sometimes led to harsh and unfair judgments. Each student, too, is naturally tested not where his strength lies, but where his weakest point is, and "one man's strength may be another's weakness."
As a matter of fact, the Theosophical world and all readers of The Mahatma Letters should be grateful to Sinnett and Hume for being just what they were, uninitiated but sincere and aspiring students. If they had been of the status of H. P. B., for instance, they would not have needed to contact the Masters through correspondence, and we would never have had these Letters. Their failures and problems then, are our failures and problems now, fitted into changing circumstances; and as each new difficulty comes along, we can apply the lessons there given to our own lives and characters.
But the outstanding lesson of these Letters is, I think, the following:
1. Two conditions must be in existence when teaching is to be given: there must be a Teacher prepared and trained to give; and there must be students who are ready and efficient recipients of what the Teacher gives. Though it is an occult law that to a spiritual Teacher the giving out of knowledge is death, it would be far worse for the Teacher were he unable to fulfil his mission of giving out his teaching because of lack of students to receive.
2. There was a great lack in those days, even among the best of those associated with H. P. B. and the Masters, of trained students of Occultism, people who knew what it means in their individual lives to subordinate their own ambitions and desires, even when these were worthy and unselfish, to the greater good of the Cause for which they were working. They failed to realize their place in the larger scheme, that they were merely parts of a greater whole; they had absolutely no knowledge of what discipleship means, what following a Teacher or Leader means. (This is evidenced in several instances where direct, frank, but kindly letters from Master M. were looked upon by Sinnett as severe criticism and resented by him.)
(It is interesting, by the way, to note, in view of how much we have heard about the superiority and fitness of the Oriental over Western students for appreciating these things, that some of the Oriental chelas apparently gave fully as much trouble in those early days as any of the Occidentals.)
During this testing and sifting process, as one by one, in spite of much magnificent work done, various students failed in a basic understanding of what the Masters were working for, and of what may be summed up by the word "chelaship," the scene gradually changed. The Mother Society naturally broke up into its various Sections; all immediate contact between the Masters and individual members was withdrawn; and through the years, ever since the passing of H. P. B., students have been given a chance, instead of working more or less independently as it were, to learn the lesson of working in close association with others towards a common goal, and have been shown, as Dr. de Purucker more than once pointed out, that the Theosophical Society was started primarily for bringing to the world again a restatement of the truths of the Ancient Wisdom, and only secondarily for aiding the individual development and evolution of students.
Another lesson which had to be learned was that however great one's devotion to the Teacher might be, greater still should be one's devotion and dedication to the Cause. Why was it that many who gave devotion and allegiance to H. P. B. drifted away after her death, lost interest in her Work, and in many cases threw over their belief in Theosophy for more "attractive" roads? This is not necessarily meant as a criticism of such people. They often afterwards led lives of unselfishness and service; but as regards the Cause which the Teacher to whom they had given allegiance represented, it seemed no longer to exist for them.
Of course where a student can identify absolutely his Teacher with the Cause (and all true Teachers are so identified), so much the better for him and for his own future progress; but it is often difficult to keep one's love for and devotion to a Teacher so impersonal and lofty that the withdrawal of the physical presence of the Teacher does not alter the student's work at all. Often it is as though with the passing of the Teacher, a prop on which the student unconsciously was leaning, also was withdrawn.
One aspect of the situation that a reading of these Letters brings forcibly to the mind, is the heavy load carried by the Teacher, and above him, by the Masters. They have to reap to the full all the karmic results, both good and bad, put in motion by their starting such work as the Theosophical Movement, and this is well illustrated in a letter from H. P. B. to Mr. Sinnett in the H. P. B. Letters where she is pointing out the consequences of the many mistakes made. She says:
. . . . it is Mahatma K. H.'s Karma. If you have never given a thought to what may be His suffering during the human intervals of His Mahatmaship — then you have something yet to learn. "You were warned" — says His Chohan — and He answers — "I was." Still He says He is glad He is yet no Mejnoor, no dried up plant, and that had He to suffer over and over again — He would still do the same for He knows that real good for humanity has come out from all this suffering. . . . — Letters From H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett
At the present day we can look back over a period of some seventy years, a period full of interest, with much progress made, with many failures recorded, and many changes in the Theosophic scene. We can ask ourselves how many are now trained students, with a relative appreciation of what chelaship means, seeing in its true proportion their place in the vast scheme, with an appreciation of the Teachers which is not marred by the personal element, and above all with a knowledge of what it means to follow unwaveringly the Representative of the Masters among us?
I believe there are thousands who have profited by the lessons of the past. And now the question is, Is there a further lesson to be learned? Does a time come in the student's development when, after learning how to follow a Leader, he must learn to stand on his own feet, alone, discerning for himself the Path that has been pointed out for him for so long? As the Masters have said:
The sun of Theosophy must shine for all, not for a part. There is more of this movement than you have yet had an inkling of, and the work of the T. S. is linked in with similar work that is secretly going on in all parts of the world. — The Mahatma Letters, p. 271
And elsewhere K. H. says:
You see then, that we have weightier matters than small societies to think about; yet, the T. S. must not be neglected. — Op. cit., p. 11
Has perhaps a time come when some of this weightier work the Masters have in charge demands all the trained occultists that they can summon to their aid from the outer scene? And that the enduring work of protection of Humanity by the Guardian Wall is going on behind the scenes perhaps with increased vigor in these perilous times?
But through all the years that have passed, and those that are to follow, during the times when the Master by one means or another contacted individual students; during the time when the different Societies in the Theosophical Movement were working more or less as integral units, with a Representative of the Masters among them; and now while perhaps the digesting and fruition time needs not the personal presence of a Teacher: of one thing we may be certain: The Movement which the Masters started will not be deserted by Them, for their Work is still alive and flourishing; and as H. P. B. said: "Well — keep courage and go on. If we remain ten persons in the Society united strongly — it cannot die. . . ."
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE