H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement — Charles J. Ryan

Chapter 11


The critical first seven-year cycle of the Society closed without disaster on November 17, 1882, but the lack of the proper understanding of the deeper meaning of the movement, of the need to act as well as to talk brotherhood, compelled the Masters to limit their personal contact with all but H.P.B., and a very few others, mostly their own chelas. Far too much publicity had been given regarding the Masters. As H.P.B. writes in a letter to Mrs. Gebhard, a barrier had been erected between even the reliable theosophists and the Masters ever since certain members —

throwing Their names right and left, poured in torrents on the public, so to say, Their personalities, powers, and so on, until the world (the outsiders, not only Theosophists) desecrated Their names indeed from the North to the South Pole. . . . They were desecrated in every possible way by believer and unbeliever, by the former when he would critically and from his worldly standpoint examine Them (the Beings beyond and outside every worldly if not human law!), and when the latter positively slandered, dirted, dragged Their names in the mud! O powers of heaven! what I have suffered — there are no words to express it. This is my chief, my greatest crime, for having brought Their personalities to public notice unwillingly, reluctantly, and forced into it by —— and ----. — The Path, VII, 381-2, March 1893

This ill-advised exploitation of their personalities, instead of their teachings, exposed the Masters to a constant bombardment of appeals, prayers and even demands for attention in regard to personal matters — marriages, financial affairs, and the like — from all directions, and they were compelled to erect an isolating barrier in pure self-defense. H.P.B. ultimately became very reserved in regard to communications with the Masters, a wise policy continued by William Q. Judge when his turn came to take the direction of affairs.

More than six months before the close of the septenary cycle the Master M. sent Mr. Sinnett a severe warning, which is of considerable interest:

For the 6 1/2 years they [H.P.B. and Olcott] have been struggling against such odds as would have driven off any one who was not working with the desperation of one who stakes life and all he prizes on some desperate supreme effort. Their success has not equalled the hopes of their original backers, phenomenal as it has been in certain directions. In a few more months the term of probation will end. If by that time the status of the Society as regards ourselves — the question of the "Brothers" be not definitely settled (either dropped out of the Society's programme or accepted on our own terms) that will be the last of the "Brothers" of all shapes and colours, sizes or degrees. We will subside out of public view like a vapour into the ocean. Only those who have proved faithful to themselves and to Truth through everything, will be allowed further intercourse with us. And not even they, unless, from the President downward they bind themselves by the most solemn pledges of honour to keep an inviolable silence thenceforth about us, the Lodge, Tibetan affairs. Not even answering questions of their nearest friends, though silence might seem likely to throw the appearance of "humbug" upon all that has transpired. In such a case effort would be suspended until the beginning of another septenary cycle when, if circumstances should be more auspicious, another attempt might be made, under the same or another direction. — Mahatma Letters, 263-4

Fortunately the attempt was made in 1888, and under the same direction, and it did not fail.

Notwithstanding the various hindrances already mentioned, the opening of the second septenary of probation — which turned out to be far more trying than the first — was marked by a great increase in the general activities, the establishment of numerous new branches and the extension of the work to countries hitherto untouched. The first important event was the removal of the temporary headquarters from Bombay to Adyar, a suburb of Madras, where a suitable mansion with large grounds was obtained on very advantageous terms.

H. P. Blavatsky's unique mission in arousing wide interest in the treasures of Eastern religions, and especially in demonstrating that they had deeper meanings than were known to the laity, had aroused great enthusiasm throughout India and Ceylon. This was strongly manifested at the farewell ceremony held in connection with the departure of the theosophists from Bombay on December 17, 1882, which marked the opening of the second septenary cycle of the T.S.

The efforts made by the theosophists to revive the high ideals of antiquity, the spiritual wisdom, scientific knowledge, and high culture of ancient India, were warmly recognized. Colonel Olcott's indefatigable attempts to arouse the self-respect and the ambition of the people of India to help themselves culturally and economically, as well as morally and spiritually, by lectures given from one end of the country to the other, had attracted wide attention. An Address was read in connection with the presentation of a handsome testimonial (a silver cup and salver) by Fellows of the Society and friends, including a large number of the most prominent native residents of Bombay.

On the eve of your departure for Madras, we, the members of the Bombay Branch, beg most respectfully to convey to you our heartfelt and sincere acknowledgement for the benefit which the people of this Presidency in general and we in particular have derived from your exposition of the Eastern philosophies and religions during the past four years. . . . By your editorial efforts and public lectures you have done much to awaken in the hearts of the educated sons of India a fervent desire for the study of their ancient literature which has so long been neglected; . . . you have often justly impressed upon the minds of young men the necessity of making investigations into the boundless treasures of Eastern learning as the only means of checking that materialistic and atheistic tendency engendered by an educational system unaccompanied by any moral or religious instruction. . . .

Your endeavors have been purely unselfish and disinterested, and they, therefore, entitle you to our warmest sympathy and best respects. — Theos., IV, Jan. 1883, Suppl. 8

On the arrival of the theosophical household at Madras, they received a hearty welcome. Reporting the enthusiastic reception, the newspaper, Native Opinion, wrote:

The intelligent thinking section of the Native Community, wherever a branch of the Society has been established has fairly been roused to take a greater interest in Sanskrit literature and science.

When H.P.B. reached Adyar she probably hoped that she could settle down in that peaceful retreat to write and teach without interruption or anxiety, but karma decreed otherwise. For a while, all went well, and when Mr. and Mrs. Sinnett visited her in March 1883, she and her heterogeneous household were comfortably installed, and many of the Anglo-Indians had become friends. Mr. Sinnett writes:

The upper rooms of the house were her own private domain. . . . The new room just built had been hurried forward that we might see it complete, and was destined by Madame to be her "occult room," her own specially private sanctum, where she would be visited by none but her most intimate friends. It came to be sadly desecrated by her worst enemies a year or two later. In her ardour of affection for all that concerned "the Masters," she had especially devoted herself to decorating a certain hanging cupboard to be kept exclusively sacred to the communications passing between these Masters and herself, and already bestowed upon it the designation under which it became so sadly celebrated subsequently — the shrine. Here she had established some simple occult treasures — relics of her stay in Tibet — two small portraits she possessed of the Mahatmas, and some other trifles associated with them in her imagination. The purpose of this special receptacle was of course perfectly intelligible to everyone familiar with the theory of occult phenomena — held by Theosophists to be as rigidly subject to natural laws as the behaviour of steam or electricity. A place kept pure of all "magnetism" but that connected with the work of integrating and disintegrating letters, would facilitate the process, and the "shrine" was used a dozen times for the transaction of business between the Masters and the chelas connected with the Society for every once it was made to subserve the purpose of any show phenomenon. — Incidents, 257-8

By "show" phenomena Sinnett did not mean sensational displays to attract the curious, which would not be permitted, but an occasional exhibition of occult power which the Master, or H.P.B. and a few other chelas, employed to show serious students the possibilities of a trained will. While this course was no doubt necessary under the prevailing conditions, it was the origin of much subsequent tribulation, and has long been entirely abandoned.

After a trying summer of hard work in the intense heat of the lowlands, H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott sought relief in a short vacation in the bracing climate of the Nilgiri Hills, staying with their staunch friends, Major-General and Mrs. Morgan at Ootacamund, where she made many new friends, although, as happened earlier at Simla, her passionate revolt against the conventions and insincerities of social intercourse, aroused resentment among some. As Olcott writes in regard to this visit:

She railed at society, not like your parvenues, whose bitterness springs from their being kept beyond the threshold of the salons of the fashionable caste, but as one who, born in the purple and accustomed to equal association with peers and peeresses, had differentiated from her species and stepped up to higher ground. — O. D. L., III, 3

While at Ootacamund she produced the exact counterpart of a valuable sapphire for a society woman, by the same occult means that she had duplicated a fine topaz for Mrs. Sinnett at Simla. The sapphire was appraised by a jeweler at quite 200 rupees. Even if H.P.B. had wished to impose the belief in her occult powers upon the new acquaintance, how could she have purchased such a costly jewel for the purpose — poor H.P.B. who was never free from financial difficulties! The highly-placed lady afterwards parted company with the donor — but she kept the sapphire.

During her visit, H. P. Blavatsky took the opportunity of studying the mysterious "white" aborigines (the Todas) and other peculiar tribes of the romantic Nilgiri district. Her observations were published in Russian, then in book form in French under the title, Au Pays des Montagnes Bleues, and ultimately in English. The Todas have many strange religious customs connected with cattle and dairy work, and there is much that is obscure about them which is discussed in the little book just mentioned and in Isis Unveiled, where the author says, "They are a people who fulfill a certain high purpose, and whose secrets are inviolable" (II, 615).

Before returning to Adyar, Colonel Olcott and H.P.B. paid a short visit to Pondichery, the French settlement, where they were most hospitably received by the governor and other officials. A theosophical lodge was soon formed as the result of a large public meeting where Olcott spoke in French after the official interpreter broke down. On his return from this meeting he found H.P.B. entertaining a number of visitors, among whom was the Master Narayan, who left after speaking a few words to her apart and greeting Olcott with a smile.

After the Pondichery trip, H.P.B. returned to Adyar to the slavery of her desk, and a little later the president started on a long lecture tour in northern India. These fatiguing journeys were always diversified by varied experiences, ranging from lavish hospitality on the part of appreciative rajas and other prominent persons, down to the most uninviting conditions with Spartan fare and embarrassing inconveniences. H.P.B. accompanied him for a short distance on this northern journey, and then Damodar and W. T. Brown joined him, while she returned to Madras.

Colonel Olcott not only preached brotherhood but practiced it at the cost of his own health and comfort. For a long time he was permitted by the Master to employ his abundant natural magnetism for the amelioration and often for the permanent cure of disease. Enormous crowds mobbed him on his lecture tours, and his cures were so remarkable that he could easily have posed as a holy man, and formed a theosophical healing cult which would have attracted thousands of self-seekers. His tremendous exertions in magnetic healing, combined with the strain of incessant traveling, constant lecturing and interviewing, and the lack of proper sleep, food or rest, began to drain even his superabundant vitality. While on this journey in 1883, Olcott had treated some eight thousand patients within a twelvemonth, and the Master, noting his condition, ordered him to suspend further magnetic healing. H.P.B. writes a vivid description of a typical scene of healing. She is giving Sinnett, whose circumstances in life had been easy and congenial, a hint of what could be done by a sincere theosophist who was devoted to the welfare of humanity:

Well, my dear Sir, allow me to tell you, that I, who have been just travelling with him for three weeks, I saw, and am a witness to it whether he has one moment of freedom from morning to night. At 5 o'clock in the morning the whole courtyard and veranda of the houses we stopped in were crowded with the lame and the cripple. At every station, the railway platforms were crowded with the sick lying in wait for him. . . . I saw him begin curing the sick at 6 in the morning, and never sit down till 4 p.m.; and when stopping to eat a plate of vegetable soup have to leave it to cure a possessed woman and his plate of soup remaining unfinished at 7 p.m. and then he would sit down and dictate to his Secretary till 2 in the morning; having only three or four hours sleep. — Blavatsky Letters, 61

In regard to another shining example of selfless devotion, that given for so many years by Damodar, she adds:

I would be happy to find one member in your L.L. [London Lodge] doing unremunerated one fourth of the work done by Damodar . . . — Ibid., 61

During this year, 1883, an effort was made by the Master K.H. to enlist the journalistic ability of Sinnett in establishing a newspaper to be called The Phoenix, to help in raising the social and economic condition of the Indian masses, and thereby to arouse their sense of self-respect and their standing in the eyes of the world. This effort had, of course, nothing to do with party politics, nor had it any connection with the subject of Indian self-government, but one of its main objects was the protection of the depressed classes against the greed and oppression of their own countrymen. At that time some alarm was felt by the Indian government as to the intentions of Tsarist Russia, and H. P. Blavatsky, although a Russian, was outspoken in support of British rule. She warned the Hindus that an exchange of control from England to Russia would be a terrible misfortune for India.

Considerable efforts were made by Sinnett, Olcott and others to raise the funds needed to start this paper, but they failed to get enough money, owing to lack of patriotism in both poor and wealthy Indians, and the enterprise had to be abandoned.

Another interesting point in regard to the Phoenix incident is the indirect proof it gives of the authenticity of the Mahatma letters. While H. P. Blavatsky was second to none in devotion to the Masters, she did not always agree with their course of action, and occasionally her protests were unreservedly frank, though she always obeyed when positive orders were received. In the negotiations for the establishment of The Phoenix she was not fully informed of the plans of K.H., and she protested vigorously against the course Sinnett was pursuing, not knowing that he was doing his best to follow instructions. In the Mahatma Letters the reasons for the Master's action are disclosed, and the reader can see how her misunderstanding arose. One strikingly characteristic letter of protest in the Blavatsky Letters (Letter XXVI) exhibits her disturbed condition at this time. The whole correspondence, which reveals such a conspicuous difference in opinion, is further evidence that H.P.B. did not "fake" those letters from the Master K.H. which led Sinnett to adopt a policy entirely at variance with her wishes. Another similar case occurred a little later, which is mentioned below.

Although to all outward appearance the Society was sailing on calm waters, trying times were not far off when it would require the support of determined men and women who could not be shaken by events which would seem to threaten complete disaster. About this time a few members were given the rare opportunity of meeting one or more of the Mahatmas and their advanced chelas, and of receiving direct personal instruction and advice. One of these was S. Ramaswamier, of Tinevelly.

Soon after H.P.B. had been restored to health in 1882 by the Masters K.H. and M. at their asrama in Sikkim, as previously mentioned, Ramaswamier, a probationary chela and a devoted worker in the Theosophical Society, an official in government service, crossed the Indian frontier into Sikkim in a desperate attempt to find his Master. After walking through dangerous forests and having some narrow escapes, he saw the Master approaching him on horseback in the forenoon of a bright sunny day. Although Ramaswamier had never met his guru in the physical body till then, he recognized him at once, having seen his portrait at Bombay, where he had also seen him in the mayavi-rupa or mind-body. He had received instructions at times from his guru both by letter and by telepathic hearing. The Master talked with him for a long time and told him that he must wait patiently in order to become a fully "accepted chela," for only a few were found worthy, though none was rejected without trial. He was told to go no farther toward Tibet or he would come to grief. Two chelas then came up on horseback and the Master bade him farewell.

Ramaswamier described this interview in detail in The Theosophist for December 1882, and no reason has been given to doubt its literal accuracy. It is an independent corroboration of H. P. Blavatsky's letter to Sinnett where she describes her visit to Sikkim.

In November 1883, shortly after the Pondichery reception, which was attended by the Master Narayan, as said, Colonel Olcott, Damodar K. Mavalankar, and W. T. Brown, while on their northern tour, were individually granted personal interviews with the Master K.H. at Lahore. Damodar and Olcott saw and conversed with him at least twice, and they declare that they had not the slightest doubt that they were speaking to a living man, and one possessing that majestic appearance observed by all who have seen him on other occasions. Olcott describes this incident in detail in his Old Diary Leaves (III, 36), and mentions that the Master K.H. gave him information about certain important future events which duly happened as foretold. A letter of advice was formed in Olcott's hand as the Master stood near him, and W. T. Brown received one in the same way.

Rather later, on November 25, while the theosophists were being entertained by the Maharaja of Kashmir at Jammu, Damodar, who had already made great spiritual progress, was called to the Masters' asrama for a few days' special training. He returned greatly changed in appearance. From a rather diffident, physically fragile youth, he had become, according to Colonel Olcott, "seemingly robust, tough and wiry, bold and energetic in manner." It was not long before Damodar had to take heavy responsibilities and to stand firmly in defense of the work during the absence of H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott in Europe. He describes his experience with the Masters in The Theosophist (V, 61, Dec. 1883) in an interesting article called "A Great Riddle Solved" and confirms Olcott's and Brown's accounts. Comparing his previous visions of the Master with this meeting in the flesh, Damodar writes:

In the former cases, when making Pranam (salutation) my hands passed through his form, while on the latter occasions they met solid garments and flesh. Here I saw a living man before me, the same in features, though far more imposing . . .

On the way back to Adyar, the president broke his journey at Jaipur, the modern capital near the romantic and deserted city of Amber, which was abandoned in 1728 for reasons which have never been divulged, though semi-legendary explanations are preserved. There is apparently some mystic attraction in connection with Amber, for both H. P. Blavatsky and later Katherine Tingley made a point of visiting it. When Olcott was in Jaipur he received some curious information confirming similar statements previously obtained elsewhere. He writes:

Our local colleagues took me the next morning to call on Atmaram Swami, a well-known and respected ascetic, who had been telling them long before my arrival that he was personally acquainted with our Masters, and that, eight years before, in Tibet, one of them known as Jivan Singh, Chohan, had told him that he need not be discouraged about the religious state of India, for they had arranged that two Europeans, a man and a woman, should soon come and revive the Eastern religions. This date corresponds with that of the formation of our Society at New York, . . . I found the Yogi a man of dignified presence, with a calm, thoughtful countenance, quite a different sort of person from the ordinary ascetic now so common in and profitless to India. — O. D. L., III, 59

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