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

Chapter 4


In July, 1872, H. P. Blavatsky arrived in Odessa where her relatives were then living. Exactly "eighteen moons" had risen since her aunt had received the occult letter. She remained there for about nine months and then went to Paris, where a cousin was living. On July 7, 1873, she arrived at New York, having been directed by her Master, under whose orders she was working, to begin the great effort of the nineteenth century in that modern center of energy. She remained in the United States for more than five years, mostly residing in New York, and became a naturalized citizen in 1878.

Colonel Olcott quotes an interesting confirmation of H.P.B.'s statements to him about her journeyings. Miss Anna Ballard, a veteran journalist, wrote to him in 1892 in answer to his request, in part:

I met her in July, 1873, at New York, not more than a week after she landed. I was then a reporter on the staff of the New York Sun, and had been detailed to write an article upon a Russian subject. In the course of my search after facts the arrival of this Russian lady was reported to me by a friend, and I called upon her; thus beginning an acquaintance that lasted several years. At our first interview she told me she had had no idea of leaving Paris for America until the very evening before she sailed, but why she came or who hurried her off she did not say. I remember perfectly well her saying with an air of exultation, 'I have been in Tibet.' Why she should think that a great matter, more remarkable than any other of the travels in Egypt, India, and other countries she told me about, I could not make out, but she said it with special emphasis and animation. I now know, of course, what it means." — O. D. L., I, 21

An incident occurring during H. P. Blavatsky's journey to America displays the kindness of heart which was one of her leading characteristics. At Havre she saw a woman with two children in great distress, and on inquiry learned that the woman was going to her husband in America, but had been cheated out of all her money by the purchase of counterfeit tickets and was left utterly destitute and friendless. H.P.B., being short of cash, instantly exchanged her first-class ticket for steerage tickets for herself and the unfortunate family. How many persons of refined instincts would have chosen the steerage with its overcrowded and unsavory conditions, as it was in those days, in order to rescue a total stranger from distress?

When she reached New York she found no funds awaiting her, for her father had just died and her remittances were not forthcoming because of the ensuing legal delays. The Russian consul saw no way to advance any money to her, and for some months she suffered serious privation, having to live in one of the poorest quarters of the city and supporting herself by making cravats.

At last, in October 1874, the time came for action, and she was instructed to go to the village of Chittenden, Vermont, where the two Eddy brothers of then spiritualist fame were holding their historic seances. Henry Steel Olcott, afterwards president of the Theosophical Society, was investigating and reporting them for the New York Daily Graphic, and her remarkable face with its impress of power and knowledge attracted him at once. She recognized that this was no accidental meeting; here was the man she needed to help her in the work she was sent to do. At that time she had almost forgotten how to speak English, though she could read fairly well, and Colonel Olcott noticed that she was speaking Parisian French to a Canadian lady friend. As he had a good knowledge of that language, he found an excuse to address her and a friendship quickly sprang up between them. It was indeed no accidental meeting and the Mahatma Morya told Mr. Sinnett several years later how it was brought about.

Some of the Masters, having realized that another of the cyclic opportunities had arrived when the "occult doctrine" might get a hearing, finally decided to make the trial. The higher "chiefs" were not over sanguine, but they raised no objection. The Master M. writes in 1882:

It was stipulated, however, that the experiment should be made independently of our personal management; that there should be no abnormal interference by ourselves. So casting about we found in America the man to stand as leader — a man of great moral courage, unselfish, and having other good qualities. He was far from being the best, but (as Mr. Hume speaks in H. P. B.'s case) — he was the best one available. With him we associated a woman of most exceptional and wonderful endowments. Combined with them she had strong personal defects, but just as she was, there was no second to her living fit for this work. We sent her to America, brought them together — and the trial began. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, 263

Two years later, when Mr. Sinnett was approaching a critical period which was brought about by his lack of spiritual understanding and intuition, K.H. felt it necessary to repeat the tribute to H.P.B. and Olcott just quoted:

Those two are, say, far from perfect — in some respects, quite the opposite. But they have that in them (pardon the eternal repetition but it is being as constantly overlooked) which we have but too rarely found elsewhere — UNSELFISHNESS, and an eager readiness for self-sacrifice for the good of others; what a "multitude of sins" does not this cover! It is but a truism, yet I say it, that in adversity alone can we discover the real man. . . . One who would have higher instruction given to him has to be a true theosophist in heart and soul, not merely in appearance. — Ibid., 370

Colonel Olcott was a lawyer with a successful practice which he abandoned within a few years after he began to devote himself heart and soul to theosophy. He had a fine record as a soldier in the Civil War, and later as a Special Commissioner of the War Department in which he rendered such valuable service that he was given official tributes of the highest appreciation when he left America to reside in India. His book, People from the Other World, a narrative, among other things, of his experiences at the Eddy farmhouse where he met H. P. Blavatsky, created a strong impression among persons interested in psychic research.

This sketch is too brief to permit an adequate study of the mystery of H. P. Blavatsky — the very unconventional Russian personality on one side and, on the other, the complete spiritual Intelligence that the Masters refer to on several occasions as "our Brother H.P.B." In view of the slanders directed against her a few words in defense may be in place here.

In regard to the extraordinary complexity of her nature and its apparent inconsistencies, a valuable hint was given to Sinnett in 1881, and if he had realized its profound significance much misunderstanding on his part would have been avoided. The Master K.H. wrote to him:

Notwithstanding that the time is not quite ripe to let you entirely into the secret; . . . owing to the great injustice and wrong done, I am empowered to allow you a glimpse behind the veil. This state of hers [excitability, lack of reserve, etc.] is intimately connected with her occult training in Tibet, and due to her being sent out alone into the world to gradually prepare the way for others. . . . Please then, remember, what she tried to explain, . . . namely the fact of the seven principles in the complete human being. Now, no man or woman, unless he be an initiate of the "fifth circle," can leave the precincts of Bod-Las and return back into the world in his integral whole — if I may use the expression. One, at least of his seven satellites has to remain behind for two reasons: the first to form the necessary connecting link, the wire of transmission — the second as the safest warranter that certain things will never be divulged. She is no exception to the rule, — and you have seen another exemplar — a highly intellectual man — who had to leave one of his skins behind; hence, is considered highly eccentric. The bearing and status of the remaining six depend upon the inherent qualities, the psycho-physiological peculiarities of the person, especially upon the idiosyncrasies transmitted by what modern science calls "atavism." Acting in accordance with my wishes, my brother M. made to you through her a certain offer, if you remember. You had but to accept it, and at any time you liked, you would have had for an hour or more, the real baitchooly [true, complete individual] to converse with, instead of the psychological cripple you generally have to deal with now. — Mahatma Letters, 203-4

In his Old Diary Leaves (I, 18), Colonel Olcott makes a curious remark which may possibly refer to this change and psychological 'crippling' in H. P. Blavatsky:

. . . when a certain wonderful psycho-physiological change happened to H. P. B. that I am not at liberty to speak about, and that nobody has up to the present suspected, although enjoying her intimacy and full confidence.

Olcott had probably not seen the Master's letter to Sinnett in which he tells of the crippling from which she suffered and which handicapped her, but, of course, the change Olcott mentions may have been something else. It is an interesting record, in any case, but the speculations published by various writers on the subject are not evidential.

H. P. Blavatsky was no thick-skinned, unfeeling cynic, but an intensely generous and warmhearted soul, instantly moved to give what help she could when she heard of a case of distress. Instances were known where she even bore the blame of the foolish actions of others in order to save innocent people from scandal. To excuse the shortcomings of others, she would say that she might have made worse mistakes in their place, and that she would be more to blame because her training had been better. No charge was ever made against her of showing the least desire for revenge against even those who lied about her and treated her with the meanest treachery. In spite of her volcanic temperament and sudden explosions of wrath against Olcott and others when provoked by their "flapdoodles," as she half-humorously called their lapses, the deepdown, serene impersonality of her real Self is undeniable. Olcott once asked why a permanent control was not put upon her fiery temper, and was told by a Master, as Olcott reports:

. . . such a course would inevitably lead to her death from apoplexy; the body was vitalised by a fiery and imperious spirit, one which from childhood brooked no restraint, and if vent were not allowed for the excessive corporeal energy, the result must be fatal. . . . The only persons she actually reverenced were the Masters, yet even towards them, she was occasionally so combative that, as above said, in certain of her moods the gentler ones could not, or did not approach her. To get herself into the frame of mind when she could have open intercourse with them had — as she had pathetically assured me — cost her years of the most desperate self-restraint. — O. D. L., I, 258

K.H. himself refers to the difficulty he had in approaching her during a certain crisis, as mentioned in her Letters to A. P. Sinnett (p. 7). Her Russian princely ancestors, the Dolgoroukys, were distinguished by extraordinary courage and a passionate love of personal independence, and one of them successfully defied the Tsar Peter the Great in the Senate, a most desperate proceeding.

Although handicapped by her heredity in some ways, and by the psychological 'crippling' explained above, when it became a question of the great mission she had to fulfill, her extraordinary personality, self-willed, impulsive, erratic in many ways, became absolutely subject to the will and purpose of her higher nature. This 'complex' produced many of the paradoxical events of her career which aroused criticism. Her detractors failed to appreciate the importance of the fact that the great, self-sacrificing and devoted Being "H.P.B." was not always visible through the "H. P. Blavatsky" personality.

Trying to explain this to A. P. Sinnett, she commented:

Do you believe that, because you have fathomed — as you think my physical crust and brain; that shrewd analyst of human nature though you be — you have ever penetrated even beneath the first cuticles of my Real Self? You would gravely err, if you did. . . . What I say is this: you do not know me; for whatever there is inside it ["that unprepossessing rock"], is not what you think it is. . . . I, (the inner real "I") am in prison and cannot show myself as I am with all the desire I may have to. Why then, should I, because speaking for myself as I am and feel myself to be, why should I be held responsible for the outward jail-door and its appearance, when I have neither built nor yet decorated it? — Mahatma Letters, 465-6

Rather later, in 1885, trusting to Mrs. Patience Sinnett's intuitive understanding of her, she wrote:

The world is divided into the millions who do not know me, . . . but who have heard of me; and what they did hear, even in the palmy days of Theosophy, when it was nearly becoming a fashion, could never prepossess them in my favour; and among those millions — a few hundreds — say thousands — who have seen me personally, i.e. the very rough personality in her "black bag," and of unrefined talk. Those who do know me and have had a glimpse of the inner creature — are a few dozens. — Blavatsky Letters, 102

In the first year of the Society, the Egyptian Master Serapis (called the "Maha-Sahib") wrote to Olcott, who was evidently puzzled by some of her ways:

O poor, poor Sister! Chaste and pure Soul — pearl shut inside an outwardly coarse nature. Help her to throw off that appearance of assumed roughness, and any one might well be dazzled by the divine Light concealed under such a bark. — Letters front the Masters of the Wisdom, II, 36-7

Dr. G. de Purucker sums up the greater side of that "strange woman," H.P.B.:

. . . that wondrous Thing . . . that wondrous being, which was in H. P. Blavatsky and worked through her, came from Sambhala — came from this hierarchy. I do not here refer merely to the woman, to the physical body; no, nor even to the personality born in Russia; but to that wonderful Thing who incarnated in that body, and who left part of "herself" behind there and who went forth into the world crippled psychically, obeying in this respect an archaic law, which was the cause of so much misunderstanding about her. This Entity did its work in the world at the proper cyclic time for its appearance among men: the opening of a new "Messianic Cycle." — Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, 361

Elsewhere Dr. de Purucker writes:

Does anyone think that H.P.B., that the Russian body which most people call H.P.B., was the Messenger from the Lodge? How absurd! Not even her leonine character, her great and noble soul, which all who really knew her love her and revere her for having — not even these were the Messenger; but that avataric Something, that occasionally incarnating Spirit-Soul which used her and which worked through her, precisely because she was so great, precisely because she was a chela, precisely because she was the willing and self-chosen sacrificial victim, giving herself as a willing instrument for a sublime purpose and end.

I write these words hoping that they will remain, and be on record as a warning to those who will live in the opening years of the last quarter of this century not to be carried away by merely outward appearances, nor by their human prejudices; and also as a plea to them of the future to be ready and alert, ready to recognize the spirit, the inner grandeur, of the Worker for 1975 and thereafter. — The Theosophical Forum, V, 234, April 1934

Some of the idiosyncrasies of her outward personality often irritated strangers, and to those whose insincerity or selfish egotism was like an open book to her she not infrequently spoke in unguarded language, thereby earning their bitter resentment. But she never had any real ill-feeling towards even her most unscrupulous persecutors; it was admitted even by her critics that if her worst enemy came to her for assistance (as some actually did!) she would help him in any way in her power. The Master M. told Sinnett that she would have saved herself much trouble if she had been more diplomatic in speech:

. . . were she more of a natural born liar — she might be happier and won her day long since by this time. But that's just where the shoe pinches, Sahib. She is too truthful, too outspoken, too incapable of dissimulation: and now she is being daily crucified for it. . . . Martyrdom is pleasant to look at and criticise, but harder to suffer. There never was a woman more unjustly abused than H.B. — Mahatma Letters, 272-3

To awaken a student to a realization of his failings, she did not hesitate to castigate him severely — if she saw a promise of better things — and those who had the sense to recognize her earnest desire to help were deeply grateful for her outspoken courage. The real teacher aims to invoke the inner, diviner self, regardless of likes or dislikes on the part of the disciple, while the false one flatters the lower personality in order to gain power or popularity. The former will frequently turn away his face for a while, or he may even display an unattractive appearance, in order that the disciple will follow the truth he teaches for its own sake and not for any personal inducement such as the favor or the commendation of the teacher. Mme. David-Neel and the few others who have penetrated even a little way behind the veil in Tibet and India, bear witness that the higher yogis or lamas adopt drastic methods in training their most promising pupils, methods which are almost incomprehensible in the West. The discipline practiced by the Zen Buddhists in Japan, for the development of impersonality, is framed on a similar principle.

Colonel Olcott, whose personal contact with so many Orientals confirms all this, wrote:

. . . nothing is so weakening, as the encouragement of the spirit of dependence upon another, upon another's wisdom, upon another's righteousness. It is a most pernicious thing and paralyzes all effort. Now a method that is pursued in schools of Yoga in India and in Tibet is this: the Master gives at first no encouragement whatever to the would-be pupil, perhaps he will not even look at him, and frequently persons attach themselves to a Yogi as chelas, despite his trying to drive them away, perhaps with blows, or, at any rate, despite their being apparently scorned and put upon in every possible way by the Yogi. — O. D. L., IV, 311-12

Instructive stories are told of H. P. Blavatsky's efforts to provide her serious students with opportunities for the self-eradication of vanity (a deep-rooted source of trouble), ill-temper, envy, and all the apparently minor faults which must be overcome on the first steps of the Path. One student candidly confessed that on one occasion she tried his temper by a seeming injustice and harsh treatment so severely that he finally "saw red" and broke out in bitter complaint, demanding an explanation or an apology. She immediately became perfectly calm and looked searchingly at him, saying: "And you want to be an Occultist!" He instantly realized the meaning of her strange conduct, and saw that he had failed in one of the simplest tests. But he was grateful for the opportunity and profited by it.

In contrast to this, the tragic story of the Russian novelist, V. Solovyoff, is an example of complete failure. This is outlined on a later page.

The true path, the occult path, is defined by H. P. Blavatsky as leading:

. . . to the knowledge of what is good to do, as to the right discrimination of good from evil; a path which also leads a man to that power through which he can do the good he desires, often without even apparently lifting a finger. — Lucifer, II, 159, April 1888

. . . Occultism differs from Magic and other secret Sciences as the glorious sun does from a rush-light, as the immutable and immortal Spirit of Man — the reflection of the absolute, causeless and unknowable ALL — differs from the mortal clay — the human body. — Lucifer, II, 174, May 1888

[To those who are not "passion-proof" and who are "deaf to the voice of Humanity"] the golden gate of Wisdom may get transformed into the wide gate and the broad way "that leadeth unto destruction," and therefore "many be they that enter in thereby." This is the Gate of the Occult arts, practised for selfish motives and in the absence of the restraining and beneficent influence of ATMA-VIDYA. — Ibid., 181

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