[Henry Newlin Stokes, a chemist by training and profession (PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 1884), is perhaps best known as the witty, outspoken, but fair-minded editor of the O. E. Library Critic, a small periodical begun by him in 1912 in Washington, DC, as an extension of his lending library, the Oriental Esoteric Library. Published continuously until 1942, the Critic reported and commented on activities and issues in the greater theosophical movement, as well as promoting prison reform. As the skeptical, fiercely independent "watchdog of the movement," Stokes regarded The Secret Doctrine and The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett as the books against which all subsequent teachings claiming to be theosophical must be measured. Equally important to him was the practical application of brotherhood.
A longtime TS Adyar member and United Lodge of Theosophists associate, Stokes courteously declined GdeP's 1930 invitation to become a member of the "Pt. Loma TS" lest he be regarded as "biased," but said he would actively support all efforts to promote brotherhood in word and deed, and theosophy as presented by HPB and her teachers. Stokes never hesitated to do this or to express his differences with GdeP; yet it was always a cordial relationship of mutual respect. In August 1940, Stokes applied for membership "after long consideration." Upon receiving his membership card, he wrote to GdeP: "As I lie in bed thinking it over I feel that I have done just the right thing." Two years later he passed away on September 30, just three days after GdeP died.
Their first meeting took place in Washington, DC, during GdeP's 1931 lecture tour. Dr. Stokes had been especially impressed with GdeP's fraternization efforts, and decided to see the man for himself. His report of those meetings in the July 1931 Critic is reproduced below in its entirety. — Eds.]
H. N. Stokes
Having heard much through my correspondence of Dr. G. de Purucker, head of the Point Loma Theosophical Society and successor to Katherine Tingley, and having been a witness to the enthusiasm which he is evidently arousing in those who have listened to him, and also having heard him most harshly criticized by those who have not heard him, I naturally looked forward with great anticipation to hearing him in person and, perhaps, talking with him. His three days' visit to Washington afforded me this opportunity.
Critic readers will remember that I am not a member of the Point Loma Society and speak only as an observer. I have been deeply in sympathy with his endeavors to bring about friendly cooperation between the different theosophical organizations, as well as those groups which repudiate the term "organization," but who nevertheless consort together for theosophical purposes, and I have been greatly impressed by the kindly manner in which he has met rebuffs and even what were perhaps intended as deliberate insults. Nevertheless I endeavored to preserve an impartial attitude; I was prepared to be disillusioned and disappointed and even to feel that his gestures were mere "camouflage," as one of his critics has expressed it. Still, I had to remember that he is by birth and training a foreigner, his father being a German, that for many years he has been almost a recluse, working and studying in an unobtrusive way at Point Loma, and coming before the public only when the death of Katherine Tingley forced him into the open and placed large responsibilities of both an executive and spiritual nature upon him.
One has to bear these things in mind when one proposes to criticize. If there breathes a man who has had the same experience, or rather lack of experience, and who suddenly fits into his new place as if made to order for it, never making a mistake or doing or saying anything which cannot by any possibility be misinterpreted, or which on more mature consideration he would have done or said in a somewhat different way, he would be a freak of nature, a sort of superman. Dr. de Purucker's training has not been that of a man of the world and, I must say, he shows it, for he is utterly unique, and it is quite possible that this uniqueness may grate on some who look for conformity to the world's ways as a prerequisite in a teacher or leader, and to whom anything savoring of eccentricity is repulsive. There are, to be sure, people who assume a sort of uniqueness by wearing odd clothes, cutting their hair in an unusual style or what not, things which in the opinion of some afford a presumption of holiness. Not so G. de Purucker. He dresses as others do; in the street he would not be noticed; the uniqueness is in himself. When he speaks, and especially when he warms up to his subject, he waxes eloquent without any of the mannerisms of platform speakers. I have heard most of the prominent theosophical speakers of my day, Mrs. Besant, Mr. Leadbeater, and many more, and without wishing to reflect on any of these, I am convinced that he surpasses all of them. Certainly he is not a trained orator; he uses none of the tricks of such, but one feels that he is speaking straight from the heart.
More than one person has made the remark that "he speaks like a parson." So be it; if you can name me the parson who speaks like de Purucker, who uses plain language on the most sublime topics, never attempting to sway his audience with mere rhetorical phrases or making demands on their "faith," and who yet convinces through the very force of the truth which he presents, I shall be glad to take the time to listen to him.
In personal appearance he is tall, smooth-faced, with grey eyes and a large greying head, and somewhat gaunt or lanky, reminding me at times of a big farm boy. In speaking he uses few gestures, even carrying his hands in his pockets at times, speaking with a slight foreign accent which, however, one quickly ceases to notice. He looks older than he really is, rarely smiles and at times complains of feeling tired, and no wonder. His pictures do not by any means do him justice.
My first experience was on the day of his arrival, when he met a small group of people, partly of Point Loma affiliation, who have been studying The Mahatma Letters together this spring. Naturally there were questions and answers, and to my mind the most impressive was his reply to a lady who had been sorely perplexed by reading Mahatma KH's letter to A. O. Hume on God (Mahatma Letters, page 52), which, I imagine, must have caused some misgivings on the part of others. His reply, which I cannot attempt to abstract, was one of the most lucid expositions of this topic which I have ever listened to, and was something not to be forgotten.
Clearly, too, did he speak on the subject of non-resistance in relation to the different stages of chelaship. Many, of course, have read The Voice of the Silence and have realized the truth of its precepts in a sort of fashion. Let G. de Purucker quote one of these precepts and make a few comments on it, as he did on this occasion, and it ceases to be a rule or a dictum and stands out before one's mental eye an indisputable and eternal truth. With no great skill in speaking, yet in some way he makes one feel in a new fashion the truth of what one has long known; one feels almost lifted to the level of the Masters with whom these things are part of themselves. It has been years since I have felt the tremendous significance of these precepts so forcibly; and it was all done so modestly and simply! Clearly there are two aspects of Theosophy which are especially close to the heart of GdeP; the one, the theosophical ethics, the other, the well-known doctrine of the Higher Self, or God within. On the latter he is never tired of talking.
GdeP's public lecture, with the simple title "Theosophy," was mainly a plain presentation of this topic, the God within us, and any who may have come with the hope of hearing about the astral plane, after-death states, angels, fairies and invisible helpers, all so dear to the neo-theosophical lecturer, would have been disappointed. Even karma and reincarnation were barely mentioned.
His second, semi-public lecture, intended especially for theosophists, on "The Theosophical Movement," was the most brilliant and convincing theosophical talk I have ever listened to. He is a true genius in exposition and, as stated above, carries conviction with a power which it is rarely the good fortune of a mere reader to experience. Nor does he demand that one accept on his authority. Rather does what he says stand forth as self-evident truth. It may be likened, perhaps, to the power of the more eminent and rational Christian revivalists; not emotional or sensational in the least, but rather what one might call spiritual force, and which has been designated by some as "lodge force." Whatever the psychology of it may be, it appears to be entirely wholesome, and one begins to understand the enthusiasm which he has aroused — he, the untrained speaker, two or three years ago almost afraid to stand before an audience. Having read many of his published talks I was disposed to regard them as somewhat prolix. Hearing has convinced me that his method is right. Better a single truth forcibly presented, even with many words, than a concise array of data which can be filed away in one's memory and neglected. It is the big aspects of Theosophy which appeal to GdeP; the details which delight many do not appear to concern him greatly.
As for my personal conversation of about half an hour, it was largely a personal conversation and may be passed over. I may say, however, that GdeP is apparently a man of strong feelings and is likely to express himself in a manner which some might consider as hyperbolic, or in other words, plain "gush," which might be somewhat embarrassing to a modest person. He has been criticized for writing thus in his published letters to members. One might even be disposed to regard it as assumed, did not those who know him best feel otherwise. Entirely convinced of his mission, he expresses himself in a fashion which may be natural to a foreigner, but somewhat strange to a cold-blooded American, and which is so utterly frank that it scares one. But that is his way.
All in all, then, I have felt myself more than rewarded. I have seen or heard nothing to which the most straight-laced theosophist of the old school could object and I have found an earnestness backed by power of expression which is only too rare and which, I think, places him in the very front rank of present-day theosophists and teachers. I believe that those who, for one reason or another, refuse to hear him, are simply depriving themselves not only of a great treat, but of a great inspiration, which, of course, is their own affair. If this fire and enthusiasm which, thanks to de Purucker, seem to pervade the Point Loma Society at the present time, can be communicated to others, we shall see an end of the lethargy which afflicts the theosophical world today; we shall see the inspiration to live the theosophical life supplanting mere book knowledge and we shall face a true theosophical revival.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)
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