By W. T. S. Thackara
The quest for the Holy Grail, Lao-Tzu's Way of Tao, the native Americans' Road of Life and Death, the Eleusinian Sacred Way to the Mysteries, the Hindus' many paths to Brahman, Christ's "Way, the Truth and the Life" — echoes are heard in every age of a timeless Path that leads to wisdom, to the understanding of our purpose in the universal design, and ultimately to the elevation of all living beings. In our own age, knowledge of this path has been largely forgotten, sometimes scoffed at, its reality denied. Nevertheless, modern inheritors of the ancient maps still declare its existence, premising that whatever is a part of nature can never be lost, because it is nature itself. This Way to the "great antique heart," they tell us, reflects the pattern of evolutionary pilgrimage, the upward surge of life to ever greater expressions of innate potential, to a more universal outlook and deepening sympathy with the source of Being. Life is a continuing process of inner growth and learning, of knowing one's Self, where everyone is both student and teacher, receiving the light of garnered experience and transmitting it as does a beacon to those who seek its guidance.
The last quarter of this century has witnessed a resurgent awareness of and personal search for this path; and there has been perhaps no one more responsible for reviving serious attention to it and describing its chief features than H. P. Blavatsky, the inspiriting force of the modern theosophical movement founded in 1875. As a student of those entrusted with the custodianship of this wisdom, her task was to re-present in contemporary language the broad panorama of the "anciently universal Wisdom-Religion," to show its widespread existence in the myths, legends, and spiritual traditions of every people, as well as to indicate its scientific basis, with the ultimate goal of furthering the cause of universal brotherhood.
Many, however, have found the books of H. P. Blavatsky difficult — "too cosmic" some have said; "please give us something easier that we can understand." In the writings of William Q. Judge, one of the co-founders of the Theosophical Society and a personal pupil of both H. P. Blavatsky and her teachers, many have found a certain human element which, though not lacking in HPB's works, is here more directly felt. His Ocean of Theosophy and Letters That Have Helped Me remain classics in theosophical literature, describing in clear and easy language the fundamentals of the wisdom-tradition and the signposts on the path of spiritual quest. Yet the greater part of Judge's literary output had for decades been accessible only to those fortunate enough to have copies of the magazine started and edited by him. In character with the themes it dealt with, he named it The Path.
Begun in 1886, with no staff of writers and no articles on hand, "the promise of its future lay alone in supreme faith." Not an official organ of the Society, The Path was instead an appeal "to all who wish to raise themselves and their fellow creatures — man and beast — out of the thoughtless jog trot of selfish everyday life." To this end and until the day he died at age 44, Judge wrote about the Way of Life spoken of by the sages of old: its history, its ever-present relation with the practical affairs of daily life, the pitfalls encountered, and the inspiration to be derived from following it.
In 1975, in response to many requests, Judge's editorials, articles and stories in The Path were published in the first of three volumes of collected writings entitled Echoes of the Orient. (Echoes of the Orient: The Writings of William Quan Judge, compiled by Dara Eklund, Volume 1 , 616 pages; Volume 11 , 553 pages; Volume III , 560 pages, Point Loma Publications, San Diego; Second and Revised Edition, Theosophical University Press, 2009-) These volumes are a welcome contribution to the source literature of theosophy currently in print. The spectrum of subjects is broad enough to offer both inquirer and long-time student valuable guidance and insight — evidencing its author as one who knew from personal experience the reality of the Path.
What is striking about Judge's writing is his exceptional ability to condense a powerful line of thinking into a single phrase, so that it acts as a seed in the reader's consciousness. There it draws upon the elements native to it, and in time, with nurturing, unfolds into vistas of understanding previously unseen. The article tides in the first volume are themselves suggestive: "Sun and the True Sun," "Is Karma Only Punishment?," "Occultism: What Is It?," "Why Yoga Practice Is Dangerous," "Replanting Diseases for Future Use. . . . . . Reincarnation in the Bible," "The Adepts and Modern Science," "Points of Agreement in All Religions," "Bogus Mahatma Messages," "Theosophy and Capital Punishment," "How Should We Treat Others?" In addition to more than one hundred fifty articles in this volume, the compiler has included Judge's intriguing stories of a mystic lore belonging to Ireland's sacred past.
In Volume Two readers will find a similar wealth of theosophic ideas, history, and guidance. Arranged in sections — each in chronological order — are Judge's articles from The Irish Theosophist, Lucifer, The Theosophist, as well as a few writings from The Path not found in Volume One. Also included are his presentations at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where he chaired the Theosophical Congress. The latter half of this volume contains several very interesting sections entitled: Hidden Hints in The Secret Doctrine, Questions from The Vahan, The Theosophical Forum, Questions from The Path, Abridgment of Discussions, and Faces of Friends.
If we may characterize the contents of Volume One as coming from the plane of "pure buddhi" or intuition — as H. P. Blavatsky once remarked of Judge's Path magazine — much of the material in the second volume, while covering a broad philosophic territory, brings the reader more closely in touch with the secular side of theosophy. In other words, we have here an opportunity to learn more about how people responded to the reintroduction and challenge of theosophic wisdom. The effects were both elevating and unsettling; and one of Judge's primary efforts was to try to help as many as possible establish surer footing on this newly rising continent of spiritual-scientific thought.
One result of H. P. Blavatsky's groundbreaking works such as Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine was a flood of questions on every conceivable topic; nearly half of volume two is given over to answering those which came to Judge. People wrote in wanting to know (as they do today) about what really happens to man when he dies. Can this be known? Does he have a soul (and spirit)? Can these be lost? What happens to suicides? Is it possible to receive in dreams answers to questions about right conduct? Should psychic powers be developed? Are celibacy and vegetarianism necessary to lead a spiritual life? What evidence is there for the existence of advanced humans or mahatmas? Why don't they make themselves better known? How can one serve mankind? How does one enter upon the chela path?
Other reactions followed, too, revealing some of the less noble elements in human nature. Egotism, ignorance, and fanaticism were chief among those which combined to shape the misunderstandings and unjust attacks that occurred. Several of Judge's articles address these problems and have timely relevance, providing useful insight into similar difficulties arising in today's spiritual ferment.
Volume Three is divided into five sections, the first a series of articles introducing theosophical concepts which Judge wrote for Kate Field's Washington, under the title "Echoes from the Orient." Sections 2-4 contain tracts and pamphlets issued by Judge — including his highly esteemed "Epitome of Theosophy" — as well as articles in newspapers and journals other than those in the first two volumes, and miscellania (extracts, undated articles, etc.). The fifth and largest section, comprising nearly half the volume, is devoted to "Suggestions and Aids" issued to students of the Eastern School of Theosophy, founded by HPB with Judge's assistance in 1888. These papers deal with matters more directly pertinent to theosophists, as well as with the core purposes of the Theosophical Society and its founders, the mahatmas. That HPB had full confidence in Judge's integrity and competence as a teacher is made clear by her statement (Echoes 3:452):
The Esoteric Section and its life in the U.S.A. depends on W.Q.J. remaining its agent & what he is now. The day W.Q.J. resigns, H.P.B. will be virtually dead for the Americans.
W.Q.J. is the Antaskarana [connecting link] between the two Manas(es) [minds], the American thought & the Indian — or rather the trans-Himalayan — Esoteric Knowledge.
Whatever the subject, Judge's writing is invariably down to earth, cutting right through rigid thinking and the nonsense of pseudo-occultism. It is refreshing to read clear, simply-worded sentences free of the misty "sweetness and light" or clever, hip language that characterizes much new-age literature today. Yet, as straightforward as Judge is, his perspective is clearly rooted in a larger philosophic background, oriented towards universal brotherhood, innate human dignity, and the inestimable worth of altruistic motive and service. Never condescending, but always the true student/teacher with whom we can easily relate, he transmits the perennial wisdom in a way that encourages us to broaden our views and thus to see in everyone and everything — vibrant expressions of the divine force.
Also to be noted is a two-volume anthology of Judge's writings entitled Theosophical Articles. (Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, 1980, two volumes 1,276 pages, index in volume two; cloth [2-vol. set] $25.00. Also available as 37 separate pamphlets, $1.00, each.) These were published "in the conviction . . . that [they] are an indispensable aid in grasping the meaning of the Theosophical philosophy, and that recognition of [WQJ's] role and part in Theosophical organization and education is equally indispensable to an understanding of the Theosophical Movement." The particular value of this edition lies in the arrangement of articles by subject rather than by chronology. Whichever arrangement is chosen, Judge's writings will provide a wonderful source of inspiration and stability in daily living.
Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press