THE LIFE OF
H P Blavatsky
The Vicissitudes of Theosophy
A P Sinnett
First published July 1907
THE following article will appear in the next - the August number - of BROAD VIEWS, but having so important a bearing on recent events it has seemed to me desirable to circulate it in advance as an independent address to the members of the Theosophical Society:-
Hitherto in these pages I have said but little concerning the history or work of the Theosophical Society, choosing rather as my task the effort to show how occult research in the last thirty years has illuminated a great many other problems besides those to which it is specifically related, and has been effective very often in putting a new complexion on problems of science, politics and sociology. But in view of recent events within the Society, it seems worth while to attempt a survey of its past history, its present condition, and its possible future, for the information, not merely of those who may be looking on at its progress from the outside, but also for that of the vast majority within its pale, who have lost sight of the circumstances under which that progress has been accomplished. As almost the only survivor of those associated with the early growth of the Society, much that I might say if the subject were to be reviewed with entire candour would probably be surprising to many of those in whose minds a mythological period of theosophical history has gradually been evolved. By many of those who have been attracted to theosophy since its literature has been abundant, an impression has certainly been derived, no matter how for the moment, to the effect that this mighty wave of regenerating thought is the product of clearly designed, specific action, in the first instance, by those representing accomplished evolutionary progress, spoken of in theosophical writing as the great Masters of Wisdom, sometimes as the Elder Brethren of Humanity, or the Adept Chiefs of that "Occult World," concerning which I wrote more than a quarter of a century ago. People have been led to believe that a certain Russian lady, of very wonderful gifts and characteristics was chosen by the adept Masters as their representative in the world of ordinary life and sent out to inaugurate the theosophical movement. As we see it now, spreading its branches all over the world, those coming at late date within the range of its influence have been encouraged to believe that the seed was sown in the beginning with a conscious foresight concerning the nature of the tree that would grow.
Beliefs of this kind belong to the mythology of the theosophical movement.
little society founded in
the earliest period of bewildered excitement amongst the little group
personally cognisant of Madame Blavatsky's wonder-working powers, she and her
staunch ally, Colonel Olcott, drifted to
then it came to pass that in
But after its publication, a more important correspondence began. The Master encouraged me to inquire more and more boldly concerning the mysteries of life and evolution, the laws governing re-birth and existence on superphysical planes. His letters on these great subjects were of thrilling interest to Madame Blavatsky as well as to myself, for their teaching was as new to her as to me, as she frequently assured me in the frank conversation of that period. Her magic powers that rendered her so interesting a personage had been acquired under circumstances that did not invest her with the theoretical knowledge we have since accumulated.
representing the Theosophical Society, were already established in a
comfortable house at Adyar,
work she conceived to lie entirely in the Eastern world. The Western races, and
the European especially, she held to be quite incapable of appreciating
occultism, and altogether outside the pale of her operations. But by this time
the teaching[s] of my Adept Master were embodied in the volume which had so
curious a destiny, "Esoteric Buddhism." It was published immediately
on my return to
the minute nucleus of the British Theosophical Society the influence of
"Esoteric Buddhism" gathered ever increasing numbers, and the new
revelation, for it was little less, was most quickly appreciated by people of
the highest culture. In the beginning the Theosophical movement in
the first twelve months, the growth of the Society in
must descend from above in the West, and thus it seemed to those of us who
concerned with the Theosophical movement at its inception, highly desirable
that, as far as
Unhappily, however, a curious change soon came over the scene. Madame
Blavatsky changed her mind in regard to the permanent character of her settlement at Adyar. Attracted by the unforeseen expansion of the movement
is improbable that the inner history of the events leading up to the dispatch
by the Psychic Research Society, of a Commissioner appointed to investigate
Madame Blavatsky's doings in
For the rest its history comes within the recollection of multitudes besides myself. Madame Blavatsky published her great work. "The Secret Doctrine," a book the history of which as regards the circumstances of its production would itself be not a little surprising for many of those who have been taught to revere its curiously variegated contents. Later occult research has invested us with capacities for judgment which show us "The Secret Doctrine," a rather dangerous study for those who take it up without being fully armed with knowledge enabling them to steer their course amongst the frequent passages which later experience has discredited. But, indeed, for all who have come into the movement in the period succeeding the publication of the "Secret Doctrine," that book itself, like so much that belonged to its wonderful authoress, is already
tinged with theosophical mythology.
I should have some curious explanations to give if I went at length, in connection with the history of "The Secret Doctrine," into the subject of my original correspondence with the Master - and Mme. Blavatsky's relations therewith. Some - though by no means all - of the letters in question came to me through Mme. Blavatsky's intermediation, and some - though by no means all - were curiously amplified in transmission. I am the last person in the world to underrate the powers Mme. Blavatsky exercised during the wonderful period when the Theosophical Society was going through its early vicissitudes, though such powers had nothing to do with the philosophical teaching then in process of development.
With what motive, it may be asked, have I thus reviewed the strange history of the movement to which the latter part of my life has been devoted? Recent circumstances will suggest the answer. The stream of events which my own humble efforts first set flowing has become a roaring torrent over which I have long since ceased to have any appreciable control. And now it has taken a new departure since the death of the original President, Colonel Olcott, under circumstances which are regarded from different points of view with widely different feelings. A lady of remarkable personal magnetism, unrivalled eloquence, and unquestionable devotion to the theosophical cause, has been accepted as the new President of the Society, on the nomination of the one who has passed away, with enthusiastic approval by enormous majorities. Probably that approval would have been quite unqualified had it not been that the nomination is described as having been prompted by the appearance at the dying
President's bedside, under what the world at large would conceive to be miraculous conditions, of two great Adept Masters undeniably associated with the movement from the beginning, one of them being supposed to be the great teacher from whom that early flood of occult information embodied in "Esoteric Buddhism" originally emanated. It would be impossible here to set forth in detail the reasons which induce some of those amongst theosophists of the largest experience, to regard these alleged manifestations as having been - we know not exactly what - but certainly not what they seemed. It is hardly necessary to say that no one supposes they were the product of any contemptible imposture, of the kind not infrequently associated with alleged appearances of materialised spirits through the agency of mediums. I entertain no doubt whatever that two
figures closely resembling the Masters in question, actually stood by Colonel Olcott's beside, materialised and visible to physical plane eyesight. But if they were not those whom they represented, it is obvious that they may have been in reality the result of occult activities distinctly antagonistic to the true welfare of the movement. Should that view be a correct one - and I hold it to be nothing less than my duty to declare that in my opinion the theory that they were what they seemed is absolutely untenable - we may have arrived at a curious turning point in the history of the great movement. It is premature as yet to make any
forecast as to the probable course of events. With these we can only deal as they may arise, and amongst the possibilities of the situation, even from the point of view of those who share the disbelief I have just expressed, it will be recognised that loyalty of intention on the part of those concerned with the direction of the movement on the physical plane, may, after all, disconcert any attempts to misdirect its force proceeding from mysterious superphysical agencies.
At the same time we must be prepared for the worst, even though the worst
need not be of very great moment. The Theosophical Society might vanish
off the scene like a burst soap bubble, but the literature that now embodies the results of the last thirty years of occult research will remain for the service and enlightenment of mankind throughout the coming generations, destined beyond any possibility of doubt to play an enormously greater part in the thinking of this century in its later decades than it has been able to perform for a generation amongst which it has arisen. Those few of us who have been in touch with the original sources of its inspiration have long been aware that the seed sown has
taken root. We have long been assured, and with advancing knowledge can
now understand the assurance, that within the current century all that body of knowledge relating to human evolution, the conditions of its normal progress, and the possibilities of its abnormal acceleration, will be the common property of all cultivated thinkers in the civilised world.
And the influence of such knowledge on human welfare will be grandly
independent of the fate that may attend specific organisations of a transitory character, or individual activities that may have contributed to the result. The final moral of all this is, that the teaching concerning the great natural laws governing human evolution, set afloat in the first instance under the conditions I have described, and fortified by the manifold results and records of later investigation, constitute, in fact, the Theosophical movement, the health and future of which is independent of all personalities known to the world so far. But even though it may be probable that, in the long run, future generations will
devise some better machinery for the promotion of theosophical study than
any which exists at present (and is more or less tainted with unhappy traditions), it seems to be the business of those of us who have been working with this machinery so far, to do the best we can with it, as long as our present life's activities may last. For some reasons, looking back on the curious record of my own experiences in its service, it would be a personal relief to me if I could think it right to stand altogether aside, and leave the future developments of theosophy to work out their own assured destiny, perhaps, by shaking themselves altogether free from the embarrassments of the past - and the present. But undoubtedly the great masters from whom, and from whom alone, the teaching I have been able to put forward for the service of the world, has come, have been interested in the Theosophical Society as a useful organisation - though by no means blind to its defects and vagaries, as I have had the means of knowing. I
think they would wish all of us, who have had to do with its beginnings, to work on in connection with it, each doing our best to guide it into desirable channels.
present its organisation is unhealthy and unpractical to a grotesque degree. If
it is destined to survive and be a leading influence in the religious and
philosophical thinking of the European and American worlds, it is ridiculous to
suppose that its affairs can be continuously controlled, and its government
carried on from so remote and inconvenient a headquarters as that at present
established in a suburb of
perhaps, at some future date (if circumstances should appear to prompt such an attempt), the possibility of putting them on a more reasonable footing.
A P Sinnett.
First published July 1907