Esoteric Buddhism and its Critic
Light, October, 1883
[Note: for background, see
To the Editor of Light.
“Bottom. Let me play the lion . . . I will roar, that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me. . . . I will make the Duke say . . . ‘Let him roar again, let him roar again.’ . . . Masters, you ought to consider with yourselves: to bring in,—God shield us!—a lion among ladies, is a most dreadful thing; for there is not a more fearful wild-fowl than your lion living, and we ought to look to it. . . . Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must be seen through the lion’s neck; and he himself must speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect,—‘Ladies,’ or, ‘Fair ladies’ [or Theosophists] . . . ‘I would ask you,’ or, ‘I would request you,’ or, ‘I would entreat you, not to fear, not to tremble. If you think I come hither as a lion . . . no, I am no such thing: I am a man . . . and then, indeed, let him name his name.” (Midsummer-Night’s Dream)
SIR,—In Light of July 21st, in the “Correspondence,” appears a letter signed “G. W., M.D.” Most transparent initials these which “name the name” at once, and show the writer’s face “through the lion’s neck.” The communication consists of just fifty-eight paragraphs, containing an equal number of sneering, rancorous, vulgar personal flings, the whole distributed over three and a-half columns. It pretends to criticize, while only misquoting and misinterpreting Eastern Esotericism. Its author would create a laugh at the expense of Mr. Sinnett’s book, and succeeds in showing us what a harmless creature is the “lion”—“wild-fowl” though he may be; and where he would make a show of wit the letter is only—nasty.
I should not address your public, even in my private capacity, but that the feeling of many hundreds of my Asiatic Brothers have been outraged by this, to them, ribald attack upon what they hold sacred; for them, and at their instance—I protest. It might be regarded as beneath contempt, had it come from an outsider upon whom rested no obligation to uphold the dignity of the Theosophical Society; in such case it would have passed for a clumsy attempt to injure an unpalatable cause—that of Esoteric Buddhism. But, when it is a wide open secret that the letter came from a member of about five years’ standing and one who, upon the prolongenesis of the “British Theosophical Society” as the “London Lodge of the Theosophical Society,” retained membership, the case has quite another aspect. The cutting insult having been inflicted publicly, and without antecedent warning, it appears necessary to inquire as to the occult motive.
I shall not stop to remark upon the wild résumé, which, professedly “a criticism from a European and arithmetical standpoint,” passed muster with you. Nor shall I lose time over the harmless flings at “incorrigible Buddhists and other lunatics,” beyond remarking à propos of “moon” and “dustbins,” that the former seems to have found a good symbol of herself as “a dust-bin” in the heads of those whose perceptive faculties seem so dusty as to prevent the entrance of a single ray of occult light. Briefly then, since the year 1879, when we came to India, the author of the letter in question has made attempts to put himself into communication with the “Brothers.” Besides trying to enter into correspondence with Colonel Olcott’s guru, he sent twice, through myself, letters addressed to the Mahatmas. Being, as it appears, full of one-sided, prejudiced questions, suggesting to Buddhist philosophers the immense superiority of his own “Esoteric” Christianity over the system of the Lord Buddha, which he characterised as fruitful of selfishness, human blindness, misanthropy and spiritual death, they were returned by the addressees for our edification, and to show us why they would not notice them. Whoever has read a novelette, contributed by this same gentleman to the Psychological Review and entitled “The Man from the East,” will readily infer what must have been his attitude towards the “Himalayan” and Tibetan mystics; a Scotch doctor, the hero, meets at a place in Syria, in an Occult Brotherhood, a Christian convert from this “Himalayan heathen Brotherhood,” who,—a Hindu—utters against his late adept masters the self-same libels as are now repeated in the letter under notice.1
The shot at Theosophy being badly aimed, flew wide of the mark; but still, like Richard III, “G. W., M.D.” resolved, as it appears, to keep up the gunnery—
“If not to fight with foreign enemies,
Yet to beat down these rebels here at home.”
The three indignant answers called out by “G.W., M.D.,” having emanated from an English lady and two genuine English gentlemen, are, in my humble opinion, too dignified and mild for the present case. So brutal an attack demanded something stronger than well-bred protests; and at the risk of being taken by “G. W., M.D.” as the reverse of “well-bred,” I shall use plain words about this whilom friend, but now traitor;—I hope to show the term is not too harsh. As an ardent Theosophist, the grateful, loyal friend of the author denounced—who deserves and has the regard of Mahatma Koot-Hoomi—and as the humble pupil of those to whom I owe my life, and the future of my soul, I shall speak. While I have breath, I shall never allow to pass unnoticed such ugly manifestations of religious intolerance, nay, bigotry, and personal rancour resulting from envy, in a member of our Society.
Before closing I must notice one especially glaring fact. Touched evidently to the quick by Mr. Sinnett’s very proper refusal to let one so inimical see the “Divine face” (yes, truly Divine, though not so much so as the original) of the Mahatma, “G. W., M.D.” with a sneer of equivocal propriety, calls it a mistake. “For just,” he says, “as some second-class saints have been made by gazing on half-penny prints of the Mother of God, so who can say that if my good friend had permitted my sceptical eyes to look on the Divine face of Koot Hoomi I might not forthwith have been converted into an Esoteric Buddhist?”
Impossible; an Esoteric Buddhist never broke his pledged word; and one who upon entering the Society gave his solemn Word of Honour, in the presence of witnesses, that he would “defend the interests of the Society and the honour of a brother Theosophist, when unjustly assailed, even at the peril of my (his) own life,” and then could write such a letter, would never be accepted in that capacity. One who unjustly assails the honour of hundreds of his Asiatic Brothers, slurs their religion and wounds their most sacred feelings, may be a very Esoteric Christian, but certainly is a very disloyal Theosophist. My perceptions of what constitutes a man of honour may be very faulty, but, I confess that I could not imagine such a one to make public caricatures upon confessedly “private instructions.” (See second column, paragraph 14 of his letter.) Private instructions of this sort, given at confidential private meetings of the Society in advance of their publication, are exactly what the entering member’s “word of honour” pledges him not to reveal. “Esoteric Buddhist?” No, tell him—
“Thy broken faith hath made a prey for worms.
What canst thou swear by now?”
Your correspondent deprecates “at the outset this Oriental practice of secrecy”; he knows, “that Secrecy and Cunning are ever twin sisters,” and it appears to him “childish and effeminate” to pretend “by secret words and signs to enshrine great truths behind a veil, which is only useful as a concealment of ignorance and nakedness.” Indeed! so he is not an “Esoteric Christian” after all, else I have mis-read the Bible. For what I find there in various passages, of which I cite but one, shows me that he is as disloyal to his own Master and Ideal-Christ, as he is to Theosophy:—“And he said unto them,” (his own disciples), “unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, [the “G. W., M.D.’s” of the day?] all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:11-12.)
Shall we characterise this also as “childish and effeminate,” say that the twin sisters “Secrecy and Cunning” lurk behind this veil, and that in this instance, as usual, it was “only useful as a concealment of ignorance and nakedness”? The grandeur of Esoteric Buddhism is, that it hides what it does from the vulgar, not “lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them,” or as they would say “cheat their Karma”—but, lest by learning prematurely that which can safely be trusted only to those who have proved their unselfishness and self-abnegation, even the wicked, the sinners should be hurt.
And now, may the hope of Bottom be realised, and some London Duke say to this harmless lion, “Let him roar again, let him roar again.” . . .
H. P. Blavatsky.
Nilgherry Hills, August 23rd, 1883.
1. The mythical hero of the story would seem to have met at Paris with a certain pseudo Brahmin, a convert to Roman Catholicism, who is giving himself out as an ex-chela of the Hindu Mahatmas. As he is neither a Brahmin nor was ever a chela,—his statements and all corroborative ones to the contrary, notwithstanding—he may have misled, if not the mythical Scotch doctor, at least the actual “M. D.,” of London. And, by-the-way, our French Fellows may as well know, that unless this pretender ceases his bogus revelations as to the phenomenal powers of our Mahatmas being “of the devil,” a certain native gentleman who has known this convert of the Jesuits from childhood, will expose him most fully.—H. P. B.