Have we to Lower the Flag of Truce?
Theosophist, December, 1883
The spiritualistic journals, with the honourable and solitary exception of the Banner of Light, lose no opportunity for effecting Quixotic thrusts in the direction of Theosophy. That they are made generally at random, and thus fall as harmless as the blows of the Knight of the Rueful countenance—is not from any want of benevolent intention in our generous friends. For several years we have borne their ill-natured remarks with theosophic forbearance and have never attacked either Spiritualism as a belief, or its adherents, with those few exceptional cases when we had to defend ourselves. Nor have we, though ourselves disbelievers in their orthodox tenets, been ever tempted to carry the war into the enemy’s country. In silence we pursued our work, expecting every earnest seeker of Truth to do the same. Tolerant of their belief we hoped for the same tolerance on their part. But we were doomed to disappointment. The achievements of the doughty champions of returning “Spirits” in their latest skirmishes against the “Brothers” and their humble agents—Colonel Olcott and H. P. Blavatsky, though amusingly absurd to our Fellows, are yet so calculated to hurt the feelings of the Hindu Members of our Society that we can no longer ignore the charges proffered. After receiving a number of letters1 from certain regular Chelas whom we have personally persuaded to co-operate with us, we are obliged, in due discharge of our duty, to enter the arena of controversy, under the penalty of having our silence construed into tacit consent. In the present instance we are moved to this course by sundry remarks in Light in connection with Mr. Kiddle’s fancied exposé of Mr. Sinnett’s “Guru”—who stands accused of having “appropriated” some stray sentences from a lecture by that new convert to Spiritualism!! It is not to defend the Mahatma however, or to explain the “mystery” of the parallel passages that we now enter the lists. To undertake the former would be irreverent presumption on our part, while the latter would require a full and entire explanation of “a deeply interesting psychological problem” as “A Student” fitly puts it in Light,—a task with which we are not so far entrusted. [We are glad, however, that others, in the present number, lift the veil considerably and disclose the mystery, as far as permitted—General Morgan for one.] As to our own intention it is simply to show the utter absurdity of the whole accusation, in whatever way and from whatsoever standpoint one may look at it. The whole question resolves itself into this:—
The letters to Mr. Sinnett were written either by a real living Mahatma, a personality quite distinct from Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky; or, they are the production of the “two Occidental humourists” (a very mild way of putting it, by the bye) as suggested by the St. James’ Gazette. On either supposition the charge of plagiarism is the very height of the ridiculous, is “perfect nonsense,” as Mr. Sinnett justly remarks. To suspect the writer of such letters, the Teacher of such a grand system of philosophy (even in its simple outlines, so far) of plagiarizing a few stray sentences from a very indifferent lecture, remarkable for nothing but its correct English, is an insanely absurd improbability. Upon the other hypothesis, even if ground be granted to it sufficiently firm to enable it to raise its head, the charge becomes, if possible, more untenable still. If the “two Occidental humourists” were capable of evoluting from their inner consciousness the grand doctrines, now outlined in Esoteric Buddhism—a system of philosophy which is receiving (thanks to the intense activity created among all religious thinkers in the East by the revelations of our Mahatmas through Mr. Sinnett) daily corroboration from the esoteric doctrines of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and even Judaism—as some Hebrew Kabalists are preparing to prove—surely such clever philosophers and scholars ought to be credited with some grains at least of common sense. But where, we ask, was that common sense at the time of forging (for such is the proper term) those “bogus letters,” if any of the said “two humourists” turned for a few stray sentences to the Banner of Light,—the most widely known spiritualistic organ in America, read, perhaps, by 100 thousand of believers! One need have been no great genius or prophet to have felt sure that detection would follow immediately upon any such plagiarism; that the chances were a hundred to one that the “parallel passages” would at once be detected, the more especially as some of Mr. Sinnett’s friends who had access to the letters were spiritualists and probable readers of the Banner of Light. It is preposterous, therefore, to connect such insane actions with any one outside a lunatic asylum. Thus it becomes evident that our generous opponents are not very particular as to the nature of the weapons wherewith an unsympathetic rival is attacked, and still more clear that none of their offered theories can ever be made to fit the present case.
Whatever the final result of the ado created, meanwhile we are forced to perform a very disagreeable task. It is not the personalities in which our opponents have so freely indulged of late that induces us to lower the flag of truce which we have hitherto presented to the spiritualists, but simply the impossibility to refuse to insert a number of letters on this subject which are pouring in upon us from all sides. Space does not permit our publishing them all, but the most important ones are given elsewhere. We have sought to help the world to comprehend some important psychological problems, but instead of doing good, we have, it appears, committed a sin. We find we have gone too far, and are now reaping the just reward of giving to the world what it is not prepared to receive. Warning to this effect was offered though never accepted, as the author of Esoteric Buddhism is well aware of; and the result is, that we now find ourselves in the midst of two fires. It will be seen from the letters we have mentioned how we are traduced and reproached by both friends and enemies. Well, we must try and survive the storm. Yet, while the most low and vulgar personal jokes, the most scurrilous and unmerited abuse and slander for several years running in the “high-toned” Anglo-Indian and English journals have left us alive; and the pious fibs and incessantly repeated calumnies,—the outcome of odium theologicum—in the missionary organs have failed to annihilate us; and even the constant innuendoes and venomous remarks scattered against the theosophists in the friendly spiritualistic journals, have done no more than destroy for a few brief minutes our natural placidity, the reproaches we are now receiving are of a far more serious nature. So long as the thousand and one false charges, one more absurd than the other, were brought against us, we could afford to despise and even laugh at them. But since we feel that the reproofs poured on us by brother-chelas1 are neither unjust nor unmerited, we have but to bow our head and receive the castigation with unfeigned humility. Mea culpa! is what we shall have to repeat, we fear, to the end of our life-journey. We have sinned heavily, and we now reap the fruits of our well-meant and kindly-intentioned but still a grievous indiscretion. Some of our theosophists, the most prominent, will have to share with us the just reproaches. May they feel as much and as sincerely as we do that they deserve them, and that they were the first to have a hand in, and to profit by, the desecration we now stand accused of!
1. [See “To the Editor of ‘Light’”, The Theosophist, December, 1883 (supplement), for a Letter of Protest from a long list of theosophists and chelas. See also: “Himalayan and Other Mahatmas”, The Theosophist, December, 1883. For background on these controversies, see “The St. James Gazette and Esoteric Buddhism,” “Esoteric Buddhism and its Critic,” among other preceding articles and letters.]