Mr. A. Lillie’s Delusions
Light, August, 1884
Notes by H.P.B. on an article by William Yeats
To the Editor of Light.
I write to rectify the many mistakes—if they are, indeed, only “mistakes”—in Mr. Lillie’s last letter that appeared in Light of August 2nd, in answer to the Observations on his pamphlet by the President of the London Lodge.
1. This letter, in which the author of Buddha and Early Buddhism proposed to “consider briefly some of the notable omissions” made in the Observations, begins with two most notable assertions concerning myself which are entirely false, and which the author had not the slightest right to make. He says:—
“For fourteen years (1860 to 1875) Madame Blavatsky was an avowed Spiritualist, controlled by a spirit called ‘John King’ . . . She attended many séances, etc.”
With the exception that I attended many séances,–– but this would hardly prove any one to be a Spiritualist—all these assertions are entirely false. I say the word and underline it, for the facts in them are distorted, and made to fit a preconceived and very erroneous notion, started first by the Spiritualists, whose interest it is to advocate “spirits” pure and simple, and to kill—if they can, which is rather doubtful—belief in the wisdom, if not in the very existence, of our revered masters.
Though I do not at all feel bound to unbosom my private life to Mr. Arthur Lillie, nor do I recognize in him the right of demanding it, yet out of respect to a few Spiritualists whom I esteem and honour, I would set them right, once for all, on the subject. As that period of my life (1873-1879) in America, with all its spiritual transactions, will be given very soon in a new book called “Madame Blavatsky,”1 published by friends, and one which I trust will settle, once and forever, the many wild and unfounded stories told of me, I will briefly state only the following:—
The unwarranted assumption mentioned above is very loosely based on one single document, namely, Colonel Olcott’s People from the Other World. As this book was written partly before, and partly after, my first acquaintance with Colonel Olcott, and as he was a Spiritualist, which he has never denied, I am not responsible for his views of me and my “powers” at that time. He wrote what he then thought the whole truth, honestly and sincerely; and, as I had a determined object in view, I did not seek to disabuse him too rudely of his dreams. It was only after the formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, that he learned the whole truth. I defy anyone, after that period, to find one word from his pen that would corroborate his early views on the nature of my supposed “mediumship.” But even then, when writing of me in his book, he states distinctly the following:—
“. . . Her mediumship is totally different from that of any other person I ever met; for, instead of being controlled by spirits to do their will, it is she who seems to control them to do her bidding.”
Strange “mediumship,” one that resembled in no way any that even Colonel Olcott—a Spiritualist of thirty years’ standing—had ever met with! But when Colonel Olcott says in his book (p. 453) that instead of being controlled by, it is I who control the so-called spirits, he is yet made to say by Mr. Lillie, who refers the public to Colonel Olcott’s book, that it is I who was controlled! Is this a misstatement and a misquotation, I ask, or is it not?
Again, it is stated by Mr. Lillie that I conversed with this “spirit” (John King) during fourteen years, “constantly, in India and elsewhere.” To begin with, I here assert that I had never heard the name of “John King” before 1873. True it is, I had told Colonel Olcott and many others that the form of a man, with a dark pale face, black beard, and white flowing garments and fettah, that some of them had met about the house and my rooms, was that of a “John King.” I had given him that name for reasons that will be fully explained very soon, and I laughed heartily at the easy way the astral body of a living man could be mistaken for, and accepted as, a spirit. And I had told them that I had known that “John King” since 1860; for it was the form of an Eastern adept, who has since gone for his final initiation, passing through and visiting us in his living body on his way, at Bombay. Whether Messrs. Lillie and Co. believe the statement or not, I care very little, as Colonel Olcott and other friends know it now to be the true one. I have known and conversed with many a “John King” in my life—a generic name for more than one spook—but thank heaven, I was never yet “controlled” by one! My mediumship has been crushed out of me a quarter of a century or more; and I defy loudly all the “spirits” of the Kama-loka to approach—let alone to control me now. Surely it is Mr. Arthur Lillie who must be “controlled” by someone to make untruthful statements, which can be so easily refuted as this one.
2. Mr. Lillie asks for “information about the seven years’ initiation of Madame Blavatsky.” The humble individual of this name has never heard of an initiation lasting seven years. Perhaps the word “initiation”—with that accuracy in the explanation of esoteric terms that so preeminently characterises the author of Buddha and Early Buddhism—may be intended for “instruction”? If so, then I should be quite justified in first asking Mr. Lillie what right he has to cross-examine me? But since he chooses to take such liberties with my name, I will tell him plainly that he himself knows nothing, not only of initiations and Tibet, but even of exoteric—let alone esoteric—Buddhism. What he pretends to know about Lamaism he has picked up from the hazy information of travellers, who, having forced themselves into the borderland of Tibet, pretend on that account to know all that is within the country closed for centuries to the average traveller. Even Csoma de Körös knew very little of the real gelukpas and Esoteric Lamaism, except what he was permitted to know; for he never went beyond Zanskar, and the lamasery of Phag-dal—erroneously spelt by those who pretend to know all about Tibet, Pugdal, which is incorrect, just because there are no meaningless names in Tibet, as Mr. Lillie has been taught to say. And I will tell him also that I have lived at different periods in Little Tibet as in Great Tibet, and that these combined periods form more than seven years. Yet, I have never stated either verbally or over my signature that I had passed seven consecutive years in a convent. What I have said, and repeat now, is, that I have stopped in Lamaistic convents; that I have visited Tzi-gadze [Shigatse], the Tashi-Lhünpo territory and its neighbourhood, and that I have been further in, and in such places of Tibet as have never been visited by any other European, and that he can ever hope to visit.
Mr. Lillie had no right to expect more “ample details” in Mr. Finch’s pamphlet. Mr. Finch is an honourable man, who speaks of the private life of a person only so far as that person permits him. My friends and those whom I respect, and for whose opinion I care, have ample evidence—from my family for one—that I have been in Tibet, and this is all I care for. As to “the name, perhaps, of three or four trustworthy English (rather Anglo-Indian) officials who could certify” to having seen me when I passed, I am afraid their vigilance would not be found at the height of their trustworthiness. Only two years back, as I can prove by numerous witnesses, when journeying from Chandernagor to Darjeeling, instead of proceeding to it direct, I left the train half way, was met by friends with a conveyance, and passed with them into the territory of Sikkim, where I found my Master and Mahatma Koot Hoomi. Thence five miles across the old borderland of Tibet.
Upon my return, five days later, to Darjeeling, I received a kind note from the deputy-commissioner. It notified me in the politest of terms that, having heard of my intention of going over to Tibet, the Government could not allow me to proceed there before I had received permission to that effect from Simla; nor could it accept the responsibility of my safety, “the Rajah of Sikkim being very averse to allow travellers on his territory, etc.”
This I would call shutting the stable-door when the steed is stolen. Nor had the very “trustworthy” official even heard that a month before Mr. Sinnett had kindly procured for me permission from the Foreign Office of Simla to go to Tibet whenever I pleased, though I had not availed myself of this permission since I went to Sikkim but for a few days, and no further than the old Tibetan borderland. The question is not whether the Anglo-Indian Government will, or will not, grant such permission, but whether the Tibetans will let one cross their territory. Of the latter, I am sure, any day. I invite Mr. Lillie to try the same. He may, at the same time, study with profit geography, and ascertain that there are other routes that lead into Tibet besides via “English officials.” He tries his best to make me out, in plain words, a liar. He will find it even more difficult than to disprove that he knows nothing of either Tibet or Buddhism, or our “Byang-Tsiübs.” [བྱང་ཆུབ་, byang chub]
I will surely never lose my time in showing that his accusations against one whom no insult of his can reach, are perfectly worthless. There are numbers of men quite as intelligent as he believes himself to be, whose opinion of our Mahatma’s letters is the reverse of his. He can “suppose” that the authorities by him cited knew more about Tibet than our masters; others think they do not; and the thousand and one blunders of his Buddha and Early Buddhism show us what these authorities are worth when trusted literally. As to his trying to insinuate that there is no Mahatma Koot Hoomi at all, the idea alone is absurd. He will have to dispose, before he does anything more, of a certain lady in Russia, whose truthfulness and impartiality no one who knows her would ever presume to question, who received a letter from that Master so far back as 1870. Perchance, a forgery, also? As to my having been in Tibet, at Mahatma Koot Hoomi’s house, I have better proof in store––when I believe it needed—than Mr. Lillie’s rancorous ingenuity will ever be able to make away with.
If the teachings of Mr. Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism are considered atheistic, then I am an atheist too. And yet, I would not deny what I wrote in Isis as quoted by Mr. Finch. If Mr. Lillie knows no difference between an anthropomorphic, extra-cosmic god, and the Divine essence of the Adwaitees and other Esotericists, then I must only loose a little more of my respect for the R.A.S., with which he claims membership; and it may justify the more our assertions that there is more knowledge in “Babu Subba Row’s” solitary head then in dozens of heads of “Orientalists” about London, we know of. The same with regard to the Master’s name. If Mr. Lillie tells us that “Koot Hoomi” is not a Tibetan name, we answer that we never claimed it to be one. Every one knows that the Master is a Puñjabi whose family was settled for years in Kashmir. But if he tells us that an “expert at the British Museum ransacked the Tibetan dictionary” for the words “Koot” and “Hoomi,” and found no such words, then I say, “buy a better dictionary” or “replace the expert by a more expert one.” Let Mr. Lillie try the glossaries of the Moravian Brothers, and their alphabets. I am afraid he is ruining terribly his reputation as an Orientalist. Indeed, before this controversy is settled, he may leave in it the last shreds of his supposed Oriental learning.
Lest Mr Lillie should take my omitting to answer a single one of his very indiscreet questions as a new pretext for printing some impertinence, I say: “I was at Mentana during the battle in October, 1867, and left Italy in November of the same year for India.” Whether I was sent there, or found myself there by accident, are questions that pertain to my private life, with which, it appears to me, Mr. Lillie has no concern. But this is on a par with his, other ways of dealing with his opponents.
As Mr. Lillie’s other sarcasms touch me very little––for I know their value—I may let them pass without any further notice. Some persons have an extraordinary clever way of avoiding an embarrassing position by trying to place their antagonists in the same situation. For instance; Mr. Lillie could not answer the criticisms made on his Buddha and Early Buddhism in The Theosophist, nor has he ever attempted to do so. But he applied himself instead to collect every vile rumour and idle gossip about me, its editor, and allying himself with some of our enemies he sailed out with his very weak pamphlet, in which he unveiled really no one but himself. Why does he not show, to begin with, that his reviewer was wrong? Why does he not, by contradicting our statements, firmly establish his own authority as an Orientalist; showing, first of all, that he is a genuine scholar, who knows the subject he is talking about, before he allows himself to deny and contradict other people’s statements in matters which he knows still less about? He does nothing of the kind, however; not a word, not a mention of the scourging criticism that he is unable to refute. Instead of that, we find the offended author trying to throw ridicule on his reviewers, so as to lessen probably the value of what they have to say of his own book. This is a clever, very clever strategy. Whether it is an honourable one remains, withal, an open question.
It might be difficult, after the conclusions reached by qualified scholars in India concerning his first book, to secure much attention in The Theosophist for his second, but if this volume in turn were examined with the care almost undeservedly devoted to the first, and if it were referred to the authority of such real Oriental scholars and Sanskritists as Mr. R. T. H. Griffith, for instance, I think it would be found that the aggregate blundering of the two books put together might excite even as much amusement as the singular complacency with which the author betrays himself to the public.
H. P. Blavatsky,
August 3rd, 1884.