“The Theosophical Mahatmas”
The Path, December, 1886
It is with sincere and profound regret—though with no surprise, prepared as I am for years for such declarations—that I have read in the Rochester Occult Word, edited by Mrs. J. Cables, the devoted president of the T. S. of that place, her joint editorial with Mr. W. T. Brown. This sudden revulsion of feeling is perhaps quite natural in the lady, for she has never had the opportunities given her as Mr. Brown has; and her feeling when she writes that after “a great desire . . . to be put into communication with the Theosophical Mahatmas we (they) have come to the conclusion that it is useless to strain the psychical eyes towards the Himalayas . . .” is undeniably shared by many theosophists. Whether the complaints are justified, and also whether it is the “Mahatmas” or theosophists themselves who are to blame for it is a question that remains to be settled. It has been a pending case for several years and will have to be now decided, as the two complainants declare over their signatures that “we (they) need not run after Oriental mystics, who deny their ability to help us.” The last sentence, in italics, has to be seriously examined. I ask the privilege to make a few remarks thereon.
To begin with, the tone of the whole article is that of a true manifesto. Condensed and weeded of its exuberance of Biblical expressions it comes to this paraphrastical declaration: “We have knocked at their door, and they have not answered us; we have prayed for bread, they have denied us even a stone.” The charge is quite serious; nevertheless, that it is neither just nor fair—is what I propose to show.
As I was the first in the United States to bring the existence of our Masters into publicity; and, having exposed the holy names of two members of a Brotherhood hitherto unknown to Europe and America (save to a few mystics and Initiates of every age), yet sacred and revered throughout the East, and especially India, causing vulgar speculation and curiosity to grow around those blessed names, and finally leading to a public rebuke, I believe it my duty to contradict the fitness of the latter by explaining the whole situation, as I feel myself the chief culprit. It may do good to some, perchance, and will interest some others.
Let no one think withal, that I come out as a champion or a defender of those who most assuredly need no defense. What I intend, is to present simple facts, and let after this the situation be judged on its own merits. To the plain statement of our brothers and sisters that they have been “living on husks,” “hunting after strange gods” without receiving admittance, I would ask in my turn, as plainly: “Are you sure of having knocked at the right door? Do you feel certain that you have not lost your way by stopping so often on your journey at strange doors, behind which lie in wait the fiercest enemies of those you were searching for?” Our Masters are not “a jealous god”; they are simply holy mortals, nevertheless, however, higher than any in this world, morally, intellectually and spiritually. However holy and advanced in the science of the Mysteries—they are still men, members of a Brotherhood, who are the first in it to show themselves subservient to its time-honoured laws and rules. And one of the first rules in it demands that those who start on the journey Eastward, as candidates to the notice and favors of those who are the custodians of those Mysteries, should proceed by the straight road, without stopping on every sideway and path seeking to join other “Masters” and professors often of the Left-Hand Science, that they should have confidence and show trust and patience, besides several other conditions to fulfill. Failing in all of this from first to last, what right has any man or woman to complain of the liability of the Masters to help them?
Truly “‘The Dwellers of the Threshold’ are within!”
Once that a theosophist would become a candidate for either chelaship or favours, he must be aware of the mutual pledge, tacitly, if not formally offered and accepted between the two parties, and, that such a pledge is sacred. It is a bond of seven years of probation. If during that time, notwithstanding the many human shortcomings and mistakes of the candidate (save two which it is needless to specify in print) he remains throughout every temptation true to the chosen Master, or Masters (in the case of lay candidates), and as faithful to the Society founded at their wish and under their orders, then the theosophist will be initiated into –––– thenceforward allowed to communicate with his guru unreservedly, all his failings, save this one, as specified, may be overlooked: they belong to his future Karma, but are left for the present, to the discretion and judgment of the Master. He alone has the power of judging whether even during those long seven years the chela will be favoured regardless of his mistakes and sins, with occasional communications with, and from the guru. The latter thoroughly posted as to the causes and motives that led the candidate into sins of omission and commission is the only one to judge of the advisability or inadvisability of bestowing encouragement; as he alone is entitled to it, seeing that he is himself under the inexorable law of Karma, which no one from the Zulu savage up to the highest archangel can avoid—and that he has to assume the great responsibility of the causes created by himself.
Thus, the chief and the only indispensable condition required in the candidate or chela on probation, is simply unswerving fidelity to the chosen Master and his purposes. This is a condition sine qua non; not as I have said, on account of any jealous feeling, but simply because the magnetic rapport between the two once broken, it becomes at each time doubly difficult to re-establish it again; and that it is neither just nor fair, that the Masters should strain their powers for those whose future course and final desertion they very often can plainly foresee. Yet, how many of those, who, expecting as I would call it “favours by anticipation,” and being disappointed, instead of humbly repeating mea culpa, tax the Masters with selfishness and injustice. They will deliberately break the thread of connection ten times in one year, and yet expect each time to be taken back on the old lines! I know of one theosophist—let him be nameless though it is hoped he will recognize himself—a quiet, intelligent young gentleman, a mystic by nature, who, in his ill-advised enthusiasm and impatience, changed Masters and his ideas about half a dozen times in less than three years. First he offered himself, was accepted on probation and took the vow of chelaship; about a year later, he suddenly got the idea of getting married, though he had several proofs of the corporeal presence of his Master, and had several favours bestowed upon him. Projects of marriage failing, he sought “Masters” under other climes, and became an enthusiastic Rosicrucian; then he returned to theosophy as a Christian mystic; then again sought to enliven his austerities with a wife; then gave up the idea and turned a spiritualist. And now having applied once more “to be taken back as a chela” (I have his letter) and his Master remaining silent—he renounced him altogether, to seek in the words of the above manifesto—his old “Essenian Master and to test the spirits in his name”
The able and respected editor of the Occult Word and her Secretary are right, and have chosen the only true path in which with a very small dose of blind faith, they are sure to encounter no deceptions or disappointments. “It is pleasant to some of us,” they say, “to obey the call of the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who will not turn any away because they are unworthy or have not scored up a certain percentage of personal merit.” How do they know? Unless they accept the cynically awful and pernicious dogma of the Protestant Church, that teaches the forgiveness of the blackest crime, provided the murderer believes sincerely that the blood of his “Redeemer” has saved him at the last hour—what is it but blind unphilosophical faith? Emotionalism is not philosophy; and Buddha devoted his long self-sacrificing life to tear people away precisely from that evil breeding superstition. Why speak of Buddha then, in the same breath? The doctrine of salvation by personal merit, and self forgetfulness is the corner-stone of the teaching of the Lord Buddha. Both the writers may have and very likely they did—“hunt after strange gods”; but these were not our Masters. They have “denied Him thrice” and now propose “with bleeding feet and prostrate spirit” to “pray that He (Jesus) may take us (them) once more under His wing,” etc. The “Nazarene Master” is sure to oblige them so far. Still they will be “living on husks” plus “blind faith.” But in this they are the best judges, and no one has a right to meddle with their private beliefs in our Society; and heaven grant that they should not in their fresh disappointment turn our bitterest enemies one day.
Yet, to those Theosophists, who are displeased with the Society in general, no one has ever made to you any rash promises; least of all, has either the Society or its founders ever offered their “Masters” as a chromo-premium to the best behaved. For years every new member has been told that he was promised nothing, but had everything to expect only from his own personal merit. The theosophist is left free and untrammeled in his actions. Whenever displeased—alia tentanda via est—no harm in trying elsewhere; unless, indeed one has offered himself and is decided to win the Masters’ favors. To such especially, I now address myself and ask: Have you fulfilled your obligations and pledges? Have you, who would fain lay all the blame on the Society and the Masters—the latter the embodiment of charity, tolerance, justice and universal love—have you led the life requisite, and the conditions required from one who becomes a candidate? Let him who feels in his heart and conscience that he has—that he has never once failed seriously, never doubted his Master’s wisdom, never sought other Master or Masters in his impatience to become an Occultist with powers; and that he has never betrayed his theosophical duty in thought or deed—let him, I say, rise and protest. He can do so fearlessly; there is no penalty attached to it, and he will not even receive a reproach, let alone be excluded, from the Society—the broadest and most liberal in its views, the most Catholic of all the Societies known or unknown. I am afraid my invitation will remain unanswered. During the eleven years of the existence of the Theosophical Society I have known, out of the seventy-two regularly accepted chelas on probation and the hundreds of lay candidates—only three who have not hitherto failed, and one only who had a full success. No one forces any one into chelaship; no promises are uttered, none except the mutual pledge between Master and the would-be-chela. Verily, verily, many are called but few are chosen—or rather few who have the patience of going to the bitter end, if bitter we can call simple perseverance and singleness of purpose. And what about the Society, in general, outside of India. Who among the many thousands of members does lead the life? Shall any one say because he is a strict vegetarian—elephants and cows are that—or happens to lead a celibate life, after a stormy youth in the opposite direction; or because he studies the Bhagavad-Gita or the “Yoga philosophy” upside down, that he is a theosophist according to the Masters’ hearts? As it is not the cowl that makes the monk, so, no long hair with a poetical vacancy on the brow are sufficient to make of one a faithful follower of divine Wisdom. Look around you, and behold our Universal Brotherhood so called! The Society founded to remedy the glaring evils of christianity, to shun bigotry and intolerance, cant and superstition and to cultivate real universal love extending even to the dumb brute, what has it become in Europe and America in these eleven years of trial? In one thing only we have succeeded to be considered higher than our Christian Brothers, who, according to Lawrence Oliphant’s graphic expression “Kill one another for Brotherhood’s sake and fight as devils for the love of God”—and this is that we have made away with every dogma and are now justly and wisely trying to make away with the last vestige of even nominal authority. But in every other respect we are as bad as they are: backbiting, slander, uncharitableness, criticism, incessant war-cry and ding of mutual rebukes that Christian Hell itself might be proud of! And all this, I suppose, is the Masters’ fault: They will help those who help others on the way of salvation and liberation from selfishness—with kicks and scandals? Truly we are an example to the world, and fit companions for the holy ascetics of the snowy Range!
And now a few words more before I close. I will be asked: “And who are you to find fault with us? Are you, who claim nevertheless, communion with the Masters and receive daily favors from Them; Are you so holy, faultless, and so worthy?” To this I answer: I am not. Imperfect and faulty is my nature; many and glaring are my shortcomings—and for this my Karma is heavier than that of any other Theosophist. It is—and must be so––since for so many years I stand set in the pillory, a target for my enemies and some friends also. Yet I accept the trial cheerfully. Why? Because I know that I have, all my faults notwithstanding, Master’s protection extended over me. And if I have it, the reason for it is simply this: for thirty-five years and more, ever since 1851 that I saw my Master bodily and personally for the first time, I have never once denied or even doubted Him, not even in thought. Never a reproach or a murmur against Him has escaped my lips, or entered even my brain for one instant under the heaviest trials. From the first I knew what I had to expect, for I was told that, which I have never ceased repeating to others: as soon as one steps on the Path leading to the Ashrum of the blessed Masters—the last and only custodians of primitive Wisdom and Truth—his Karma, instead of having to be distributed throughout his long life, falls upon him in a block and crushes him with its whole weight. He who believes in what he professes and in his Master, will stand it and come out of the trial victorious; he who doubts, the coward who fears to receive his just dues and tries to avoid justice being done—fails. He will not escape Karma just the same, but he will only lose that for which he has risked its untimely visits. This is why having been so constantly, so mercilessly slashed by my Karma using my enemies as unconscious weapons, that I have stood it all. I felt sure that Master would not permit that I should perish; that he would always appear at the eleventh hour—and so he did. Three times I was saved from death by Him, the last time almost against my will; when I went again into the cold, wicked world out of love for Him, who has taught me what I know and made me what I am. Therefore, I do His work and bidding, and this is what has given me the lion’s strength to support shocks—physical and mental, one of which would have killed any theosophist who would go on doubting the mighty protection. Unswerving devotion to Him who embodies the duty traced for me, and belief in the Wisdom—collectively, of that grand, mysterious, yet actual Brotherhood of holy men—is my only merit and the cause of my success in Occult philosophy. And now repeating after the Paraguru—my Master’s Master—the words He had sent as a message to those who wanted to make of the Society a “miracle club” instead of a Brotherhood of Peace, Love and mutual assistance—“Perish rather, the Theosophical Society and its hapless Founders,” I say perish their twelve years’ labour and their very lives rather than that I should see what I do today: theosophists, outvying political “rings” in their search for personal power and authority; theosophists slandering and criticizing each other as two rival Christian sects might do; finally theosophists refusing to lead the life and then criticizing and throwing slurs on the grandest and noblest of men, because tied by their wise laws—hoary with age and based on an experience of human nature millenniums old—those Masters refuse to interfere with Karma and to play second fiddle to every theosophist who calls upon Them and whether he deserves it or not.
Unless radical reforms in our American and European Societies are speedily resorted to—I fear that before long there will remain but one centre of Theosophical Societies and Theosophy in the whole world—namely, in India; on that country I call all the blessings of my heart. All my love and aspirations belong to my beloved brothers, the sons of old Aryavarta—the Mother-land of my Master.
H. P. Bavatsky.