The Travelling Truthseeker1
Theosophist, March, 1883
The third volume of Mr. Bennett’s Narrative of his Voyage around the World to investigate the present state of religion, is as interesting as its predecessors, and calls for the same criticism. A fourth and concluding Volume, with a general Index of the contents of the whole series, is still to appear, but alas! the busy pen that wrote them will write no more. As was remarked in a previous notice,2 Mr. Bennett’s style is more pungent than cultivated; a man of the people, he spoke like them as well as for them, and those who regard manner rather than matter, will often take a strong exception to his style as the friends of Western religious orthodoxy will to his ideas. But in a dishonest age like this,—an age of shams and cheating semblances, the friends of truth must relish an author like our poor, persecuted colleague, whose manifest honesty and indignation quiver in his every book. The present volumes of travel are crammed with quotations from the standard guide books of all the countries he traversed, and hence are themselves full of useful information about men and things, altogether apart from the religious question. They are therefore worthy of a place in every general library. To the full extent of the circulation the book may attain, Theosophy and its advocates will have the benefit of great notoriety, since Mr. Bennett devotes no less than eighty-seven pages of Vol. III to the subject. Though he was an ardent Freethinker and Secularist, he yet discusses Occultism with a judicial candour which might be profitably imitated by his famous contemporaries of the National Reformer. In the hurry of his brief stay at Bombay, he was not able to get everything down correctly, and so it is not strange to find his chapter upon Occultism containing some errors. But we shall only point out a single one which might convey a very wrong impression to outsiders. He says (p. 94) about admissions into the Theosophical Society: “It seems that the desirability of every candidate for admission is referred to the Brothers, they approving of some and rejecting others. My case seems to have been laid before them, and they decided favorably upon it.” No such general reference of applications has ever been made, the Brothers leaving to the Founders the entire responsibility in such cases; since it is we who are building up the Society under their auspices, not they who are selecting its membership, with us as passive agents. If the latter were the fact, many unfortunate misjudgments of candidates would have been avoided, and much vexation and scandal spared. Advice was indeed asked as to Mr. Bennett’s admission, simply because we foresaw what has since happened, that whatever odium his bigoted persecutors had contrived to cast upon him would have to be shared by us, and this seemed an impolitic step for our young Society to take. The result of that appeal is above stated by Mr. Bennett; who adds that the “response was that I am an honest, industrious man, and fully worthy to become a member . . . I hope their opinion is well founded.” It was so, as we have become more and more satisfied ever since, and now none regret him more than his cautious friends of Bombay—now of Madras. This is not the first instance in which our Masters have looked into the heart of a candidate whom we might have rejected, because of his being under the world’s frown, and bade us remember that we ourselves were not so blameless when they accepted us as to warrant our turning our backs upon any earnest yearner after truth. Thousands have read with the thrill of sympathy the story of the adulterous woman whom Jesus is said to have abstained from condemning, when her accusers slunk away at the challenge he made to their own spotlessness from sin. The history of our Society contains more than one example of this identical loftiness of compassion having been shown to unhappy candidates, by our spiritual Masters and Exemplars, the MAHATMAS.
1. A Truthseeker Around the World, Vol. III, New York, D. M. Bennett, 1882.