“Blavatskianism” In and Out of Season
Lucifer, December, 1893
THEOSOPHISTS! let us consult together. Let us survey the army, the field of battle, and the fighters. Let us examine our ways and our speech, so that we may know what we are doing in this great affray which may last for ages and in which every act has a future. What do we see? A Theosophical Society struggling as a whole against the world. A few devoted members struggling against the world and some opponents within its ranks. A Society grown to its eighteenth year, after the expenditure of much time and energy and fame by those who have been with it in infancy, those who have come in from time to time, those who worked and left it for this generation. It has its karma like any other body, for it is a living thing and not a mere paper organization; and with that karma is also woven the karma of the units composing it.
How does it live and grow? Not alone by study and work, but by propriety of method of work; by due attention paid by the members to thought and speech in their theosophic promulgations. Wise workers, like wise generals, survey the field now and then to see if their methods are good or bad, even though fully convinced of the nobility and righteousness of their cause; they trust not only to the virtue of their aim and work, but attend to any defects now and then indicated by the assaults of the enemy; they listen to warnings of those who see or think they see errors of omission and commission. Let us all do this.
It happens to be the fact that most of those who work the hardest for the Society are at the same time devoted disciples, open or non-professed, of H.P. Blavatsky, but that leaves still a large number of members who, with the first-named, may be variously classified. First, there are those who do not rely at all on H.P. Blavatsky, while not distinctly opposed and none the less good members. Next are those who are openly opposed to her name and fame, who, while reading her works and profiting by them as well as by the work aroused by her in others, are averse from hearing her name, oppose the free assertion of devotion to her, would like now and then to have Theosophy stripped of her altogether, and opine that many good and true possible members are kept away from the T.S. by her personality’s being bound up in it. The two last things of course are impossible to meet, because if it had not been for her the Theosophical Society with its literature would not have come into existence. Lastly are those in the world who do not belong to our ranks, composed of persons holding in respect to the T.S. the various positions of for, against, and indifferent.
The active workers may be again divided as follows:
(a) Moderate ones, good thinkers who present their thoughts in words that show independent and original thought on theosophical subjects, thus not referring to authority, yet who are earnest, devoted and loyal.
(b) Those who are earnest, devoted and loyal, but present Theosophy more or less as quotations from H.P.B.’s writings, constantly naming and always referring their thoughts and conclusions to her, thus appearing to present Theosophy as solely based on her as an authority.
(c) The over-zealous who err like the former, and, in addition, too frequently and out of place and time, bring forward the name of H.P. Blavatsky; often relating what it was supposed she had done or not done, and what she said, attributing infallibility to her either directly or by indirection; thus arousing an opposition that is added to any impression of dogmatism or authority produced by other members.
(d) Believers in phenomena who give prominence to the wonders said to have been performed by H.P. Blavatsky; who accentuate the value of the whole field of occult phenomena, and sincerely supposing, however mistaken the notion, that occult and psychical phenomena will arrest attention, draw out interest, inspire confidence; when, in fact, the almost certain results are, to first arouse curiosity, then create distrust and disappointment; for nearly every one is a doubting Thomas who requires, while the desire cannot be satisfied, a duplicate of every phenomenon for himself. In The Occult World, the Adept writing on this very subject says that the demand for new phenomena would go on crescendo until at last one would be crushed by doubt, or the other and worse result of creating superstition and blind faith would come about. Every thoughtful person must surely see that such must be the consequence.
It is true that the movement has grown most in consequence of the effort of those who are devoted to an ideal, inspired by enthusiasm, filled with a lasting gratitude to H.P. Blavatsky. Their ideal is the service of Humanity, the ultimate potential perfectibility of man as exemplified by the Masters and Adepts of all ages, including the present. Their enthusiasm is born from the devotion which the ideal arouses, their gratitude is a noble quality engendered by the untiring zeal of the soul who brought to their attention the priceless gems of the wisdom religion. Ingratitude is the basest vice of which man can be guilty, and it will be base for them to receive the grand message and despise the messenger.
But does devotion, loyalty, or gratitude require that we should thrust our estimate of a person forward to the attention of the public in a way that is certain to bring on opposition? Should our work in a great movement, meant to include all men, intended to condense the truth from all religions, be impeded or imperiled by over-zealous personal loyalty? I think not. We should be wise as serpents. Wisdom does not consist in throwing the object of our heart’s gratitude in the faces of those who have no similar feeling, for when we do that it may easily result that personal considerations will nullify our efforts for the good of those we address.
Now it is charged in several quarters that we are dogmatic as a Society. This is extremely easy of disproof as a fact, and some trouble has been taken to disprove it. But is there not a danger that we might go too far on this line, and by continuing the disproof too long increase the very belief which we say is baseless? “The more proof offered the less believed” is how often true. Our constitution is the supreme law. Its being non-dogmatic is proof enough. Years of notification on almost every document have prepared the proofs which every one can see. I would seem that enough has been said on the subject of our non-dogmatism.
But the charge then is altered, and “dogmatism” is supplanted by “Blavatskianism,” and here the critics have a slight ground to stand on; here is where a danger may exist and where the generals, the captains, the whole army, should properly pay attention and be on their guard. In the words and methods of the various classes of members above mentioned is the cause for the charge. I am not directing any remarks to the question whether members “believe in Blavatsky or not,” for the charge made is intended to imply that there is too much said about H.P. Blavatsky as authority, as source, as guide, too little original thinking, too much reliance on the words of a single person.
In the years that are gone, necessity existed for repelling mean personal attacks on H.P. Blavatsky’s character. To take up arms in her behalf then was wise. Now her works remain. The necessity for constant repulse of attacks on her does not exist. Judgment can be used in doing so. Loyalty is not thrown to the winds when good judgment says there is no need to reply. One of the best replies is to carry on the work in the noble and altruistic spirit she always pointed out. Take, for instance, the almost senile attacks periodically made by the Society for Psychical Research. What good can be possibly accomplished by paying any attention to them? None at all, except what results to that body by inflating it with the idea that its shafts have hit a vulnerable spot. Ever since their ex post facto agent went to India to play at psychical investigation they have almost lived by their attacks, for by them, more than anything else, they gain some attention; her personality, even to this day, adds spice to their wide-of-the-mark discussions. Even at the Chicago World’s Congresses their discussions were mostly given up to re-hashing the same stories, as if they were proud that, even though they knew nothing of psychic law, they had at least discovered one human being whose nature they could not fathom, and desired to for ever parade her with the various labels their fancy suggested. But in districts or new publications, where a new attack is made, good judgment may suggest an answer bringing up the statement of charges and copiousness of former answers. Now our work goes on in meetings, in publications, in discussions, and here is where the old idea of repelling attack may run into an unnecessary parade of the person to whom in heart we are loyal, while at the same time the voluminousness of her writings is often an excuse for not investigating for oneself, and this leads to quoting her too frequently by name as authority.
She never claimed authority, but, contrariwise, disclaimed it. But few of the theories broached by her were new to our day, albeit those are the key-ideas. Yet these very key-ideas are not those on which the quotations and personal references to her are made so often. She neither invented, nor claimed as new, the doctrines of Karma, Reincarnation, Devachan, Cycles, and the like. These are all exhaustively treated in various literatures—Buddhistic, Jain, Brahmanical, Zoroastrian. They are capable, like all theosophic doctrines, of independent examination, of philosophical, logical, and analogical proof. But, if we state them parrot-like, and then bring forward a quotation from H.P. Blavatsky to prove them, has not an opponent, has not any one, member or non-member, a right to say that the offending person is not doing independent thinking, is not holding a belief after due consideration, but is merely acting blindly on faith in matters where blind faith is not required? And if many members do the same thing, it is quite natural that a cry should be raised by some one of “Blavatskianism.”
If this were an age in the West when any respect or reverence existed as a general thing in the people, the sayings of a sage could be quoted as authority. But it is not such an age. Reverence is paralyzed for a time, and the words of a sage are of no moment as such. H.P. Blavatsky came in this irreverent time, holding herself only as a messenger and indicator, not as a sage pure and simple. Hence to merely quote her words out of due place will but arouse a needless irritation. It may indicate in oneself a failure to think out the problem independently, an absence of diligence in working out our own salvation in the way directed by Gautama Buddha. What, then, are the right times and places, and which are out of place and time?
When the assembly and the subject are both meant to deal with the life and works of H.P. Blavatsky, then it is right and proper and wise to speak of her and her works, her acts, and words. If one is dealing with an analysis or compilation of her writings on any subject, then must she and what she wrote be used, named and quoted. But even at those times her words should not be quoted as and for authority, inasmuch as she said they were not. Those who consider them to be authority will quickly enough accept them. As she never put forward anything as original investigation of hers in the realm of science, in the line of experiments in hypnotism, in clairvoyance, mind-reading, or the like, we ought to be careful how and when we bring her statements forward to an unbelieving public.
But in an assembly of members coming together to discuss theosophical doctrines in general, say such as Karma, Reincarnation, the Septenary Constitution, and the like, it is certainly unwise to give quotation after quotation from H.P. Blavatsky’s works on the matter in hand. This is not fair to the hearers, and it shows only a power of memory or compilation that argues nothing as to the comprehension of the subject on the reader’s part. It is very easy to compile, to quote sentence after sentence, to weave a long series of extracts together, but it is not progress, nor independence, nor wisdom. On the other hand, it is a complete nullification of the life-work of the one who has directed us to the path; it is contrary to the spirit and genius of the Society. And if in such an assembly much time is given to recounting phenomena performed by H.P.B., or telling how she once said this and at another time did that, the time is out of joint with the remarks. Meetings of branches are meant for giving to the members and enquirers a knowledge of theosophical doctrines by which alone true progress is to come to our movement. New and good members are constantly needed; they cannot be fished out of the sea of enquirers by such a process as the personal history of anyone, they cannot be retained by relations of matters that do not teach them the true aim and philosophy of life, they will be driven off if assailed with quotations.
If there is power in a grateful loyalty to H.P. Blavatsky, as for my part I fully believe, it does not have its effect by being put forward all the time, or so often as to be too noticeable, but from its depth, its true basis, its wise foundation, its effect on our work, our act, and thought. Hence to my mind there is no disloyalty in reserving the mention of her name and qualities for right and timely occasions. It is certain that as Theosophy brings forward no new system of ethics, but only enforces the ethics always preached, the claim, if made, that our ethics, our high endeavor, are to be found nowhere else described save in the works left by H.P, Blavatsky, is baseless, will lead to wrong conclusions, and bring up a reaction that no amount of argument can suppress. No greater illustration of an old and world-wide religion can be found than that provided by Buddhism, but what did Buddha say to his disciples when they brought up the question of the honours to be paid to his remains? He told them not to hinder themselves about it, not to dwell on it, but to work out their own salvation with diligence. 1
That the views held by H.P. Blavatsky herself coincided with this can be seen by reading the pamphlet entitled The Theosophical Society and H.P.B. being a reprint of articles that appeared in LUCIFER of December, 1890. She requested the reprint, and some of her notes are appended to the articles. In those Bro. Patterson took somewhat the same ground as this article, and she commended it in most positive terms.
1. See the Mahâparinibbana Sutta.