Tenets of Theosophy
Mr. W. Q. Judge Replies to the Strictures of Prof. Snell
Washington Post, March 15, 1891
EDITOR POST: In your issue of March 8, Prof. Merwin-Marie Snell, of the Catholic University of America, answers my short and inadequate reply to his several lectures upon the “Errors and Truths of Theosophy.” His lectures were admirable, and so is his present letter, except in that part at the end where he refers those who wish to step out of the field of comparison of religion into the dirt of scandal to a scurrilous article in the New York SUN of July 20, by Dr. Elliott Coues. Were it not for this reference I should have no objection left to his letter. Everybody in Theosophical circles knows that Dr. Coues was inspired by mortification at his expulsion from the Society after trial, and Prof. Snell must know that newspaper articles prove nothing; yet he refers readers “who may wish to learn” to a newspaper libel, now the subject of four suits brought by Mme. Blavatsky and myself against Dr. Coues and the Sun. For his information I would say that the lawyers for the Sun have stated in open court that they could not prove their libel, and have also offered me a retraction. This is a fact from which Prof. Snell can “learn,” and it is not newspaper gossip. These suits are being pushed with vigor, and will stop only at a verdict or a public retraction. Prof. Snell very wisely stops short of a complete libel himself in his reference to the article, doubtless knowing the law to be that the man who continues a libel is as amenable to the law as the one who publishes it.
But following his example I might refer those “who may wish to learn” about the freedom of the Catholic Church and its desire to throw the shackles off from human conscience, to its own history through many centuries, to the attitude of its hierarchy in the Irish troubles of late, to its inquisition headed by the detestable Torquemada, to its rivers of human blood and its mountains of human bodies burned at the stake—all for freedom—but I will not refer them to any private scandalous and libelous matter that may have been printed against any member of the present hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
Quite clearly the professor says in his present letter that every one of the Theosophical doctrines can be found in the ancient and modern Indian philosophies and religions. This is undeniably true. We never claimed to invent anything, and we do not suppose that Prof. Snell, learned as he appears to be, is ignorant of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church did not invent anything either, but got all it has from ancient religions, Buddhist and others, including even its beads, its ritual, and all that belongs to it. Not a single mummery or genuflection of the present church is absent from the Tibetan system. The only difference between us and the professor’s friends is that we do not accept the mummery or the fierce dogmatism, while they do. We try to extract the kernel from the nut; he swallows the shell and thinks the kernel is of no use.
Furthermore, the Theosophical Society in America does not claim to be a learned Oriental body. It is a Society designed to form a nucleus of universal brotherhood, and its members, finding the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation to their taste, and also such as solve enigmas of life, try to promulgate them as an aid, if you will, to a belief in the Christ principle, but not as another prop to the doctrine of vicarious atonement. Many Theosophists think that the spectacle of a man believing in the vicarious atonement, and at the same time living a life of crime from which he is perpetually absolved, is not one full of promise for human progress; hence they insist on Karma, which shows that all men must themselves repay and give account—as St. Matthew says—for every thought, word, and deed. So it seems to me that Prof. Snell’s display of learning is wasted at this juncture, however. glad we are to know that he is not unacquainted with Oriental religions and philosophies, although as yet he has not stated whether he knows Sanskrit or himself depends upon translations.
He speaks of a book “never translated,” and improperly printed as Tathasata-guhyaka, which “is the only sacred book which treats ex-professo of esoteric Buddhism” and “current” in Tibet. How does the professor know this, or is he only “talking big” about the untranslated book? He also thinks that “the name Swami Bhaskara is no more evidence of familiarity with Vedic literature than that of Patrick O’Flaherty would be of an acquaintance with the annals of the ‘Four Masters’ (of Ireland).” In this he mistakes, “O’Flaherty” is pure birth-accident, subject to no rule, whereas, “Bhaskara” points to the fact that its owner is a Brahman. Another name cited by me was “Dvivedi,” the name of one of our members, and could not be borne by anyone but a Brahman, since, as the professor must know, it means “two Vedas,” and, while he no doubt took up this point as a piece of pleasantry, it is of weight. The four Indian castes have names given them at the ceremony called “Nama Karana,” and for each caste the name describes the caste, so that there can be no error. Hence the great “Valluvar” spoken of, we know is not a Brahman, when it is certain that a “Sankaracharya” must be of the Brahman caste, and, theoretically, all Brahmans know the Vedas.
Now, I have no quarrel with Prof. Snell, and no desire to make him again prove, as he has so well done already, that he is a student of Oriental literature, and that he is not a student of the Theosophical movement, nor a sympathizer with it, which latter state, perhaps, is due to the Society’s secret power, or to Emil Burnouf having said in the Revue des Deux Mondes that of the three great religious movements of the day the Theosophical Society is one.
William Q. Judge, F.T.S.
New York, March 10, 1891