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Imagining the East: The Early Theosophical Society
 0190853883, 9780190853884

Table of contents :
List of Contributors
Introduction • Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand
1. Adventures in “Wisdom-Land”: Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy • Christopher Partridge
2. Orientalist vs. Theosophist • Donald S. Lopez Jr.
3. H. P. Blavatsky’s Acquaintance with the Language of the Gods • James A. Santucci
4. Early Debates in the Reception of Buddhism: Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism • Tim Rudbøg
5. H. P. Blavatsky’s Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy • Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand
6. The Mahatma Letters • Joscelyn Godwin
7. “The Real Pure Yog”: Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor • Patrick D. Bowen
8. Emergent Representations of the East: The Role of Theosophical Periodicals, 1879– 1900 • Gillian McCann
9. Theosophy and Modernism: A Shared but Secret History • David Weir
10. Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance • K. Paul Johnson
11. The Marriage between the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj • Erik Reenberg Sand
12. The West Moves East: Blavatsky’s “Universal Brotherhood” in India • Tim Rudbøg
13. Allan Octavian Hume, Madame Blavatsky, and the Foundation of the Indian National Congress • Isaac Lubelsky
14. Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule • Mark Bevir
15. Experiments with Theosophical Truth: Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History • Michael Bergunder
Afterword • Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand

Citation preview

Imagining the East

OXFORD STUDIES IN WESTERN ESOTERICISM Series Editor Henrik Bogdan, University of Gothenburg Editorial Board Egil Asprem, University of Stockholm Jean-​Pierre Brach, École Pratique des Hautes Études Dylan Burns, Freie Universität Berlin Carole Cusack, University of Sydney Gordan Djurdjevic, Simon Fraser University Christine Ferguson, University of Stirling Peter Forshaw, University of Amsterdam Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark Wouter Hanegraaff, University of Amsterdam Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol Jeffrey Kripal, Rice University James R. Lewis, University of Tromsø Jesper Aa. Petersen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology Michael Stausberg, University of Bergen RECYCLED LIVES A History of Reincarnation in Blavatsky’s Theosophy Julie Chajes THE ELOQUENT BLOOD The Goddess Babalon and the Construction of Femininities in Western Esotericism Manon Hedenborg-​White GURDJIEFF Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises Joseph Azize INITIATING THE MILLENIUM The Avignon Society and Illuminism in Europe, 1779–​1822 Robert Collis and Natalie Bayer IMAGINING THE EAST The Early Theosophical Society Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand

Imagining the East The Early Theosophical Society Edited by

T I M RU D B Ø G A N D E R I K R E E N B E R G   S A N D


3 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © Oxford University Press 2020 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. CIP data is on file at the Library of Congress ISBN 978–​0–​19–​085388–​4 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Printed by Integrated Books International, United States of America

Contents Acknowledgments List of Contributors

Introduction Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand

vii ix


PA RT  1 . A P P R OAC H E S T O T H E   E A S T

1. Adventures in “Wisdom-​Land”: Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy Christopher Partridge 2. Orientalist vs. Theosophist Donald S. Lopez Jr.

13 33

PA RT  2 . R E P R E SE N TAT IO N S O F T H E   E A S T

3. H. P. Blavatsky’s Acquaintance with the Language of the Gods James A. Santucci 4. Early Debates in the Reception of Buddhism: Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism Tim Rudbøg 5. H. P. Blavatsky’s Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand 6. The Mahatma Letters Joscelyn Godwin


75 97 121

7. “The Real Pure Yog”: Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor Patrick D. Bowen


8. Emergent Representations of the East: The Role of Theosophical Periodicals, 1879–​1900 Gillian McCann


9. Theosophy and Modernism: A Shared but Secret History David Weir


vi Contents PA RT  3 . I N T E R AC T IO N S W I T H T H E   E A S T

10. Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance K. Paul Johnson


11. The Marriage between the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj Erik Reenberg Sand


12. The West Moves East: Blavatsky’s “Universal Brotherhood” in India Tim Rudbøg


13. Allan Octavian Hume, Madame Blavatsky, and the Foundation of the Indian National Congress 273 Isaac Lubelsky 14. Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule Mark Bevir 15. Experiments with Theosophical Truth: Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History Michael Bergunder



Afterword Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand




Acknowledgments We would like to thank Christine Rudbøg and Simon Beierholm for their invaluable help in preparing the manuscript for publication and Ida Skovhus Hansen for her arduous work in constructing the index. We would also like to thank The Blavatsky Trust for supporting the Copenhagen Center for the Study of Theosophy and Esotericism (CCSTE) and all our colleagues with whom we have had fruitful discussions leading to the realization of this project.

List of Contributors Michael Bergunder; Professor Religious Studies and Intercultural History, Heidelberg University Mark Bevir; Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for British Studies, Berkeley Patrick D. Bowen; PhD, independent Joscelyn Godwin; emeritus, Professor of Music, Colgate University  K. Paul Johnson; independent Donald S. Lopez Jr.; Professor of Buddhist Studies Department Chair, University of Michigan Isaac Lubelsky; Lecturer, The Open University of Israel Gillian McCann; Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts & Science -​Religions & Cultures, Nipissing University Christopher Partridge; Professor, Lancaster University, UK Tim Rudbøg; Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen Erik Reenberg Sand; emeritus, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen James A. Santucci; emeritus, Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Fullerton David Weir; emeritus, Professor Faculty Humanities and Social Sciences, The Cooper Union, Manhattan, NY

Introduction Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand

The Theosophical Society, established in 1875 in New  York by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​ 91), Henry Steel Olcott (1832–​ 1907), and others, is chiefly known to scholars of Western esotericism and the study of religions. However, it is becoming increasingly well known to a variety of other fields of scholarship for its role in shaping central facets of the spiritual and cultural landscapes of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 2013 the editors of the significant anthology entitled Handbook of the Theosophical Current noted the importance of the Theosophical Society when stating that the Theosophical Society, and its prime proponent, Helena Blavatsky, represents one of the few pivotal moments in religious history alongside the moments of impact caused by Emperor Constantine, Martin Luther, and the critical voices of the Enlightenment.1 In fact, the Theosophical Society is of such a multifaceted nature that it should spark the interest of scholars of the more general study of modern intellectual history and Orientalism. The Theosophical Society, for example, embraces multiple entangled dimensions related to its interests, organizations, worldviews, cross-​ cultural interrelations, historical backgrounds, and general impact, which confronts researchers with questions of the relationships between categories such as religion, esotericism, science, philosophy, art, literature, and politics in the modern shift to a globalizing, secularizing, multicultural world. Specialized scholarship has already opened the study of a number of these facets, such as Theosophy and art, Theosophy and science, Theosophy and gender, Theosophy and politics, and the historical background of the society in relation to larger historical contexts and its interaction with Asian cultures. This last facet is of special significance, because, since the early days of the Theosophical Society, it has been recognized that one of its central activities has been its promotion of and interrelationship with Asian religions and philosophies. From time to time and in a number of studies, questions about the nature of this involvement and the Theosophical presentation of Asian traditions have equally been raised, but only more recently have these questions begun to be dealt with beyond the relatively specialized studies that hitherto have been scattered in specialized journals and anthologies. Much is, however, still left

2  Imagining the East unexplored, and a more unified picture is still needed in order to understand the role that the Theosophical Society has played in cross-​cultural transmissions and engagements between the West and the East.2 One of the reasons for the more general lack of interest in the Theosophical Society and its relation to the East is clearly connected with the skepticism that the domain of Western esotericism in general has suffered from. What can a study of “rejected,” “heretical,” or “distorted” forms of knowledge, such as those associated with esotericism and Theosophy, possibly have to offer historical and cultural studies, it might be asked? In this connection we find, for example, some earlier general studies of Orientalism that have either been ignorant about the Theosophical Society or dismissed its relation to the East as not worthy of notice. Edward Said’s famous or infamous Orientalism (1978), for example, does not mention the Theosophical Society at all, even though the Theosophical Society has been a major popularizer of Eastern ideas in the West since its establishment in India, and its proponents became some of the first Western Buddhists. The Theosophical movement, for example, approached the East in enthusiastic ways that fall outside Said’s general discourse about Western hegemonic Orientalism, which potentially could have nuanced Western approaches to the East, but it was left out. It must of course be admitted that Said’s primary focus was the Middle East. However, Ronald Inden’s Imagining India (1990), which directly focuses on India, for example only mentions Theosophy in a note, along with Jungian psychology and symbolic anthropology, as an example of a European discourse attributing the label “dreamy imagination” to the Indian “other.3 Raymond Schwab also clearly knew of the Theosophical Society but dismissed it as not worthy of any study in his massive The Oriental Renaissance:  Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–​1880 (1984). The Theosophical Society, he noted, is something “on which it is not necessary to dwell.”4 More recently, though, several authors writing about the relationship between India and the East and Europe and the West have recognized the role of Theosophy in the transmittance of Indian ideas to the West and vice versa. Very briefly this is done by Wilhelm Halbfass in his India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (1988). Similarly, Richard King in his Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and “The Mystic East” mentions the influence of Theosophy on the modern concepts of Vedānta and Buddhism. With more emphasis, however, John James Clarke, in his Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (1997), in the context of Buddhism, deals with the importance of Theosophy in “popularizing Asian religious and philosophical ideas in the West, and in encouraging the East-​West dialogue.” He also notes how the Theosophical Society not only influenced the Western context but also “gave substantial assistance to the revival of Hindu and Buddhist self-​awareness and self-​ respect in Asia itself.”5 In the same way it is worth mentioning that Peter van der Veer in Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (2001) argues how nineteenth-​century spiritualism and Theosophy played a “crucial role in the development of radical antiestablishment and anticolonial politics, both in

Introduction  3 Britain and India.” He explores this in three different aspects, namely “the representation of absence in spiritualism, the negotiation of science and rationality, and the role of gender and sexuality.”6 The mechanism of exclusion, based on the inherited notion that esotericism and Theosophy are something unimportant, rejected, and distorted, has hitherto hindered a more nuanced and integrated historical picture of cross-​cultural entanglements by not paying attention to the role of esotericism as something that has been and still is a significant part of modern European culture. But, as it has just been shown, as more historical research is done, the role that the Theosophical movement has played is slowly being recognized as being of importance to understanding cross-​cultural interchanges in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today any historian knows that even though the Theosophical Society and its ideas about the East have been shunned by many established authorities, people in general and some authorities, away from the public eye, have been involved with it, interested in it, or inspired by it, and it has had a considerable impact. The popularity of yoga and the way Buddhism and Hinduism have been presented in the West are sound examples of this. Asian traditions became so tied up with esotericism in the twentieth century, and popularly so, that the wider public often cannot distinguish these traditions, and they have certainly in this mixed form become occulture—​ that is, normal and mainstream. Such significant cultural entanglements resulting from cross-​cultural interchanges are certainly worthy of historical study. In fact, it would be difficult to study modern esotericism and new religious traditions in the West and the East without an awareness of these entanglements. The notion that the Theosophical Society is a distorted image of the East and therefore not worthy of study dates back to the initial Orientalist critique in the nineteenth century and has been upheld by some; but historians, now freed from the quest for origins, can now more critically ask: what is a pure religious or philosophical tradition, anyway? Buddhism, for example, has seen numerous divisions through history and continues to change like any other living religious tradition. The study of the Theosophical Society might therefore very well tell something about the self-​same cross-​cultural dynamics that cause change to traditions when meeting “others” and at the same time something about the “imagining of the other” that is a part of such dynamics. Furthermore, studying the Theosophical Society and the East also brings to light the connection between Western esotericism and Asian religions, disregarding how rejected or distorted a picture the Theosophical Society has been believed to be. The early Theosophical Society (1875–​1900) was exceptionally placed at the crossroads between cultures under British rule. It imagined its own known cultural background as having lost connection with ancient truths and the unknown Other, the East, full of mysteries, and became actively engaged in exploring, reviving, participating in, formulating, and transmitting the East both to the West and to the East. It is the central dimensions of this early engagement both imaginatively and actively that this book seeks to analyze, thereby cultivating further research in this area.

4  Imagining the East Imagining the East relates to the imaginative faculty, namely the human ability to produce images and concepts in the mind of past events and places we have not visited, and also that such pictures in the mind of things that we have actually experienced are often colored by desires, feelings, ideologies, and so on. No matter what we do the imagination is in play. When representatives from one culture meet another culture they often do so through a lens of preconceived ideas about the other. These preconceived ideas can be overtly positive, which might result in romanticizing and embrace, or overtly negative, which can result in dismissal and rejection. Both can lead to simplification, especially since concepts and ideas by nature are limited and because emotional force more easily lends itself to a single idea rather than a complex of ideas. Describing the Other holds power, as Said manifestly has shown, but power can move in different directions. Truly it can subdue, but it can also revive. It can pacify or mobilize. Description can be based on first-​ hand experience or second-​hand knowledge and thereby equally lead to confirmation or to further discovery. Was the approach of the early Theosophical Society to the East positive or negative? Romanticizing or dismissive? Did it proclaim ownership or power, and did it thereby subdue the East to its own conceptions or did it revive and mobilize its culture? Or did it do both? Did the members of the early Theosophical Society find their imagined East or did they discover something new and unknown? What consequences did this strong interest in the imagined Other have, and what influence did it manifest?7 These questions are some of the central questions that this study seeks to explore, in order to demonstrate the reality of the complex nuances. These questions are also integral to the three main parts of this volume.

Major Themes Part 1: Approaches to the East. The first part of this volume includes two chapters dealing with more general theoretical questions concerning the type of Orientalism that the early Theosophical Society represents, namely:  how did the early Theosophical Society approach the East? In “Adventures in ‘Wisdom-​Land’:  Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy,” Christopher Partridge analyzes the early Theosophical Society through the lens of postcolonial analysis and argues that although the Theosophical Society represents an affirmative romantic form of Orientalism as it promoted Indian religion and culture and opposed colonial rule and the Christian missions, the Theosophical Society is in fact also rooted in classical Orientalist discourses of power. Analyzing early Theosophical conceptualizations of wisdom, masters, and locations, Partridge argues that the Theosophical Society subdued the East to its own preconceived notions based in Western culture and esotericism. The wisdom found in the East was the esoteric wisdom of Theosophy. Partridge thereby brings attention to the

Introduction  5 many nuances of Orientalism and the often-​overlooked facets of Theosophical approaches to the East. In the second chapter, “Orientalist vs. Theosophist,” Donald Lopez continues the exploration of the differences in approaches to the East. Orientalists, for example, claimed to represent an accurate picture of Buddhism and the Buddha through academic philological work, but this was without having traveled much, if at all, in the Orient. The Theosophists such as Olcott, Blavatsky, and Alfred Percy Sinnett, on the other hand, being devotees rather than strict scholars, traveled quite extensively in the East and mingled with Buddhists for several years. Lopez shows how Orientalists such as Eugène Burnouf and Max Müller imagined the original Buddha to be a humane, non-​secretive, and almost modern religious thinker when stripped of what to them seemed to be distorting mythological elements. The Theosophists, on the other hand, argued that the Buddha was misrepresented by the Orientalists and instead imagined profound secret wisdom in the myths surrounding the Buddha, who is to be understood as a universal adept among a number of masters throughout world history. Lopez follows the interesting debates between the two camps, beginning in 1888 in Oxford with the meeting of Olcott and Müller. Here the tension between approaches was concentrated on the correct placement of a Buddha statue in Müller’s study. Should it be placed according to Greek tradition, as was satisfactory to Müller, or according to Buddhist traditions, as Olcott contended? Lopez next traces the spirited debate between Müller and Sinnett, which began in the pages of the British literary journal Nineteenth Century, concerning Blavatsky and the correct understanding and presentation of Buddhism. Here several tensions emerge between Orientalists and Theosophists regarding their respective approaches to the East, questions that have still not been settled, such as:  living traditions versus philological and historical work, respecting the Eastern or the Western traditions, demythologization versus esoteric interpretation, and primitives versus profound ancient esoteric wisdom. Part 2: The seven chapters in the second part of this volume continue to add nuances and answers to questions about the various significant early Theosophical “representations of the East.” This relates to the history of ideas, such as usages, appropriations, imaginings, and conceptualizations of Asian ideas, and thereby also to cultural interchanges and the transformation of ideas in new contexts. This section particularly deals with the representation and appropriation of Sanskrit, Buddhism, Indian philosophy, the notion of masters, and yoga in the early Theosophical Society. It will also be shown how the East was represented in Theosophical journals, and how shared Oriental themes influenced modern literature. Sanskrit plays a major role in Blavatsky’s writings and equally so in Theosophical literature to the present day—​not only as a language but as the language of the gods. Not much has been written on Blavatsky’s or the Theosophical understanding of Sanskrit, but James A. Santucci has devoted a complete chapter to “H. P. Blavatsky’s Acquaintance with the Language of the Gods.”

6  Imagining the East Santucci shows how Sanskrit is understood within the framework of Blavatsky’s account of history related to the fall of Atlantis and a supposedly even older language known as Senzar, which embodied the ancient universal Wisdom-​Religion. Sanskrit is perceived as a highly accurate direct descendent of this older, more profound mystery language and thereby signifies a central source of the esoteric wisdom teachings. In relation to this conceptualization of the importance of Sanskrit and the fact that Blavatsky is one of the most important early proponents of Theosophy, Santucci explores the long-​overdue question of Blavatsky’s actual knowledge and use of Sanskrit. Chapter 4 in Part 2 by Tim Rudbøg, entitled “Early Debates in the Reception of Buddhism: Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism,” analyzes the origin, meaning of, and debates about the notion of an “esoteric Buddhism” as it was used in the early Theosophical Society, especially in the work of Blavatsky and Sinnett. Both Sinnett and Blavatsky primarily conceptualized Buddhism in relation to the notion of an esoteric doctrine, while scholars of Buddhism disregarded the existence of any esotericism in Buddhism. Based on an analysis of the debates about esoteric Buddhism, this chapter shows how differences between Orientalists and Theosophists can be contextualized in specific imaginings of Buddhism that they had and thereby also in varying receptions of Buddhism in the nineteenth century. Chapter  5, entitled “H.  P. Blavatsky’s Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy” by Erik Reenberg Sand and Rudbøg, turns the focus from Buddhism to the six schools of Hindu philosophy. Blavatsky is generally recognized as one of the major popularizers of Eastern philosophy in the West, yet not much detailed work on her specific use and knowledge of Hindu philosophy exists. This chapter explores the way the notion of the “six schools of Hindu philosophy” was used and received in Blavatsky’s early work, such as Isis Unveiled (1877), and during her time in India before the publication of The Secret Doctrine (1888). It shows how Blavatsky’s work was a part of the Oriental Renaissance in the sense that the East, here the notion of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, clearly became a part of her esoteric tradition, but also that Hindu philosophy ultimately became just one aspect to be integrated into the syncretistic project of Theosophy, which in many respects framed the continued Oriental Renaissance in the West. The esoteric knowledge of Sanskrit, Buddhism, and Indian philosophy is generally perceived to have been given to Blavatsky and other early theosophists by Eastern masters or Mahatmas, especially the masters Koot Hoomi and Morya. Chapter 6 in Part 2 by Joscelyn Godwin, deals with the so-​called “Mahatma Letters” allegedly originating from Koot Hoomi and Morya. Godwin systematically relates and analyzes the two original recipients of the letters, Allan Octavian Hume and Sinnett, showing how they became interested in the Eastern masters and their teachings. Next Godwin explores the arrival of the letters, problems regarding their publication, and the physical letters themselves. The content of the letters is analyzed to see what they might tell us about the characteristics of the masters.

Introduction  7 Blavatsky’s role in the production of these letters is considered from various aspects, as is the purpose and effect of the myth of the masters. Chapter 7, entitled “ ‘The Real Pure Yog’: Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor” by Patrick D. Bowen, demonstrates how yoga was introduced to Western readers interested in occultism and the East in the pages of The Theosophist in the early 1880s. In 1885, the newly formed occult society, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (HB of L), which took inspiration from Theosophy, began instructing its members to read about and practice Theosophy-​ connected forms of yoga as a way to prepare for occult initiation. It was presumably the first society to do so. Using newly unearthed letters of early members of the Theosophical Society and the HB of L, Bowen pioneeringly traces the early history of the introduction of the practice of yoga in these organizations, which later, through Rev. William Ayton, led to Aleister Crowley and other British occultists’ interest in yoga. Gillian McCann continues the study of the significance of how the East was presented in Theosophical journals in c­hapter  8 in Part  2, entitled “Emerging Representations of the East: The Role of Theosophical Periodicals, 1879–​1900.” Using The Lamp, a publication of the Toronto Theosophical Society, as its primary example, this chapter examines the ways in which Theosophists advanced their cause both inside and outside the mainstream through their periodicals. The Theosophical journals functioned as platforms for cultural brokers between the East and West and included the exchange of a great number of topics related to the East, such as ancient philosophy; sub-​continental politics; and debates around cremation, karma, imperialism, and Indian immigration to countries such as Canada and Australia. McCann demonstrates how the Theosophists in this way consciously participated in the creation of the occult counter-​public sphere that helped to introduce new ideas into the mainstream. It was this oppositional sphere that was their key means for engaging with the public. Chapter  9 in Part  2 by David Weir, entitled “Theosophy and Modernism:  A Shared but Secret History,” shows that even though the esotericism of Theosophy might seem far from modernist literature, modernist icons such as William Butler Yeats, Gertrude Stein, and T. S. Eliot, among others, took inspiration from Madame Blavatsky’s writings. Theosophy’s romantic reverence for ancient cultures and imitation of the “wisdom literature” of Asian traditions was shared by the modernist dismissal of contemporary cultural traditions. Weir argues that Blavatsky’s Koot Hoomi, for example, structurally is quite similar to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Blavatsky’s investigation of the Vedāntic tradition is also on par with the modernist tendency to reject Christianity or, in Eliot’s case, to employ Eastern theology as a means of revivifying Western religious traditions. Modernist Orientalism has many sources, but as Weir argues, Theosophy must be counted as one of the more pertinent of such sources, since it was through Theosophy that a number of important modernist figures first became aware of Asian traditions. Theosophy, as this chapter

8  Imagining the East shows, provided a template for the modernist re-​evaluation of religious traditions—​ Asian traditions, especially—​as rich material for new cultural production. Part 3: The third part of this volume deals with “interactions with the East” and thereby moves beyond representation into the domain of engagement. This part contains six chapters providing concrete examples of direct social, political, and cultural impact and exchange—​more particularly, the Bengal Renaissance, the Arya Samaj, universal brotherhood, and nationalism. In ­chapter 10 in Part 3, “Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance,” K. Paul Johnson explores the Theosophical Society’s association with the Bengal Renaissance in India, which is a significant yet quite unexplored dimension of both movements. The chapter traces the rise and fall of Theosophical influence in Bengal, beginning with contacts between Bengali and American spiritualists in the early 1870s prior to the formation of the Theosophical Society. Two years before its move to India, the Society established correspondence with leaders of the Brahmo Samaj. After the move to India in 1879, personal contacts were developed through the travels to Bengal of Olcott and Blavatsky and the subsequent involvement of Bengalis in the Madras Theosophical Society headquarters. The role of Mohini Chatterji as an emissary of the Theosophical Society to Europe and America was the high point of this association, but by the early twentieth century, Aurobindo Ghose described the Theosophical Society as having lost its appeal to progressive young Indians. Chapter 11 in Part 3, entitled “The Marriage between the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj” by Sand, explores the relationship between the Theosophical Society and the Indian Arya Samaj during the period between 1878 and 1882. While some of the overall details of these events are well known, this chapter offers new insight into how the two parties imagined and misrepresented each other and how these misrepresentations were reflecting the wider contemporary cultural representations of East and West. Chapter 12 in Part 3, “The West Moves East: Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood in India” by Rudbøg, explores why the Theosophical objective “to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color” became important to the Theosophical Society. The chapter identifies and analyzes the intellectual contexts that informed the development of the idea as it entered the Theosophical Society, such as the great Enlightenment ideals of the eighteenth century and spiritualistic reform movements and freemasonry in the nineteenth century, and argues that the idea became central to the relocation of the Theosophical Society’s headquarters from New York to India (1879–​1882). Chapter  13 in Part  3, “Allan Octavian Hume, Madame Blavatsky, and the Foundation of the Indian National Congress” by Isaac Lubelsky, demonstrates how the Theosophical Society deeply influenced the early days of Indian nationalism and was crucially responsible for the birth of the Indian nationalist movement. For example, Hume, one of Blavatsky’s closest disciples during the early 1880s, was the person behind the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. This

Introduction  9 chapter tells in depth the story of Hume’s Theosophical period and analyzes Hume’s writing from that period, followed by a thorough description of his efforts to erect the Indian National Congress, based on his Theosophical beliefs. It shows how Theosophy had a direct influence on the birth of the nationalist movement of the world’s largest democracy. Chapter 14, entitled “Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule” by Mark Bevir, also examines the role of Theosophists in mobilizing Indian politics or the home rule movement, especially in the form of “cultural nationalism.” The first section shows how Western Theosophists simplified and appropriated Indian thought, deploying it to resolve dilemmas confronting occult and other religious traditions. The second section explores the ways in which Theosophical ideas then provided inspiration for a tradition of cultural nationalism within India itself. The third section briefly shows how this cultural nationalism transformed Congress in the years immediately surrounding M.  K. Gandhi’s return from South Africa. It is argued that Theosophy was one strand feeding into cultural nationalism, as Theosophy introduced important and largely novel themes to cultural nationalism including a principled commitment to nonviolence and an alternative to liberal subjectivities. Michael Bergunder continues this theme in the final chapter entitled “Experiments with Theosophical Truth: Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History.”Bergunder argues that there is strong textual evidence to suggest that Gandhi’s notion of Hinduism, his specific view of Christianity, and his general belief that all religions refer to the same truth were shaped by the ideas of the Theosophical Society. The article presents the respective sources, discusses their plausibility, and puts these findings into perspective. This perspective is provided by a global history approach, which holds that the religious concepts in play since the nineteenth century were already products of globally “entangled histories.” Furthermore, it is argued that the impact of esotericism on global religious history, from the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, needs to be investigated with more academic rigor. Based on these studies it is the hope of the editors that a more unified picture of the multifaceted role of the early Theosophical Society in relation to the East has emerged in the pages of this collected volume, and that in the future further study of the Theosophical Society and modern esotericism will become a more significant part of general historical surveys of cross-​cultural studies.

Notes 1. Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, “Introduction,” in Handbook of the Theosophical Current, ed. Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013), 1. 2. The terms “East” and “West” are of course relative terms, but sometimes they unfortunately continue to carry Orientalist connotations of two opposite mentalities, peoples, or cultures. This book also makes use of the terms, but this is primarily to illustrate how the imaginary “East” was construed at the time of the early Theosophists and in related contexts. This book

10  Imagining the East therefore also often makes use of the designation “Eastern traditions” or similar. When possible, the more contemporary designation “Asian” is chosen rather than “Eastern.” 3. Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 3. 4. Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East: 1680–​ 1880 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 8. 5. J.  J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment:  The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 90–​91. 6. Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters:  Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 77–​79. 7. These questions are primarily based on the premise that the Theosophical Society originated in the West and thereby approached the East from that point, but an important theoretical focus, only briefly touched upon in this book, that deserves serious attention in future research would be a more globally oriented outlook that includes perspectives from Indian, Chinese, and Japanese Theosophists and those of other Asian countries to which Theosophy has spread.

Bibliography Clarke, J. J. Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Halbfass, Wilhelm. India and Europe:  An Essay in Understanding. Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1988 (German original: 1981). Hammer, Olav, and Mikael Rothstein. “Introduction.” In Handbook of the Theosophical Current, edited by Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, 1–​12. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013. Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990. King, Richard. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and “The Mystic East.” Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Schwab, Raymond. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–​ 1880. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. van der Veer, Peter. Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.


A PPROAC HE S TO T H E  E AST The two chapters included in the first part of this volume deal with more general theoretical questions regarding the type of Orientalism that the early Theosophical Society represents.

1 Adventures in “Wisdom-​Land” Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy Christopher Partridge

If . . . Swami Dyánand and his followers ever misunderstood our position and that of the Theosophical Society, the fault was theirs, not ours. Our two hearts, drew us towards the Orient, our dreams were of India, our chief desire to get into relations with the Asiatic people. (Henry Steel Olcott, 1895)1

We will see that Swami Vivekananda also “misunderstood” the position of the Theosophical Society, as did many other “Asiatic people.” This was not, however, because “the fault was theirs,” but rather, on the one hand, because the religions and cultures of the Orient were theirs and not those of the Theosophical Society and, on the other hand, because the “dreams of India” were the Theosophical Society’s not theirs. The early Theosophical Society never fully understood the Orient or, indeed, accepted it, preferring instead a Western occult construction of the “mystic East.” They wanted to “get into relations with the Asiatic people,” but on their terms. In other words, their imaginative and influential approach to the “otherness” of the East is typical of nineteenth-​century Orientalist discourse.2 For example, as Stephen Prothero has shown of Henry Steel Olcott (1832–​1907), not only did he bring to the Theosophical Society a familiarity with Orientalist scholarship and a commitment to the Renaissance movement in British India but a genteel interpretation of Buddhism that was informed by a mixture of nineteenth-​century American Presbyterianism, spiritualism, and other Western occult influences.3 A good example of this Western appropriation of Indian thought was the doctrine of reincarnation. As Wouter Hanegraaff notes, progressive spiritual evolutionism was far more central than the belief in reincarnation per se. [Blavatsky] certainly did not adopt evolutionism in order to explain the reincarnation process for a modern Western audience; what she did was assimilate the theory of karma within an already-​existing Western framework of spiritual progress. . . . It is not the case that she moved from an Occidental to an

14  Approaches to the East Oriental perspective and abandoned Western beliefs in favour of Oriental ones. Her fundamental belief system was an occultist version of Romantic evolutionism from beginning to end.4

The history of the idea of “the Orient” is a complex, contentious, and ignominious one. Since Edward Said’s groundbreaking analysis of colonialist and imperialist discourses, published in 1978, “the Orient” has typically been read as a system of representations shaped by the hegemonic religio-​political forces that brought the idea into Western consciousness. Orientalism is, in other words, an influential ideological creation of the West, which has informed much of the West’s reception of Eastern “otherness.” It should not be surprising, therefore, that, regardless of the sincere desire to learn from the religions and cultures of “the East,” and despite its fierce anticolonialist rhetoric, the Theosophical Society could not avoid the Orientalist gaze. It may have championed Indian religion and culture over and against colonial rule and Christian missionary activity, but, just as colonialism acquired cultural knowledge to gain political control—​hence the funding of translation projects as an attempt to own that knowledge and culture—​so too the Theosophical Society sought, in its own way, to own the core metaphysical ideas of the Orient. Its understanding of “the East” was shaped by a hegemonic Western construction, objectification, and reification of a broad range of cultural practices, religious traditions, and philosophical schools. The tendency toward understanding “the Orient” as a cohesive culture with a single essential doctrine informed Theosophical thinking from the outset, which, in turn, went on to guide the Easternization of occulture5 during the twentieth century.

Orientalism and the Construction of the Mystic East The term “Orientalism,” of course, was originally used simply to refer to the disinterested, objective study of the Orient. For example, when referencing scholars, such as Max Müller (1823–​1900), the co-​founder of the Theosophical Society and its most important thinker, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​91), simply refers to “the Orientalists.”6 Nowadays, primarily as a result of Said’s work, the meaning has shifted. The whole notion of disinterested scholarship has been problematized. In particular, drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, Said theorized Orientalism in terms of discourse and the exercise of power. While his Orientalism is routinely critiqued in postcolonial studies, his Foucauldian approach to colonialism and imperialism, which examined the ways that knowledge is constructed around a particular kind of language—​which is, in turn, invested with a range of cultural assumptions—​is a useful place to begin our analysis of the Theosophical representation of “the occult East.” Theosophy, we will see, is an Orientalist discourse, which always involves some form of violence in its imposition of a linguistic order by which certain types of knowledge are legitimized: “it is in discourse that power

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  15 and knowledge are joined together.”7 In short, we will see that Oriental religious knowledge was made to conform to a Western occult field of discourse in order to be considered legitimate. As such, Procrustean violence was done to the indigenous religions of the East. The hegemonic acceptance of an essential polarity between East and West, between “us” and “them,” not only shaped Western understandings of the “other,” it was, and still is, often supported by the construction of caricatures and unsophisticated understandings of Oriental religions, cultures, and societies:  images of meditating Buddhist monks in saffron robes filtered through a gentle mist of incense; exotic spiritual masters performing grueling ascetic rituals; majestic camel trains making their way across rolling sand dunes; and the Eastern eroticism described in the writings of Richard Burton (1821–​90) and depicted in paintings such as John Fredrick Lewis’s The Hhareen (c. 1850), John Auguste Domonique Ingres’s Le Bain Turc (1862), and Sir Frank Dicksee’s Leila (1892). Such representations of the East, which fostered a perception of the exotic and the essential otherness of the Orient, became common in the West during the nineteenth century. Perhaps the starkest statement of this relationship was Rudyard Kipling’s “Ballad of East and West”: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.” Whereas the East tended to be represented as mystical, exotic, and frozen in religious history, its spiritualities and philosophies being more or less unchanged for millennia, and therefore enlightened and barbaric in equal measure,8 the West was understood to be technologically advanced and materialistic, detached from its spiritual roots. Unlike the East, insisted Blavatsky, the key to occult knowledge has “been lost for ages in the West.”9 However, as indicated above, this division between East and West, which stimulated and maintained the Western fascination with the Eastern “other,” was also shaped by Western hubris. The raw material for spirituality may still be evident in the East, but it needed taming and managing. Consequently, many in the West felt that they had a moral obligation toward the peoples of the Orient to encourage their intellectual, moral, and spiritual advancement. This Western hubris is, again, at the heart of “Orientalism.” Originating in 1784 with the work of William Jones (1746–​94), who was conspicuously “enchanted by the ‘mystic East,’ ”10 the study of the Orient can be viewed as the academic and administrative catalyst for the Bengali Renaissance—​the resurgence of intellectual interest in Hindu culture and Indian history. A founding father of comparative linguistics, Jones’s work on Sanskrit, along with that of Thomas Colebrooke (1765–​ 1837), sought to establish Sanskrit’s links with European languages. Significantly, such work not only led to a flowering of interest in Indian history and culture but also to Romantic speculation about the Orient as the cradle of Occidental civilization—​speculation that would eventually inform Theosophy’s construction of Oriental topoi.11 From the late eighteenth century onward, the scholarly turn to the Orient merged with a Romantic discourse regarding “the mystic East,” which was rooted in

16  Approaches to the East a belief in the “esoteric” significance of India’s ancient texts. For example, in 1808, Friedrich Schlegel (1772–​1829)—​whose brother translated the Bhagavadgita and Ramayana—​published his Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the language and wisdom of the Indians), which expressed what became characteristic of Romanticism, namely a yearning for spiritual guidance from the East. Also typical of this Romantic gaze was the conviction of Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–​ 1803) that “the archaic nature of the Hindu Vedas represented the origins of human civilization, the source of Indo-​European mythology and language, and provided a window into the mysterious history of humankind.”12 Without unpacking this Romantic fascination with the Orient, the point here is simply that it is hardly surprising that Orientalist scholarship contributed to an emerging esoteric occulture. Perhaps most famously, in his radical critique of core themes in Judeo-​Christian theologies, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–​ 1860) demonstrated a conspicuous readiness to integrate Indian philosophical ideas into his own thought and self-​ understanding. As Nicol MacNicol comments, “these utterances of the Indian spirit seem to have so affected him as to determine from thenceforward the direction and tone of his teaching. He has himself described how profoundly he was affected when this new planet swam into his ken, even though those voices of the Indian sages reached him as a dim echo in a version that was twice translated, first from the original Sanskrit into Persian and then from Persian into Latin.”13 Again, there was, in Romantic Orientalism, a nostalgia for human origins, for “authenticity.” Once India was identified as “the cradle of civilization,” there was, as is evident in Herder’s work, an allied tendency to understand its religion and culture ahistorically, as frozen in time, a throwback to the infancy of the human race. Indeed, in seeking reasons for why this view was so readily accepted in nineteenth-​century Europe, it’s important to understand that this apparently solid bedrock of Oriental civilization provided a welcome feeling of stability during a period when Western political and social sands were shifting. As Richard King comments, “while Europe and the New World were undergoing enormous social and political changes, India seemed to have remained unchanged for thousands of years, representing a crucial example of static archaism with which the dynamic modernity of the West could be successfully contrasted.”14 The imagined mystic Orient appealed not only to Romantic philosophy but, as the nineteenth century progressed, also to esotericism and popular culture. In other words, it became central to nineteenth-​century occulture. Intellectually diverse thinkers such as Edwin Arnold (1832–​1904), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–​ 82), Walt Whitman (1819–​92), Edward Carpenter (1844–​1929), and, of course, Blavatsky all developed a homogenized view of India as a culture that rejected materialism, reductive rationalism, and industrialization in favor of being the repository of an ancient spiritual philosophy, which the modern age sorely needed.15 Put simply, the Romantic fascination with Indian thought, which was typically Orientalist and essentialist, was an important moment in the West’s reception of the East and, as such, the soil in which Theosophy took root. Indeed, as already

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  17 noted, it is significant that Blavatsky was clearly familiar not only with the contemporary Orientalist scholarship, such as that of Müller, but also with Romantic and Transcendentalist speculation about the Orient in the writings of figures such as Emerson and Schopenhauer.16 In her essay on Schopenhauer, for example, she even claims that “if ever he were studied, Theosophy would be better understood.”17 Again, a key tenet of Theosophy, as we will see, is the belief in the existence of “divine wisdom,” “theosophia,”18 which constitutes an ageless, occult guide to life, the universe, and everything. This theosophia for the modern age, it was believed, united all spheres of knowledge, science, and esoteric thought, as well as Eastern and Western systems. This type of Orientalist perennialism, which sought archaic connections between disparate philosophies, religions, and spiritualities, is typical of the period. For example, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-​Duperron (1731–​1805), whose Oupnek’hat (the first European translation of the Upanishads) became an influential sourcebook of Indian wisdom, called upon the philosophers of many countries, and in particular the representatives of German Idealism—​the “followers and opponents of the profound Kant”—​ to study the teachings of the Oupnek’hat from a philosophical angle, not just seeing them as testimony about ancient India, but also to consider them as a serious philosophical challenge. . . . He included many comparisons with Western philosophical teachings, e.g., with Plotinus and the Gnostics. . . . Anyone who carefully examines the lines of Immanuel Kant’s thought, its principles as well as its results, will recognise that it does not deviate very far from the teachings of the Brahmins, which lead man back to himself and comprise him and focus him within himself.19

Indeed, as well as the Romantic penchant for Orientalist perennialism, it was also prevalent among nineteenth-​ century Hindu reformers, whose teachings Theosophists were familiar with. The Arya Samaj20 and Dayananda Saraswati (1824–​ 83), who Blavatsky referred to as “a most highly honoured Fellow of the Theosophical Society,”21 insisted on the primacy and superiority of Hinduism and the Vedas, even going so far as to argue that all knowledge, including contemporary Western scientific knowledge, has its origins in ancient India. Even the principal teachings of Christianity could be found in ancient Sanskrit texts. Another example of this type of thinking, representing a confluence of East and West, of broadly Christian and Hindu ideas, is that of Ram Mohan Roy (1772–​1833), sometimes referred to as “the father of modern India” and certainly the first significant modern Hindu reformer. Not only did he seek to purify Hinduism and return it to the religion of the Upanishads, but he sought to do this in dialogue with Christian thought.22 In so doing, drawing on Unitarian deism, he developed a universalist thesis that all the major religions had a common root—​a thesis that, of course, was to become a core teaching of the Theosophical Society.23 Indeed, it is worth noting that Roy’s translations were read by American Transcendentalists24 and subsequently by Blavatsky, who described him as “one of the purest, most philanthropic, and enlightened men India ever produced.”25

18  Approaches to the East

Theosophy and Occult Tourism Blavatsky and Olcott were fascinated by the possibility of excavating a hidden knowledge protected from modernity in a timeless, Oriental realm of wisdom and spirituality. The result was a form of pseudo-​Vedāntic perennialism, which understood theosophia to be the “Secret Doctrine of the East,”26 the teaching of mysterious Oriental Masters of Wisdom. Moreover, along with other occultists of the period, Theosophists believed that, if such Wisdom existed, it would have to have been concealed away from the corrosive rationalism of modernity and Christian hegemony. This, for example, is the rationale for the The Book of Dzyan, knowledge of which, Blavatsky claimed, formed the basis of her Secret Doctrine.27 It is, she argued, one of several sacred and ancient manuscripts, written in the esoteric language of “Senzar,” and protected from the profane world by initiates of a “Great White Brotherhood” (i.e., “the Masters”) based in Tibet. This “chief work . . . is not in the possession of European Libraries. The Book of Dzyan (or ‘Dzan’) is utterly unknown to our Philologists . . .”28 who were, unsurprisingly, rather skeptical regarding its existence.29 However, the point is that, as this chapter will show, nineteenth-​century Theosophical Orientalism demanded that “the trans-​Himalayan esoteric knowledge which has been from time immemorial the fountain-​head of all genuine occultism on this earth”30 be recorded in an unknown Eastern language and hidden in the imagined landscapes of “the mystic East.” Consequently, travel and the travelogue became important for early Theosophists. Orientalism itself, of course, began with travel, with a series of snapshots, so to speak, of the Other. “The idea of travel as a means of gathering and recording information is commonly found in societies that exercise a high degree of political power. The traveller begins his journey with the strength of a nation or an empire sustaining him (albeit from a distance) militarily, economically, intellectually and, as is often the case, spiritually.”31 The traveler, as an imperial agent, becomes the interpreter of the exotic, selecting ethnographic data for Western curiosity, exaggerating difference, chronicling the alien, and constructing cultural and racial stereotypes. The occult traveler was no different and Blavatsky was the archetypical occult traveler. Although suffering from a number of health problems, Blavatsky’s commitment to her cause was impressive. While there is some question as to the veracity of her accounts, there is no question that she traveled extensively, demonstrated an impressive linguistic ability, and was a voracious and eclectic collector and interpreter of exotic ideas. Although it is difficult to construct a chronology or, again, to verify all of what she recorded, she did describe numerous intriguing encounters and cultivated the image of the Victorian traveler.32 Of particular importance for Theosophy’s narrative is her claimed solitary seven-​year sojourn in Tibet,33 during which she was “chosen” to study with a secret group of “Himalayan Brothers.”34

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  19 This construction of Blavatsky as occult tourist-​scholar imposed itself with some force on the Theosophical imagination. The tales of a Russian occultist with considerable psychic powers traveling to Egypt, India, and Tibet could hardly have been better contrived to fascinate. Not only was she an interesting example of what nineteenth-​century Westerners had come to expect of their intrepid travelers, but she was Russian and, therefore, in no small measure, the epitome of the exotic Other herself. As such, her selective, romantic accounts of the cultures and beliefs of others could not have been better designed to stimulate the interest of nineteenth-​century Westerners drawn to Oriental occultism. She was an exotic psychic who met with magicians, sat at the feet of spiritual masters, and gained access to a foundational spiritual wisdom that “relates to all the primeval truths delivered to the first Races, the ‘Mind-​born’, by the ‘Builders’ of the Universe themselves.”35 Again, much of what Blavatsky wrote, while exciting, was not novel. Indeed, large parts of it were gleaned from the published accounts of scholars and other travelers of the period. For example, concerning Tibet, despite her claims to have studied in the country at the feet of the elusive Masters of Wisdom, as Nicholas Goodrick-​ Clarke comments, her “knowledge of Buddhism in Isis Unveiled could easily be found in western publications,” and the “geographical and ethnographical knowledge relating to Tibet was drawn from Abbé Évariste Régis Huc, Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China during the Years 1844–​5–​6 (1852); Emil Schlagintweit, Buddhism in Tibet (1863); and Clement R. Markham, Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa (1876).”36 Indeed, Buddhism had become an increasingly important feature of contemporary occulture, particularly within spiritualist circles, which, like Theosophy, “responded to the Buddhist view that the soul was an immortal essence, independent of physical manifestation.”37 Relatedly, we will see that Tibet, with its apparently impenetrable interior and lamaseries, appealed greatly to the Theosophist’s Romantic imagination. As Peter Bishop comments, Tibet’s location of the Western sphere of influence and at the fringe of its everyday concerns, has been directly responsible for the consistently rich fantasies evoked by that country. In a sense, Tibet’s peripheral place has given permission for the West to use it as an imaginative escape: a sort of time out, a relaxation of rigid rationale censorship. Time and again Tibet has been described with all the qualities of a dream, a collective hallucination.38

It became, as Said comments of the Orient generally, “less a place than a topos, a set of references, a congeries of characteristics, that seems to have its origin in a quotation, or a fragment of text, or a citation from someone’s work on the Orient, or some bit of previous imagining, or an amalgam of all of these.”39

20  Approaches to the East

The Oriental Masters of Wisdom and the Significance of Tibet Centrally important for Theosophical Orientalism was not simply the geographical locations explored but the exotic individuals encountered. Whether we think of magicians in Egypt, adepts in India, or masters in Tibet, Theosophical writings are peppered with references to “meetings with remarkable men” as the source of some doctrine or practice. Continuous with earlier notions of advanced, discarnate beings taught within traditions such as Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry’s Order of Strict Observance and, of course, spiritualism, Theosophy developed a doctrine of the Masters of Ancient Wisdom: “we may use any term—​Adept, Master, Mahatma or any other. What is meant is really the Perfect Man, one who is inwardly spiritually perfect.”40 Within Theosophy, however, the doctrine was encoded with a conspicuous Orientalist theme popular in the occulture of the period. Just as many others at the time, such as Carpenter, considered ancient India to be the “wisdom-​land”41 in recognition of its philosophical and spiritual superiority over and against modern Western materialism and industrialization, so Theosophists too looked beyond the West for its sources of revelation. As Mark Bevir comments, Blavatsky “pointed to the legends of the mysterious East and the renowned powers of Indian yogis as proof of the possibility of performing natural magic in accord with an occult science.”42 Hence, while the early Theosophists were clearly assisted intellectually and spiritually by a number of teachers, reformers, occultists, and Orientalists,43 human sources were not quite authoritative enough for the occult imagination. There was a felt need to elevate them, as K. Paul Johnson suggests, into spiritually advanced beings.44 That is to say, informed by Orientalist occulture, there was a systematic transfiguration of the historical into the mythical. Aspects of the human teachers Blavatsky encountered, who were the sources of much early Theosophical thought, were mythologized and transformed into paranormal beings. Philosophical, political, and religious ideas were now not just those of wise Easterners, such as Sirdar Dayal Singh Majithia or Sirdar Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia or Maharajah Ranbir Singh,45 but were transfigured into spiritual revelations. For example, one of the ways that Koot Hoomi and Morya delivered their teachings was in the form of 145  “precipitated” paranormal letters to the Anglo-​ Indian Theosophists Alfred Percy Sinnett and Allan Octavian Hume. Although they are clearly handwritten (they can be viewed in the British Library), it is claimed that they often materialized before their recipients, falling from the ceiling, manifesting in the branches of a tree, or appearing in the pages of a book. As is now well known, following allegations of fraud by two former employees, Alexis and Emma Coulomb, Richard Hodgson was commissioned by the Society for Psychical Research to investigate Blavatsky’s claims. In 1885, the Society published his report, which concluded that the Masters were fictional and that the letters, having been written by Blavatsky herself, had been delivered using conjuring methods. Needless to say, these findings have since been vigorously opposed

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  21 by Theosophists, who attack the report for its uncritical reliance on the “lies” of the Coulombs.46 This defense of the veracity of the letters was, of course, necessary for the Theosophical Society, for it was important that the mystic Other be verified as the source of theosophia. As Blavatsky insisted, “from them we have derived all the Theosophical truths.”47 Relatedly, the East as the source of the letters also needed protecting, for the veracity of Theosophical discourse was premised on its occult origins in the Orient, rather than in the spiritually impoverished West. These are letters, insisted Sinnett, produced by “one whose comprehension of Nature and Humanity ranges far beyond the science and philosophy of Europe.”48 Hence, while delivered to human Westerners, they are not letters produced by imperfect humans or Westerners. While the Orient per se was important in Theosophy’s sacred geography, we have seen that Tibet held a particular significance as the locus of the teachers of wisdom, as it has continued to do within Easternized occulture.49 Although in much Victorian Orientalist writing Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism was understood to be a degenerate form of original Buddhism50—​a view with which Blavatsky herself concurred51—​the mountainous inaccessibility of the land itself appealed to the Romantic imagination and encouraged the notion that it concealed a spiritual kingdom (Shambhala or Shangri-​La). It was here, far away from the ordinary Tibetans and their religion, that we find the source of much occult philosophy. “From time immemorial,” opines Sinnett, “there had been a certain region in Tibet, which to this day is quite unknown to and unapproachable by any but initiated persons, and inaccessible to the ordinary people of the country as to any others, in which adepts have always congregated.”52 While we will examine the Theosophical distinction between the profane exoteric and the sacred esoteric in the following section, it is worth noting here the assumption, not untypical within Orientalist discourse, that the ordinary people of the East are to be distinguished from the ancient spiritual riches in their midst. Just as some Westerners wanted to convert Easterners to Christianity, so Theosophists wanted to save them from the degenerate practices of popular religion, such as “suttee” (the burning of widows)53 and to introduce them to the esoteric teachings of the Masters. These channels of esoteric wisdom would change the world by communicating information through Occidental minds sensitive to their existence. Influenced by Orientalist ideas about Tibet and, arguably, by the need to locate the Masters in a place where their existence could not be falsified, an imagined Tibetan hinterland became the axis mundi of Theosophical sacred geography. It was here that the principal Masters resided whose wisdom Blavatsky claimed to channel: Koot Hoomi (or Kuthumi) and Morya. Likewise, the influential Theosophist Alice Bailey believed herself to be under the guidance of “the Tibetan,” Djual Kul (or Djwal Khul).54 “All over the world,” says Sinnett, “there are occultists of various degrees of eminence, and occult fraternities even, with the leading fraternity now established in Tibet. But all my enquiries into the subject have convinced me that the Tibetan Brotherhood is incomparably the highest of such associations.”55 Hence, the interpretation of Tibet within a larger narrative

22  Approaches to the East informed by Western esotericism and Romantic Orientalism, which included myths of Shambhala, shaped the early development of the central doctrine of the Theosophical Society. “If Tibet’s remote location was a fitting source of esoteric doctrine, the cosmology of Tibetan Buddhism provided an elaborate world of esoteric intermediaries for the articulation of Theosophical cosmology . . . a descending hierarchy from the nameless Absolute to the human leaders of mankind in successive historical eras.”56 In the final analysis, the doctrine of the Masters is encoded with nineteenth-​ century Orientalist stereotypes. Benevolent, world-​denying, spiritually penetrating, psychically powerful Mahatmas sit in blissful solitude detached from the material world in a Tibetan Shangri-​La. This is not to say that the indigenous traditions themselves did not also construct similar hagiographical accounts of spiritually significant individuals—​all religions do—​but only that such constructions served Theosophical Orientalism well and, as such, were easily appropriated. Here at the sacred heart of the mystic East, exist occultists par excellence, “the men of great learning,” those who “remain apart from the turmoil and strife of your western world,” those who are able to manifest their astral bodies.57 “I am very glad to testify,” declares Charles Leadbeater (1854–​1934), “that I have on many occasions seen the Masters appear in materialized form at the Headquarters in Adyar.”58 Finally, it’s worth noting that the popularity of this Orientalist representation of the mystic East and what the newspapers of the day had begun to refer to as Theosophy’s “Indian jugglers”59 is evident from the writings of early Theosophists who had become suspicious of such developments. Anna Kingsford (1846–​88), for example, who admittedly was more interested in the esoteric study of Christianity, was critical of the tide of Oriental ideas that were “meaningless and unintelligible, save to a few.”60 Similarly, she writes, “Pray do not let yourself be drawn away from the original idea by giving your Society such a name as ‘Oriental’. It will mean nothing, and will put you into communication with no one either in India or in England.”61 More pointedly, the following extract from one of her letters indicates both her distaste for the doctrine of the Masters and the growing resistance within the Society to those, such as her, who wished to question it: I look with sorrow and concern on the growing tendency of the Theosophical Society to introduce into its method . . . the exaggerated veneration for persons and for personal authority. . . . There is far too much talk among us about the adepts, our “MASTERS” and the like. Too much capital is made of their sayings and doings, doctrine is commended to us solely on the ground that they have affirmed it to be true, and reverence is expected for it to an excessive degree on that ground alone; insomuch that if one says “I think Koot Hoomi is in error on such a point” or “the Brothers appear to be insufficiently informed about so and so,” the statement is not unlikely to be regarded in the light of a sort of blasphemy, or at least as a disloyalty to Theosophy.62

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  23 Likewise, Swami Vivekenanda was suspicious of the Society’s uncritical reception of the doctrine of the Masters and the insistence that all who joined “should receive instruction from Kuthumi and Moria . . . through their visible [principally Western] representatives . . . so that, to join the esoteric section means to surrender one’s independence. Certainly I could not do any such thing.”63

Esoteric Brahmanism, Exoteric Hinduism, and the Orientalist Gaze As indicated, central to the early Theosophical representation of the Orient as mystical was a desire to locate the spiritual and mythopoeic source of theosophia beyond the West. Hence, while the increasing volume of scholarship during the nineteenth century revealed the religious and cultural complexity of the East and, thereby, effectively undermined myths of homogeneity and problematized essentialist theories, the appeal of ideas within Theosophy proved to be too alluring for many to resist. Certainly Blavatsky, who was familiar with much of this scholarship, was not troubled by its implications. Inspired by Romantic Orientalism and claiming special knowledge revealed by the Masters, to which, of course, the scholars did not have access (at least, not empirical access), she developed an occultism based, in part, on the mysterious Book of Dzyan, which, we have seen, described “the anciently universal Wisdom-​Religion, as the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology.”64 In other words, as with Herder and other Romantic Orientalists, as well as Hindu reformers such as Saraswati, she posited an Oriental, esoteric unity underlying human cultural diversity: there is reason to call the trans-​Himalayan esoteric doctrine, Chaldeo-​Tibetan. And, when we remember that the Vedas came—​agreeably to all traditions—​ from the Manasarowara Lake in Tibet, and the Brahmins themselves from the far North, we are justified in looking on the esoteric doctrines of every people who once had or still have it—​as having proceeded from one and the same source; and, to thus call it the “Aryan-​Chaldeo-​Tibetan” doctrine, or Universal WISDOM-​Religion.65

Following this Romantic essentialist view of “the East” as a culture opposed to materialism, reductive rationalism, and industrialization, Blavatsky’s view of Hinduism imagined a mystical “Brahmanism” along the lines of Western occultism. In search of an esoteric philosophy, she and subsequent Theosophists sought to retrieve an occult tradition that the West had lost.66 Again, as indicated above, this led her to articulate a distinction between the exoteric crudities of popular religion and the sublime esoteric teachings of the Eastern philosophers and mystics. Blavatsky’s

24  Approaches to the East Brahmanism was, therefore, quite distinct from popular Hinduism, just as Sinnett’s esoteric Buddhism was quite distinct from popular Buddhism. As Bevir notes, she explained that . . . “the esoteric significance of the lingham was too truly sacred and metaphysical to be revealed to the profane and the vulgar,” and that “the Aryan Hierophant and Brahmin, in their proud exclusiveness and the satisfaction of their knowledge [would not] go to the trouble of concealing its primeval nakedness under cunningly devised fables.” . . . To the untutored eye modern Hinduism might seem fetishistic, but that was only because the untutored eye does not perceive the esoteric meaning of the flesh.67

We have seen that this distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric is an important one in the Theosophical representation of the East. Apart from anything else, it helped Theosophists to look beyond the manifestations of popular religion they encountered, manifestations that clearly troubled their Victorian sensibilities, to a pure mystical core. It also helped them to account for their theory of an underlying religious unity in the face of conspicuous evidence to the contrary. Whereas Oriental religions look fundamentally distinct exoterically, esoterically they are united. As such, early Theosophy tended to be dismissive of contemporary scholarship that focused on lived religions: when we find scholars who imagine, because they have learned the meaning of a few exoteric rites from a . . . Brahman priest initiated in the sacrificial mysteries, that they are capable of interpreting all the symbols, and have sifted the Hindu religions, we cannot help admiring the completeness of their scientific delusions.  .  .  .  No; our scientists do not—​nay, cannot understand correctly the old Hindu literature, any more than an atheist or materialist is able to appreciate at their just value the feelings of a seer, a mystic, whose whole life is given to contemplation.68

Hence, again, Blavatsky’s representation of the East was informed by Western occultism and Orientalist thought. One would, of course, not expect it to be otherwise. Diverse though her interests and influences were, she was just as much a product of her time as were the Christian missionaries she so vehemently opposed. As such, early Theosophy functioned, as all Orientalism does, as a form of colonialism. To illustrate this point, take, for example, the controversy surrounding the Ezourvedam, a French text claiming to be a translation of a recently discovered ancient Hindu scripture.69 The text promoted the superiority of monotheism and rejected, as crude and inferior, the popular polytheistic and ritualistic Hinduism of the masses. In other words, a distinction was made between esoteric and exoteric Hinduism. However, while Voltaire and others were convinced of its authenticity,70 the Ezourvedam was actually a colonial project, produced in the eighteenth century by Jesuits in Pondicherry with “the probable aim of discrediting Hindu beliefs

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  25 and practices and convincing Hindus of the superiority of the Christian message.”71 If Hindus look carefully into their religious history they will discover an ancient theism that finds its fulfillment in Christianity. Is this so different from Theosophy? If Hindus look carefully into their religious history, if they take time to discern its esoteric heart, they will discover the ancient theosophia taught by Blavatsky. Indeed, some Easterners, such as Vivekenanda, who refused to exchange their exoteric religion for the esoteric wisdom of the Theosophists, found the Society decidedly cool toward them: Four years ago, when I, a poor, unknown, friendless Sannyasin was going to America . . . without any introductions or friends there, I called on the leader of the Theosophical Society. Naturally, I thought he, being an American and a lover of India, perhaps would give me a letter of introduction to somebody there. He asked me, “Will you join my Society?” “No,” I replied, “how can I? For I do not believe in most of your doctrines.” “Then, I am sorry, I cannot do anything for you,” he answered. . . . Theosophists were advised not to come and hear my lectures.72

Regardless of its commitment to the East and the desire of early Theosophists “to get into relations with the Asiatic people,”73 the Society consistently and unwittingly demonstrated just the type of colonial hubris it condemned.

Conclusion “Simplistically speaking, we can speak of two forms of Orientalist discourse, the first, generally antagonistic and confident in European superiority, the second, generally affirmative, enthusiastic and suggestive of Indian superiority in certain areas. Both forms of Orientalism, however, make essentialist judgements that foster an overly simplistic and homogenous conception of Indian culture.”74 Although the Theosophical Society’s involvement in South Asia certainly belongs to the latter form of Orientalism, it was shaped by the former. As such, it was always fundamentally allied to colonial expansionism, it being a “Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”75 Theosophy imposed a “superior” Occidental occult understanding of “wisdom-​land” on the Orient. As Rana Kabbani comments, “it is a commonplace of Orientalism that the West knows more about the East than the East knows about itself.”76 This, we have seen, neatly summarizes the early Theosophical approach to the East. The East simply needed to conform to Theosophical understandings of it as a locus mystica. Again, as Kabbani comments, “in order for the Orient to continue to provide the Occident with such a wealth of personas to choose from, it must remain true to itself, in other words, truly Oriental. If it diverged at all from its given Orientalness, it became useless, a travesty of what it was supposed to be.”77 Again, this summarizes early Theosophical attitudes. We have seen that, regardless of any

26  Approaches to the East good intentions and the sincerity of its “desire to get into relations with the Asiatic people,” the Theosophical Society tended to be dismissive of the lived religion of the East and those who sought to defend it and study it. Early Theosophical interest in the East was primarily concerned with the validation of representations of the East within Occidental occultism. Consequently, the teachings of the imagined Masters were always going to be more important than the religions and cultures they actually encountered. Adopting a Procrustean hermeneutic, Oriental beliefs and practices were valid only insofar as they conformed to Western ideas.

Notes 1. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves:  The True Story of the Theosophical Society (New York: G. P. Putnam’s & Sons, 1985), 395. See also, K. P. Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany:  State University of New York Press, 1994), 107–​15. 2. See R. King, Orientalism and Religion:  Postcolonial Theory, India and “the Mystic East” (London: Routledge, 1999); and P.  C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 3. S. R. Prothero, The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996). 4. W. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden, The Netherlands:  Brill, 1996), 471–​72; and see also A. Besant, Popular Lectures on Theosophy, 2nd ed. (Adyar: Theosophist Office, 1912), 20–​99. 5. “Occulture” is a constantly evolving religio-​cultural milieu or culture that both resources and is resourced by popular culture. The narrow, technical definition of the term “occult,” whilst important for understanding occulture, is expanded to include a vast spectrum of beliefs and practices sourced by, for example, Asian spiritualities, esotericism, alternative science, complementary medicine, popular psychology, mysticisms, perennialism, and a range of beliefs related to the paranormal. Occulture is the cultural reservoir, which continually feeds new spiritual springs, sustains and challenges older traditions, and into which new ideas and novel confluences of old streams flow. Moreover, as discussed elsewhere, popular culture is a key component of the occultural cycle, in that it feeds ideas into the occultural reservoir and also develops, mixes, disseminates, and popularizes those ideas. Hence, popular culture needs to be understood as a key element in shaping the way we think about the world. See C. H. Partridge, The Re-​Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture, 2 vols. (London: T&T Clark, 2004, 2005); and C. H. Partridge, “Occulture is Ordinary,” in Contemporary Esotericism, ed. K. Granholm and E. Asprem (Sheffield: Equinox, 2013), 113–​33. 6. See for example, H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, 2 vols. (Pasadena:  Theosophical University Press, 1893), 1:xxviii, 32, accessed December 12, 2014, http://​​pasadena/​sd/​sd-​hp.htm; and H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 15 vols. (Wheaton: Quest Books, 1950–​1991), 2:104, accessed January 12, 2015, http://​​collectedwritings.htm. 7. M. Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. R. Hurley (London: Penguin, 1990), 100. 8. For example, at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1983—​one of the principal speakers at which was Theosophy’s Annie Besant—​while there is a clear fascination with the

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  27 Otherness of the East, The Chicago Tribune (September 21, 1893) writing of India as “the land of glorious sunsets . . . inhabited by peoples differing from each other almost as variously as their numbers, in language, caste and creed,” also reports that the “defense of polygamy among Mussulmans gets hisses.” Reproduced in R. Chattopadhyaya, World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 (Calcutta: Minerva Associates, 1995), 87–​88. 9. H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968), 21. 10. S. Sugirtharajah, Imagining Hinduism:  A Postcolonial Perspective (London:  Routledge, 2003), 13. 11. Theosophists, perhaps unsurprisingly, have a rather different understanding: “As regards the revival of Oriental literature, the whole press of India, Ceylon, and Japan unqualifiedly gives us the credit of having done more in that direction than any other agency of modern times. We have not only helped to revive in India the ancient Tols, or pandit-​schools of Sanskrit literature and philosophy, and to reawaken reverence for the class of real Yogis, or saintly devotees, but we have created a demand for reprints and translations of ancient Sanskrit classics, which is being met by the frequent issues of works of this class at Calcutta, Bombay, Benares, Lucknow, Lahore, Madras, and other Indian literary centres. . . . Nor should it be overlooked that the prevalent interest in . . . mystical Oriental philosophy in general, which the most casual observer is forced to see throughout Europe and America, is directly or indirectly the result of our society’s activity.” Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 12:306–​307. 12. King, Orientalism and Religion, 118. 13. N. MacNicol, Is Christianity Unique?: A Comparative Study of the Religions (London: SCM, 1936), 77–​78. See also W. Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 106–​20. 14. King, Orientalism and Religion, 118. 15. E. Arnold, The Light of Asia: The Great Renunciation (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1892); E. Carpenter, From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1892); R.  W. Emerson, “Brahma,” in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by R.  W. Emerson (New York: Random House, 2000), 732; E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Edward Arnold, 1924); and W. Whitman, “Passage to India,” in Walt Whitman: The Complete Poems, by W. Whitman (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 428–​36. 16. See, for example, Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 2:208–​9; 4:490–​92; 8:124. 17. Ibid.,  1:332. 18. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 1. 19. Halbfass, India and Europe,  66–​67. 20. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 1:379–​84. 21. Ibid.,  382. 22. See K. K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York, 1994), 432–​35. 23. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 2:130–​35. 24. See A. E. Christy, The Orient in American Transcendentalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932). 25. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 3:56. 26. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, 1:xvii. 27. T. Maroney, The Book of Dzyan: The Known Text, the Secret Doctrine, Additional Sources, a Life of Mme Blavatsky (Hayward, CA: Chaosium, 2000). 28. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, 1:xxii. 29. Alvin Boyd Kuhn, for example, notes that Max Müller is reported to have said that, concerning the The Book of Dzyan, “she was either a remarkable forger or that she has made the most valuable gift to archeological research in the Orient.” Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom (New York: Henry Holt, 1930), 194.

28  Approaches to the East 30. B.  de Zirkoff, “A Messenger and A  Message,” in Universal Flame:  Commemorating the Centenary of the Theosophical Society, ed. L. H. Leslie-​Smith (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975), 130. 31. R. Kabbani, Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of the Orient (London: Saqi, 2008), 17. 32. Blavatsky herself, in a letter to A. P. Sinnet in 1886, is very aware of the lack of a systematic record of her travels: “I may as well try to tell you about a series of dreams I had in my childhood. Ask me to tell you now, under danger of being immediately hung if I gave incorrect information—​what I was doing and where I went from 1873 . . . to the moment I formed the T.S., and I’m sure I would forget half and tell you wrong the other half. What’s the use of expecting anything like that from a brain like mine! Everything is hazy, everything confused and mixed. I can hardly remember where I have been or not in India since 1880.” Quoted in T. H. Redfern, The Work and Worth of Mme Blavatsky (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950), 7. 33. The fact that she claims to have sojourned in Tibet for seven years has, perhaps, some significance, in that “the number seven is a power, and a spiritual force.” Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 7:288. 34. Ibid.,  3:262. 35. Ibid., 4:46–​47. 36. N. Goodrick-​Clarke, “Theosophical Society, Orientalism, and the ‘Mystic East’:  Western Esotericism and Eastern Religion in Theosophy,” Theosophical History 13, no. 3 (2007): 21. 37. Ibid. 38. P. Bishop, Dreams of Power: Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Imagination (London: Athlone Press, 1993), 16. 39. E. Said, Orientalism:  Western Conceptions of the Orient (Harmondsworth:  Penguin, 2003), 177. 40. N. Sri Ram, “The Mahatmas or Adepts,” in Universal Flame: Commemorating the Centenary of the Theosophical Society, ed. L. H. Leslie-​Smith (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975), 141–​42. See also, Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 289; A. Pert, Red Cactus: The Life of Anna Kingsford (Watsons Bay: Books and Writers, 2006), 109; and Johnson, Masters Revealed. 41. Carpenter, From Adam’s Peak, 355. 42. M. Bevir, “The West Turns Eastward:  Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62 (1994): 762. 43. There is, for example, now some evidence to suggest a relationship between Blavatsky and Richard Burton, who, having been introduced to her by Rawson, developed an interest in Theosophy in later life. See, Johnson, Masters Revealed,  65–​66. 44. Johnson, Masters Revealed. 45. Discussions of such individuals from whom Blavatsky gleaned ideas can be found in ibid. 46. See, for example, A. Besant, H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters of Wisdom (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1907); and Redfern, Work and Worth of Blavatsky. Interestingly, while, for many years, many believed that the letters had been written by Blavatsky and those close to her, in 1986 the handwriting expert Vernon Harrison published the results of an examination, which concluded that this was far from easy to establish conclusively: V. Harrison, “‘J’accuse’:  An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 53 (1986): 287–​310. 47. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 289. 48. A. P. Sinnet, Occult World, 3rd ed. (London: Trübner, 1883), v. “There is a school of Philosophy still in existence of which modern culture has lost sight,” and according to which, unlike Western thought, “science and religion commingled, physics and philosophy combined.” Ibid., 1, 3. 49. See, Bishop, Dreams of Power.

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  29 50. See D. Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-​La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); and Almond, British Discovery of Buddhism,  38–​39. 51. “From pure Buddhism, the religion of these districts has degenerated into lamaism . . . with all its blemishes.” Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 582. She was thus keen to distinguish Buddhism from Theosophy and, as such, was critical of Sinnett’s articulation of “esoteric Buddhism”; see Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy,  12–​15. 52. A. P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism, 5th ed. (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892), 227–​28. 53. See Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 588–​89. 54. It was Djual Kul, she claimed, “who dictated a large part of that momentous book The Secret Doctrine, and who showed to H.  P. Blavatsky many of the pictures, and gave her much of the data that is to be found in that book.” A. A. Bailey, Initiation, Human and Solar (New York: Lucifer, 1922), 58. 55. Sinnet, Esoteric Buddhism, 51. 56. Goodrick-​Clarke, “Theosophical Society, Orientalism,” 23. 57. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 289; and Besant, Blavatsky. 58. C. Leadbeater, quoted in Besant, Blavatsky, 13. 59. See Pert, Red Cactus, 119. 60. A. Kingsford, quoted in ibid., 118–​19. 61. Ibid.,  108. 62. Ibid.,  117. 63. Vivekenanda, “My Plan of Campaign,” in The Complete Works of Vivekenanda, vol. 3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora, accessed January 17, 2015. http://​​vivekananda/​volume_​3/​lectures_​from_​colombo_​to_​ almora/​my_​plan_​of_​campaign.htm. 64. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, vii. See also, Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy,  7–​12. 65. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 3:419. See also A. Besant, Revelation, Inspiration, Observation: An Approach to Them for Theosophical Students (Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1909). 66. See A. Besant, Popular Lectures,  1–​19. 67. Bevir, “West Turns Eastward,” 760. 68. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 581. 69. L. Rocher, ed., Ezourvedam:  A French Veda of the Eighteenth Century (Amsterdam:  John Benjamins B. V., 1984). 70. Ibid.,  3–​7. 71. R. King, “Orientalism and the Study of Religions,” in The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, ed. J. R. Hinnells (London: Routledge, 2005), 283. 72. Vivekenanda, “My Plan of Campaign.” 73. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 395. See also, Johnson, Masters Revealed, 107–​15. 74. King, Orientalism and Religion, 116. 75. Said, Orientalism, 3. 76. Kabbani, Imperial Fictions, 31. 77. Ibid.,  32.

Bibliography Almond, P.  C. The British Discovery of Buddhism. Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1988. Arnold, E. The Light of Asia: The Great Renunciation. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1892.

30  Approaches to the East Bailey, A. A. Initiation, Human and Solar. New York: Lucifer, 1922. Besant, A. H.  P. Blavatsky and the Masters of Wisdom. London:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1907. Besant, A. Revelation, Inspiration, Observation: An Approach to Them for Theosophical Students. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1909. Besant, A. Popular Lectures on Theosophy. 2nd ed. Adyar: Theosophist Office, 1912. Bevir, M. “The West Turns Eastward: Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62 (1994): 747–​68. Bishop, P. Dreams of Power: Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Imagination. London: Athlone Press, 1993. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled: A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. Vol. 2, 1st ed. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled: A Master Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. Vol. 1, 6th ed. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1892. Blavatsky, H.  P. The Secret Doctrine:  The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. 2 vols. Pasadena:  Theosophical University Press, 1893, accessed December 12, 2014. http://​​pasadena/​sd/​sd-​hp.htm. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968 [1889]. Blavatsky, H. P. Collected Writings. 15 vols. Wheaton: Quest Books, 1950–​1991. Accessed January 12, 2015. http://​​collectedwritings.htm. Carpenter, E. From Adam’s Peak to Elephanta. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1892. Chattopadhyaya, R. World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893. Calcutta: Minerva Associates, 1995. Christy, A.  E. The Orient in American Transcendentalism. New  York:  Columbia University Press, 1931. Copenhaver, B. P. Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a New English Translation, with Notes and Introduction. Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1992. Creme, B. The Reappearance of the Christ and the Masters of Wisdom. London: Tara Press, 1980. de Zirkoff, B. “A Messenger and a Message.” In The Universal Flame, edited by L. H. Leslie-​Smith, 130–​38. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Emerson, R. W. “Brahma.” In The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by R. W. Emerson, 732. New York: Random House, 2000. Forster, E. M. A Passage to India. London: Edward Arnold, 1924. Foucault, M. The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. Translated by R. Hurley. London: Penguin, 1990. Gilbert, R.  A. “The Armchair Traveller:  HPB in Tibet.” Accessed December 8, 2014. http://​​images/​THE_​ARMCHAIR_​TRAVELLER.pdf. Godwin, J. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Godwin, J., C. Chanel, and J.  P. Devaney. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor:  Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1995. Goodrick-​Clarke, N. “The Theosophical Society, Orientalism, and the ‘Mystic East’:  Western Esotericism and Eastern Religion in Theosophy.” Theosophical History 13, no. 3 (2007): 3–​28. Goodrick-​Clarke, N. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Halbfass, W. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988. Hanegraaff, W.  J. New Age Religion and Western Culture:  Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996. Harrison, V. “‘J’accuse’: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 53 (1986): 287–​310. Horowitz, M. Occult America:  The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. Johnson, K. P. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Orientalist Discourse in Early Theosophy  31 Kabbani, R. Imperial Fictions: Europe’s Myths of the Orient. London: Saqi, 2008. King, R. Orientalism and Religion:  Postcolonial Theory, India and “the Mystic East.” London: Routledge, 1999. King, R. “Orientalism and the Study of Religions.” In The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, edited by J. R. Hinnells, 275–​90. London: Routledge, 2005. Klostermaier, K. K. A Survey of Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York, 1994. Kuhn, A. B. Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom. New York: Henry Holt, 1930. LePage, V. Shambhala: The Fascinating Truth behind the Myth of Shangri-​La. Wheaton: Quest Books, 1996. Leslie-​Smith, L. H., ed. The Universal Flame: Commemorating the Centenary of the Theosophical Society. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Lopez, D. Prisoners of Shangri-​La:  Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1998. Mackenzie, J.  M. Orientalism:  History, Theory and the Arts. Manchester, UK:  Manchester University Press, 1995. MacNicol, N. Is Christianity Unique?: A Comparative Study of the Religions. London: SCM, 1936. Maroney, T. The Book of Dzyan: The Known Text, the Secret Doctrine, Additional Sources, a Life of Mme Blavatsky. Hayward, CA: Chaosium, 2000. Olcott, H. S. Old Diary Leaves: The True Story of the Theosophical Society. New York: G. P. Putnam’s & Sons, 1895. Partridge, C. H. The Re-​Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture. 2 vols. London: T&T Clark, 2004–​05. Partridge, C. H. “Occulture is Ordinary.” In Contemporary Esotericism, edited by K. Granholm and E. Asprem, 113–​33. Sheffield: Equinox, 2013. Pert, A. Red Cactus: The Life of Anna Kingsford. Watsons Bay: Books and Writers, 2006. Price, L. “Madame Blavatsky, Buddhism and Tibet.” Accessed January 24, 2010. http://​​price.pdf. Prothero, S. R. The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Radhakrishnan, S. Eastern Religions and Western Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1940. Redfern, T.  H. The Work and Worth of Mme Blavatsky. London:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1950. Rocher, L., ed. Ezourvedam:  A French Veda of the Eighteenth Century. Amsterdam:  John Benjamins B. V., 1984. Said, E. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003 [1978]. Sinnett, A. P. Occult World, 3rd ed. London: Trübner, 1883. Sinnett, A. P. Esoteric Buddhism, 5th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1892. Sinnett, A. P. The Re-​Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture. 2 vols. London: T&T Clark, 2004–​05. Sri Ram, N. “The Mahatmas or Adepts.” In The Universal Flame: Commemorating the Centenary of the Theosophical Society, edited by L. H. Leslie-​Smith, 139–​48. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Sugirtharajah, S. Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective. London: Routledge, 2003. Vivekananda. “My Plan of Campaign.” In The Complete Works of Vivekananda. Vol. 3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora. Calcutta:  Advaita Ashrama. Accessed January 17, 2015. http://​​vivekananda/​volume_​3/​lectures_​from_​colombo_​to_​ almora/​my_​plan_​of_​campaign.htm. Whitman, W. “Passage to India.” In Walt Whitman: The Complete Poems, edited by F. Murphy, 428–​36. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1975. Zaehner, R. C. Hinduism, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

2 Orientalist vs. Theosophist Donald S. Lopez Jr.

In 1888, two of the most significant figures in the modern history of Buddhism met in Oxford.1 They were Friedrich Max Müller (1823–​1900) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–​1907). Each was a leading representative of the East, yet neither was from the East. Indeed, in the long history of the representation of the East, Müller and Olcott stand as two paradigms—​paradigms that persist to the present day and that often remain at odds with each other: the expert vs. the enthusiast; and the scholar vs. the practitioner. Müller was a scholar of Sanskrit; Olcott was a practitioner of Theosophy. They disagreed over where the Buddha should sit.

Müller vs. Olcott At the time of their meeting, Müller was professor of comparative philology at Oxford and the most famous Orientalist of the day. Müller was a German Sanskritist who had spent most of his life in England, devoting his considerable talents to what he regarded as his life’s work, and for which he is perhaps least remembered, the production of a critical edition of the Ṛg Veda, a task that had been assigned to him by his Sanskrit teacher in Paris, Eugène Burnouf (1801–​52). In 1860, Müller had been denied the Boden Professorship in Sanskrit, presumably because he was neither English nor Anglican (and this was the only sense in which he was a nonconformist), in favor of Monier Monier Williams (1819–​99), his linguistic inferior, whose Sanskrit studies were motivated in large part by his commitment to the conversion of India to Christianity.2 But another professorship was created for Müller, and from it he would produce a prodigious scholarly deposit, including, most notably for the public, the fifty-​volume Sacred Books of the East in 1894. Ten of its volumes were devoted to Buddhist works. Reflecting the opinion of the day that Pāli texts of the Theravāda tradition represented the most accurate record of what the Buddha taught, seven of these volumes were devoted to Pāli works. Among other Indian works, Aśvaghoṣa’s famous life of the Buddha appeared twice, translated in one volume from Sanskrit and in another from Chinese. The Lotus Sūtra was included in another volume. The final volume of the series, entitled Buddhist Mahāyāna Texts, contains such famous works as the Diamond Sūtra, the

34  Approaches to the East Heart Sūtra, and the three Pure Land sūtras. The presence of this array of Buddhist texts in Müller’s series attested to the philological skills developed by European Orientalists over the course of the nineteenth century. At his home in Oxford in 1888, Müller entertained the American Theosophist, Colonel Olcott. Olcott was raised in a Presbyterian family in New Jersey, developing an interest in spiritualism at an early age. He served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and subsequently was appointed to the commission that investigated the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Working as a journalist in New York City, he occasionally reported on “spiritualism,” the beliefs and practices connected with communicating with the spirits of the dead, something very much in vogue in the last half of the nineteenth century. In 1874 he made a trip to Chittenden, Vermont to investigate paranormal events occurring in a farmhouse belonging to the Eddy brothers, who were said to be able to summon several spirits, including that of an Indian chief named Santum.3 There he met the Russian émigré and medium, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Their shared interest in spiritualism, psychic phenomena, and esoteric wisdom led them, with a group of colleagues, to found the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875, an organization that, among other things, would bring the teachings of the Buddha, at least as interpreted by the Society, to a large audience in Europe and America over the subsequent decades. For Blavatsky and Olcott, Theosophy was an ancient wisdom that was the root and foundation of the mystical traditions of the world. This wisdom had been dispensed over the millennia by a group of masters called Mahatmas, or “great souls.” In the modern period, these masters had congregated in a secret location in Tibet. Madame Blavatsky claimed to have studied under their tutelage there over the course of seven years and to have remained in psychic communication with them. Having corresponded with the Hindu reformer and founder of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824–​83), Blavatsky and Olcott sailed to India, arriving in Bombay in 1879. Wishing also to establish ties with Buddhist leaders, they proceeded to Ceylon the next year, where they took the vows of a lay Buddhist; Olcott was presumably the first American to do so. He enthusiastically embraced his new faith, which he felt contained no dogma that he was compelled to accept. Shocked at what he perceived as the ignorance of the Sinhalese about their own religion, Olcott took it as his task to restore true Buddhism to Ceylon and to counter the efforts of the Christian missionaries on the island. In order to accomplish this aim, he adopted many of their techniques, founding lay and monastic branches of the Buddhist Theosophical Society to disseminate Buddhist knowledge (and later assisted in the founding of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association). In 1881, he published a series of questions and answers about Buddhism, entitled A Buddhist Catechism. The work was translated into Sinhalese and memorized by Sri Lankan children. In 1885, Olcott set out on the mission of healing the schism he perceived between “the Northern and Southern Churches,” that is, between the Buddhists of Ceylon

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  35 and Burma (Southern) and those of China and Japan (Northern). He believed that a great rift had occurred in Buddhism 2,300 years earlier and that if he could simply have representatives of the Buddhist nations agree to a list of shared doctrines, it might be possible to create a “United Buddhist World.” He was unsuccessful in his first attempt but set out again in 1891, armed with a list of “fourteen items of belief ” (he also referred to them as “Fundamental Buddhistic Beliefs”). Olcott traveled to Burma, Sri Lanka, and Japan, where he negotiated with Buddhist leaders until he could find language to which they could assent. When Olcott visited Müller in his home in Oxford in 1888, Olcott was in the midst of his campaign for a United Buddhist World, while seeking also to mediate persistent squabbles within the Theosophical Society. Olcott describes their meeting in his diary. Professor Müller was so kind as to say that the Oriental reprinting, translation, and publishing portion of the Society’s work was “noble, and there could be no two opinions about it, nor were there among Orientalists.” But as for our more cherished activities, the discovery and spread of ancient views on the existence of Siddhas and of the siddhis in man, he was utterly incredulous. “We know all about Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature,” he said, “and have found no evidence anywhere of the pretended esoteric meaning which your Theosophists profess to have discovered in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and other Indian scriptures: there is nothing of the kind, I assure you. Why will you sacrifice all the good opinion which scholars have of your legitimate work for Sanskrit revival to pander to the superstitious belief of the Hindus in such follies?” We sat alone in his fine library room, well lighted by windows looking out on one of those emerald, velvety lawns so peculiar in moist England; the walls of the chamber covered with bookcases filled with the best works of ancient and modern writers, two marble statuettes of the Buddha sitting in meditation, placed to the right and left of the fireplace, but on the hearth (Buddhists take note). . . . I see this greatest pupil of that pioneer genius, E. Burnouf, sitting there and giving me his authoritative advice to turn from the evil course of Theosophy into the hard and rocky path of official scholarship, and be happy to lie down in a thistle-​bed prepared by Orientalists for their common use. . . . The Professor, finding me so self-​opinionated and indisposed to desert my true colors, said we had better change the subject. We did, but not for long, for we came back to it, and we finally agreed to disagree, parting in all courtesy, and, on my part, with regret that so great a mind could not have taken in that splendid teaching of the Sages about man and his powers, which is of all in the world the most satisfying to the reason and most consoling to the heart.4

In his letter of thanks, Olcott asked that Müller consider moving the Buddha images that sat on the hearth in his study to a more exalted position, explaining that “The Buddhists are very sensitive about such things, and a painful impression would be made upon the mind of any sincere person of that faith, if he should call at

36  Approaches to the East your house and see them in your fireplace.” Müller’s wife reports that her husband, “endeavoured to comfort Col. Olcott, by assuring him that with the Greeks the hearth was the most sacred spot, and this had induced him to place these Buddhas, which had been taken from the great Temple of Rangoon, in that position.”5 This is a telling exchange. Although Müller and Olcott were both leading expositors of Buddhism, they occupied different positions and inhabited different worlds: Müller, German expatriate and Oxford don, distinguished Sanskrit scholar (and student of the great Burnouf), who read Buddhist manuscripts in the original Sanskrit and Pāli, remembered today as the father of the “science of religion”; Olcott, American expatriate, committed Theosophist with no formal training in the classical languages of Buddhism. Olcott had traveled extensively in the Buddhist world and met with many leading monks; he is remembered today as the founder of a Victorian “spiritual science.” Müller never traveled beyond Europe, and Buddhists were unlikely to call at his house; the only Buddhists he encountered were Japanese scholars of the Pure Land sect who came to England to study Sanskrit. Müller was the scholar par excellence, concerned with the historical reconstruction of original teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Olcott was the devotee and enthusiast, less concerned with the form or even the surface content of the ancient texts, seeing them instead as repositories, when their symbolism was decoded, of the esoteric wisdom of Theosophy. Müller sought to dispel Olcott’s irrational fantasies. Olcott lamented that so learned a scholar as Müller could not see the deeper meaning hidden on the page. Olcott was not uncritical of the Buddhism he encountered in Asia. He came into conflict with some of the leading monks of Sri Lanka over what he considered the superstitious practice of worshipping the Buddha’s tooth enshrined at Kandy; he claimed that it was not even a human tooth but a piece of deer horn. But he was not insensitive to Buddhist mores. Olcott knew from his years in Sri Lanka and his travels elsewhere in Asia that it was deeply offensive to allow anything associated with the dharma to touch the floor; one would not place a sūtra on the floor, for example, and one would never place a statue of the Buddha on the floor. As a representation of an exalted being, the image of the Buddha must also be exalted. Despite his protestations to the Sinhalese about the excessive ritualism of their Buddhism, he nonetheless possessed a cultural sensibility, according to which an image of the Buddha should be treated with the respect that a Buddhist would accord to it, whether that image was in a temple in Rangoon or a private home in Oxford. In his response, Müller casually notes that the statues of the Buddha in his hearth indeed came from “the great temple of Rangoon” (presumably the Shwedagon, said to contain hair relics of the Buddha). It is unclear whether they were pillaged during the first Anglo-​Burmese War, when British troops captured and held the temple for two years, or after the second Anglo-​Burmese War, when British troops captured the temple in 1852; it remained under the control of the military until 1929. Such was the confidence of the British Empire that Müller was not reluctant to tacitly acknowledge that the statues had been stolen from a Buddhist temple.

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  37 The more interesting element of Müller’s response is that he had placed the statues of the Buddha on the floor because “with the Greeks the hearth was the most sacred spot.” The comment sounds slightly disingenuous, but its implication is important. For Müller, the Buddha, removed from Asia and transported to England, is not Asian and therefore need not be bound by Asian custom. The Buddha is a figure of European culture, like a Greek god, and as the newest member of this ancient pantheon from which Western civilization emerged, he should be worshipped accordingly. Müller was a sometime participant and active eyewitness in this process of the Buddha’s ascension. During the last half of the nineteenth century, interest in Buddhism had spread to the European and American publics, spurred by such works as Edwin Arnold’s poem about the life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia (1879). The Theosophical Society, which claimed the Buddha among its Mahatmas, was thriving in Europe and America. In the meantime, the scholarly or “scientific” study of Buddhist texts progressed at a steady pace. There were many, then, who laid claim to the Buddha and his legacy, claims that sometimes led to contestation. In 1893, five years after he and Colonel Olcott had agreed to disagree, Müller again did verbal battle, this time in print, with the Theosophists. Over the course of the months from May to August 1893, an exchange took place in the pages of a periodical entitled The Nineteenth Century. It was an exchange between Müller, the Orientalist who, like so many members of the guild, had never been to the Orient, and Alfred Percy Sinnett, the Theosophist, proudly not an Orientalist, who had returned from eleven years in India.

Müller Attacks Blavatsky Müller published a lengthy essay in the May 1893 issue of The Nineteenth Century, entitled “Indian Fables and Esoteric Buddhism.” By 1893, at age sixty-​nine, he was at the height of his fame. He was president of the International Congress of Orientalists and had politely declined an invitation to preside at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He was receiving letters and telegrams from around the world, congratulating him on the Jubilee of his doctorate of philosophy. Müller had given the Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology an unprecedented four times, and in 1893 was preparing the fourth set of lectures for publication. They were entitled “Theosophy or Psychological Religion.” About the choice of title, he wrote:  “The venerable name, so well known among early Christian thinkers, as expressing the highest conception of God within the reach of the human mind, has of late been so greatly misappropriated that it was high time to restore it to its proper function. It should be known once and for all that one may call oneself a theosophist without . . . believing in any occult sciences or black art.”6 In the May issue of The Nineteenth Century, Müller begins by recounting at some length the various traveler’s tales, fables, and outright hoaxes that had been duly

38  Approaches to the East recorded as fact by credulous Europeans, from Plato to Sir William Jones. This leads him eventually to the subject of his essay: “[A]‌very remarkable person, whose name has lately become familiar in England also, felt strongly attracted to the study of Buddhism. I mean, of course, the late Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Esoteric Buddhism. I have never met her, though she often promised, or rather threatened, she would meet me face to face at Oxford. She came to Oxford and preached, I am told, for six hours before a number of young men, but she did not inform me of her presence. At first she treated me almost like a Mahâtma, but when there was no response I became, like all Sanskrit scholars, a very untrustworthy authority.”7 He goes on to describe Madame Blavatsky as “a clever, wild, and excitable girl,”8 who became interested in Indian philosophy “through the dark mists of imperfect translations” before turning to Buddhism. But, he explains, “No one can study Buddhism unless he learns Sanskrit and Pâli, so as to be able to read the canonical books, and at all events to spell the names correctly. Madame Blavatsky would do neither, though she was quite clever enough, if she had chosen, to have learnt Sanskrit or Pâli.”9 He notes her deficiencies in the relevant languages repeatedly, suggesting that her informants in India were equally deficient. She shrewdly exempted herself from all scholarly critique by declaring that hers was not the Buddhism that was known to the world but instead an esoteric Buddhism, one that preceded both Brahmanism and Christianity. This Buddhism she claimed to have learned from enlightened beings in Tibet, “quite safe” Müller notes, “from any detectives or cross-​ examining lawyers.”10 But in fact, he concludes: “There is nothing that cannot be traced back to generally accessible Brahmanic and Buddhistic sources, only everything is muddled or misunderstood. If I were asked what Madame Blavatsky’s Esoteric Buddhism really is, I  should say it was Buddhism misunderstood, distorted, caricatured. There is nothing in it beyond what was known already, chiefly from books that are now antiquated. The most ordinary terms are misspelt and misinterpreted.”11 He goes on at some length to describe the historical relation of Buddhism and Brahmanism, one of the venerable themes of Oriental scholarship in the first half of the nineteenth century, concluding with the observation that one of the great differences between the two was to be found on the question of secrecy. He concludes that, “Whatever was esoteric or secret was ipso facto not Buddha’s teaching; whatever was Buddha’s teaching was ipso facto not esoteric.”12 And he quotes passages from the Pāli canon in support of this claim. He thus finds it highly ironic that it was Buddhism, among all the other religions, that Madame Blavatsky selected as being somehow “esoteric.” Müller does not launch this attack against Madame Blavatsky merely in the defense of the principles of scholarship. He writes as a defender of the Buddha and insists that he be represented accurately: “It is because I love Buddha and admire Buddhist morality that I cannot remain silent when I see his noble figure lowered to the level of religious charlatans, or his teaching misrepresented as esoteric twaddle. I do not mean to say that Buddhism has never been corrupted and vulgarized when

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  39 it became the religion of barbarous and semi-​barbarous people in Tibet, China, and Mongolia; nor should I wish to deny that it has in some places been represented by knaves and impostors as something mysterious, esoteric, and unintelligible.”13 Indeed, Müller concedes, there are Indian Buddhist texts whose titles contain the Sanskrit term guhya, “secret,” and that there are many Buddhist texts that remain entirely unknown, such that, in fact, “we know as yet very little, and that we see but darkly through the immense mass of its literature and the intricacies of its metaphysical speculations.”14 Madame Blavatsky’s crime, then, for Müller, is not that she claims that there is much about Buddhism that is not widely known, for this is indeed the case, but that she does not provide us with the titles of the texts from which she derives her knowledge. It is, however, unnecessary to go to Madame Blavatsky or her Mahatmas to dispel our ignorance about Buddhism.15 Instead, Müller advises, “We should go to the manuscripts in our libraries, even in the Bodleian, in order to do what all honest Mahâtmas have to do, copy the manuscripts, collate them, and translate them.”16 Müller’s essay provides a fascinating perspective on the Buddhism of the Orientalists at the end of the nineteenth century. But let us refrain from such analysis for the time being to first introduce Müller’s interlocutor.

Sinnett Defends Blavatsky As mentioned above, Blavatsky and Olcott had sailed to India, arriving in Bombay in 1879, where they proclaimed themselves to be Hindus. They proceeded to Ceylon the next year, where they both took the vows of lay Buddhists. Upon their return to India, they traveled north, where they met Sinnett (1840–​1921). Sinnett was a journalist, having worked at the Hong Kong Daily Press and the Evening Standard before going to India in 1872 to become editor of The Pioneer in Allahabad, one of the major newspapers in India. (One of his reporters was Rudyard Kipling.) During a visit to London in 1875, Sinnett attended a séance at the house of the renowned medium, Mrs. Guppy (Agnes Elizabeth Guppy, first made famous by Alfred Russel Wallace) and became fascinated with spiritualism. He later read Madame Blavatsky’s first major work, Isis Unveiled, and his newspaper covered Blavatsky and Olcott’s travels in India. In 1880, Blavatsky and Olcott accepted an invitation to visit the Sinnett home in the hill station of Simla in north India, where they remained for six weeks. After a demonstration of paranormal powers by Madame Blavatsky, Sinnett asked her to place him in contact with a Mahatma. The first Mahatma she approached initially refused, but the second agreed, and between 1880 and 1885 Sinnett carried on a prodigious correspondence with the two most famous Mahatmas, the Master Koot Hoomi (KH) and the Master Morya (M). His letters formed the basis of three important works in the Theosophical canon:  The Occult World (1881), Esoteric Buddhism (1883), and The Mahatma Letters to A.  P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K. H. (1923).

40  Approaches to the East By May 1893, Madame Blavatsky was dead and Sinnett had been back in London for ten years; he had been dismissed from his position at The Pioneer shortly after the publication of his first book on Theosophy. Upon his return to England, he was disappointed to have been passed over for the presidency of the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society; a letter from Koot Hoomi himself had encouraged the membership to support his rival, Anna Kingsford. In June 1893, the editor of The Nineteenth Century published Sinnett’s reply to Müller. After noting the absurdity of Müller’s claim “that Buddhism cannot contain any teaching hitherto kept secret, because the books hitherto published do not disclose any secrets of the kind,”17 Sinnett turns not to a defense of Madame Blavatsky but to a defense of himself. Müller is quite wrong to ascribe the formulation of the system of esoteric Buddhism to Madame Blavatsky. Thus, before he can “vindicate the ideas he [Müller] seeks to disparage,” Sinnett must first set the record straight. In 1883 I  was enabled to bring into intelligible shape a view of the origin and destinies of man derived from certain teachings with which I was favoured while in India. It challenged the attention of Western readers because it seemed to furnish a more reasonable interpretation of man’s spiritual constitution and of the world’s purpose, than any with which European thought had previously been concerned. It provided something like a scientific abstract of all religious doctrine, by the help of which it was easy to separate the wheat from chaff in various ecclesiastical creeds. Allowing for symbolical methods of treatment as entering largely into popular religions, the new teaching showed that Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Christianity could be accounted for as growing up at various periods in India and Europe from the same common root of spiritual knowledge. But since Buddhism had apparently separated itself less widely than other religions from the parent stem, I gave my book the title Esoteric Buddhism, partly in loyalty to the exterior faith preferred by those from whom my information had come, partly because even in its exterior form that religion was already attracting a great deal of sympathetic interest in Europe, and seemed the natural bridge along which European thinking might be conducted to an appreciation of the beautifully coherent and logical view of Nature I had been enabled to obtain.18

Sinnett puts forth the basic Theosophical tenet that the great religious traditions of the world all sprang forth from the same root of esoteric wisdom. Among the exoteric versions of the world’s religions, Buddhism remains closest to this ancient source. He also concedes that the popularity of Buddhism in the West might lead people eventually to Theosophy. Hence, he decided to entitle his book Esoteric Buddhism.19 Sinnett goes on to explain that Madame Blavatsky’s aim, especially in Isis Unveiled, was not “to teach anything in particular, but to stir up interest in an unfamiliar body

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  41 of occult mysteries.”20 It was Sinnett himself, however, who “was entrusted with the task of putting into intelligible shape the views of life and nature entertained by certain Eastern initiates who were interested in the Theosophical Society.”21 Müller, it seems, is unaware of all this. Müller is further mistaken in claiming that nothing of the secret teachings is present in the sacred books of the Buddhists. It is there, or at least darkly hinted at, but is visible only to those who have received instruction in esoteric doctrine. And to prove his point, Sinnett explains the esoteric meaning of the Buddha’s last meal. Before proceeding to Sinnett’s exegesis, it should be noted that precisely what it was that the Buddha ate before he passed into nirvāṇa has been a question that has puzzled both monastic commentators and academic exegetes for two millennia. The dish is specified in the Pāli canon with the compound sukaramaddava, composed of the word for “pig” and the word for “soft.” On the one hand, it is unclear whether this means something soft that is consumed by pigs, such as a type of mushroom or truffle, or perhaps bamboo shoots that had been trampled by pigs. On the other hand, the compound could be the name of some kind of pork dish. The Indian and Sinhalese commentators prefer, although not unanimously, the latter interpretation. Sinnett refers to this view, given currency by Thomas W. Rhys Davids, as a “ludicrous misconception.” (Sinnett had earlier expressed his contempt for the views of Rhys Davids—​the leading British scholar of Pāli Buddhism—​on the doctrine of rebirth in the final chapter of Esoteric Buddhism.) He explains that “Common-​sense ought to have been startled at the notion that the diet of so ultra-​confirmed a vegetarian as a Hindoo religious teacher could not but be, could be invaded by so gross an article of food as roast pork. But worshippers of the letter which killeth are apt to lose sight of common-​sense.”22 One might assume from this that Sinnett allies himself with the truffles camp. However, he offers another explanation. He asks the reader to recall that the Viṣṇu Purāṇa recounts that in one of his incarnations, the god Viṣṇu took the form of a boar and lifted up the world with his tusks in order to rescue it from a great flood. In the account of the Buddha’s last days, boar’s flesh thus symbolizes esoteric knowledge that has been prepared for popular consumption by the multitudes. The Buddha had attempted to bring such knowledge to the populace and had died as a result. Sinnett finds support for his reading in the details of the story. The Buddha indeed instructs his host Cunda to serve this dish to him alone, not to his monks, and to bury the rest. Although there are traditional explanations for this request, Sinnett takes it to mean that, “no one of lesser authority than himself must take the responsibility of giving out occult secrets.”23 The remainder of Sinnett’s response is devoted to chastising Müller for judging the message (Theosophy) by the apparent messenger (Madame Blavatsky and the Mahatmas). He then presents a summary of Theosophical doctrine; because Müller did not see fit to provide one, it is left to Sinnett to do so. Theosophy, he

42  Approaches to the East writes, “gives us religion in the form of abstract spiritual science which can be applied to any faith, so that we may sift its crudities from its truth.”24 And he concludes with a prophecy: Every advance of knowledge leaves some people aground in the rear, and there are hundreds of otherwise distinguished men amongst us who will probably never in this life realise the importance of new researches on which many other inquirers besides theosophists are now bent. But their immobility will be forgotten in time. Knowledge will advance in spite of them, and views of nature, at first laughed at and discredited, will be taken after a while as matters of course, and, emerging from the shadow of occultism, will pass down the main current of science. Those of us who are early in the field with our experience and information would sometimes like to be more civilly treated by the recognized authorities of the world; but that is a very subordinate matter after all, and we have our rewards, of which they know nothing. We are well content to be in advance even at the cost of some disparaging glances from our less fortunate companions.25

Like Olcott before him, but somewhat more caustically, Sinnett portrays Müller as someone satisfied with a superficial knowledge, and who is thus remaining blind to the deeper and authentic meaning of the texts he reads. Sinnett portrays himself as something of a prophet, a prophet not of a new religion but of a new science. He prophesies a transformation in human knowledge, one in which what once was dismissed as “the occult” will enter the mainstream in a new paradigm as science and spirituality converge. Sinnett is content to suffer the mockery of Müller, knowing that soon enough the likes of Müller will be left behind. Müller responded in the August issue of The Nineteenth Century, expressing his surprise that Sinnett would claim credit for esoteric Buddhism so soon after Madame Blavatsky’s death. He apologizes for not having read Sinnett’s books but explains that his original essay was about Blavatsky, rather than Sinnett; he had only written about her in the first place because of all the appeals he had received to do so. He finds Sinnett’s statement (which Müller paraphrases as), “Whether I obtained Esoteric Buddhism from a Mahâtma on the other side of the Himalaya or from my own head is of no consequence”26 to be ominous. Sinnett must provide some evidence that such teachings can be found somewhere in Tibet. But if he wants Theosophy to be judged simply on the basis of its doctrine, Müller confesses that he finds Sinnett’s summary to be incomprehensible. On the Buddha’s last meal, Müller reveals to Sinnett that Sanskritists have committed an even greater heresy than suggesting that the Buddha ate pork. They have shown that the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, where the story of the divine boar appears, was composed after the Buddha’s death, “and that therefore, Buddha must have swallowed bonâ fide pork, and not merely an esoteric boar.”27 That is, textual research renders Sinnett’s reading preposterous.

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  43

Who Represents the East? One might justifiably ask at this point why this obscure exchange between two late Victorians, one an aged Oxford Sanskritist and the other, at least in view of some, an embittered spiritualist quack, should warrant our attention. At least some of the questions it raises are: Who is the Buddha, and who speaks in his name? Is it the scholar or the devotee? (We will postpone for the moment the implications of the ethnicity of the devotee in this case.) The Theosophists were often at odds with European scholars of the Orient and disparaged them for their narrow-​mindedness. In a letter to Sinnett from 1882, the Master Koot Hoomi writes:  “Since those gentlemen—​the Orientalists—​presume to give to the world their soi-​disant translations and commentaries on our sacred books, let the theosophists show the great ignorance of those ‘world’ pundits, by giving the public the right doctrines and explanations of what they would regard an absurd, fancy theory.”28 Elsewhere, Koot Hoomi mentions Rhys Davids by name29 and also notes that “Karma and Nirvana are but two of the seven great mysteries of Buddhist metaphysics; and but four of the seven are known to the best orientalists, and that very imperfectly.”30 Despite his time in India, Sinnett would not have considered himself to be an Orientalist; indeed he seems to take pride in not being counted in their number. Yet as editor of one of the most influential newspapers of the Raj (although not located in Delhi, Calcutta, or Bombay), he played an important role in the representation of India and Indians to a wide Anglophone readership. The exchange between Müller and Sinnett would thus seem to be yet another of the scores of Orientalist squabbles that took place over the course of the nineteenth century, two Englishmen (although one of them only honorary) trading polite insults over who has the better understanding of oriental wisdom, without the participation of any Orientals. For Sinnett’s Orientalism is heightened by the conceit that his knowledge derives from Aryan masters, communicating telepathically from deepest Tibet. But were they? Readers of The Mahatma Letters have generally fallen into two camps. There are those who are members of the Theosophical Society, or sympathetic to it, who regard the letters as they are represented, as communications from the masters Koot Hoomi and Morya to Sinnett, with Madame Blavatsky serving as postmistress and sometimes scribe. And there are those, beginning shortly after their appearance, who have dismissed the letters as entirely the work of Blavatsky. Adopting a different approach, the Theosophist K. Paul Johnson has sought to identify the numerous figures—​Hindu, Buddhist, Masonic, Muslim, Parsi, Sikh, Indian, Egyptian, Persian, Sri Lankan, and at least one Tibetan—​with whom Blavatsky and Olcott were associated during their travels. He speculates, for example, that the Master Koot Hoomi, whose full name was Koot Hoomi Lal Singh, was in fact Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia, a founder of the Singh Sabha.31

44  Approaches to the East Blavatsky and Olcott were active opponents of Christian missionaries in South Asia and allied themselves with various reform and independence movements in both India and Sri Lanka. The possibility that there were Indians involved somewhere along the chain of communication called The Mahatma Letters (as well as Esoteric Buddhism and The Secret Doctrine) raises a host of questions about Orientalism and authority, perhaps the most outlandish of which is whether Madame Blavatsky’s ventriloquism somehow allowed the subaltern to speak. It is also important to note, however, that the allegiances that Blavatsky and Olcott forged with South Asians tended to be short-​lived. Prior to their departure for India, Madame Blavatsky had told Olcott that Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj, was “an adept of the Himalayan Brotherhood inhabiting the Swami’s body.”32 But by 1882, Olcott had concluded that the swami was just a swami, not an adept at all, who had expressed his vexation “to me—​in very strong terms—​that I should be helping the Ceylon Buddhists and the Bombay Parsis to know their religions better than heretofore, while, as he said, both were false religions.”33 Others, including such legendary figures as Vivekananda and Dharmapala, after initially cordial relations with the Theosophists, would take exception to their claim that they could help Hindus and Buddhists “to know their religions better than heretofore” and would disavow any connection of their Hinduism and their Buddhism to Theosophy. The modern would seem minimally to be that which is different from the ancient, and one of the marks of modernity, wherever it is located along a chronology, is the recognition of this difference. Other characteristics that might be added would be an emphasis on the mechanical over the organic, the individual over the group, differentiation over unity, the real over the transcendent, and the existential over the metaphysical. Part of the continuing appeal of the Buddha is that he, at least since the mid-​nineteenth century, has seemed so modern. Here, among the dizzying divinities of India, was a man with just one head and two arms. He had rejected the myths of ancient India that organized society into an oppressive caste system that had placed all power in the hands of priests who performed elaborate sacrifices in which they muttered unintelligible chants. He wrested that power from those priests and placed it in the hands of the individual, regardless of caste. He discovered the truth through his own efforts and then made it accessible to all, describing a universe in which there was no god, in which the transcendent unity of the Upaniṣads was replaced by the inexorable law of cause and effect, “the laying bare of the device,” so to speak. His life had certainly been embellished by legends over the centuries, but European scholars, reading the most ancient scriptures, had been able to strip away these mythic accretions and metaphysical elaborations to reveal the man. This is the Buddha created by the Orientalists. This is the Buddha that Allen Ginsberg describes in an early poem, “He drags his bare feet out of a cave under a tree, /​eyebrows grown long with weeping and hooknosed woe, /​In ragged soft robes wearing a fine beard, unhappy hands /​clasped to his naked breast—​humility

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  45 is beatness humility is beatness—​/​faltering into the bushes by a stream, all things inanimate /​but his intelligence—​stands upright there tho trembling.”34 This is the Buddha of Burnouf, who wrote in 1844: Indeed, there are few beliefs that rest on so small a number of dogmas, and that also impose fewer sacrifices to common sense. I speak here in particular of the Buddhism that appears to me to be the most ancient, the human Buddhism, if I dare to call it so, which consists almost entirely in very simple rules of morality, and where it is enough to believe that the Buddha was a man who reached a degree of intelligence and of virtue that each must take as the exemplar for his life. I distinguish it intentionally from this other Buddhism of buddhas and bodhisattvas of contemplation, and above all from that of the Ādibuddha, where theological inventions rival the most complicated that modern Brahmanism has conceived. In this second age of Buddhism dogma develops, and morality, without disappearing entirely, is no longer the principal object of the religion.35

And this is the Buddha of Müller, a Buddha about whom he writes with real affection, as one who scorned secrecy; who taught for the sake of “the people at large, for the poor, the suffering, the ill-​treated”;36 who instructed his disciples to teach in the vernacular; who inveighed against the idea that his disciples should be guided by anything but the truth; for whom the greatest miracle was not telepathy but teaching, “by which an unbeliever is really converted into a believer, an unloving man into a loving man”;37 who preached no dogma; who was born a man and died a man, after eating a meal of boar’s flesh—​“it has always seemed to me to speak very well for the veracity of his disciples that they should have stated this fact quite plainly.”38 The Buddha of Sinnett is a very different being, as he explains in the chapter entitled “Buddha” in Esoteric Buddhism. It begins:  “The historical Buddha, as known to the custodians of the Esoteric Doctrine, is a personage whose birth is not invested with the quaint marvels popular story has crowded round it. Nor was his progress to adeptship traced by the literal occurrence of supernatural struggles depicted in symbolic legend.” Here, Sinnett is in good company with the leading Oriental scholarship of the day. But he continues, “On the other hand, the incarnation, which may outwardly be described as the birth of Buddha, is certainly not regarded by occult science as an event like any other birth, nor the spiritual development through which Buddha passed during his earth-​life a mere process of intellectual evolution, like the mental history of any other philosopher. The mistake which ordinary European writers make in dealing with a problem of this sort, lies in their inclination to treat exoteric legend either as a record of a miracle about which no more need be said, or as pure myth, putting merely a fantastic decoration on a remarkable life. This, it is assumed, however remarkable, must have been lived according to the theories of Nature at present accepted by the nineteenth century.”39 Sinnett thus clearly rejects the Orientalist, and modernist, reading of the life of the Buddha, a reading that strips that life of its legendary character. Relying on a

46  Approaches to the East simplistic dichotomy between myth and history, miracle and fact, the Orientalists are too quick to assume that an ordinary man, albeit a very good man, is to be found beneath the accretion of legend, leaving only the life of a man lived in modern terms: teacher of virtue, social reformer, champion of the poor. He lived and died in ancient India, but he was a man to be admired even today. Substituting the word “Buddha” for the word “Christ” in his criticism of the professional scholars of Buddhism, Sinnett might just as easily have said: “Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact—​one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history—​the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles.” This is a quotation from Pope Pius X’s “Oath against Modernism,” delivered on September 1, 1910. The Theosophists had no interest in this modern Buddha; they saw a different Buddha. But to see the Buddha in his true nature, a key is required: the act of interpretation. For, hidden among the mass of fantastic elements that the Orientalists dismiss as ancient superstition, the Theosophist discerns esoteric meanings that remain of vital importance to humanity. Sinnett has a broader view of the Buddha than that of Müller and his teacher Burnouf. For Sinnett, the Buddha is just one in a series of adepts who have appeared over the course of the centuries. His next incarnation, occurring some sixty years after Gautama Buddha’s death, was as Śaṃkarācarya, the great Vedānta philosopher. Sinnett concedes that the uninitiated would place Śaṃkara’s birth some thousand years after the death of the Buddha and would also note Śaṃkara’s rather virulent antipathy to Buddhism.40 Sinnett reports that the Buddha appeared as Śaṃkara “to fill up some gaps and repair certain errors in his own previous teaching.”41 The Buddha had departed from the practice of earlier adepts by opening the path of the adepts to members of all castes. Although well intentioned, this led to a degradation of occult knowledge when it was transferred into unworthy hands. It thus became necessary thereafter “to take no candidates except from the class which, on the whole, by reason of its hereditary advantages, is likely to be the best nursery of fit candidates.”42 The Buddha did not reincarnate again until the fourteenth century, by which time the adept community had congregated in Tibet. Thus, the Buddha’s next incarnation was as the Tibetan reformer Tsong kha pa (1357–​1419). Sinnett here takes that element of the Buddha’s teaching that most appealed to Müller and Burnouf, and to so many Victorians—​his commitment to teaching the dharma to members of all castes—​and identifies it as an error. At the same time, in an act of cosmic colonialism, he extracts the Buddha from the conventional chronology of history and places him in a different chronology unknown but to the initiates, in which the Buddha is reborn as the great persecutor of Buddhism, Śaṃkara, who is in turn reborn more than five hundred years later in Tibet, as Tsong kha pa. This is not unlike placing the Buddha in another lineage, one of such

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  47 otherworldly geniuses as Galileo, Newton, Bohr, and Einstein, each of whom had his own interest in esoteric wisdom. In the nineteenth century, this act of interpretation was met by Asian teachers with bafflement or dismay (as in the case of Dayananda Saraswati). As European interest in Theosophy waxed, South Asian interest in Theosophy waned. The Theosophical Society continued to appropriate Buddhist doctrines. Blavatsky’s heir, the former British suffragette Annie Besant, selected a young Hindu boy in 1909 as the future Buddha, Maitreya, the World Teacher of the Aquarian Age. (The boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, renounced this status in 1929.) The American Theosophist, Walter Y. Evans-​Wentz, discovered what he considered Theosophical doctrine in a Tibetan text that he would dub The Tibetan Book of the Dead.43 But with few exceptions (Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki called Madame Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence, “the real Mahāyāna Buddhism”), Buddhist figures did not reciprocate the interest of the Theosophists. In 1905, the leading Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka, Hikkaduve Sumangala (1827–​1911), withdrew his imprimatur from the fortieth edition of Olcott’s Buddhist Catechism, declaring that seventeen of the answers were “opposed to the orthodox views of the Southern Church of Buddhism.”44 Anagarika Dharmapala, the person who had been closest to Blavatsky and Olcott in their early efforts on behalf of Buddhism, was particularly emphatic in his repudiation of Theosophy. In 1906, he published an essay entitled, “Can a Buddhist Be a Member of the Theosophical Society?” The short answer was “no.” Buddhism bore no historical relation to any other religion, and thus a “conscientious Buddhist who is well versed in Buddhist lore can no more sympathise with the principles of Theosophy than with the teachings of Christ, Muhammad, Krishna and Moses.”45 Two decades later, he was more vociferous, writing in a letter of February 20, 1926, “Members of the Theosophical Society who follow [Charles W.] Leadbetter and Mrs. Besant are against Buddhism. They follow Jesus and he they say is greater than our Lord Buddha. Leadbetter and Mrs. Besant steal everything from Buddhism and palm it off as their own and twindle the ignorant members of the T. S. in England.”46 Thus, Theosophy, which, in an apparently ecumenical spirit, had sought to unite the religions of the world through linking them back to an ahistoric and prehistoric wisdom, was now rejected by the Buddhists as a modern creation. But having broken with Olcott and Theosophy, Dharmapala took from them the view of the Buddha not merely as an ancient teacher to be admired across the mists of time but as a world historical figure of contemporary relevance. In his address to the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 (long before his break with Theosophy) he had proclaimed, “Buddhism is a scientific religion, in as much as it earnestly enjoins that nothing whatever be accepted on faith. Buddha has said that nothing should be believed merely because it is said. Buddhism is tantamount to a knowledge of other sciences.”47 In 1929, he wrote in words still bearing the trace of his Theosophical tutelage, “Buddhism is for the scientifically cultured. The discoveries of modern science are a help to understand the sublime Dhamma. . . . Today, the cultured races of Europe require a scientific psychology showing the greatness of

48  Approaches to the East the human consciousness. The sublime Doctrine of the Lord Buddha is a perfect science based on transcendental Wisdom. This Dhamma should be given freely to the European races.”48 We thus see the claim of the Theosophist, that the most ancient is in fact the most modern, being claimed by the Buddhist, seeking to defend his religion against the attacks of various enemies, both foreign and domestic. Dharmapala’s motivations, at least in the late colonial period, are clear enough.

Conclusion But what became of the Orientalists, reading their texts in the libraries of Europe and America, in search of the true Buddha? Following the instructions of Müller, scholars have copied, collated, and translated more and more Buddhist manuscripts in the Bodleian (and elsewhere). As they have done so, the Buddha of the nineteenth century—​whether the social reformer of the Victorian scholars or the harbinger of spiritual evolution of the Theosophists—​has given way to a Buddha who is less individual and more generic. We read, for example, that all of the buddhas who have come in the past and who will come in the future do a great many of the same things. They all sit cross-​legged in their mother’s womb; they are all born in the “middle country” of our continent of Jambudvīpa; immediately after birth they all take seven steps to the north; they all renounce the world after seeing the four sights (an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a mendicant) and after the birth of a son; they all achieve enlightenment seated on a bed of grass; they stride first with their right foot when they walk; they never stoop to pass through a door; they all found a monastic order; they all can live for an eon; they never die before their teaching is complete; and—​Müller was right—​they all die after eating meat. Four sites on the earth are identical for all buddhas: the place of enlightenment, the place of the first sermon, the place of descending from the Heaven of the Thirty-​Three atop Mount Meru, and the place of the bed in Jetavana monastery. Indeed, buddhas can differ from each other in only eight ways: in lifespan, height, caste (either Brahman or kṣatriya), the conveyance in which they go forth from the world, the period of time spent in the practice of asceticism prior to their enlightenment, the kind of tree they sit under on the night of their enlightenment, the size of their seat there, and the circumference of their aura.49 If we were to strip this traditional list of its mythological elements, as both Müller and the Theosophists, each in their own way, sought to do, the Buddha would be little more than a statue in Müller’s hearth.

Notes 1. This essay is adapted from ­chapter 4 of Donald S. Lopez Jr., Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  49 2. See Terence Thomas, ed., The British: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices 1800–​1986 (London: Routledge, 1988), 85–​88. 3. For a description of Santum, see Henry S. Olcott, People from the Other World (Hartford, CT:  American Publishing Company, 1875), 141. 4. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, 3rd ser. (1887–​1892), 2nd ed. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1931), 62–​64. Olcott provides a briefer version of this exchange in Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, 3rd ser. (1883–​1887), 2nd ed. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1929), 177. 5. Friedrich Max Müller, The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller Edited by His Wife, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1902), 2:234. 6. Ibid., 290. 7. Friedrich Max Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism,” The Nineteenth Century:  A Monthly Review 33 (January–​June 1893):  769. The essays (Müller’s essay, Sinnett’s reply, and Müller’s rejoinder) were reprinted in Friedrich Max Müller, Last Essays, Second Series: Essays on the Science of Religion (New  York:  Longmans, Green, 1901), 79–​170. For a scathing essay on the “religionette” of esoteric Buddhism, published eight years before Müller’s, see Frederika MacDonald, “Buddhism and Mock Buddhism,” Fortnightly Review n. s., 37 (January 1–​June 1, 1885): 703–​16. 8. Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 769. 9. Ibid., 773. 10. Ibid.,  774. 11. Ibid.,  775. 12. Ibid.,  781. 13. Ibid.,  784. 14. Ibid.,  786. 15. For one of Blavatsky’s descriptions of the Buddhist canon, and her criticism of Müller’s understanding of it, see Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1888), 1:xxvii–​xxviii. 16. Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 787. 17. A.  P. Sinnett, “Esoteric Buddhism (A Reply to Professor Max Müller),” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 33 (January–​June 1893): 1015. 18. Ibid., 1015–​16. 19. For Blavatsky’s defense of the term “esoteric Buddhism,” see Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:xvii–​xix. 20. Sinnett, “Reply to Professor Max Müller,” 1018. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid.,  1020. 23. Ibid.,  1021. 24. Ibid.,  1026. 25. Ibid., 1026–​27. 26. F. Max Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder,” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 34 (July–​December 1893):  297. The statement of Sinnett that Müller paraphrases is:  “But whether I obtained the teaching on which Esoteric Buddhism rests from a Mahâtma on the other side of the Himalayas or evolved them out of my own head need only interest people who begin to be seriously interested in the teaching on its own primâ facie, intrinsic claims.” See Sinnett, “Reply to Professor Max Müller,” 1022. 27. F. Max Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder,” 303. 28. Alfred Percy Sinnett, The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K. H., transcribed, comp., and introd. by A. T. Barker (London: Rider, 1948), 185.

50  Approaches to the East 29. Ibid.,  158. 30. Ibid.,  110. 31. K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 148–​75. 32. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: America 1874–​1878 (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1941), 396. 33. Ibid.,  406. 34. Allen Ginsberg, Reality Sandwiches (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1963), 9–​10. 35. Eugène Burnouf, Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism, trans. Katia Buffetrille and Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 328. 36. Müller, Life and Letters, 2:297. 37. Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism,” 783. 38. Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder,” 303. 39. Alfred Percy Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895), 209–​10. 40. Ibid.,  220. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid.,  221. 43. See Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011). 44. On the “catechism crisis” of 1905–​6, see Anne M. Blackburn, Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2010), 134–​42. 45. Anagarika Dharmapala, “Can a Buddhist Be a Member of the Theosophical Society?” Maha-​ Bodhi and the United Buddhist World 14, no. 3 (March 1906): 42. 46. See Ananda Guruge, ed., Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of Anagarika Dharmapala (Colombo: Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1965), 775. 47. Ibid.,  20. 48. Ibid.,  741. 49. See G. P. Malalasekhara, Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names. 2  vols. (Delhi:  Munshiram Manoharlal, 1998), 2:294–​305.

Bibliography Arnold, Edwin. The Light of Asia: Or the Great Renunciation. London: Trübner and Co., Ludgate Hill, 1879. Blackburn, Anne M. Locations of Buddhism:  Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. 2 vols. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine. Vol. 1. London:  Theosophical Publishing Company, 1888. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Voice of the Silence: And Other Chosen Fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts for the Daily Use of Lanoos (Disciples). Los Angeles: Theosophy, 1987. Burnouf, Eugène. Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. Translated by Katia Buffetrille and Donald S. Lopez Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Dharmapala, Anagarika. “Can a Buddhist Be a Member of the Theosophical Society?” Maha-​ Bodhi and the United Buddhist World 14, no. 3 (March 1906): 42–​44. Ginsberg, Allen. Reality Sandwiches. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1963.

Orientalist vs. Theosophist  51 Guruge, Ananda, ed. Return to Righteousness:  A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of Anagarika Dharmapala. Colombo: Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1965. Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Lopez, Jr., Donald S. Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Lopez, Jr., Donald S. The Tibetan Book of the Dead:  A Biography. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2011. MacDonald, Frederika. “Buddhism and Mock Buddhism.” Fortnightly Review n. s., 37 (January 1–​June 1, 1885): 703–​16. Malalasekhara, G. P. Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names. 2 vols. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1998. Müller, Friedrich Max. Theosophy or Psychological Religion: The Gifford Lectures delivered before the University of Glasgow in 1892. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1893. Müller, F. Max. “Indian Fables and Esoteric Buddhism.” Republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller, 79–​133. London:  Longmans, Green, 1901. [Originally published in The Nineteenth Century, May 1893]. Müller, Friedrich Max. “Esoteric Buddhism.” The Nineteenth Century:  A Monthly Review 33 (January–​June 1893): 767–​88. Müller, Friedrich Max. “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder.” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 34 (July–​December 1893): 296–​303. Müller, Friedrich Max. The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller Edited by His Wife. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1902. Olcott, Henry Steel. People from the Other World. Hartford, CT:  American Publishing Company, 1875. Olcott, Henry Steel. A Buddhist Catechism:  According to the Canon of the Southern Church. London: Trübner and Co., Ludgate Hill, 1881. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society. 3rd ser. (1887–​1892), 2nd ed. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1931. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves:  America 1874–​1878. Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1941. Pope Pius X, “Oath against Modernism.” Accessed July 24, 2019. https://​​pius10/​p10moath.htm. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. The Occult World. London: Trübner and Co., Ludgate Hill, 1881. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. “Esoteric Buddhism (A Reply to Professor Max Müller).” The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 33 (January–​June 1893): 1015–​27. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. Esoteric Buddhism. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K. H. London: Rider, 1948. Thomas, Terence, ed. The British:  Their Religious Beliefs and Practices 1800–​1986. London:  Routledge, 1988.


REPR E SE N TAT IONS OF T H E  E AST The seven chapters included in the second part of this volume focus on the various early Theosophical representations of the East as they relate to Sanskrit, Buddhism, Hindu philosophy, Mahatmas, yoga, and representations of the East in journals and literature.

3 H. P. Blavatsky’s Acquaintance with the Language of the Gods James A. Santucci

The teachings of the Theosophical Society are often portrayed as deriving in part from a major font of ancient wisdom, India. Especially important is that ancient culture that dispersed throughout northern India identified by linguists as Old Indo-​Āryan, or more commonly, as the refined and perfected (saṃskṛta) language, Sanskrit.1 The importance of Sanskrit rests in its relationship with Senzar, the latter identified by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky as the “secret sacerdotal” language of The Book of Dzyān. A portion of this text is discussed in Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine—​seven stanzas in volume 1 and forty-​nine ślokas or verses in volume 2. In her introduction to The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky writes: This “very old Book” is the original work from which the many volumes of Kiu-​ti were compiled. Not only this latter and the Siphrah Dzeniouta but even the Sepher Jezirah, the work attributed by the Hebrew Kabalists to their Patriarch Abraham (!), the book of Shu-​king, China’s primitive Bible, the sacred volumes of the Egyptian Thoth-​Hermes, the Purânas in India, and the Chaldean Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch itself, are all derived from that one small parent volume. Tradition says, that it was taken down in Senzar, the secret sacerdotal tongue, from the words of the Divine Being who dictated it to the sons of Light, in Central Asia, at the very beginning of the 5th (our) race; for there was a time when its language (the Sen-​zar) was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it, as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis, who inherited it, in their turn, from the sages of the 3rd Race, the Manushis, who learnt it direct from the Devas of the 2nd and 1st Races.2

This “very old Book” refers to the original text written in Senzar, identified as the basis of the books comprising the Kiu-​ti, of which The Book of Dzyān is one. No title is given to this original book either in The Secret Doctrine or in Blavatsky’s earlier Isis Unveiled. The Book of Dzyān is identified as the first of a series of commentaries on the seven secret folios of Kiu-​ti (i.e., Kiu-​te). The term Dzyān is identified in The Theosophical Glossary3 as Tibetan with alternate spelling of dzyn and dzen, but

56  Representations of the East The Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary identifies the term as originating from Senzar, similar to the Tibetan dzin (learning, knowledge) and similar to Sanskrit dhyāna, Pāli jhāna.4 The connection of Senzar, the “old Book,” and the Kiu-​ti reveals the importance of Tibet5 as a major source of the secret doctrine teachings. As the first of fourteen secret or esoteric commentaries that comprise the seven esoteric folios of Kiu-​ti,6 the Book of Dzyān also serves as a glossary of the thirty-​five public or exoteric books of the Kiu-​te.7 Indeed, the importance of this Tibetan connection is in large part due to The Book of Dzyān, which is the basis of The Secret Doctrine. Furthermore, this importance of Tibetan, and Indian, sources is augmented by Blavatsky’s claim that the greater percentage of the seven hundred thousand documents that made up the Alexandrian Library belonged to India and adjacent territories, including “Tartary.”8 The Book of Dzyān is dated back to the beginning of the fifth root race, the very time when inflectional speech “was the first language (now the mystery tongue of the Initiates, of the Fifth Race)” and the root of the Sanskrit language.9 This statement is in agreement with that appearing in an earlier article, which asserts that Senzar is “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit.”10 Like The Book of Dzyān, Senzar is not identified in this chapter; it is only categorized as “the sacerdotal language (which has its distinct name but cannot be given).” The assertion that it is the “direct progenitor” of early (i.e., Vedic) Sanskrit conforms to a reference in Isis Unveiled. Therein, Blavatsky declares that the first traces of the “universal ‘Wisdom-​ Religion’ ” appear in “the old pre-​Vedic religion of India,”11 which suggests the primal importance of India as the font of this wisdom. Because of this association of India with the “Ancient Wisdom,” it is not surprising that Blavatsky often calls attention to the close affinity between Senzar and Sanskrit. For her, “India was the Alma-​Mater, not only of the civilization, arts, and sciences, but also of all the great religions of antiquity; Judaism, and hence Christianity, included.”12 Returning to the question of Sanskrit’s relation to Senzar, not only is it a direct descendant of Senzar but it also possesses a literature whose range, comprehensiveness, and accuracy in portraying the ancient wisdom exceeds other exoteric languages. This ancient wisdom took on a more discreet and focused appearance with the publication of Alfred Percy Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism,13 which led the reader to assume the greater importance of South Asian (i.e., Buddhist and Brāhmaṇical) source material from the title, abundant Sanskrit terminology, and contents. Yet, we should not forget that the teaching presented is not exoteric but esoteric in content, as the title indicates. Since esoteric wisdom “reconciles all religions, strips every one of its outward, human garments, and shows the root of each to be identical with that of every other great religion,”14 it should not be surprising, therefore, that there is no difference between the Buddha’s secret or esoteric doctrine, namely esoteric “Budhism,” or “Wisdom”15 and the teachings of initiated Brahmins. The emphasis on esoteric Bud(d)hism perhaps is one of the more important reasons why Tibet as the seat of esoteric Buddhism was singled out to be one of the prime sources of

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  57 esoteric wisdom. It is prescient that Blavatsky’s explanation of the esoteric doctrine of the Buddha, as distinct from his exoteric teachings, includes the teaching and acceptance of the soul.16 Some might reject this assertion, but recently a Korean scholar researching Chinese Buddhism authored a book entitled How Buddhism Acquired a Soul on the Way to China, which affirms in part Blavatsky’s claim.17 As an example of how a soul reappears in Buddhism, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-​sūtra contains the following Since the mind is attached to existence, [the body] arises dependent on conditions. Doing [karmic] actions repetitiously, one receives extraordinary suffering. Once one has been born, one must die; once one has died, one must be reborn. Although one comes and passes away through birth and death, [one’s] jingshen . . . does not cease. Therefore [you] should not [cry] like this!18

Jingshen signifies the permanent agent of perception, with shen identified as the Upaniṣadic ātman, the permanent Self, an identification given by no less than one of the most prominent of Buddhist translators, Kumārajīva (344–​413?).19 Senzar not only is identified as the direct progenitor of Sanskrit, a language of the fifth race, it extends back as far as the first root race. It is not surprising then that Blavatsky traces the language of the “old Book” to the Devas (“divine men,” “creators,” or gods), who revealed it to the first two root races and then passed it on to the sages of the third race, the Manushis or “human sages.”20 This third root race, the “Lemurian,” becomes “almost human” because of the separation of the two sexes from originally hermaphroditic beings around eighteen million years ago. The fourth root race, the Atlantean, introduces us to the first “truly human” race, so it is during this period—​between four and five million years ago at its inception to about 850,000 years ago, when the “first Great Flood . . . submerged the last portions of Atlantis.”21 It is therefore understandable that Senzar “was known to the Initiates of every nation, when the forefathers of the Toltec understood it as easily as the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis.”22 Although Senzar is traced back to the Devas, Blavatsky claimed that language developed over a vast period, beginning with the “monosyllabic” speech at the close of the third root race to the full development of agglutinative languages in the fourth root race,23 followed by the highly developed inflectional languages of the fifth root race, of which Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit are examples. It is not clear whether Senzar contained within it the syntactical components of the exoteric agglutinative and inflectional languages, and if so, whether it is considered to be the parent language of all sacerdotal languages such as (Vedic) Sanskrit, Hebrew, Egyptian, (Zend) Avestan, and Pāli, which are but the “esotericizing of Senzar.”24 A relationship, however, does exist between the esoteric from a different perspective. In his study of Senzar from a purely Theosophical perspective, John Algeo explains the relationship between the esoteric Senzar and exoteric languages in the following manner: that Senzar existed even before humanity and human language; and that

58  Representations of the East disruptions occurred as the human species evolved—​the Tower of Babel, the Flood, and the destruction of Atlantis—​leading to a disjunction between what is consciously known and what is subconsciously remembered, with one portion of the human mind becoming unconscious while the other became consciously active. Senzar existed before this disjunction but after the separation of the conscious from the unconscious mind, and the esoteric Senzar became the language of the unconscious, “which the initiated adept translates into the public exoteric languages of the conscious mind.”25 Finally, we may mention one more observation regarding the distinctiveness between Senzar and Sanskrit. Blavatsky mentions quite explicitly that the contents of The Book of Dzyān are “found scattered throughout hundreds and thousands of Sanskrit MSS., some already translated—​disfigured in their interpretations, as usual,—​others still awaiting their turn.”26 This fits the pattern of the one esoteric wisdom appearing imperfectly in numerous exoteric religions and philosophies.27 Indeed, it is quite clear that The Book of Dzyān, together with the original commentaries and glosses that Blavatsky has claimed to have existed and to have consulted but did not understand, turned instead to extracts from “Chinese, Thibetan and Sanskrit translations” and employed Sanskrit and Tibetan proper names rather than the original names.28 Sanskrit certainly was used as an aid because of the richness and depth of the lexicon in capturing the meaning of concepts and teachings within the esoteric teachings and the richness of its literature.

Blavatsky and Her Use of Sanskrit As the principal representative of Theosophical teachings, it would be expected that Blavatsky possessed at least a basic acquaintance with the Sanskrit language, since compositions in this language were a principal source of its teachings. What degree of familiarity she had with it is open to debate. In two letters written to the author of The Source of Measures,29 James Ralston Skinner (1830–​93), Blavatsky alludes to knowledge of Sanskrit that is more than cursory. As one who possessed no knowledge of Sanskrit, Skinner must have been impressed by Blavatsky’s erudition, which she demonstrated in both letters. Yet, her claim that “A-​brâhma (non-​ brahmin)” is equated—​in esoteric writings—​to Abram, Abraham in Hebrew, leaves room to doubt extensive training in the language.30 We are left with the conclusion that her training in Sanskrit, if she received any training at all, was not that extensive. We can only suggest that she possessed some knowledge in the language by the time she arrived in New York in 1873, which was demonstrated in her first work, Isis Unveiled (1877). This is contrary to remarks by the correspondent who wrote as an introduction to his interview with Blavatsky:31 “She quotes with equal readiness from Sanscrit or French, and cites authorities from Pythagoras to Huxley as fluently as a boarding-​school miss from Owen Meredith.”32 An example of her knowledge of Sanskrit appears in a letter to her aunt Nadyezhda de Fadeyev (1829–​1919) dated

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  59 July 19, [1877,] wherein she quotes a passage in the original Sanskrit followed by its translation. The passage originates in Vedic Sanskrit (Ṛgveda 1.191,6): [As it appears in The Theosophical Quarterly]: Dyauh vad pitâ prithivî mâtâ Somah bhrâtâ, aditih svasâ33 [As it appears in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky]: Dyaur hi vah pita, prithivi mata, somah bhrata, aditih svasa34 “The Sky (Dyaur) or Day is your Father (pita, pater); the Earth, your mother (mata); Soma, your brother (bhrata); Adita, your sister (svasa).”35

A number of observations can be made regarding these transcriptions. First, since Blavatsky’s original letter is not available, we have to allow some variation of reading on the part of the transcribers. In a note introducing this letter in The Theosophical Quarterly, the editor, Clement Griscom, writes that Mrs. Charles Johnston (née Vera Jelihovsky, Blavatsky’s niece) was both the source of the letter and its translator from the original Russian. It is most likely that Blavatsky’s handwriting was not very legible, so it is natural that some errors may have crept into the transcription. This might explain the misreading of “vaḥ” as “vad” in the first line. “Vaḥ” (originally vas) is the enclitic form of the second person, genitive plural (the normal and accented form being yuṣmā́kam, “your”). This is the only error in the Sanskrit text, committed by either Blavatsky, the translator-​transcriber Mrs. Johnston, or some unknown third party. The second observation is the complete absence of diacritics in the passage appearing in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, in contrast to the partial inclusion of the circumflex [^] in the same passage quoted in The Theosophical Quarterly. Blavatsky, in writing Sanskrit words or passages in Roman transcription, sometimes omitted the circumflex, which represented a long vowel. It is likely that she originally inserted the diacritics as it appears in The Theosophical Quarterly. Other diacritics are omitted, which as far as I’m aware she rarely, if ever, included. Thirdly, the editors of The Letters also include the particle hí (“for” or “indeed”), which is added after “Dyaur.” This particle does not appear in the original text, which in any event has no place since it would disrupt the meter. The quoted passage actually comprises only half of the full stanza. This half comprises pādas a and b, namely the first two of four eight-​syllable verses (i.e., the Anuṣṭubh meter).36 The number of syllables for the complete stanza (thirty-​two in total), divided into four pādas,37 appears in accordance with the original text as: dyaúr vaḥ pitā́ pṛthivī́ mātā́ sómo bhrā́tā́ditiḥ svásā/​ ádṛṣṭā víśva-​dṛṣṭās tiṣṭhate 'láyatā sú kam//​38

60  Representations of the East Sky (is) your father; Earth (your) mother; Soma (your) brother; Aditi (your) sister; [You] Unseen, seen by all. Be still! Be quiet!

A fourth observation pertaining to pādas a and b as it appears in The Letters is the mixing of two styles of recitation—​the saṃhitā39 and pada-​pāṭha texts—​whereas the text appearing in The Theosophical Quarterly is presented more as a pada-​pāṭha, namely the word text. In manuscripts and editions of the Ṛgveda, the pada-​pāṭha was employed primarily as a means of analyzing and preserving the continuous (saṃhitā) text once all 1,028 hymns were collected to comprise what we now recognize as the Ṛgveda-​saṃhitā. This was accomplished by rendering each form or word (pada) as a discrete unit. Therefore, one would expect the pada-​pāṭha to accompany the saṃhitā text, not to exist in isolation. A quoted passage is usually presented as a saṃhitā text, since it includes all the external sandhi combinations (i.e., phonological alterations between words) that reflect the patterns of speech recitation, such as dyaúr vaḥ pitā́ and sómo bhrā́tā́ditiḥ svásā from the verse above. These two examples exhibit the substitution of -​r for -​ḥ (dyaúr for dyaúḥ, “Sky”) preceding the v in vaḥ (“our”), as explained in note 40; -​ḥ for —​s (vaḥ for vas) before the p in pitā́40; -​o for -​as (sómo for sómas) before the voiced bh (bhrā́tā́ditiḥ); the coalescence of two like vowels (bhrā́tā́ditiḥ: bhrā́tā + áditiḥ); and the substitution of —​ḥ for —​s before s-​ (áditiḥ for áditis).41 The pada-​pāṭha represents each term in its isolated form minus any phonetic alteration induced by the external sandhi rules. If the pada-​ pāṭha text is employed, it is accompanied by the saṃhitā text, since it is the purpose of the former to clarify the latter. In the two examples above, it is obvious that only pāda a appearing in The Letters contains any semblance of a saṃhitā text (“Dyaur hi”), which, although inaccurate in usage and reading because of the inclusion of hi, is nonetheless accurate regarding the application of the sandhi rule: dyaúr replacing dyaúḥ before a voiced consonant “h.” Given the haphazard mix of saṃhitā and pada texts, it is unlikely that Blavatsky copied the Sanskrit from one of the authoritative editions of the Ṛgveda during her time.42 The final observation concerns the dedication of the hymn, which Blavatsky states is to the Maruts.43 Although there are hymns in the first maṇḍala of the Ṛgveda44 that are dedicated to the Maruts, this hymn is certainly not to be included as one of them. The recitation of the hymn has as its purpose protection against poisonous creatures, especially poisonous insects that are unlikely to be seen (hence ádṛṣṭā, “unseen”), as illustrated in verses 1 to 9. There is no edition or translation of the Ṛgveda that identifies the divinity of the hymn to be that of the Maruts. Rather, Sāyaṇa identifies the hymn as an antidote against poisonous creatures, so Karl Geldner entitles the hymn “Gegen Gifttiere” (Against poisonous animals).45 My judgment from these observations indicates that Blavatsky did not cite the Sanskrit verse from a standard academic source but rather from some popular and less informed, probably secondary, source. This suggests that her mastery of

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  61 Sanskrit was less than that suggested in the New York World. Yet, in some instances, she shows surprising sophistication in what she does know. In Isis Unveiled,46 Blavatsky discusses William Dwight Whitney’s disagreement with Friedrich Max Müller’s (1823–​1900) commentaries in the latter’s Rig Veda Sanhita47 regarding “the true interpretation of Vedic words.” In her discussions, she refers to the still impressive “Sanscrit Dictionary” of Rudolph von Roth, of whom Whitney was a student.48 Whitney (1827–​1894) was perhaps the most prominent Sanskritist in the United States at the time of her writing these comments. He was professor of Sanskrit at Yale University and is perhaps best known today for his Sanskrit Grammar,49 followed by his Roots, Verb-​Forms, and Primary Derivatives of the Sanskrit Language.50 The mention of Whitney’s feud with Müller most likely originates from Whitney’s essays published in his collection, Oriental and Linguistic Studies: The Veda; The Avesta; The Science of Language,51 specifically his four essays: “Müller’s History of Vedic Literature” (64–​99); “Müller’s Rig-​Veda Translation” (133–​48); “Müller’s Lectures on Language” (239–​62); and “Second Notice (1871)” (i.e., on “Müller’s History of Vedic Literature”) (262–​78). For instance, her reference to Whitney’s assessment regarding Müller’s notes on the Ṛgveda as being “far from showing that sound and thoughtful judgment, that moderation and economy which are among the most precious qualities of an exegete” appears in Isis Unveiled.52 Also of note is Müller’s assessment53 of the Ṛgveda as being the only “important” and “real” Veda as opposed to the other three Vedas (i.e., the Sāma-​, Yajur-​, and Atharva-​vedas), an assessment at odds with Whitney’s high regard for the Atharvaveda.54 However, Müller’s description, “theological twaddle,” which Blavatsky cites, does not refer to the three later Vedas but rather to the second division of the Vedic corpus, the Brāhmaṇas, as is evidenced by this quote from his chapter, “The Aitareya-​Brâhmana,” a review of Martin Haug’s Aitareya Brāhmaṇa: The greater portion of them [i.e., the Brāhmaṇas] is simply twaddle, and what is worse, theological twaddle. No person who is not acquainted beforehand with the place which the Brâhmanas fill in the history of the Indian mind, could read more than ten pages without being disgusted.55

Regardless, the sentiment may be said to apply to the other Vedas, for in his lecture on the Vedas, Müller demonstrates less regard for the latter three Vedas: The name of Veda is commonly given to four collections of hymns, which are respectively known by the names of Rig-​veda, Yagur-​veda, Sâma-​veda, and Atharva-​ veda; but for our own purposes, namely for tracing the earliest growth of religious ideas in India, the only important, the only real Veda, is the Rig-​veda.56

In the same paragraph, Blavatsky quotes Whitney as regarding the Atharva-​veda “the most comprehensive and valuable of the four collections, next after the Rik,” which is quoted from Whitney’s essay, “The Vedas.”57

62  Representations of the East This introduction into the sources of Blavatsky’s discussion of the Veda helps us to understand her discussion in Isis Unveiled.58 She was correct in her agreement with Whitney’s emphasis on the importance of the Atharva-​veda59 as opposed to Müller’s pejoration.60 I also believe that she was correct in questioning Müller’s disparagement of the Brāhmaṇas that: had already lost the power of understanding the text of the ancient hymns in its natural and grammatical meaning, and that they suggested the most absurd explanations of the various sacrificial acts, most of which, we may charitably suppose, had originally some rational purpose.61

To this point of view, Blavatsky states that: To deny, point-​blank, any sound philosophy in the later Brahmanical speculations upon the Rig-​Veda, is equivalent to refusing to ever correctly understand the mother-​religion itself, which gave rise to them, and which is the expression of the inner thought of the direct ancestors of these later authors of the Brahmanas.62

The preceding observations demonstrate Blavatsky’s tendency to be an astute observer and commentator of experts’ (in this case Sanskritists’) discussions of topics pertinent to their fields. In the course of the discussion, she impresses her readers by displaying a knowledge of Sanskrit phonetics and morphology that otherwise would be completely beyond the purview of even an educated reader of her time. A case in point is her identification of véda as third person singular (“he knows”).63 This lexeme is an irregular perfect form of the first and third person singular of the root √vid. Although Blavatsky probably discovered this form in Müller’s “Lecture on the Vedas,”64 her awareness and mention of the term reveals the degree of attention and consideration she applied to the text. Another example of her erudition in Sanskrit phonetics is in her response to an M.  Tremeschini in the Bulletin Mensuel de la Société Scientifique d’Études Psychologiques concerning his disavowal of finding any truth “in the theories of Hindû occultism.”65 Her observations on the Bengali pronunciation of Sanskrit are of major interest and therefore worth noting: Mr. Tremeschini believes he has thrown confusion into our ranks by quoting to us Guérin66 and even the great Burnouf, who, in his method of studying the Sanskrit, speaks among other things of the manner of pronouncing the words “according to the Brâhmanas of Bengal.” We have not that particular method at hand at the moment; but we would like to learn whether Burnouf—​one of the most distinguished Indianists—​recommends the accent of “The Brâhmanas of Bengal”? . . . In any case, we are ready to prove that Professor Max Müller, the disciple of Burnouf, an authority himself, has declared himself against the Sanskrit of Bengal where the Brâhmanas pronounce mojjham instead of “mahyam” and koli instead of “kali.”

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  63 In answer to a letter written by us, this is what a Brâhmana from Bengal, a well-​ known patriot, writes us. I translate word for word: I begin with a humiliating confession to which I am forced through respect for truth:  in Bengal, the pronunciation of Sanskrit is recognized by modern Sanskritists—​ European and Hindû—​ to be terribly barbaric and incorrect. This is so true that when the venerable chief of the Brâhmo-​Samâj (Society of Brâhmanas) the patriarchal râjâ, Debendro Nath Tagore, planned to establish at Calcutta his academy of Sanskrit, according to the Vedas, he found it impossible, in spite of the fabulous sums of money he spent, to find a single Pandit in the whole of Bengal who could make himself understood by the Sanskritists of the National College of Benares! . . . It will suffice to say that the three sibilants (whistling letters) are lumped in Bengal into one—​the cerebral. The letters B and V have ceased to be two distinct letters with us; the dental N, and the palatal N are one and the same.

Blavatsky’s observations on Bengali are revealing. First, we are told that she translated a passage from a letter written by a Bengali Brāhmaṇa, which in itself is surprising since there is no mention elsewhere that she knew Bengali. We have, however, no reason to doubt this since she resided in India for four years and had the opportunity to learn the language. This quote and Blavatsky’s observations are in themselves revealing, since the Bengali pronunciation does differ significantly from the Sanskrit spoken in Benares (Varāṇāsī). Indeed, the bilabial “b” is substituted for the labiodental “v,” since the phoneme “v” does not exist in Bengali. Similarly, there is no palatal “n” (ñ) in Bengali, leaving the language with three nasals: the labial “m,” the alveolar “n,” and the velar “n” (ṅ /​ ŋ). Also mentioned are the three sibilants that occur in Sanskrit: palatal “s” (ś), retroflex “s” (ṣ), and dental “s.” Although the passage above states that only the cerebral (i.e., retroflex) appears in Bengali, the opposite is true: the alveolar “s” and palatal (or palato-​alveolar) “ś” or (∫).67 One final example regarding Blavatsky’s awareness of Sanskrit phonological and morphological rules was her repeated emphasis on the distinction of the divine “Brahmā” and eternal “Brahma,” both derived from the nominal stem brahman-​. In her letter to Skinner (February 17, 1887), she writes, But then Brahmâ (male) is not Brahma (neuter) or Parabrahman. Brahmâ’s name is not found in the Rig-​Veda nor in any other Veda, but is a later name, from Brih to expand, to grow & increase hence—​phallic. Brahmâ splits himself into two parts, male & female—​or Vâch, & in Vâch the Aryan Eve the mother of all that lives, he creates Virâj, who is the father of all men & living beings.68

This statement is similar to that contained in the early section of The Secret Doctrine:  “ ‘The Universe lives in, proceeds from and will return to, Brahma (Brahmâ)’: for Brahma (neuter), the unmanifested, is that Universe in abscondito

64  Representations of the East [i.e., in secret], and Brahmá, the manifested, is the Logos, made male-​female in the symbolical orthodox dogmas.”69 The distinction between Brahmâ (masculine) and Brahma (neuter) is a grammatically astute observation that reveals that Blavatsky paid attention to finer points of Sanskrit grammar, in this case the morphology of the language. This recognition also exists in Isis Unveiled,70 where she observes: Brahma [i.e., Brahmâ] is a secondary deity  .  .  .  and has in his allegorical representations four heads, answering to the four cardinal points. He is the demiurgos, the architect of the world. “In the primordiate state of the creation,” says Polier’s Mythologie des Indous, “the rudimental universe, submerged in water, reposed in the bosom of the Eternal. Sprang from this chaos and darkness, Brahma [i.e., Brahmâ], the architect of the world, poised on a lotus-​leaf floated (moved?) upon the waters, unable to discern anything but water and darkness.”

This quote and description is loosely based upon the passage in the first chapter of Marie Elisabeth de Polier’s work.71 Although Polier recognizes a “supreme power” (“Toutpuissant”),72 it is Moor’s Hindu Pantheon73 that clearly distinguishes “Brahm” (i.e., Brahma, the nominative neuter form referring to the Absolute) from “Brahmâ” (i.e., Brahmā, the nominative masculine form referring to the “demiurge” or creator of the universe) that most likely was Blavatsky’s source for distinguishing the names. For anyone having a passing knowledge of Sanskrit, the distinction between Brahma and Brahmā is often overlooked or at best not fully understood, not to mention the many additional senses of brahman-​located throughout Vedic and post-​Vedic compositions. Although she does not refer to Moor’s own extensive discussion, she certainly was aware of its contents. Regarding the origin of her method of distinguishing the neuter from the masculine forms by the use of the circumflex (the macron is now used for the long vowel: thus “ā”), such a distinguishing feature may have originated from Horace Hayman Wilson’s method of using an accent mark (‘) adopted in his Vishnu Purana: thus neuter Brahma and masculine Brahmá.74 The distinction between these two forms is important in Blavatsky’s explanation of the emanation or unfolding of the cosmos, as quoted above and in note 69.

Conclusion Two topics were discussed in this chapter: the importance of Sanskrit as an exoteric sacred language in relation to the esoteric sacerdotal Senzar “language,” and Blavatsky’s knowledge of Sanskrit. Regarding the first topic, which established that the two languages are separate, Senzar as the earlier language existed even before humanity and human languages. Sanskrit, on the other hand, appeared only during the period of the fifth root race. Prior to this period, Senzar is identified as that language that became esoteric at the time of the submersion of Atlantis. As it became

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  65 more restrictive, it was limited only to the very few—​namely, the Initiates. The later languages—​Sanskrit, Zend, Hebrew, Egyptian—​were confined and understood only in their respective countries, regions, and religions, and so became regional and non-​comprehensive languages containing but a fraction of the “Ancient Wisdom.” These languages were sacred, it is true, but only as ancient vernaculars that contained only a fraction of the esoteric wisdom. Blavatsky traces this development as follows: The Tower of Babel myth relates to that enforced secrecy. Men falling into sin were regarded as no longer trustworthy for the reception of such knowledge, and, from being universal, it became limited to the few. Thus, the “one-​lip”—​or the Mystery-​language—​being gradually denied to subsequent generations, all the nations became severally restricted to their own national tongue; and forgetting the primeval Wisdom-​language, they stated that the Lord—​one of the chief Lords or Hierophants of the Mysteries of the Yava-​Aleim—​had confounded the languages of all the earth, so that the sinners could understand one another’s speech no longer. But Initiates remained in every land and nation, and the Israelites, like all others, had their learned Adepts. One of the keys to this Universal Knowledge is a pure geometrical and numerical system, the alphabet of every great nation having a numerical value for every letter, and, moreover, a system of permutation of syllables and synonyms which is carried to perfection in the Indian Occult methods, and which the Hebrew certainly has not.75

It is unclear how Senzar is related to the sacred vernacular languages and to what extent. Blavatsky considered elements of the Ancient Wisdom as expressed in Senzar to be also incorporated in the sacred languages, with Sanskrit perhaps revealing a greater portion of that wisdom to a greater and more perfect degree than other sacred languages. The second topic, Blavatsky’s knowledge of Sanskrit, concludes that Blavatsky was acquainted with Sanskrit phonology and morphology to a certain degree. Since there is very little material on which to base a firm assessment, it certainly appears that she was fully aware of the work of the leading Sanskritists of her day, including Whitney, Müller, Wilson, and Albrecht Weber.76 There is no evidence to suggest, however, that she accessed any Sanskrit passages or material related to Sanskrit directly from Sanskrit sources. With the wealth of publications in and relating to Sanskrit that existed during Blavatsky’s writing career, we cannot deny that she took full advantage of this material. And if the question should arise that the passages in her public writings—​her articles and books—​were corrected and supplemented by her helpers and editors, then look no further than two lengthy letters written to Skinner. In an unpublished letter dated December 25, 1886, she states that the “Sanskrit language has 20 names for one and the same thing in its minute differentiations,” which is certainly true in many instances. In her second letter to Skinner (February 17, 1887), she discusses the “three steps or strides of

66  Representations of the East Vishnu”77; Viṣṇu deriving from the root “vish” (√viṣ)78; the importance of “musical notes”; the large number of consonants and vowels; and the mention of mātras or measures of duration. Regarding the latter, this is the term used to determine the length of vowels, whether the vowel is short (one mātra), long (two mātras), or, in rare instances, pluta or protracted. What her source is for this last topic is unclear. Perhaps the question that should be asked is not whether Blavatsky received formal training in Sanskrit, or whether she was immersed in the mechanics of the language, but whether she possessed the knowledge required to complete her task of extracting from the language the semantic requirements that allowed her to communicate her interpretation and analysis of the Wisdom-​Religion, an esoteric teaching, Theosophists claim, that was unavailable to the public before her disclosures. Although most contemporary academics denied this exoteric-​esoteric division of the teaching, the writer of The Hindu Pantheon was quite explicit in asserting that the religious doctrines of the Hindus were divided into these two categories, and that the esoteric was both hidden from the vulgar and also devoid of the “gross idolatry and irrational superstition.”79 Blavatsky was in perfect agreement with this judgment, so it is to be expected that her own understanding and application of Sanskrit lexical items, as is suggested from the examples presented, would also apply to her clarification of additional terms that were crucial in explaining the Wisdom-​Religion. We need only cite as examples, in addition to the works already mentioned, the Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge80 and The Theosophical Glossary.81 Finally, we should not forget that the esoteric interpretation of Sanskrit terms is important because Sanskrit is one of the languages (Chinese and Tibetan the others) employed to translate the “Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan.”82

Notes 1. Sanskrit is called “the language of the Gods” in Adeltha Henry Peterson (prepared by), “A Short Glossary of Sanskrit and Other Terms,” which appears in Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vols. 1, 5, and 6 (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971), 6:475. It is also quoted in H. P. Blavatsky, “Question VI: ‘Historical Difficulty’—​Why?,” in HPBCW (1997), 5:208. Compare Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (Adyar edition), 1:313 [= Helena P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, vols. 1–​2 (Los Angeles: Theosophy Company, 1974, facsimile of the original ed. of 1888), 1:269]: “The attempt to render in a European tongue the grand panorama of the ever periodically recurring Law . . . by those who reflected the same from the Universal Mind, is daring, for no human language, save the Sanskrit—​which is that of the Gods—​can do so with any degree of adequacy.” Another reference occurs in ibid., 5:114: “As the Hindus claim to have received the Devanāgarī characters from Sarasvatī, the inventress of Sanskrit, the ‘language of the Devasʼ or Gods . . .”; and in ibid., 5:197: “As Homer distinguished between the ‘language of the Gods’ and the ‘language of men’, so did the Hindus. The Devanāgarī, the Sanskrit characters, are the ‘speech of the Gods’, and Sanskrit is the divine language.” In the latter quote, Devanāgarī, a system of recording language, only represents the Sanskrit language (as it does also for modern Hindī) but is considered in this instance a written language. Regarding the mention of Senzar, the quote from The Secret Doctrine regarding a “very old Book” repeats the opening statement of Blavatsky’s, Isis Unveiled:

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  67 There exists somewhere in this wide world an old Book—​so very old that our modern antiquarians might ponder over its pages an indefinite time, and still not quite agree as to the nature of the fabric upon which it is written. It is the only original copy now in existence. The most ancient Hebrew document on occult learning—​the Siphra Dzeniouta was compiled from it, and that at a time when the former was already considered in the light of a literary relic. H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled (Los Angeles: Theosophy Company, 1982), 1:1. A recent discussion of Senzar appears in The Book of Dzyan blog. The blog by David Reigle, “Senzar: A Lost Sacred Language,” The Book of Dzyan (blog), September 15, 2013, http://​​ blog/​category/​senzar, contains a detailed account of Senzar and its relationship to (Vedic) Sanskrit. 2. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:xliii. Three items require additional explanation in this passage: (1) the reference to a “very old Book” (see note 1); (2) the “folios” known under the title Kiu-​ti; and (3) the Sepher Dzeniouta. The “very old Book” was composed in Senzar or “San-​sar” or “language of the sun” in “ancient Sanscrit” characters (? devanāgarī). The passage where this occurs, Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:440, refers to Abbé Huc’s reference to characters appearing on the “Kounboum” (Kumbum Monastery). The mention of M. Huc (Évariste Régis Huc or Abbé Huc) and “Kounboum” refers most likely to Abbé Huc, Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China, 2 vols. (Altenmünster: Jazzybee Verlag, Jürgen Beck, n. d.). References to Kounboum appear in volume 2: “the Lamasery of Kounboum” (p. 7), situated in Amdo (p. 28)—​the northeast province of Tibet, now Qinghai Province. The equation of “San-​sar” characters as “ancient Sanscrit” is unclear since there is little or no evidence that there is any phonetic, morphological, or syntactic relationship between the two languages. Elsewhere, however, Senzar is declared to be “the direct progenitor of the Vedic Sanskrit”: A. Chela, “Was Writing Known before Panini?” in HPBCW (1997), 5:298. I hesitate to make any conclusions from this statement because of the disparity with other observations in her writings. Extensive research has been conducted by David and Nancy Reigle on the Kiu-​ti (or Kiu-​te), identified as the “rGyud sde” in current Tibetan transcription, for which see David Reigle, The Books of Kiu-​te or the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: A Preliminary Analysis (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1983); David Reigle and Nancy Reigle, Blavatsky’s Secret Books (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999); and David Reigle, The Book of Dzyan (blog), http://​​blog/​, accessed July 27, 2019. For a discussion of the Siphra Dzeniouta and the Kabbalah in Blavatsky’s early writings, see Julie Chajes, “Kabbalah in Blavatsky’s Early Works,” in Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions, ed. Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss, Goldstein-​ Goren Library of Jewish Thought 21 (Beer Sheva:  Ben-​Gurion University of the Negav Press, 2016, 33–​72. Ibid., 47n18 notes that the Siphra Dzeniouta was most likely taken from the works of Eliphas Lévi, citing his Fables et symbols avec leur explication (Paris: Germer Baillière, 1862). 3. H. P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (London:  Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892), 107. 4. G. de Purucker, ed., Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1999), accessed November 5, 2017. http://​​pasadena/​etgloss/​ dis-​dz.htm. 5. In Isis Unveiled 1:580, “the Stan-​gyour” (i.e., the Tanjur or Bstan ’gyur) is grouped with other collections, such as “the four Vedas; the Books of Hermes; the Chaldean Book of Numbers; the Nazarene Codex; the Kabala of the Tanaïm; the Sepher Jezira; the Book of Wisdom,” and so on, all teaching the same “secret doctrine.” 6. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Adyar), 5:389; Reigle, Books of Kiu-​te, 1; [H. P. Blavatsky], “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-​rim’ and Dzyan,” in HPBCW (1985), 14:422.

68  Representations of the East 7. The assumption here is that The Book of Dzyān is associated with the Tibetan Buddhist canon according to the sources cited in note 3. This claim was advanced also in Lucifer in 1894 by the Chohan Lama, who is quoted in Blavatsky’s “Tibetan Teachings,” which explores some of the teachings and practices of the Tibetans with the reference to the “Snowy Mountain” that is 160,000 leagues high and various aspects of Tibetan Buddhist teachings and practices. H. P. Blavatsky, “Tibetan Teachings,” Lucifer 15, no. 85 (September 15, 1894): 9–​17; and H. P. Blavatsky, “Tibetan Teachings,” Lucifer 15, no. 86 (October 15, 1894): 97–​104. This relationship of Senzar and the Kiu-​te to the Tibetan Buddhist canon raises some difficulties if one takes into account the entire corpus of Blavatsky’s writings. Since this chapter does not discuss Senzar as its primary topic, it is only incidental in our discussion of Sanskrit and its place within Theosophical teachings. 8. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:27 and n. 9. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 2:200. 10. Chela, “Was Writing Known,” 298. 11. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:39. 12. Ibid.,  2:30. 13. A. P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism, 5th ed. (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1981). 14. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:xx. 15. This spelling is Blavatsky’s way of explaining the distinction between exoteric Buddhism and esoteric Budhism, the latter term referring to the “Ancient Wisdom,” the subject of Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism. It is very likely that she adopted the term from John Dowson’s A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature (London: Trübner, 1879), 64–​65. Therein Budha is translated as “wise, intelligent” with divine reference to the planet Mercury; the son of Soma; the moon; and Rohiṇī or Tārā, wife of Bṛhaspati. Blavatsky discusses Budha in her article, “Misconceptions,” HPBCW (1990), 8:75. Her main point is that Budha is the personification of the secret wisdom. Since he lived thousands of years earlier than Gautama, the Buddha, this esoteric Budhism has “nothing to do with the Buddhist religion.” 16. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:xxi: “the Buddha gave to the world only its outward material body and kept its soul for his Elect. . . . Many Chinese scholars among Orientalists have heard of the ‘Soul Doctrine.’ None seem to have understood its real meaning and importance.” 17. Jungnok Park, How Buddhism Acquired a Soul on the Way to China (Sheffield: Equinox, 2012). 18. Ibid.,  1. 19. Ibid.,  194. 20. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:xliii, 2:712. For a discussion, see John Algeo, Senzar:  The Mystery of the Mystery Language (London:  Theosophical History Centre, 1988), 1–​9; and James A. Santucci, “The Notion of Race in Theosophy,” Novo Religio 2, no. 3 (February 2008): 47–​48. 21. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 2:332. 22. Ibid., 1:xliii. 23. Ibid., 2:198–​99. The second race possessed a rudimentary “Sound-​language” comprised solely of vowels. Following F. Max Müller, Science of Thought, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 1:118, she quotes (or rather paraphrases) Müller: “Thought and language are identical” (Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 2:199n†). The pertinent passage in Müller is the following: “We thought we had established the fact that language and thought are two sides of the same thing, are inseparable, and in one sense identical.” This is mainly based upon Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm von Humboldt’s quotes appearing on page 44. 24. Algeo, Senzar, 11.

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  69 25. Ibid.,  12. 26. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:xxiii. 27. Ibid.,  1:443 28. Ibid.,  1:23. 29. The letters are dated December 25, 1886, and February 17, 1887. The first will be published in Theosophical History in 2018; the second has been published as H. P. Blavatsky, “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to James Ralston Skinner: February 17, 1887,” Theosophical History 18, nos. 1–​2 (January–​April 2016): 24–​75. 30. Ibid.,  46. 31. N.N., “Mme. Blavatsky Again:  A Further Explication of the Buddhist Faith and its Miracles,” New York World, April 2, 1877, 1, reprinted in Theosophical History 4, no. 2 (April 1992): 51–​55. 32. Ibid.,  51. 33. This passage is taken from H. P. Blavatsky, “Some Letters of ‘H. P.  B.,’” The Theosophical Quarterly 5, no. 1: 130, where the complete de Fadeyev letter appears on pp. 126–​35. 34. This passage was reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky, The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 1, ed. John Algeo (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books and Theosophical Publishing House, 2003), letter 88, pp. 314–​28. 35. Ibid., 320. “Adita” is clearly incorrect. In the Theosophical Quarterly (130), the translation is given with more linguistic explanation: “Sky is your father (Dyauh, sky, light, day, den in Russian; pitâ, father, pater), earth is your mother (mâtâ, in Russian, mater, mat), soma is your brother, (Bhrâtâ, brother, Brat in Russian), Aditi is your sister (svasâ, sister, in Russian, sestra).” It is apparent that Mrs. Charles Johnson added the additional linguistic information regarding Russian. In addition, diacritics may have been added by her husband, Charles Johnson, who was a Sanskritist of note. Despite this fact, vad in pāda a is an obvious error. Either Blavatsky committed the error and it was left as part of the original text, or the editors missed this detail. In either instance, the editors should have made note of the error. 36. Although pāda a (dyaúr vaḥ pitā́ pṛthivī́ mātā́) as written contains nine syllables, recitation falls under general rules of prosody, such as the pronunciation in many cases of the semivowels “y” and “v” as their corresponding vowels “i” and “u,” adding one count to the recitation. In this case, the count can be reduced by the recitation of pṛthivī́ from three syllables to pṛthvī́, a variant of the term but with two syllables. 37. A pāda is in this case a quarter part of the entire stanza, thereby identifying the full stanza as composed in the Anuṣṭubh meter. 38. Ṛgveda-​Saṁhitā, with the Commentary of Sāyaṇācārya, vol. 1:  Maṇḍala 1, 2nd ed. (Poona:  Vaidika Saṁśodhana Maṇḍala, 1972). (The first edition was critically edited and published by the Vaidika Saṁśodhana Maṇḍala in 1933.) 39. “Continuous” text or recitation. External sandhi (or saṃdhi) rules apply in “continuous” texts. In pāda a, for instance, “dyaúr” exhibits the sandhi rule present in the saṃhitā text. In the pada-​pāṭha (the word text, i.e., the word is presented in isolation without any external sandhi rules applying), the final sound in this term is the visarga (ḥ): dyaúḥ. The reason for the substitution of “ḥ” to “r” (dyaúr) is due to its assimilation as a voiced consonant to the following voiced sound (“v” in vaḥ). 40. The sibilant “-​s” is also allowable before the voiceless “-​p.” 41. See note 40. The “-​o” in “sómo” occurs before voiced consonants and “a” accompanied with the loss of the short vowel “a”: naro ‘smi. The final dental “s” before another “s” can also assimilate, so áditiḥ svásā can also appear as áditis svásā in some manuscripts. 42. Two examples are Theodor Aufrecht’s Die Hymnen des Rigveda, 2  vols., 4th ed. (Wiesbaden:  Otto Harrassowitz, 1968), which is an edition of the entire Ṛgveda. F.  Max Müller also edited this Saṃhitā in his six-​volume Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita, the Sacred Hymns of

70  Representations of the East the Brahmans:  Together with the Commentary of Sāyaṇāchārya, 6  vols. (London:  William H. Allen, 1849–​1874). 43. This hymn is not included in F.  Max Müller’s translation of the hymns dedicated to the Maruts in F. Max Müller, Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita, vol. 1: Hymns to the Maruts or the Storm-​Gods (London: Trübner, 1869). 44. Numbers 38, 39, 64, 85, 86, 87, 88, 166, 167, 168, and 172 are dedicated solely to the Maruts, a group of gods who represent the thunderstorm. For more information on this group, see Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton, trans., The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 49–​50. 45. Karl Friedrich Geldner, trans., Der Rig-​Veda, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951), 272. Jameson and Brereton, Rigveda, 396 also give the hymn the same title (“Against Poisonous Animals”). In his translation, H. H. Wilson, trans., Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita, vol. 2 (London: Wm. H. Allen, 1854), 201–​206, Wilson identifies the “divinities” to be “Water, Grass, and the Sun.” The hymn is located in Maṇḍala 1, Aṣṭaka 2, Adyāya 5, and Sūkta 12. Aufrecht, Hymnen, 1:470 also suggests Water (ap), grass (tṛṇa), and sun (sūrya). In Hermann Grassmann, trans., Rig-​Veda, vol. 2 (Leipzig:  F. A.  Brockhaus, 1877), 461, Grassmann suggests that the hymn contains magical formulae against harmful vermin, much in keeping with the character of hymns appearing in the Atharva-​veda. Jameson and Brereton follow suit; Jameson and Brereton, Rigveda, 396–​97. 46. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:47. 47. Examples are most likely evident in Müller’s translation; Müller, Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita. 48. She refers to Otto Böhtlingk and Rudolph Roth, eds., Sanskrit-​Wörterbuch, 7  vols. (Saint Petersburg, Russia: Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1855–​1875). The dictionary is online at http://​www.sanskrit-​lexicon.uni-​​scans/​csldoc/​dictionaries/​pwg.html, accessed July 3, 2017. 49. William Dwight Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967) (eleventh issue of the second edition of 1889). The original edition, entitled A Sanskrit Grammar:  Including Both the Classical Language, and the Older Dialects, of Veda and Brahmana, was originally published in 1879 by Breitkopf and Härtel (Leipzig). 50. This was published in Leipzig by Breitkopf and Härtel, 1885. 51. Published in New York by Scribner, Armstrong, 1873. 52. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:47, quote on 138. 53. Friedrich Max Müller, Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 1: Essays on the Science of Religion (London: Longmans, Green, 1867), 8. This also appears in Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:47. 54. See note 59. 55. Müller, Chips, 1:116. The lecture titled “The Aitareya-​Brâhmana” (104–​17) was originally presented in 1864. 56. Ibid.,  1:8. 57. This quote appears in William Dwight Whitney, Oriental and Linguistic Studies: The Veda; The Avesta; The Science of Language (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, 1873), 3, 18 (Brahma-​ Veda); and see Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:47. 58. Her discussion of Müller’s observations in ibid., 2:413–​16 and 592–​93 are good examples of her reliance on Müller and Whitney. 59. The importance of the Atharva-​veda is demonstrated in Franklin Edgerton’s “The Upaniṣads:  What Do They Seek, and Why?,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 49 (1929): 97–​121. See also M. B. Emeneau, “Franklin Edgerton,” Language 40, no. 2 (Aprril–​ June, 1964): 111–​23. 60. Whitney, together with Rudolf von Roth (1821–​95), edited the Atharva-​veda in 1855–​56. Furthermore, he supplied the lexicon of the Atharva-​veda for inclusion in the Sanskrit-​ Wörterbuch as well as editing and translating the Atharva-​Veda Prātiśākhya in Journal of the

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  71 American Oriental Society 7 (1862): 333–​616, and the posthumous translation of the Atharva-​ veda, volumes 7 and 8 of Charles Rockwell Lanman, ed., Harvard Oriental Series (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1905). A select list of Professor Whitney’s writings appears on pp. lvi–​lxi. 61. Müller, Chips, 1:23–​24. 62. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:413–​14. 63. Ibid.,  415. 64. Müller, Chips, 1:8. 65. H. P. Blavatsky, “My Final Word: To the Reply of Mr. Tremeschini,” in HPBCW (1975), 6:85–​ 93, accessed July 7, 2017. http://​​blavatsky/​articles/​v6/​y1883_​ 186.htm. M. Trémeschini, described as “an engineer, spiritist, and occultist, published the Bulletin mensuel of Leymarie’s ‘Société scientifique des etudes psychologiques.’ ” The quote originates from Lynn L. Sharp, Secular Spirituality: Reincarnation and Spiritism in Nineteenth-​ Century France (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), 167. 66. Victor Guérin (1821–​91) was an archaeologist who explored regions in Greece, Asia Minor, and various parts of the Middle East. 67. For more information on the phonology of Bengali, see Suniti Kumar Chatterji, “Bengali Phonetics,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London 2, no. 1 (February 1921): 1–​25. See especially pages 3, 4, 6, 7. 68. H. P. Blavatsky, “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to James Ralston Skinner: Dated February 17, 1887,” transcribed by Jeffrey Lavoie and edited, amended, and annotated by Jerry Hejka-​ Ekins and James A. Santucci, Theosophical History 18, nos. 1–​2 (January–​April 2016): 47. 69. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:8–​9. Brahmā, the Third Logos, is the emanation of the Second Logos, the dual emanation of the active and passive sides of the emanation from the First Logos 70. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:91. 71. Mdme. La Chnsse. de Polier, Mythologie des Indous, vol. 1 (A. Boudolstadt: a la Librairie de la Cour, et a Paris: Chés F. Schoell, Libraire, 1809), 162–​64. 72. Ibid., 164; also “Birmah le Toutpuissant” (Brahma the Omnipotent). This may be the basis of the quote in Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:91: “Direct your prayer to Bhagavant—​the Eternal, known, also as Parabrahma.” 73. Edward Moor, The Hindu Pantheon, new ed. by Rev. W. O. Simpson (Madras: J. Higginbotham, 1864), 1–​11n (first ed., London: J. Johnson, 1810). 74. H. H. Wilson, trans. and ill. by notes, and Fitzedward Hall, ed., The Vishńu Puráńa: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition, 5 vols. (London: Trübner, 1865–​70). 75. [H. P. Blavatsky], “The Eastern Gupta Vidyā and the Kabalah,” in HPBCW (1985), 14:181. 76. For collected bibliographies, see “Secret Doctrine References,” vol. 1, accessed July 13, 2017, https://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdrefs-​hp.htm http://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdr_​vol-​1.htm; and “Secret Doctrine References,” vol. 2, accessed July 13, 2017, https://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdrefs-​hp.htm http://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdr_​vol-​2.htm. See also Tim Rudbøg, “H. P.  Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context:  The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism” (PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012), 453–​535. In Rudbøg, “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context see especially the Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, sources section, 483–​96, and 536–​644 for South Asian sources and the Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, sources section, 594–​609. 77. This may have derived from the following sources:  John Muir, trans., Original Sanskrit Texts, vol. 4, 2nd ed. (London: Trübner, 1874), 40, 98, 135, 141, 229; and Dowson, Classical Dictionary, 360. 78. Dowson, Classical Dictionary, 360.

72  Representations of the East 79. Moor, Hindu Pantheon, 1. 80. The Transactions contained discussions of The Secret Doctrine, which H. P. Blavatsky presided over from January 10 to June 20, 1889. An updated and complete edition of these discussions appeared in 2010 under the title H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine Commentaries:  The Unpublished 1889 Instructions, transcribed and annotated by Michael Gomes (The Hague: I. S. I. S. Foundation). 81. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary. A good secondary source for the study of selected Sanskrit terms and passages is David Reigle’s blog The Book of Dzyan, at http://​, which contains an examination of key concepts in The Secret Doctrine, Sanskrit texts, and manuscripts, among other topics. 82. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine (Los Angeles), 1:23.

Bibliography In the following the abbreviation HPBCW has been used, which in full reads: de Zirkoff, Boris, ed. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. 15 vols. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950–​91. Algeo, John. Senzar:  The Mystery of the Mystery Language. London:  Theosophical History Centre, 1988. Aufrecht, Theodor. Die Hymnen des Rigveda. 2 vols. 4th ed. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1968. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Theosophical Glossary. London:  Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Tibetan Teachings.” Lucifer 15, no. 85 (September 15, 1894): 9–​17. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Tibetan Teachings.” Lucifer 15, no. 86 (October 15, 1894): 97–​104. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. “Some Letters of ‘H. P. B.’: (Part) II.” The Theosophical Quarterly 5, no. 1 (October 1907): 126–​35. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Question VI:  ‘Historical Difficulty’—​Why?” In HPBCW (1997), 5:198–​210. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “My Final Word:  To the Reply of Mr. Tremeschini.” In HPBCW (1975), 6:85–​93. Accessed July 7, 2017. http://​​lavatsky/​articles/​v6/​ y1883_​186.htm. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Misconceptions.” In HPBCW (1990), 8:70–​90. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine. Vols. 1, 5, and 6. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine. 2 vols. In 1. Los Angeles: Theosophy Company, 1974. (Facsimile of the original edition of 1888). Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled. 2 vols. In 1. Los Angeles: Theosophy Company, 1982. (Photographic copy of the original edition of 1877). Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The Eastern Gupta Vidyā and the Kabalah.” In HPBCW (1985), 14:167–​86. Accessed July 7, 2017. http://​​blavatsky/​articles/​v14/​ph_​ 054.htm Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The Secret Books of ‘Lam-​rim’ and Dzyan.” In HPBCW (1985), 14:422–​24. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky. Vol. 1. Edited by John Algeo. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books and Theosophical Publishing House, 2003. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions. Transcribed and annotated by Michael Gomes. The Hague: I. S. I. S. Foundation, 2010. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to James Ralston Skinner: February 17, 1887.” Transcribed by Jeffrey Lavoie, and edited, amended, and annotated by Jerry Hejka-​ Ekins and James A. Santucci. Theosophical History 18, nos. 1–​2 (January–​April 2016): 24–​75. Böhtlingk, Otto, and Rudolph Roth, eds. Sanskrit-​Wörterbuch. 7  vols. Saint Petersburg, Russia: Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1855–​75. Accessed July 3, 2017. http://​ www.sanskrit-​lexicon.uni-​​scans/​csldoc/​dictionaries/​pwg.html.

Blavatsky and the Language of the Gods  73 Chajes, Julie. “Kabbalah in Blavatsky’s Early Works.” In Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions. Edited by Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss, 33–​72. Beer Sheva: Ben-​Gurion University of the Negav Press, 2016. Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. “Bengali Phonetics.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London 2, no. 1 (February 1921): 1–​25. Chela, A. [possibly Helena Petrovna Blavatsky]. “Was Writing Known before Panini?” The Theosophist 5, no. 1 (October, 1883):  18. Accessed July 6 and November 1, 2017. http://​​archive/​materials/​theosophist/​theosophist_​v5_​n49_​october_​1883.pdf. Also in BCW V: 294–​310. Dowson, John. A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature. London: Trübner, Ludgate Hill, 1879. Edgerton, Franklin. “The Upaniṣads: What Do They Seek, and Why?” Journal of the American Oriental Society 49 (1929): 97–​121. de Purucker, G., ed. Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1999. Accessed November 5, 2017. http://​​pasadena/​etgloss/​dis-​dz.htm. Emeneau, M. B. “Franklin Edgerton.” Language 40, no. 2 (April–​June, 1963): 111–​23. Geldner, Karl Friedrich, trans. Der Rig-​Veda. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951. Grassmann, Hermann, trans. Rig-​Veda. Vol. 2. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1877. Huc, Abbé (Évariste Régis Huc). Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China. 2 vols. Altenmünster: Jazzybee Verlag, Jürgen Beck, 2012. Jamison, Stephanie W., and Joel P. Brereton, trans. The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Lévi, Eliphas. Fables et symbols avec leur explication. Paris: Germer Baillière, 1862. Moor, Edward. The Hindu Pantheon. New ed. by Rev. W.  O. Simpson. Madras:  J. Higginbotham, 1864. Muir, John, trans. Original Sanskrit Texts. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. London: Trübner, 1874. Müller, Friedrich Max, ed. Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita: The Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans Together with the Commentary of Sāyaṇāchārya. 6 vols. London: William H. Allen, 1849–​74. Müller, Friedrich Max. Chips from a German Workshop. Vol 1: Essays on the Science of Religion. London: Longmans, Green, 1867. Müller, Friedrich Max, trans. Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita: The Sacred Hymns of the Brahmans. Vol. 1: Hymns to the Maruts or the Storm-​Gods. London: Trübner, 1869. Müller, Friedrich Max. Science of Thought. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887. N.N.“Mme. Blavatsky Again:  A Further Explication of the Buddhist Faith and Its Miracles.” New York World, April 2, 1877, 1, reprinted in Theosophical History 4, no. 2 (1992): 51–​55. Park, Jungnok. How Buddhism Acquired a Soul on the Way to China. Sheffield: Equinox, 2012. Polier de, Mdme. La Chnsse. Mythologie des Indous. Vol 1. A Boudolstadt: a la Librairie de la Cour, et a Paris: chés F. Schoell, Libraire, 1809. Reigle, David. The Books of Kiu-​te or the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: A Preliminary Analysis. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1983. Reigle, David. “Senzar: A Lost Sacred Language.” The Book of Dzyan (blog). September 15, 2013. http://​​blog/​category/​senzar. Reigle, David. The Book of Dzyan (blog). Accessed July 8 to October 31, 2017, http://​​ blog/​. Reigle, David, and Nancy Reigle. Blavatsky’s Secret Books. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999. Ṛgveda-​Saṁhitā, with the Commentary of Sāyaṇācārya. Vol. 1:  Maṇḍala I. Edited by a board consisting of N. S. Sontakke (Managing Editor), C. G. Kashikar, T. S. Varadaraj Sharma, and B. V. Umranikar. 2nd ed. Poona: Vaidika Saṁśodhana Maṇḍala, 1972. Rudbøg, Tim. “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism.” PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012. Santucci, James A. “The Notion of Race in Theosophy.” Novo Religio 2, no.  3 (February 2008): 37–​63. “Secret Doctrine References.” Vol. 1. Accessed July 13, 2017. https://​​ pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdrefs-​hp.htm http://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdr_​vol-​1.htm. “Secret Doctrine References.” Vol. 2.  Accessed July 13, 2017. https://​​ pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdrefs-​hp.htm http://​​pasadena/​sdrefs/​sdr_​vol-​2.htm.

74  Representations of the East Sharp, Lynn L. Secular Spirituality: Reincarnation and Spiritism in Nineteenth-​Century France. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. Esoteric Buddhism. 5th ed. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1981. Whitney, William Dwight. “Atharva-​Veda Prātiśākhya.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 7 (1862): 333–​616. Whitney, William Dwight. Oriental and Linguistic Studies: The Veda; The Avesta; The Science of Language. New York: Scribner, Armstrong, 1873. Whitney, William Dwight. Roots, Verb-​Forms, and Primary Derivatives of the Sanskrit Language. Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1885. Whitney, William Dwight. Atharva-​veda. 2 vols. Harvard Oriental Series 7 and 8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1905. Whitney, William Dwight. Sanskrit Grammar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967. Wilson, H. H. trans. Rig-​Veda-​Sanhita. Vol. 2. London: Wm. H. Allen, 1854. Wilson, H. H., trans. and ill. by notes, and Fitzedward Hall, ed. The Vishńu Puráńa: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition. 5 vols. London: Trübner, 1864–​70.

4 Early Debates in the Reception of Buddhism Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism Tim Rudbøg

The purpose of this chapter is firstly to contextually analyze the origin and meaning of the notion of “esoteric Buddhism” as it was used by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​91) and Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–​1921); and secondly, to analyze debates related to the notion of an esoteric Buddhism. Some important aspects of the Theosophical Society’s involvement with Buddhism have already been documented, such as Henry Steel Olcott’s work,1 but the notion of an “esoteric Buddhism” has received less attention. This chapter will argue that Blavatsky and Sinnett’s notion of an esoteric Buddhism was largely a reception of Mahāyāna Buddhism within the framework of Theosophy, and the primary reason that the notion of an esoteric Buddhism clashed with the Orientalists was because the Orientalists primarily based their reception of Buddhism on the Pāli Canon. Both the Theosophists and the Orientalists were recipients of Buddhism but of different Buddhist traditions and framed on different premises; however, both groups framed the major contours of what is often termed “Western Buddhism” or “modern Buddhism.”2 Much has been written on the reception of “Buddhism” in the West,3 and it is widely known that Buddhism is a Western Orientalist construct similar to the term Hinduism. However, in order to contextualize Blavatsky and Sinnett’s reception, a few outlines are deemed necessary here. In many respects L’Introduction à l’historie du buddhisme indien, by the French philologist Eugène Burnouf (1801–​52) and published in 1844, was the first systematic survey of Buddhist history and Buddhist doctrines.4 Until Burnouf ’s work Buddhism had been neither properly distilled from Hinduism nor more generally understood as a specific tradition.5 Once scholars gradually became more certain that Gautama Buddha and his teachings represented a distinct religious tradition, some of the most pertinent questions were, in this regard, whether Buddhism originated in Africa, East Asia, or India, and whether it was older than Brahmanism or vice versa.6 These debates were more firmly settled by Burnouf ’s work, but the anteriority of Buddhism over Brahmanism was still mentioned as an existing view in 1849 when J. Low, in his “General Observations on the Contending Claims to

76  Representations of the East Antiquity of Brahmans and Buddhists,” stated that not all follow the conviction that Brahmanism is the oldest.7 In the second half of the nineteenth century, the historical Buddha was central and primarily viewed as a reformer of Brahmanism, like Luther of Christianity, and the various Buddhist traditions, which had spread widely outside the place of the origin of Buddhism in India, were viewed as later corruptions with their myths, gods, and metaphysical speculations. A quest for the original historical and true form of Buddhism therefore set in, which was especially facilitated by the British scholar and former official to Ceylon, Thomas W. Rhys Davids who, together with his wife Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids, a prominent Pāli scholar, established the Pali Text Society in 1881. In their work the Buddha and Buddhism are construed as ethical psychology, a science of the mind redeemed from ritual and religious mythology. As such, the pure original Buddhism would have been rational, non-​ supernatural, non-​devotional, non-​miraculous, non-​mythological, non-​secretive, and democratic.8 The little knowledge that existed of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna was thereby significantly disregarded. Also, it was not considered as worthy to study living traditions compared to the texts of the earliest traditions in the possession of Western scholars, because the latter point back to the original Buddhism rather than later distorted forms thereof.9 The German Indologist Hermann Oldenberg, for example, therefore based his highly popular account of the historical Buddha, Buddha: Sein Leben, seine Lehre, seine Gemeinde (1881, English translation 1882), on Pāli texts. Here Buddha, similar to the extremely popular poem by Edwin Arnold entitled The Light of Asia (1879), emerges as a modern heroic figure who fought for enlightenment against tradition. Around this time Buddhism was—​due to these and other works—​a matter of great interest to the wider populace, yet, as several scholars have pointed out, many of the core ideas of Buddhism were still not properly understood. The doctrine of nirvāṇa was given a highly pessimistic and nihilistic bent by philosophers and scholars ranging from Schopenhauer to Max Müller and only later in the twentieth century became more nuanced, as did knowledge of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna traditions.10 It is also worth noting that while Buddhism was both an object of scholarly interest and gaining wider interest among the broader population, it also raised great concern among Christians influencing scholarship itself. The so-​called Christian polemics against Buddhism, which especially emerged due to the growing popularity of Buddhism and due to the many similarities it was found to share with Christianity, can clearly be observed in the work of the scholar and clergyman Jules Barthélemy-​Saint-​Hilarie’s Le Bouddha et sa religion (1860), which also became one of the most popular works on Buddhism at the time. The work itself was basically an attempt to discredit Buddhism and establish the superiority of Christianity. Joscelyn Godwin has in fact noted that both Hilarie and Müller thought of Buddhism as “a kind of collective madness, which was a convenient way of disposing of things for which their immense learning had no pigeon hole.”11

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  77 This is reflected in Müller’s statement, that “in no religion are we so constantly reminded of our own as in Buddhism, and yet in no religion has man been drawn away so far from the truth as in the religion of Buddhism. Buddhism and Christianity are indeed the two opposite poles with regard to the most essential points of religion.”12 A similar sentiment was expressed by Müller’s colleague at Oxford professor Monier Monier-​Williams (1819–​99) in the final section of his book Buddhism, in Its Connexion with Brahmanism and Hinduism, and in Its Contrast with Christianity (1889), entitled “Buddhism Contrasted with Christianity.”13 One of the central concerns was of course the element of nihilism in Buddhism—​something that was also a topic of concern addressed by Müller in his lectures published as The Science of Religion: With a Paper on Buddhist Nihilism (1872). Blavatsky and Sinnett made their entrance in the above context aware of the significance of the relatively recent emergence of knowledge about Buddhism14 and also of the specific conceptualization of Buddhism. While positive about the growing knowledge of Buddhism, Blavatsky at the same time posed a critique that strikes at the heart of the debates that had emerged about an esoteric Buddhism. “And even now, that science is in possession of various sacred texts, what they have are but very incomplete editions of these works, and nothing, positively nothing of the secret sacred literature of Buddhism.”15 In line with Blavatsky’s statement Sinnett published a book with the title Esoteric Buddhism (1883), which clearly highlights the notion of a secret form of Buddhism.

Esoteric Buddhism What does Sinnett mean by Esoteric Buddhism? He states that the book is related to Buddhist doctrine,16 but at the same time specifies that esoteric Buddhism, rather than being the title of a specific school of Buddhism, is that dimension of Buddhism that conflates with the esoteric or inner dimension of other faiths.17 Buddhism in the more general sense is, however, portrayed as a special case, because “exoteric Buddhism has remained in closer union with the esoteric doctrine than any other popular religion.”18 The esoteric dimension is emphasized as something most central to Buddhism, whereas the ethical code, highlighted by Orientalists as a central element in original Buddhism, is construed as something secondary that only hints at an even more profound dimension in Buddhism. Buddhism, above all, is a religion that has enjoyed a dual existence from the very beginning of its introduction to the world. The real inner meaning of its doctrines has been kept back from uninitiated students, while the outer teachings have merely presented the multitude with a code of moral lessons and a veil, symbolical literature, hinting at the existence of knowledge in the background.19 The greater populace was, as mentioned, very interested in obtaining information about Buddhism, and in part Sinnett’s book became a bestseller by claiming

78  Representations of the East to finally reveal those aspects of Buddhism that had been “so jealously guarded hitherto.”20 The book clearly displays the sort of esoteric Orientalism rooted in “Romantic Orientalism” that emerged with the Theosophical Society.21 Eastern religions and philosophies were understood in relation to the notion of an ancient secret universal Wisdom-​Religion and the assertion that this wisdom could best be learnt from actual acquaintance with authentic initiated masters such as the Theosophical Mahatmas. Sinnett received his information from his engaged correspondence with the Mahatmas and Blavatsky already stated in the first sentence of Isis Unveiled that “The work now submitted to the public judgment is the fruit of some-​what intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science.”22 Only secondarily it seems, proponents of an esoteric East found that philological study and interpretation of scriptures could reveal the correct meaning of a tradition. Furthermore, one would then need to at least have the right esoteric keys of interpretation to reveal the true meaning.23 Buddha was therefore understood as an authentic occult adept in possession of secret knowledge of the Wisdom-​Religion. However, that which, sets the Buddha apart from others was his choice to reveal much of it for the benefit of humanity.24 The wisdom of the Buddha was thus universal, anterior to the Buddha, and not specifically Buddha-​ism or the Buddha’s own invention.25 While Blavatsky perhaps had a more nuanced understanding of nirvāṇa than most Orientalists at the time26, Blavatsky and Sinnett also interpreted nirvāṇa into their system of Theosophy and framed it as a state of being, one level of reality, in the larger cosmological framework.27 Sinnett later regretted having written that Buddhism was a religion in closer proximity to its esoteric aspect than other religions,28 but this and the notion of an esoteric Buddhism was in fact quite in line with ideas already set forth by Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled and later in The Secret Doctrine. In Isis Unveiled Blavatsky already entertained the notion of an “esoteric Buddhism.” When we use the term Buddhists, we do not mean to imply by it either the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama-​Buddha, nor the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which in its essence is certainly identical with the ancient wisdom-​religion of the sanctuary, the Pre-​ Vedic Brahmanism.29

And furthermore, “By Buddhism, therefore, we mean that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhârtha Sakyamuni.”30 The notion of an esoteric Buddhism was clearly present already in Isis Unveiled, in which it was also associated with “Pre-​ Vedic Brahmanism” and construed as “Pre-​Vedic Buddhism” and the idea that these represent the essence of the original Wisdom-​Religion. Blavatsky’s standpoint was generally that in ancient Indian prehistory a shared pan-​religious tradition existed, which only later condensed into the various traditions and systems. This

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  79 original shared tradition is what she also referred to when stating that “Pre-​Vedic Brahmanism and Buddhism are the double source from which all religions sprung; Nirvana is the ocean to which all tend.”31 Many have mentioned Blavatsky’s notion of a so-​called pre-​Vedic Buddhism, but hitherto it has stood as a somewhat odd statement. However, if Blavatsky’s notion, that Buddhism pre-​dates Vedic times, is read into the debates about Buddhism in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the idea is not that peculiar considering the fact that only twenty to thirty years earlier it was still debated whether Brahmanism or Buddhism was the earliest teaching.32 Blavatsky and thereby Sinnett also participated in an interpretation of Buddhism in the West that has still largely remained unstudied outside the study of esotericism. Godfrey Higgins’s Anacalypsis: An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions (1833–​ 36) and Hargrave Jennings’s Indian Religions, or Results of the Mysterious Buddhism (1858) are almost completely forgotten by historians of religion, but Blavatsky read both authors with great interest and made abundant use them. Higgins tried to establish the dating of the history of the various religions in relation to astrological ages and the attached symbolism, such as the Age of Taurus and the Age of Pisces, and believed to have discovered that the so-​called golden age spoken of in most religious traditions ended around the time of the Mahābhārata or Great War; Higgins was of the opinion that Buddhism was the common universal religion before the end of that golden age. He for example wrote, When the first religious war, probably that of the Maha-​barat, arose, then ended the golden age—​the age of the universal religion. The universal prevalence of Buddhism is a fact, not a theory. I think I may also say the same of the wars of the Maha-​barat and the origin of sects. Every where as we advance in time, the remains of a decayed system, in endless variety, display themselves, and support the truth of the tradition of the story of the golden age—​the universal tradition of all ancient and profane history. Every where we find the original system, and every where signs of its decay. This system was the “secret universal system, that of Buddha” and it was this ancient original Indian religion from which later systems arose.33

About thirty years later than Higgins, Jennings would continue along the same line of thought in his Indian Religions. Jennings wrote, “BUDDHISM, which, with its truths, underlies all the religious beliefs of the East, and which, though free of all the ceremonial . . . undoubtedly was the origin of the modern Brahmanical religion”34 and that “BRAHMANISM may be considered to be the starred and decorated, and human-​marked child of its inexpressibly sublimely descended parent, Buddhism.”35 This is almost to the letter the discourse adapted by Blavatsky. Blavatsky clearly continued this reception and idea that Buddhism was the original system. Furthermore, she also adopted the notion contrary to the Orientalist scholarship of her time that Nepal and Tibet are some of the few places where Buddhism still remained in a more or less uncorrupted form. Blavatsky wrote,

80  Representations of the East Both in Western and Eastern Thibet, as in every other place where Buddhism predominates, there are two distinct religions, the same as it is in Brahmanism—​ the secret philosophy and the popular religion. . . . The Buddhism of Nepal being the one which may be said to have diverged less than any other from the primeval ancient faith, the Lamaism of Tartary, Mongolia, and Thibet, which is a direct offshoot of this country, may be thus shown to be the purest Buddhism.36

This assertion stands in direct concordance with both Higgins and Jennings. Higgins for example stated that “No person has turned his mind to the consideration of the religion of Tibet, which is the only country in which we have the Buddhist religion in any thing like its original purity,”37 and Jennings wrote that “[Buddhism] still subsists, in all its purity, in Nepaul, as well as in Tibet.”38 The Secret Doctrine (1888) is essentially based around the notion of “trans-​ Himalayan wisdom” being the purest source of esotericism, and it is basically supposed to be an exposition of a portion of this “trans-​Himalayan esotericism.”39 In specific relation to Buddhism, The Secret Doctrine seeks to rectify the title of Sinnett’s book by arguing that the title rather should have been esoteric “Budhism,” with only one “d,” to designate “wisdom,” rather than Buddha-​ism, as indicated by Buddhism with a double “d.”40 Blavatsky does, however, continue to speak of esoteric Buddhism by mentioning esoteric Buddhist schools that are a part of the religion Buddhism, such as the Yogacāra school founded by Asaṅga, and she often engages in philosophical debates with Mahāyāna schools such as the Yogacāra and the Madhyamaka of Nāgārjuna.41 In posthumously published articles on Buddhism, Blavatsky also clearly continued the argumentation that within the religion of Buddhism and outside “Western Buddhism,” namely scholarship of the Orientalists, there can be found evidence of secret doctrines within Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.42 She for example wrote, For, while the Southern Buddhists have no idea of the existence of an Esoteric Doctrine—​enshrined like a pearl within the shell of every religion—​the Chinese and the Tibetans have preserved numerous records of the fact. Degenerate, fallen as is now the Doctrine publicly preached by Gautama, it is yet preserved in those monasteries in China that are placed beyond the reach of visitors. And though for over two millennia every new “reformer”, taking something out of the original, has replaced it by some speculation of his own, still truth lingers even now among the masses. But it is only in the Trans-​Himlayan fastnesses—​loosely called Tibet—​ in the most inaccessible spots of desert and mountain, that the Esoteric “Good Law”—​the “Heart’s Seal”—​lives to the present day in all its pristine purity.43

To Blavatsky the esoteric “Heart’s Seal,” namely “Heart Doctrine,” as distinct from the exoteric “Eye doctrine,” is the only real one, and the idea that Gautama Buddha had an esoteric doctrine she finds corroborated by Hiuen Tsang, among other sources.

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  81 In his translation of Mahâ-​Prajñâ-​Pâramitâ (Ta-​poh-​je-​King), in one hundred and twenty volumes, it is stated that it was Buddha’s “favourite disciple Ananda,” who, after his great Master had gone into Nirvâna, was commissioned by Kâsyapa to promulgate “the Eye of the Doctrine,” the “Heart” of the Law having been left with the Arhats alone.44

Some aspects of the critique of Theosophical Buddhism or esoteric Buddhism that arose among Orientalists should be seen in the context that, while Theosophists favored Northern Buddhism and largely entertained a Mahāyāna-​oriented discourse about the esoteric teachings of the Buddha, these were the exact forms of Buddhism that were viewed as later monstrous corruptions by the Orientalists who favored Pāli Buddhism.45 Many of the doctrines that Sinnett and Blavatsky associated with their universal version of esoteric Buddhism still do not exactly match any known school of Buddhism,46 but it should be noted that at the time these doctrines were never really the focus of the debates with the Orientalists. It was rather the notion of an esoteric Buddhism and the impossibility of this notion in the mirror of Pāli scriptures—​today scholarship of course abounds with studies of and references to esoteric traditions of Buddhism in various countries.47

Debates about Esoteric Buddhism In the nineteenth century many, including Theosophists, confused Theosophy with Buddhism. This was hardly surprising since Isis Unveiled was portrayed as a “Buddhist work,” Sinnett’s work was entitled Esoteric Buddhism, Blavatsky and Olcott had been formally initiated into Buddhism, Olcott worked significantly for the revival of Buddhism, and The Secret Doctrine was claimed to be based on secret Tibetan teachings. This confusion therefore naturally colored the debates that arose and was why some scholars found it necessary to debate the Buddhism of Theosophy. The more important matter was, however, primarily provoked by the publication of Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism, as nearly all the scholars who commented on Theosophical Buddhism were convinced that no such thing existed. The following will show how Theosophical Buddhism was such an influential part of the reception of Buddhism in the nineteenth century that it was debated by many of the most prominent Orientalists. Beginning with the nephew of the respected philologist Jean-​Louis Burnouf and cousin to the famous Buddhist scholar Eugène Burnouf already mentioned, Émile-​Louis Burnouf (1821–​1907) was in his own right a prominent professor at the Faculté de lettres at Nancy University and known for his Dictionnaire classique sanscrit-​français (1863) and many other works. Contrary to a number of his Orientalist colleagues, he wrote about the Theosophical Society while Blavatsky was still alive and was quite positive toward Theosophical Buddhism. In his “Le Bouddhisme en Occident,”48 he clearly viewed the Theosophical Society as a society

82  Representations of the East fighting the modern Western mindset constituted by “indifference” and “the fight for survival,” a mission he admired and a reformative project he felt was very similar to that of original Buddhism.49 To him Buddhism was hardly a specific religion but a moral and intellectual reform project.50 He perhaps therefore found the Theosophical Society to be on par with Buddhism and in fact saw it as a modern form of Buddhism: “Elle est purement bouddhique; les publications pratiques de la société sont ou des livres bouddhiques traduits, ou des ouvrages originaux inspirés par l’enseignement du Bouddha. La société a donc un caractère bouddhique.”51 He did, however, not agree about the notion of an esoteric Buddhism, which, to him, would go against the non-​sectarian element he found to be the very characteristic of Buddhism. “Au point de vue de la doctrine, le bouddhisme n’a point de mystères; le Bouddha prêchait en paraboles; mais une parabole est une comparaison développée et n’a rien en soi de symbolique.”52 Blavatsky responded to Burnouf ’s article with great satisfaction in an article entitled “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future” published in Lucifer (August 1888). She expressed honor and gratitude that an authority such as Burnouf had commented positively about the Theosophical Society but also found it necessary to emphasize that the Theosophical Society is not Buddhism, as the Theosophical Society is absolutely non-​sectarian.53 She of course also disagreed about the lack of esotericism in Buddhism: “herein lies,” she wrote, “the great mistake of all the Orientalists. There is an esoteric doctrine, a soul-​ennobling philosophy, behind the outward body of ecclesiastical Buddhism.”54 Joseph Edkins (1823–​1905), the well-​known British Sinologue, philologist, linguist, and protestant missionary, who spent fifty-​seven years in China, published his fundamental work Chinese Buddhism: A Volume of Sketches, Historical, Descriptive, and Critical in 1880. His work dealing with Mahāyāna-​oriented Buddhism abounds with references to esoteric Buddhism and secret doctrines in Buddhism and thereby naturally became a source of debate.55 Edkins wrote, “At seventy-​one years of age, Buddha gave instruction in his esoteric or mystic doctrine. . . . Nagardjuna lays it down as a rule that “every Buddha” has both a revealed and a mystic doctrine. The esoteric is for the Bodhisattwas and advanced pupils, such as Kashiapa.”56 Edkins furthermore uses the distinction between “exoteric and esoteric schools” of Chinese Buddhism57 and states that “The common word for the esoteric schools is ‘dan, the Sanscrit Dhyana.’ ”58 This could of course spark the imagination about an esoteric dimension to Buddhism, however, Edkins sums up his interpretation of the esoteric dimension of these Mahāyāna traditions in the following and at the time more or less agreed manner: “Yet it does not appear that there was any secret doctrine which those who knew it would not divulge. What they held was simply a protest against the neglect of the heart, and dependence on book knowledge and the performance of outward rites.” He continues by stating that the doctrines were therefore given orally and that they have been collected in the “Records of the Sayings” (Yü-​luh).59 Any superficial reading of Edkins’s work will show that it was fundamental to Blavatsky’s own work and statements about Buddhism and the use

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  83 of “dhyāna,” but Blavatsky insisted in her response that “the genuine Esoteric literature is ‘inaccessible’ to this day, and that the respectable gentleman who was inspired to state that ‘it does not appear that there was any secret doctrine which those who knew it would not divulge,’ made a great mistake.”60 To Blavatsky “all those Yu-​luh (‘Records of the Sayings’) of celebrated teachers are simply blinds” needing a key to interpret their true meaning.61 In other words secrecy was to Edkins simply discourse, whereas to Blavatsky it was indicative of a real secret doctrine. In his book Buddhism, in Its Connexion with Brāhmanism and Hindūism, and in Its Contrast with Christianity (1889), Monier-​Williams is, like Edkins, familiar with esoteric schools of Buddhism, and he includes a lecture that is even entitled “Mystical Buddhism in Its Connexion with the Yoga Philosophy” (earlier given as an annual address read before the Victorian Institute, or Philosophical Society of Great Britain, June 1, 1888, and privately published). Monier-​Williams writes, “We learn from Mr. Sarat Chandra Das that in the monastery of Galden in Tibet there is at this moment a college specially devoted to the teaching of Esoteric and Mystical Buddhism” and reasons “Of course it was only natural that, with the association of Buddhism with the later Yoga and Saivism, the Buddha himself should have become a center for the growth of supernatural and mystical ideas,”62 namely that this sort of esoteric Buddhism is a later form. “Originally Buddhism set its face against all solitary asceticism and all secret efforts to attain sublime heights of knowledge. It had no occult, no esoteric system of doctrine which it withheld from ordinary men.”63 In The Secret Doctrine Blavatsky argues contrarily that Gautama, the Buddha, derived much of his knowledge from esoteric Brahmanism, into which he had been initiated, and which the Upaniṣads also to some degree represent, and she therefore challenges the statement just quoted by Monier-​Williams. She polemically remarks that “one claiming authority, namely, Sir Monier Williams, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, has just denied this fact.”64 In the same lecture Monier-​Williams, however, interestingly enough also discusses the “Buddhist ‘Brothers’ called Mahatmas” and their yogic powers, including the ability to move and appear outside the physical body in an ethereal form. He compares the idea with narratives from Edward Burnett Tylor’s Primitive Culture and the story of Simon Magus while considering the possibility of such phenomena.65 As a part of this inquiry he also discusses “Modern Esoteric Buddhism and Occultism” and quotes from both Sinnett and Olcott. While largely skeptical in tone, he does state that “Few will deny altogether the truth of such contention [Olcott’s argument that we might find potential powers in man in the future not discovered yet], however much they may dissent from Colonel Olcott’s theosophical views. There may be, of course latent faculties in humanity which are at present quite unsuspected, and yet are capable of development in the future.”66 Furthermore, Monier-​Williams contends “the subject of mystical Buddhism ought not to be brushed aside as unworthy of consideration. It furnishes, in my opinion, a highly interesting topic of inquiry, especially in its bearing in the ‘neo-​Buddhism’, and ‘Theosophy’ of the present day.”67

84  Representations of the East Monier-​ Williams’s colleague and competitor Müller could also not resist discussing esoteric Buddhism and engaged in dialogues with Olcott, Anagarika Dharmapala, and Sinnett. In a critical tone Müller wrote in his discussion, for example, about Christianity and Buddhism: Who has not suffered lately from Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism? Journals are full of it, novels overflow with it, and oh! the private and confidential letters to ask what it all really means. . . . Esoteric Buddhism has no sweet odour in the nostrils of Sanskrit and Pali scholars. They try to keep aloof it.68

Müller’s problem was presumably here Blavatsky’s views in Isis Unveiled that Buddhism when compared with Christianity was much older and more original, even though the two religions share many similarities. Theosophy and the notion of an esoteric Buddhism had in fact become so popular that many Christians began critically debating and asking questions about their own religion. George Hawkins Pember for example wrote in his Theosophy, Buddhism, and the Signs of the End (1892) that “in view of the recent spread of Theosophic Philosophy” it is necessary to discuss this child of Satan. He was concerned, as it is “exercising so extensive an influence upon our literature, and has more or less affected so many minds, that a word of caution is necessary.”69 Müller has, however, already sought to comfort his Christian readers by emphasizing that truth need neither be the oldest nor counted in membership-​numbers to be the truth.70 In May 1893 Müller more unreservedly directed new critical attention to the notion of esoteric Buddhism published in The Nineteenth Century. Here especially Blavatsky, that “clever, wild, and excitable girl,”71 and Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism were the targets. He argued that ever since antiquity India has suffered from imaginary and false reports, and that sometimes people are simply misled or misinterpret what they hear due to lack of learning, as in the recent case of Louis Jacolliot.72 Similar to other misrepresentations, the Theosophists entertain this idea of an esoteric Buddhism, which they have learnt from Mahatmas in Tibet.73 But “no one can study Buddhism unless he learns Sanskrit and Pali” otherwise they will be fooled or misinterpret what they hear.74 This is the case with so-​called esoteric Buddhism. Blavatsky did not invent esoteric Buddhism but was deceived by her Buddhist contacts. “She was deceived by persons who saw that she almost wished to be deceived, and that she had no means whatever of defending herself against deceit.”75 In other words Blavatsky was too ignorant to know better. The deception is clear because “if there is any religion entirely free from esoteric doctrine it is Buddhism. There never was any such thing as mystery in Buddhism” and “Whatever of esoteric teaching there may have been in other religions, there was none in the religion of Buddha. Whatever was esoteric or secret was ipso facto not Buddha’s teaching.”76 This last sentence, however, holds a clue to Müller’s Orientalist reasoning, because when he states that which is esoteric is not Buddha’s teaching, he presumably means that it was not a part of the original

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  85 true and pure teachings of the Buddha as he appears in the Pāli canon. In this light he specifies that he does not mean to say that Buddhism has never been corrupted and vulgarised when it became the religion of barbarous or semi-​barbarous people in Tibet, China, and Mongolia; nor should I wish to deny that it has in some places been represented by knaves and impostors as something mysterious, esoteric, impenetrable, and unintelligible. It is true also, that particularly in so-​called Mahayana Buddhism, there are certain treatises which are called secret . . . ; but they are secret, not as being withheld from anybody, but simply as containing more difficult and recondite doctrines.77

In other words there are forms of Buddhism such as those in Tibet and China, that is, Mahāyāna in general, that have esoteric and more recondite doctrines, but these are corruptions upheld by barbarous people, knaves, and impostors. One can in this light easily see how Blavatsky was deceived, even though Müller does agree with Blavatsky’s claim that much of the Mahāyāna tradition is still unknown to Oriental scholarship.78 Müller, however, contests that we should go to Blavatsky for this knowledge rather than manuscript libraries.79 Müller also thinks that Olcott’s work with Southern Buddhism is admirable and that he hates to see it overshadowed by Blavatsky’s “esoteric twaddle.”80 Already in June 1893, much to Müller’s surprise, Sinnett responds in The Nineteenth Century stating that Müller has possibly never really read Sinnett’s works, including Esoteric Buddhism, and that Blavatsky in fact did not have anything to do with this book and that it was not supposed to be focused on the Buddhist religion, as such.81 Müller responds in August in The Nineteenth Century doubting Sinnett’s statements about Blavatsky’s role and tries to close the debate by stating that he “never claimed to speak with authority. Far from it! I simply speak with facts and arguments.”82 Another scholar of the comparative study of religion, Merwin-​Marie Snell, who served as the president of the scientific section of the Parliament of World’s Religions (Chicago, 1893), also published a study of the connection between Theosophy and Buddhism in 1895 entitled “Modern Theosophy in Its Relation to Hinduism and Buddhism,” which perhaps was provoked by Müller’s discussion, as he wrote similar to Sinnett’s reply that “If Max Müller had read the latter work [The Secret Doctrine] he would have been obliged, I think, to alter some of the judgments expressed in his article on Theosophy published recently in the Nineteenth.”83 To Snell, like others, it was unquestionable that Theosophy was an unequivocal contrast to the Buddhism of the Suttapitaka, “but when we leave the so-​called Hinayâna Buddhism and look to Tibet and Japan, at present the two greatest strongholds of the Buddhist religion, and to Nepal, the original home of the Mahâyâna, the case is altered.”84 Snell then gives numerous examples of esoteric Buddhism in Mahāyāna, and tantra and Buddhism in Nepal and Tibet to illustrate his case. He argues that

86  Representations of the East “It must be admitted that Theosophy has in many particulars a close resemblance to certain forms of the Mahâyâna Buddhism, and that the latter is alleged by its followers to have been in some sense esoteric.”85 This last statement he, however, nuances by arguing that the esoteric element in Mahāyāna and Nāgārjuna’s school in all likelihood are post-​fact explanations and justifications of the introduction of otherwise indefensible doctrinal novelties, and therefore really go against the theory of a continuous esoteric tradition since the time of the Buddha.86 He also finds that no Buddhist system is similar to the doctrines of Theosophy: “I have not found in any form of Buddhism the peculiar theory of incarnation, the peculiar cosmogony, or many of the details of philosophical opinion characteristic of Theosophy, and must thence conclude that Theosophy is not ‘esoteric Buddhism.’ ”87 His theory is that the Buddhism in Theosophy has undergone a “hindunization”88 and while he finds Theosophy to be closer to Hinduism,89 he also contents that while not identical with any of the various traditions of Buddhism, it is in fact based upon “Yogâ’câra and Tântrika (Kâla ‘Cakra) schools of the Mâhayâna although, as I have already intimated, it is so much more Hindunized than even they are that its center of gravity unquestionably falls a long way within the lines of Hinduism.”90 In the same year Laurence Austine Waddell (1854–​1938), British explorer and professor of Tibetan, published one of the first systematic books on Tibetan Buddhism, The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism (1895). Waddell’s standpoint regarding later Buddhism, whether it is Mahāyāna, Tibetan Buddhism, or “Lamaism,” was quite clear and shared by almost all Orientalists: with its adoption of Tāntrism, so-​called, Buddhism entered on its most degenerate phase. Here the idolatrous cult of female energies was grafted upon the theistic Mahāyāna and the pantheistic mysticism of Yoga. And this parasite seized strong hold of its host and soon developed its monstrous growths, which crushed and strangled most of the little life yet remaining of the purely Buddhist stock.91

The history of Buddhism is largely that of degeneration from the original and pure teachings of Gautama found in the Pāli canon. Waddell could apparently also not refrain from commenting on Theosophy in this major work. He wrote that It is with this essentially un-​Buddhistic school of pantheistic mysticism—​which, with its charlatanism, contributed to the decline of Buddhism in India—​that the Theosophists claim kinship. Its so-​called “esoteric Buddhism” would better be termed exoteric, . . . for it is foreign to the principles of Buddha.

Waddell furthermore argues that the Theosophical Mahatmas supposedly living in Tibet are unknown to the Tibetan lamas but in addition to this emphasizes that “the mysticism of the Lamas is charlatanism of a mean necromantic order, and does not even comprise clever jugglery or such an interesting psychic phenomenon as mesmerism, and certainly nothing worthy of being dignified by the name

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  87 of ‘natural secrets and forces.’ ”92 In other words, why would the Theosophists even want to be associated with this kind of tradition in the first place? While many of the abovementioned established scholars found Theosophical Buddhism to be false, because it heralded a Mahāyāna-​oriented notion of esoteric Buddhism that was contrary to early Pāli-​based Buddhism, other fringe commentators, such as the spiritualist and Orientalist William Emmette Coleman (1843–​1909) and the Buddhist and soldier in the British army Arthur Lillie (1831–​1911), who are both primarily remembered because of their criticism of Blavatsky, found Theosophical Buddhism to be made up of a variety of ideas from different sources and therefore not to be Buddhism at all on this account.93 The year after Müller, Waddell, Snell, and others had discussed Theosophical Buddhism, the spearhead of the pure Buddhism tradition, Davids, also found it necessary to comment on Blavatsky and Theosophy in his significant study published in 1896 entitled Buddhism: Its History and Literature. In this book, while speaking about Tibetan Buddhism as the “latest phase of the corruption of Buddhism,” he also felt expected to say a few words about Theosophy and Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism. He wrote, “if there is anything that can be said with absolute certainty about the book it is that it is not esoteric, and not Buddhism.”94 He therefore wondered why Sinnett would give it that curious title. He continues, like most other Orientalists, to argue that the “original Buddhism was the very contrary to esoteric,” as the Buddha spoke openly and despised metaphysics.95 Again Davids argues based on the Pāli cannon and quotes therefrom examples of anti-​esotericism. He then goes on like Müller and Snell to acknowledge that the “Maha Yana” Buddhism has books that claim to be esoteric teachings, and that they relate to magic and tantric charms, but dismisses these as later developments and, like Snell, as the only way they could call themselves Buddhists and claim new ideas.96 These later traditions and Theosophy are basically opposed to the most essential Buddhist doctrines.97 Davids regards the doctrines in Esoteric Buddhism as being exoteric or readily available Indian teachings, especially “Yoga philosophy, which is perfectly accessible to all the world.”98 After his dismissal of any esoteric Buddhism he, however, feels that it would only be fair to say that the Theosophists do not associate their doctrines with esoteric Buddhism any longer; that not all Theosophists are into the “half-​savage practices of magic, black and white”99; and that there are in fact many sincere students among them who do much good and devote much time to Eastern philosophies and religions.100 In other words, the central problem was the notion of an esoteric Buddhism. Many years later in 1914 he would, however, entertain an even less positive opinion about the Theosophists: Of course I am aware of the pretentions put forward by the adherents of what is called Theosophy, but to the student they are of no importance whatever. The exponents of that creed are lamentably ignorant of the literatures of the East. They

88  Representations of the East know nothing of Pali, and they talk, for instance, about esoteric teaching, though there is no esoteric teaching whatever in Buddhism. Their ideas are based on the beliefs of the medieval alchemists, which they mix up with a little misunderstood Indian thought.101

Interestingly, Davids’s wife and following president of the Pali Text Society, Caroline Rhys Davids, would after her husband’s death in 1922 become associated with Theosophical Buddhism. The Buddhist Society, founded in Britain in 1907 and dissolved in 1924 shortly after Davids’s death, would be assimilated into Christmas Humphreys’s newly founded Buddhist Lodge (of the Theosophical Society, 1924). During this time Caroline Rhys Davids paid close attention to Theosophical publications and changed her otherwise established views on the supposed doctrine of anattā or no-​self by arguing that the early Buddhist bhikkhus had distorted Buddha’s original teachings on the doctrine of the self and that this distortion permeated the Pāli Canon—​bringing the doctrine of the self in line with Theosophical teachings. Caroline Rhys Davids’s interpretation was immediately adopted by the Buddhist Lodge but of course criticized by others. In 1943 the Buddhist Lodge became the Buddhist Society, which shows just how entangled were the various strands of the reception of Buddhism in the West.102 Most scholars of Buddhism at the time in the West, as shown, did not agree to the notion of esoteric Buddhism because it, to their interpretation, went against their preference of the original Pāli cannon. Theosophists clearly favored Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna traditions and found their notion of esoteric teachings to be true. Theosophists thus approached this form of Buddhism as a pathway to their notion of a universal esotericism, while most Orientalists sought their version of a historically pure original Buddhism. This made them both emphasize and downplay certain Buddhist ideas. The debates can thereby be viewed as fights arising from the reception of a plurality of Buddhist traditions that interconnected with a plurality of Western traditions. The Oriental scholarship of the time certainly still influences the way Buddhism is interpreted today, and the so-​called Occult Buddhism promoted by Blavatsky and Sinnett is also gradually being recognized as a specific reception of Buddhism that equally continues to impact interpretations of Buddhism and the emergence of the “New Buddhism” of the West.103

Conclusion This chapter has contextually analyzed the origin and meaning of the notion of an “esoteric Buddhism” in Blavatsky and Sinnett’s works. It was shown how knowledge of Buddhism and debates about its origin changed many times during the first half of the nineteenth century and that especially Blavatsky’s notion of Buddhism being pre-​Vedic mirrored some of these developments. The notions of an esoteric Buddhism and the interconnected notion of it being ancient and universal were

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  89 already prevalent in Higgins’s and Jennings’s works, from where they presumably were picked up and elaborated on in Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled. The same is the case with the idea that Buddhism has remained most original and pure in Northern or Himalayan regions, such as Tibet and Nepal. Most Oriental scholars in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, took another view favoring the Southern Pāli scriptures, which they regarded as the original form of Buddhism and all later forms as unoriginal distortions, the Tibetan being the worst. Blavatsky and Sinnett’s works and the idea of an esoteric Buddhism, however, became so influential that many of the most prominent Oriental scholars naturally discussed them. This includes, as we have seen, Burnouf, Edkins, Monier-​Williams, Müller, Snell, Waddell, and Davids. On the one hand, while some of these scholars regarded Theosophy more positively and others more negatively, they all seemed to agree unanimously that there is no such thing as esoteric Buddhism. They were as such not unaware of esoteric elements in Buddhist scriptures, especially in later traditions, but since these were regarded as corrupted, they did not count them as part of the true nature of Buddhism as found in the Pāli scriptures, which primarily consisted of open moral and practical teachings. The Theosophists, on the other hand, based on their more Mahāyāna-​oriented interpretation of Buddhism, maintained that Buddhism, as it was known at the time, primarily represents the exoteric aspect of Gautama Buddha’s teachings. Buddha had himself been initiated and had an esoteric set of teachings, which have been handed down through history and can be learned from initiates in the East or revealed by the correct symbolical keys of interpretation, as the texts contain many blinds. In the end, as this chapter has shown, we are dealing with the reception of a plurality of Buddhist traditions that especially were condensed in two primary yet entangled receptions of Buddhism in the nineteenth century: academic and Theosophical Orientalism. Each of these two highlighted and construed different aspects of Buddhism to fit their own views, such as that of a pure historical protestant reformer or that of a universal esotericism, and both became entangled in debates that continue to impact the reception and perception of Buddhism today.

Notes 1. Numerous studies exist, but see Stephen R. Prothero, The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). 2. See David L. McMahan, Buddhism in the Modern World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012); Donald S. Lopez, A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); David L. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Steven Heine and Charles S. Prebish, Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Hanna Havnevik et  al., Buddhist Modernities:  Re-​Inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World (New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017); Glenn Wallis, A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018); Adrian Konik, Buddhism and Transgression:  The Appropriation of Buddhism in the

90  Representations of the East Contemporary West (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009); and Philip C. Almond, British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 3. See note 2. 4. Almond, British Discovery, 16, 24; and J. Jeffrey Franklin, The Lotus and the Lion, Buddhism and the British Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 12. There was of course Edward Upham, The History and Doctrine of Budhism (London: R. Ackermann, 1829), which was the first work with Buddhism in its title in English, but this was hardly a systematic history but rather an exposition of forty-​three lithographic prints illustrating the Jātaka stories of the former lives of the Buddha. 5. McMahan, Buddhism in the Modern World, 116. 6. Almond, British Discovery,  7–​32. 7. J. Low, “General Observations on the Contending Claims to Antiquity of Brahmans and Buddhists,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal February (1849): 89–​130; and Almond, British Discovery, 32. 8. Ibid., 26; and Franklin, The Lotus,  26–​40. 9. Almond, British Discovery, 24–​28, 96, 101. 10. Ibid., 102–​10; and Franklin, The Lotus, 40–​45, 83–​84, 177–​208. 11. Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany:  State University of New  York Press, 2007), 324. 12. F. Max Müller, Lectures on the Science of Religion: With a Paper on Buddhist Nihilism, and a Translation of the Dhammapada or “Path of Virtue” (New York: C. Scribner, 1872), 113. 13. Monier Monier-​Williams, Buddhism, in Its Connexion with Brahmanism and Hinduism, and in Its Contrast with Christianity (London: John Murray, 1889), 537–​63. 14. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled:  A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, 2 vols. (New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877), I:442. 15. Ibid.,  1:442. 16. A. P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (San Diego, CA: Wizards Bookshelf, 1994 [1883]), xv. 17. Ibid., xvii–​xviii. 18. Ibid.,  xviii. 19. Ibid.,  3. 20. Ibid.,  xx. 21. Christopher Partridge, “Lost Horizon:  H.  P. Blavatsky and Theosophical Orientalism,” in Handbook of the Theosophical Current, ed. Michael Rothstein et  al., 309–​34 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013), 313, 319, 326, 328, 330. 22. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, I:v. 23. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The ‘Doctrine of the Eye’ & the ‘Doctrine of the Heart’, or the ‘Heart’s Seal,’” in HPBCW (1995), XIV:443–​53, 444. 24. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The Mystery of Buddha,” in HPBCW (1995), XIV:395–​99. 25. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism,  3–​4. 26. Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment, 321–​31. 27. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism, 187–​88. 28. Ibid., vii–​viii. 29. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, II:142. 30. Ibid., II:143; and in the “Introductory” section “the spirit of esoteric Buddhism” is mentioned, ibid., I:xviii. 31. Ibid., II:639 and see also 123. 32. Almond, British Discovery,  29–​32. 33. Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis:  An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions, 2 vols. (New York: Macy-​Masius, 1927), II:307; and see also ibid, I:164–​65.

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  91 34. Hargrave Jennings, The Indian Religions or Results of the Mysterious Buddhism (London: George Redway, 1890 [1858]), 1, 5. 35. Ibid.,  21. 36. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, II:609. 37. Higgins, Anacalypsis, II:258. 38. Jennings, The Indian Religions, 15. 39. See Tim Rudbøg, “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Esotericism” (PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012), 399n. 40. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine:  The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 2 vols. (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888), I:xvii–​xix. 41. Ibid., I:48–​49. 42. See the entire section in Blavatsky, “The Mystery of Buddha,” 370–​453. 43. Blavatsky, “Doctrine of the Eye,” 443. 44. Ibid., 444–​45. 45. Almond, British Discovery, 95; and Franklin, The Lotus, 32. 46. To find corresponding Buddhist material and traditions is an ongoing project by David and Nancy Reigle; see for example David Reigle and Nancy Reigle, Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research (San Diego, CA:  Wizards Bookshelf, 1999); and David Reigle, The Books of Kiu-​Te or the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras:  A Preliminary Analysis (San Diego:  Wizards Bookshelf, 1983). 47. Any quick library search will reveal numerous books and titles dealing with “esoteric Buddhism,” but see for example Yael Bentor and Meir Shahar, Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017); Ronald M. Davidson, Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); and Jinhua Chen, Legend and Legitimation: The Formation of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism in Japan (Bruxelles: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 2009). 48. Émile Burnouf, “Le Bouddhisme en Occident,” Revue des Deux Mondes 88 (1888): 366–​72. 49. Ibid.,  369. 50. Ibid.,  369. 51. Ibid., 369, 372. 52. Ibid.,  369. 53. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society:  Its Mission and Its Future,” in HPBCW (1988), X:63–​65, 70. 54. Ibid.,  71–​72. 55. Joseph Edkins, Chinese Buddhism: A Volume of Sketches, Historical, Descriptive, and Critical (London: Trübner, 1880), 43, 63, 142, 156–​62, 231, 373, 418. 56. Ibid.,  43. 57. Ibid.,  141. 58. Ibid.,  155–​6. 59. Ibid.,  161. 60. Blavatsky, “Doctrine of the Eye,” 445. 61. Ibid.,  445. 62. Monier-​Williams, Buddhism, 246. 63. Ibid.,  224. 64. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, I:47n. 65. Monier-​Williams, Buddhism, 248–​52. 66. Ibid.,  251. 67. Ibid.,  252. 68. F. Max Müller, “Christianity and Buddhism,” in Studies in Buddhism (New Delhi:  Asian Educational Services, 1999), 77.

92  Representations of the East 69. G.  H. Pember, Theosophy, Buddhism, and the Signs of the End (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1892), 3; see also W. B. Riley, Theosophy, or Buddhism Abroad (South Nyack, NY: Christian Alliance, 1899). 70. Müller, “Christianity and Buddhism,” 77. 71. F. Max Müller, “Indian Fables and Esoteric Buddhism,” republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), 101. 72. Ibid.,  94–​97. 73. Ibid., 103, 108–​10. 74. Ibid., 107. 75. Ibid., 125, 104, 111–​12. 76. Ibid., 121–​22. 77. Ibid., 127. 78. Ibid., 131. 79. Ibid., 131. 80. Ibid., 127. 81. Alfred Percy Sinnett, “Esoteric Buddhism (A Reply to Professor Max Müller),” republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), 134–​55. 82. F. Max Müller, “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder,” republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller (London: Longmans, Green, 1901), 167. 83. Merwin-​Marie Snell, “Modern Theosophy in Its Relation to Hinduism and Buddhism: II,” The Biblical World 5, no. 2 (1895): 259. 84. Ibid., 260. 85. Ibid., 261. 86. Ibid., 262. 87. Ibid., 262. 88. Ibid., 264. 89. Ibid., 263. 90. Ibid., 264–​65. 91. Laurence Austine Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism (London:  W.  H. Allen, 1895), 129. 92. Ibid., 128–​29. 93. William Emmette Coleman, “The Sources of Madame Blavatsky’s Writings,” in A Modern Priestess of Isis, by Vsevolod Sergyeevich Solovyoff, trans. and ed. Walter Leaf (London:  Longmans, Green, 1895), 353–​ 66; William Emmette Coleman, “Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy:  A Reply to My Critics; Part Two,” The Religio-​Philosophical Journal (September 22, 1888):  353–​66; Arthur Lillie, Koot Hoomi Unveiled:  Or, Tibetan “Buddhists” versus The Buddhists of Tibet (London: The Psychological Press Association, 1884); and Arthur Lillie, Madame Blavatsky and Her Theosophy: A Study (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1895). 94. Thomas Rhys Davids, Buddhism:  Its History and Literature (New  York:  Putnam’s Sons, 1896), 209–​10. 95. Ibid., 210. 96. Ibid., 212. 97. Ibid., 212–​13. 98. Ibid., 212. 99. Ibid., 214. 100. Ibid., 213. 101. Thomas Rhys Davids, “Buddhism and Modern Thought,” The Maha Bodhi and the United Buddhist World: The Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society (1914): 140–​41.

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  93 102. Damien Keown and Charles S. Prebish, Encyclopedia of Buddhism (London:  Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2010), 613; Lucy Delap, Men, Masculinities, and Religious Change in Twentieth Century Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 40–​41; and Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism:  Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 44, 1. 103. See Thomas A. Tweed, “Toward a Translocative History of Occult Buddhism: Flows and Confluences, 1881–​1912,” History of Religions 54, no. 4 (2015): 423–​33; James W. Coleman, The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); and Franklin, The Lotus,  50–​87.

Bibliography In the following the abbreviation HPBCW has been used, which in full reads: de Zirkoff, Boris, ed. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. 15 vols. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950–​91. Almond, Philip C. British Discovery of Buddhism. Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1988. Arnold, Edwin. The Light of Asia: Or, the Great Renunciation. London: Trübner and Co., Ludgate Hill, 1879. Barker, A.  T. The Letters of H.  P. Blavatsky to A.  P. Sinnett and Other Miscellaneous Letters. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1973 [1925]. Barker, A.  T., and Vincente Hao Chin Jr., eds., The Mahatma Letters to A.  P. Sinnett:  In Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998. Barthélemy, Saint-​Hilaire J. Le Bouddha Et Sa Religion. Paris: Libraire Académique, 1860. Bentor, Yael, and Meir Shahar. Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. 2 vols. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. 2 vols. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Key to Theosophy. London: Theosophical Publishing Company, [1889]. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Voice of the Silence: And Other Chosen Fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts for the Daily Use of Lanoos (Disciples). Los Angeles: Theosophy, 1987. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future.” In HPBCW (1988), X:63–​65. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The Mystery of Buddha.” In HPBCW (1995), XIV:395–​99. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The ‘Doctrine of the Eye’ & the ‘Doctrine of the Heart’, or the ‘Heart’s Seal.’” In HPBCW (1995), XIV:443–​53. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Letter 71.” In The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky 1861–​1879, edited by John Algeo, 264–​270. Wheaton IL: Quest Books, 2003. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Letter 78.” In The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky 1861–​1879, edited by John Algeo, 290–​296. Wheaton IL: Quest Books, 2003. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Letter 110.” In The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky 1861–​1879, edited by John Algeo, 409–​412. Wheaton IL: Quest Books, 2003. Burnouf, Émile. Dictionnaire Classique Sanscrit-​Français. Paris: Maisonneuve, 1863. Burnouf, Émile. “Le Bouddhisme en Occident.” Revue des Deux Mondes 88 (1888): 340–​72. Chen, Jinhua. Legend and Legitimation:  The Formation of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism in Japan. Bruxelles: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 2009. Coleman, James W. The New Buddhism:  The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

94  Representations of the East Coleman, William Emmette. “Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy: A Reply to My Critics; Part Two.” The Religio-​Philosophical Journal (September 22, 1888): 353–​66. Coleman, William Emmette. “The Sources of Madame Blavatsky’s Writings.” In A Modern Priestess of Isis. By Vsevolod Sergyeevich Solovyoff, translated and edited by Walter Leaf, 353–​ 66. London: Longmans, Green, 1895. Cranston, Sylvia. H. P. B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Theosophical Movement. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993. Davids, Thomas Rhys. Buddhism: Its History and Literature. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1896. Davids, Thomas Rhys. “Buddhism and Modern Thought.” The Maha Bodhi and the United Buddhist World: The Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society (1914): 139–​42. Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism:  A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Delap, Lucy. Men, Masculinities, and Religious Change in Twentieth Century Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Edkins, Joseph. Chinese Buddhism:  A Volume of Sketches, Historical, Descriptive, and Critical. London: Trübner, 1880. Franklin, J. Jeffrey. The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008. Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany:  State University of New  York Press, 2007. Goodrick-​Clark, Nicholas. “‘First Russia, then Tibet’: Hermetic Sources of Modern Theosophy.” Exeter: University of Exeter, 2010. Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Havnevik, Hanna, Ute Hüsken, Mark Teeuwen, Vladimir Tikhonov, and Koen Wellens. Buddhist Modernities: Re-​Inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World. New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2017. Heine, Steven, and Charles S. Prebish. Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Higgins, Godfrey. Anacalypsis: An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; Or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions. 2 vols. New  York:  Macy-​Masius, 1927 [1833–​36]. Jennings, Hargrave. The Indian Religions or Results of the Mysterious Buddhism. London: George Redway, 1890 [1858]. Keown, Damien, and Charles S. Prebish. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2010. Konik, Adrian. Buddhism and Transgression: The Appropriation of Buddhism in the Contemporary West. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009. Lillie, Arthur. Koot Hoomi Unveiled:  Or, Tibetan “Buddhists” versus The Buddhists of Tibet. London: Psychological Press Association, 1884. Lillie, Arthur. Madame Blavatsky and Her Theosophy: A Study. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1895. Lopez, Donald S. A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002. Low, J. “General Observations on the Contending Claims to Antiquity of Brahmans and Buddhists.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (February 1849): 89–​130. McMahan, David L. The Making of Buddhist Modernism. New  York:  Oxford University Press, 2009. McMahan, David L. Buddhism in the Modern World. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. Monier-​Williams, Monier. Buddhism, in Its Connexion with Brahmanism and Hinduism, and in Its Contrast with Christianity. London: John Murray, 1889. Müller, F. Max. Lectures on the Science of Religion:  With a Paper on Buddhist Nihilism, and a Translation of the Dhammapada or “Path of Virtue.” New York: C. Scribner, 1872. Müller, F. Max. “Esoteric Buddhism: A Rejoinder.” Republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller, 156–​70. London: Longmans, Green, 1901.

Theosophy and Esoteric Buddhism  95 Müller, F. Max. “Indian Fables and Esoteric Buddhism.” Republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller, 79–​133. London: Longmans, Green, 1901. Müller, F. Max. “Christianity and Buddhism.” In Studies in Buddhism, 77–​84. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1999. Neff, Mary K., comp. Personal Memories of H. P. Blavatsky. London: Rider, 1927. Oldenberg, Hermann. Buddha: Sein Leben, Seine Lehre, Seine Gemeinde. Berlin: Hertz, 1881. Partridge, Christopher. “Lost Horizon:  H.  P. Blavatsky and Theosophical Orientalism.” In Handbook of the Theosophical Current. Edited by Michael Rothstein and Olav Hammer, 309–​ 334. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013. Pember, G.  H. Theosophy, Buddhism, and the Signs of the End. London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1892. Prothero, Stephen R. The White Buddhist:  The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. Reigle, David. The Books of Kiu-​Te or the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras: A Preliminary Analysis. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1983. Reigle, David, and Nancy Reigle. Blavatsky’s Secret Books:  Twenty Years’ Research. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1999. Riley, W. B. Theosophy, or Buddhism Abroad. South Nyack, NY: Christian Alliance, 1899. Rudbøg, Tim. “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Esotericism.” PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. “Esoteric Buddhism (A Reply to Professor Max Müller).” Republished in Last Essays, Second Series, by F. Max Müller, 134–​55. London: Longmans, Green, 1901. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. Esoteric Buddhism. San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1994 [1883]. Snell, Merwin-​Marie. “Modern Theosophy in Its Relation to Hinduism and Buddhism: II.” The Biblical World 5 (1895): 259–​65. Spierenburg, H. J. The Buddhism of H. P. Blavatsky. San Diego: Point Loma, 1991. Tweed, Thomas A. “Toward a Translocative History of Occult Buddhism: Flows and Confluences, 1881–​1912.” History of Religions 54, no. 4 (2015): 423–​33. Upham, Edward. The History and Doctrine of Budhism. London: R. Ackermann, 1829. Waddell, Laurence Austine. The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism. London: W. H. Allen, 1895. Wallis, Glenn. A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

5 H. P. Blavatsky’s Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy Tim Rudbøg and Erik Reenberg Sand

This chapter is concerned with the way in which the six schools of Hindu philosophy gained importance in the work of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, particularly prior to the publication of The Secret Doctrine (1888).1 Several factors play into her reception: first of all, Blavatsky’s work was a part of the broader Western reception of Indian religions and philosophies, which began at the end of the eighteenth century and still continues today; secondly, Blavatsky’s work was characteristically syncretistic in nature and is generally connected with the discourses, ideas, and traditions often classified as Western esotericism. It is reasonable to say that Western esotericism, equally, is a particularly syncretistic phenomenon integrating and unifying seemingly diverse historical traditions, ideas, or discourses. In relation to this syncretism Blavatsky’s work, genealogically speaking, stands in a current that has undergone a number of so-​called Easternizations throughout history.2 In fact, esotericism has nearly always been orientated toward the so-​called East—​Ex oriente lux.3 During the Middle Ages, Middle Eastern philosophy and a number of occult sciences were introduced into Western esotericism and philosophy in the form of works by Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-​Ṣabbāḥ al-​Kindī, Ibn Sina or Avicenna, and others, and the Picatrix. During the Renaissance Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola incorporated Greco-​Roman traditions with (what they thought to be) ancient Egyptian wisdom from Corpus Hermeticum. Henry Cornelius Agrippa and others continued this syncretism of traditions resulting in Occulta Philosophia and Pan Sophia. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the embrace of China, and a new wave of Egyptian fascination grew strong until The Asiatic Society initiated the study of Sanskrit and India, as the cradle of civilization, in 1784. Raymond Schwab’s The Oriental Renaissance, Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–​1880 strikingly portrays the reception of Indian languages, philosophies, mythology, and so on and examines nearly all corners of this reception. However, he writes, “The year 1875 seems a kind of boundary line after which few, if any important revelations occurred.”4 In fact, he knew that the “Theosophical Society of Madame Blavatsky” was founded in 1875 but dismissed it as something “on which it is not necessary to dwell.”5 However, given the influence of Blavatsky on the modern religious

98  Representations of the East landscape and her notable reception of Hindu philosophy, perhaps it is worth historically sketching and analyzing this reception.6 Not much has been written specifically on the reception of Hindu philosophy in Blavatsky’s work,7 but Blavatsky did, in addition to writing about Eastern ideas, spend several years in India, and the headquarters of the Theosophical Society (Adyar), still residing there, has been responsible for many translations and publications of Sanskrit works. Blavatsky’s work and the Theosophical system that emerged out of it are equally associated with Eastern doctrines and Sanskrit concepts. In fact, Merwin-​Marie Snell, the first scholar of religion who has dealt with Blavatsky’s system, sought to discern its relation to Hinduism and Buddhism.8 His brief but still interesting analysis, which also includes the Hindu schools, made him conclude that Blavatsky’s system was more aligned with Hinduism and Hindu philosophy than with Buddhism: “This much is certain, that Theosophy must be classified, not under the head of Buddhism but under that of Hinduism.”9 The system is also closely related to the “Mâdhyamika,” “Yogâ’câra,” and “Kâla ‘Cakra” schools of Buddhism, but these had already been “Hindunized,” he argued. What sets Blavatsky’s system apart was, according to Snell, the “personal speculations and synthetic thought of Madame Blavatsky; in which case we cannot refuse her credit for a powerful constructive intellect.”10 Snell either did not notice or pay attention to Blavatsky’s claim that her system was neither strictly Buddhism nor Hinduism but rather the so-​called trans-​Himalayan doctrine, and that she claimed only to use Sanskrit or Hindu terminology to make her views more intelligible to the general reader (see following). Snell did, however, emphasize the importance of Hindu philosophy in Blavatsky’s thought. The following will trace the reception of Hindu philosophy in the time period from approximately 1875 to 1888 in order to discern the way in which it was received and its role in Blavatsky’s writings. First, however, the importance of the concept of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy in Blavatsky’s more mature thought will be demonstrated in connection with the historical development and reception of the concept itself.

Blavatsky’s Mature Thought and the Notion of Six Hindu Philosophical Systems Blavatsky notably emphasized the importance of the notion of six schools of Hindu philosophy in The Secret Doctrine (1888) and deeply associated her own work with this when she wrote, “As a whole, neither the foregoing nor what follows [in The Secret Doctrine] can be found in full anywhere. It is not taught in any of the six Indian schools of philosophy, for it pertains to their synthesis—​the seventh, which is the Occult doctrine.”11 And furthermore, Hence Esoteric philosophy passes over the necessarianism of this purely metaphysical conception, and calls the first one, only, the Ever Existing. This is the

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  99 view of every one of the six great schools of Indian philosophy—​the six principles of that unit body of Wisdom of which the “gnosis,” the hidden knowledge, is the seventh.12

The Secret Doctrine is here consciously construed in direct relation to Hindu philosophy as the synthesis of the six schools. Furthermore, the six schools are all construed as parts of a unified body of wisdom and thereby each has importance to the synthesis. This sixfold classification and knowledge of the darśanas was, however, also still in the process of being discovered and studied during Blavatsky’s lifetime. Max Müller’s major study was not published until shortly after Blavatsky’s death in 1899, and the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies is still being published.13 The view that the Hindu tradition specifically contains six so-​called “orthodox” schools (darśana) of Hindu philosophy is now generally accepted among both scholars and representatives of the Hindu tradition, but it has not always been a universal classification.14 The reason why they are classified as “orthodox” (āstika) is that they are supposed to accept the authority of the Vedas, as opposed to the so-​ called “heretic” (nāstika) systems, such as the systems of the Jainas, Buddhists, and materialists (lokāyata). The six systems are known as: (1) Nyāya, the school of logic associated with Akṣapāda Gautama; (2) Vaiśeṣika, the school of physics and atomic theory associated with Kaṇāda; (3)  Sāṃkhya, the dualist school of physics and metaphysics associated with Kapila; (4) Yoga-​darśana, the theistic school of spiritual practice and contemplation associated with Patañjali; (5) Mīmāṃsā or Pūrva-​ Mīmāṃsā, the school of Vedic rituals and hermeneutics associated with Jaimini and with his Mīmāṃsā Sutras; and (6) Vedānta or Uttara-​Mīmāṃsā, the metaphysical school associated with the teachings of the Upaniṣads and the Brahma Sūtras. Vedānta’s three main sub-​schools are known as Advaita (non-​dualism), associated with Śaṅkara; Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-​dualism), associated with Rāmānuja; and Dvaita (dualism), associated with Mādhavācarya. Out of the six a further classification of three pairs is common in which Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya and Yoga, and Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta are forming pairs. Furthermore, as all six schools may be traced back to ancient India, it is generally understood also to be the case of the overall concept of “six Hindu philosophical schools.” However, as already pointed out by Moriz Winternitz,15 and more recently by more modern authors,16 this is not accurate. Although the idea of six schools seems to go back to at least the Jaina monk Haribhadra’s Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya from the middle of the eighth century,17 the schools covered by this term were not identical with the six Hindu schools since Yoga and Vedānta are substituted by the Jaina and Bauddha systems. This could be attributed to the fact that some of these works are composed by Jaina authors, but it is equally the case with works composed by Hindu authors proclaiming to deal with six philosophical schools.18 Furthermore, several other, earlier Sanskrit works expand their doxographic records to deal with more than six philosophic schools, instead of “six” (ṣaḍ) employing the word “all” (sarva) in their title.19 The most prominent of these is

100  Representations of the East Mādhavācarya’s Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha (“Compendium of All Schools”) from the fourteenth century, which deals with sixteen different philosophical schools, out of which the six later-​known schools are only a part, along with other Hindu philosophical systems such as grammar and some theistic systems.20 According to Halbfass the concept of six orthodox Hindu philosophical systems is primarily a phenomenon appearing among Hindu scholars of the sixteenth century, such as Vijñānabhikṣu, Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, and Appaya Dīkṣita. Common to these authors is the concept of concordance (samanvaya) among the Hindu philosophical systems, in the sense that they agree in their overall idea of truth but differ in their teachings according to the different capabilities of their audiences.21 Vijñānabhikṣu did not compose any overall doxography but included the just mentioned view in commentaries to several important philosophical Sanskrit works.22 However, Madhusūdana Sarasvatī did write a short common survey called Prasthānabheda (Differences of Method), which was originally part of his commentary to a Sanskrit hymn for Śiva called Mahimnastotra.23 In this survey he divides the whole corpus of “orthodox” (āstika) Hindu literature into fourteen categories under the three headings: four Vedas, six Vedāṅgas, and four Upāṅgas. Under the second upāṅga (nyāya) is found the Nyāya-​system and its counterpart Vaiśeṣikā. Under the third upāṅga (mīmāṃsa) is found the Mīmāṃsa-​system and its counterpart Vedānta, and, finally, under the fourth upāṅga (dharmaśāstra) is found the Sāṃkhya-​system along with its counterpart Yoga. Thus, here the concept of Hindu philosophic systems, as it is known today, is found inlaid in an overall orthodox frame with reference to the Vedas. With the slight difference that the proponents of the various philosophical schools seem to be competing among themselves, it seems to be this situation that is reflected in a report dated 1667 from Benares by the French traveler Francois Bernier: Among the philosophers who have flourished in Hindoustan six bear a great name; and from these have sprung the six sects, which cause much jealousy and dispute, the Pendets of each pretending that the doctrines of their particular sect are the soundest, and most in conformity to the Beths. A seventh sect has arisen, called Bauté, which again is the parent of twelve others; but this sect is not so considerable as the former: its adherents are despised and hated, censured as irreligious and atheistical, and lead a life peculiar to themselves.24

Similarly, it seems to be this situation reflected in the earliest Orientalist reports about Indian or Hindu philosophy, the works of William Jones and Henry Thomas Colebrooke, which has been handed down to later generations of Indian scholars both Western and Indian, including Blavatsky. The first Western scholar who seems to have dealt with Indian philosophy on the basis of some knowledge of primary sources was Sir William Jones who, in the

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  101 lecture “On the Philosophy of the Asiatics” given in the Asiatick Society in Calcutta in 1774, introduced Indian philosophy with the following words: We have an ample field in the next division, and a field almost new; since the mytaphysics and logic of the Bráhmens, comprised in their six philosophical Sástras, and explained by numerous glosses or comments, have never yet been accessible to Europeans; and, by the help of the Sanscrit language, we now may read the works of the Saugatas, Bauddhas, A’rhatas, Jainas, and other heterodox philosophers, whence we may gather the metaphysical tenets prevalent in China and Japan, in the eastern peninsula of India, and of many considerable nations of Tartary.25

Here again the implicit distinction between six “orthodox” Hindu philosophies and their heterodox Buddhist and Jaina counterparts is present, and in the course of the lecture it becomes clear that the Hindu systems, which Jones had in mind, are the Vedānta, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Mīmāṃsa, all mentioned under the names of their “founders,” Vyāsa, Kapila, Patañjali, Gotama, Kaṇāda, and Jaimini. Whereas Jones admits to only having gone through one original source, “the little treatise in four chapters, ascribed to Vyása,”26 it is clear that Colebrooke was much more well-​versed in the Sanskrit sources of the Hindu philosophical systems. He seems to have had access to both a manuscript of Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s Prasthānabheda27 and some of the commentaries of Vijñānabhikṣu, Vācaspati Miśra, and others, as well as knowledge of some of the original sources of the various philosophical systems. In a series of five lectures held at the Royal Asiatic Society in London during 1823–​27 under the title “On the Philosophy of the Hindus,” he gave the first comprehensive survey of the philosophical systems of the Hindus based on the study of primary sources in Sanskrit.28 As a way of introduction, he gave the following brief remarks: The Hindus, as is well known, possess various ancient systems of philosophy, which they consider to be orthodox, as consistent with the theology and metaphysics of the Védas; and have likewise preserved divers systems deemed heretical, as incompatible with the doctrines of their holy books. The two Mimámsás (for there are two schools of metaphysics under this title) are emphatically orthodox. The prior one (púrva), which has JAIMINI for its founder, teaches the art of reasoning, with the express view of aiding the interpretation of the Védas. The latter (uttara), commonly called Védánta, and attributed to VYÁSA, deduces from the text of the Indian scriptures a refined psychology, which goes to a denial of a material world. The Nyáya, of which Gótama is the acknowledged author, furnishes a philosophical arrangement, with strict rules of reasoning, not unaptly compared to the

102  Representations of the East dialectics of the Aristotelian school. Another course of philosophy connected with it bears the denomination of Vaiśéshica. Its reputed author is CAŃÁDE; who, like Democritus, maintained the doctrine of atoms. A different philosophical system, partly heterodox, and partly conformable to the established Hindu creed, is the Sánc'hya; of which also, as of the preceding, there are two schools; one usually known by that name; the other commonly termed Yóga. A  succinct exposition of the Sánc'hya doctrines is the design of the present essay:  they are selected for that purpose, on account of the strong affinity which they manifestly bear to the metaphysical opinions of the sects of Jina and Budd'ha.29

In this introductory overview, which could very well have been based on Madhusūdana’s Prasthānabheda, we again meet with the distinction between orthodox and heterodox systems. Four of the Hindu systems, Mīmāṃsā, Vedānta, Nyāya, and Vaiśeṣika, are classified as orthodox, whereas Sāṃkhya and Yoga are classified as partly orthodox and partly heterodox, a classification that may also be read from Madhusūdana’s treatise. Finally, the Jaina and Bauddha systems are taken to be heterodox but not separate religions, as would later be the case. This scheme is elaborated on in his series of lectures. In the first lecture Colebrooke dealt with Sāṃkhya and Yoga, in the second with Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, in the third with Mīmāṃsā, in the fourth with Vedānta, and the fifth with the Jaina and Bauddha systems, followed by the materialists (Cārvāka) and some Hindu theistic systems such as the Pāśupatas and Pāñcarātras. As mentioned earlier, this was all in all the first comprehensive treatment of Indian philosophy by a Western scholar and as such laid the foundation of all later Indological work in this field. Blavatsky’s works refer to the work of both Jones and Colebrooke in numerous places and make use of this reception of the notion of specifically six schools.30 Her adherence to the sixfold classification is evident in her unpublished response to the Russian philosopher Vladimir Sergueyevich Solovyov, who critically reviewed Blavatsky’s The Key to Theosophy. Blavatsky here speaks with confidence about Hindu philosophy and seeks to authoritatively correct the “grand” Solovyov’s mistake of enumerating sixteen systems. As to the philosophy of India, our critic apparently knows as little about it, as he does of Theosophy—​even less. . . . He informs the world of the alleged existence of “sixteen systems of Indian philosophy” (!!!). I can assure our Russian philosopher that he is much mistaken; that there are in Indian philosophy only six recognized systems which are known as the Shad-​Darœana, literally the six demonstrations or “six schools.”31

It is not that Blavatsky is unfamiliar with other classifications, but she reasons that the classification of sixteen schools is no longer viewed as valid.

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  103 Mr. Solovyov is referring to the “code of systems” by Mâdhavâchârya, in the work entitled Sarva-​darœana-​samgraha, in which this sectarian of the XIVth century analyses 16 systems, placing Buddhism on the last rung of world conceptions. But he has not taken into account, first, the fact that Buddhism has never been regarded as a school in India, where for many centuries there have been few Buddhists; and second, that the code of systems mentioned by Mâdhavâchârya represents merely an incomplete catalogue of both orthodox and heretical sects which existed in his day, and against which he fought during his lifetime, defending and praising his own system (a sect nowadays) of Dwaita (or dualism), of which he was the founder. Thus, it is not at all a “code of systems of Indian philosophy” but merely a code of opinions of Mâdhavâchârya, a fanatical Vedântist and a worshipper of Vishnu.32

Blavatsky vividly continues dismantling Solovyov’s knowledge of Vedānta, but her own knowledge and reception of Hindu philosophy do not start here, as we shall see, when she clearly identifies herself as someone experienced in matters concerning Hindu philosophy.

Breaking Ground: Isis Unveiled and the East The notion of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy is present neither at the beginning of Blavatsky’s writing career nor in Isis Unveiled—​though, it came to play a significant role later. Regardless of the fact that Isis Unveiled most often has been viewed as the major manifestation of her Egyptian period before traveling to India in late 1878,33 it will here be argued that Isis Unveiled is actually a much more Easternized work than it has been conceived to be and that Hindu philosophy does play a role in this work. The very first sentence of the first page of the preface states as follows: “THE work now submitted to public judgment is the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science.”34 A glance at the glossary included in the introductory section, “Before the Veil,” intended to aid the reader35 also reveals that of the forty-​six concepts listed eighteen touch upon India and five are completely dedicated to Sanskrit concepts, such as Ākāśa, Mantra, Pitris, Soma, and Yajna.36 The final page of this section furthermore states that authorities on psychology and spiritualism must go “to the Brahmans and Lamaists of the far Orient, and respectfully ask them to impart the alphabet of true science.”37 The aim of Isis Unveiled was furthermore at least threefold: (1) to prove the existence of an ancient universal Wisdom-​Religion; (2) to show that ancient knowledge is on par if not superior to modern science, and that the key to spiritualistic phenomena is to be found in the more ancient occult sciences; and (3) that Christianity (especially Catholicism) borrowed from and distorted several ancient traditions. The notion of an ancient universal and esoteric wisdom is thus the general framework of

104  Representations of the East the work sought proven by the comparative method. As will be shown, Isis Unveiled did not intend to portray the ideas and traditions it discusses in relation to their original contexts but to comparatively use them to prove the Wisdom-​Religion. Hindu philosophy and other more ancient traditions are thus fitted into this frame. The East thereby becomes a piece in a larger jigsaw puzzle, fitted to mobilize a critique of modern Western science and established Christian religions. Besides, we may find our profit in comparing this boasted modern science with ancient ignorance; this improved modern theology with the “Secret doctrines” of the ancient universal religion. . . . It is the Platonic philosophy, the most elaborate compend of the abstruse systems of old India, that can alone afford us this middle ground. . . . He was, in the fullest sense of the word, the world’s interpreter. And the greatest philosopher of the pre-​Christian era mirrored faithfully in his works the spiritualism of the Vedic philosophers who lived thousands of years before himself, and its metaphysical expression. Vyasa, Djeminy, Kapila, Vrihaspati, Sumati, and so many others, will be found to have transmitted their indelible imprint through the intervening centuries upon Plato and his school. Thus is warranted the inference that to Plato and the ancient Hindu sages was alike revealed the same wisdom. So surviving the shock of time, what can this wisdom be but divine and eternal?38

Here Isis Unveiled polemically explains its intentions and places the East, including founders of some of the schools of Hindu philosophy, at the root—​even of the philosophy of Plato. In order to place occultism in the historical development of science and intellectual history, the first volume mobilizes much related to Western esotericism and dedicates a chapter to “Egyptian Wisdom,” but it equally dedicates a whole chapter to “The Achievements of Old India.”39 Here, as a part of the general discourse of Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky writes as follows: Although it would seem as if we had already furnished sufficient proofs that modern science has little or no reason to boast of originality, yet before closing this volume we will adduce a few more to place the matter beyond doubt. . . . We have pointed to the achievements in arts, sciences, and philosophy of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chaldeans, and Assyrians; we will now quote from an author [Louis Jacolliot’s Christna et le Christ, 1874] who has passed long years in India studying their philosophy.40

Hereafter she quotes a long list of ancient Indian achievements and the following in relation to philosophy: Philosophy—​The ancient Hindus have created from the foundation the two systems of spiritualism and materialism, of metaphysical philosophy and of positive

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  105 philosophy. The first taught in the Vedantic school, whose founder was Vyasa; the second taught in the Sankya school, whose founder was Kapila.41

Blavatsky’s source for Sāṃkhya and Vedānta is here Jacolliot; Sāṃkhya and Vedānta are also the two schools that are most often referred to as representatives of ancient knowledge. Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Yoga do not figure at all and Pūrva-​ Mīmāṃsā only very fleetingly.42 Advaita Vedānta, which later becomes central to Blavatsky, is also not present at this point. Blavatsky does, however, seem to have been interested in the development of knowledge about Hindu philosophy, as she writes, The researches of Laboulaye, Anquetil Duperron, Colebrooke, Barthelemy St. Hilaire, Max Müller, Spiegel, Burnouf, Wilson, and so many other linguists, have brought some of the truth to light. And now that the difficulties of the Sanscrit, the Thibetan, the Singhalese, the Zend, the Pehlevi, the Chinese, and even of the Burmese, are partially conquered, and the Vedas, and the Zend-​Avesta, the Buddhist texts, and even Kapila’s Sutras are translated, a door is thrown wide open, which, once passed, must close forever behind any speculative or ignorant calumniators of the old religions.43

Sāṃkhya Blavatsky’s treatment of Sāṃkhya and Kapila is closely connected to the overall frame and aim of Isis Unveiled. Kapila is directly, and perhaps for the first time, adopted into the ancient wisdom narrative as an important member of the great chain of initiates of the universal secret doctrine. “Kapila, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Basilides, Marcian, Ammonius and Plotinus, founded schools and sowed the germs of many a noble thought, and disappearing left behind them the refulgence of demi-​gods.”44 And furthermore, The grandiose poetry of the four Vedas; the Books of Hermes; the Chaldean Book of Numbers; the Nazarene Codex; the Kabala of the Tanaim; the Sepher Jezira; the Book of Wisdom, of Schlomah (Solomon); the secret treatise on Muhta and Badha attributed by the Buddhist kabalists to Kapila, the founder of the Sankhya system; the Brahmanas; the Stan-​gyour, of the Thibetans; all these volumes have the same ground-​work. Varying but in allegories they teach the same secret doctrine which, when once thoroughly eliminated, will prove to be the Ultima Thule of true philosophy, and disclose what is this LOST WORD.45

If the Orientalists only knew the allegorical and the esoteric key to these texts, Blavatsky argues, the works of the ancients would not be nonsense and as inaccessible as the likes of Müller think.46

106  Representations of the East Secondly, Kapila and Sāṃkhya are often mobilized to prove the ancient precedents of modern scientific doctrines. Thus, search where we may through the archives of history, we find that there is no fragment of modern philosophy—​whether Newtonian, Cartesian, Huxleyian or any other—​but has been dug from the Oriental mines. Even Positivism and Nihilism find their prototype in the exoteric portion of Kapila’s philosophy, as is well remarked by Max Müller. It was the inspiration of the Hindu sages that penetrated the mysteries of Pragna Paramita (perfect wisdom); their hands that rocked the cradle of the first ancestor of that feeble but noisy child that we have christened MODERN SCIENCE.47

Kapila is also compared to Giordano Bruno and Spinoza for having been wrongly regarded as an atheist,48 and the Sāṃkhya interpretation of māyā is even discussed as a precedent for Schopenhauer, Kant, and Schelling.49 Finally, the Sāṃkhya doctrine of nature, as something self developing, is viewed as an ancient version of Darwin.50 Related to the theme of the first volume of Isis Unveiled (spiritualism and science), various ideas about the nature of spirit, soul, and paranormal powers are also compared with Sāṃkhya. Blavatsky especially favors the notion that spirit or puruṣa is something immortal to which we can be united (even though technically speaking there is no unification in Sāṃkhya, only a realization of one’s true identity or state of being as puruṣa).51 In reference to spiritual powers Blavatsky quotes Peary Chand Mittra’s “The Psychology of the Aryas” (1877), in which the author enumerates the classic siddhis in relation to the Sāṃkhya doctrine, something Blavatsky could use to validate spiritualist and occult studies in the West about the soul’s existence and powers.52

Vedānta There is an awareness of Vedānta and the two Mīmāṃsā schools in Isis Unveiled with reference to Jones and Colebrooke.53 Like Sāṃkhya, Vedānta is particularly brought into the discussion of psychology and spiritualism; especially the unity of ātman and brahman is of interest: The followers of the Vedas, the learned Brahmins, explain the same doctrine in the Vedanta. The soul, according to their teaching, as a portion of the divine universal spirit or immaterial mind, is capable of uniting itself with the essence of its highest Entity. The teaching is explicit; the Vedanta affirms that whoever attains the thorough knowledge of his god becomes a god while yet in his mortal body, and acquires supremacy over all things.54

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  107 This shows an Eastern focus of Isis Unveiled and displays some rudimentary knowledge of Sāṃkhya and Vedānta but also that these two systems were framed and used highly comparatively for the above specified aims of Isis Unveiled. Hindu philosophy was construed as old wisdom possessing greater authority than modern Western science. In other words, the East here becomes a tool to criticize the West, as the East was closer to the ancient wisdom and more spiritual—​acknowledging the spiritual and its powers in man.

Getting Acquainted with Hindu Philosophy in India In December 1878 Blavatsky and Olcott embarked on their famous trip to India, where Blavatsky stayed until 1885. During this period Blavatsky no doubt learned more about Hindu philosophy in conversation with Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj and the Vedānta scholar, Theosophist, and presumed disciple of Mahatma Morya, Tallapragada Subba Row (1856–​90), who was responsible for Blavatsky’s closer acquaintance with Advaita and Śaṅkara.55 Living in India and conversing with learned Hindus, Blavatsky also begins to define the concept “Theosophy” in relation to Hindu philosophy and embraces as many opportunities as she can to discuss and criticize the subject, much like she had done with spiritualism in New York. The Theosophist, founded soon after arriving and devoted to Oriental philosophy and literature, becomes her vehicle for this. In the first issue Blavatsky, really for the first time, begins to conceptualize what she actually means by the word “Theosophy.” Here Hindu philosophy is clearly a part of her exposition and her syncretism. She straight off the bat mentions Plato’s and the Egyptians’ notions of the soul and spirit and in this connection writes that “Gotama, the Hindu philosopher, says in his Nyâya-​Sûtra (Tarkalamkara): ‘The seat of the knowledge of the self (or individuality) is in the human soul (jîvâtman), which is dual, but the supreme soul (paramâtman) is the only one that is omniscient, infinite and eternal.’ ”56 She says that our teaching rests at least on philosophy and on experimental psychology (such as that of the system of the Hindu Yogis), results of long ages of research. Our Masters are Patañjali, Kapila, Kanâda, all the systems and schools of Âryâvarta (archaic India) which served as inexhaustible mines for the Greek philosophers, from Pythagoras to Proclus.57

Here Nyāya is a part of the discussion and “Patañjali, Kapila, Kanâda” are construed as prime sources of Theosophical inspiration. This is also clear in Blavatsky’s defining article “What Is Theosophy,” in which the central idea of Theosophy or the Wisdom-​Religion, which includes ancient Indian wisdom, is directly aligned with and discussed in relation to parabrahman of Vedānta and the Bṛihādaraṇyaka Upaniṣad.58 Not too long after arriving in India, it appears that

108  Representations of the East Blavatsky also engaged in a discussion on Sāṃkhya philosophy with Professor George Frederick William Thibaut, the principal of Benares college and a well-​ known Indologist. Olcott recounts, The Sankhya was the topic and Thibaut put many searching questions to H. P. B., which she answered so satisfactorily that the Doctor said that neither Max Müller nor any other Orientalist had made so clear to him the real meaning of the Sāṃkhya philosophy as she had, and he thanked her very much.59

Not long after in January 1880 when Kashinath Trimbak Telang, another well-​ known Indologist, published the second installment of his “The life of Sankaracharya, Philosopher and Mystic” in The Theosophist, Blavatsky supplied some short comments trying to corroborate this information concerning yoga, Patañjali, and Śaṅkara with occultism.60 This newfound role as a commentator of Hindu philosophy steadily continued. In 1881 she wrote, for example, We lay aside other matter already in type to give place to the essential portions of an “Introduction to Indian Yoga” which is found in the January number of Professor M.  M. Kunte’s Saddarshana-​Chintanika. In this period of almost total spiritual eclipse in India, it is well worth the while of every student of Aryan Science to cull corroborative testimony from every source. We are (spiritually speaking) passing once more through the Stone Age of thought.61

Blavatsky is perfectly aware that some might not find her to be the most suited authority on Hindu philosophy when writing “The reader has a right to enquire, as to what preparation we have made for interpreting and explaining the occult transcendentalism of the Indian Yoga system.” But her answer to this was that her actual connection with Hindus in India counts as greater authority than that of Orientalists who never traveled to India or spoke with Hindus. We sit first in the presence of one who knows Indian Yoga, has practiced its principles, and whose spirit is imbued with its realities, and then we note down his utterances. We have traveled through India and Ceylon in quest of the knowledge of Yoga, have met with Yogis, have gleaned with care truths from them [and] have succeeded in securing the means of interpreting and explaining the Yoga-​sutras of Patañjali.62

Blavatsky’s travels among yogis are somewhat unclear. Dayananda is no doubt one of her primary sources of inspiration for this statement, something which, among other things, can be gleamed from the primarily fictitious travel accounts in From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan.63 In May and June 1883 The Theosophist editor Blavatsky opened a debate between Vishishtadvaita and Advaita positions by publishing a part of Hindu Theosophist A. Govinda Charlu’s translation of the Catechism on Visishtadvaita Philosophy and

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  109 the response from an anonymous “Adwaitee,” fellow of the Theosophical Society. This material on Hindu philosophy including extensive footnotes, and the full publication of the Catechism in 1887, was instrumental to Blavatsky for the years to come, but right away in the footnotes she would equally contribute to the discussion as editor. Blavatsky engages in the philosophical discussion with the Vishishtadvaita from the Advaita standpoint, arguing that the individual “Jivan” cannot be separate from “Parabrahm,” clearly showing familiarity with some of the fundamental distinctions between the two positions and clearly favoring Advaita, which she correlates with the “esoteric key” to the philosophy of the absolute principle and its non-​qualified nature.64 This role, as engaged debater of Hindu philosophy, continues up to her critique of the Russian philosopher Solovyov and beyond and becomes increasingly connected to her formulation of her own so-​called trans-​Himalayan teachings during the 1880s in close discussion with Row and the teachings of the Theosophical Mahatmas. In other words, Hindu philosophy is viewed as an important source and authority, which can serve to corroborate, confirm, and develop the Theosophical system, but as will be shown next, it is also something that ultimately is subdued to esotericism.

Hindu Philosophy and the Authority of the Theosophical Teachings in India From October 17, 1880, Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–​1921) and Allan Octavian Hume (1880–​86) began to receive the so-​called Mahatma Letters, from what was believed to be Himalayan adepts.65 These correspondences and the reception of their teachings inaugurated great discussions within the Theosophical Society and ultimately led to the formulation of what came to be defined by Blavatsky as the “trans-​ Himalayan esoteric doctrine,”66 the system of “Trans-​Himalayan Esotericism,”67 the “Arhat Esoteric School”68 from the “Tibetan Brotherhood” of Mahatmas, or the authoritative seventh school of synthesis embracing the six Hindu schools as previously mentioned.69 The focus of this section will not be on the whole of the discussion regarding the gradual development of these teachings70 but on aspects of the debates about the authority of Vedānta and the trans-​Himalayan doctrine-​between Blavatsky and Row. The first public exposition of teachings from the Mahatma Letters was published anonymously in a series of articles in The Theosophist between 1881 and 1882 as “Fragments of Occult Truth.”71 Especially the first article initiated a long debate between Row and Blavatsky on the classification of the constitution of man and the distinction or similarity between the so-​called trans-​Himalayan Arhat system and what was defined as the esoteric Aryan or ancient Brahmanical secret doctrine related to Vedānta and Rāja Yoga, which initially formed the foundation for Row’s own views.72 Row wrote a response to the first article of “Fragments of Occult Truth” in a private letter to Blavatsky, which was published without Row’s

110  Representations of the East knowledge, as “The Aryan-​Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man” in the Theosophist, January 1882, edited by Blavatsky and with her many comments, which included the construction of the title of the article.73 In this noteworthy article/​letter, the existence of the two systems becomes clear for the first time. Row states that the “Chaldeo-​Tibetan” doctrine is divided into two parts: (1) the doctrines of the Lamaists; and (2)  the doctrines of the Arhats (or initiates) adopted by the Himalayan or Tibetan Brotherhood.74 The ancient “Aryan” doctrine is specified as a secret doctrine pre-​dating the compilation of the Vedas and as the key that unites and harmonizes all the orthodox Indian systems of philosophy.75 Row, however, finds it difficult to say which of the two systems (the Indian or the Tibetan) came first, whether one of them is derived directly from the other or if they were both derived from the same source.76 Blavatsky, however, carefully specifies in her comments that they had a common source, which she eclectically termed “the Aryan-​Chaldeo-​Tibetan doctrine.”77 The notion of two systems, however, soon evoked debate and criticism.78 Some critique pointed out that the sevenfold classification is to be found nowhere in ancient Oriental doctrines, which led some Hindu members of the Theosophical Society to view it as masked Buddhism.79 Blavatsky, however, tried in her “The Septenary Principle in Esotericism,” published July 1883, to maintain coherency and uniformity in India by arguing that the sevenfold constitution in nature, cosmos, and man was supported by the Vedānta scholar Row’s own research and was in fact to be found in many early Hindu sources such as the “Atharva-​Veda,”80 “Laws of Manu,”81 the “Nyaya Sutras,”82 the “Upanishads,”83 the “Sankhya-​Karika,”84 and the “Atma Bodha” by “Sankaracharya.”85 However, Sinnett’s just-​published Esoteric Buddhism (c. June 11, 1883)86 was of no help, as the book provoked further debates on the authority of Buddhism over Hinduism and the relationship of both to Theosophy.87 Row soon addressed some of the arisen confusion among Hindu Theosophists by stating that Sinnett had not intended to argue that Buddhism was the religion closest to the ancient Wisdom-​ Religion, but that exoteric Buddhism, at present, is closer to its esoteric doctrine than any other exoteric religion.88 Row also sought to counter some of the confusion that had arisen from the sevenfold classification of the constitution of man in comparison to the “Āryan Hindu Occult System,” as modern Vedānta teachers represented it, by comparing the various systems with the help of a diagram—​a diagram that became central to future discussions on the subject.89 After Mohini Chatterji and Laura C. Holloway had reworked much of the material given anonymously to Sinnett and Hume in a pamphlet entitled Man: Fragments of a Forgotten History by “Two Chelâs” (1885, revised 1887), which resulted in further consolidation of the trans-​Himalayan system,90 Row, however, in his lectures on the Bhagavad Gītā (December 27–​30, 1886), began to rebel by criticizing the sevenfold scheme in preference of the fourfold Tāraka Raja Yoga classification.91 As an authoritative Hindu member of the Theosophical Society and a key figure for Blavatsky in India, Row’s divergence from “the system” was upsetting. In an

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  111 effort to continue to maintain coherency and authority regarding “the system,” Blavatsky, in her article “Classification of ‘Principles,’ ” therefore found it necessary to respond discursively by reminding her readers that Row had previously acknowledged this sevenfold classification92 and that the difference between the two systems does not include the sevenfold classification, as this is primary to all esotericism.93 She furthermore argued that the classification adopted by Row was simply a practical classification—​not the ancient Aryan-​Arhat esoteric classification. Blavatsky’s authoritative response, however, only initiated a new article by Row, entitled “The Constitution of the Microcosm” (May 1887),94 in which he asserted that his views were not based on any orthodox Brahmanical or exoteric practical standpoint as Blavatsky had claimed and wanted her readers to believe.95 Now provoked, Row set out to dissect and compare the so-​called original teachings, as he called them, in order to show how the doctrine on the sevenfold constitution of man was never fixed but had undergone change and had evolved, and that the whole set of teachings contained several inconsistencies.96 Pressed by Blavatsky’s authority, Row also raised concerns about the Theosophical Society evolving into “an orthodox creed from the materials supplied by the above mentioned sources and . . . [which was raising] the publications above named to the dignity of an original revelation,”97 which, Row argued, is not in accord with the original policy of the Theosophical Society.98 In answer to this, Blavatsky responded in “Re-​Classification of Principles” (August 1887).99 Here Blavatsky called Row’s article a new “manifesto”100 and iterated that everyone was free to give full expression to their own ideas or personal views and that Blavatsky herself stood for trans-​Himalayan esotericism and in some respects ancient Cis-​Himalayan Brahmanism.101 The dispute over Hindu or Tibetan authority becomes increasingly pronounced, and in the long run the double message proved difficult for Theosophists to follow. Criticized for using many concepts from Hindu philosophy and in ways not strictly in accordance with the schools of Hinduism, Blavatsky apologetically wrote: “I claimed to know the esoteric philosophy of the trans-​Himâlayan Occultists and no more” and states that when she came to India she did not know much of the six schools of Brāhmanism.102 Furthermore, Blavatsky argued that she had rendered the trans-​ Himalayan teachings in Sanskrit terms used in Brahmanical philosophy to make it intelligible.103 Row’s final reply to Blavatsky was published as the second part of his article, “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part II]” (August 1887).104 In conclusion, Row states that he had never denied the importance of the sevenfold classification.105 He specified that the Tāraka system and Vedānta, from which he derived his views, are not two different systems106 and claimed that the Tāraka is actually the most important branch of the Wisdom-​Religion itself and that it equally comes from Shambhala.107 Finally, Row argued that his reason for disputing the sevenfold classification was to pave the way for the still-​esoteric “real sevenfold classification”108 and concluded by stating that he regrets the dispute with Blavatsky.109 He clearly wanted to maintain his authority and that of Hinduism but also to stay on good terms with Blavatsky. Blavatsky had originally hoped that Row would have

112  Representations of the East played a central role in the production of The Secret Doctrine, but presumably based on the above disputes about authority and systems, he declined the editing110 and resigned from the Theosophical Society in 1888—​on friendly terms.111

Conclusion The aim of this chapter was to explore the way the notion of the six schools of Hindu philosophy was received in Blavatsky’s early work. It was shown that Blavatsky already in New York and in Isis Unveiled had an Eastern focus and some knowledge of Hindu philosophy, but also that Hindu philosophy (Sāṃkhya and Vedānta) was used for the specific purpose of confirming the existence of a universal and ancient wisdom that could solve the many problems of modern science and theology. Hindu philosophy was fitted into this syncretistic framework, yet India was regarded among the absolutely most supreme and authoritative sources of wisdom. Blavatsky and Olcott therefore moved to India, the source, to become more acquainted with Hindu philosophy and to learn from first-​hand acquaintances and new publications. In India Blavatsky began to define Theosophy in direct connection with the six schools of Hindu philosophy and to vigorously debate this subject. She acquired knowledge of the six darśanas from available scholarship and made them central to her teachings. However, with the growth of Blavatsky’s authority and the new teachings from the Mahatmas, Hindu philosophy principally became second to what Blavatsky termed the trans-​Himalayan system. The positive focus on Hindu philosophy and the favored authority of Row and his Vedānta on the one hand and the emergence of an authoritative trans-​Himalayan teaching on the other hand, however, created dispute and ultimately led to Row’s resignation from the Theosophical Society. This chapter has hereby shown how Blavatsky’s work was a part of the Oriental Renaissance in the sense that the East, here the notion of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, clearly became an important subject, a part of the esoteric tradition and was embraced to a pronounced extent in terms of interest, discourse, authority, terminology, and personal engagement, but also that Hindu philosophy ultimately became just one aspect to be integrated into the syncretistic project of Theosophy, which in many respects framed the continued Oriental Renaissance in the West.

Notes 1. The reception of Hindu philosophy in The Secret Doctrine has been dealt with in Tim Rudbøg, “The Great Work of Blending the East and the West: ‘The Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy and The Secret Doctrine in the Mix,’ ” in Western Esotericism and the East, ed. Anita Stasulane, Birgit Menzel, and Ilze Kacane (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming). 2. Here “Easternization” is used in a broad sense as the introduction and adaption of ideas, terminology, and practices from the so-​called East into Western traditions and discourses.

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  113 See Christopher Partridge, The Re-​Enchantment of the West, vol. 1 (London: T. & T. Clark International, 2004), 86–​118. 3. See Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy:  Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 12–​17. 4. Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–​ 1880 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 8. 5. Ibid. 6. Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, Handbook of the Theosophical Current (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013), 1. 7. Merwin-​Marie Snell, “Modern Theosophy in Its Relation to Hinduism and Buddhism: II,” The Biblical World 5 (1895):  259–​ 65; Nicholas Goodrick-​ Clarke, “The Theosophical Society, Orientalism, and the ‘Mystic East’:  Western Esotericism and Eastern Religion in Theosophy,” Theosophical History 13 (2007): 3–​28; Julie Hall, “The Saptaparņa: The Meaning and Origins of the Theosophical Septenary Constitution of Man,” Theosophical History 12 (2007):  5–​38; Karl Baier, “Theosophical Orientalism and the Structures of Intercultural Transfer:  Annotations on the Appropriation of the Cakras in Early Theosophy,” in Theosophical Appropriations:  Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions, ed. Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss (Jerusalem: Ben-​Gurion University of the Negev Press Beer Sheca, 2016) 309–​54; and Karl Baier, “Mesmeric Yoga and the Development of Meditation within the Theosophical Society,” Theosophical History: A Quarterly Journal of Research 16 (2013): 150–​61. 8. See the diagram in Snell, “Modern Theosophy,” 258. 9. Ibid., 263. 10. Ibid.,  265. 11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine:  The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, vol. 1 (London: Theosophical Publishing Company, 1888), 269. 12. Ibid.,  278. 13. Henry Thomas Colebrooke, “On the Philosophy of the Hindus: I–​V,” in Miscellaneous Essays, 2 vols, by Henry Thomas Colebrooke (London: Wm. H. Allen, 1837), 1:227–​419; William Jones, “Discourse the Eleventh: On the Philosophy of the Asiatics; Delivered 20th February, 1794,” in Asiatick Researches Volume the Fourth (London: 1798), 165–​85; F. Max Müller, The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy (New York: Longmans, Green, 1899); and Karl Potter, ed., Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970). 14. See for example M. Winternitz, History of Indian Literature, vol. 3, part 2, translated from the German into English with additions by Subhadra Jha (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967), 467 (German original 1922(?), 418–​19); and Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 231. 15. Winternitz, History of Indian Literature, 467. 16. See especially Wilhelm Halbfass, “The Sanskrit Doxographies and the Structure of Hindu Traditionalism,” in India and Europe:  An Essay in Understanding, by Wilhelm Halbfass (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988), 349–​68; Andrew J. Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism:  Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (New  York:  Columbia University Press, 2010). 17. In fact it would seem from the Tamil work Manimekhalai by Chitalai Chathanar that the idea of six philosophical systems goes back to around 500 ce, since the female main character in the story is presented with six systems by a logician. Here the six are: (1) Lokāyatas, (2)  Buddhism (inspired by Jainism), (3)  Sāṃkhya, (4)  Logicians (nyāya), (5)  Vaiśeṣika, and (6)  Mīmāṃsā. See Merchant Prince Shattan, Manimekhalai (The Dancer with the Magic Bowl), translated by Alain Danielou with the collaboration of T. V.  Gopala Iyer (New York: New Directions Books, 1989), 130–​31; Halbfass, “Sanskrit Doxographies,” 350;

114  Representations of the East and Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism, 148–​51. As argued by Olle Qvarnstöm, the Buddhist scholar Bhavya (c. 500–​570 ad) may be considered one of the earliest Indian doxographers. See Olle Qvarnstöm, Hindu Philosophy in Buddhist Perspective: The Vedāntatattvaviniścaya Chapter of Bhavya’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā (Lund: Plus Ultra, 1989), 98–​101; and Olle Qvarnstöm, “Haribhadra and the Beginnings of Doxography in India,” in Approaches to the Jaina Studies: Philosophy, Logic, Rituals, and Symbols, ed. N. K. Wagle and Olle Qvarnström (Toronto:  Center for South Asian Studies, 1999), 169–​210. See also Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism, 151–​54. 18. For mention of several such works, see Halbfass, “Sanskrit Doxographies,” 350–​53. 19. Ibid. 20. Mādhavācarya, Sarvadarśana sangraha, or an Epitome of the Different Systems of Indian Philosophy, in Bibliotheca Indica, Collection of Orienal Works, Asiatic Society of Bengal, No 142, ed. Pandita Iswarachandra Vidyasagara (Calcutta:  J. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press, 1858). Madhava Áchárya, The Sarva-​Darśana-​Saṃgraha or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy, trans. E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough (London: Trübner, Ludgate Hill, 1892). Cowell and A. E. Gough (London: Trübner, Ludgate Hill, 1892). 21. Halbfass, “Sanskrit Doxographies,” 358. 22. Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism, 9. 23. Edited and translated by A. Weber in Indische Studien, vol. 1 (Berlin:  Ferd. Dümmler’s Buchhandlung, 1850), 1–​24; see also Jürgen Hanneder, “A Conservative Approach to Sanskrit Śāstras: Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s ‘Prasthānabheda,’” Journal of Indian Philosophy 27 (1999): 575–​81. 24. François Bernier, “Letter to M. Chapelain Describing the Gentiles of Hindoustan,” in Travels in the Mogul Empire A. D. 1656–​1668, trans. Archibald Constable. Second edition revised by Vincent A. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1934 [1891]), 336. 25. Jones, “Discourse the Eleventh,” 169. 26. Namely, the Brahmasūtras of Badarāyaṇa; Jones, “Discourse the Eleventh,” 170. 27. See Weber, Indische Studien, 1:1; and Müller, Six Systems, 99. 28. Colebrooke, “Philosophy of the Hindus,” 227–​419. 29. Ibid., 227–​28. 30. For example, Blavatsky refers to Colebrooke’s works in The Secret Doctrine, 1:153, 335, 457–​ 8n, 2:102n, including: Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Essays on the Religion and Philosophy of the Hindus, new ed. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1858); Henry Thomas Colebrooke, trans., The Sānkhya Kārikā, “or Memorial Verses on the Sānkhya Philosophy, by Īswara Krishna”; and Horace Hayman Wilson, trans. and ill. by comment, The Bhāshya or Commentary of Gaurapāda (Oxford: A. J. Valpy, 1837). 31. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Neo-​Buddhism,” in HPBCW (1987), 12:342–​43. 32. Blavatsky, “Neo-​Buddhism,” 343. 33. Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), 277–​78; and repeated many times by others thereafter. 34. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled:  A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology (New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877), 1:v. 35. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:xxii. This section was possibly largely written by Alexander Wilder, the editor at Bouton. 36. Ibid., 1:xxiii–​xliv. 37. Ibid.,  1:xlv. 38. Ibid.,  1:xi. 39. Ibid., 1:618–​28. It could also be argued that the second volume of Isis is largely a comparison of Buddhism and Christianity, with Buddhism being superior. 40. Ibid.,  1:618.

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  115 41. Ibid., 1:618, and see also 628. 42. Ibid., 1:xi, 2:565. 43. Ibid.,  2:345. 44. Ibid.,  2:565. 45. Ibid.,  1:580. 46. Ibid., 1:580, 2:262. 47. Ibid.,  1:98. 48. Ibid.,  2:531. 49. Ibid.,  2:158. 50. Ibid., 2:261–​62. For the comparisons of Kapila with Darwin, Schelling, and Schopenhauer see Louis Jacolliot, Genèse de l’Humanité: Fétichisme, Polythéisme, Monothéisme (Paris: Saint-​ Germain, 1876), 26–​27, 338–​40. 51. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:318. 52. Ibid., 2:592–​93. 53. Ibid., 2:591, and see also 1:621 for a perception of how old it was believed to be. 54. Ibid., 1:430–​31. See also 2:565, where Vedāntic teachings are compared to Jesus’s notion of prayer in solitude. 55. For more on Tallapragada Subba Row, see Henk J. Spierenburg, “The Life of T.  Subba Row,” in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, vol. 1, comp. and ann. Henk J. Spierenburg (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 2001), xv–​xxiv. For Blavatsky on Vedānta in general, see Henk J. Spierenburg, The Vedanta Commentaries of H. P. Blavatsky (San Diego: Point Loma, 1992). 56. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Erroneous Ideas Concerning the Doctrines of the Theosophists,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:14–​24, 22–​23. 57. Ibid.,  22–​23. 58. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “What Is Theosophy?” in HPBCW (1967), 2:87–​97, 89–​90. 59. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves:  The History of The Theosophical Society (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895–​1906], 6 vols.), 2:132. 60. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Footnotes to the Life of Sankaracharya, Philosopher and Mystic,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:217–​19. 61. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “A Hindu Professor’s Views on Indian Yoga,” in HPBCW (1982), 3:104–​8,  104. 62. Ibid.,  108. 63. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, in HPBCW (1983 [1883–​86]), [n. number]:22. 64. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Footnotes to ‘Visishtadvaita Philosophy,’” in HPBCW (1991), 4:535–​37.. See also A. Govinda Charlu, “Visishtadvaita Philosophy,” The Theosophist 4 (May 1883): 196–​97; Govinda Charlu, “Visishtadvaita Philosophy,” The Theosophist 4 (June 1883):  228; and An Adwaitee [Anon.], “The Visishtadvaita Catechism Dissected,” The Theosophist 4 (June 1883): 229–​31. 65. See A. T. Barker and Vincente Hao Chin Jr., eds., The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett: In Chronological Sequence (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998). 66. Tallapragada Subba Row and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The Aryan-​Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man,” in HPBCW (1982), 3:400–​24, 419; see also Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 2:636. 67. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Re-​Classification of Principles,” in HPBCW (1987), 7:345–​51, 346; and Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:110; 2:22. 68. Ibid., 1:157. For “Arhat esoteric doctrine,” see also Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “The Septenary Principle in Esotericism,” in HPBCW (1991), 4:574–​82, 574; and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Tibetan Teachings: A Long-​Delayed Promise Fulfilled,” in HPBCW (1991), 6:94–​113, 99–​ 112, but esp. 99.

116  Representations of the East 69. Row and Blavatsky, “The Aryan-​Arhat Esoteric Tenets,” comments and appendices, 400. 70. See Tim Rudbøg, “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism” (PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012), 365–​408. 71. Hume was the author, see [Allan Octavian Hume], “Fragments of Occult Truth [No. 1],” The Theosophist 3, no. 1 (1881):  17–​22; [Allan Octavian Hume], “Fragments of Occult Truth (No. 2 of the Series),” The Theosophist 3 (1882): 157–​60; and [Allan Octavian Hume], “Fragments of Occult Truth (No. 3 of the Series),” The Theosophist 3 (1882): 307–​14. 72. [Hume], “Fragments [1]‌,” 18–​19; see also Hall, “The Saptaparņa,” 5–​38. 73. See Row and Blavatsky, “The Aryan-​Arhat Esoteric Tenets,” comments and appendices, 400–​24. 74. Ibid., 400. 75. Ibid., 401. 76. Ibid., 401. 77. Ibid., 419. 78. Blavatsky, “The Septenary Principle in Esotericism,” 574. 79. Ibid., 574. 80. Ibid., 575, 579. 81. Ibid., 576. 82. Ibid., 579–​80. 83. Ibid., 579–​80. 84. Ibid., 580. 85. Ibid., 582. 86. See Alfred Percy Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism (London: Trübner, 1883). 87. Blavatsky summed up some of these problems; see Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:xvii–​ xix; and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “[Comments to] Esoteric Buddhism and The Secret Doctrine,” in HPBCW (1974), 10:177–​88. 88. Tallapragada Subba Row, “Note to ‘Esoteric Buddhism and Hinduism,’” in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, vol. 2, comp. and ann. Henk J. Spierenburg (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 2001), 267–​68, 267. 89. Row, “Note to ‘Esoteric Buddhism and Hinduism,’ ” 267–​68. 90. See Mohini Chatterji and Laura C. Holloway, Man: Fragments of a Forgotten History by “Two Chelâs,” 2nd rev. ed. (London: Reevs and Turner, 1887). 91. Tallapragada Subba Row, “Bhagavad Gītā,” in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, comp. and ann. Henk J. Spierenburg (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 2001), 453–​54. 92. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Classification of ‘Principles’,” in HPBCW (1987), 7:284–​300,  286. 93. Ibid., 286–​87. 94. Tallapragada Subba Row, “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part I],” in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, vol. 2, comp. and ann. Henk J. Spierenburg (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 2001), 557–​70. 95. Row, “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part I],” 558–​59; and see also Tallapragada Subba Row, “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part II],” in T. Subba Row Collected Writings, vol. 2, comp. and ann. Henk J. Spierenburg (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 2001), 577–​88, 583. 96. Row, “Constitution of the Microcosm [Part I],” 559–​70. 97. Row, “Constitution of the Microcosm [Part II],” 560. 98. Ibid., 560–​61. 99. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Re-​Classification of Principles,” in HPBCW (1987), 7:345–​51. 100. Ibid., 345. 101. Ibid., 346. 102. Ibid., 347–​48.

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  117 103. 104. 105. 106. 107. 108. 109. 110.

Ibid., 348–​50. Row, “Constitution of the Microcosm [Part II],” 577–​88. Ibid., 577, 581. Ibid., 580–​81. Ibid., 581. Ibid., 587. Ibid., 588. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 3:398: “About the same time [the first week of December 1886] I received from H. P. B., for reading and revision by T. Subba Row and myself, the MS. of Vol. I of The Secret Doctrine; but in his then captious mood the former refused to do more than read it, saying that it was so full of mistakes that if he touched it he should have to rewrite it altogether! This was mere pique, but did good, for when I reported his remark to H. P. B. she was greatly distressed, and set to work and went over the MS. most carefully, correcting many errors due to slipshod literary methods, and with the help of European friends making the book what it is now.” See also Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 4:23, 25: “It is painful beyond words to read her [H. P. B.’s] correspondence from Europe [in 1887], and see how she suffered from various causes, fretting and worrying too often over mare’s nests. Out of the sorest grievances I select the defection of T. Subba Row . . . ; the refusal of Subba Row to edit the Secret Doctrine MSS., contrary to his original promise, although she had it type-​copied at a cost of £ 80 and sent me for that purpose; his wholesale condemnation of it. . . . As regarded her return to India, she had no heart for it if Subba Row was to be her enemy, so much had she loved and respected him.” 111. See Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 4:43, 74.

Bibliography In the following the abbreviation HPBCW has been used, which in full reads: de Zirkoff, Boris, ed. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. 15 vols. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950–​91. Adwaitee, An [Anon]. “The Visishtadvaita Catechism Dissected.” The Theosophist 4 (June 1883): 229–​31. Baier, Karl. “Mesmeric Yoga and the Development of Meditation within the Theosophical Society.” Theosophical History: A Quarterly Journal of Research 16 (2013): 150–​61. Baier, Karl. “Theosophical Orientalism and the Structures of Intercultural Transfer: Annotations on the Appropriation of the Cakras in Early Theosophy.” In Theosophical Appropriations: Esotericism, Kabbalah, and the Transformation of Traditions, edited by Julie Chajes and Boaz Huss, 309–​54. Jerusalem: Ben-​Gurion University of the Negev Press Beer Sheca, 2016. Barker, A. T., and Vincente Hao Chin Jr., eds. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett: In Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998. Bernier, François. “Letter to M. Chapelain Describing the Gentiles of Hindoustan.” In Travels in the Mogul Empire A. D. 1656—​1668. Translated by Archibald Constable. Second edition revised by Vincent A. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1934, 300–​49. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Erroneous Ideas Concerning the Doctrines of the Theosophists.” In HPBCW (1967 [1879]), 2:14–​24. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Footnotes to the Life of Sankaracharya, Philosopher and Mystic.” In HPBCW (1967), 2:217–​19. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “What Is Theosophy?” In HPBCW (1967 [1879]), 2:87–​97.

118  Representations of the East Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “[Comments to] Esoteric Buddhism and The Secret Doctrine.” In HPBCW, 2nd ed. (1974), 10:177–​88. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “A Hindu Professor’s Views on Indian Yoga.” In HPBCW (1982), 3:104–​8. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan. In HPBCW [n. number] (1983 [1883–​86]). Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Classification of ‘Principles.’” In HPBCW (1987), 7:284–​300. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Neo-​Buddhism.” In HPBCW (1987), 12:334–​49. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Re-​Classification of Principles.” HPBCW (1987), 7:345–​51. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Footnotes to ‘Visishtadvaita Philosophy.’” In HPBCW (1991), 4:535–​37. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “The Septenary Principle in Esotericism.” In HPBCW (1991), 4:574–​82. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Tibetan Teachings: A Long-​Delayed Promise Fulfilled.” In HPBCW (1991), 6:94–​113. Charlu, A. Govinda. “Visishtadvaita Philosophy.” The Theosophist 4 (May 1883): 196–​97. Charlu, Govinda. “Visishtadvaita Philosophy.” The Theosophist 4 (June 1883): 228. Chatterji, Mohini, and Laura C. Holloway. Man: Fragments of a Forgotten History by “Two Chelâs.” 2nd rev. ed. London: Reevs and Turner, 1887 [1885]. Colebrooke, Henry Thomas. “On the Philosophy of the Hindus.” Parts  1–​5. In Miscellaneous Essays. Vol. 1. By Henry Thomas Colebrooke, 227–​419. London: Wm. H. Allen, 1837. Colebrooke, Henry Thomas, trans. The Sānkhya Kārikā:  Or Memorial Verses on the Sānkhya Philosophy, by Īswara Krishna”; Also The Bhāshya or Commentary of Gaurapāda, Translated, and Illustrated by an Original Comment by Horace Hayman Wilson. Oxford: A. J. Valpy, 1837. Colebrooke, Henry Thomas. Essays on the Religion and Philosophy of the Hindus. New ed. London: Williams & Norgate, 1858. Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Jacolliot, Louis. Genèse de l’Humanité:  Fétichisme, Polythéisme, Monothéisme. Paris:  Saint-​ Germain, 1876. Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994. Goodrick-​ Clarke, Nicholas. “The Theosophical Society, Orientalism, and the ‘Mystic East’:  Western Esotericism and Eastern Religion in Theosophy.” Theosophical History 13 (2007): 3–​28. Hall, Julie. “The Saptaparņa:  The Meaning and Origins of the Theosophical Septenary Constitution of Man.” Theosophical History 12 (2007): 5–​38. Halbfass, Wilhelm. “The Sanskrit Doxographies and the Structure of Hindu Traditionalism.” In India and Europe:  An Essay in Understanding. By Wilhelm Halbfass, 349–​68. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988. Hammer, Olav, and Mikael Rothstein. Handbook of the Theosophical Current. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013. Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Esotericism and the Academy:  Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Hanneder, Jürgen. “A Conservative Approach to Sanskrit Śāstras:  Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s ‘Prasthānabheda.’” Journal of Indian Philosophy 27 (1999): 575–​81. [Hume, Allan Octavian.] “Fragments of Occult Truth [No. 1].” The Theosophist 3, 1 (1881): 17–​22. [Hume, Allan Octavian.] “Fragments of Occult Truth (No. 2 of the Series).” The Theosophist 3 (1882): 157–​60. [Hume, Allan Octavian.] “Fragments of Occult Truth (No. 3 of the Series).” The Theosophist 3 (1882): 307–​14. Jones, William. “Discourse the Eleventh:  On the Philosophy of the Asiatics; Delivered 20th February, 1794.” Asiatick Researches Volume the Fourth, 165–​ 85. London:  Vernor and Hood, 1798. Madhava Áchárya. The Sarva-​Darśana-​Saṃgraha or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy. Translated by E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough. London: Trübner, Ludgate Hill, 1892.

Early Reception of Hindu Philosophy  119 Mādhavācarya. “Sarvadarśana sangraha, or an Epitome of the Different Systems of Indian Philosophy.” In Bibliotheca Indica, Collection of Orienal Works, Asiatic Society of Bengal, No 142. Edited by Pandita Iswarachandra Vidyasagara. Calcutta: J. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press, 1858. Madhusūdana Sarasvatī. “Prasthānabheda.” In Indische Studien. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by A. Weber, 1–​24. Berlin: Ferd. Dümmler’s Buchhandlung, 1850. Merchant Prince Shattan. Manimekhalai (The Dancer with the Magic Bowl). Translated by Alain Danielou with the collaboration of T. V. Gopala Iyer. New York: New Directions Books, 1989. Müller, F. Max. The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green, 1899. Nicholson, Andrew J. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves:  The History of the Theosophical Society. 6 vols. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895–​1906]. Partridge, Christopher. The Re-​ Enchantment of the West. Vol. 1. London:  T & T Clark International, 2004. Potter, Karl, ed. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970–​. Qvarnström, Olle. Hindu Philosophy in Buddhist Perspective: The Vedāntatattvaviniścaya Chapter of Bhavya’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā. Lund: Plus Ultra, 1989. Qvarnström, Olle. “Haribhadra and the Beginnings of Doxography in India.” In Approaches to the Jaina Studies: Philosophy, Logic, Rituals, and Symbols. Edited by N. K. Wagle and Olle Qvarnström, 169–​210. Toronto: Center for South Asian Studies, 1999. Row, T. Subba. “Bhagavad Gītā.” In T. Subba Row:  Collected Writings. Vol. 2.  Compiled and annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg, 450–​538. San Diego: Point Loma, 2001. Row, T. Subba. “Note to ‘Esoteric Buddhism and Hinduism.’” In T. Subba Row: Collected Writings. Vol. 2. Compiled and annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg, 267–​68. San Diego: Point Loma, 2001. Row, T. Subba. “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part I].” In T. Subba Row: Collected Writings. Vol. 2. Compiled and annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg, 557–​70. San Diego: Point Loma, 2001. Row, T. Subba. “The Constitution of the Microcosm [Part II].” In T. Subba Row: Collected Writings. Vol. 2. Compiled and annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg, 577–​88. San Diego: Point Loma, 2001. Row, T. Subba, and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. “The Aryan-​Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man.” In HPBCW (1982), 3:400–​24. Rudbøg, Tim. “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism.” PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012. Schwab, Raymond. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–​ 1880. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Sinnett, Alfred Percy. Esoteric Buddhism. London: Trübner, 1883. Snell, Merwin-​Marie. “Modern Theosophy in Its Relation to Hinduism and Buddhism: II.” The Biblical World 5 (1895): 259–​65. Spierenburg, Henk J. The Vedanta Commentaries of H. P. Blavatsky. San Diego: Point Loma, 1992. Spierenburg, Henk J. “The Life of T.  Subba Row.” In T. Subba Row:  Collected Writings. Vol. 1. Compiled and annotated by Henk J. Spierenburg, xv–​xxiv. San Diego: Point Loma, 2001. Winternitz, M. History of Indian Literature. Vol. 3, part  2. Translated from the German into English with additions by Subhadra Jha. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1967 (German original 1922[?]‌).

6 The Mahatma Letters Joscelyn Godwin

The letters attributed to Mahatmas (“great souls”) are one of the most crucial and puzzling aspects of the Theosophical movement: crucial, because of the part they played in the events of the early 1880s and in the transition from an occultist and “Egyptian” orientation to a universalist and “Oriental” one; puzzling, because of the circumstances surrounding the correspondence and the questions raised by their contents. As often in Theosophical history, study of the letters has polarized along ideological lines. On the one hand are those who believe in the letters’ self-​presentation as the phenomenal production of Masters, dwelling mostly in the Himalayas, and regard their contents as virtually sacred texts.1 On the other hand are those to whom the letters can only be the product of an elaborate hoax by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and those in her power.2 The present study avoids both extremes. It does not pretend to give a final answer but takes the agnostic stance that, in Brendan French’s words, “promises to contribute tremendously to a field of enquiry previously made barren by stubbornness and hauteur.”3 The primary documents, preserved in the Theosophical Society Archives in Adyar and in the British Library, represent four phases of communication ascribed to various “Brothers,” Masters, or Mahatmas. First is the unique, unsigned letter in the script later identified with Koot Hoomi, received in 1870 by Blavatsky’s aunt, Nadyezhda de Fadeyev, and assuring her that her niece was safe.4 Second is the series of letters that Henry Olcott received in 1875 from masters called Serapis and Tuitit Bey.5 Third is the heart of the matter: the letters of 1880–​85 signed by Koot Hoomi and Morya and addressed to Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–​1921) and Allan Octavian Hume (1829–​1912).6 Fourth are letters received by other members of the Theosophical Society.7 The physical evidence distinguishes these from subsequent claimed communications from Mahatmas, such as those of Alice Bailey, Helena Roerich, the Temple of the People, and Elizabeth Clare Prophet.8 The present chapter takes some of the possible avenues of approach to the letters, chosen to help the impartial reader draw his or her own conclusions. It addresses six questions: (1) To whom were they addressed, and why? (2) By what stages did they reach public notice? (3) What are their physical peculiarities? (4) How do they

122  Representations of the East present their alleged writers? (5) What was Blavatsky’s role in their production? (6) What was their purpose?

The Recipients: Sinnett and Hume If we cannot say for certain who or what authored the letters, there is no such doubt about their recipients, nor about the reasons for their involvement. Sinnett had been raised in London by a widowed mother who struggled to support her family by freelance writing.9 After a short and unhappy spell at London University School he left to train as a mechanical draughtsman. At the age of nineteen his writing talent earned him a lucky break into journalism, which led to assignments in London and Sweden, three years in Hong Kong, a journey around the world, and in 1872, aged only thirty-​two, the editorship of the Pioneer, the chief newspaper of the British colony in India. There Sinnett enjoyed a good income with all the luxuries and status of colonial life, and a friendly understanding with the Viceroy, Earl Lytton. When Blavatsky and Olcott arrived in 1879, he was at the height of his profession. Sinnett had witnessed Mrs. Guppy’s mediumship in London and become a convinced, though not a pious spiritualist. He was eager to witness occult phenomena and could turn it into excellent copy, both in his newspaper and in the best-​selling books, The Occult World and Esoteric Buddhism. These earned him recognition after he was dismissed from the Pioneer and returned, jobless, to London. Hume, in contrast, grew up in the West End of London and a country house in Norfolk.10 His father, Joseph Hume (1777–​1855), had made his fortune in the East India Company and bought a seat in Parliament, where he loudly supported every radical cause.11 Allan was educated at University College School and East India Company College, winning prizes in mathematics. He joined the Civil Service in Calcutta and held several senior posts, including Secretary to the Government (1870–​79). The co-​editors of Hume’s writings sum up his character: “Though intellectually arrogant and an elitist in many respects, he had a profound belief in representative government and a genuine concern for India’s social and economic betterment.”12 Disagreement with a less liberal governor led to Hume’s taking leave in May 1880 and devoting his energies to ornithology, for which he was already renowned. In the same year he began his brief but intense involvement with the Theosophical Society. When that ended, he took up the cause of Indian independence, earning a place in history as the founding father of the Indian National Congress (1885). He spent his later years in England, where he gave his unrivaled collection of birds, nests, and eggs to the Natural History Museum and devoted himself to botany. There is a curious incident in Hume’s youth. On a visit to Paris in 1848 he made contact with an unidentified “Association” of mystics, which he mentioned many years later in a letter to the viceroy, Lord Ripon.13 Hume believed at first that the Theosophical Society was under the same inspiration. If, as his biographers suspect,

The Mahatma Letters  123 the Parisian association was led by Éliphas Lévi (radical ex-​priest and authority on ritual magic), Blavatsky’s known admiration for Levi’s writings might have been decisive for Hume. In any case, his was not a casual involvement. Upon joining the Theosophical Society he gave up shooting big game and killing birds for his collection and became a lifelong vegetarian. But Hume had no religious awe before the Mahatmas. Responding to Blavatsky’s bohemian style and vigorous language, he treated her less as an adept, even less as a lady, than as a pal to be affectionately joshed. Only Hume could write to her: “And tho’ I am desperately inclined at times to believe that you are an impostor I believe I love you more than any of them.”14 Both Sinnett and Hume were thus well disposed, for different reasons, toward the Theosophical Society and its claims, and from the point of view of the Society’s founders, they were a valuable catch. Blavatsky and Olcott’s arrival in India was newsworthy, and Sinnett lost no time in contacting them. They spent the Christmas holidays as his guests in Allahabad, and a longer stay (September 8 to October 21, 1880) at his summer residence at Simla (Shimla), in the western foothills of the Himalayas. There Blavatsky told her hosts of a brotherhood of adepts living in those mountains, watching over the human race and especially over the Theosophical Society. “After communicating mentally by her own occult methods with the distant Brother,” as Sinnett says,15 she obtained some short written messages. There were also inexplicable materializations or apports16 that convinced all present that some occult power was at work.17 His belief in such power now confirmed, Sinnett began to publish accounts of the phenomena in the Pioneer. But he craved a more direct contact with the Brothers, and in mid-​October 1880 Blavatsky agreed to try to convey his letters to one of them.18 In his first letter, addressed “to the Unknown Brother,” Sinnett suggested that if a copy of the London Times were caused to appear at Simla on the day of its publication (at a time when the mails took several weeks), it would prove the existence of occult powers beyond the limits of ordinary science.19

Arrival and Publication of the Letters On October 17, 1880, Sinnett found on his writing table a reply of several pages signed by “Koot Hoomi Lal Singh,” explaining why this would not be a good idea. The world, Koot Hoomi wrote, is not ready for such a radical demonstration. “The ignorant—​unable to grapple with the invisible operators—​might some day vent their rage on the visible agents at work; the higher and educated classes would go on disbelieving as ever, tearing you to shreds as before.”20 Sinnett’s friend and neighbor Hume was sufficiently impressed by this response that on the same day he wrote to Koot Hoomi offering to give up all his other pursuits and come to study occultism with the Brothers, then “return to the world armed with powers which would enable him to demonstrate the realities of spiritual development and the errors of modern materialism.”21 On November 1, he too

124  Representations of the East received a long reply from Koot Hoomi touching on political matters, the errors of Western science, the relation of occult powers to the brain, and hinting at a theory of time-​cycles.22 Both men were fascinated. For Blavatsky and Olcott, the friendship with Sinnett and Hume was their entrée into colonial society, but it came at a cost. These gentlemen felt that the founders were going about matters in the wrong way:  that they themselves, as cultivated Europeans, could better address the mentalities and needs of their countrymen. To that end they proposed an “independent Anglo-​Indian Theosophical Society,” which would be guided directly by one of the Brothers, rather than by the founders. Koot Hoomi consented, with the reservation that it must “be, in fact, a Branch of the Parent body as is the British Theosophical Society at London, and contribute to its vitality and usefulness by promoting its leading idea of a Universal Brotherhood, and in other practicable ways.”23 The primacy of universal brotherhood, to which the Mahatma Letters constantly return, marks an ideological change in the Theosophical Society after it left America for India. As recent scholarship has shown, its original emphasis was on occultism,24 while Blavatsky’s own writings favored another of the society’s objects: the study of comparative religion and mythology. The new direction is evident in the Objects of the Society as stated on February 17, 1881, at a meeting in Bombay, which downplayed occultism and raised the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity to first place.25 But for all the Mahatmas’ insistence on this priority, the very idea of their existence and their mysterious manner of communication only raised curiosity on the occult side. The Sinnetts (Alfred, Patience, and their son Denny) left Bombay for home leave in late February 1881. During the voyage, Sinnett wrote an account of the phenomena he had witnessed since Blavatsky entered his life, with excerpts from the Mahatmas’ letters. Soon after his arrival in London he received a letter from Koot Hoomi, mailed from Paris, which praised his forthcoming book as “a little jewel.”26 It was published that summer as The Occult World. The book caused a sensation among spiritualists and others, though the quotations from Koot Hoomi contained a time-​bomb that would explode two years later as the “Kiddle incident.” After Sinnett’s return to India, he and Hume settled down to the serious study of the teachings that were now coming, as he says, “through Madame Blavatsky.”27 Exactly how they came through her is unclear. Since Sinnett did not preserve them among the Mahatmas’ letters, they may have been given verbally. “The very first thing . . . was a sketch of the chain of worlds,” he wrote. “Then we got in a fragmentary way the materials on which Hume wrote the first of the ‘Occult Fragments.’ ”28 That refers to Hume’s attempt to organize the teachings on the sevenfold nature of man and his publication of them in the Theosophical Society’s monthly magazine as “Fragments of Occult Truth” in October 1881.29 The two pupils raised many questions that Sinnett recorded, with the answers received, as the first series of “Cosmological Notes.”30 A second series was given

The Mahatma Letters  125 in January 1882, in which the answers were written in the hand of another Mahatma, Morya.31 The two series set out the metaphysical principles governing universal manifestation, the sevenfold divisions of both man and universe, with their Tibetan, Sanskrit, and English nomenclature and terse explanations of human evolution, death and survival, and cosmic cycles. More questions and answers followed from June until the autumn, filling out the scheme. By that time, Hume and Sinnett had noticed significant contradictions between Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled and what they were now learning about the after-​death state, Devachan, and reincarnation. Koot Hoomi wrote many pages attempting to reconcile the two teachings.32 Hume and Sinnett were both anxious to share this wisdom with the world, and so it seems were the Mahatmas. In June 1882, Koot Hoomi told Hume that he had permission to instruct him, “and you will have work enough to ‘drop’ your Fragments at intervals of two or three months.”33 He also wrote presciently to Sinnett that “Mr. Hume—​if he only holds on to his resolutions—​has a grand and noble work before him—​the work of a true Founder of a new social era, of a philosophical and religious Reform.”34 Hume, for his part, published two further “Fragments” and two small volumes of Hints on Esoteric Theosophy. The first of these had many testimonials from Indians describing the phenomenal delivery or appearance of the Mahatmas’ letters, and also reported the Vega incident, in which a letter was abstracted on board ship and a reply sent instantly from land. During the summer of 1882 Hume was planning a larger exposition of occult philosophy, for which he drafted a theological preface. On submitting this to the Mahatmas, he received two letters35 that remain troubling to many Theosophists for their atheism and their hostility to all religion. On the former subject Koot Hoomi wrote: Our doctrine knows no compromises. It either affirms or denies, for it never teaches but that which it knows to be the truth. Therefore, we deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists. We know there are planetary and other spiritual lives, and we know there is in our system no such thing as God, either personal or impersonal. Parabrahm is not a God, but absolute immutable law, and Iswar is the effect of Avidya and Maya, ignorance, based upon the great delusion.36

We may well wonder why the writer chose to live in Tibet, where Buddhism had become a state religion and a polytheistic one at that, and why he explains himself not in Buddhist but in Hindu terms. The London Theosophists, especially Charles Carleton Massey, were unsettled by the contradictions between Isis Unveiled and The Occult World. At the end of August 1882, Hume wrote a letter to the Theosophist under his known pseudonym of “H. X.,” saying that it was time to stop trying to reconcile them and to admit that Blavatsky’s book was full of errors. He went on to scold the Mahatmas for

126  Representations of the East not making their knowledge clearer and more accessible, adding that they, being Asiatics, regrettably had different standards from Europeans: Again, even when disposed to teach, their ideas of doing this differ toto caelo from ours. If we wanted to teach anything, we should teach it piece by piece, and each branch with perfect accuracy. They on the contrary seem to care nothing about complete accuracy. All they appear to desire to convey, is a sort of general conception of the outline. They do not seem to wish, that any one, not bound to them by obligations rendering them practically their slaves, should learn even their philosophy, thoroughly. . . . We have to deal with a set of men almost exclusively Orientals; very learned in some matters, learned beyond the conception of most Westerns, very pure in life, very jealous of their treasured knowledge, brought up and petrified in a system that can only recommend itself to Eastern minds, and saturated with a stream of thought flowing directly at right angles to that in which runs all the highest and brightest modern Western Thought.37

Blavatsky was outraged by Hume’s chauvinistic and patronizing attitude, but the Mahatmas told her that the letter must not be suppressed. It was published, framed by protests by her, as editor, and by twelve Indian Theosophists, including the learned Brahmin Tallapragada Subba Row.38 The Mahatmas repaid Hume in kind, making scathing remarks about him and about Englishmen in general.39 Hume resigned as president of the Simla Eclectic Theosophical Society (as the Anglo-​ Indian branch was called) and made only one further intervention: an unsuccessful takeover bid at the time of the Hodgson Report.40 Sinnett’s involvement with Theosophy did not please the proprietors of the Pioneer, who gave him a year’s notice of dismissal in December 1882. He planned a new paper, the Phoenix, which would support Indian independence: a project that came to nothing, although the Mahatmas encouraged it and offered strategic and even financial advice.41 In the summer of 1883 Sinnett published Esoteric Buddhism, which contained the Mahatmas’ further explanations of planetary rounds, root races, sub races, and the after-​death fate of the seven principles of the human being. Two younger Theosophists, Mohini Chatterjee and Laura Holloway, were also authorized by Koot Hoomi to quote from his letters in a book they were planning.42 They published it under the pseudonym of “Two Chelas”—​the “Eastern Chela” and the “Western Chela”—​as Man:  Fragments of Forgotten History (1885). Blavatsky called the result “unutterable flapdoodle” and drew up a long list of corrections.43 After seeing the consequences of publishing his and Morya’s letters, Koot Hoomi changed his attitude. In summer 1884 he wrote to Sinnett that the letters were written for private use, and no more should be published, no more excuses made: “Leave to the Secret Doctrine the task of avenging you.”44 His letters became sparser until about May 1885, when they ceased. But from Sinnett’s point of view the contact was unbroken, for he found mediums in London who, he was sure, continued to bring him messages from Koot Hoomi.45

The Mahatma Letters  127 Sinnett preserved all his letters from the Mahatmas and from Blavatsky, along with other papers such as copies of the letters to and from Hume, in a special lockable box. There they remained for nearly forty years, while the Theosophical movement fragmented and the Adyar group took a different course. For example, Charles W.  Leadbeater would turn his clairvoyant vision on the Mahatmas’ innermost retreats and report familiarly on their habits, dress, and previous incarnations.46 In 1919, Curupullumullage Jinarājadāsa published some of the documents held at Adyar as Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom. These included letters from the Mahatmas to Leadbeater, Annie Besant, and other Theosophists, and also the 1870 letter, in order to demonstrate that the Mahatmas had been watching over the Theosophical movement before the society’s foundation and had favored its current leaders. Four years later, in April 1923, Jinarājadāsa edited The Early Teachings of the Masters, using some of the letters to Sinnett and Hume that Besant had been allowed to copy or that had been sent to Adyar by Sinnett in redacted form.47 Early Teachings was probably rushed into print when news of Alfred Trevor Barker’s project was made known, and it became redundant when that appeared in September with more complete and accurate versions of the same letters. Jinarājadāsa’s second series of Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom (1925) contained more letters from the Adyar archives, including the “Serapis” letters received by Olcott in 1875, which are crucial to the early history of the Theosophical Society. The decision to publish the whole corpus of the Sinnett-​Hume Letters was taken by Maude Hoffman, the friend and executor to whom Sinnett had unconditionally willed the originals. After his death in 1921, Hoffman entrusted the task to a young Theosophist, Barker (1893–​1941). He transcribed them, ordered them by topic, assigned them Roman numerals from I to CXLIIb, and wrote an introduction urging Theosophists to return to the original doctrines and objects of their society. Two years later (1925) Barker published in a uniform volume The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett and Other Miscellaneous Letters. The correspondence of the early 1880s could now be appreciated in all its complexity. Three later events deserve mention. On March 11, 1939, Hoffman gave the Mahatma and Blavatsky-​Sinnett letters irrevocably to the British Museum (which then included the British Library), with the proviso that there should be no publicity about the gift, and that for ten years, only Barker should have access to them. In 1962 there appeared a “third edition” by Christmas Humphreys and Elsie Benjamin. Humphreys had had a small part in the original publication and was Barker’s executor. He and Benjamin went back to the manuscripts, checked every word, and repaired Barker’s misreadings and unnecessary corrections. With some misgiving, they preserved Barker’s topical arrangement (though not his Roman numerals). Humphreys was a most distinguished figure, both as a high court judge in London and as one of the most active promoters of Buddhism in the English-​ speaking world. His five years’ devotion to this project implies that he accepted the letters, in some sense, as an “esoteric Buddhism” compatible with his own convictions and mission.48

128  Representations of the East Finally in 1998 the Adyar society published an edition by Vincente Haó Chin, which renumbered the letters in a chronological sequence established by Virginia Hanson.49 While this made for easier reading, future scholars are obliged to work with two numbering systems.

The Physical Letters The letters in the British Library are conserved in bound volumes and, when necessary, repaired.50 There is a wide variation of scripts, inks, and paper types. Morya writes a rapid, careless hand, mostly in red ink. Koot Hoomi’s is more careful, with extremely long crossings of the “Ts” and bars over the “Ms.” He calls the latter practice “useful,”51 which is true in the case of Russian cursive, in which the miniscule letters can be hard to distinguish.52 Most of his letters are in ink; some are in the blue pencil customarily used for correcting proofs (hence always at hand for the editor of the Theosophist), and of these, some but not all show a curious phenomenon: the script is formed from tiny parallel lines, about fifty to the inch and sloping downwards to the right.53 According to the Mahatmas and to Blavatsky, the writing was not always done by normal means, but “precipitated.”54 This required the writer to visualize every word in his or her imagination, then send it telepathically, phrase by phrase, to a competent disciple. The latter then used some occult method to make the script instantly materialize on the paper. Sinnett came to doubt the claim of precipitation, concluding that most of the letters were inspired by Koot Hoomi but dictated to a “competent clairaudient amanuensis, and Madame Blavatsky was generally the amanuensis in question.”55 Leading Theosophists, including Olcott, Besant, Leadbeater, Barker, and Blavatsky herself, downplayed the whole idea.56 Yet Hume, long after his parting with the Mahatmas, actually told Lord Dufferin, the viceroy, that “thanks to the transcendental brotherhood, he sometimes received ‘precipitated facsimiles’ of official state papers.”57 The closest to a scientific investigation of the physical letters was made by Vernon Harrison, who was employed for ten years as research manager for Thomas De la Rue, printers of banknotes, passports, and stamps.58 He was also past president of the Royal Photographic Society and a member of the Psychical Research Society, which had been founded to investigate just such interesting phenomena. After examining the letters with a pocket microscope (which he admitted was all he could do in the British Library), Harrison describes his own failed attempts to reproduce the parallel-​line effect in the way some have suggested, by resting the paper on a book cover or other ribbed surface. He notes other odd features, such as ink apparently contained within the paper rather than on it, and corrections made with some chemical ink eradicator that neither disturbed nor stained the surface.59 He writes: “I am not saying that they are paranormal, but they at least excite interest.”60

The Mahatma Letters  129 Richard Hodgson, who conducted the 1885 investigation for the Society for Psychical Research, asserted that the handwriting of the letters was that of Blavatsky or her co-​conspirators. Harrison, after a minute analysis of letter-​types, writes: “I do not know who wrote the Mahatma Letters, but I do not find it plausible to assume that Madame Blavatsky wrote them—​the great bulk of them at any rate.”61 Yet there is a third alternative that we will consider: that Blavatsky could produce material differing in both content and physical appearance from her usual styles of speaking and writing. Harrison’s verdict on the letters applies equally to the manner of their delivery.62 Conjuring skills and accomplices might account for those that appeared to drop from above, even in railway carriages, and the insertion of messages in the Mahatmas’ scripts in sealed letters delivered by mail. Many cases can be thus explained (which is not to say that the explanation is the true one), but there are stubborn cases, such as the Mahatma’s telegram,63 the Vega incident,64 and some of those reported by Indian Theosophists,65 for which a materialistic explanation requires such a complex sequence of plotting, stage-​management, and deception as to be itself unbelievable. The annals of Western mysticism and mediumship, together with the feats of shamans and yogis, provide a well-​documented context within which unprejudiced minds can weigh these phenomena.66

Personae of the Mahatmas An openness to parapsychological possibilities does not preclude skepticism toward the claims of the Mahatma Letters, beginning with the personae of Koot Hoomi and Morya. We are told that Koot Hoomi lives in a kind of monastic enclave with Morya and some of their chelas, making long trips on horseback and returning to enjoy his large library and his pianoforte. (Leadbeater adds a three-​manual organ, made in Tibet.67) He has a wide, if selective, knowledge of European culture and has spent some time studying in Germany. He watches every scene in the Theosophical drama, especially the troubles with the London Lodge and the rise of Anna Kingsford. Against Blavatsky’s will he supports Kingsford’s presidency, but in terms peppered with snide remarks on the rival’s appearance and character. Morya, who was Blavatsky’s own master, is older, rather gruff and impatient, hardly knows English, and hates writing. He borrows the language for his letters from Blavatsky, Olcott, Koot Hoomi, or Djual Kul.68 He reluctantly takes over the correspondence from October through the end of 1881, while Koot Hoomi is on a retreat, and makes occasional appearances thereafter. In many ways the Mahatmas act like the much-​abused Personal God. For instance, they are always watching over their charges: “As you see I am with you constantly,” Koot Hoomi tells Sinnett.69 They also eavesdrop: “When, watching you at Allahabad I saw you making instead copious extracts for [Stainton Moses] from my letter, I again saw the danger but did not interfere for several reasons.”70 Morya

130  Representations of the East reports: “On the night of the 25th, my beloved Brother told me, that having heard Mr. Hume say in H. P. B.’s room that he had never himself heard O[lcott] state to him that, he, O., had personally seen us.”71 Koot Hoomi, in turn, reports on the vigilance of Morya, who has been “carefully though unseen—​protecting yourself, family and reputation from all possible harm—​aye, brother, to the length of watching for nights and days a ruffian Mussulman menial bent upon having his revenge of you, and actually destroying his evil plans.”72 Morya also intervenes at a séance at Colonel and Mrs. Gordons’s: “Last week then M., stalking in, into the motley crowd took the spooks by the skin of their throats and,—​the result was the unexpected admission of the Brothers.”73 Morya himself writes of his surveillance of Sinnett among the London Theosophists, using a disjointed, jocular style like that of Dickens’s Mr. Jingle:74 Knew premises well, felt amused and watched with your leave. Why feel so disgusted? Spooks worked remarkably well nothing abashed by my presence of which neither W. E. nor his bodyguard knew anything. My attention was attracted by their forging H. P. B.’s handwriting. Then I put aside my pipe and watched. Too much light for the creatures coming from a Piccadilly Street though Sotheran emanations helped good deal. I would call your friend Mr. Myers’ attention to psychic fact of rotten emanations. Raise a good Bhoot crop. Yes; the room with windows overlooking Piccadilly is a good place for psychic development. Poor entranced wretch.75

The intrusion goes both ways, for the Mahatma hears the call of the chela. Koot Hoomi writes: “During the past few months, especially, when your weary brain was plunged in the torpor of sleep, your eager soul has often been searching after me, and the current of your thought been beating against my protecting barriers of Akàs as the lapping wavelets against a rocky shore.”76 Koot Hoomi had a fatherly concern for Chatterjee, the young chela who accompanied Blavatsky to London:  “He suffered greatly from cold in that high room where there is no fireplace in your house, and K. H. had to surround him with a double shell against a death cold that threatened him. Remember Hindus are exotic plants in your inclement pays [French for “country”] and cold, and those who need them have to take care of them.”77 In another scene, Koot Hoomi reads a Theosophist’s mind: “It was Mme. Gebhard whom I had promised to visit subjectively. I saw her, one morning, when I was busy with Mohini making him impermeable—​descending the stairs. She had heard his teeth chatter  .  .  .  and as I looked into her I heard the words pronounced mentally: ‘Well, well . . . [ellipsis in original] if his Master only knew!’ ”78 The unfortunate Sinnett is constantly reminded of his worldliness. At the end of a letter already quoted, Koot Hoomi, figuratively holding his nose, adds the postscript:  “The brandy atmosphere in the house is dreadful.”79 When Holloway is staying with the Sinnetts in London, the Mahatma writes: “Your house, good friend,

The Mahatma Letters  131 has a colony of Elementaries quartering in it, and to a sensitive like her it was as dangerous an atmosphere to exist in as would be a fever cemetery to one subject to morbific physical influences.”80 Being accepted by the Mahatmas as a chela required abstinence from meat, alcohol, and sexual activity. Given the tradition of asceticism among yoga practitioners and the vegetarian diet already followed by Brahmins, this was no surprise to the Indian Theosophists. It was more difficult for Europeans. Blavatsky was no strict vegetarian, and while militantly teetotal, she smoked constantly (which was apparently a crime in Tibet). Koot Hoomi, though liberal in many ways, had a phobia about sex. He was horrified by the pioneering birth-​control book, Fruits of Philosophy, calling it “infamous and highly pernicious in its effects.” He did not need, or intend to read it: “I have its unclean spirit, its brutal aura before me, and I say again in my sight the advices offered in the work are abominable; they are the fruits of Sodom and Gommorah [sic] rather than of Philosophy, the very name of which it degrades.”81 Did Koot Hoomi know when he recommended DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett to the Theosophists, and defended this plain-​spoken American to his snobbish correspondents, that Bennett had served two years in an American jail for selling that very book?82 Djual Kul, an advanced chela of Koot Hoomi’s who flits through the pages of the letters running errands for his superiors, seems more tangible than they. In one episode, Blavatsky quarrels with him about whether some remark of Hume’s has been entered into the minutes of the Simla Eclectic Theosophical Society; she says yes, Djual Kul says no. “Of course he was right and she wrong,” Koot Hoomi remarks, adding: “At the time I paid no attention whatever to the fling. Nor had I come to know of it through H. P. B., but through D. Khool who had heard it himself and has an excellent memory.”83 This kind of casual familiarity has led some to identify the Mahatmas with known individuals—​with a Djual Kul, for instance, who was one of the people at that meeting. There is a third-​hand report that Koot Hoomi was the linguist Nisikanta Chattopadhyay (1852–​1910), the first Bengali to gain a doctorate from a European university.84 Other considerations apart (such as Koot Hoomi’s failure to write a single word of German), Chattopadhyay was in Zurich during the crucial years, completing his PhD in 1883.85 Morya, whom Blavatsky said she first met in London in 1851, has been identified with a certain Lal Singh Khutree, attached to the Nepalese Embassy.86 In his seminal book The Masters Revealed,87 Paul Johnson argues for the highly placed Sikhs, Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Kashmir, his cousin Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia, and the liberal newspaper owner Dayal Singh Majithia, as models for Morya, Koot Hoomi, and Djual Kul, respectively. This makes sense if one considers their political interests and the possibilities that Blavatsky’s movement offered to them. Many of the sentiments in the letters may have been theirs. But it is hard to imagine them dictating the cosmological doctrines with which the correspondence opened or becoming so embroiled with the personalities of the London Lodge. The great value of Johnson’s work is in opening up the vista

132  Representations of the East of Blavatsky’s contacts around the world, especially her entanglement with Indian colonial and anticolonial politics. From these contacts, as I understand Johnson’s thesis, Blavatsky created the characters of the Mahatmas as a fiction-​writer might use her own friends as partial models.

Blavatsky’s Role: Claims and Theories Long ago the Hare brothers analyzed the language and content of the letters, leaving little doubt of the linguistic and cultural kinship between the Mahatmas’ writings and Blavatsky’s own. The two collections share keywords, grammatical quirks, and the tell-​tale signs of a writer more at home in French, her English influenced by American usages—​which is exactly what Blavatsky was. Koot Hoomi also shares her magpie-​like erudition, her misquotations from the Bible, and her “dog-​Latin.” It matters not that the Mahatmas are so condescending, anti-​feminist, even cruel in their remarks about the “Old Lady.” That could have been part of her act. George Robert Stowe Mead, who as Blavatsky’s secretary during her London years had a great part in the compilation of The Secret Doctrine, qualified his own mention of “the Master K. H.” by adding “whatever meaning we may attach to that phrase (whether that of a living person or of a psychic complex).”88 The copy of Mead’s article in the Hare brothers’ scrapbook bears the following note: “I may add here a statement on my own authority that Mr. Mead accepted our view that the Letters were from the mind & hand of H. P. B. in a private talk with me in Chelsea. W. L. H.”89 But “mind” and “hand” here are ambiguous terms. Blavatsky had in the past concocted a large body of writing in a handwriting not her own, which was a mixture of clairvoyant perception and fictitious elaboration. The story, as Blavatsky wrote it to Mrs. Gebhard, is briefly as follows.90 Every night from the ages of eight or nine to fifteen, with her family and friends as fascinated onlookers, she wrote at the dictation of an old spirit, Mrs. Tekla Lebendorff. The writing was “in her clear old-​ fashioned, peculiar handwriting and grammar, in German (a language I had never learnt to write and could not even speak well) and in Russian—​accumulating in these six years to a heap of MSS. that would have filled ten volumes.” The dictations told of visions, a petition to the emperor, the suicide of Mrs. Lebendorff ’s son, his experiences in the afterlife, and much else. But when Blavatsky’s uncle investigated the matter, it turned out that while many details about the Lebendorffs were accurate, both the lady and her son were alive and well. The son had attempted suicide but survived. Blavatsky’s explanation need not concern us here; it is sufficient to note the parallel with the Mahatma Letters, and to consider the hypothesis that Blavatsky could write “at dictation” in good faith, but in fact at the mercy of her own imagination. This incident also offers a plausible explanation of the 1870 letter in the Koot Hoomi script, which, significantly, is unsigned by him or anyone else. The script

The Mahatma Letters  133 could already have belonged to one of Blavatsky’s “informants” or alternate personalities, and ten years later she simply resumed it, now giving it an attribution. There are many statements, both by eyewitnesses and by Blavatsky herself, that parts of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine were written in a state of dissociation from normal consciousness, as though she were taking dictation. The syndrome known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) can produce writings and scripts utterly different from those of the primary personality, and in extreme cases, such as that of Patience Worth, such productions can far exceed the capabilities of the conscious mind.91 The borderlines between DID, mediumism, possession, and channeling are not clearly defined, partly because there is little conversation between psychiatrists (to whom the phenomenon is a “disorder”) and those to whom it may be something of a “higher order.” But obviously there are resemblances. Under this hypothesis, Blavatsky wrote the great cosmological series in such a state, drawing on whatever source the reader deems possible. But thereafter the Mahatmas seem to have descended to a lower plane, with moralizings, defense of the Kiddle plagiarism, advice about the Pioneer project, and an obsession with Kingsford and the London Lodge, evidently polluted by Blavatsky’s own preoccupations—​though she may still have believed (as in the Lebendorff episode) that she was receiving from the same source. Harrison, in his later study, allows for something of the sort. He writes, If any of the KH and M scripts came through the hand of Madame Blavatsky while she was in a state of trance, sleep, or other altered states of consciousness known to psychologists and psychiatrists, KH and M might be considered sub-​personalities of Helena Blavatsky. To what extent the sub-​personalities are independent is a matter for debate, but in no case would conscious fraud or imposture be involved. Nor does this supposition circumvent the difficulty that there are KH letters which even Hodgson had to admit Madame Blavatsky could not possibly have written as she was too far away at the time and communications were bad.92

Such letters bring their own problems, as witness the two received by Olcott: one from an obscure master called Hilarion, the other in Morya’s script.93 The first says “You are asked by Maha Sahib to put your whole soul in answer to A. P. S. from K. H. Upon this letter are hinged the fruits of the future. Let it be one that can be shown with honour to every one including [Sir William] Crookes.” The second: “Be careful about letter to Sinnett. Must be a really Adeptic letter.” Evidently Olcott, too, was writing letters purporting to be from the Mahatmas, and not merely at their dictation but composing them. The Theosophical leaders were at pains to explain this away while maintaining faith in the Mahatmas’ existence and some semblance of respect for their founder, but their efforts only made matters worse. After Blavatsky’s death, when William Q.  Judge was accused of forging letters in the Mahatma’s script, Besant told the European Convention on July 12, 1894, that “I believe [Judge] has sometimes

134  Representations of the East received messages for other people, and that he believed himself to be justified in writing them down in the Script adopted by H. P. B. for communications from the Master.”94 This was as good as admitting that the letters were not precipitated but written by Blavatsky. Leadbeater wrote on February 25, 1912, to William G. John, the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Australia: “Remember that the letters to Sinnett and Hume were not written or dictated directly by a Master, as at the time supposed, but were the work of pupils carrying out general directives given to them by the Masters, which is a very different thing.”95 So “at the time” Sinnett and Hume were deliberately deceived as to the source of the letters. Jinarājadāsa, a firm believer in precipitation, admitted “the remarkable fact . . . that, while this handwriting is personal to a master, it is also like an office handwriting, from a particular office with a particular chief. Thus, certain pupils of the Masters M. and K. H. were given the right to precipitate . . . in Their official handwriting.” He compared it to the use of “a particular typewriter which is used by the head of the organization, but which it is perfectly allowable for the Private Secretary to use, when once permission is granted.” Jinarājadāsa then produced a letter of Blavatsky to back up this hypothesis. She wrote to Mrs. Gebhard in June 1886: “How many a time was I (no Mahatma) shocked and startled, burning with shame when shown notes written in Their (two) handwritings (a form of writing adopted for the T. S. and used by chelas, never without Their special permission or order to that effect) exhibiting mistakes in science, grammar and thoughts, expressed in such language that it perverted entirely the meaning originally intended.”96 While all of this fuels the skeptics’ case, Johnson cautions that “First, the [Hares] assume that the Mahatmas did not exist unless they physically produced the letters. Second, they regard the Theosophical teachings as discredited unless they are a pure, authoritative transmission from an individual lineage as was claimed.”97

Purpose and Effects of the Myth Finally, we consider the purpose and effects of the myth of the Himalayan Masters, whether as Mead says they are living persons or psychic complexes. Ever since Blavatsky and Olcott’s arrival in India, their allegiance had moved explicitly from Western esotericism to that of the East. They publicly embraced Buddhism and spurned colonial society (even after meeting Sinnett and Hume) in favor of the company of educated Indians. For all her apparent disadvantages of race, sex, and language, Blavatsky had no difficulty in gathering a following from this class (which continues to this day). Damodar Mavalankar broke with his high-​caste family to become one of her most faithful disciples. Subba Row, the most learned in esoteric matters, paid her the unprecedented compliment, coming from a Brahmin, of accepting her as an interlocutor in metaphysical arguments. He also gave every sign of believing in the Mahatmas.98 By calling their teaching “the Philosophy of the Ancient Brahminical religion and Esoteric Buddhism”99 he showed his allegiance

The Mahatma Letters  135 to the Theosophical view of a primordial esoteric philosophy transcending religious differences. When Blavatsky asked him to collaborate on the Secret Doctrine he refused, because he felt that she was disclosing too much of the esoteric doctrine to undeserving Europeans.100 Much of this doctrine had made its first appearance in the letters received between July 1881 and July 1882. The two Mahatmas there unfolded a complete system of cosmological evolution, human evolution both collective and individual, and the destiny of the various components of man. In October 1882 they added information on the former races of Lemuria and Atlantis. Their information was keyed in to the current opinions of science, which they found wanting but more accurate than religious myths. It was a most impressive and coherent system, and if Blavatsky invented it out of her own fantasy, it was a work of imaginative genius. It was sufficiently acceptable to educated Hindus for them to join the Theosophical Society in their thousands. The agnostic approach cannot exclude the alternative hypothesis, which attributes the Mahatma Letters in part to an exterior source. Religious believers readily accept such a thing in the case of their own sacred texts, while the presence of daemons, angels, Unknown Superiors, adepts, and so on runs through the whole occult tradition. There is also the large body of sightings or meetings with the Mahatmas to be considered. Daniel Caldwell’s casebook lists sixty-​two,101 each of which needs to be scrutinized, while guarding against any tendency to devalue the reports from Indian witnesses as more prone to “superstition.” An example of the alternative hypothesis is the statement by Dion Fortune (1890–​1946), one of the most influential occultists of the post-​Blavatsky generation. Trained as a lay psychotherapist, she wrote novels, a classic volume on Psychic Self-​Defence, and founded the Society of the Inner Light, whose principles were Christian, Hermetic, and Rosicrucian, rather than Oriental. In 1936, she wrote in her society’s cyclostyled newsletter the following answer to the Hares’ accusations: My verdict is “Guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy.” Being myself the head of an occult organization with Masters behind it, I know the difficulties [Blavatsky] had to contend with and the temptations to which she was liable. I think she faked the Letters, but I do not think she faked the Masters.102

Fortune goes on to relate her own experience of contacting the Himalayan Masters with the help of Bahman Pestonji Wadia.103 It was a genuine contact, she says, but though not evil, the Mahatmas seemed “alien, unsympathetic, and hostile to [her] race.” The experiment shut her off temporarily from contact with her Western Masters “under the sign of the Rose and the Cross,” to whom she returned with relief. The suggestion of separate, even rival Masters (or psychic complexes) presiding over East and West reflects the split within Western esotericism that became

136  Representations of the East evident in the twentieth century. The crux of the matter is that for Fortune, Rudolf Steiner, the Rosicrucians, and most other representatives of the Western mystery tradition, the “Christ Event” is cosmologically significant, if not central. For the Eastern traditions, as for classical paganism, this is not the case. In the cosmology and anthropology of the Mahatma Letters and their development in Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, Christ plays no part, and the Abrahamic tradition, with its Personal God, is treated with disdain. Instead, they teach that there is an impersonal yet evolutionary process behind the visible universe, manifesting in cycles too vast for comprehension in our present state. Humans are not judged by God but by their higher selves, as every action brings its karmic consequence, if not in this life then in a subsequent incarnation. By promoting such ideas, with their demonstrably Vedāntic and Buddhist roots, the Theosophical Society had placed itself firmly on the Eastern side of that great theological divide. Whatever view one takes of the Mahatmas, it was their intervention that transformed the society into a vehicle for Eastern philosophies to penetrate the Western world.

Notes 1. Examples are Geoffrey A. Barborka, The Mahatmas and Their Letters (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973); Sven Eek, Dâmodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Theosophical Publishing House, 1965); and Joy Mills, Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom:  A Commentary on The Mahatma Letters to A.  P. Sinnett (Wheaton, IL:  Quest Books, 2010). 2. The only book-​length investigation is Harold Edward Hare and William Loftus Hare, Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? (London: Williams and Norgate, 1936). Most non-​Theosophical writers have taken the hoax theory as proven. 3. Brendan James French, “The Theosophical Masters: An Investigation into the Conceptual Domains of H. P. Blavatsky and C. W. Leadbeater” (PhD diss., University of Sydney, 2000), 9. 4. LMW 2:1. (For abbreviations, see bibliography.) 5. Ibid., 2:3–​27. 6. ML, nos. 1–​145 (Barker’s numbering). In subsequent references to the Mahatma Letters, the first number is that assigned to the letter by Trevor Barker and maintained in Humphreys’s and Benjamin’s third edition, followed if relevant by a page number in the latter; the second number, separated by a slash, is the letter’s number assigned by Vicente Hao Chin in his chronological arrangement. 7. LMW 1; and LMW 2. 8. Alice A. Bailey: works ascribed to Master Djual Kul (variously spelled), called “The Tibetan”; Helena Roerich, to Master Morya; The Temple of the People, to Master Hilarion; Elizabeth Clare Prophet, to Master Saint-​Germain, Master Jesus, and others. Many other such claims arose in the New Age movement. 9. Biographical data on Sinnett is from A.  P. Sinnet, Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett (London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986). 10. The Humes’s country seat was Burnley House, East Somerton, on the Norfolk Broads. Biographical data from A.  O. Hume, Selected Writings of Allan Octavian Hume, vol. 1: (1829–​1867), ed. S. R. Mehrotra and Edward C. Moulton (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004).

The Mahatma Letters  137 11. For a detailed, though unfriendly account of Joseph Hume’s political career, see David R. Fisher, “Hume, Joseph, 1777–​1855,” in The History of Parliament:  The History of the House of Commons, 1820–​1832, ed. D. R. Fisher (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009). 12. Hume, Selected Writings, 1:xii. 13. Edward C. Moulton, “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​ 1885:  Conversion and Non-​Conversion Experiences,” in Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia:  Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, ed. Geoffrey A. Oddie (Richmond, VA: Curzon Press, 1997), 163. 14. Hume to Blavatsky, January 4, 1881, BL, no. CLVI. 15. OW,  62. 16. Materialization is the arrival of an object that has not previously existed in the physical world (e.g., the teacup and saucer found at the Sinnetts’ picnic; see ibid., 66–​68). An apport is the transportation of an existing physical object in defiance of the known laws of time and space (e.g., the finding of a brooch that Mrs. Hume had given away; see ibid., 79–​82). 17. See Blavatsky’s explanation of these phenomena in BL, no. LIX. 18. For a chronology of letters and events, see George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, Reader’s Guide to the Mahatma Letters (Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 1–​34; and Margaret Conger, Combined Chronology for Use with The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H.  P. Blavatsky to A.  P. Sinnett (Pasadena:  Theosophical University Press, 1973). 19. OW,  93. 20. ML 1, 3/​1. 21. OW,  102. 22. Ibid., 125–​39; supplemented by Barborka, The Mahatmas and Their Letters,  62–​82. 23. ML 2, 9/​2. 24. See John Patrick Deveney, Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society (Fullerton: Theosophical History, 1997). 25. See Mills, Reflections, 110. 26. ML 31, 237/​17. 27. Mills, Reflections, 130. 28. Ibid. 29. H. X. [A. O. Hume], “Fragments of Occult Truth,” Theosophist, October 1881, 17–​22. 30. Mills, Reflections, 129. The complete notes are published in BL, appendix 2. 31. ML  13/​44. 32. See ML 24a,b/​85a,b. On the reincarnation question, see Julie Chajes, “Metempsychosis and Reincarnation in Isis Unveiled,” Theosophical History 15 (2012): 128–​50. 33. ML 11, 63/​65. 34. Ibid., 95, 424/​63. 35. Ibid., 10/​88,  22/​90. 36. Ibid., 10, 52/​88. 37. Linton and Hanson, Reader’s Guide, 284–​85. 38. The entire correspondence is reprinted in ibid., 270–​89. 39. See ML 28/​11, 52/​81, 53/​76, 56/​102, 58/​101. 40. See ibid., 138, 461–​62/​135. 41. See ibid., 77–​83/​99, 100, 104, 107, 112–​14. 42. LMW, 1:letter 39, and letters 1–​12 to and about Laura C. Holloway. 43. Blavatsky to Sinnett, BL, no. CXVIII. See ibid., nos. CXIX–​CXX for her corrections. 44. ML 63, 351/​127. 45. See Sinnett, Autobiography, 34, 58.

138  Representations of the East 46. See especially C. W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, Man: How, Whence and Whither; A Record of Clairvoyant Investigations (Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1913); and C.  W. Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925). 47. LMW,  1:129. 48. See Christmas Humphreys, Both Sides of the Circle:  The Autobiography of Christmas Humphreys (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978), esp. 35, 63, 161–​62. 49. See Mills, Reflections, xvii. Mills’s book follows the new ordering. 50. The relevant shelf numbers are Add. MSS. 45284, 45285, and 45286 (Mahatma Letters to Sinnett and Hume); 45287 and 45288 (Letters from Blavatsky and Countess Wachtmeister); and 45289A and B (Sinnett’s copies of letters to Hume). I have not seen the letters in the Adyar library. 51. ML 5, 19/​10. 52. Facsimiles of Tolstoy’s Russian handwriting show the same bar over the “Ms.” 53. For data on the physical letters, see Linton and Hanson, Reader’s Guide. 54. See especially ML 6/​12, 93/​117, 138/​134; and BL, no. XVI. 55. Hare and Hare, Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters?, 266. 56. Examples collected in Harold E. Hare and W. Loftus Hare, Our Last Word on the Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and Our Book Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? (London: printed by the authors, 1942). 57. Moulton, “Beginnings,” 166. 58. Vernon Harrison, “J’accuse: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 53, no. 803 (1986): 286–​310. 59. This occurs rarely, mostly in Letter 9/​18. 60. Harrison, “J’accuse,” 308. 61. Ibid.,  308. 62. See Barborka, The Mahatmas and Their Letters, 94–​102, 266–​316. 63. See ibid., 199–​225. 64. See Eek, Dâmodar, 184–​91; and BL, no. XLVI. 65. See Barborka, The Mahatmas and Their Letters, 317–​55. 66. For such an approach, see Gary Lachman, Madame Blavatsky, the Mother of Modern Spirituality (New York: Tarcher/​Penguin, 2012), 206–​11. 67. Leadbeater, The Masters and the Path,  25–​26. 68. LMW 1:69, 130; and Mills, Reflections, 337. 69. ML 108, 437/​40. 70. Ibid., 27, 202/​21. 71. Ibid., 29, 225/​29. 72. Ibid., 30, 232/​73. 73. Ibid., 35, 244/​54. 74. A character in The Pickwick Papers. 75. ML 96, 424–​25/​118. 76. Ibid., 45, 263/​47. 77. Ibid., 61, 344/​124. 78. Ibid., 62, 348/​125. 79. Ibid., 27, 205/​21. 80. Ibid., 55, 318/​130. 81. Ibid., 86, 399/​119. 82. See ibid., 37/​37, 43/​44. 83. Ibid., 105, 435/​98. 84. The report came from Charles Carleton Massey, who had it from a Dr. Wernecke of Weimar, who was told it by Gustav Theodor Fechner. See Barborka, The Mahatmas and Their Letters, 314–​16.

The Mahatma Letters  139 85. Information on Chattopadhyay from Banglapedia, last modified October 12, 2014, http://​​index.php?title=Chattopadhyay,_​Nishikanta. 86. Eek, Dâmodar, 544. 87. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). 88. G. R. S. Mead, “Facts about the Secret Doctrine,” Occult Review, April 1927, 249. 89. British Library Add. Ms. 61,911A. 90. The letter was first published in A.  O. Hume’s anonymous Hints on Esoteric Theosophy (Calcutta: Calcutta Central Press, 1882). It was reprinted in Mary K. Neff, Personal Memoirs of H. P. Blavatsky (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967 [1937]), 18–​22. 91. See the analysis in Stephen E. Braude, Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life after Death (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 133–​75, which concludes that the extraordinary creativity in this case was more likely due to a “secondary self ” than to a spirit. 92. Vernon Harrison, H. P. Blavatsky and the S. P. R.: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885 (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1996), 68. 93. LMW 2, letters 44, 45, pages 85, 86. 94. Hare, Our Last Word, 12 (italics added). 95. Ibid., 14 (italics added). This and Besant’s statement were previously quoted in W. L. Hare’s letter to the Occult Review, September 1927, 193. 96. C. Jinarājadāsa, ed., The Early Teachings of the Masters 1881–​1883, introd, accessed March 29, 2015, http://​​EarlyTeachings.htm. 97. Johnson, The Masters Revealed, 174–​75. 98. See ML 130/​58, 131/​64. 99. Ibid., 131, 452/​64. 100. See Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The History of The Theosophical Society, 6 vols. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895]), 3:398, 5:23, 25. 101. Daniel Caldwell, “A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Masters,”, accessed March 24, 2015, http://​​ mastersencounterswith.htm. 102. Dion Fortune, “Review of Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? by Harold E. Hare and W. Loftus Hare,” in The Inner Light, July 1936, 185–​89 (italics added). Copied from the Hare brothers’ scrapbook. 103. Bahman Pestonji Wadia (1881–​1958), a prominent member of the United Lodge of Theosophists.

Bibliography The following abbreviations have been used: BL: A. T. Barker, transcr., comp., and introd. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett and Other Miscellaneous Letters. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, n. d. LMW 1: C. Jinarājadāsa, transcr. and comp. Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom 1870–​1900, First Series. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973. LMW 2: C. Jinarājadāsa, transcr. and ann. Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom, Second Series. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977. ML: A. T. Barker, transcr. and comp. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K. H. 3rd and rev. ed. Edited by Christmas Humphreys and Elsie Benjamin. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979. Also, Chin, Vicente Hao, Jr., arr. and ed. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in Chronological Sequence. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1999. OW: A. P. Sinnett, The Occult World. 7th American ed. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1897.

140  Representations of the East Barborka, Geoffrey A. The Mahatmas and Their Letters. Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1973. Braude, Stephen E. Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life after Death. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Caldwell, Daniel “A Casebook of Encounters with the Theosophical Masters.” Blavatskyarchives. org. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://​​mastersencounterswith.htm. Chajes, Julie. “Metempsychosis and Reincarnation in Isis Unveiled.” Theosophical History 15 (2012): 128–​50. Conger, Margaret. Combined Chronology for Use with The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1973. Deveney, John Patrick. Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society. Fullerton: Theosophical History, 1997. Eek, Sven. Dâmodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement. Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1965. Fisher, David R. “Hume, Joseph, 1777–​1855.” In The History of Parliament: The History of the House of Commons, 1820–​1832, edited by D. R. Fisher. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Accessed March 29, 2015. http://​​volume/​ 1820-​1832/​member/​hume-​joseph-​1777-​1855. Fortune, Dion. “Review of Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? by Harold E. Hare and W. Loftus Hare.” The Inner Light, July 1936, 185–​89. French, Brendan James. “The Theosophical Masters:  An Investigation into the Conceptual Domains of H. P. Blavatsky and C. W. Leadbeater.” PhD diss., University of Sydney, 2000. Hare, Harold Edward, and William Loftus Hare. Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters? London: Williams & Norgate, 1936. Hare, Harold Edward, and William Loftus Hare. Our Last Word on the Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and Our Book “Who Wrote the Mahatma Letters?” London: Printed by the authors, 1942. Harrison, Vernon. “J’accuse:  An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 53, no. 803 (1986): 286–​310. Harrison, Vernon. H. P. Blavatsky and the S. P. R.: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1996. Hume, A. O., writing as “H. X.” “Fragments of Occult Truth.” Theosophist, October 1881, 17–​22. Hume, A. O. Hints on Esoteric Theosophy. Calcutta: Calcutta Central Press, 1882. Hume, A.  O. Selected Writings of Allan Octavian Hume. Vol. 1:  (1829–​1867). Edited by S.  R. Mehrotra and Edward C. Moulton. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. Humphreys, Christmas. Both Sides of the Circle:  The Autobiography of Christmas Humphreys. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978. Jinarājadāsa, C. The Early Teachings of the Masters 1881–​1883. n. p.: The American Theosophical Society, 1923. http://​​EarlyTeachings.htm. Johnson, Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Knowlton, Charles. Fruits of Philosophy: An Essay on the Population Question. 2nd ed. Edited by Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant. London: Freethought Pub. Co, 1877. Lachman, Gary. Madame Blavatsky, the Mother of Modern Spirituality. New  York:  Tarcher/​ Penguin, 2012. Leadbeater, C. W., and Annie Besant. Man: How, Whence and Whither; A Record of Clairvoyant Investigations. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1913. Leadbeater, C. W., and Annie Besant. The Masters and the Path. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925. Linton, George E., and Virginia Hanson. Reader’s Guide to the Mahatma Letters. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972. Mead, G. R. S. “Facts about the Secret Doctrine.” Occult Review, April 1927, 249. Mills, Joy. Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom: A Commentary on The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2010.

The Mahatma Letters  141 Moulton, Edward C. “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​ 1885:  Conversion and Non-​Conversion Experiences.” In Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia:  Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, edited by Geoffrey A. Oddie, 109–​72. Richmond: Curzon Press, 1997. Neff, Mary K. Personal Memoirs of H. P. Blavatsky. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967 [1937]. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves:  The History of The Theosophical Society. 6 vols. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895]. Sarker, Sushanta. “Chattopadhyay, Nishikanta.” Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://​​index.php?title=Chattopadhyay,_​ Nishikanta. Sinnett, A. P. Autobiography of Alfred Percy Sinnett. London: Theosophical History Centre, 1986.

7 “The Real Pure Yog” Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor Patrick D. Bowen

In the autumn of 1885, a small and poorly organized occult order known as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (HB of L) began instructing at least some of its American members to study and practice yoga. The extant evidence reveals that this event, which is the earliest known example of the organized practice of yoga in the modern West,1 had been highly influenced by the endorsement of yoga by the Theosophical Society (TS) over the previous decade. In fact, as this chapter argues, the impact of the TS’s early promotion of yoga on the HB of L community—​ a community in which Theosophists were heavily represented—​was so significant that even after the HB of L began denying Eastern influences and removing explicit references to yoga from its official teachings in early 1886, it retained several concepts and occult instructions that had originally come from TS-​connected yogic sources. Moreover, a number of people who eventually left the HB  of  L maintained an interest in and endorsement of the Indian spiritual discipline, and in multiple cases this contributed to the development of later popular manifestations of the Western fascination with yoga. It was due to the impact of the TS, then, that yoga penetrated Western culture in a number of previously little-​known but important ways. This chapter traces the early use of yoga by both the TS and the Theosophist-​ heavy HB of L in three parts. I examine, first, the role of the TS in transmitting yoga to Western audiences in the late 1870s and early 1880s, paying particular attention to why, how, and what forms of yoga were represented by the TS, which ultimately generated a relatively widespread interest in yoga in the Theosophical community. In section two, drawing largely from a collection of letters written to Thomas M. Johnson, a leading Theosophist and HB of L member, I look at the HB of L’s own appropriation of yoga. Here I focus on three aspects of this phenomenon: (1) the circumstances—​which themselves were highly conditioned by the TS—​that permitted and encouraged the use of yoga in this group; (2) the ways that the particular forms and elements of yoga that the group had access to were applied during the few months that yoga was explicitly prescribed; and (3) the ways in which the

144  Representations of the East influence of yoga on the HB of L teachings persisted even after the order removed overt references to it. Finally, in section three, I discuss the legacy of the TS and HB of L communities’ early use of yoga, highlighting both the direct and indirect influences of these organizations and their former members.

Yoga in the Early TS The embracing of yoga in the early years of the TS community seems to be primarily attributable to the group’s more general interest in performing feats of occult power. Evidence suggests that the desire to achieve—​or at least witness—​magical events like astral travel,2 successfully using a magic mirror, and “psychically” communicating with unseen Masters was the focus of the TS when it organized in New York in 1875.3 Indeed, it is likely that the TS’s relatively rapid growth in late 1875 and the first half of 1876 was at least partly the result of it being one of the rare organizations endorsing this “practical occultism.”4 The form of occult power originally promoted by the TS was not, however, based on Indian practices but rather on traditions that were considered to be more Western: mesmerism, spiritualism, modern British occultism, Rosicrucianism, the Kabbalah, and Egyptian esotericism. In any case, by the end of 1876, perhaps because its leaders had failed to live up to their promises of demonstrating occult abilities, interest started to decline and the TS’s only formally organized branch had become inactive.5 A series of events in 1877 and early 1878 would lead to yoga being taken up as an important element of the early TS’s occult efforts. At some point, probably toward the end of 1877, while visiting with “an American traveler,” one of the TS founders, Henry S. Olcott, learned that this traveler was an acquaintance of an Indian named Moolji Thackersey, whom Olcott had met in 1870.6 By this time, the organization’s leading figures, Helena P.  Blavatsky and Olcott, had begun showing an interest in Indian religions, perhaps having become disappointed with the lack of results achieved with the more Western-​based teachings for practical occultism. Therefore, upon rediscovering his old Indian acquaintance, Olcott wrote to Thackersey “about our Society, our love for India and what caused it.”7 Thackersey responded to Olcott’s correspondence by informing him about Swami Dayananda, a yogi and learned Hindu reformer who led the Hindu revivalist organization Arya Samaj.8 Then, on February 18, 1878, Olcott sent a letter to Dayananda himself, explaining that “a number of American and other students who earnestly seek after spiritual knowledge, place themselves at your feet, and pray you to enlighten them.”9 Dayananda consented to taking on these American students; arrangements were made, and by the end of the year Blavatsky and Olcott were making their way to India. As Karl Baier has pointed out, “It was the declared purpose of Blavatsky’s and Olcott’s passage to India to study ‘the ancient language of the Vedas and the manuscripts and wonders of Yogism.’ They expected that the ‘ancient science’ of yoga would foster their understanding of

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  145 occult powers and especially of the phenomena which appeared in spiritualist séances.”10 They believed, moreover, following earlier writers on the subject, that yoga was the Eastern counterpart to mesmerism and that by learning about yoga from Dayananda they would gain the key tool for achieving the practical occult powers they had been seeking.11 Once in India, realizing they had a chance to revive their organization, Blavatsky and Olcott set about doing a number of promotional activities, including giving lectures and starting a TS journal, The Theosophist. Soon word had spread about the TS’s interest in yoga, and a number of Indians—​some of whom, such as the Lahore Arya Samaj’s corresponding secretary, R.  C. Bary, had become personal acquaintances of Blavatsky and Olcott—​began submitting essays to The Theosophist describing and encouraging yogic meditation.12 Then, in January 1880, interest in yoga intensified further. That month, the journal’s editors published a letter from an unnamed European Theosophist requesting information about kuṇḍalinī yoga and Buddhist meditation;13 responses from Indian readers poured in, and kuṇḍalinī became a very popular topic in the community. Olcott himself began publicly showing his personal interest in kuṇḍalinī yoga, which significantly increased after his having read an English-​language work expounding on the subject that had been recently edited by an Indian Theosophist:  Om:  A Treatise on Vedantic Raj Yoga Philosophy.14 At some point prior to mid-​February 1882, Olcott met with the author of Om—​or Vedantic Raj (or Raja) Yoga, as it was often called—​one Swami Sabhapaty, a yogi who, like Swami Vivekenanda in the 1890s, promoted a Vedantic-​and yoga-​based universalistic religion.15 In his book, Sabhapaty argues, first of all, that a person’s belief that he or she is separate from the Infinite Universal Spirit is a delusion that arises from the presence of the human “faculties,” senses, and desires. To achieve samādhi, one must “imagine” and concentrate on the serpentine kuṇḍalinī force that exists in one’s body and then learn to draw this spirit up or down one’s cakras. Once samādhi is reached, a person can then perform a variety of occult powers. This teaching is classified as “Raj” yoga because of the importance of mental concentration, as opposed to the emphasis on body posture that distinguishes “hatha” yoga. It is also noteworthy that prāṇāyāma breath control is suggested as an aid, but Sabhapaty does not consider it essential. Despite this early fascination, by 1882, both Olcott and Blavatsky had begun turning away from occult-​focused yoga, a move apparently related to their growing tendency to distance themselves from all forms of practical occultism while, at the same time, emphasizing meditation, the intellectual study of religions and philosophy, and their own authority as spiritual leaders.16 Body-​control and occult-​ focused yoga were increasingly presented as lower, if not entirely erroneous, forms of spiritual development. Indeed, in 1883, when a Hindu Theosophist wrote to The Theosophist asking for the editors’ opinion on the existence of the ṛṣis (yogis with occult powers) who were mentioned in a biography on Sabhapaty that the journal had run three years earlier, the editor swiftly and condescendingly dismissed the

146  Representations of the East idea.17 Then, in 1884, the TS’s assistant recording secretary, Damodar Mavalankar, rejected the claims of occult powers in Sabhapaty’s book as so unbelievable that they could only be interpreted as metaphorical.18 By this time, however, there were several readers of The Theosophist who were not ready to abandon their interest in occult-​focused yoga. In the United States, for example, through 1883 at least three Americans with TS ties were attempting to secure either Sabhapaty’s book or the TS’s 1882 edition of Patañjali’s “Yoga Philosophy.”19 In India, there were surely many Theosophist natives who would not give up their traditional spiritual discipline, and at least one Indian Theosophist, Bary, began actively promoting a variety of English-​language yogic works. Apparently a rather ambitious individual, after writing articles on yoga for The Theosophist and serving as corresponding secretary for the Lahore Arya Samaj, in 1882 Bary started a printing house, the Arya Press, as well as an import/​ export business. His first publication was the English-​language Arya Magazine, an independent journal that supported both the Arya Samaj and the spread of “Vedic and other knowledge.”20 In 1883, after receiving publicity for his magazine in The Theosophist, Bary’s press began publishing short books containing yoga-​related instructions. In July, it printed The Prayer Book of the Aryans, which compiled a number of Vedic prayers and offered a discussion of the importance of body cleanliness and prāṇāyāma breath control,21 and in the autumn, the press released a new edition of Sabhapaty’s Om/​Vedantic Raj Yoga. Then, in 1884, Bary published Occult Science, The Science of Breath, a work supposedly translated from Sanskrit by the Theosophist Pandit Rama Prasad Kasyapa. Unfortunately, I could not locate an original edition of this book, which appears to have slightly different wording in some sections than that which is in Bary’s 1892 second edition.22 Nevertheless, the 1892 edition does contain multiple sections that were verifiably in the first edition,23 as well as numerous practices that would be picked up by occult-​leaning Theosophists by 1885, as we will see. Like in both Vedantic Raj Yoga and the Prayer Book, there is an endorsement of prāṇāyāma for yoga.24 Occult Science, however, does not promote a form of yoga that is explicitly either Raj or kuṇḍalinī. Kasyapa’s yoga is primarily based on the concept of the five tatwas, or elements, of the universe.25 Various instructions are given so that a person can achieve occult powers that are connected to the mastery of particular tatwas. Although mental concentration on certain subtle entities (in this case, the tatwas) is enjoined, as it is in Subhapaty’s book, it is not the main mechanism for achieving occult power. Instead, by performing specific acts at auspicious times, one aligns oneself with real physical and subtle forces in the universe, and this unlocks powers in a rather mechanical fashion.26 In printing and promoting these works—​two of which received promotion through critical reviews in The Theosophist in 1884—​Bary ensured that at least some English-​speaking Theosophists would be aware of and have access to information about occult-​focused yoga even after the TS’s heads lost interest in the subject.27 In fact, it was largely due to this Indian Theosophist’s efforts that yoga was incorporated into the teachings of the TS’s first occult competitor: the HB of L.

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  147

Yoga in the HB of L Context The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (HB of L) was a practical occult organization that made its public appearance in 1884, just as the TS’s heads were more firmly distancing themselves from their own occult roots.28 In the later part of that year, an edition of Hermes Trismegistus’s Divine Pymander was published in Bath, England by bookseller Robert H. Fryar as part of his new “Bath Occult Series” of books.29 In the back of this volume was an advertisement encouraging “Students of the Occult Science, searchers after truth and Theosophists who may have been disappointed in their expectations of Sublime Wisdom being freely dispensed by the HINDOO MAHATMAS” to send to Fryar a letter addressed to one “Theon” (originally spelled “Theosi”).30 The advertisement stated that those who were interested could “be admitted, after a short probationary term, as members of an Occult Brotherhood, who do not boast of their knowledge or attainments, but teach freely and without reserve all they find worthy to receive.” The group’s claim sparked a great deal of curiosity in the Theosophical community; the advertisement was even reprinted and briefly discussed in the November 1884 issue of The Theosophist. One of the individuals who became interested in this “Occult Brotherhood” was a leading American Theosophist named Thomas Moore Johnson.31 Johnson, a lawyer from a small western Missouri town, had taken a serious interest in Platonism and Neoplatonism in the early 1870s. In his quest to learn more about these ancient Greek philosophies, by 1877 he had become a correspondent of Alexander Wilder, a well-​known writer of works dealing with ancient metaphysics who also happened to be an early Theosophist. Through Wilder, Johnson learned about the activities and beliefs of the heads of the TS, and, like Wilder, he came to see the TS as essentially promoting the same esoteric philosophical religiosity that he understood as having been described by the Greeks.32 In 1881, with the encouragement of Wilder, Johnson began publishing The Platonist, a journal devoted to translating and discussing various expressions of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought, and he sent a copy of the second issue to the TS headquarters in India. The Theosophical heads, who apparently recognized the similarities between their respective journals, responded by asking Johnson if he would be willing to exchange advertisements in each other’s periodicals.33 Johnson agreed, and in the August issue of the Platonist ran a brief discussion of The Theosophist that would reveal clues about his esoteric leanings and why the HB of L would later attract him: The Theosophist is the only journal that is devoted to the exposition of the principles of Oriental philosophy and the Occult sciences. It aims to show the world that India deserved its ancient reputation as the fountain-​head of occult wisdom, and that even in this day of her degradation and oppression, there are still true sons of Arya, hidden amidst inaccessible mountains and impenetrable jungles, who consecrate their lives to the study and practice of the sublime science of Yoga.34

148  Representations of the East Yoga and practical occultism had in fact aroused Johnson’s curiosity so much that by the next spring he was one of the Americans attempting to obtain from Olcott a copy of Sabhapaty’s book.35 This was followed, in 1883, with Johnson connecting with Bary, with whom he exchanged journal advertisements, and Johnson attempted to secure from him several of the books on yoga that the Indian published.36 Still, Johnson took Theosophy itself seriously and soon was helping to start a revival of the TS in America by connecting potential and new Theosophists with his journal, becoming one of the early members of the first TS lodge to be established outside of the state of New York, and agreeing to serve as one of the seven American members of the Board of Control, the original governing body for American Theosophy.37 When it was established in early 1884, the Board of Control was not a simple tool for Blavatsky and Olcott to authoritatively control American Theosophists. Indeed, at the time, the TS still lacked a stable international organizational form, and since many of its members had never met the founders in person and lacked strong personal loyalty to them—​particularly after an early leading member, William Quan Judge, left for India that year—​there was great potential for diversity of practices and ideas to emerge in the community. So, when Silas Herbert Randall, an American friend with interests in Theosophy and yoga, asked Johnson about the “Occult Brotherhood” in September 1884,38 Johnson felt free to write to British Theosophists with whom he had been corresponding to see if they could tell him any information about this group and its purported head, “M. Theon.”39 One of the Britons to whom Johnson probably wrote at this time was Rev. William Ayton, a respected Theosophist who had been corresponding with Johnson with regard to their shared fascination with the tarot. Ayton, Johnson would soon learn, had been made the Brotherhood’s “Provincial Grand Master for the South” and had started inviting his occult-​minded friends to join the order, which was actually called, it was later revealed, the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.40 Others who responded to Fryar’s advertisement would learn that besides Ayton, the HB of L’s “exterior” leaders were Max Theon, the “Grand Master”; Peter Davidson, the “Provincial Grand Master for the North”; and Thomas H. Burgoyne, the “Private Secretary of the Exterior Circle.” Burgoyne, an astrologer and occultist, had been initiated into mystical occultism by the Jewish mystic Theon and had joined with Davidson, a Theosophist and occultist in his own right, to run both the group’s “Exterior Circle” and, beginning in early 1885, the British Occult Magazine, which promoted the HB of L’s ideas. When those interested in joining the Occult Brotherhood contacted the group in 1884 and 1885, one of the Exterior Circle leaders would eventually respond, a process that could take up to several months and multiple attempts on the part of the potential neophyte. At that point, the applicant was simply instructed to provide a photograph and astrological birth chart so that the heads could evaluate whether or not they would admit the person into the Brotherhood.41 Once accepted, the

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  149 neophyte would receive a slip of paper containing the true name of the HB of L and the names of its degrees, and he or she would be expected to burn the slip after memorizing the information. Then the neophyte simply waited to be given further instructions. When these finally arrived, they generally were in the form of teaching manuscripts written specifically for the HB of L. It appears, however, that despite having named its leaders, started a journal, and processed applications, like the TS the HB of L was slow to develop a stable purpose, clear doctrines, and an organizational form. The extant private letters suggest that no American HB of L neophyte received any official teaching manuscript until May 1885, when Johnson received what was called “A Brief Key to the Eulian Mysteries.”42 The “Eulian Mysteries” to which the title of this work referred was an older unpublished occult text written by the American Paschal Beverly Randolph entitled “The Mysteries of Eulis.” When Johnson first inquired about the HB of L in late 1884, he was advised to obtain “Eulis” from Fryar, who had received from Randolph’s widow the rights to be the British agent of her husband’s works.43 “Eulis,” in the fashion of many yogic writings, presented a long list of occult powers that could be obtained through following his sexual magic—​whereas the “Brief Key” claimed that the only legitimate and good occult power that one could obtain was making an ideal child. Ayton, Johnson’s “guru,” instructed Johnson to share “Eulis” with Ayton’s other American neophytes, and in June Johnson also lent his friend and neophyte Randall his copy of “Brief Key.”44 Then, in July, after the number of American members—​many of whom were Theosophists—​began to increase,45 Ayton relayed that once they had enough people, the Americans should hold a “lodge-​meeting,” although what he meant by this, and what should take place in it, was somewhat unclear.46 In an early September letter, Randall mentions the existence of two lodges, with Johnson having been appointed the president of “our” lodge—​“our” lodge probably refers to a Midwest branch, and the second lodge was probably being led by Josephine Cables, another Board of Control member, in Rochester, New York.47 Later that month, however, Randall and Johnson had not heard anything more from Britain about new teaching manuscripts or what to do with the lodges, so they resigned themselves to discussing whether the Midwest lodge should be in St. Louis or Cincinnati; Johnson was leaning toward the latter.48 Only in October did the second official HB of L manuscript start to make the rounds when Johnson sent Randall “La Clef Hermetique,” the order’s statement of its cosmology, and Randall, presumably after copying it, passed it on to other members in November and December.49 Given the slowness and inefficiency of the HB of L in distributing manuscripts and organizing its American followers, many of the American neophytes were understandably frustrated. Elliott B.  Page—​the president of the St. Louis TS lodge, a Board of Control member, and an eager occultist—​became so fed up with the order by late 1885 that he briefly quit the group, citing the poor communication tendencies of his guru, Davidson, and the Brotherhood’s failure to produce for its adepts anything like original instructions for practical occultism.50

150  Representations of the East It seems, however, that not everyone had these same complaints. Johnson and Randall, for instance, both seem to have had a good relationship with Ayton. More importantly, though, at least a few American neophytes did receive in letter form instructions for practical occultism during the autumn of 1885. Interestingly, all of the individuals for whom this can be verified had Ayton as a guru, and we therefore do not know with certainty whether Ayton was acting in concert with Theon, Burgoyne, and Davidson. Nevertheless, the extant private letters from Ayton’s American neophytes convey that they believed these instructions were official instructions from the HB of L. An additional letter from Cables—​whose guru was Davidson—​suggests that those who were not Ayton’s neophytes had at least heard that these instructions were being sent out as official practices. In an undated letter that was probably written sometime in late 1885, Cables asks Johnson for his opinion about the reticent occult order she has joined: “Tell me truly my brother what you do think[,]‌is this the real brotherhood of Luxor & is it well to gain powers by practices and if so is this the real pure Yog[?].”

Fragments of Yogic Instruction In multiple September 1885 letters from Randall to Johnson, the former indicates that the British leaders—​or at least Ayton—​had recently indicated that members were going to begin practicing yoga, apparently in preparation for a higher form of occult initiation.51 Then, in early October, Randall received a four-​page letter from Ayton detailing the practice.52 While we unfortunately do not have a copy of Ayton’s letter, Randall does give a useful summary: Repeat “AUM” or “Om”, say 108 times, or some other multiple of 9. After this for 10 minutes say “My soul is one with God”, endeavoring to make yourself believe & realize it. Then for 10 minutes say “God is that perfect being which alone is manifested in it’s [sic] own light,” and the remainder of the hour devote to trying to view the seat of self-​consciousness at the navel. These exercises preferable in the morning in the utmost quiet, sitting in a chair[.]‌Diet cereals & milk. I commenced Oct 30th rising about quarter before five every morning for the purpose, and keeping at it until about 6-​30[.]

Randall adds that his guru claimed that this program of yoga “had been sufficient for several besides himself.” Later letters from Randall tell us that Johnson, too, was taking up the practice at the instruction of Ayton.53 In the letter in which Randall gives Ayton’s yoga instructions, Randall comments that he believes that the instructions were probably taken from Sabhapaty’s Theosophist-​edited Vedantic Raj Yoga, a book that Randall had not yet obtained. Although we do not have the full version of the instructions, it seems that Randall may have only been partially correct in his assumption. Ayton was indeed a reader

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  151 and practitioner of the yoga materials sold by Bary, including Vedantic Raj Yoga, as demonstrated in his previously published private letters, and certain elements of Ayton’s instructions have parallels in Sabhapaty’s work.54 However, most of the instructions are closer to what is prescribed in Bary’s Prayer Book of the Aryans and Occult Science, The Science of Breath. It is notable, then, that in 1889 Ayton verifiably had a copy of the latter book, and in the autumn of 1885 two American neophytes under Ayton were attempting to obtain their own copies of the Theosophist-​ translated work.55 To help show the connections between Bary’s three yogic books and Randall’s shortened version of Ayton’s instructions, in the following chart I compare each text’s use of the topics contained in the known instructions (see table 7.1). The numerals represent the page numbers (from the editions I have previously cited) where the connections between Ayton and Bary’s works appear.56 Where there are clear, direct connections, I have indicated this with an asterisk (*), and where there are mere similarities, I have indicated this with a tilde (~). Save for the recommendation for having a “diet of cereals and milk”—​which would, nevertheless, be consistent with a vegetarian diet that yogis would be presumed to follow—​all of the elements in Ayton’s instructions have parallels in the three yogic books published by Bary. While this alone is not conclusive proof that Bary’s publications were the source of Ayton’s instructions, these numerous connections—​the fact that Ayton, a self-​proclaimed “guru,” verifiably possessed and used Bary’s works; the fact that in the autumn of 1885 two of Ayton’s students were known to attempt to obtain Occult Science; and the fact that Bary was attempting to Table 7.1  Text Comparison 1 TOPIC



“OM” 108 times

*xx, ~22–​28

“My soul is one with God” “God is that perfect being which alone is manifested in its own light” View the seat of consciousness at the navel Preferable in morning/​ sunrise Specific day Sit in a chair Vegetarian


~25–​26, ~49–​53


~22–​23, ~32, ~48–​50, ~53–​54

~25–​26, ~49–​53



*45, ~49



~60 *Assumed

*passim., e.g., 2, 8, 24 *passim. *2, *16, *20 *Assumed




Ayton’s Yoga Inst. Oct. 1885




152  Representations of the East sell his books to other Theosophists after Blavatsky and Olcott distanced themselves from occult-​focused yoga—​all suggest that the yoga instructions that Ayton sent out as HB of L instructions were indeed largely influenced by the Theosophy-​connected works published by Bary. It seems that if it were not for the early TS promoting yoga and Bary’s publications in particular, the TS’s practical occult competitor would not have introduced yoga in the way that it did—​if it would have done so at all.

Removing the Yoga Label Since we do not have evidence of neophytes not under Ayton practicing yoga, it is possible that Ayton had instituted his own instructions, instructions that were not fully embraced by his fellow Brotherhood leaders. If this was the case, Ayton’s ability to introduce unique practices was probably partly due to the HB of L’s lack of organizational and doctrinal stability in 1885. However, this situation would change dramatically in early 1886, and therefore so would the position of yoga in the occult order. In early January, Randall, who was now serving as vice-​president of the American side of the movement, received a letter from the British headquarters advising him that “a Provincial Grand Lodge would soon be organised in this country and several Sub-​lodges, and that they might expect instruction to commence soon.”57 Randall began preparing dozens of copies of both “Eulis” and “Brief Key,” and he “constituted” a lodge in Philadelphia under the presidency of the Theosophist Charles Quétil, who had only recently received the “La Clef ” manuscript but was eager to be a leader and had promised to make thirty to forty copies of “La Clef.”58 Then, in a letter written by Burgoyne on January 29,59 Randall is instructed to immediately organize a “committee of seven”—​which Randall assumed was essentially the same thing as the “Provincial Grand Lodge” he had been told about earlier—​ with him, Johnson, and Quétil as definite members, and the remaining members were to be chosen by Randall. Burgoyne also gives more detailed instructions about the forming of lodges: “The most fitting person in the center of any district” should begin to recruit two or three loyal followers who then each bring in more followers and eventually form their own local committee of seven. A “Central Lodge” was also to be set up in Cincinnati, where Randall lived. With the institutional aspects of the American side of the order becoming more formalized, the group also decided to better organize its teachings. In the same January 29 letter to Randall, Burgoyne presents a new list of manuscripts, most of which the vast majority of members—​including Randall—​had never even heard of before: No 1. “Symbolic Rules. To first degree.” No II. “the mysteries of Eulis” No III. “A Key to the mysteries of Eulis”

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  153 No IV. “lessons III & IV” and Completing Grade I. [No V.] “A commentary upon Trithemeus” [No] VI. “La clef Hermetique” No VII[.]‌“the laws of the Magic Mirror Part I” No VIII[.]‌“the laws of the Magic Mirror part II.[”] “The preliminary form and ritual for Preliminary Initiation. With advice to all new members and young Neophytes.[”] [Attached at the bottom of the letter] “General Instructions to Members”

Burgoyne, notably, makes no mention of the yoga instructions Ayton had sent out, and in none of the known copies of the works he assigned is there any mention of yoga.60 This removal of yoga and most other references to Eastern teachings reflects the HB of L’s new assertion of its organizational identity, which it defined as being distinct from that of the TS, a group that Burgoyne believed was mired down in its Oriental focus.61 In an 1887 letter, Davidson elaborates on this view, claiming that the “thought” and occultism of the “Occident” and “Orient” are distinct, and that those of the latter, as well as the character of Oriental people, are inferior.62 Therefore, the TS’s emphasis on “Oriental” thought “vitiate[s]‌the Western mind” and must be countered by the promotion of authentic “Occidental” occultism.63 Fascinatingly, however, the last of the new required documents, “General Instructions to Members,”64 shares numerous similarities with Randall’s summary of Ayton’s yoga instructions, as well as other elements that are not in Randall’s summary but can be found in the three Bary books (see table 7.2). Although a few of these practices, such as breath control and the use of a magic mirror, were prescribed in works by Randolph, who more than likely derived them from various Western occult teachings, this chart should make it clear that even when the HB of L ostensibly removed Eastern sources from its occult practices, they were in fact retained in the “General Instructions to Members.” If, however, the “General Instructions” was the only post-​1885 HB of L work to retain these yogic influences, then this would not be that significant of a find. After all, when Joscelyn Godwin and colleagues reprinted the primary HB of L documents in their 1995 book on the occult order, they were not even aware of “General Instructions,” and lack of evidence for it in British and French sources suggests it may not have been well known among Brotherhood members. Still, there are two later works that were more widely known and contain enough similarities with Ayton’s instructions and the “General Instructions” that it seems that the HB of L’s practical occult instructions underwent a process of evolution that began with the yoga instructions prescribed by Ayton and thereafter retained a fundamental influence from the TS-​connected yoga works published by Bary. The two later works are the “Rules for Occult Training”65 (a section in the HB of L’s compilation for practical occult teachings, called “The Mysteries of Eros,” which was released in the summer of 1887) and a letter from Burgoyne to Johnson, from the autumn of 1887, that would be known as the “Hermetic Ritual for Private Initiation.”66 The latter piece

154  Representations of the East Table 7.2   Text Comparison 2 TOPIC


“OM” 108 times “My soul is one with God” “God is that perfect being which alone is manifested in its own light” “My soul is one with the universe and my spirit an emanation from God”—​*Very similar to the above second matram View the seat of consciousness at the navel

*xx, ~22–​28 ~22–​23

Preferable in morning/​sunrise


Specific day Sit in a chair Vegetarian Breath control Bath in morning Magic mirror Occult-​ized water

~22–​23, ~32, ~48–​ 50, ~53–​54


~25–​26, ~49–​53


*45, ~49

*1–​18 * 20–​21

Ayton’s Yoga Inst. Oct. 1885



~25–​26, ~49–​53 ~25–​26, ~49–​53

~22–​23, ~32, ~48–​ 50, ~53–​54

*Assumed *18–​19


~60 *Assumed

GIM Jan. 1886





*passim., e.g., 2, 8, 24


*passim. *2, *16, *20 *Assumed *passim., esp. 27–​28 *17 *12


X, “eyes centered upon that region just above the Pit of the Stomach” X, and same practice at night X


would be the final manifestation of the group’s practical occult ritual, which now was much more elaborate and, instead of referring to yoga teachings, explicitly cited the Divine Pymander and Éliphas Lévi. Again, a chart would be helpful for demonstrating the connections between these many works (see table 7.3; the page numbers for “Rules” and “Hermetic” refer to the Godwin et al. reprints). Once again, the similarities between the post-​1885 HB of L works, Ayton’s yoga instructions, and Bary’s books on yoga are very clear. The last two texts contain at least six elements that can be traced to the yoga writings that were sold to Theosophists by Bary, and they show numerous parallels with the earlier two HB of L instructions. It seems that the claim by Godwin and colleagues that “the practice prescribed in the ‘Mysteries of Eros’ ”—​the work that contains “Rules”—​“is totally Randolph’s” is at least a slight overstatement.67 Further proof of the fundamental influence from Bary

Exceptions for power of talisman/​charm/​ mantram/​ invocation

Preferable in morning/​ sunrise Specific day Sit in a chair Vegetarian Breath control Bath in morning Magic mirror Occult-​ized water

* 20–​21

*Assumed *18–​19 *1–​18


~60 *Assumed

*45, ~49


~25–​26, ~49–​53 ~25–​26, ~49–​53 ~25–​26, ~49–​53

*xx, ~22–​28 ~22–​23 ~22–​23, ~32, ~48–​50, ~53–​54

“OM” 108 times “My soul is one with God” “God is that perfect being which alone is manifested in its own light” “My soul is one with the universe and my spirit an emanation from God”—​ *Very similar to the above second matram View the seat of consciousness at the navel


~22–​23, ~32, ~48–​50, ~53–​54



Table 7.3  Text Comparison 3


*passim. *2, *16, *20 *Assumed *passim., esp. 27–​28 *17 *12



Ayton’s Yoga Inst. Oct. 1885

*passim., e.g., 2, 8, 24






X, “eyes centered upon that region just above the Pit of the Stomach” X, and same practice at night X


GIM Jan. 1886

X-​Rule 6, 273

X-​Rule 2, 271 X-​Rules 4–​6, 272–​73

X, Rule 6, 273 X-​Rule 1, 271

X, different practice at night, Rule 6, 273

X-​Rule 5, 272

“Rules” (first half 1887)

X, 105, just magnetize the water; no drinking X, 105, 106

X, 104, 105 X, 103

~X, 105

~X, 105

“Hermetic” late 1887

156  Representations of the East is the fact that in the two later works dhoop incense is prescribed;68 we have evidence that Ayton, Johnson, and other HB of L members sought and obtained dhoop, and in multiple cases this was directly from Bary in late 1885–​86.69

Legacy By mid-​1888, disappointed with its frequent internecine conflicts and the questionable conduct of its leaders, most people who had joined the American HB of L had left the group, and the country’s Brotherhood had all but disintegrated. The only branch that was to survive was that based in Denver, and it seems to have done so largely by changing the order to be more focused on astrology and for-​ profit occult publishing. It is not even clear that any of the yoga-​based occult instructions were being used by the late 1890s, and they certainly were not a part of the group when it was revived by Elbert Benjamine in the 1910s under the name Brotherhood of Light. This, of course, does not mean that the influence of yoga from the TS through the HB of L did not leave any vestiges. It appears, for instance, that some of the members, such as Randall, maintained their practice of yoga for at least some period after leaving the Brotherhood.70 Theon himself, meanwhile, retained an interest in Indian religions that showed possible yoga roots when he left England and eventually made his way to Algeria to start a new occult group, the Mouvement Cosmique. The influence of his Mouvement on the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo might therefore be an early instance of the global circulation of yoga from India to Europe and back.71 Another HB of L leader, Davidson, continued to at least promote the use of incense in occult rituals; although he began providing a Bible-​based justification for this, it had probably originally sprung from the Brotherhood’s use of dhoop.72 There are also clues that this TS-​derived yoga influence made its way to other esoteric groups. In Boston in 1895, four men met on the roof of what was then the highest building in the city and created what was called the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light.73 What little is known about the order suggests that at least one of its leaders was a former HB of L member, and the group taught a form of sexual magic, which was likely derived from the HB of L, and thus it may have retained some of the yogic instructions of its predecessor. This group, notably, went on to influence Ordo Templi Orientis, the occult order of Crowley, who himself had studied Sabhapaty’s Vedantic Raj Yoga—​possibly obtaining it from Ayton, a fellow member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.74 Sabhapaty’s writings were also used by an American occultist of the 1920s, Prof. William Estep. In 1929, Estep republished the English-​language sections of a little-​known 1884 expanded version of Sabhapaty’s teachings, entitled OM: The Cosmic Psychological Spiritual Philosophy and Science of Communion with and Absorption in the Holy and Divine Infinite Spirit or Vedhantha Siva Raja Yoga Brumha Gnyana Anubuthi.75 Finally,

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  157 Sabhapaty would be occasionally referred to by various French Theosophists in the 1890s,76 and the TS’s continuing interest in non-​occult-​focused Raja yoga may reflect the early interest in Sabhapaty’s teachings, even if Vivekenanda was a more important influence.77

Conclusion: Re-​Re-​Representations of Yoga In his 2008 study of the late-​nineteenth-​century appearance of the new Indian book genre of manuals for meditation and breathing, Nile Green observes that, even when they were written specifically for Indian audiences and presented as conveying pure, ancient knowledge, such manuals were nevertheless distinctly shaped by the impact of colonialism and various modernistic currents.78 In many instances, these books—​ whose production, of course, relied on modern printing technology and capitalistic markets—​attempt to cultivate religio-​nationalistic identities in response to the pervasive influence of British physical culture and etiquette. Some of the manuals, particularly as the genre developed in the early twentieth century, also contain explicit references to modern life and knowledge, and they seem to have been geared toward individuals living in a mostly secular public sphere. Yet, even the mere act of printing for public consumption instructions that previously had been primarily confined to orally based initiatory communities reflects a fundamental shift in the understanding of the role of such teachings, since earlier printed and manuscript yoga and Sufi texts had emphasized the necessity of obtaining this knowledge primarily through a master-​student relationship.79 In this new genre, by contrast, the social and religious channels of knowledge transmission are bypassed and the traditional master and his secret instructions are completely replaced by publicly accessible books that make few to no demands concerning the obtaining of a living master. The representation of yoga in The Theosophist and Bary’s books are clear examples of this new instruction manual genre. Although they contain some discussion of purportedly traditional masters and the initiatory history of their teachings, by putting such teachings into the public sphere the Indian Theosophist authors have freed the instructions from their traditional social contexts. In some cases, moreover, the goal for producing these works seems to have not been transmission of initiatory-​based knowledge but rather financial profit or promotion of various revivalist movements. Furthermore, when instructions like Kasyapa’s Occult Science are presented as direct translations of ancient works and appear to reflect the premodern emphasis on practical occultism, not only does their lack of emphasis on oral instruction and their arrangement into modern forms of writing call into question their authenticity, they sometimes also contain references to modern knowledge. Kasyapa’s “translation,” for instance, makes reference to Edward Bulwer-​Lytton’s 1842 occult novel Zanoni.80 The appearance of the Theosophists in India, then, generated at least two, and possibly three or four, levels of new representations of yoga by the early

158  Representations of the East twentieth century. The first level was composed of the Indian authors, who were usually affiliated with the Arya Samaj, writing and publishing English yoga instructions for the Theosophist public. The second level was the HB of L’s multiple appropriations and reworkings of those instructions. This began when, in the autumn of 1885, while the order was still poorly organized, the “guru” Ayton had his students perform yogic practices that were almost certainly derived from materials published by the Theosophist and Arya Samaj member Bary. Then, in 1886 and 1887, as the group’s institutions were formalized and the leaders began reshaping its teachings, the influence of the Arya Press books were retained even after the heads removed explicit references to yoga. The possible third and fourth levels of representation arose when later organizations utilized the HB of L instructions in new ways, and some of the students of those later organizations, such as Crowley and Sri Aurobindo, may have themselves represented these teachings in their own movements. The spread of occult-​focused yoga in the late-​nineteenth-​and early-​twentieth-​century West was therefore far from a simple revival of ancient knowledge; it was in numerous ways the product of the complex interplay of modern forces.

Appendix “General instructions to Members”81

[T]‌o entirely rid yourself of all magnetic surroundings of an adverse nature. rise from your couch exactly with the sun. take a tepid bath, let the mind dwell upon the sublime mysteries of your being. and after having dried the body, let your naked forces receive the full rays of the sun. for at least 15 Minutes (of course under many circumstances & conditions of life this practice is impossible & must of necessity be neglected and at best, it is only to be observed from the 25th of March to the 25th of September) during this sun Bath. Confine the breath and breath[e] a[s] deep as possible, with the face towards the sun for the first half and the Back the latter half of the time-​the respireation must be as long as possible. draw the breath inwardly slowly gradually filling and expanding the lungs to the sun then retain it in the lungs at least half a minute. then as gradually exhale it. at the same time conciously willing to absorb the Vital spirit of the solar ray’s into your inmost being. this over. quietly dress and take a little cold Pure water[,] magnetise it with seven passes of the right hand. and then drink. (not more than half a wine glass or a wine glass full at most is necessary). it all off at a draught. this over. The morning’s half hours meditation must commence. sitting in an easy posture with the Hands together (as in Prayer) but resting down upon the and the eyes centered upon that region just above the Pit of the Stomach with the thoughts centered upon divinity. slowly repeat the following mantram. “My soul is one with the universe and my spirit an emanation from God.[”]—​let the mind struggle to realise these significant words[.] the same

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  159 Practise (except the baths &etc) must be observed at eventide also. No special time is really of absolute importance. (although midnight is by far the best.) but whatever time be chosen it must be strictly adhered too & never alow the Brain to become unconscious—​alway’s controll your own spiritual soul. a deep trance like state or drowsey feeling is a sure indication that the adverse powers are battling with your soul to prevent it obtaining its freedom from the powers of Matter._​_​ By all means a Good Mirror should be had as an aid towards inducing the absolute Clairvoyant state._​_​& the laws of the mirror obeyed[.]‌remember there is neither force or value in any charm mantram or invocation in themselves[.] they are only intended as means to aid the mind & soul of the neophyte. who cannot fix the mind unless he has something of a form to dwell upon The Private Secretary

Notes 1. See the following histories of modern yoga:  Elizabeth De Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga:  Patanjali and Western Esotericism (New  York:  Continuum, 2005); Robert Love, The Great Oom:  The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America (New  York:  Viking, 2010); Mark Singleton, Yoga Body:  The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (New  York:  Oxford University Press, 2010); and Stefanie Syman, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). 2. Whereby a living person can make their soul leave his or her body and travel to other places in the universe. 3. See John Patrick Deveney, Theosophical History Occasional Paper VI:  Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society (Fullerton, CA: Theosophical History, 1997). 4. The TS gained thirty-​four American members before the end of 1875 and another 111 during 1876, making it probably more successful than any previous organization for “practical occultism.” See Theosophical Society General Register 1875–​1942, Vol. I, accessed February 10, 2014, https://​ 5. The Theosophical Movement 1875–​1950 (Los Angeles: Cunningham Press, 1951), 116. 6. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves:  The True Story of the Theosophical Society (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895), 395. 7. Ibid. 8. On Dayananda, see Har Bilas Sarda, Life of Dayananda Saraswati, World Teacher (Ajmer: P. Bhagwan Swarup, Manager, Vedic Yantralaya, 1946). 9. Ibid., 525. 10. Karl Baier, “Mesmeric Yoga and the Development of Meditation within the Theosophical Society,” Theosophical History 16, nos. 3–​4 (2012): 153. 11. Ibid., 152–​54. 12. For a discussion of these essays, see ibid., 154–​55. Bary’s acquaintance with Olcott is attested to in Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, Second Series 1878–​83 (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1900), 252–​53. 13. Truth Seeker, “Yoga Philosophy,” The Theosophist (January 1880): 86–​87. 14. Baier, “Mesmeric,” 156; and Henry S. Olcott, “Introduction,” in The Yoga Philosophy: Being the Text of Patanjali, with Bhojarajah’s Commentary, ed. Tukaram Tatia (Bombay: Bombay

160  Representations of the East Branch of the Theosophical Society, 1882), v. I have not been able to locate a copy of either the 1880 or 1883 editions of Om: A Treatise, but I did obtain a reprinted version of the 1880 edition, which was published under the title Swami Sabhapaty, Vedantic Raj Yoga: Ancient Tantra Yoga of Rishies (New Delhi: Pankaj, 1977), as well as a reprinted version of the 1883 edition, which was published in 1950 in Bombay under the title (which was apparently the title used for the 1883 edition) The Philosophy and Science of Vedanta and Raja Yoga by Chaitanya Prabha Mandali. Besides pagination, the only difference between the two versions is the 1883 one contains additional material translated by the new editor. 15. Olcott, “Introduction,” vi. 16. Baier, “Mesmeric,” 157–​58; and Deveney, Astral Projection,  65–​84. 17. “Do the Rishis Exist,” The Theosophist (May 1883): 203. 18. D.  K. Mavalankar, “The Philosophy and Science of Vedantic Raja Yoga,” The Theosophist (March 1884): 146. 19. Olcott to Thomas M. Johnson, April 8, 1882; Elliott B. Page to Johnson, January 23, 1883; and S. H. Randall to Johnson, August 27, 1883; in Thomas M. Johnson papers, property of the Johnson Library and Museum. All of the letters cited in this chapter come from this collection, and most are published in Patrick D. Bowen and K. Paul Johnson, eds., Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson, vol. 1: The Esotericists (hereafter, LTS) (Forest Grove, OR: Typhon Press, 2015). 20. Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharm:  Hindu Consciousness in 19th-​ Century Punjab (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1976), 46n37; and [Communication] in The Theosophist (January 1882): 108. This was in fact the first journal devoted to supporting the Arya Samaj. 21. R. C. Bary, ed., The Prayer Book of the Aryans (Lahore: R. C. Bary, Arya Press, 1883). 22. The second edition was published in Lahore and printed by the New Lyall Press. My claim that some of the sections have different wording is based on my comparing the 1892 edition with excerpts from the 1884 edition that were published in two works: William J. Flagg, Yoga or Transformation:  A Comparative Statement of the Various Religious Dogmas Concerning the Soul and Its Destiny, and of Akkadian, Hindu, Taoist, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Christian, Mohammedan, Japanese and Other Magic (New York: J. W. Bouton, 1898), 190–​94; and John Campbell Oman, Indian Life: Religious and Social (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1889), 41. 23. See previous note. 24. Pandit Rama Prasad Kasyapa, trans., Occult Science:  The Science of Breath, 2nd ed. (Lahore: R. C. Bary & Sons, 1892), 8–​9, 27–​28. 25. Ibid.,  3–​18. 26. Ibid.,  19–​27. 27. The review of Vedantic Raj Yoga appeared in the March issue, while the review of Occult Science appeared in the April issue. 28. For the HB of L, see Joscelyn Godwin, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney, eds., The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism (hereafter, HBL) (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995); and Patrick D. Bowen, “Introduction,” in LTS, 6–​86. The present chapter is a supplement to the latter work. 29. Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 3. 30. See a facsimile in ibid., 306. 31. For more on Johnson, see Bowen, “Introduction,” passim. 32. Wilder’s correspondence with Johnson has been published in Patrick D. Bowen and K. Paul Johnson, eds., Letters to the Sage:  Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson, vol. 2: Alexander Wilder, the Platonist (n.p.: n.p., 2018). 33. Damodar Mavalankar to Johnson, May 31, 1881, LTS, 238. 34. N.N., “Books and Periodicals,” The Platonist, June–​August 1881, 111.

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  161 35. Olcott to Johnson, April 8, 1882, LTS, 272–​73. 36. Bary to Johnson, February 3, July 27, and December 11, 1883, LTS, 97, 99. 37. See, in addition, Bowen, “Introduction.” 38. Randall to Johnson, September 29, 1884, LTS, 384–​85. 39. Oxley to Johnson, October 23, 1884; and Pattinson to Johnson, November 2, 1884. 40. Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL,  3–​5. 41. Ibid., 3. When a birth chart could not be provided, the leaders would ask for a small fee to produce one themselves. 42. Randall to Johnson, May 18, June 15, and July 20, 1884. A version of this manuscript was included in the group’s “Mysteries of Eros,” which can be found in Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 244–​51. 43. Pattinson to Johnson, November 2, 1884; and Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 44. 44. Randall to Johnson, June 25 and July 20, 1885, LTS, 402–​3, 407–​8; and A. N. Breneman to Johnson, June 6, 1885, LTS,  101–​2. 45. LTS, 485–​94 contains a list of the over eighty dated HB of L pledges that are contained in the Johnson papers. 46. Randall to Johnson, July 20, 1885, LTS  407–​8. 47. Ibid., September 5, 1885, LTS, 413–​14; Cables to Johnson, December 1, 1885, LTS, 143; and Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 87. 48. Randall to Johnson, September 21 and 30, 1885, LTS, 416–​19. 49. Ibid., January 2, 1886, LTS, 428–​29. For a discussion and copy of this document, see Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 138–​65. 50. Page to Johnson, December 15, 1885, LTS, 336–​37. 51. Randall to Johnson, September 5, 10, and 21, 1885, LTS, 413–​17. 52. Ibid., October 5, 1885, LTS, 419–​20. 53. Ibid., November 25, 1885, LTS, 426–​27 and January 2, 1886, LTS, 428–​29. 54. Ellic Howe, ed., The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: The Letters of the Revd W. A. Ayton to F. L. Gardner and Others 1886–​1905 (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1985), 25–​26. 55. Ibid.; Breneman to Johnson, September 11, 1885, LTS, 103–​4; and Randall to Johnson, September 30 and November 25, 1885, LTS, 417–​19, 426–​27. 56. For Sabhapaty’s book, I am citing the 1950 edition, which is a reprint of Bary’s 1883 edition. 57. Randall to Johnson, February 5, 1886, LTS, 430–​32. 58. Ibid. 59. Burgoyne to Randall, January 29, 1886, LTS, 124–​26; and Randall to Johnson, February 12, 1886, LTS, 433–​36. 60. Not all of these works have verifiably been located, but most have, and they have been reproduced in Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL. For a more complete discussion, see Bowen, “Introduction.” 61. Burgoyne to Randall, January 25, 1886, LTS, 123–​24. 62. Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 92–​97, esp. 93–​94. 63. Ibid.,  96. 64. Reprinted in LTS, 123–​24. 65. Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 269–​73. 66. See Burgoyne to Johnson, September 4 and October 20, 1887, LTS, 131–​34; and Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, HBL, 101–​6. Godwin et al. propose that the “Hermetic Ritual” was distributed in early 1886, but there are two reasons to think it was actually issued in late 1887: (1) It references A. E. Waite’s book on the tarot, which was only first published in 1886; and (2) Burgoyne’s September 4, 1887 letter is undoubtedly referring to the “Hermetic Ritual,” and Burgoyne’s October 20 letter says he will be sending that ritual to Johnson before the month is over.

162  Representations of the East 67. Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney, 214. 68. Ibid., 272 (“Rules”), 104 (“Hermetic”). 69. W. W. Allen to Johnson, December 18, 1885; Breneman to Johnson, February 28, 1886; Henry Wagner to Johnson, January 22, 1895; and Howe, Alchemist,  25–​26. 70. Randall to Johnson, March 4, 1886, LTS, 440–​42. 71. On Sri Aurobindo, see Peter Heehs, “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Internal Yoga: A Study in Cross-​Cultural Influence,” Aries 11, no. 2 (2011): 219–​47. 72. See Peter Davidson, Outline of the Cosmic Philosophy and the Object of the Cosmic Movement (Loudsville, GA: Peter Davidson, 1909), iii–​iv, reprinted in T. Allen Greenfield, The Story of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light (Stockholm and Beverly Hills: Looking Glass Press, 1997). 73. S.  C. Gould, “Arcane Societies in the United States:  II,” Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries 26, no. 7 (1908): 221. 74. Tobias Churton, Aleister Crowley the Biography: Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master—​and Spy (London: Watkins, 2011), 111. 75. Estep published it under the title Esoteric Cosmic Yogi Science or Works of the World Teacher. See [Swami] Sabhapaty [Mahatma Jnana Guroo Yogi], Esoteric Cosmic Yogi Science or Works of the World Teacher, ed. William Estep (Excelsior Springs, MO: Super Mind Science, 1929). 76. For example, N.N., “Yoga,” Le Lotus Bleu, April 1896, 72–​74; Anon., “Le Yogi Sabhapaty Swami, De Madras,” Le Lotus Bleu, March 1897, 18–​20; and Paul Gillard, “Le Pas Décisif,” Le Lotus Bleu, March 1897, 20–​24. 77. See for example, H. P. Blavatsky, Raja-​Yoga or Occultism (Bombay: Theosophy Company, 1931). 78. Nile Green, “Breathing in India, c. 1890,” Modern Asian Studies 42 (2008): 283–​315. 79. Ibid., 286–​87. 80. Kasyapa, Occult Science, 11. 81. I have retained Burgoyne’s spelling and punctuation errors except where this would lead to confusion.

Bibliography The following abbreviations have been used: HBL: Godwin, Joscelyn, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney, eds. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995. LTS: Bowen, Patrick D., and K. Paul Johnson, eds. Letters to the Sage: Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson. Vol. 1: The Esotericists. Forest Grove, OR: Typhon Press, 2015. Anon.“Le Yogi Sabhapaty Swami, De Madras.” Le Lotus Bleu, March 1897, 18–​20. Another Hindu Theosophist. “Do the Rishis Exist.” The Theosophist, May 1883, 203. Baier, Karl. “Mesmeric Yoga and the Development of Meditation within the Theosophical Society.” Theosophical History 16, nos. 3–​4 (2012): 151–​61. Bary, R. C., ed.The Prayer Book of the Aryans. Lahore: R. C. Bary, Arya Press, 1883. Blavatsky, H. P. Raja-​Yoga or Occultism. Bombay: Theosophy Company, 1931. Bowen, Patrick D., and K. Paul Johnson, eds. Letters to the Sage:  Selected Correspondence of Thomas Moore Johnson. Vol. 1: The Esotericists. Forest Grove, OR: Typhon Press, 2015. Churton, Tobias. Aleister Crowley the Biography:  Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master—​and Spy. London: Watkins, 2011. Davidson, Peter. Outline of the Cosmic Philosophy and the Object of the Cosmic Movement. Loudsville, GA:  Peter Davidson, 1909.Reprinted in T. Allen Greenfield, The Story of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. Stockholm and Beverly Hills: Looking Glass Press, 1997.

Yoga in the Early Theosophical Society  163 De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga:  Patanjali and Western Esotericism. New York: Continuum, 2005. Deveney, John Patrick. Theosophical History Occasional Paper VI: Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society. Fullerton, CA:  Theosophical History, 1997. Flagg, William J. Yoga or Transformation:  A Comparative Statement of the Various Religious Dogmas Concerning the Soul and Its Destiny, and of Akkadian, Hindu, Taoist, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Christian, Mohammedan, Japanese and Other Magic. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1898. Gillard, Paul. “Le Pas Décisif.” Le Lotus Bleu, March 1897, 20–​24. Godwin, Joscelyn, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveney, eds. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1995. Gould, S. C. “Arcane Societies in the United States: II.” Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries 26, no. 7 (1908): 209–​24. Green, Nile. “Breathing in India, c. 1890.” Modern Asian Studies 42 (2008): 283–​315. Heehs, Peter. “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Internal Yoga: A Study in Cross-​ Cultural Influence.” Aries 11, no. 2 (2011): 219–​47. Howe, Ellic, ed. The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: The Letters of the Revd W. A. Ayton to F. L. Gardner and Others 1886–​1905. Wellingborough, Aquarian Press, 1985. Jones, Kenneth W. Arya Dharm:  Hindu Consciousness in 19th-​ Century Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Kasyapa, Pandit Rama Prasad, trans. Occult Science, The Science of Breath. 2nd ed. Lahore: R. C. Bary & Sons, 1892. Love, Robert. The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America. New York: Viking, 2010. Mavalankar, D. K. “The Philosophy and Science of Vedantic Raja Yoga.” The Theosophist (March 1884): 146. N.N.“Books and Periodicals.” The Platonist, June–​August 1881, 111–​12. N.N.“Yoga.” Le Lotus Bleu, April 1896, 72–​74. Olcott, Henry S. “Introduction.” In The Yoga Philosophy:  Being the Text of Patanjali, with Bhojarajah’s Commentary, edited by Tukaram Tatia, i–​vii. Bombay:  Bombay Branch of the Theosophical Society, 1882. Olcott, Henry S. Old Diary Leaves: The True Story of the Theosophical Society. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. Olcott, Henry S. Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, Second Series 1878–​83. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1900. Oman, John Campbell. Indian Life: Religious and Social. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1889. Sabhapaty [Swami], [Mahatma Jnana Guroo Yogi]. OM:  The Cosmic Psychological Spiritual Philosophy and Science of Communion with and Absorption in the Holy and Divine Infinite Spirit or Vedhantha Siva Raja Yoga Brumha Gnyana Anubuthi. Madras: Hindu Press, 1884. Sabhapaty [Swami], [Mahatma Jnana Guroo Yogi]. Esoteric Cosmic Yogi Science or Works of the World Teacher, edited by William Estep. Excelsior Springs, MO: Super Mind Science, 1929. Sabhapaty [Swami], [Mahatma Jnana Guroo Yogi]. The Philosophy and Science of Vedanta and Raja Yoga, edited by Siris Chandra Vasu. Bombay: Chaitanya Prabha Mandali, 1950. Sabhapaty [Swami], [Mahatma Jnana Guroo Yogi]. Vedantic Raj Yoga: Ancient Tantra Yoga of Rishies. New Delhi: Pankaj, 1977. Sarda, Har Bilas. Life of Dayananda Saraswati, World Teacher. Ajmer:  P. Bhagwan Swarup, Manager, Vedic Yantralaya, 1946. Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Syman, Stefanie. The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. The Theosophical Movement 1875–​1950. Los Angeles: Cunningham Press, 1951. Theosophical Society General Register. Vol. 1. Accessed February 10, 2014. https://​ Thomas M. Johnson Papers. Thomas M. Johnson Library and Museum, Osceola, Missouri. Truth Seeker. “Yoga Philosophy.” The Theosophist (January 1880), 86–​87.

8 Emergent Representations of the East The Role of Theosophical Periodicals, 1879–​1900 Gillian McCann

Always willing to spill oceans of ink, Theosophists of the nineteenth century were eager to spread their views through a variety of media. Periodicals were one of the principal ways that they attempted to fulfill their self-​proclaimed role as messengers and interpreters of Eastern religion. The creation of publications such as The Theosophist (1879–​), The Path (1886–​96), Lucifer (1887–​97),1 and The Lamp (1894–​1900) were a vital part of Theosophical publicity and propaganda meant to influence public opinion. In 1881 Raghu Nandan Prasad Singh wrote that, “the dissemination and exposition of Oriental religions will not only prove profitable to modern India, but likewise to every inquiring mind the world over.”2 With their protean form and the frequency of their publication, periodicals fulfilled a variety of functions for a group interested in gaining new members and spreading their message. The impact of Theosophical representations of Indian religions can be seen in the enduring power of the idea of the spiritual East and in the development of alternative historiographies of Hinduism. The journals of the Theosophical Society created a space in which alternative images of the East could be presented that offered a powerful and multivocal counter narrative to those of imperialists and missionaries. Beginning in the Victorian period journals became an effective means to establish Theosophists as credible and authoritative interpreters of the East. As a result Theosophical Societies in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, South Asia, and North America all rushed to found their own publications.3 The basis of Theosophical authority, resting as it did on the alleged authenticity of the Masters who Helena Petrovna Blavatsky claimed as the source of her teachings, was always somewhat shaky. By participating in this form of print culture Theosophists were able to enter into what Christopher Alan Bayly refers to as the “the information order” and were able to shore up their credibility.4 In order to do so the Theosophical Society took on the trappings of other groups such as the Royal Asiatic Society founded in 1823 with its publications, journal, lectures, and library. By the late nineteenth century Theosophical periodicals emerged as one of the most important and effective platforms for representing the East.

166  Representations of the East From the time of the move of the Theosophical Society Headquarters to India in 1879, members of the Society positioned themselves as brokers of “Eastern” culture to the West. This process of interpretation and mediation emerged within a milieu created by the accessibility of religious texts from India and was conditioned by both colonialism and imperialism. The resulting re-​workings that occurred within these parameters have been characterized by Sharada Sugirtharajah as “varied, complex and ambivalent.”5 As key players in this project Theosophists demonstrated a seemingly indefatigable willingness for engaging in controversy and debate, through the channels of their periodical publications, as they sought to assert their understanding of Eastern religion. Blavatsky in particular never hesitated to take on spiritualists, Orientalists, missionaries, and occultists in her efforts to further her own idiosyncratic depictions of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. With the development of postcolonial theory this process of recasting and interpreting has increasingly become a site of academic controversy. Eric Sharpe has referred to the idea of comparative religion or “intercultural hermeneutics” as one that sprung from the larger project of the post-​Enlightenment.6 The understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism promulgated by Theosophists was necessarily reshaped as it was filtered through Christian and Western categories of thought. Phillip Almond has discussed this process in his groundbreaking book The British Discovery of Buddhism (1988), calling it the “imaginative creation of Buddhism.”7 While contemporary interest in practices such as yoga and Buddhist meditation are often depicted in the popular press as emerging without antecedent, history tells another story. An analysis of the writing in Theosophical periodicals of the Victorian period opens a window onto the early forms of this mediation process as it was occurring. Gauri Vishwanathan has drawn attention to the ways in which writing functioned in a colonial framework as a “mask of conquest” in order to obfuscate the actual exertion of military power and the process of economic exploitation. It can be argued that like the educational curriculum imposed by the British on India, the more public writing in the press also constituted a representational system that was a vital part of the “sustaining structure of domination.”8 Shaped as it was by the power dynamics of colonizer and colonized, the larger discourse was also subject to the imaginings that were typical of European society and which predated the modern era. This Western reshaping and reimagining of South Asian traditions has been increasingly discussed within the larger framing of Orientalism. The tendency to posit Asian cultures as “Other” was a process that continues into the present day, often in the pages of the mainstream media. The commonplace depiction of India as either an area of darkness and abject poverty or a font of spiritual wisdom and benevolent gurus began to take shape clearly by the end of the nineteenth century. The genesis of this binary can be charted through the debates over whose version of Indian culture would prevail. Interest in understanding the “East” was quickened in the nineteenth century in part due to the accessibility of translated texts made available as a result of British

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  167 colonialism. The original motivation for these translations was to aid the British in governance, with the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gītā paid for by the British East India Company in 1785.9 However, texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā and the Upaniṣads proved to be of popular interest and were serialized in British periodicals like The Edinburgh Review, British Quarterly Review, The Nineteenth Century, and The North American Review.10 This general interest in philosophical traditions of the East was evident across Europe and North America and speaks to an ongoing fascination with the Orient. Vasant Kaiwar argues that the Oriental Renaissance was part of an attempt within European culture to create an “alternative modernity,”11 and as such tells us far more about Western culture than about India. In her influential work The Place of Enchantment (2004), Alex Owen notes that interest in religions of the “East” was part of a complex process, as Victorians were increasingly open to discussing “the relative merits of non-​Christian religious traditions.”12 The most influential among those who set themselves up as interpreters of Eastern culture were imperialists, Orientalists, missionaries, and Theosophists. Each narrative has its own trajectory and motivation. These voices, while often opposed to one another, were also mutually constitutive. Missionaries writing back from the field in China and India were duly published in a variety of Christian publications. Periodicals, along with monographs, were an important site where Theosophists expressed authoritative views of Indian culture in opposition to their rivals. By developing their own publications Theosophists created public sites where they could engage directly in disputes and debates with members of these groups. Theosophists expressed their position with confidence, claiming that their interpretations were acknowledged by academic Orientalists who in turn were exposed to the “most learned of Asiatic priests, pandits and shastrees.”13 In demarcating this public space Theosophists set themselves David-​like against the Goliath that was the British Empire during this period. At its zenith in the nineteenth century, what John M.  Mackenzie calls “Imperial Propaganda Societies,” bolstered by business interests, were pumping out their version of the East via books, textbooks, posters, school curricula, lectures, ephemera, and eventually cinema. This propaganda was also exported to all the British colonies including India. At the London exhibition of 1862 displays were created to depict the various countries, with India taking the lion’s share of the space.14 These exhibitions featured replicas of villages from recently “pacified” areas of the empire.15 Displays such as these clearly marked countries like India as in need of the British “civilizing mission,” which included economic, political, and religious control. Theosophists typically did not accept the common Western view of India as in need of imperial oversight but instead viewed it as the original source of world spirituality and ancient teachings. Blavatsky, while alleging that all religions developed from the same Wisdom Tradition, also claimed that Buddhism and Hinduism had remained closest to the Ur religion. This original religion was understood as being the core of all the world’s traditions. Blavatsky wrote that Theosophy is like

168  Representations of the East “the white ray of the spectrum, and every religion only one of the seven prismatic colours.”16 However, Blavatsky did seem to accept, like the Orientalists, that the glories of Hinduism were mostly in the past. Theosophists viewed themselves as champions of a traditional and “pure” Hinduism and Buddhism that had been lost even in India. Writing in the first issue of The Theosophist, Blavatsky stated of ancient Āryāvarta that, “none is older than she in esoteric wisdom and civilization, however fallen may be her poor shadow—​modern India.”17 Like the Orientalists, the primary way that Theosophists participated in imagining the East was through the printed word. In The Rhetoric of Empire (1993) David Spurr offers an overarching analysis of a variety of forms of writing including journalism and travel writing and how they contributed to the rationalization of imperialism and the shaping of images of colonial cultures. When viewed through the lens of what he refers to as “rhetorical tropes”18 these various genres of writing can be seen to replicate the colonial rhetoric of: surveillance, appropriation, aestheticization, idealization, and eroticization. Theosophists seem never to have questioned their right to describe and explain foreign ideas and practices or to appropriate modes of dress and practice. Exoticization and idealization were typical Theosophical modes, beginning with Blavatsky in her presentation of ancient Āryāvarta (India) as representing the golden age of world religion. Theosophists generally rejected the emphasis of colonial and missionary writers on debasement and negation, often presenting Indian ideas as superior to those found in the modern Western world. On balance most Theosophists accepted the ideas of what Richard Fox refers to as “affirmative Orientalism.”19 The most common narrative presented by Theosophists posited India as having much to offer the Western world and in doing so argued for a radical reordering of relations between East and West. The controversial nature of their views of India is evidenced by the hostile attacks made against them by both missionaries and imperialists. Kumari Jayawardena has argued that the respect shown toward Hindu and Buddhist philosophy by Theosophists was viewed as treachery, if not treason, by many. Blavatsky was actually accused of being a Russian spy, and many viewed the acceptance of South Asian traditions as equal to those of the Western world as a challenge to the idea of the “civilizing mission.”20 Affirmative Orientalism was also used by Theosophists to critique their own societies and to resist “modern capitalism and modern industrial society.”21 The Theosophical position was further nuanced by the fact that many Theosophists were not directly involved in the imperial project. Helena Blavatsky as a Russian, who operated largely as an outsider wherever she went, could be described along with many other Theosophists as, “a visionary refugee on the borderlands of so many cultures.”22 Co-​founders of the Theosophical Society Henry Steel Olcott and William Quan Judge were Irish-​American and American and so had distinct experiences of engagement with Eastern ideas and philosophy. A remarkable number of Theosophical leaders were Anglo-​Irish and held ambivalent views about empire. Many like Annie Besant, Charlotte Despard, and Margaret

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  169 and James Cousins were involved with home rule movements both in Ireland and India. Over time Irish-​Canadian Albert E. S. Smythe, editor of The Lamp and The Canadian Theosophist, became explicitly critical of British policies in India. The controversial opinions of Theosophists regarding empire were spread through their far-​flung international networks. Often criticized by academics like Max Müller, the Theosophists shored up their respectability strategically. While Joy Dixon has argued that the structure of Theosophical lodges was based upon that of English men’s clubs, over time they took on many of the features of Protestant voluntary societies with their use of public lectures, conventions, and the creation of journals. In so doing they were reverse mirror images of the missionary societies that they often railed against. The forms of proselytizing adopted by many Theosophists clearly pointed to the Protestant origins of the majority of the Theosophical Society members. Unlike parallel groups in the occult revival such as Order of the Golden Dawn, most Theosophists rejected the idea of being only an esoteric, underground society and were determined to be active players in the public debates of their time. Periodical culture was a distinctive feature of the nineteenth-​century Western culture and was part of the larger development of mass media. Periodicals played a key role in creating “publics” and “counter-​publics” and were a primary way that counterculture groups disseminated information, maintained connections, and asserted their place within the larger public discourse. As Sean Latham and Robert Scholes argue, periodicals need to be read as “texts that have a unity different from but comparable with that of individual books.”23 The occult movement of the nineteenth century in particular tended to be highly literary, and many leading figures wrote monographs, newspapers, and edited and founded periodicals.24 These types of publications were a markedly different form for engaging in public discussion and allowed writers and editors to be quick on their feet in responding to both current events and internal politics. These publications were heavily censored in Czarist Russia and in colonial India,25 but in most of the Anglosphere publication was limited solely by the market. Journals were also part of the larger culture of commerce and publicity that emerged from a “still obscure alchemy of commercial and aesthetic impulses and processes.”26 Mark Morrisson goes so far as to state that beginning in the 1840s periodical culture was the driving force behind the larger occult revival. Various groups began to “create alternative institutions of publicity and to appropriate features of the commercial press for their own politicized purposes.”27 Theosophists engaged this mode very consciously and carried over their understanding of print journalism more generally into Theosophical publications. In explaining the reason for the launching of The Lamp in 1894, Smythe acknowledged that the best avenue for influencing the public was the mainstream press but recognized that it was extremely difficult to get access to it for topics related to Theosophy.28 In her note to subscribers in the first edition of The Theosophist, Blavatsky made it clear that she was adopting the practices of “respectable journals.”29

170  Representations of the East The Victorian period also saw a broader base of readership for such periodicals due to rising rates of literacy.30 Consequently journalism arose as a new occupation alongside the expanding fields of civil service and corporate bureaucracies.31 Many Theosophists wrote for both the mainstream and alternative press and were part of the milieu Ramsay Cook referred to as “dissenting journalism.”32 In his analysis of the role of print culture in Canada during the Victorian era Paul Rutherford argues that the development of mass communication was as significant as the process of industrialization in transforming Canadian culture.33 The press was recognized as being the most important force in shaping public opinion, and in 1900 Smythe wrote that “one editor has more influence than scores of parsons.”34 The presence of a large number of journalists in their membership was a distinctive feature of the Theosophical Society from the beginning, with all three of its founders working in the field throughout their lives. Though sometimes criticized for it, Theosophists brought their understanding of the commercial press into their work, and Dixon notes their “thorough grasp of the workings of the modern commercial public sphere.”35 In founding periodicals Theosophists made clear their recognition of the role of the press in shaping public opinion and its efficacy as a mode of “propaganda.” These periodicals in turn were read and exchanged between lodges and sections, keeping members abreast of issues in the expanding networks of the Society. The records of the Toronto Theosophical Society show that they were reading The Path, The Theosophist, and Lucifer, among many other Theosophical and mainstream publications.36 Theosophical journals regularly reproduced each other’s articles, and editors drew attention to points of interest in other publications. In doing so the Theosophists created dense networks that allowed them to communicate both with each other and with the larger public. As Eiko Ikegami notes, the creation of these social structural networks influenced “the process of cultural production and identity formation.”37 These networks, which stretched from metropole to the colonies and beyond, came to offer an alternative source of information on India to that found in the mainstream press. The vanguard publication of the Theosophical Society began its run in 1879 in Bombay with Blavatsky as editor. Blavatsky had already published the popular Isis Unveiled in 1877 and worked as a journalist from 1874 to the end of her life.38 Never known for her brevity, the masthead stated that The Theosophist was “a monthly journal devoted to Oriental philosophy, art, literature and occultism: embracing mesmerism, spiritualism, and other secret sciences.” In a notice to advertisers Blavatsky stated that the magazine had subscribers from all over the world including Great Britain, France, Germany, Egypt, and Australia. She made her ambitions clear, writing “the design in establishing the journal having been rather to reach a very wide circle of readers, than to make a profit.”39 Blavatsky adopted what she referred to as a new system of having paid subscribers, noting that it was “now universal in America.”40

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  171 The primary rationale given for the creation of the journal was to maintain communications within the rapidly expanding Theosophical Society. According to Blavatsky the magazine was also meant to serve as a platform to discuss comparative religion and occultism and to be both philosophical and popular. In this way The Theosophist would occupy a niche between the learned publications of groups like the Asiatic Society and the popular press. The success of the magazine in this regard is demonstrated by the fact that the periodical quickly became profitable, and its circulation had reached over six hundred within three months of its launch.41 According to the T. S. website the magazine has remained in publication without a break since its inception.42 The Theosophist included an eclectic array of articles, essays, and reviews and became the template for other Theosophical publications that followed. The magazine carried feature pieces on both Eastern and Western occultism, folklore, astrology, and archaeology and regularly published on subjects such as spiritualism and mesmerism. Blavatsky declared in the first volume that the journal would make available the writing of the “best native scholars of India.”43 This strategy seems to have garnered an audience both within India and abroad, and the list of subscribers included in the early issues of the magazine indicates an Indian and Anglo-​Indian readership. Existing within a colonial context, with a highly monitored media, Theosophists in India entered into the vibrant and complex “rhetorical culture”44 of imperial India. Writing in the third year of the magazine’s run, Blavatsky noted with clear satisfaction that despite the many enemies of Theosophy the publication rivaled many popular periodicals and had a wide international circulation.45 The American publication The Path was the next Theosophical journal of note and began publishing in 1886 with Judge, co-​founder of the society, as editor and primary contributor. The magazine served a rapidly growing American section, which Washington characterizes as the wealthiest within the international society.46 Judge stated in the first edition that he had no intention to “replace or rival” The Theosophist or any other Theosophical journal. Judge, like Blavatsky, understood his publication as fulfilling a need and offering access to what he characterized as “practical occultism.”47 The early part of the run of the magazine The Path featured a similar mixture of articles to The Theosophist and included pieces on a wide range of topics including comparative mythology and Indian philosophy. In 1887, driven from India by controversy at least partly created by missionaries in Madras (Chennai), Blavatsky landed in London. Undaunted and apparently unrepentant she quickly set up a publication, taking the provocative title Lucifer. In her opening editorial Blavatsky explained her choice of name, writing that rather than being a satanic figure Lucifer was the light bringer who illuminated “the hidden things of darkness.”48 Clearly identifying with this figure, she acknowledged the controversial nature of her choice and that “the crown of the reformer and the innovator is ever the crown of thorns.”49 While apparently battling even members of family over the choice, she satirized the objections of the people she was meeting.

172  Representations of the East When asked by a “Well-​known Novelist” who the magazine was meant to appeal to she replied, “No class in particular: we intend to appeal to the public.”50 Continuing with her description of conversations with “Journalist” and “Fashionable Lady” she took the opportunity to take a shot at her enemies. Blavatsky argued that anyone who found the name offensive demonstrated ignorance to be expected of “an ignorant American missionary of some dissenting sect.”51 The Canadian periodical The Lamp, which began publishing in 1894 with a five-​ thousand-​copy run, was clearly influenced by its predecessors, and Smythe alluded to both Lucifer and The Path in its pages. However, like them the journal bore the stamp of its editor. Being Irish, Smythe was closely connected with the Theosophical movement in his home country. Smythe maintained a complex network of affiliation, including contact with his fellow Irishman Judge in the United States, and Theosophists in Ireland, Europe, and India. As a professional journalist Smythe recognized the influence of the press and believed that periodicals were among the most effective ways of spreading Theosophical ideas in Canada. Toronto was a hub for both social reformers and missionaries, and Smythe positioned his fledgling lodge and its publication within the larger cultural conversations taking place. Noting the difficulty of gaining access to the mainstream press, he wrote that there had been “no regular means of appealing to the public through these media and the independent effort made by the Branch in establishing The Lamp is intended to supply this want.”52 The Theosophist, The Path, The Lamp, and Lucifer all regularly published articles on a variety of the world’s religious traditions including spiritualism, mesmerism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Unsurprisingly, the majority were related to either Hindu or Buddhist philosophy. These articles were written by both Western and Eastern informants and covered a wide range of topics. Favorite topics were discussions of the philosophy of karma and the philosophical schools of Hinduism including Advaita Vedānta, Yoga, and Sāṃkhya. Theosophical publications also included tales of the exotic East, no doubt to maintain the interest of their readership. Articles on the esoteric Hindu and Buddhist philosophy were common in Theosophical publications and in the pages of The Theosophist. Blavatsky asserted the need for a shared “Metaphysico-​Spiritual Vocabulary.”53 Featuring the opinions of Hindu writers, Theosophical periodicals also took a more nuanced view on caste than either Orientalists or missionaries.54 The clearly demonstrated interest of Theosophists in the religions of South Asia, and their willingness to engage with them on equal terms with Christianity, placed them in direct conflict with the aim of Christian missionaries.

Mixing It Up with Missionaries: Theosophical Periodicals and the Battle for the East The missionary narrative was perhaps the most successful one in presenting a picture of Hinduism to the West. The power of this portrait continues to influence

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  173 public perception into the contemporary period. The nineteenth century saw the dawning of what Brian K. Pennington refers to as the “Age of Missions,” with the emphasis on conversion of the “foreign pagan and the domestic pauper.”55 The Hindu tradition was generally presented by the missionaries as representing irrational and oppressive superstition, with a particular emphasis on the caste system and the alleged ill treatment of women. As Carl T. Jackson writes, “the darkest, most unpleasant portraits ever drawn of Asian religions originated with the nineteenth century missionary.”56 The desire to proselytize and convert is of course at the base of these negative portraits. The Christian missions presented Indian traditions in terms of the dichotomy of believer and unbeliever and, in the language of the period, Christian and heathen. As Sugirtharajah argues, this stark and simplified understanding of South Asian traditions was part of the larger project of “defining the other.”57 The Theosophical position was from the founding of the Society directly opposed to that of the missionaries. Blavatsky stated explicitly in an open letter written in 1890 that the goal of the Masters for whom she was a mouthpiece was to “defend the ancient wisdom contained in the darśanas and Upanishads against the systematic assault of the missionaries.”58 Interestingly, although known for her stinging sarcasm, even Blavatsky recognized that many missionaries lived lives of great self-​sacrifice and had particular appreciation for those who did medical work. Of the Belgian priest Father Damien she wrote that due to his altruism, “He was a true Theosophist.”59 Blavatsky went on to say that those with an impulse toward philanthropy would be better off to concentrate on the slums of Whitechapel where they would be more effective.60 The attitude of Theosophists to the missionaries followed logically from the Theosophical belief in equality of all religious traditions and the special place held by Hinduism and Buddhism. Blavatsky’s admiration for the sub-​continent was expressed concretely in the decision to move the international headquarters first to Bombay and then to Adyar in South India. In what could only have been a shocking inversion, Blavatsky and Olcott formally converted to Buddhism on a visit to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1880. In doing so they “became the first Euro-​Americans to formally embrace Buddhism.”61 With Blavatsky referring to herself and Olcott as “we heathens,” the two set themselves up as counter-​missionaries. In an address given in India and printed in Lucifer, Annie Besant stated that India was the “mother of spiritual life and of true religion.”62 The activities of Olcott in aiding in the revitalization of Buddhism in Sri Lanka were followed closely within the pages of The Theosophist. In an article entitled “Our Ceylon Work” it was noted that Olcott had delivered thirty-​two lectures and had been given a royal welcome. It was also noted that money had been raised for the Sinhalese National Fund.63 Missionaries were only too aware of the attitudes and publications of Blavatsky and were quick to go on the offensive. While a writer for the Toronto publication The Christian Guardian agreed that religions other than Christianity held certain

174  Representations of the East truths, he warned against “glorifying heathen traditions,” stating that there was “nothing that should shake any Christian’s faith in the superiority of the religion of Christ.”64 An article in the May editions shows their awareness of Blavatsky’s activities, and the columnist wrote: We learn with regret that the wife of one of the most distinguished editors and citizens of New York has been “led so far astray by Madame Blavatsky’s spiritualism as to lose her head.” No one in India thinks as much of Mrs B. as they do of a respectable beggar woman. After the exposure made by Madras missionaries of a secret cupboard and the still more unsatisfactory Koot Hoomi, the Blavatsky gang had to vamoose. . . . Even Hindus who were in perfect fits of enthusiasm over the Theosophists and their occult nonsense, are now as cool as chilled iron.65

Clearly Toronto missionaries used their own international networks to keep an eye on the most organized opposition to their purposes. Like The Theosophist, the Toronto publication The Lamp was highly critical of missions from the beginning. Editor Smythe never adopted the overtly anti-​ Christian approach of Blavatsky, but his position was clear. In the second edition he critiqued the battles between various groups of missionaries in New Zealand, suggesting that they concentrate on resolving their own sectarian differences.66 Smythe also reprinted an article called “A Brahmin Family Life” by Purushotam Rao Telang addressing Western attitudes toward arranged marriage. The writer argued that Hindu families were “the happiest in world.”67 Smythe was also well aware of missionary activities within Canada that targeted First Nations populations for assimilation. He was one of the only voices in this time period speaking out against this practice. He critiqued the spending of taxes on “spreading the good news with gun and bayonet.”68

East is East?: Theosophical Second Thoughts The portrait of India and traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism that was presented by Theosophists also expressed the ongoing tensions and sometimes outright conflicts taking place within the Theosophical Society itself. In 1888, writing under the pseudonym Jaspar Niemand, Judge, while first emphasizing that he rejected the idea of comparing civilizations, attempted to recognize both the “affluent vigor of American life” and the spiritual achievements of India.69 However, he is clearly employing the trope of Indian “stagnation” and the idea of the West as “inheritors and future custodians” of the Eastern wisdom.70 Seven years later he was more direct and makes it clear that all the glories of India were strictly in the past. While this narrative was typical of Orientalists of all stripes, Judge was particularly American in his understanding of the United States as the center of the

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  175 spiritual world. By 1895 Judge was writing that despite its former eminence India could no longer be “the teacher of the West.”71 He went on to say that it was only the West that could make the occult teachings of the East available to the public. Sounding like an arch imperialist or a missionary, Judge wrote that “it is the destiny of the West to rouse the East from its darkness, superstition and ignorance to save the world.”72 This turn West by Judge was the result of a number of factors, the most important being the power plays taking place within the larger society. At the Boston convention in 1895 Judge declared his independence from the International Society centered at Adyar. He then formed the Theosophical Society in America, in which he was declared president for life with the power to nominate his successor.73 The next president, Katherine Tingley, took this branch of the Theosophical Society even further in its rejection of Eastern religion by advocating for the “replacing of Eastern esoteric knowledge with plain American commonsense.”74 There is little doubt that the main driver of this shift was Judge’s desire to move the center of Theosophical authority to the United States both ideologically and physically. However, the ambivalence of many Theosophists toward accepting India as the repository of all esoteric knowledge was to be the cause of numerous defections in the Theosophical Society.75 Distancing himself and his breakaway society from Eastern teachings seemed to have been an expression of Judge’s desire to declare independence from the International Society based in Adyar. This reluctance to accept Eastern traditions as the only core source of philosophy was nothing new in the Theosophical Society, and its publications regularly featured articles on Western esotericism. Theosophists such as Anna Kingsford were primarily interested in alchemy, astrology, kabbalah, and other aspects of the Western esoteric traditions.76 George Robert Stowe Mead, co-​editor of Lucifer and secretary to Blavatsky from 1889 until her death, increasingly looked westward philosophically. Moving into the twentieth century he reverted to his original interest in the traditions of Gnosticism and Neo-​Platonism, and at an address to the European Section of the Theosphical Society argued that Theosophical studies should be focused on Western as well as Eastern sources.77 Rudolf Steiner’s defection from Theosophy in 1907 to create his own anthroposophical movement was at least partly based on his desire to focus on the Western philosophical tradition.78 The movement of Judge and Tingley away from Indian thought as the basis of their form of Theosophy also appeared to shift them toward attitudes congruent with missionaries and imperialists. However, the majority of the Theosophical publications continued to present a highly positive view of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian and Ceylonese culture. This position mirrors that of the Society’s primary idealogue Blavatsky, who made the defense of Indian philosophy a cornerstone of her public work. The rejection of this view of the East, in the case of Judge and Tingley, was so serious an aberration as to signal the larger rupture with the original form of the Theosophical Society.

176  Representations of the East

Contemporary Echoes of Theosophical Understandings of the “East” Theosophical representations of the East as gleaned from their periodicals offer no one overarching picture. The narrative that began to emerge from the publications of the Theosophical Society developed and changed over time. Theosophical publications tended to be eclectic and to offer a variety of viewpoints, sometimes at odds with one another. This eclecticism was a defining feature of Theosophy and in turn was part of what would later be referred to as a “New Age discourse.”79 This was done quite consciously according to the rules of journalism, as Blavatsky wrote that the publication was non-​sectarian and was meant to express a variety of viewpoints.80 Nonetheless, the editor of the journal shaped and selected the articles published based upon their own personalities, proclivities, and where they were geographically. Unsurprisingly The Theosophist, published first out of Bombay and then Madras, offered a picture much more influenced by the political situation within colonial India. As a result the Theosophists in India were also in dialogue with Hindu reform groups such as the Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, and the Hindu Sabha. The Theosophist made clear in its first edition that the paper would feature “the best native scholars of India.”81 The motto of the society, “There is no religion higher than truth,” adopted from the Maharajah of Benares appeared across the banner of the journal and clearly telegraphed where their loyalties lay.82 A growing list of members of the Indian aristocracy were listed as subscribers in the end pages of each edition. While their own special role as mediators was made clear, Blavatsky wrote in 1880 that Theosophists could assist in the process, but “the moral regeneration of India and the revival of her ancient spiritual glories must exclusively be the work of her own sons.”83 Skirmishes with Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the Arya Samaj also demonstrated the limits of cooperation between Theosophists and Hindu reformers. The periodical press in India rapidly emerged as one of the most powerful modes for creating and shaping nationalist and pro-​Independence discourse.84 While Blavatsky avowed that Theosophists were not interested in politics,85 in many ways these publications became ideological arms of the movement. For Hindu reformers the narrative of the once-​prosperous and glorious India became a rallying cry for a return to this golden age. With the founding of the Indian National Congress by Allan Octavian Hume, a Theosophist, the nationalist movement quickly began to take shape. This position of political neutrality became less and less credible after Besant’s election as president of the international society in 1907.86 The various Theosophical publications provided a powerful “counter-​history” to those emerging from conservative and pro-​imperialist journals such as National Review and Blackwoods. In his essay “The Software of Empire” Alex Nalbach notes the ways in which the news cartels of Reuters, Havas, and Wolff controlled the collection and flow of news from the colonies. The choice of topic was governed at least in part by the national interests of Britain, France, and Germany and by

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  177 the exigencies of capitalism.87 In the case of Theosophical magazines, they were not beholden to national interests and were free to write on whatever topics they wished. Theosophical editors were free to contradict and engage in debate with missionaries, imperialists, and Orientalists. The enduring impacts of the Theosophical imagining and presentations of the East can be understood by following a number of intellectual streams. One, which could not have been foreseen by the founders, influenced the discourse of what came to be called Hindutva. The depiction of a pristine, “pure” Hinduism that pre-​ dated not only Christian but also Muslim influence in India became a cornerstone of this worldview. According to this understanding the glories of India had principally been tarnished by a series of foreign invaders. Hindu reformers took up this historicized narrative and used it for their own purposes as the nationalist movement began to gain steam in the late Victorian era. Indian nationalists such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Vinayak Savarkar employed this reconstructed golden age of Hindu history to support their calls for a Hindu nation. Kaiwar, noting the ongoing influence of this version of Hinduism, refers to the “Extended After Life of the Aryan Model of History and the Oriental Renaissance.”88 Another impact can be felt within the discipline of religious studies itself, as Pennington argues persuasively in Was Hinduism Invented? While he rejects the idea of Hinduism as a Western invention, he does agree that colonial ideologies are a “core identifying feature of modernity.”89 Because the whole field of comparative religion emerges from the colonial encounter, he asserts that it has been shaped by its presuppositions. Theosophists were key players in the imagining of the East, and as Pennington writes, “colonial modernity decisively altered the character and evolutionary course of Hindu religion.”90 The influence of Orientalist and Theosophical focus on the highly philosophical Sanskritic tradition continues to be felt in academic departments of religion.91 In the forms of Hinduism that emerged from Theosophical journals, Theosophists rejected the narrative of the evolution of religious traditions from primitive to civilized. This understanding was typical of the period, as presented by Edward Burnett Tylor and James Frazer, and influenced the emerging discipline of religious studies.92 This view posited a trajectory of the world’s religious traditions moving from polytheism to monotheism, culminating in a scientific worldview. Theosophists also rejected the evolutionary model of culture as one that led inevitably toward secularism. In this they offered an alternative response to modernity and one in which religious belief and practice could be preserved. This understanding undercut Max Weber’s conclusion that the disenchantment of the Western world was an inexorable and inevitable process. In offering a discourse that validated all possible roads to enchantment, including occultism, spiritualism, and the wide variety of the world’s religious traditions, they championed belief in the face of the disintegrating forces of materialism and scientific positivism. Most uniquely, Theosophy, in its attempts to represent the East, portrayed its traditions as being equal if not superior to those of the West. In this they

178  Representations of the East contributed a developing understanding within the Western world of the equality of the world’s religions and cultures. The Theosophical tenet of the Universal Brotherhood of Man contributed to the development of approaches that rejected the colonially constructed ideas of race and inferior/​superior religions. In offering a platform for Hindus and Buddhists to speak for themselves in the pages of their journals, Theosophists were among the first to facilitate the ability of the “empire to write back.” The concrete contribution of Theosophists to changing attitudes toward race has largely been ignored. Expressing a sentiment characteristic of many Theosophists, Judge wrote in 1891 that his desire was to “abate race prejudice, and in all ways tend to strengthen the feeling of brotherhood which is the aim of the Theosophical Society.”93

Conclusion While its desire to “leaven the mind of the century” seemed to be eclipsed by the end of World War II, a renewed interest in the impact of Theosophy on Western culture indicates that a re-​evaluation of its influence is now taking place. While this utopian and idealist vision was buffeted by the events of the twentieth century, the egalitarian and idealistic message of Blavatsky clearly appealed to a wide variety of people across many different cultures. From the Theosophical point of view all religions were “branches of one stem and no one system has a right to dogmatize as to its supremacy over another.”94 Within the pages of most Theosophical periodicals all the world’s religions were presented as being valuable. Creeds and dogmas were presented as the “shells around spiritual knowledge” that caused division.95 Blavatsky and her fellow Theosophists advocated that each could retain allegiance to their chosen belief but also “love, help and mutually defend each other.”96 Always pragmatic about the means for spreading their message, Theosophists were quick to take up new forms of media. The periodical served them well in their desire to shape public attitudes toward other religious traditions and cultures. Theosophical periodicals were part of the larger project of “creating publics” receptive to their views. These journals in turn created dense international networks in which the participants communicated with one another. Information was spread rapidly across the Theosophical world, and the editors of Theosophical journals followed with interest the founding of lodges in other countries and the expansion of their movement. The eclectic nature of these periodicals contributed to the fact that there was no one portrait of the East presented. The periodical was an ideal platform to allow for a variety of approaches, although the majority expressed the position of affirmative Orientalism. The portrait also changed over time and reflected the geographical and political concerns of the publications. The attitudes to the East expressed in Theosophical journals also tended to mirror tensions within the Theosophical

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  179 Society regarding the proper role of Eastern and Western philosophy in the movement. It can be argued that the Theosophists were largely unsuccessful in their aim to influence public perceptions of the East during the nineteenth century. The forces arrayed against them were simply too powerful and confirmed the pre-​existing biases of much of the reading public. Nonetheless, the Theosophists created a powerful and influential counterculture. It was only with the sea-​change in attitude that occurred in the Western world after World War II and the political and cultural movements of the 1960s that the sophisticated views of the Theosophists began to gain traction. It is precisely because they speak to the changed landscape of attitudes toward race and religion that their ideas and work are finally being recognized in the twenty-​first century. Then as now, those who critique empires, or the shibboleths of their societies, are generally relegated to the pages of the “alternative” press. Theosophists participated in this field of dissent with great vigor, with their magazines often being of the highest quality in terms of both form and content. In taking up the forms of the mainstream media Theosophists were able to present a variety of approaches to the East that created a nascent vision of the world that emphasized the equality of all religions and cultures. In this radical revisioning of East and West time has revealed them to be on the right side of history.

Notes 1. The periodical was then renamed The Theosophical Review. 2. Raghu Nandan Prasad Singh, “To the Editor of the Theosophist,” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881): 4. 3. See Michael Gomes, Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century:  An Annotated Bibliography (New York and London: Garland, 1994), 551–​67. 4. C.  A. Bayly, Empire and Information:  Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–​-​1870 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 5. 5. Sharada Sugirtharajah, Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective (London: Routledge, 2003), ix. 6. Eric Sharpe, The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavad Gita; A Bicentenary Survey (LaSalle: Open Court, 1985), xv. Works that examine this process of re-​casting include: Carl T. Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth Century Explorations (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981); Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990); Carl T. Jackson, Vedanta for the West: The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); Sugirtharajah, Imagining Hinduism; and more popular works like Jeffery Paine, Father India:  How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West (New York: HarperCollins, 1998); Philip Goldberg, American Veda:  From Emerson and the Beatles and Meditation; How Indian Spirituality Changed the West (New  York:  Harmony Books, 2010); Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Stefanie Syman, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).

180  Representations of the East 7. Phillip C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), 4. 8. Gauri Vishwanathan, Masks of Conquest:  Literary Study and British Rule in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 4. 9. Sharpe, The Universal Gita, 1. 10. Almond, British Discovery of Buddhism, 35; and Jackson, The Oriental Religions, 36. 11. Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar, “Introduction,” in Antimonies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation, ed. Vasant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 2003), 4. 12. Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment:  British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 30. 13. H. P. Blavatsky, “Our Second Year,” The Theosophist 2, no. 1 (1880): 1. 14. John M. Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–​1960 (Manchester, UK and London: Manchester University Press), 98. 15. Ibid.,  99. 16. Helena Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1995), 58. 17. H. P.  Blavatsky, “What Are the Theosophists?” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879). http://​​pasadena/​theosoph/​theos1a.htm#whatarethetheos. 18. David Spurr, The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing and Imperial Administration (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1993), 3. 19. Richard Fox, “East of Said,” in Edward Said:  A Critical Reader, ed. Michael Sprinker (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 144–​56. 20. Kumari Jayawardena, The White Woman’s Other Burden:  Western Women and South Asia during British Colonial Rule (New York: Routledge, 1995), 132. 21. Fox, East of Said, 152. 22. Catherine Candy, “The Occult Feminism of Margaret Cousins in Modern Ireland and India” (PhD diss., Loyola University, 1996), 9. Candy is referring here to Margaret Cousins, but it could equally apply to many Theosophists, who often lived outside their home countries. 23. Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, “The Rise of Periodical Studies,” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association 121 (2006): 517. 24. Edward Kasinec and Robert H. David Jr., “Russian Occult Journalism of the Early Twentieth Century and Emigration,” in The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, ed. Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 421. 25. See Sukeshi Kamra, The Indian Periodical Press and Production of Nationalist Rhetoric (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). 26. Latham and Scholes, “Rise of Periodical Studies,” 521. 27. Mark S. Morrisson, “The Periodical Culture of the Occult Revival:  Esoteric Wisdom, Modernity and Counter-​Public Spheres,” Journal of Modern Literature 31 (2008): 4. 28. S. L. Beckett and Albert E. S. Smythe, “Toronto T.S. Annual Meeting,” The Lamp 1, no. 8 (1895):  118. Smythe wrote for the mainstream press and Theosophical publications throughout his adult life. 29. H. P. Blavatsky, “To Subscribers,” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879). http://​​ pasadena/​theosoph/​theos1a.htm#subscribers. 30. Almond, British Discovery of Buddhism, 4. 31. Diana Burfield, “Theosophy and Feminism:  Some Explorations in Nineteenth Century Religious Biography,” in Women’s Religious Experience, ed. Pat Holden (London:  Crooms Helm 1983), 29. 32. Ramsay Cook, The Regenerators:  Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 153.

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  181 33. Paul Rutherford, A Victorian Authority: The Daily Press in Late Nineteenth Century Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 8. 34. Albert E. S. Smythe, “Editorial Notes,” The Lamp 4, no. 7 (1900): 208. 35. Joy Dixon, “Gender, Politics and Culture in the New Age: Theosophy in England 1880–​1935” (PhD diss., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1993), 38. 36. Minutes of the Toronto Theosophical Society 1891, passim. Held at the Toronto Theosophical Society and Robart’s Library, Toronto. 37. Eiko Ikegami, “A Sociological Theory of Publics: Identity and Culture as Emergent Properties in Networks,” Social Research 67 (2000): 1002. 38. Boris De Zirkoff, “Preface,” in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, vol. 12:  1889–​1890, ed. Boris De Zirkoff (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), v. 39. Blavatsky, “To Subscribers.” 40. Ibid. 41. Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon (New York: Schocken Books, 1993), 60. 42. “Bookstore,” TS Adyar. http://​www.ts-​​content/​magazines, accessed July 24, 2019. 43. Blavatsky, “To Subscribers.” 44. Kamra, Indian Periodical Press, 29. 45. Blavatsky, “To Subscribers.” 46. Washington, Blavatsky’s Baboon, 101. 47. William Q. Judge, “Introduction,” The Path 1, no. 1 (1886): 1–​2. 48. H. P. Blavatsky, “What’s in a Name? Why the Magazine is Called ‘Lucifer,’ ” Lucifer 1, no. 1 (1887): 1. 49. Ibid. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52. Beckett and Smythe, “Toronto T.S. Annual Meeting,” 118. 53. H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Present Great Need of a Metaphysico-​Spiritual Vocabulary,” The Theosophist 3, no. 7 (1882): 167. 54. H.  P. Blavatsky, “Who are the Aryas and the Buddhists,” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881): 3; Rai B. K. Laheri, “[Review of a Lecture by Annie Besant in Madras on] Eastern Castes and Western Classes,” Lucifer 16 (1895): 521. 55. Brian K. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians and the Colonial Construction of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 29. 56. Jackson, The Oriental Religions, 85. 57. Sugirtharajah, Imagining Hinduism, xii. 58. Helena P. Blavatsky, H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, vol. 12:  1889–​1890, ed. Boris De Zirkoff (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 159. 59. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 238. 60. Ibid.,  239. 61. Stephen Prothero, The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1996), 95. 62. Annie Besant, “India, Her Past and Her Future,” Lucifer 13, no. 1 (1894): 361. 63. N.N., “Our Ceylon Work,” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 2 (1881): 1. This fund contributed to the revival of the Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka. Ironically this conversion also irritated a number of Hindus including Swami Dayananda Sarasvati. Raghu Nandan Prasad Singh, “Current Events: To the editor of the Theosophist,” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881): 3–​4; H. P. Blavatsky, “Editors Note” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881): 4. 64. “Christianity and Other Religions,” The Christian Guardian, Toronto, (April 22, 1891): 248. 65. “Notes and News from India,” The Christian Guardian, Toronto, (May 27, 1891): 39.

182  Representations of the East 66. Albert E. S. Smythe, “Maoris and Christianity,” The Lamp 1, no. 2 (1894): 27. 67. Purushotam Rao Telang, “A Brahmin Family Life,” The Lamp 1, no. 4 (1894): 51. 68. Albert E. S. Smythe, “Editorial Notes,” The Lamp 4, no. 5 (1900): 154. 69. Jaspar Neimand, “East and West,” The Path 2, no.  12 (1888). http://​​ pasadena/​path/​v02n12p365_​east-​and-​west.htm. 70. Ibid. 71. William Q. Judge, “The Truth about East and West,” The Path 10, no. 1 (1895): 3–​4. 72. Ibid. 73. Josephine Ransom, A Short History of the Theosophical Society (Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 311. 74. Penny Waterstone, “Domesticating Universal Brotherhood:  Feminine Values and the Construction of Utopia” (PhD diss., University of Arizona, 1995), 79. 75. Ibid.,  62. 76. Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany:  State University of New  York Press, 1994), 346. 77. Clare Goodrick-​Clarke and Nicholas Goodrick-​Clarke, ed. and intro., G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2005), 9. 78. Washington, Blavatsky’s Baboon, 155. 79. Sutcliffe, Children of the New Age, 213. 80. H. P. Blavatsky, “Editors Note,” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881): 4. Each edition of the publication included a disclaimer stating that “The Editors disclaim responsibility for opinions expressed by contributors in their articles.” 81. H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophist. Bombay, October 1st 1879,” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879): 1. 82. Ransom, A Short History, 151. 83. H. P. Blavatsky, “A Tear of Theosophy,” The Theosophist 2, no. 4 (1881): 86. 84. See Kamra, Indian Periodical Press. 85. Blavatsky, “What Are the Theosophists?.” 86. Besant ended up under house arrest for her writing and political activities in 1917. 87. Alex Nalbach, “‘The Software of Empire’: Telegraphic News Agencies and Imperial Publicity, 1865–​1914,” in Imperial Co-​Histories: National Identities and the British and Colonial Press, ed. Julie F. Codell (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 2003), 68–​94. 88. Vasant Kaiwar, “The Aryan Model of History,” in Antimonies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation, ed. Vasaant Kaiwar and Sucheta Mazumdar (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 39. 89. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented?, 120. 90. Ibid.,  26–​27. 91. However, this textually based mode for engaging religion has increasingly come into question in the field of religious studies, with the recognition that it does not always reflect how traditions like Hinduism are understood and practiced. 92. Robert A. Segal, “Myth,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, ed. Robert A. Segal (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 340. 93. William Quan Judge, “The Oriental Department,” The Path (February 1891): 359. Reprinted in Dara Eklund, comp., Echoes of the Orient: The Writings of William Quan Judge, vol. 2 (San Diego: Point Loma, 1980), 180. 94. R. E. Port, “Isis Unveiled,” The Lamp 1, no. 3 (1894): 34. 95. Blavatsky, “What Are the Theosophists?.” 96. H. P. Blavatsky, “What Good Has Theosophy Done in India?,” Lucifer 2, no. 8 (1888): 91.

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  183

Bibliography Almond, Phillip C. The British Discovery of Buddhism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Bayly, C. A. Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India 1780–​1870. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Beckett, S. L. and Albert E. S. Smythe. “Toronto T.S. Annual Meeting.” The Lamp 1, no. 8 (1895). Besant, Annie. “India, Her Past and Her Future.” Lucifer 13, no. 1 (1894). Blavatsky, H. P. “The Theosophist. Bombay, October 1st 1879.” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879). Blavatsky, H. P. “To Subscribers.” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879). Blavatsky, H. P. “What Are the Theosophists?” The Theosophist 1, no. 1 (1879). Blavatsky, H. P. “Our Second Year.” The Theosophist 2, no. 1 (1880). Blavatsky, H. P. “A Tear of Theosophy.” The Theosophist 2, no. 4 (1881). Blavatsky, H. P. “Editors note” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881). Blavatsky, H. P. “Who are the Aryas and the Buddhists.” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881). Blavatsky, H. P. “The Present Great Need of a Metaphysico-​Spiritual Vocabulary.” The Theosophist 3, no. 7 (1882). Blavatsky, H. P. “What’s in a Name? Why the Magazine is called ‘Lucifer.’” Lucifer 1, no. 1 (1887). Blavatsky, H. P. “What Good Has Theosophy Done in India?” Lucifer 2, no. 8 (1888). Blavatsky, H. P. H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 1889–​1890. Vol. 12. Edited by Boris de Zirkoff. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1980. Blavatsky, H. P. The Key to Theosophy. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1995 [1889]. Burfield, Diana. “Theosophy and Feminism: Some Explorations in Nineteenth Century Religious Biography.” In Women’s Religious Experience, edited by Pat Holden, 27–​55. London: Crooms Helm, 1983. Candy, Catherine. “The Occult Feminism of Margaret Cousins in Modern Ireland and India.” PhD diss., Loyola University, 1996. Codell, Julie F. Imperial Co-​Histories:  National Identities and the British and Colonial Press. Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 2003. Cook, Ramsay. The Regenerators:  Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985 Dixon, Joy. Gender, Politics and Culture in the New Age: Theosophy in England 1880–​1935. PhD diss., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1993. Eklund, Dara, comp. Echoes of the Orient:  The Writings of William Quan Judge. Vol. 1. San Diego: Point Loma, 1975. Eklund, Dara, comp. Echoes of the Orient: The Writings of William Quan Judge. Vol. 2. San Diego: Point Loma, 1980. Fox, Richard. “East of Said.” In Edward Said: A Critical Reader, edited by Michael Sprinker, 144–​ 56. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany:  State University of New  York Press, 1994. Goldberg, Philip. American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles and Meditation; How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. New York: Harmony Books, 2010. Gomes, Michael. Theosophy in the Nineteenth Century: An Annotated Bibliography. New York and London: Garland, 1994. Goodrick-​Clarke, Clare, and Nicholas Goodrick-​Clarke, eds. and intro. G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2005. Ikegami, Eiko. “A Sociological Theory of Publics: Identity and Culture as Emergent Properties in Networks.” Social Research 67 (2000): 989–​1029. Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990. Jackson, Carl T. The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth Century Explorations. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.

184  Representations of the East Jackson, Carl T. Vedanta for the West:  The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Jayawardena, Kumari. The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia during British Colonial Rule. New York: Routledge, 1995. Judge, William Q. “Introduction.” The Path 1, no. 1 (1886). Judge, William Q. “The Truth about East and West.” The Path 10, no. 1 (1895). Kaiwar, Vasant, and Sucheta Mazumdar, eds. Antimonies of Modernity: Essays on Race, Orient, Nation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. Kamra, Sukeshi. The Indian Periodical Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Kasinec, Edward, and Robert H. David Jr. “Russian Occult Journalism of the Early Twentieth Century and Emigration.” In The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, 419–​50. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. King, Richard. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and “The Mystic East.” London and New York: Routledge, 1999. Laheri, Rai B. K. “[Review of a Lecture by Annie Besant in Madras on] Eastern Castes and Western Classes.” Lucifer 16 (1895). Latham, Sean, and Robert Scholes. “The Rise of Periodical Studies.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association 121 (2006): 517–​31. Mackenzie, John M. Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–​ 1960. Manchester, UK and New York: University of Manchester Press, 1984. Morrisson, Mark S. “The Periodical Culture of the Occult Revival: Esoteric Wisdom, Modernity and Counter-​Public Spheres.” Journal of Modern Literature 31 (2008): 1–​22. N.N. “Our Ceylon Work.” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 2 (1881). Paine, Jeffery. Father India:  How Encounter with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Pennington, Brian K. Was Hinduism Invented?: Britons, Indians and the Colonial Construction of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Port, R. E. “Isis Unveiled.” The Lamp 1, no. 3 (1894). Prothero, Stephen. The White Buddhist:  The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott. Delhi:  Sri Satguru, 1996. Ransom, Josephine. A Short History of the Theosophical Society. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989. Rosenthal, Bernice Glatzer. “Introduction.” In The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, 1–​32. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. Rutherford, Paul. A Victorian Authority:  The Daily Press in Late Nineteenth Century Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Reprinted 1994. Segal, Robert A. “Myth.” In The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, edited by Robert A. Segal, 337–​56. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Sharpe, Eric. The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavad Gita; A Bicentenary Survey. LaSalle: Open Court, 1985. Singh, Raghu Nandan Prasad. “Current Events: To the editor of the Theosophist.” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881). Singh, Raghu Nandan Prasad. “To the Editor of the Theosophist.” Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 25 (1881). Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Smythe, Albert E. S. “Maoris and Christianity.” The Lamp 1, no. 2 (1894). Smythe, Albert E. S. “Editorial Notes.” The Lamp 4, no. 5 (1900). Smythe, Albert E. S. “Editorial Notes.” The Lamp 4, no. 7 (1900). Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire:  Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1993.

The Role of Theosophical Periodicals  185 Stark, Ulrike. An Empire of Books: The Naval Kishore Press and the Diffusion of the Printed Word in Colonial India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007. Sugirtharajah, Sharada. Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective. London: Routledge, 2003. Sutcliffe, Steven J. Children of the New Age: A History of Spiritual Practices. London and New York: Routledge, 2003. Syman, Stefanie. The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Telang, Purushotam Rao. “A Brahmin Family Life.” The Lamp 1, no. 4 (1894). Vishwanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken Books, 1993. Waterstone, Penny. “Domesticating Universal Brotherhood:  Feminine Values and the Construction of Utopia.” PhD diss, University of Arizona, 1995.

9 Theosophy and Modernism A Shared but Secret History David Weir

Theosophy and modernism are parallel developments: both arose around the same time—​Theosophy a bit earlier—​and both are marked by an ambiguous relationship to the Enlightenment and to romanticism, those two impossibly complex phases of philosophical and cultural development that are still playing out in the ongoing saga of Western civilization. Moreover, both Theosophy and modernism involve a paradoxical synthesis of enlightenment reason and romantic reaction, an uneasy alliance between progressive faith in the future and regressive respect for the past. While the meaning of modernism is rather elusive, at the very least it is an aesthetic response to modernity conditioned by a creative imagination that somehow manages to be both futuristic and traditional. This dual impulse is reflected in the work of all the major modernist authors: the poetry of T. S. Eliot is both avant-​garde and classical; Ezra Pound “makes it new” by means of ancient Chinese literature; and James Joyce cuts utterly modern characters out of old Homeric cloth. Theosophy, likewise, shows its Janus face by looking forward and backward at the same time. For Colonel Henry Olcott, Theosophy was a scientific, enlightened means of investigating spiritual phenomena, while Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was nothing if not romantic, however overdetermined and extreme her tendency to imagine the past as the paradigm of modern life. Despite the structural similitude of modernism and Theosophy, the two movements are categorically different: Theosophy is, after all, not an aesthetic response to modernity but a theological one. Theosophists were in the business of contemplating the nature of the soul in relation to an array of divine or semi-​divine presences, whereas modernists were in the business of creating art and artifacts that expressed the condition of individual consciousness in an all-​too-​human world. As that last Nietzschean phrase implies, modernism has a theological dimension, albeit a negative one, in that it is largely secular in expression, and specifically anti-​ Christian. While this dimension of modernism may have more than one source, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche surely emerges as among the more powerful and pervasive of such sources. Theosophy is likewise anti-​Christian (at least as Christianity is understood in its traditional, institutional forms), and while it would

188  Representations of the East be a mistake to insist too strongly on the philosophical similarity of Blavatsky and Nietzsche, Isis Unveiled (1877) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–​1885) do exhibit some surprising parallels. Both authors claim Eastern origins for their philosophy: Blavatsky says her ideas owe their genesis to “the sages of the Orient;”1 Nietzsche makes his thought derive from the Persian prophet Zoroaster (as he is known in Greek), the father of Zoroastrianism, the monotheistic pre-​Islamic religion of ancient Persia. Both authors were riding the tide of nineteenth-​century Orientalism, and both acknowledged the newly discovered texts of Buddhism in particular. Blavatsky alludes to Buddha numerous times in making her argument for a new syncretic system that reveals the god-​like nature of humanity,2 while, in Nietzsche’s case, the Buddhist references are coded and implicit.3 Blavatsky’s expanded conception of humanity is perhaps the most important point of comparison between Isis Unveiled and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the preface to her work, Blavatsky expresses “faith in the omnipotence of man’s immortal self ” and claims that once you “prove the soul of man by its wondrous powers—​you have proved God!”4 Of course, the central tenet of Zarathustra’s teaching in Nietzsche’s book is that “God is dead.”5 This celebrated assertion is key to the expanded understanding of humanity that Nietzsche captures in the word Übermensch, which may be best translated as “Overhuman.” As Graham Parkes explains, “[p]‌art of what this means is that the Overhuman emerges from our going beyond the human perspective and transcending the anthropocentric worldview.”6 Both Blavatsky and Nietzsche aim to make humanity realize and transcend the limitations of the Christian worldview, one by arguing that God is man and the other by claiming that God is dead: the means may be different but the ends seem similar, in that both thinkers urge a radically new and liberating conception of what it means to be fully human. For both, the ultimate demise of conventional religion is key to human liberation: Blavatsky asserts that “[t]he day of domineering over men with dogmas has reached its gloaming,”7 while Nietzsche would go on to imagine a “twilight of the idols.” Moreover, both Blavatsky and Nietzsche present the new man in “Darwinian” terms as an evolutionary development. Blavatsky claims that there is a “divine instinct” at work in the “ceaseless progress of [human] development.”8 Likewise, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra presents the Overhuman as the next stage of evolutionary development: “I teach to you the Overhuman. The human is something that shall be overcome. . . . What is the ape for the human being? A laughing stock or a painful cause for shame. And the human shall be just that for the Overhuman.” Zarathustra goes on to say that “You have made your way from worm to human,”9 so the idea that the Overhuman is the ultimate stage of evolutionary development is clear. The larger point here is that Blavatsky and Nietzsche both insist on an overcoming of the limits imposed on humanity by religious dogma, Christianity in particular, and that this program of transcendence would find a place in modernist thinking.10 The Nietzschean analogue is only one item in an expanding catalogue of comparisons that justify investigation into the relationship of Theosophy and

Theosophy and Modernism  189 modernism. Indeed, at this point the question is not so much whether a relationship exists but rather how that relationship should be characterized. For some, the magical dimension of Theosophy, and magic generally, speaks to the modernist “reconceptualization of the mimetic,” in which artistic representation becomes more than an “inert copy” of reality but one animated with occult energy.11 For others, the salient element in Theosophy that carries over into the modernist era is the idea of a “secret history,” a sense that some kind of truth has been obscured by tradition so that the task of the individual artist is to bring that history to light. Hence, “[o]‌ccultism has much the same relation to nineteenth-​and twentieth-​ century literature as Hermetic and Neoplatonic ideas have to the painting and architecture of the Italian Renaissance.”12 Possibly, the first idea is subsumed by the second, so that modernist notions of a revivifying mimesis themselves result from the recovery—​or invention—​of some recondite tradition. Of course, the idea that a tradition might be invented rather than simply recovered is hardly consonant with the conventional meaning of tradition, but that seems to be what both Blavatsky and Nietzsche did. Blavatsky “discovered” an impossibly ancient spiritual tradition that antedated all of the major world religions,13 and Nietzsche reinvented the ancient spiritual leader Zoroaster to give voice to the utterly modern, completely materialist pronouncements of his mouthpiece Zarathustra. Whether the secret history or the secret tradition is invented out of whole cloth or is actually discovered and put forth in earnest as a hitherto-​neglected set of facts no doubt varies with the individual modernist. In the case of Pound, the “secret history” that animates The Cantos seems to have been a matter of deep conviction, while the occult system that underlies much of the poetry of Yeats may exist less as the product of personal belief and more for the purpose of artistic invention. Regardless, what emerges as key is the modernist insistence on some alternative tradition that animates artistic creation. In some cases, that alternative tradition is directly inspired by Theosophy (as with Yeats, for example), but even when it is not, Theosophy stands as a model for modernism, a paradigm for overcoming existing tradition by means of some secret history or recondite revelation. Moreover, as the parallel cases of Blavatsky and Nietzsche show, some variant of Eastern thought becomes the means whereby the alternative tradition or the secret history is represented. Not all modernists followed the Theosophical model that identified the secret history with Eastern tradition, but even those who did not seem to have sought out their own cultural analogues to the East, making “the East” equivalent to any neglected tradition obscured by orthodoxy.

Wilde and Yeats: From Occult Phenomenon to Secret Tradition Several writers whom we would now think of as pre-​or proto-​modernist had some historical affiliation with the Theosophical Society and other nineteenth-​ century mystical organizations. Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance, for example,

190  Representations of the East had first-​hand dealings with Theosophy. The couple met Blavatsky and Annie Besant at a restaurant in 1889, Constance having been involved with Theosophy at least since 1884. In fact, Constance and Wilde’s mother Speranza were friendly with Anna Kingsford, who at the time was president of the British section of the Society. After Kingsford’s death in 1888, Constance shifted her mystical allegiance to the newly formed Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although she rose rapidly in the ranks of the Order, she withdrew just around the time that her husband began work on The Picture of Dorian Gray, in the latter part of 1889.14 Possibly, Constance’s involvement with Theosophy and the Golden Dawn contributed something to the supernatural elements that Wilde incorporated into his novel. The painting that reflects the state of the protagonist’s soul, registering every nuance of evil in Dorian’s character, certainly seems like the kind of otherworldly “phenomenon” the occult Victorian was keen to examine. The portrait, in other words, provides “scientific” evidence, not only of the existence of the human soul but also of its corruption. But Wilde differs from later, specifically modernist authors in that his personal investment in Theosophy seems minimal. Indeed, Wilde may have encouraged his wife’s interest in the occult merely as a way of doing research for the novel.15 Wilde’s probable exploitation of his wife’s occult experience shows that Theosophy, and nineteenth-​century occult associations generally, served one simple but important function for contemporary authors that would carry over into the age of modernism: as material for imaginative exploration. Wilde tapped into a recondite, occult tradition and used that tradition for creative purposes, but he did so as an outsider. As the age of modernism developed, more and more writers saw themselves as insiders: they were not merely observers of some secret tradition, as Wilde had been, but part of it. And, unlike Wilde’s, their experience of Theosophy almost always involved some engagement with Eastern thought, as the case of Yeats (1865–​1939) illustrates. Yeats is representative of this new phase of development in the modernist author’s relationship to the occult, because his involvement with Theosophy left a profound mark on his poetry. Yeats’s earliest contact with Theosophy came in the person of Mohini Chatterji, who traveled to Ireland with Olcott in 1884. Under the further influence of Alfred Percy Sinnett’s Occult World (1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (1883), both of which he read in 1886, Yeats became involved with the Dublin section of the Theosophical Society. When he moved to London in 1887, he visited Blavatsky and later became an early member of the Esoteric Section, formed in 1888.16 Yeats’s exposure to Theosophy therefore occurred around the same time as Wilde’s vicarious experience of the movement via his wife Constance. But unlike Wilde, Yeats did not look at Theosophy from the outside merely as material to be exploited for imaginative purposes; rather, he internalized certain Theosophical ideas and made them integral to his poetic development. In his study of Yeats and Theosophy, the critic Ken Monteith explains that not only did Yeats use “the metaphysical world view” of Theosophy “to provide an underlying structure for some of his earliest poetry and drama,” he also employed the “methods of investigation and argument”

Theosophy and Modernism  191 of Theosophy “to ‘discover’ a metaphysical literary tradition which incorporates all of Yeats’s own literary heroes into an Irish cultural tradition of Yeats’s own design.”17 One of the ideas that Yeats drew from Blavatsky was the conception of Celtic antiquity: Blavatsky saw Irish tradition as part of a more general, more spiritual tradition dating back to the days of the giants. Indeed, in The Secret Doctrine she claims that “giants lived to a later date amongst the Celtic than among the Teutonic peoples.”18 In Isis Unveiled, she says that “Buddhist missionaries . . . went so far west as Ireland” and insists that the “Irish Round Tower” owes its origin to Buddha as well.19 In addition, by arguing the now-​problematic claim that the Irish are a specific race, and by “firmly planting the Celtic race as a precedent of the British race,”20 Blavatsky provided Yeats with all the material he needed to align Irish culture with Irish nationalism. As a Protestant, Anglo-​Irish poet with nationalist leanings writing in English, the issue of tradition was especially fraught for Yeats. The last thing he wanted was to fashion himself as yet another British poet in the great tradition of English literature dating back to Chaucer and Shakespeare. Yeats found it necessary, therefore, to sift through that tradition in search of precursors who, like him, were secretly outside it. Just as Blavatsky had sorted through religious tradition to discover a “secret doctrine” that was more original and authentic than conventional religions such as Christianity, so Yeats sorted through poetic tradition to discover a heterodox heritage that British culture had obscured or neglected. In Yeats’s reading—​or misreading—​the principal poet whose true cultural value had been obscured was Percy Bysshe Shelley. And the principle poet whose cultural value had been neglected was William Blake. Yeats called Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound one of “the sacred books of the world.”21 The comment is a clue to Yeats’s larger sense of the secular, atheistic Shelley as a kind of secret master in a mystical, continuing tradition of “occult nationalism.”22 If Yeats’s understanding of Shelley seems at variance with the established view of literary history, the reason lies in the Theosophical reading in which Yeats engaged. In Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky opines that “[t]‌he greatest teachers of divinity agree that nearly all ancient books were written symbolically and in a language intelligible only to the initiated.”23 Hence Yeats “casts himself in the role of able initiate, and in doing so, casts Shelley as a poetic ‘master’ unaware of his own occultism.” Just as Shelley put classical mythology to political purpose in Prometheus Unbound, making “an appeal to the common rights of all humanity,” so Yeats used Celtic myth in “The Wanderings of Oisin” to endorse “a continuation of [those] rights for Irish people.”24 Yeats comes up short of saying that Shelley himself was somehow Irish, but he has no trouble ferreting out the “true” racial origins of Blake. In 1893, Yeats edited a three-​ volume edition of Blake’s poetry with Edwin John Ellis (1848–​1916), an old friend of Yeats’s father who was also a poet and a member of the Theosophical Society. The first volume of The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical includes an essay explaining the common points of Blake’s thought with other mystical systems. Indeed, Yeats and Ellis argue that all such systems are fundamentally similar,

192  Representations of the East involving, “[f]‌irst, a bodiless mood, and then a surging thought, and last a thing. This triad is universal in mysticism, and corresponds to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The authors find the same triad under different names in Emanuel Swedenborg (“celestial, spiritual, and natural degrees”); in the Kabbalah (“Neschamah, Ruach, and Nesphesch, or universal, particular, and concrete life”); and in Theosophy, where “we hear of the triple logos—​the unmanifest eternal, the manifest eternal, and the manifest temporal.”25 The passage compares to one in Isis Unveiled, where Blavatsky explains that the “trinity in unity is an idea which all the ancient nations held in common” and then produces examples from the ancient Hindus, Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and so on.26 But Yeats’s Blake is not only a universal mystic—​he is also a representative of a race whose prophetic propensity toward mystical insight exceeds that of most peoples. In the biographical “Memoir” that opens the Yeats-​Ellis edition of Blake’s poetry, we learn that Blake was of Irish descent: “James Blake, or as he was called in childhood, James O’Neil, the father of the poet, was of Irish extraction.” It follows that “William Blake, as we call him, was, before all things, an O’Neil.” Blake’s Celtic nature, according to Yeats and Ellis, accounts not only for the poet’s “visionary gift” but also for his “political enthusiasm.”27 Yeats got the story of Blake’s Irish lineage from a descendant of a half-​brother of Blake’s grandfather, a man by the name of Carter Blake. This man’s daughter wrote to Yeats explaining that there was no way to corroborate the story, but Yeats chose to believe it anyway.28 Yeats had learned from Blavatsky that certain “races of men differ in spiritual gifts as in color, stature, or any other quality,”29 and Yeats clearly believed that the Celtic race possessed greater gifts of the spirit than the British. His circular reasoning, then, was that because Blake was as visionary as the ancient Celtic bards then Blake must necessarily be Celtic himself. Even though the terms of the visionary tradition differ from Blavatsky’s in Yeats’s thinking, Blavatsky provided a model for the poet in her attribution of a secret history to an ancient but hitherto-​neglected Eastern tradition. She also made the rather outlandish claim that Celtic tradition has Buddhist origins. What Yeats seems to have done is taken Blavatsky’s researches to heart but reinterpreted them, making the ancient Celtic bards do for him what the Tibetan masters did for Blavatsky.

Pound: From Sacred to Secret History While the “secret doctrine” that is the hallmark of Theosophical thinking may have become somewhat diffuse in the case of Yeats, the sense of a secret or alternative tradition emerges as a powerful animating force in the work of Pound, who may be the one figure singled out most frequently as a typical modernist. Pound’s debt to occult traditions has been detailed at length by Leon Surette, who provides ample evidence for the inclusion of The Cantos in the tradition of the “secret history.” Specifically, Pound’s epic “explains historical event through its exposure of a malignancy blocking the creative forces that also are identified and celebrated in the poem. Pound calls the malignancy ‘Usura’. The creative forces are called ‘amor’ and ‘Eleusis.’ ”30 (Surette

Theosophy and Modernism  193 later explains “Eleusis,” as in Eleusian mysteries, rites inspired by Demeter’s efforts to recover her daughter Persephone from the underworld, as “a code for mystical illumination.”31) While Pound’s esoteric preoccupations seem at first to be rather different from Blavatsky’s, they have certain points in common with hers and may even be said to derive from Theosophy via two key intermediaries. The first of these intermediaries was George Robert Stowe Mead (1863–​1933), who joined the Theosophical Society in 1884, met Blavatsky in 1887, and became her London secretary in 1889, serving in that position until her death in 1891. He was also one of the editors of Lucifer, the Theosophical journal, and principal editor of the Theosophical Review.32 In 1909 Mead resigned from the Society in protest over the handling of a homosexual scandal involving his colleague Charles Webster Leadbeater (1847–​1934), who had been accused of making masturbation part of the Theosophical instruction he gave to young boys.33 The same year Mead started The Quest Society and began publishing a new journal, The Quest:  A Quarterly Review (1909–​31).34 Mead was a good friend of Pound’s mother-​in-​law, Olivia Shakespear, and it was through her that Pound met Mead and began to publish in The Quest and to give occasional lectures at The Quest Society. With his wife Dorothy, Pound read several of Mead’s books, including two published by the Theosophical Publishing Society, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (1900) and Apollonius of Tyana (1901), from which Pound first got the information about Philostratus that he would use years later in Canto XCVI.35 In 1911 Pound lectured before a meeting of The Quest Society on “Psychology and Troubadours” and published the lecture in essay form in The Quest the following year. The argument of the piece is that the poetry of the troubadours was not merely a series of love songs but rather evidence of ritual. His ideas were derived from a Rosicrucian book titled Le Secret des Troubadours, which Pound had reviewed in 1906. In the essay, Pound says “the canzoni of the troubadours were not vague love songs but allusions to a specific ‘love code’ or ‘love cult’ originating in the Eleusian mysteries of ancient Greece.”36 Surette notes that just two issues after Mead published Pound’s essay Mead himself described Hellenistic religions—​like the Eleusian mysteries—​as ones in which “gnosis was operated by means of an essential transformation or transmutation leading to a transfiguration. There was first of all a ‘passing out through oneself ’, a mystical death, and finally a rebirth into the nature of a spiritual being or a god . . . symbolised indifferently as a path, a voyage, or the ascent of a mountain.”37 Surette adds that “[i]‌n most cases it is not possible to trace an influence between an occultist and an artist as determinedly as can be done with Mead and Pound.” The point he emphasizes is that Mead’s analysis of the myth of the underworld journey as an allegory of death and rebirth might be a likely source for similar patterns of allegory in Pound and other modernist authors, thereby begging the question of whether “the ubiquity of mythological allusion within modernism” should be attributed to occult influence instead of anthropology, “as literary scholarship has tended to argue.”38 At the very least, Pound’s early attribution of the poetry of the troubadours to a secret tradition, derived from a book with Le Secret in the title, published in a journal edited by someone with

194  Representations of the East close ties to the secret doctrines of Theosophy, indicates that Pound was drawn to secret traditions himself. In addition to Mead, the second key intermediary who conveyed Theosophical thought to Pound was Allen Upward (1863–​1926). A friend of Mead, Upward led an extremely varied career as “an English barrister, amateur Sinologist, amateur religious historian, author of several detective stories, poet, playwright, publicist, civil servant, and volunteer soldier.”39 In 1905 Upward published The Sayings of K’ung the Master, which was given a brief notice in The Theosophical Review: “ ‘Confucius’, it seems, is our anglicizing of K’ung-​fu-​Tzse, which means ‘K’ung the Master’, and some of his sayings are given for our learning by Mr. Allen Upward.”40 (The review is probably by Besant, since it is signed “A. B.”) In 1913 Upward published a series of poems titled “Scented Leaves—​from a Chinese Jar” in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry. Pound was so impressed with Upward’s work that he included nine of his poems in Des Imagistes. Upward is generally credited with being “the man who introduced Pound to Chinese literature,”41 but the influence of Upward on Pound seems to be much more extensive than his role as a primary source for Pound’s Chinese enthusiasms. Upward’s The New Word (1907) was a book that Pound read closely and marked extensively. At the time of its publication, the book was regarded as broadly Theosophical. The scientific journal Nature gave The New Word a brief notice alongside Dr.  Auguste Marques’s Scientific Corroborations of Theosophy:  A Vindication of the Secret Doctrine by the Latest Discoveries (1908), concluding with the dismissive remark that “[r]‌eaders will discern from the title to his book the line of thought which characterizes the volume of Dr. Marques.”42 The New Word was also reviewed in The Theosophist, the new journal Besant started after Mead, her co-​editor on The Theosophical Review, broke with the movement to start The Quest Society. The reviewer says that “the way [Upward] arrives at the first principles of various words is at once strange, amusing and yet instructive with a truth underlying the same.”43 The comment seems tailor-​made for Pound, who was also keen to find the etymological truth underlying common words and whose Cantos urge a return to first principles. Indeed, Upward’s book is replete with the kinds of unorthodox etymological investigations that are not at all dissimilar to Pound’s assured but mistaken investigations into the meanings of Chinese “ideograms.” Pound and Upward’s etymological enthusiasms may seem removed from Theosophical matters, but in a way, such efforts to get at the root meanings of words is a kind of “secret doctrine” writ small. Professional philology has it wrong, so Upward and Pound must ferret out the true but secret meaning of certain key words, neglected until their discovery of it.

Eliot: The Secret Tradition and the Individual Talent Pound and Upward both transpose the Theosophical idea of a secret metaphysical tradition into the concept of a secret cultural tradition. Pound’s partial protégé Eliot does something similar in his 1919 essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” As

Theosophy and Modernism  195 the title of this celebrated essay implies, Eliot’s purpose is to articulate the dynamic between cultural tradition and cultural practitioners, poets in particular. What Eliot does in the essay is similar to the way Yeats’s discovery of “ancestors” such as Blake and Shelley has the effect of reconfiguring the past. Moreover, the relationship of individuality and tradition in the case of both Yeats and Eliot is broadly analogous to the relationship of Blavatsky and the Masters, in so far as the individual brings tradition to life, to contemporary awareness, and modifies it thereby. Indeed, the novel part of Eliot’s argument is that poets are not only influenced by tradition—​they also influence tradition retroactively through their work: “what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.” It follows that “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”44 The argument is cultural, not occult, but Eliot sometimes sounds as though he is describing something rather mystical, as when he says that “the most individual parts” of the poet’s work “may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.” Eliot’s “ancestors” seem analogous to Blavatsky’s “Masters,” especially since they belong to a history which includes “a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and the temporal together.”45 Eliot’s language comes even closer to that of the occult when he contemplates the place of the poet’s individual personality in relation to the broader cultural tradition: “the mind of Europe,” we are told, “is much more important than his [the poet’s] own private mind.”46 Indeed, the poet becomes a “medium” for something seemingly beyond his individual personality: “the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of ‘personality’, not being necessarily more interesting, or having ‘more to say’, but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.”47 Here, the poet is a kind of cultural spiritualist, an image of the artist that Eliot retreats from at the end of the essay, where he says he means “to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism.”48 Nonetheless, “metaphysics or mysticism” does seem to inform the way Eliot thinks about the relation of tradition to the individual talent, with the poet becoming a kind of spiritualist, a medium presiding at a sort of séance of dead ancestors whose voices combine into his own. Eliot would go on to articulate the nature of tradition in more detail in other essays. While not exactly secret, the poetic tradition as Eliot understands it is something other than what has been generally accepted as poetic tradition. In “The Metaphysical Poets,” for example, Eliot questions whether such seventeenth-​ century poets as John Donne and Andrew Marvell represent “a digression from the main current,”49 eventually making the point that their capacity to feel their thought, to experience ideas emotionally, marks them off from poets such as Dryden and Milton, who are more securely a part of the tradition of English poetry. Dryden and Milton, it turns out, “aggravated” the tendency toward “a dissociation of sensibility” that began in the seventeenth century, “from which we have never recovered.” To

196  Representations of the East Donne, “[a]‌thought . . . was an experience,” a quality that distinguishes him as a poet, since “the poet’s mind . . . is constantly amalgamating disparate experience.”50 Dryden and Milton are “two of the greatest masters of diction in our language,” but they “triumph with a dazzling disregard of the soul.”51 Eliot does not say that such poets as Donne and Marvell are “secret masters,” but his argument essentially puts them in that position: they are the poets whose importance has been obscured by the likes of Dryden and Milton; they are the poets whom the modern poet should emulate in his quest to amalgamate thought and feeling. Moreover, the methods of the metaphysical poets are well suited to the problems facing the modern poet: “poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.”52 The formula whereby language is dislocated into meaning sounds like a manifesto for the method Eliot employed in The Waste Land (1922), published only a year after “The Metaphysical Poets.” At first glance The Waste Land seems removed from the world of Theosophy and from occult matters generally. This sense of removal is enhanced by the parody-​ portrait of Blavatsky herself: Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante, Had a bad cold, nevertheless Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, With a wicked pack of cards.53

Critics have pointed out the similitude of the tri-​syllabic rhythm of the names “Blavatsky” and “Sosostris,” both preceded by “Madame” as the polite form of address.54 Critics have also noted the satirical nature of the passage, which conveys a “derisive attitude towards the occult.”55 After all, the lines imply that spiritual wisdom is somehow dependent upon the clairvoyant’s physical condition, and they further devalue the quality of this wisdom by associating it with something “wicked.” Other critics, however, have observed that the fragmentary nature of The Waste Land has something in common with “the gnostic trawl through fragments of the cultural tradition” on the part of psychic researchers like Frederic Myers (1843–​1901), one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and the man who coined the term telepathy.56 His followers claimed that Myers continued to communicate with them telepathically after his death, offering the helpful insight that disparate messages from different mediums needed to be combined to be understood.57 The method is not so different from the modernist technique of juxtaposing fragments to dislocate language into meaning that Eliot describes in “The Metaphysical Poets”:

Theosophy and Modernism  197 What we get is a fragmentary utterance in one script, which seems to have no particular point or meaning, and another fragmentary utterance in the other of an equally pointless character; but when we put the two together, we see that they supplement one another, and there is apparently one idea underlying both, but only partially expressed in each.58

Very near the end of The Waste Land, Eliot writes, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins,” a line that suggests that he, like the deceased mediums associated with the SPR, might have a kind of continuing existence after his own death. The concept of immortality through art is an ancient convention, but Eliot appears to have given that convention a spiritualist twist. As Roger Luckhurst explains, “The allusive fragments” of The Waste Land “promise an esoteric meaning, a coherence just beyond the threshold of readerly competence.” In the end, the reader “is left only with confusedly reanimated voices from beneath the ground, overlapping and fragmentary like séance voices.”59 In addition to his efforts to establish himself as part of a neglected tradition and his evident transposition of the dynamics of the séance from the spiritual to the cultural realm, Eliot in The Waste Land reveals the kinship of his brand of modernism to Theosophy through the roundabout influence of that same Mead who so influenced Pound. In this instance the urtext is Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, a study of first-​and second-​century Gnosticism Mead wrote before his break with the Theosophical Society. Mead’s relevance to The Waste Land is indirect but important, mainly because his work was essential to Jessie L. Weston’s study of the Grail legend, From Ritual to Romance (1920). In his “Notes on The Waste Land,” compiled after the initial publication of the poem, Eliot stresses the explanatory usefulness of Weston’s work to his own: Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance. . . . Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble.60

Frank Laurence Lucas, one of the early reviewers of The Waste Land, did as Eliot suggested and read From Ritual to Romance, coming to this conclusion:  “Miss Weston is clearly a theosophist, and Mr. Eliot’s poem might be a theosophical tract. The sick king and the waste land symbolise, we gather, the sick soul and the desolation of this material life.”61 Surette correctly argues that the Theosophical dimension of Weston’s book has been mostly ignored,62 as a recent edition of contemporary reviews of Eliot’s work shows, where the sentence from Lucas’s review about Weston’s Theosophical leanings is excised.63 Lucas also observes that both Weston and Eliot

198  Representations of the East “must needs discover an esoteric meaning” under more familiar “superstitio[ns].”64 Whether the drive to discover esoteric meaning is true of Eliot may be disputed, but there is no doubt about Weston’s intentions. For example, at the end of her book it becomes obvious that, for Weston, the esoteric meaning of the Grail romance represents a kind of secret doctrine that orthodox Christianity has obscured. Indeed, the ritual upon which the Grail romance rests has some claim to be “the accredited guardian of the deepest secrets of Life.” The doctrine has been kept alive, “secretly, in cave or mountain-​fastness, or island isolation, where those who craved for a more sensible (not necessarily sensuous) contact with the unseen Spiritual forces of Life than the orthodox development of Christianity afforded, might, and did, find satisfaction.”65 In the end, when Weston offers assurance that “the Grail is a living force, it will never die,”66 she sounds like a member of the secret cult she has described. Eliot’s relationship to Theosophy is hardly as clear and unambiguous as Yeats’s or Pound’s. After all, Eliot did not have the kind of direct contact with the Theosophical Society that Yeats did, nor was he directly influenced, as Pound was, by Theosophically oriented authors such as Mead and Upward. Perhaps it would be more accurate to speak of the “presence” of Theosophy in Eliot’s poetry and prose rather than seek to describe its “influence.” Obviously, Eliot, born in 1888, belonged to a different generation from Yeats, born in 1865, and this generational difference helps to account for some of the differences in Eliot’s relationship to Theosophy. And even though Eliot was only three years younger than Pound (b. 1885), Pound’s encounters with Theosophy occurred so much earlier than Eliot’s that they are effectively equivalent to the span of a generation. Simply put, a lot had happened in the history of Theosophy between the time Yeats and Pound were exposed to it and Eliot’s mostly mediated encounters. Yeats met Blavatsky and Pound knew Mead personally, whereas Eliot’s exposure to Mead was mediated by Weston’s “anthropological” study of the Grail legend. But again, what Eliot has in common with Yeats and Pound is the sense of a secret or neglected tradition, a recondite history hidden by convention, a set of vital beliefs obscured by orthodoxy. In every case, the pattern for this kind of modernist thinking had been laid down in advance by Theosophy, with its secret doctrines, its wildly revisionist historical narratives, and its insistently unorthodox theology. But it is also true that as modernism proceeds a growing sense of skepticism about Theosophy asserts itself, at least among some authors. This skepticism about Theosophical ideas and practices is present in Eliot’s work (the Madame Sosostris passage, for example), but the skepticism seems to coexist with some measure of acceptance (the endorsement of Weston’s work, for example). There is certainly an evolution in the modernist attitude toward Theosophy as we move from Yeats to Pound to Eliot. By the time we get to Joyce, that attitude takes yet another new turn.

Joyce: From Secret to Social History Joyce’s posture toward Theosophy is mostly that of the skeptical, satirical outsider. Like Wilde before him, Joyce exploited Theosophical material for artistic purposes.

Theosophy and Modernism  199 Unlike Wilde, however, Joyce used the social rather than the occult dimension of Theosophy to add texture to the picture of 1904 Dublin that he presents in Ulysses. Theosophy, in short, is part of the reality of the social world Joyce represents in the novel. This aspect of the social world is one that the protagonist Stephen Dedalus has scant use for, except that most of literary Dublin in 1904 was deeply invested in hermetic and Theosophical thought. According to John Eglinton (who also appears as a character in ­chapter 9 of Ulysses), William Butler Yeats once told him that the Theosophical Society “had produced more in literature than Trinity College.”67 Part of the quandary that Stephen faces on June 16, 1904, is the problem of ingratiating himself with the members of Dublin’s literary elite when those same people cultivate occult interests that Stephen finds shallow at best and completely wrong-​headed at worst. There is good reason to believe that, in this instance at least, the character is representative of the author’s attitude: like Stephen, Joyce was unwilling to compromise his principles for the sake of acceptance by the literary lions of Dublin society. His skepticism about the occult pretensions of powerful figures such as George Russell, better known as A. E., and Yeats contributed to his outsider status as a young writer when he was still in Ireland, before his self-​exile in 1904. Joyce was also dubious about the kind of nationalist ideology A. E. and Yeats promoted, partly because of the cultural components that informed that ideology, which included occult beliefs closely connected to Theosophy. In ­chapter 7 of Ulysses, set in a newspaper office, the topic of Theosophy comes up for the first time in the novel when a character asks Stephen what he “really think[s]‌ of that hermetic crowd, the opal hush poets: A. E. the mastermystic? That Blavatsky woman started it.”68 On this occasion, Stephen is too distracted to respond—​ “Speaking about me. What did he say? What did he say? What did he say about me? Don’t ask”69—​so we do not find out what he really thinks about “that hermetic crowd” or “[t]hat Blavatsky woman.” Later in the day, however, Stephen’s views on Theosophy are revealed in interior monologue form as he listens to A. E. and Eglinton offer up their views on the artistic importance of “formless spiritual essences.”70 This and similar statements cue Stephen’s internal commentary: Dunlop, Judge, the noblest Roman of them all, A.E., Arval, the Name Ineffable, in heaven hight: K.H., their master, whose identity is no secret to adepts. Brothers of the great white lodge always watching to see if they can help. The Christ with the bridesister, moisture of light, born of an ensouled virgin, repentant sophia, departed to the plane of buddhi. The life esoteric is not for ordinary person. O.P. must work off bad karma first. Mrs Cooper Oakley once glimpsed our very illustrious sister H.P.B.’s elemental.71

The passage reveals a thorough knowledge of Theosophical matters, including the names Daniel Nicol Dunlop, editor of The Irish Theosophist (c.  1896–​1915), and William Q.  Judge, one of Blavatsky’s key associates in the founding of the Theosophical Society in 1875 and head of the New York section. “Arval” refers to the mystical name of the elite twelve-​member discipleship of the Theosophical

200  Representations of the East movement, better known as the Esoteric Section, while “K. H.” refers, of course, to Koot Hoomi, one of Blavatsky’s masters or mahātmas residing in Tibet.72 Stephen also contemplates the esoteric meaning of the life of Christ, information that Joyce most likely derived from the writings of Besant, two of whose books he owned.73 Stephen’s attitude toward all of this mystical material is made abundantly clear with the reference to Isabel Cooper-​Oakley, one of Blavatsky’s more important allies in both India and London, who catches a glimpse of “H. P. B.’s elemental,” a term that usually refers to the lower or mortal element of humanity in Theosophical lore but here doubles as a euphemism for genitals.74 That meaning is unmistakable, given this bit of imaginary dialogue in Stephen’s head: “You naughtn’t to look, missus, so you naughtn’t when a lady’s ashowing of her elemental.”75 The broader context for Stephen’s dismissive attitude toward all things mystical is the conflict between his own aesthetic theory, based on Aristotelian thought, and the Platonic theory of A. E. and the other literary figures gathered in the library, the intellectual center of Dublin. The Homeric analogue of the conflict is the problem Odysseus faces when he has to guide his ship between the rock on which the monster Scylla sits and the whirlpool created by the gaping maw of the undersea monster Charybdis. The rock represents the “hard facts”76 of Aristotelian reality while the whirlpool connotes the mystical uncertainties of Platonism. The following passage, drawn from Stephen’s interior monologue, shows how Joyce makes the further association of hermetic and Theosophical lore with the “whirlpool” of Platonism: Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers. Isis Unveiled. Their Pali book we tried to pawn. Crosslegged under an umbrel umbershoot he thrones an Aztec logos, functioning on astral levels, their oversoul, mahamahatma. The faithful hermetists await the light, ripe for chelaship, ringroundabout him. Louis H. Victory. T. Caulfield Irwin. Lotus ladies tend them i’the eyes, their pineal glands aglow. Filled with his god, he thrones, Buddh under plantain. Gulfer of souls, engulfer. Hesouls, shesouls, shoals of souls. Engulfed with wailing creecries, whirled, whirling, they bewail.77

The passage mostly concerns the linkage of the Celtic Revival—​represented by A.  E., who “thrones an Aztec logos,” and by the minor literary figures Louis H. Victory and Thomas Caulfield Irwin—​with Theosophy, represented not only by the reference to Isis Unveiled but also by a series of terms drawn mostly from esoteric Buddhism, such as “chelaship,” a chela being a “pupil of occultism,” according to Sinnett.78 The strangest phrase is “Yogibogeybox in Dawson chambers,” which contains Joyce’s neologism for a type of box or cabinet employed by spiritualists and the address where the Hermetic Society met: Dawson Chambers, 11–​12 Dawson Street.79 In the case of Joyce, then, Theosophy provided material against which his own modernist agenda might proceed. Theosophical writing was replete with the kind of second-​hand language and nebulous thinking that Joyce meant to overturn with stylistic precision and modernist complexity. At the same time, the contrary nature

Theosophy and Modernism  201 of Joyce’s attitude toward Theosophy is part of a larger meaning that amounts, almost, to a “secret doctrine” informing not only Ulysses but also Finnegans Wake: namely, the doctrine of contrariety itself. In Ulysses, the characters Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom are nothing if not contrary—​one young, the other old (or middle-​aged); one an artist, the other a businessman; one a lapsed Catholic, the other a non-​practicing Jew; and so on. Moreover, the contrary nature of the two principal characters informs the aesthetic theory voiced by one of them, which theory, in turn, has an explanatory force that provides insight into the novel itself. At one point Stephen says: “What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself . . . , having itself traversed in reality itself becomes that self . . . which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become.”80 What the character says here is quite close to the philosophy of the Renaissance Neoplatonist Giordano Bruno (1548–​1600), whose thinking Joyce explained in a 1912 essay: “Giordano Bruno himself says that all power, whether in nature or the spirit, must create an opposing power, without which man cannot fulfill himself.”81 In Ulysses, Stephen’s friend Lynch dismisses the doctrine of contrariety by saying, “Jewgreek is greekjew. Extremes meet.”82 Despite this character’s dismissal, what he says works fairly well as a succinct summary of the principal action of the novel: the meeting of a character with the unlikely Greek name Dedalus and the Jewish character Leopold Bloom. Indeed, the animating presence of Bruno in Ulysses is profound, and functions as one of the keys to understanding the overall complexity of the novel.83 Now, Joyce’s adoption of Bruno’s Neoplatonic philosophy for aesthetic purposes is not quite the same as Yeats’s adaptation of Theosophy to the Irish bardic tradition or Pound’s Theosophist-​ inspired obsession with secret histories. But there is a kind of structural similarity in Joyce’s aesthetic deployment of Bruno’s philosophy to the creative strategies of other modernists more sympathetic to Theosophy, and, indeed, to Theosophy itself, which drew upon Neoplatonic traditions in no small degree. After all, Blavatsky’s successor Besant was convinced that in a past life she had inhabited the body of no less a personage than “Theosophy’s Apostle in the Sixteenth Century”—​Giordano Bruno.84

Conclusion The case of Joyce and Ulysses confirms that Theosophy and modernism both share a sense of the erudite and the recondite. Modernist art, literature especially, is obscure, complex, and difficult—​accessible only to those who are willing to put forth the effort to understand it. Theosophy, likewise, asks of its adherents special commitment and deep dedication. If Theosophical understanding is the province of adepts and masters, modernist appreciation is the purview of elites and specialists. In both cases, the difficulties that attend to Theosophical understanding and modernist appreciation acquire meaning and value:  complexity confers validation of one kind or another. True, there is a popular dimension to

202  Representations of the East Theosophy that is missing in modernism, but even here, the difference may be due more to the public relations skills of Blavatsky, whose early success in the United States proved just how adept she was at mining the same inexhaustible vein of American gullibility as her contemporary Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810–​ 91), who died the same year she did. Surely Ezra Pound wished for a similar level of popular success, as his later attempts to find a mass audience through his broadcasts for Radio Rome suggest.85 Despite the difficulties of finding a popular audience, Pound’s modernism, as we have seen, has deep theological roots. Like Blavatsky, Pound and other modernists found confirmation for their vision in some version of the East (China for Pound, India for Eliot), but Eastern traditions were explored less for themselves and more for the purpose of establishing an alternative history, a secret doctrine that had been obscured or neglected. Even Joyce, as skeptical as he was of Theosophy itself, shares with Blavatsky an interest in Neoplatonism, which becomes one of the secret keys, not unlike the Homeric key, to understanding Ulysses. Theosophy and modernism, in short, both traffic in some tradition of anti-​tradition. Perhaps both movements involve not so much a “synthesis” of the progressive impulses of the Enlightenment and the romantic reflex to recover authoritative origins but an effort to make those two strains of Western thought coexist, by incorporating elements of romanticism “within” enlightenment thought. Theosophists and modernists alike accepted the enlightenment paradigm of progressive history, but they also knew—​and were determined to show—​that history has its secrets.

Notes 1. H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient Science and Theology, 6th ed., 2 vols. (New York: Bouton, 1891–​1892), 1:vi. 2. For example, in a section of The Secret Doctrine titled “Man, A God in Animal Form,” Blavatsky defends the notion of divine humanity against both idealist and scientific efforts to dismiss it by saying that “[t]‌he too Puritan idealist is at liberty to spiritualize the tenet, whereas the modern psychologist would try to spirit away our ‘fallen,’ yet still divine, human Soul in its connection with Buddhi.” See H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 3 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 2:81. 3. Graham Parkes notes that the refrain “Thus spoke Zarathustra” is an “echo of the refrain at the end of many accounts in the Buddhist sutras of the Buddha’s sermons: ‘Thus spoke the Sublime One’ (‘Also sprach der Erhabene’).” Also, the town that is named “The Motley Cow” (die bunte Kuh) in the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra “is a translation of the name of a town Kalmasadalyma, which the Buddha is said to have visited on his wanderings.” See Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Graham Parks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 291n24. See also Freny Mistry, Nietzsche and Buddhism:  Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1981), 17. 4. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:vi. 5. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 11. 6. Graham Parkes, “Introduction,” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche, and trans. Graham Parks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xviii.

Theosophy and Modernism  203 7. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:vii. 8. Ibid., 1:425. 9. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 11. 10. See Leon Surette, The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and the Occult (Montreal:  McGill-​Queens University Press, 1993), 28–​29, for additional comparisons of Blavatsky and Nietzsche. 11. Leigh Wilson, Modernism and Magic:  Experiments with Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 1. 12. Surette, Birth of Modernism, 21, 11–​12. 13. Antoine Faivre, Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition:  Studies in Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 27, notes that, while “the quest for one ‘Primordial Tradition’ overarching all the other traditions of humanity” antedated the formation of the Theosophical Society, the “quest for a ‘Mother Tradition’ became an obsession among a number of representatives of esotericism” right around the time the Society was founded. 14. Franny Moyle, Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde (London: John Murray, 2011), 165–​67, 173–​75. 15. Ibid.,  175. 16. Sylvia Cranston, HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement (New York: Putnam, 1993), 465. 17. Ken Monteith, Yeats and Theosophy (New York and London: Routledge, 2008), 2–​3. 18. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, 2:754. 19. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:290n. 20. Monteith, Yeats and Theosophy, 5. 21. William Butler Yeats, Essays and Introductions (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 65. 22. Monteith, Yeats and Theosophy, 5. 23. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:19. 24. Monteith, Yeats and Theosophy, 67, 92. 25. William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis, “The Symbolic System,” in The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical, 3 vols., ed. William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis (London: Quarich, 1893), 1:241. 26. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:160. 27. William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis, “Memoir,” in The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical, 3 vols., ed. William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis (London: Quarich, 1893), 1:2–​3. 28. Monteith, Yeats and Theosophy, 152. 29. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:588. 30. Surette, Birth of Modernism,  21–​22. 31. Ibid.,  213. 32. Ibid.,  17. 33. Clare Goodrick-​Clarke and Nicolas Goodrick-​Clarke, “G. R. S. Mead: His Life, Work, and Influence,” in G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest, ed. Clare Goodrick-​Clarke and Nicolas Goodrick-​Clarke (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2005), 19–​20. 34. Ibid.,  22–​23. 35. Ibid.,  24–​25. 36. Ira B. Nadel, ed., Ezra Pound:  Early Writings; Poems and Prose (New  York:  Penguin, 2005), 389. 37. G. R. S. Mead, “The Meaning of Gnosis in Higher Hellenistic Religions,” The Quest 4 (July 1913): 683, 685, 687. Quoted in Surette, The Birth of Modernism,  17–​18. 38. Ibid.,  18.

204  Representations of the East 39. Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos, The Celestial Tradition:  A Study of Ezra Pound’s “Cantos” (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1992), 74. 40. A. B. [Annie Besant], “The Wisdom of the East,” The Theosophical Review 35 (September 15, 1904): 89–​90. 41. Surette, Birth of Modernism, 10. 42. Anon., “Review of The New Word and Scientific Corroborations of Theosophy,” Nature 79 (February 18, 1909): 457. 43. B. P.  W. [Bahman Pestonji Wadia], “The New Word,” The Theosophist 30, no.  6 (March 1909): 609–​10. 44. T.  S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Essays, new ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964), 5. 45. Ibid.,  4. 46. Ibid.,  6. 47. Ibid.,  7. 48. Ibid.,  11. 49. Eliot, T. S. “The Metaphysical Poets,” in Selected Essays, new ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964), 241. 50. Ibid.,  247. 51. Ibid.,  249. 52. Ibid.,  248. 53. T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909–​1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 54. 54. June Leavitt, Esoteric Symbols: The Tarot in Yeats, Eliot, and Kafka (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007), 39. 55. Ibid.,  40. 56. Roger Luckhurst, The Invention of Telepathy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 267, 37 57. Ibid.,  264. 58. Alice Johnson, “On the Automatic Writing of Mrs. Holland,” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 21 (1908): 374. Quoted in Luckhurst, Invention of Telepathy, 265. 59. Ibid.,  268. 60. Eliot, Collected Poems, 70n. 61. Michael Grant, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage, 2 vols. (New York: Routledge, 1997), 1:196. Originally published in The New Statesman 22 (November 3, 1923): 116–​18. 62. Surette, Birth of Modernism, 235. 63. Jewel Spears Brooker, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 116. Brooker edits out the reference to Theosophy and picks up the text with the following sentence. 64. Grant, T. S. Eliot, 1:196. 65. Jesse Weston, From Ritual to Romance (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 187. 66. Ibid.,  188. 67. John Eglinton, Irish Literary Portraits (London: MacMillan, 1935), 22. Other sources represent Yeats as saying that the Theosophical Society “had done more for Irish literature than Trinity College in three centuries.” See Cranston, HPB, 468n. 68. James Joyce, Ulysses, ed. Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Random House, 1986), 7.783–​84. Further references to this text are cited, as here, by chapter and line number. 69. Ibid., 7.781–​90. 70. Ibid.,  9.49. 71. Ibid., 9.65–​71. 72. Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 197.

Theosophy and Modernism  205 73. See Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce (London: Faber, 1977), 101. The books are Annie Besant, The Path of Discipleship (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1896); and Annie Besant, Une Introduction à la théosophie (Paris: Publications Théosophiques, 1906). 74. Gifford, “Ulysses” Annotated, 197. 75. Joyce, Ulysses, 9.72–​73. 76. Ibid.,  9.10. 77. Ibid., 9.279–​86. 78. A. P. Sinnett, Esoteric Buddhism, 6th ed. (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1887), 58. 79. Gifford, “Ulysses” Annotated, 210. For a fuller discussion of Joyce’s relation to his Hermetic and Theosophical contemporaries, see Katherine Mullin, “Typhoid Turnips and Crooked Cucumbers: Theosophy in Ulysses,” Modernism/​Modernity 8, no. 1 (January 2001): 77–​97. 80. Joyce, Ulysses, 15.2117–​19. 81. James Joyce, “The Universal Literary Influence of the Renaissance,” in Occasional, Critical and Political Writings, ed. Kevin Barry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 188. 82. Joyce, Ulysses, 15.2197–​98. 83. For a fuller analysis of the importance of Bruno to both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, see David Weir, James Joyce and the Art of Mediation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 151–​52, 179–​80,  202–​3. 84. Arthur H. Nethercot, The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 167, 180. 85. For surviving transcripts of Pound’s Rome broadcasts, see Leonard W. Doob, ed., “Ezra Pound Speaking”: Radio Broadcasts of World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978).

Bibliography Anon.“Review of The New Word and Scientific Corroborations of Theosophy.” Nature 79 (February 18, 1909): 457. A. B.  [Annie Besant].“The Wisdom of the East.” The Theosophical Review 35 (September 15, 1904): 89–​90. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient Science and Theology. 6th ed., 2 vols. New York: Bouton, 1891–​92. Blavatsky, H.  P. The Secret Doctrine:  The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. 3 vols. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993. Brooker, Jewel Spears, ed. T. S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Cranston, Sylvia. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: Putnam, 1993. Doob, Leonard W., ed. “Ezra Pound Speaking”:  Radio Broadcasts of World War II. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978. Eglinton, John. Irish Literary Portraits. London: MacMillan, 1935. Eliot, T. S. Collected Poems 1909–​1962. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963. Eliot, T.  S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In Selected Essays. New ed., 3–​11. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964. Eliot, T. S. “The Metaphysical Poets.” In Selected Essays. New ed., 241–​50. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1964. Ellmann, Richard. The Consciousness of Joyce. London: Faber, 1977. Grant, Michael, ed. T. S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage. 2 vols. New York: Routledge, 1997. Faivre, Antoine. Theosophy, Imagination, Tradition: Studies in Western Esotericism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

206  Representations of the East Goodrick-​Clarke, Clare, and Nicolas Goodrick-​Clarke. “G.  R.  S. Mead:  His Life, Work, and Influence.” In G.  R.  S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest, edited by Clare Goodrick-​Clarke and Nicolas Goodrick-​Clarke, 1–​32. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2005. Grant, Michael, ed. T. S. Eliot: The Critical Heritage. 2 vols. New York: Routledge, 1997. Johnson, Alice. “On the Automatic Writing of Mrs. Holland.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 21 (1908): 166–​391. Joyce, James. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986. Joyce, James. “The Universal Literary Influence of the Renaissance.” In Occasional, Critical and Political Writings, edited by Kevin Barry, 187–​90. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Leavitt, June. Esoteric Symbols:  The Tarot in Yeats, Eliot, and Kafka. Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 2007. Luckhurst, Roger. The Invention of Telepathy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Marques, A. Scientific Corroborations of Theosophy: A Vindication of the Secret Doctrine by the Latest Discoveries. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1908. Mead, G.  R.  S. “The Meaning of Gnosis in Higher Hellenistic Religions.” The Quest 4 (July 1913): 676–​97. Mistry, Freny. Nietzsche and Buddhism:  Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1981. Monteith, Ken. Yeats and Theosophy. New York and London: Routledge, 2008. Moyle, Franny. Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. London: John Murray, 2011. Mullin, Katherine. “Typhoid Turnips and Crooked Cucumbers:  Theosophy in Ulysses.” Modernism/​Modernity 8, no. 1 (January 2001): 77–​97. Nadel, Ira B., ed. Ezra Pound: Early Writings; Poems and Prose. New York: Penguin, 2005. Nethercot, Arthur H. The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1963. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by Graham Parks. Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2005. Parks, Graham. “Introduction.” In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche and translated by Graham Parks, ix–​xxxiv. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Sinnett, A. P. Esoteric Buddhism. 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1887. Surette, Leon. The Birth of Modernism:  Ezra Pound, T.  S. Eliot, W.  B. Yeats, and the Occult. Montreal: McGill-​Queens University Press, 1993. Tryphonopoulos, Demetres P. The Celestial Tradition: A Study of Ezra Pound’s “Cantos.” Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1992. B. P.  W. [Bahman Pestonji Wadia].“The New Word.” The Theosophist 30, no. 6 (March 1909): 609–​10. Weir, David. James Joyce and the Art of Mediation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Weston, Jesse. From Ritual to Romance. New York: Doubleday, 1957. Wilson, Leigh. Modernism and Magic: Experiments with Spiritualism, Theosophy and the Occult. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. Yeats, William Butler. Essays and Introductions. New York: Macmillan, 1961. Yeats, William Butler, and Edwin John Ellis. “Memoir.” In The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. 3 vols. Edited by William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis, 1:1–​72. London: Quarich, 1893. Yeats, William Butler, and Edwin John Ellis. “The Symbolic System.” In The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. 3 vols. Edited by William Butler Yeats and Edwin John Ellis, 1:235–​42. London: Quarich, 1893.


INT E R AC T ION S W I T H T H E  E AST The six chapters included in the third part of this volume deal with interactions with the East and thereby move beyond representation into the domain of engagement. These chapters offer concrete examples of direct social, political, and cultural impact and exchange, particularly in relation to the Bengal Renaissance, the Arya Samaj, politics, universal brotherhood, and nationalism.

10 Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance K. Paul Johnson

The Bengal Renaissance was a movement of religious awakening, literary creativity, political consciousness, and social reform, emerging in the late eighteenth century and ending with the death of Rabindranath Tagore (1861–​1941), first Indian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.1 A little-​known aspect of the Theosophical movement is its early and continuing association with the Bengal Renaissance, and the strong interest shown in this alliance by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​91). Her books show little trace of this involvement, but her journalistic writings show her to be a keen observer of the middle phase of the movement in the 1880s and especially of the three factions into which the Brahmo movement (which was inaugurated in 1823 as the Calcutta Unitarian Committee, renamed in 1828 as the Brahmo Sabha, and again as the Brahmo Samaj in 1843) had divided. This chapter examines the initial Theosophical Society (TS) contacts with Bengal, which developed while the organization was still based in New York, and describes the cooperative relationships with Bengalis that developed after Henry Steel Olcott and Blavatsky’s move to India. These relationships were largely with members of the Brahmo Samaj, which according to historian David Kopf “played a crucial role in the genesis and development of every major religious, social, and political movement in India from 1820 to 1930.”2 The most prominent Bengali Theosophist, Mohini Chatterji (1858–​1936), began as a fervent disciple of the Theosophical Mahatmas, but after leaving India in 1884 he became a dissident and then an ex-​Theosophist before returning in 1887. By the early twentieth century, Theosophy was losing favor among young Bengali intellectuals like himself. An eloquent explanation of this decline is found in posthumously published writings of Aurobindo Ghose (1872–​1950) who, like Chatterji, was a descendant of Brahmo Samaj leaders.

Initial Contacts, 1870–​77 Old Diary Leaves describes a visitor who recognized Bombay Arya Samaj leader Moolji Thackersey (d. 1880) in a photograph on the wall of the New York apartment that Colonel Olcott (1832–​1907) shared with Madame Blavatsky. “One evening in the year 1877 an American traveller, who had recently been in India, called . . . he did

210  Interactions with the East know Moolji Thackersey and had recently met him in Bombay.”3 This photograph had been allegedly taken on a transatlantic voyage from New York to Liverpool in 1870, where Olcott met Moolji Thackersey and another Indian traveler named Tulsidas Jadarjee, five years before the formation of the Arya Samaj. Hurrychand Chintamon, with whom Olcott began corresponding after Thackersey introduced them, was the second Indian entered in the Adyar Membership records now available online from The Art Archive. The first, Jadarjee, #120 in the entries, precedes #123, Chintamon, and has been considerably more elusive. Herbert Monachesi (d. 1900) gave his name as Tulsidas Jadarjee in an October 6, 1875, New York Mercury article “Proselyters from India,” claiming that Thackersey and his travel companion had been on a Hindu missionary journey to the West.4 Newspaper accounts in New  York (November 12, 1869), Louisville (November 20, reporting their presence in Chicago), New Orleans (December 3), Macon (December 24, reporting their presence in Mobile), Charleston (December 26), and Philadelphia (January 6, 1870) trace their travels around the United States on a business mission to study the cotton business in hopes of establishing direct trade. The New York Times for January 13, 1870, included the names “Moolja Thackersy, Toolsidas Jadarzee,” and “Colonel. Hy. S. Olcott” as having departed the previous day on the steamship Java, bound from New York to Liverpool.5 James Peebles (1822–​1922) has been suggested as the possible visitor of Olcott’s anecdote, but he was out of the country throughout 1877 and thus less likely as the visitor in question than a heretofore-​overlooked colleague of Olcott, David E. Dudley, MD.6 Like Olcott, Peebles did make a journey to England in 1870 that led to acquaintance with Indians who became pivotal in the establishment of the TS in Asia. Two years later his travels in India made him a catalyst in the relations between the Brahmo Samaj and Western spiritualists. His acquaintance with the Brahmo Samaj had begun in 1868 when Keshub Chunder Sen (1838–​84) wrote a letter to a Free Thought Convention, in which “Dr. J. M. Peebles and Miss Lizzie Doten (1827–​1913) spoke for the Spiritualists . . . there was also an inspiring letter from Keshub Chunder Sen, the great leader of the Brahmo Somaj movement in India.”7 In 1870, Sen wrote a note to Peebles while both were in London, leading to a meeting about which Peebles later wrote: “This educated and gentlemanly missionary from India, attired in the vesture of his native land, made quite a sensation when reaching the great metropolis of her Majesty’s domains . . . we learned that he was well acquainted with Peary Chand Mittra, and other leading Spiritualists of India. Multitudes in this distant country accept the central thought of Spiritualism; that is, intercourse with departed spirits.”8 Sen wrote of the meeting in a diary entry: “Tuesday, 26th April. Mr. Peebles, United States Consul in Asia Minor, calls on me with a friend of his who, it appears, is a spiritualist. They are both very liberal-​ minded, and they most warmly sympathize with me in my desire and efforts to promote theism. Mr. Peebles asks me to visit America where he will be going in next June. He is enthusiastic about it.”9

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  211 In his 1875 travel memoir Around the World Peebles also describes meeting Brahmo Samajis in Calcutta, one of whom had translated Emma Hardinge’s Spiritual Commandments into Bengali and distributed it as a pamphlet.10 In 1871, Hardinge (not yet Britten) had written a glowing three-​page preface to the first biography of Peebles, The Spiritual Pilgrim by Joseph Osgood Barrett (1823–​98). The following year he met the Cairo spiritualist circle in which Blavatsky had been involved.11 In light of these circumstances, we can surmise that Peebles vouched for Blavatsky’s spiritualist credentials to Olcott and endorsed her phenomena that are described in People from the Other World. This 1875 book describes the séances at the Eddy brothers’ farmhouse in Vermont where Olcott first met Blavatsky. Peebles also is featured in the narrative as a man who “is well known as an eloquent speaker and scholarly writer upon Spiritualism, but that doesn’t imply that he is either a fool or a knave.”12 Although in 1874 Peebles had been present at the time of the first acquaintance of Blavatsky and Olcott in Vermont, he kept distance from her thereafter. Adyar membership records indicate that Peebles was not an early TS member. In fact he condemned Blavatsky and supported her accusers, the Coulombs, in 1884 during the Society for Psychical Research investigation of the TS. Near the end of his life he repeated his condemnation of Blavatsky in Five Journeys around the World (1910), writing that “Continental, English, and American Spiritualism and Spiritualists were shamefully misrepresented in India a number of years ago by Madame Blavatsky and a number of her biologized subordinates.”13 Clearly, Olcott was chief among the “biologized subordinates,” yet in the same book Peebles wrote “Adyar is not only restful, inviting to study and meditation, but the centre of Theosophical culture, research, and authority for the enlightened Theosophical world. Happy were the days and weeks that I spent in this palace of books, companioned with Col. Olcott, the only living founder of modern Theosophy!”14 After Blavatsky’s death he finally joined the Theosophists in 1894 and was on collegial terms with Olcott on a return trip to South Asia three years later.15 Art Magic and Ghost Land, published in 1876, were the first expressions of interest in India in books by a TS founder. Emma Hardinge Britten (1823–​99) has been largely written out of the early TS narrative and deprived of her rightful status as a founder. Although she has been perceived in terms of the polarities “East versus West” and “spiritualism versus Theosophy,” she wrote as a Theosophical spiritualist and a reconciler of Eastern and Western traditions. In Art Magic she wrote that “the same imperishable sources of knowledge from which the ancients derived their opinions and framed their systems of Theosophy, are open to the students of the nineteenth century in all their fullness,”16 and eight years later in Nineteenth Century Miracles she asserted that “ ‘Theosophy’ and ‘Occultism’, are terms of world-​wide import.”17 Despite her open break with the TS due to its hostility to spiritualism, in 1884 Britten still maintained that “India has been the cradle of all known theological beliefs . . . the actual marvels wrought by religious ascetics, in

212  Interactions with the East the realm of matter and force, have opened up a new and highly suggestive page in the study of Occultism and Psychology.”18 Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, refers to Bengal briefly in each of its two volumes. In the first volume, Blavatsky gives a first-​person narrative of a “Magical Séance in Bengal,” in which she describes having made “hundreds of experiments with cats, dogs, monkeys of various kinds, and once, with a tame tiger” in the Western Ghat mountains, and then describes witnessing a tiger, a lion-​monkey, and an oriole being mesmerized all in the same “séance” attended by nine persons in Bengal.19 In the second volume, she describes an encounter with snake charmers by a British “Captain B_​_​_​_​_​” before recounting another tale of mesmerizing a tiger, this time in a village near Dacca.20 Correspondence between the Theosophists and the Bombay Arya Samaj began in November 1877 when Olcott contacted Moolji Thackersey. In December, Blavatsky wrote for the first time to Peary Chand Mittra (1813–​83), asking “in what pagodas are the records preserved? Where are these temples situated and what are their names, and how old is each known to be?”21 Although Blavatsky corresponded with the Arya Samaj before making contact with the Brahmos, in The White Buddhist Steven Prothero notes a letter written June 5, 1877, from Olcott to Mittra, which thus occurred months prior to TS contact with Swami Dayananda and his disciples.22 Although Olcott would later claim that his motivation to move to India predated creation of the TS, an 1876 letter to Stainton Moses (1839–​92) shows him resistant to Blavatsky’s desire to relocate to India. She had been convinced that criticisms by Daniel Dunglas Home (1833–​86) had destroyed her credibility in Europe and America. This letter, published in Light in 1892, seeks the assistance of Moses’s spirit guide Imperator: I wish you would ask Imperator, with my compliments, if he can’t do something, in the psychological way, to prevent Madame Blavatsky from going to India. . . . She is a changed woman these past few weeks. She is moody, reserved, and apparently desperate. The calumnies circulated in Europe and here have cut her so deeply; she feels such a disgust with our world; she so longs for her sacred Ganges, and the society of her Brethren, that I am afraid we will lose her.23

In November 1877, after the decision had been made to move to India, Blavatsky wrote a letter to Alexandr Nikolayevich Aksakov (1832–​1903) in Russia that confirms Home’s hostility as a factor: “It is for this that I am going for ever to India, and for very shame and vexation I want to go where no one will know my name. Home’s malignity has ruined me for ever in Europe.”24 Perhaps what changed Olcott’s mind were Blavatsky’s elaborate claims on behalf of Swami Dayananda. She had portrayed him as part of her Great White Brotherhood of adept sponsors, and Hurrychand Chintamon had also encouraged Olcott’s religious adherence to the swami. On February 18, 1878, Olcott wrote through Chintamon to Dayananda, “we come to your feet as children to a parent, and say, ‘Look at us, our teacher; tell us what we ought to do. Give us your counsel and your aid.’ ”25

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  213 This sequence of events revises the traditional understanding of the TS move to India. Rapprochement between Western spiritualists and the Brahmo Samaj was behind the scenes of the early TS through Peebles, Sen, and Mittra during the writing of Britten’s Ghost Land, well before the connection to Swami Dayananda developed. Theosophical tales about Indian missionaries to the West were likely derived from Brahmo activities and orientation. Arya Samajis cared no more about European contacts than did Tibetan Buddhists, but Bengalis were more global in perspective and did send missionaries to the West. The first to play this role in the early Victorian period was Brahmo Samaj founder Ram Mohan Roy; most visible in the 1880s was his great grandson Mohini Chatterji (1858–​1936).

Peary Chand Mittra Peary Chand Mittra was the first Bengali member of the TS, and the third Indian admitted, member #135 in the Adyar membership books with an entry date of December 9, 1877. Blavatsky referred to Mittra in a note recorded in her scrapbook next to a clipping from the London Spiritualist of January 25, 1878, of a letter to the editor from Peebles, “who is attempting to prove that there are Hindu Spiritualists,” to which she added a note commenting “Ask Peary Chand Mittra whether he would accept ‘materialized’ spooks with sweating and corpse-​stinking bodies for his dear ‘departed ones.’ ”26 In The Theosophical Enlightenment, Joscelyn Godwin suggests that Blavatsky and Olcott first made contact with Mittra through Peebles, which is credible in light of their known friendship.27 Although Mittra is known in the West as an Indian Theosophist and spiritualist, in his homeland his reputation is as a pivotal figure in the Bengal Renaissance who was acquainted with most of its leaders. In Awakening, a recent survey of the century-​long revival of Bengali literary culture, Subrata Dasgupta describes “the ultimate and supreme product” of the Bengal Renaissance as a “cross-​cultural mentality, let us call it the Indo-​Western mind.”28 Involvement in the TS was the ultimate expression of Mittra’s Indo-​Western mind. Indeed the entire Bengal Renaissance was encouraged by the literary pursuits of Westerners living in Bengal in the late eighteenth century and flourished with the mutual interest of Bengalis writing in English and Englishmen learning Bengali. Mittra features prominently in Dasgupta’s study as “a librarian, businessman, and literary man-​at-​large, but most famously, under the nom de plume of Tekchand Thakur, the author of Alaler Gharer Dulal . . . regarded as the first novel in Bengali.”29 With Radhanath Sikda he “established a monthly Bengali magazine which ran for three years.”30 A  Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge, founded in 1838, hosted Mittra as a lecturer on a variety of themes, and he was subsequently involved in the creation of the University of Calcutta. Mittra was a founder of the British Indian Association and in 1868 became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. All these developments illustrate Dasgupta’s thesis that “the Bengal Renaissance’s richest production was the creation of a cross-​cultural mentality,

214  Interactions with the East a capability to think, perceive, and create in a manner that involved the melding of two or more traditions seemingly unconnected and even contradictory . . . the ‘Indo-​Western mind’, resulting from a constellation of encounters of all sorts between Bengal and the West.”31 The first details about the Brahmo Samaj in Blavatsky’s writings came in an 1878 article about the Arya Samaj: “in October, 1839 . . . Debendra Nath Tagore founded the Tattvabodhoni Sabhâ (or Society for the Knowledge of Truth), which lasted for twenty years, and did much to arouse the energies and form the principles of the young church of the Brâhmo-​Samâj. We now find it with Samajes established in many provinces and cities. At least, we learn that in May 1877, “fifty Samajes have notified their adhesion to the Society and eight of them have appointed their representatives.”32 The rest of the article was devoted to the Arya Samaj, and for the next four years the TS founders would pursue alliances with that organization and with the Sinhalese Buddhists. Their travels to northern and western India and Ceylon occupied much of their time and energy in 1879 and 1880. It was only in 1882, the year in which the Arya Samaj and the TS became permanently alienated, that they would visit Bengal and strengthen their ties with the Brahmo Samaj. The first mention of a Bengal Renaissance leader in Blavatsky’s writings in India was found in an American spiritualist publication, the Banner of Light, where she wrote that “the frequent statements of Dr. Peebles to the effect that this country is full of native Spiritualists are—​how shall I say it? a little too hasty, and exaggerated. . . . Dr. Peebles quotes from the letter of an esteemed Hindu gentleman, Mr. Peary Chand Mitra, of Calcutta. . . . We all know that Mr. Mitra is a Spiritualist, but what does it prove?”33 In an unpublished fragment found in the Adyar Archives and published in the Collected Writings as “Theosophy: The Essence of Philosophy,” dated 1879, she wrote: and here, in the present century, we will find ourselves face to face with, and recognize as Brother Theosophists, such original thinkers as Swami Naratan, Ram Mohun Roy, Brahma charya Bawa, Keshub Chunder Sen, and finally, last, though by far not least on our catalogue—​Swami Dayanada Sawaswati, the learned Pandit, eminent Vedic scholar and elocutionist, and the founder of the Aryan Reformation.34

Although Mittra’s acquaintance with the TS dates to 1877, he took four years to contribute directly to Theosophical literature. In a March 1881 article for the Theosophist, Blavatsky commented “Ever since we came to India friends in Europe and America have been asking us to tell them something about the Brahmo Samaj. . . . We have been promised such an exposition of Brahmoism more than once by Brahmo friends.”35 In 1882, Mittra was elected president of the TS branch in Calcutta, and Blavatsky wrote about him as “certainly the most spiritual Theosophist and most theosophic

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  215 Spiritualist we have ever met.”36 Answering questions about the suitability of a spiritualist president of a Theosophical branch, she wrote that “many excellent persons are both, and none need alter his faith.”37 Hardinge Britten’s Nineteenth Century Miracles (published in 1884 but in a passage apparently written during Mittra’s lifetime) called Mittra a highly esteemed Indian spiritualist: “Amongst the recent literary productions which bear testimony to the spread of the spiritual faith in India, no writings are more highly esteemed than those of Peary Chand Mittra. Besides a number of excellent magazine articles contributed by this gentleman to the different Spiritual periodicals of England and America, Mr. Mittra has written an interesting brochure entitled “Spiritual Stray Leaves,” and a still more profound work on “the Soul; it’s [sic] nature and development.”38

1882: The Founders Visit Bengal In April 1882, Olcott lectured at Calcutta Town Hall on his first visit to Bengal, more than three years after his arrival in Bombay. He was introduced to this fateful lecture audience by Mittra, now a TS vice president and president of the Calcutta branch. Olcott attributed to Indian Mahatmas all the early paranormal wonders he witnessed in New York and dated his desire to move to India to his earliest acquaintance with Blavatsky in Vermont. “She soon proved to me that, in comparison with even the chela of an Indian Mahatma, the authorities I had been accustomed to look up to knew absolutely nothing. . . . I began to count the years, the months, the days, as they passed, for they were bringing me ever nearer the time when I should drag my body after the eager thought that had so long preceded it.”39 This account makes the move to India an inevitable destination of the TS even before it was founded, which conflicts with numerous accounts from other founding figures and even his own story of the fateful 1877 introduction to the Arya Samaj. As the alliance with Dayananda collapsed, so did his significance in Olcott’s explanation of his reasons for coming to India: “During the three years when I was waiting to come to India, I  had other visits from the Mahatmas, and they were not all Hindus or Cashmeris. I know some fifteen in all, and among them Copts, Tibetans, Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, a Hungarian, and a Cypriote.”40 Olcott’s visits from the Mahatmas have acquired the connotation of mysterious paranormal events through decades of Theosophical elaboration. But regardless of paranormal claims, as seen in Olcott’s description above, there was a remarkable series of encounters with international acquaintances who shared common interests. He mentions no Bengali Mahatmas yet makes a long-​term commitment to the Theosophists of Bengal, saying “I expect henceforth to spend at least two or three months of each year in Bengal. . . . We have not the least intention of returning to our own countries to reside. India is our chosen home, the land of our adoption; and the Hindus are our dearest friends, if not our brothers.”41

216  Interactions with the East In Old Diary Leaves, Olcott described his arrival in Calcutta for the first time and its aftermath: Calcutta was my final stage on this roundabout tour of 1882. I  was first entertained there by my excellent friends Colonel and Mrs. Gordon, and, later, by the Maharajah, Sir Jotendro Mohn Tagore, the premier Indian noble of the Metropolis . . . became his guest at his palatial Guest-​House (Boituckhana) for the remainder of my stay in Calcutta. This gentleman is one of the courtliest, most cultured and estimable friends I have ever known. On the 4th, the Maharajah held a reception for me, to make me acquainted with the chief Indian gentlemen of the city. On the 5th, my lecture was given at the town hall to a tremendous audience. . . . The beloved Bengali author and philanthropist, the late Babu Peary Chand Mittra, was my Chairman. H. P. B. joined me the next day at the Boituckhana, and that evening, at the same place, we organized the Bengal Theosophical Society, one of our best known Branches, with Babu Peary Chand Mittra as President.42

Blavatsky’s first mention of the Brahmo Samaj after her visit to Bengal was in the June 1882 Theosophist with an article titled “Hindu Theism,” in which she introduced an article on Brahmo history: In 1838 the leadership fell into the hands of Babu Debendra Nath Tagore, a Bengali gentleman of high family, and of a sweetness of character and loftiness of aim equal to that of the late Raja. Primitive Brahmoism was first split into two, and, later, into three churches. The first and, it is claimed, the original, one is known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj, of which the now venerable and always equally revered Babu Debendra Nath Tagore is theoretically, but Babu Raj Narain Bose practically—​ owing to the retirement of the former to a life of religious seclusion at Mussooree—​ the chief . . . the second Samaj comprises a small group which has followed the lead of Babu Kashab Chander Sen, down the slippery road to the quagmire of Infallibility, Direct Revelation, and Apostolic Succession. . . . The Third branch of the original Brahmo Samaj of Ram Mohun Roy is called the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, and headed by Pandit Sivanath Shastri, who is a gentleman of unblemished character, modest disposition, a well-​read Sanskritist, and a good though not exceptional, orator. . . . In conclusion, we must note the coincidence that, upon the very heel of the Swami’s defection, comes a most cordial greeting from Babu Raj Narain Bose, leader of another Hindu society, and a man whose approbation and friendship is worth having.43

In May 1883, in “The Chosen ‘Vehicles of Election’ ” she protested that “Brahmoism proper, as taught by Raja Ram Mohun Roy, or the respected and venerable Babu Debendranath Tagore, we have never ridiculed nor deprecated, nor ever will.”44 The following month, Blavatsky published an article in the Theosophist that

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  217 commented on an article from the previous month’s edition by Bose on “Essential Religion” in a friendly but critical tone. This echoed the tone of the original criticism, in which Bose pointed out that Theosophy was as much a propagandistic religion as Brahmoism despite claims to the contrary. In his response Bose wrote “I am not therefore unfriendly to Theosophy, but I have a word of humble advice to offer to the disinterested leaders of the Theosophical movement, for whom I entertain every feeling of respect. The more they keep Theosophy and Theology distinct from each other, and the less they mix up their personal opinions of the subject of religion with their legitimate province, Theosophy, the better.”45 Blavatsky replied that “The saintly characters of Ram Mohun Roy, Debendra Nath Tagore, and a few others of his colleagues, have not won the Hindus from their exoteric worship—​ we think, because neither of them has had the Yogi power to prove practically the fact of there being a spiritual side to nature.”46 A further exchange appeared in the December 1883 edition of The Theosophist, in which Blavatsky commented that “We never spoke of the ‘Adi Brahmo Samaj’, of which we know next to nothing, but of the spurious Brahmo Samaj calling itself New Dispensation where all is to be taken on faith and the Universal Infallibility is claimed to have taken its Headquarters in the person of Babu Keshub Chunder Sen who has now come to comparing himself publicly—​nay with identifying himself—​with Jesus Christ.”47 Describing all branches of Brahmos combined as having fewer than 150,000 members, Blavatsky adds “we were told in Calcutta by a near relative of the Babu—​that the direct followers, or the apostles of Babu Keshub could be counted on the ten fingers—​they do not exceed fifty men.”48 But while the New Dispensation was subject to relentless scorn in Blavatsky’s writings, Mittra was always praised: “There are a few converts to modern Spiritualism, such as Babu Peary Chand Mittra, whose great personal purity of life would make such intercourse harmless for him, even were he not indifferent to physical phenomena, holding but to the purely spiritual subjective side of such communion.”49 While Blavatsky’s first trip to Bengal to promote the TS among the Brahmos in April 1882 was of short-​term import, her second trip, when she visited Darjeeling and the Ghum monastery six months later, had a more lasting significance. She traveled in the company of several Indian chelas, including Keshava Pillai who was instructed in a letter from Koot Hoomi to adopt the name Chandra Cusho and the attire of a Gelugpa monk. The name Chandra may be a nod to Sarat Chandra Das (1849–​1917), a Bengali scholar of Tibetan Buddhism who was in Shigatse at the time of Blavatsky’s trip to Darjeeling, in the company of a Sikkimese lama named Ugyen Gyatso. In the December 1883 issue of The Theosophist, she referred to “Ten-​ Dub Ughien, the lama next to our Mahatma—​and the chief and Guide of his chelas on their travels.”50 Ugyen Gyatso and Sarat Chandra Das returned from their trip to Shigatse in December 1882, and Colonel Olcott visited Das in Darjeeling in 1885 and 1887 and wrote of him as a “wonderful explorer of Tibet” who had returned with “priceless MSS. and printed books.”51

218  Interactions with the East

Mohini’s Defection, 1887 Mohini Chatterji’s role in the Theosophical Society was pivotal but brief, lasting only from 1882 through 1887. Chatterji was a great grandson of Ram Mohun Roy, and his wife was the great granddaughter of Debendra Nath Tagore (1817–​1905). As a promising young lawyer, Mohini attended the final annual meeting of the TS in Bombay in November 1882, as the headquarters moved to Madras at the end of the year. Mohini went to Europe with Olcott and Blavatsky in 1884 and was hugely successful in the propaganda role for which he had been recruited. He was well-​spoken, well educated, and handsome, and the later quality made him attractive to female Theosophists, one of whom produced a hundred love letters from him after learning of the existence of his wife in Calcutta.52 During the years of his TS involvement he did more than any other Indian to promote Western appreciation of Hinduism, and to integrate Hindu ideas with the Western esoteric framework. In April 1886 his extended visit to Dublin made a lifelong impression on William Butler Yeats, whose poetry reveals the influence of Hindu ideas absorbed from Mohini. Most notably, Yeats wrote a poem in 1928 entitled “Mohini Chatterjee,” which brought attention to him in his old age when he was largely forgotten by Western Theosophists. Before his resignation, Mohini joined forces with Arthur Gebhard in a privately distributed manifesto challenging the leadership of the Theosophical Society and the powers of its president in particular. Dated September 23, 1886, the joint statement appeared under the title “A Few Words on the Theosophical Organization” and was denounced by Blavatsky in a letter to William Q.  Judge (1851–​96) as “ungrateful, cold, and unjust to poor Olcott and cruel,” adding that Mohini was “now regarded as a Jesus on wheels and a Saint” who owed his fame to “Olcott’s advertisements of him and my enthusiastic claims for him.”53 Mohini’s change of perspective, after years of serving faithfully as a supporter of her claims about the Mahatmas, is also evident in her complaints to Judge. Mohini was believed responsible for persuading two London Theosophists that the Masters “were no longer regarded as the living actual Adepts, but either white Magicians with grayish tints, or ‘fictions’  .  .  .  unreachable Beings they could neither communicate, nor take concern in worldly or private affairs could never write letters or send messages—​ therefore our Masters could never be MAHATMAS. . . . Mohini is then exercising for over six months his influence over Miss Arundale to make her lose faith & belief even in the Masters.”54 Before leaving America, Mohini was embraced by the Boston Unitarians and Transcendentalists, as evidenced by his role as a featured speaker at the fiftieth-​ anniversary celebration of the arrival of the Rev. Cyrus A. Bartol (1813–​1900) as pastor of Old West Unitarian Church. He was thus returning to the alliances that the Brahmo Samaj had established in the 1830s with the Unitarians of Britain and America. Mohini’s presence as a speaker at this event is a reminder that Unitarianism was the first Western movement with which the Brahmo Samaj found common cause:

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  219 It affords me very great pleasure to have this opportunity of saluting a body of men, brothers and Christians, in the name of the God who is the one God, no matter under how many different names and different forms he may be worshipped; the God who is the Father of all men, in whom we live and move and have our being. . . . In the home of my childhood there was a book called “The Precepts of Jesus: Guide to Peace and Happiness.” This book was written by an ancestor of mine. The great misunderstanding and misconception of the Christian faith that prevails in our country had given me such a false opinion of Christianity that I thought it would be a perfectly profitless thing to read this book. . . . There is another reason why I have a personal pleasure in being here. Fifty-​four years ago, four years before Dr. Bartol began his ministry here, an ancestor of mine died in Bristol, England, surrounded by Christians who believed in the unity of God. Therefore it is to me a matter of delight that I have this opportunity of addressing you as men, as brothers, and as Christians.55

Mohini was not simply embracing Christianity and rejecting Theosophy; his position was nuanced, but he was moving out of the orb of Blavatsky’s influence by returning to the conciliatory and pro-​Western stance of the early Brahmo movement. Having served as a Theosophical missionary to the West, he was rejecting his role as the spokesman of Mahatmas who were harshly critical of Christianity and returning to an earlier model of Indo-​Western relations that did not exalt Indian religions over others. The celebrity he achieved in England, Ireland, and America may have turned his head, as Blavatsky and her supporters believed. But his remarks at Bartol’s anniversary celebration indicate a genuine change of heart about a cooperative rather than competitive attitude of Hindus to Christians, which was a return to the path of his ancestors. Having gotten too close to the flame of Blavatsky’s political involvements might have burned him, according to evidence unearthed in Christy Campbell’s 2002 The Maharaja’s Box. Campbell discovered a letter written by Philip D. Henderson (1840–​ 1918) in 1886, when he had become the “general superintendent of the Thugee and Dacoity department,” reporting to Foreign Secretary Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (1850–​1924). Henderson had been responsible for surveillance of the Theosophical Society since its arrival in India in 1879 and had become concerned about TS involvement in attempts to incite the exiled Maharaja Dalip Singh to open rebellion against the British. This led to an investigation of Dalip Singh’s associations in England, and on June 15, 1886, Henderson reported to the police commissioner of Madras: When Colonel Olcott was in India in 1882–​83, he founded a secret society among the admitted. The purpose of this secret society is said to be to send information to Russia, and the headquarters are now said to be in Madras. An agent of the society was sent to England and is supposed to be the medium, or one of the mediums, of transmitting information. This man is one Mohini Mohun Chatterji. . . . I heard

220  Interactions with the East from England myself that Mohini Mohun was in the habit of seeing a great deal of Duleep Singh . . . at the present time the necessity for vigilance to intrigues going on in India has been impressed on the Government of India.56

In light of the fact that Mohini’s dealings with the maharaja came to the attention of the Government of India, it is conceivable that attempts were made to dissuade him from continued association with Blavatsky and the TS and that his distancing himself from her was motivated by pressures brought to bear behind the scenes. Whatever the combination of factors, after his resignation in October 1887, Mohini had no further dealings with the TS other than assisting G. R. S. Mead (1863–​1933) with an 1896 translation of the Upaniṣads, which he did under a pseudonym.

The Decline of Theosophical Influence in Bengal A window into the mindset that embraced Theosophy in Calcutta is provided by Norendro Nath Sen’s second article by that title (“Theosophy in Calcutta”), which appeared in 1882. Sen (1843–​1911), editor of the Indian Mirror, was also a founding member of the Calcutta branch. Referring to “the great demand in Bengal for the new work, called ‘Esoteric Theosophy,’ ” Sen explained that his appreciation for Theosophy was not based on the teachings of Blavatsky or any living writer but rather the TS objective of restoring Indian cultural and religious traditions. “Whether it be called Theosophy or after any other name, what we want to see is that the study of our ancient science, philosophy, and shastras should be earnestly taken up, and diligently pursued by our educated countrymen in every part of India. . . . What entitles them to our respect and confidence, is that they have devoted themselves to the disinterested duty of awakening in us an intelligent curiosity to explore our ancient literature, to study our neglected shastras, and to make researches into our old systems of science and philosophy.”57 Implicit in this remark is a reason that Bengali intellectuals’ enthusiasm for Theosophy declined after a few years; the TS seemed more interested in promoting its own distinctive doctrines than in appreciating India’s ancient traditions. In 1881, Swami Dayananda had complained in a letter to Blavatsky, “You had come here to become disciples, now you wish to become teachers.”58 Mohini Chatterji continued to work for the goals that had motivated the original TS-​Brahmo alliance, through Bengali channels, for another two decades. Beginning in the late 1880s and continuing until at least 1912, he promoted the teachings of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and other Bengali mystics to Westerners. In 1898, Vivekananda praised him to a Calcutta audience as “one who has seen England and America, one in whom I have great confidence, and whom I respect and love . . . working steadily and silently for the good of our country, a man of great spirituality.”59 The American Transcendentalist and Unitarian clergyman Moncure Conway (1832–​1907), who visited TS headquarters in 1883 and wrote a sarcastic but

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  221 affectionate account of the experience, reported an encounter with Sen on board the ship that bore him away from India, in an account published many years later. This Mr. Sen, of the “Indian Mirror,” was a relative of the Brahmo leader, Keshub Chunder Sen. That he did not have perfect faith in the Theosophic miracles was evident to me from the fact of his expressing regret that the movement should be permitted to be anything more than an ethical and religious reformation. He rather complained of myself and others who were interested only in the “signs and wonders,” being thus the means of preventing Theosophy from developing into the great Reformed Religion of India. He was an intelligent man, and I received from him a clear idea of the causes which had given so-​called Theosophy its success . . . there appeared from America this company of people who had abandoned every form of Christianity, taken up their abode in India to lead in the work of at once rehabilitating and revising these ancient systems, and pointed Hindus and Buddhists to their own scriptures and prophets as fountains of faith and hope. They naturally gained a hold on the hearts of these people, and in a few years moved and attracted them more than did the Christian missionaries in as many centuries.60

The mutual influence of Theosophy and the Bengal Renaissance reached its zenith during the meteoric career of Mohini Chatterji as the model chela of Blavatsky’s Mahatmas. By the early twentieth century, it was fading into history, as seen in the comments of Aurobindo Ghose (1872–​1950) in a 1911 manuscript that was not published until 1997. Objecting to Theosophy’s authoritarianism and obscurantism, Aurobindo connected both to the relationship between India and British imperialism. Under the title “The Claims of Theosophy,” he wrote: One sees, finally, a new Theocracy claiming the place of the old, and that Theocracy is dominantly European. Indians figure numerously as prominent subordinates, just as in the British system of government Indians are indispensable and sometimes valued assistants. Or they obtain eminence on the side of pure spirituality and knowledge, just as Indians could rise to the highest places in the judicial service or in advisory posts, but not in the executive administration. But if the smaller hierophants are sometimes and rarely Indians, the theocrats and the bulk of the prophets are Russian, American or English. An Indian here and there may quicken the illumination of the Theosophist, but it is Madame Blavatsky or Mrs Besant, Sinnett or Leadbeater who lays down the commandments and the Law. . . . These peculiarities of the Theosophical movement have begun to tell and the better mind of India revolts against Theosophy. The young who are the future, are not for the new doctrine.61

Aurobindo’s judgment, published decades after his death, provides a glimpse of the disappointment felt by Bengali intellectuals after their initial enthusiastic

222  Interactions with the East embrace of the TS. The impact of Blavatsky and Olcott in Bengal, seen through the eyes and words of Bengalis like Mohini, Aurobindo, or Sen, lasted only a few years, as highlighted in this chapter. But the impact of Bengal on Theosophy represents a more enduring legacy of the cultural exchange. In the twentieth century the significance of the TS–​Brahmo Samaj encounter faded from the collective memory of both groups. Nevertheless, Theosophical literature of the decade from 1877 to 1887 offers a rich and multifaceted portrait of the short-​lived alliance between the two groups and the “Indo-​Western” perspectives that they shared.

Conclusion Despite the rich evidence in primary sources, the TS relationship with the Brahmo Samaj has been obscured in subsequent accounts. None of four recent biographies of Blavatsky mentions the Brahmo Samaj,62 and David Kopf ’s authoritative study of Brahmo history mentions neither Theosophy nor spiritualism, while providing exhaustive evidence of Western Unitarianism as an influential factor in the Brahmo movement. The TS relationship with the Arya Samaj began after that with the Brahmos and lasted less than four years, yet it has received a disproportionate share of historical attention because it was more dramatic and public. Like an ill-​fated marriage that began in mutual misunderstandings and ended in public divorce, the Arya Samaj relationship was a formal alliance, publicly proclaimed and then publicly dissolved in mutual recriminations. The TS-​Brahmo relationship was comparable to a friendship that developed informally and gradually and then faded in the same way. Hence the Brahmo Samaj was downplayed as early as the 1890s in Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves and virtually forgotten in the twentieth-​century TS. The present study has sought to redress the historical imbalance and restore Brahmo-​ TS relations to their proper relevance, which has been recently highlighted by the availability of TS membership records.

Notes 1. David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), xxiii. 2. Ibid., xiii. 3. Henry S. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1st ser. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 395. 4. Josephine Ransom, Short History of the Theosophical Society (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938), 98. 5. N.N., “Passengers Sailed,” New York Times, January 13, 1870, 8. 6. In Michael Gomes, The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement (Wheaton:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), Michael Gomes notes Peebles had indeed met Thackersey, but cautions that he was out of the United States throughout 1877. In 1980, Marion Meade reported as fact that Peebles was the visitor; the most recent book to name Peebles as the visitor

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  223 to Olcott is Diane Sasson, Yearning for the New Age (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 57. My book K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1994) variously asserted this as a possibility and a fact, despite noting Michael Gomes’s objections regarding chronology. Joscelyn Godwin and Gary Lachman have more cautiously and accurately described this as a possibility rather than a fact. 7. Edwin D.  Mead, “Opening Address of the President, Edwin D.  Mead, Boston Mass,” in Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Meeting, 17–​22 (Boston:  Free Religious Association of America, 1907), 22. 8. James M. Peebles, Around the World (Boston: Colby and Rich, 1875), 251. 9. Keshub Chunder Sen, Diary in England (Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1894), 79. 10. Peebles, Around the World, 252. 11. Edward Whipple, A Biography of James Martin Peebles, M.D., A.M. (Battle Creek: Printed by the author, 1901), 529. 12. Henry S. Olcott, People from the Other World (Rutland: Tuttle, 1972), 308. 13. James M. Peebles, Five Journeys around the World (Battle Creek: Peebles Publishing Company, 1910), 432. 14. Ibid.,  419. 15. At this point a timeline may be helpful in clarifying Peebles’s travels in relation to those of others. (1) 1870: Olcott meets Thackersey and Jadarjee en route to London; Peebles meets Sen in London. (2) 1871: Hardinge (Britten) writes preface to the first biography of Peebles. (3) 1872: Peebles meets Mittra and other Brahmo Samajis in Calcutta and visits Cairo and learns of Blavatsky, who has left for Odessa, or perhaps met her before her departure, as evidence is conflicting. (4) 1874: Peebles is at the Chittenden, VT home of the Eddy Brothers when Olcott and Blavatsky met there. 16. Emma Hardinge Britten, Art Magic (New York: Printed by the author, 1876), 29. 17. Emma Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles (New York: Lovell, 1884), 304. 18. Ibid.,  294. 19. H.  P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2 vols. (Pasadena:  Theosophical University Press, 1976), 1:467–​68. 20. Ibid., 2:622–​23. The otherwise unidentified “Captain B_​_​_​_​_​” may be a veiled reference to Richard F. Burton, who referred to snake charmers in several of his travel narratives and who joined the Theosophical Society in late 1878. 21. H. P. Blavatsky, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 1 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 2003), 391. Blavatsky was seeking information on the oldest astronomical calculations preserved in India. 22. Stephen Prothero, The White Buddhist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 206. 23. Stainton Moses, “The Early Story of the Theosophical Society,” Light 12, no. 602 (July 23, 1892): 356. 24. Blavatsky, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, 1:361. 25. Krishna Singh Arya and P. D. Shastri, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati: A Study of His Life and Work (Delhi: Manohar, 1987), 17–​18. 26. H. P. Blavatsky, H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), 1:282. 27. Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany:  SUNY Press, 1994), 327. This book devotes several pages to Brahmoism, far more than other works addressing Theosophical history, but concentrates on the period prior to the Theosophical Society–​ Brahmo contact. 28. Subrata Dasgupta, Awakening (Noida: Random House India, 2011), 3. 29. Ibid.,  178.

224  Interactions with the East 30. Ibid.,  179. 31. Ibid.,  431. 32. H. P.  Blavatsky, “The Ârya Samâj,” New  York Echo, June 2, 1878, reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., 2nd ed., ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977), 1:381. 33. H. P. Blavatsky, “Echoes from India,” Banner of Light 46, no. 4 (October 18, 1879), reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, 15  vols., 2nd ed., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 68–​ 80 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 2:71 . 34. H. P. Blavatsky, “Theosophy, the Essence of Philosophy,” in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 2:209. 35. H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Brahmo Samaj,” Theosophist 2, no. 6 (March 1881), reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1968), 3:55. 36. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, 4:170. 37. Ibid. 38. Hardinge Britten, Nineteenth Century Miracles, 317. 39. Henry S. Olcott, Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science (London: Redway, 1885), 122–​24. 40. Ibid.,  124. 41. Ibid.,  119. 42. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 3rd ser. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 340–​41. 43. H.  P. Blavatsky, “Hindu Theism,” The Theosophist 3, no. 9 (June 1882), reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 4:109–​11. 44. H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Chosen Vessels of Election,” The Theosophist 4, no. 8 (May 1883), reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 4:414–​15. 45. Babu Raj Narain Bose, “The Essentials of Religion,” The Theosophist 4, no. 11 (August 1883), reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, ed. Boris de Zirkoff (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1950), 5:99. 46. H. P. Blavatsky, “Editor’s Note,” in ibid., 100. 47. Babu Raj Narain Bose, “The God-​Idea,” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (December 1883), reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 8–​13 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 6:12. 48. H. P. Blavatsky, “Ananda Bai’s Reception: Editor’s Note,” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (Supplement to December 1883), reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 66–​68 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 6:68. 49. H.  P. Blavatsky, “Tibetan Teachings,” Lucifer 15, nos. 85–​86 (September and October 1894), reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 94–​113 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 6:96. 50. H. P. Blavatsky, “Existence of the Himalayan Mahatmas,” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (December 1883), reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings, 15 vols., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 37–​40 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 6:38. 51. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 4th ser. (Adyar:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1975), 6. 52. H. P. Blavatsky, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1973), 297. 53. H.  P. Blavatsky, “[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society] Compiler’s Notes,” in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings, 15 vols., ed. Boris de Zirkoff, 135–​140 (Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 7:136.

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  225 54. Ibid.,  137. 55. The West Church, Boston, Commemorative Services on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Its Present Ministry (Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1887), 68–​70. 56. Christy Campbell, The Maharaja’s Box (Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2002), 254–​55. 57. Norendro Nath Sen, “Theosophy in Calcutta,” reprinted from The Indian Mirror (Calcutta) 22 (May 2, 1882):  2, accessed August 14, 2014, http://​​ sen1882b.htm. 58. K. C. Yadav, ed., Autobiography of Dayanand Sarasvati, 3rd ed. (Delhi: Manohar, 1987), 62. 59. Gopal Stavig, Western Admirers of Ramakrishna and His Disciples (Uttarakhand:  Advaita Ashrama, 2010), 453. 60. Moncure Conway, My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906), 203. 61. Aurobindo Ghose, “The Claims of Theosophy,” in Essays Divine and Human: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, 37 vols. (Pondicherry:  Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1997), 12:67–​68, http://​​workings/​sa/​37_​12/​0016_​e.htm. 62. There are no index entries for the Brahmo Samaj in Marion Meade’s Madame Blavatsky: The Woman behind the Myth (New York: Putnam 1980); Jean Overton Fuller’s Blavatsky and Her Teachers (Shaftesbury: Element Books, 1988); Sylvia Cranston’s H. P. B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993); or Gary Lachman’s Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/​Penguin 2012).

Bibliography Arya, Krishna Singh, and P. D. Shastri. Swami Dayananda Sarasvati: A Study of His Life and Work. Delhi: Manohar, 1987. Blavatsky, H. P. H. P. B. Speaks. Vol. 2. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1951. Blavatsky, H.  P. “The Brahmo Samaj.” The Theosophist 2, no. 6, 131–​32. Reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 3, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 55–​60. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1968. Blavatsky, H. P. “The Chosen ‘Vessels of Election.’” The Theosophist 4, no. 8 (May 1883): 185–​89. Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 4, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 405–​20. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969. Blavatsky, H.  P. “Hindu Theism.” The Theosophist 3, no.  9 (June 1882). Reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 4, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 109–​11. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969. Blavatsky, H.  P. “Theosophy and Spiritualism.” The Theosophist 3, no. 11 (August 1882):  272. Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 4, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 169–​70. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969. Blavatsky, H.  P. Letters of H.  P. Blavatsky to A.  P. Sinnett. Pasadena:  Theosophical University Press, 1973. Blavatsky, H. P. “Ananda Bai’s Reception: Editor’s Note.” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (Supplement to December 1883). Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 6. 2nd ed., edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 65–​68. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Blavatsky, H. P. “Existence of the Himalayan Mahatmas.” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (December 1883). Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 6, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 37–​40. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Blavatsky, H.  P. “The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society.” Reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings. Vol. 7. 2nd ed., edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 135–​45. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975.

226  Interactions with the East Blavatsky, H.  P. “Tibetan Teachings.” Lucifer 15, nos. 85–​86 (September and October 1894). Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 6, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 94–​113. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1976. Blavatsky, H.  P. “The Arya Samaj.” New  York Echo, June 2, 1878. Reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings. Vol. 1. 2nd ed., edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 379–​ 84. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977. Blavatsky, H. P. Letters of H. P. Blavatsky. Vol. 1. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 2003. Blavatsky, H. P. “Echoes from India.” Banner of Light 46, no. 4 (October 18, 1879). Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 2, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 65–​80. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967. Blavatsky, H. P. “Theosophy, the Essence of Philosophy.” In H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 2, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 208–​211. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1967. Bose, Babu Raj Narain. “The Essentials of Religion.” The Theosophist 4, no. 11 (August 1883): 75–​ 76. Reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky: Collected Writings. Vol. 5, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 95–​100 (includes “Editor’s Note” by Blavatsky, 100). Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1950. Bose, Babu Raj Narain. “The God-​Idea.” The Theosophist 5, no. 3 (December 1883):  75–​76. Reprinted in H.  P. Blavatsky:  Collected Writings. Vol. 5, edited by Boris de Zirkoff, 8–​13. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Britten, Emma Hardinge. Art Magic. New York: Printed by the author, 1876. Britten, Emma Hardinge. Nineteenth Century Miracles. New York: Lovell, 1884. Britten, Emma Hardinge. Ghost Land. Chicago: Progressive Thinker, 1909. Campbell, Christy. The Maharaja’s Box. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2002. Conway, Moncure. My Pilgrimage to the Wise Men of the East. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906. Cranston, Sylvia. H. P. B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993. Dasgupta, Subrata. Awakening. Noida: Random House India, 2011. Fuller, Jean Overton. Blavatsky and Her Teachers: An Investigative Biography. Shaftesbury: Element Books, 1988. Ghose, Aurobindo. “The Claims of Theosophy.” In Essays Divine and Human: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. Vol. 12, edited by Aurobindo Ghose, 67–​68. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1997. http://​​workings/​sa/​37_​12/​0016_​e.htm. Gomes, Michael. The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977. Lachman, Gary. Madame Blavatsky:  The Mother of Modern Spirituality. New  York:  Jeremy P. Tarcher/​Penguin,  2012. Mead, Edwin D. “Opening Address of the President, Edwin D. Mead, Boston Mass.” In Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Meeting, 17–​22. Boston: Free Religious Association of America, 1907. Meade, Marion. Madame Blavatsky: The Woman behind the Myth. New York: Putnam, 1980. Moses, Stainton. “The Early Story of the Theosophical Society.” Light 12, no. 602 (July 23, 1892): 356. N.N.“Passengers Sailed.” New York Times, January 13, 1870, 8. Olcott, Henry Steel. Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science. London: Redway, 1885. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves. 3rd ser. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972. Olcott, Henry Steel. People from the Other World. Rutland: Tuttle, 1972. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves. 1st ser. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves. 4th ser. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975. Peebles, James M. Around the World. Boston: Colby and Rich, 1875. Peebles, James M. Five Journeys around the World. Battle Creek:  Peebles Publishing Company, 1910. Prothero, Stephen. The White Buddhist. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Ransom, Josephine. Short History of the Theosophical Society. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938.

Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance  227 Rawson, Albert L. “Personal Recollections of Sir Richard Francis Burton, KGMG, FRS, FRGS.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Monthly, November 1891, 573–​74. Sarasvati, Dayananda. Autobiography. 3rd rev. ed. New Delhi: Manohar, 1987. Sasson, Diane. Yearning for the New Age. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. Sen, Keshub Chunder. Diary in England. Calcutta: Brahmo Tract Society, 1894. Sen, Norendro Nath. “Theosophy in Calcutta.” The Indian Mirror (Calcutta) 22 (May 2, 1882): 2. http://​​sen1882b.htm. Stavig, Gopal. Western Admirers of Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Uttarakhand:  Advaita Ashrama, 2010. The West Church, Boston. Commemorative Services on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Its Present Ministry and the One Hundred and Fiftieth of Its Foundation. Boston: Damrell and Upham, 1887. Whipple, Edward. A Biography of James Martin Peebles, M. D., A. M. Battle Creek: Printed by the author, 1901.

11 The Marriage between the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj Erik Reenberg Sand

The relationship between the Theosophical Society and Swami Dayananda and the Arya Samaj was brief and hectic. If we count from the day in September 1877 when Colonel Henry Steel Olcott wrote his first letter to Moolji Thackersey, whom he had met earlier in 1870 on a steamer from Europe to the United States, to the day that Dayananda officially broke all ties with the Theosophists at a public meeting on March 28, 1882, at the Framji Institute in Bombay, it was a relationship that lasted about four and a half years. If, however, we look at it more narrowly, in terms of the relationship between Dayananda and the founders (hereafter Founders) of the Theosophical Society, Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, it lasted from Olcott’s first direct letter to Dayananda on February 18, 1878, to March 28, 1882, namely a period of a little more than four years.1 All in all it was, no doubt, a stormy relationship on both sides; perhaps mostly on the side of the Theosophists. If we look closer at the relationship between the main actors, Olcott, Blavatsky, and Dayananda, it was, however, not as intense as one might have thought. Thus, it involved about sixteen or so2 letters between Dayananda and the two Theosophists and four personal encounters, of which the latest seem to have been very superficial on the side of the two Founders. The relationship between the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj has been known to scholars at least since John Nicol Farquhar mentioned it in passing in his treatment of both societies.3 Since then it has been dealt with cursorily by several scholars but mostly by scholars interested in the Theosophical Society4 and more rarely by scholars working with Dayananda and the Arya Samaj.5 Unfortunately, scholars mainly interested in the Theosophical Society have tended to exclude the sources transmitted by the Arya Samaj and vice versa.6 In this chapter, I will try to compensate for this lack and give a more balanced description of the episode relying upon the primary letters written by the actors themselves, such as Olcott, Blavatsky, Dayananda, and their associates,7 as well as the partisan contributions that Blavatsky, Olcott, and Dayananda or representatives of the Arya Samaj have published in connection with, or after, the breach.8

230  Interactions with the East Since the events of the episode are not necessarily well known to all readers of this chapter, I have decided to proceed historically using the major events in the relationship, mainly the personal meetings between the leading actors, as headings, followed by an attempt of an overall analysis of the events and some reflections about the major factors that played a part of these events. I shall, however, start out with things that triggered the affair: the decisions of the Founders while they were still in America.

In America: Falling in Love One thing that is sure is that the relationship definitely came about on the initiative of the Founders, who, after Blavatsky had finished Isis Unveiled in 1877, were very eager to go to India.9 Thus, when they were informed by their first contact, Moolji Thackersey,10 about the existence of Dayananda and the Arya Samaj, they quickly became very enthusiastic. After some letters to and fro between Olcott and the president of the Bombay branch of the Arya Samaj, Hurrychand Chintamon, Olcott contacted Dayananda for the first time on February 18, 1878, by letter, declaring the interest of the Founders in developing a relationship with him and the Arya Samaj.11 In this letter, Olcott presented himself and his Theosophical colleagues as a group of Westerners who were dissatisfied with Christianity and looked to the East, and especially to Dayananda, for wisdom and guidance. He also invited Dayananda to accept a “diploma of Corresponding Fellow” of the Theosophical Society. The letter ended with these words: We place ourselves under your instruction. Perhaps, we may directly and indirectly aid you to hasten the accomplishment of the holy mission, in which you are now engaged; for our battle-​field extends to India: from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin there is work that we can do. You venerable man, who have learned to pierce the disguises and masks of your fellow-​creatures. Look into our hearts and see that we speak the truth. See that we approach you not in pride but humility, that we are prepared to receive your counsel, and do our duty as it may be shown to us. If you will write us a letter, you will know just what we wish to know, and will give us what we need.12

It will be seen that in this letter Olcott came very close to submitting himself and the Theosophical Society to a discipleship of Dayananda, a man about whom he actually knew very little. Perhaps Dayananda later regretted that he did not have the insight and ability to “look into the hearts” of Olcott and Blavatsky? If he had, things would have looked much different, and he would have avoided a lot of pain, trouble, and disappointment. If the initiative had come from the Founders, there is little doubt that Dayananda was very happy with the approach of the Founders.13 He was in the process of

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  231 expanding his own Arya Samaj in India, and the approach of Westerners or Americans was no less than a feather in his cap; therefore, in a letter of April 21, 1878, he replied to Olcott and Blavatsky that they agreed in many things, among others in their view of Christianity, and he would be very happy to correspond with the Founders.14 Perhaps, though, the pleasure was mostly on the part of the Founders, and they seem to have been very happy propagating their new attachment with Dayananda and the Arya Samaj. Thus, on May 29, 1878, a good month after he received the positive reply from Dayananda, Olcott sent a letter to the editor of the Indian Spectator in which he announced his idea about the Wisdom-​Religion of the Aryas and mentioned their relation with the Arya Samaj: It is this Wisdom-​ Religion which the Theosophical Society accepts and propagates, and the finding of which in the doctrines expounded by the revered Swami Dayanund Saraswati Pandit, has led us to affiliate our Society with the Arya Samaj, and recognize and accept its Chief as our supreme religious teacher, Guide and Ruler.15

Surely Blavatsky was also very happy about the prospects of now being connected with a teacher of Aryan wisdom, something which she seems to have used as a means of propagating the success of herself and the (otherwise) fading Theosophical Society. Thus, she reports proudly about the joining of the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj in letters both to her family members and acquaintances in Russia and to people interested in the Theosophical Society. Here is a quote from a letter of July 30, 1878, to an early member of the Theosophical Society, C. H. van der Linden: It is a Society (Somaj) organized by the orders and under the supervision of that mysterious body (mysteries -​to the non-​initiated, of course) of adepts and philosophers, whose existence in India I have hinted at in my book.16 The founder and responsible chief of it is a very noted Swamee (a holy man) named -​Dya Nand Saraswati [sic] -​at once the purest and most erudite man of the Hindu pandits.17

Another similar example is a quote from a letter of August 28, 1878, to Caroline Rollins Corson: Our Society has grown, dear Madame, and from a child malformed and hooted at by everybody, it has developed into a giant that counts its members by the thousands, and has recently affiliated itself with the greatest Esoteric Fraternity of India -​the Arya-​Samaj. We have Hindu members, now, by the thousands; and our supreme chief, Swȃmi (Saint, he who performs “miracles”) Dayanand Sarasvati, the greatest scholar of India, the most distinguished orator who captivates all those who hear him preach -​orders us to come to India.18

232  Interactions with the East Whether the last statement was true, we do not know, but these quotes clearly show how much Blavatsky, after the dwindling of interest in the Theosophical Society and, perhaps, also the quietness after the storm caused by the publication of Isis Unveiled, enjoyed having the attention of an audience. The Founders, thus, seemed to be thrilled about the new connection with the Arya Samaj and Dayananda. As a further consequence of this, they seem to have accepted a proposal not from Dayananda, who did not mention anything about such an amalgamation in his first letter to Olcott and Blavatsky, but from the president of the Bombay branch, Hurrychand Chintamon, of amalgamating the Theosophical Society with the Arya Samaj.19 Already on May 22, 1878, the day after Olcott had mentioned in a letter to Hurrychand Chintamon how pleased he was with the suggestion,20 at a meeting the Council of the Theosophical Society decided to make itself a branch of the Arya Samaj, change its name to the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj of India, and “recognise Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Pandit, Founder of the Arya Samaj, as its lawful Director and Chief.”21

Problems in America Everything was ready for the departure of the Founders to India later the same year to meet their “teacher, Guide and Ruler” in the flesh. However, problems soon arose regarding the aims of the two societies, and especially about theology. From a letter of May 9, 1878, from Blavatsky to Hurrychand Chintamon it would seem that the latter had sent the founders a copy of the rules of the Arya Samaj. As the various regional branches seem to have had their own rules, this would probably have been the rules of the Bombay branch of the Arya Samaj in an Indian language that Blavatsky took to be Sanskrit22; she admits that she could not well understand them, although Olcott was anxious to know about them.23 As we know, this fact did not, however, stop the Founders from amalgamating with the Arya Samaj about two weeks later. Perhaps because of his background as a lawyer, Olcott would not stop enquiring into the rules of the Arya Samaj and, in a letter to Dayananda dated June 5, 1878, he explicitly asked to know the rules of the Samaj.24 Dayananda did not send Olcott any printed rules. Instead he sent him, on July 26, 1878, a long letter with comparatively detailed explanations of his philosophy and his views about God, nature, and the soul. Still, the letter of Dayananda seems not to have produced any major change in the relations between the Founders and their Indian “brothers.” However, at the end of September, it would seem they received a printed pamphlet of an English translation of the rules of the Arya Samaj, translated by Dayananda’s Sanskrit protégé, Pandit Shyamaji Krishnavarma, which, according to a letter from Olcott to Hurrychand Chintamon,25 caused uproar among the Founders and members of the Theosophical Society. According to the letter, they were much disappointed by the

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  233 rules, as they now realized that the God in whom Dayananda and the Arya Samaj seemed to believe was a God with personal qualities and not the more impersonal God of the Vedānta that they had expected. As a result of this, the Council had immediately voted for a “resolution to make the Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj, a Vedic Section instead of the whole body in a transformed shape,” meaning that they went back on the amalgamation of the whole Theosophical Society with the Arya Samaj and instead formed a lesser society for the ones who were still interested in cooperating with the Arya Samaj.26 Olcott went on to explain that in this way they would “keep a broader platform for men of different creeds to stand upon” and their “work for and with the Arya Samaj is not to be affected the least.”27 This would seem to be a euphemism, and one may ask why they did not simply give up their plans altogether of any amalgamation between the two societies if the difference in the concept of God was so important to them? The reason is not difficult to guess. The members, or the Council, of the Theosophical Society was probably split in the matter, and this new so-​called “link society” was a clever way for the Founders to secure a lifeline for their plans to go on with their journey to India. I am not aware of any figures for the number of members of the Vedic branch, but my guess is that it was very small, Olcott and Blavatsky being the core members. As we shall soon see, as time went by this theological difference between Dayananda and Olcott and Blavatsky grew more and more important and in the end became one of the main factors causing the breach between them.

First Meeting: Saharanpur and Meerut, May 1879 It seems, however, that their first, and most substantial, personal contact at Saharanpur and Meerut in the first week of May 1879 was held in a positive spirit. According to Sarda’s summary of the meetings there were no discussions about the nature of God, and at a public lecture at the local Arya Samaj the Founders declared that they had become disciples of Swami Dayananda in order to know the truth.28 That Dayananda was very pleased with them is clear from a letter he wrote to a Munshi Samarthdan at Bombay, in which he wrote that “In the Sahiblog [i.e., the Founders] there is nothing opposed to our Samaj; they agree with the Samaj in their beliefs and conduct.”29 Similarly, in an article published in Boston on October 18, 1879, Blavatsky mentioned the meeting of the Founders with Dayananda in positive terms, calling Dayananda their “ally and teacher” and the aim of the meeting to “consolidate the alliance of our Society and the Ârya Samȃjes of India.”30 The same is the case with the more detailed summaries given by Olcott.31 Thus, it would seem that the founders, in their approach to Dayananda and the Arya Samaj, at this meeting continued the strategy already laid in New York, namely to play the role of Western seekers of truth looking upon Dayananda as their guru and the possessor of wisdom and truth. According to the summaries given by Olcott,

234  Interactions with the East they did, however, also deal with more organizational matters. Thus, on the second day of their meeting Dayananda agreed about the new rules of the Theosophical Society and also accepted a place in its council. This, supposedly, would have been the rules and the council of the new Vedic section of the Theosophical Society, affiliated with the Arya Samaj. This was later to be contested by Dayananda, but, according to Olcott, the proof of this is Dayananda’s signature on a handwritten slip of paper that gave Olcott proxy rights of voting in the council on behalf of Dayananda.32

Second Meeting: Benaras, December 1879 The second meeting between Dayananda and the Founders took place in Benaras33 during the period from December 15–​22, 1879.34 To judge from Sarda’s brief reference nothing much passed between Dayananda and the Founders, apart from the fact that they were all staying in Anandbagh, a small palace of the Raja of Vizianagaram, and Olcott gave several lectures.35 According to the memories of Olcott, it seems that they rarely spent time alone during the week they were all living in Benaras, apart from the initiation of a Mrs. Gordon, a visit to the Raja of Vizianagaram’s girl school, and a discussion about the ritual of initiation into the society. Most noteworthy among the Olcott’s memories is perhaps his report of the discussion with a few Benaras pandits, the Indologist and headmaster of the Sanskrit College, Dr. George Thibaut, and Dayananda, on their last evening in Benaras, at which Blavatsky openly showed one of her “phenomena,” the falling of flowers from the ceiling, followed by her command of the rising and falling of a flame.

After Benaras As will be seen from the above brief description, neither Sarda nor Olcott mention anything about possible conflicts between Dayananda and the Founders during their stay together in Benaras. Several elements in their following communication indicate that everything went on as usual between them. First, Dayananda wrote a letter to them reporting troubles he was facing from the Benaras magistrate, who had banned him from lecturing in the city. In the same letter he expressed his anxiousness to continue his autobiography, which they were publishing in The Theosophist.36 Second, the fact that Dayananda included them in a will (svīkārapatra), along with sixteen Aryans, indicates that he by no means had any thoughts of giving up the relationship with them.37 Finally, in connection with the question of the organizational relationship between the two societies, something that was bothering many Arya Samajis, Dayananda wrote and printed a proclamation in which he supported the creation of a link society between two separate and independent societies, the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj. This was full

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  235 of praise of the fact that similar societies, with similar ends, had been created at the same time on opposite sides of the globe.38 On the other hand, it would seem that there was a dispute in Benaras not mentioned by Sarda and Olcott, namely the dispute about Dayananda’s membership of the Theosophical Society. This, according to Dayananda’s later pamphlet titled Golmāl Polmāl or “Humbuggery,” had stretched back to their first meeting at Meerut.39 At that occasion he had asked the Founders to remove his name from their membership list, which, although Olcott had promised to do so, they had not done, as a result of which he had reminded them about it in Benaras.40 A couple of months after their meeting he had had to write a letter to Olcott and Blavatsky again telling them to delete his name from their membership roll.41 Olcott had sent a telegram asking what they should write then and Dayananda had replied by telegram that they should write “councilor of Vedic dharma” (vaidika dharma upadeśaka).42 On July 14, 1880, Dayananda wrote a letter to Olcott and Blavatsky asking them to inform their members that the “Vedic Branch of the Theosophical Society” is the connecting link between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society, and neither of these two latter societies are a branch of each other.43 One would have thought that these organizational matters had been cleared already at the first meeting in Saharanpur and Meerut in May 1879, or even earlier, as the decision to go back on the original resolution to make the Theosophical Society a branch of the Arya Samaj and split into a Parent Society and a Vedic Branch was taken by the Theosophists already before they left America and was seemingly communicated to Hurrychand Chintamon already, in a letter from Olcott dated September 24, 1878.44 As we know from the earlier-​mentioned proclamation, it seems that Hurrychand had duly reported these changes, but the need for Dayananda to write the proclamation indicates that there was, probably, some confusion among the Samajis regarding the nature of the relationship. Another thing that Dayananda brought up in this letter was his attitude toward showing “yogic feats,” or what in yoga are called siddhis. He wrote that he had told Mr. Sinnett45—​whom we know was very eager that Blavatsky, and seemingly also Dayananda, should show their “phenomena”—​that he did not “think it right to show these tamashas (entertaining or amusing things) whether they are sleight of hand or Yoga process.” If he did show these powers, he wrote, people would “pester me with requests to show these things, as people now constantly ask Madame Blavatsky to do. They do not try to benefit by her learning and knowledge which would purify life and give happiness.” He was, however, prepared to teach people yoga, so that they might themselves achieve siddhis.46 That the performance of siddhis is a blind alley, not leading to the true goal of yoga, is common knowledge in the yoga systems, but is it possible to understand these remarks of Dayananda’s without his experience with Blavatsky’s “phenomena” at their evening meeting in Benaras? I think not, and although Olcott later represented Dayananda as “having been perfectly satisfied of their genuineness,”47

236  Interactions with the East there is no doubt that he sent a signal to the Theosophists that here they were on a wrong and dubious path. To sum up regarding the second meeting: Doubtless it took place without any major conflicts between the parties, although there was the ongoing conflict about the inclusion of Dayananda’s name. My guess is, however, that under the surface doubts, and perhaps also a measure of jealousy, had crept into Dayananda’s mind regarding the Founders. This, I think, is indicated both by his remarks regarding Blavatsky’s “phenomena” and by his occupation with the organizational relationship between the two societies. Apart from Blavatsky’s “phenomena,” the reasons for his doubts are not difficult to see, since Dayananda’s stay with the Founders in Benaras would have shown him that they were not only his devoted disciples but were very successful in their own way. They were, like himself, associating with the Maharaja of Vizianagaram, and Olcott was invited to lecture both at the town hall48 and at the Literary Society of the orthodox Pandits of Benaras.49 Especially Olcott’s success with the Brahmin establishment would have been a challenge to Dayananda who, as a reformer, was opposed to orthodoxy and had defeated several orthodox Brahmins in debates.

Third Meeting: Meerut, September 1880 The third meeting between Dayananda and the founders took place in Meerut on August 30, 1880, and the following days, while the Founders were on their way to visit the Sinnetts and others in Simla, the summer capital of British India. The only reports regarding this meeting are Olcott’s and Sarda’s, and they differ significantly.50 The only thing Olcott deals with in detail is an open discussion the Founders had with Dayananda about yoga and siddhis, which was published soon after in The Theosophist.51 Apart from this, he mentions that his debates with Dayananda went on “day by day and evening by evening,”52 but he does not give any details regarding the subjects of these debates. The only thing he gives away is that, seemingly on the final day, they had a long and serious private talk, presidents of their respective societies, the result of which was that “We agreed that neither should be responsible for the views of the other: the two societies to be allies, yet independent.”53 In contrast, the description given by Sarda indicates a very troubled meeting between the two parties. According to him, this meeting was a landmark in the relationship between Dayananda and the Founders: It was during this visit that the Founders of the Theosophical Society revealed themselves in their true colours. It was at Meerut that they threw off the mask they had been wearing ever since they wrote from New York to Swamiji early in 1878, seeking enlightenment and acknowledging him as their venerable Teacher.54

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  237 According to Sarda, the demasking was mainly about the lack of belief in God of the Founders, which was revealed when one of the local Arya Samajis wanted to do his evening prayers (Sandhya) and Blavatsky asked him “if he really prayed and to whom.” After this, she admitted that she did not believe in God, because there was no God, adding that both she and Olcott were Buddhists. This seems to have taken both the local Arya Samajis and Dayananda by surprise, and Dayananda threatened to cease the connection with them if they did not settle the matter by discussion. The discussions continued for three days, and on the fourth the Founders broke up and left for Simla. After they had left, Dayananda declared at a local meeting that “all connection between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society had come to an end.”55 Clearly, the two versions of the third meeting differ. According to Dayananda, as given by Sarda, it represented a break between the two societies, whereas Olcott ends his version by saying that they agreed to disagree but considered each other allies.56 However, we must remember that Dayananda’s view was given immediately at an internal meeting in the Arya Samaj, whereas Olcott’s version was given for an outside public many years after, and maybe that is why he has so markedly downplayed the critical atmosphere at the meeting. Still, I believe one could see the two versions as complementary, since they agreed to the effect that the meeting in Meerut represented an important change for the worse in their relationship.

After Meerut If Dayananda had declared to some of the Arya Samaj members that all connection between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society had been broken, this was not yet the case with his personal contacts with Blavatsky and Olcott. Thus, Sarda reports about the following correspondence between Blavatsky and Dayananda between October 1880 and March 1881. This correspondence was started by Blavatsky, who on October 8, 1880, sent a letter from Simla to a certain B. Chhedilal, asking him to translate it and forward it to Dayananda. In this letter she complained that she had heard that Dayananda had been telling the members of the Arya Samaj not to accept membership of other societies than their own (a way of action that she compared with that of the Popes!), and that he had also said the Founders were trying to enroll Arya Samaj members in their society. This, she claimed, was not true; the only person they had asked was Dayananda himself. The nature of the two societies were different, since, in contrast to the Arya Samaj, the Theosophical Society recruited members from all religions. The letter goes on with a long description of the Founders’ success and popularity with the British establishment in Simla, listing all the new British members they had enrolled, and ends with the question “whether we will remain friends or enemies.”57 Obviously, the advice referred to from Dayananda to his members seems to have been part of his reaction to

238  Interactions with the East the meeting in Meerut and confirms that he took his words about a break between the two societies in earnest. On November 23, 1881, Dayananda sent a long reply to Blavatsky in which he started noting the change of attitude of the Founders toward him compared to when they first wrote to him from America and after they started their work in India. Regarding his advice to the Arya Samajis not to enroll in the Theosophical Society, he wrote how, using his characteristic sense of logic, even in conversations with the Founders, he had held that if the principles of the two societies were the same, they were already one, and therefore there was no need for becoming a member of the other. This he had repeated to his members. Furthermore, Olcott and Blavatsky had themselves in their letters from America said how true knowledge was not to be found anywhere other than in Āryāvarta. Whereas he and the Arya Samajis had never tried to recruit Theosophists as members, he mentioned names of Arya Samajis whom the Founders had recruited. He explained how he believed that affection is easier between people who speak the same language and belong to the same country than it is between people who are foreign to each other. He also had some remarks about the desire of the Founders to recruit members from all religions. This was obviously something he was unable to understand. He also repeated how the Founders had done him wrong by, on their own initiative, including him as member of their society. Finally, he complained why Blavatsky had not told him earlier that she did not believe in God. The letter is detailed and written in a tempered tone, although Dayananda does not show signs of compromising. Neither does he declare himself either their enemy or friend.58 On January 17, 1881, there was a letter from Blavatsky to Dayananda in which she admits the necessity to discuss differences in ideas and principles, puts the blame of their misunderstandings on their Indian interpreters, and again tries to defend herself by arguing that the Theosophical Society is not a religious body and her own religious beliefs are irrelevant to the society. She ends by, finally, offering some time that year to remove Dayananda’s name from their papers and rules, but not until he confirms his wish in writing (sic!).59 Evidently, she was trying to keep the “kettle boiling” and was not ready to let go of the relations with Dayananda and his Arya Samaj. The last letter in this correspondence is a reply from Dayananda to Blavatsky and Olcott, dated March 17, 1881, in which he very succinctly tells that he had not changed his opinions (about God, etc.), and if they had not changed theirs, they must have concealed them. “I know it is a fact that when you talked to Mulji Thackersey [i.e., at their first meeting], you did believe in God, but what you did in Meerut [i.e., at their third meeting] shows that the fact is quite the contrary.” With regard to the two societies he wrote that the Arya Samaj still believes in the Vedas, but brotherhood, which was the aim of the Theosophists, cannot be achieved “so long as religious prejudice and hate do not completely disappear,” and he concluded “When a society’s principles are different, then that society cannot agree with the Samaj. Two contradictory things cannot both be true:  only one of them can be

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  239 true. Truth and untruth are opposed to each other.” Finally, he sums up his stand in this way: Whoever be the person concerned, so long as I see him act justly, I keep amicable relations with him, and when I find him acting unjustly, I sever all connection with him, whether he be Harishchandra or anyone else.60

In this letter Dayananda clearly stated his stand toward the Theosophists. He believed that they had either changed their opinions or concealed them, which he found unjust, and, with a reference to what he did to Hurrychand Chintamon, declared his resolution of breaking with them. By now it will seem clear to the reader that by this time the close relationship (if there ever was one) between Dayananda and the Founders had passed. Both had, probably, disappointed each other. Dayananda had not been the representative of “Aryan Wisdom” that Blavatsky and Olcott had hoped, and they had made themselves a platform on which to continue their own project. On the other hand, Blavatsky and Olcott had clearly not been the enlightenment-​and God-​seeking devout disciples that they had originally made Dayananda believe. The Theosophists were actually doing very well on their own and Dayananda, as the efficient organizer he was, was trying to close the bulkheads and mend the Arya Samaj after the affair.

Fourth and Final Meeting: Bombay, January to March, 1882 However, it seems that Dayananda was still harboring the idea that the disagreements between the two parties had not yet been properly settled and he should do a final attempt to engage Olcott and Blavatsky in a last discussion in order to close the matter in one way or the other. With this aim in mind he reached Bombay by train on December 30, 1881, and was met at the station by, among others, Blavatsky and Olcott. For this episode our only sources are Dayananda’s Golmāl Polmāl or “Humbuggery,” Olcott’s defense in The Theosophist, and the description in Sarda. According to Sarda, although Dayananda had told Olcott and Blavatsky already at the station, and later on by several letters and messengers, that he had come only to discuss with them the idea of God, and that it was of immense importance to him, both evaded his challenge for more than two months.61 Olcott set the date March 17 as the first available date in which he could find time but never showed up, having instead gone out of town for some other business.62 In his defense against Dayananda’s complaints Olcott is very unspecific at this point, only excusing himself with lack of time and denying that he had gotten any messages from Dayananda. One should think that, had he got any better excuses, he would certainly have come up with them.

240  Interactions with the East Finally, since neither Olcott nor Blavatsky showed up to meet with Dayananda, he announced and held a public lecture at the Framji Cowasji Institute in Bombay on March 28, 1882, in which he gave his version of the fate of the relationship between him, the Arya Samaj, and the Theosophical Society. Later on, he had his points of critique printed in the form of a pamphlet carrying the Hindī title Golmāl Polmāl, which translates as something like “Humbuggery.” As mentioned earlier, in an extra supplement to The Theosophist of July 1882 Olcott tried to defend himself and Blavatsky against Dayananda’s critique, and that was the final breath of the relationship.63

Conclusion In this chapter I  have outlined the development in the relations between the Theosophical Society, as represented by Olcott and Blavatsky, and Dayananda Saraswati and the Arya Samaj, which lasted from September 1877 to the end of March 1882. As may be expected when dealing with charismatic and self-​ conscious personalities like Blavatsky and Dayananda, the relationship was bound to be a stormy one, although, as I  have shown, the direct personal encounters between them were only three, if we do not consider Olcott’s and Blavatsky’s meeting with Dayananda at Bombay railway station on December 30, 1881. At the outset of the relationship both parties seem to have been very enthusiastic, no doubt since they both saw the advantages it could bring them. In the case of the Founders, the relationship with Dayananda and the Arya Samaj came in handy and helpful in their enterprise of moving to India. No doubt at the start they were honest in their love and respect for Dayananda, whom they had never met. Here it seems that they were naively fooled by the title of the Arya Samaj, which, probably, accommodated their theories of an original and true “Aryan Wisdom” that was supposed to be the source of later esoteric traditions. It seems that to them he embodied this old tradition in the present. Dayananda, on his side, was evidently satisfied with getting what he naturally took to be a group of devout Western disciples. Under the circumstances, where he was trying to establish a new movement within Hindu tradition, getting support for his course from America could not be anything but a feather in his cap. As has hopefully become clear from this chapter, both parties were evidently suffering from misrepresentations of each other. Dayananda, it quickly turned out, was not the embodiment of the age-​old Aryan Wisdom of the Founders’ imagination but a very practical, entrepreneurial reformer who was engaged in fulfilling his vision of renewing a Hindu society that he saw as flawed by religious and social malpractices, such as icon-​worship and caste distinctions. The Founders, on their side, were not really the devout disciples that Olcott had suggested in his initial letter to Dayananda but were in actual fact on their own mission of broadening the sphere of their own Theosophical Society.

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  241 Whatever would have happened, it seems that the two parties inadvertently were going to split at some point. If we look at the behavior and integrity of the two parties, we note, however, that they were different. Already before they left America the Founders found out that Dayananda had a different concept of god than the Vedāntic view that they seem to have expected from a representative of Aryan Wisdom: his view of god was not an impersonal one but had strong personal elements. However, they did not draw from that the conclusion to cancel their cooperation with Dayananda and the Arya Samaj but went ahead. From the available material, it seems that it was only at their third meeting in Meerut that the topic of different concepts of god came up, and then not in the way of discussion but only because Blavatsky blamed a member of the Arya Samaj for wanting to pray. On top of that, at the same occasion the Founders also informed Dayananda that they had converted to Buddhism. Thus, the Founders had gone on for about two years without informing Dayananda that they disagreed with his concept of god, and, considering Olcott’s letter swearing discipleship, they had also, implicitly, let him believe that they were sympathetic with his Hindu tradition. Dayananda, on his part, in the spirit of Hindu guru-​discipleship seems to have put a lot of trust in his new American “disciples.” Even though they quickly had some organizational disagreements regarding the figuring of Dayananda’s name in the membership list of the Theosophical Society, and later about Blavatsky openly showing her “phenomena,” he still included both of them in his will of August 1880. In fact it was not until their third meeting in Meerut, when Blavatsky openly declared her disbelief in God and that she and Olcott had become Buddhists, that he decided to break with them, characteristically for him, if they could not settle the matter by discussion. This did not happen at Meerut, but still Dayananda continued to correspond with Blavatsky about the matter and even decided for a final try, traveling to Bombay at the end of December, 1881, settle the matter. At this time the Founders had long ago lost faith both in Dayananda and the relationship between the two societies, whereas it would seem that the affection and trust of Dayananda for some time outlived those of the Founders. No doubt it is possible to point to both cultural and personal factors in this development. This I shall, however, leave to the reflections of the reader.

Notes 1. In using the term “Founders” about Olcott and Blavatsky it has to be remembered that sixteen persons in all were actually present at the founding meeting of the Theosophical Society in 1875; see Josephine Ransom, A Short History of the Theosophical Society (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938), 78–​79. 2. The exact number is not known to me, but sixteen is the number of letters known to me through the work with the present chapter. 3. J. N. Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements in India (London: MacMillan, 1929), 110, 226.

242  Interactions with the East 4. See K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 107–​15; Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 307–​ 31; and John Patrick Deveney, “Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society,” in Theosophical History: Occasional Papers, ed. James A. Santucci (Fullerton, CA: Theosophical History, 1997). 5. See especially J.  T.  F. Jordens, Dayānanda Sarasvatī:  His Life and Ideas (Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 1978); and J. T. F. Jordens, Dayananda Sarasvati: Essays on His Life and Ideas (New Delhi: Manohar, 1998). 6. Belonging to neither of these categories is Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 55–​57. 7. For many of the letters I have had to rely upon the versions found in Henry S. Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” Extra Supplement to The Theosophist 3 (1882): 1–​18; or in Har Bilas Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati: World Teacher (Ajmer: Vedic Yantralaya, 1946). 8. See H. P. Blavatsky, From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, trans. from the Russian by Vera Johnston (London, New York, and Madras: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892), 15–​25; Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges”; Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The True Story of the Theosophical Society (New York, London, and Madras: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895), 394–​ 407; Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, Second Series; 1878–​83 (London and Madras: Theosophical Printing Society, 1900), 78–​82, 119–​37, 213–​25; and Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 522–​92, not the least the so-​ called “Humbuggery” or Golmāl Polmāl of Dayananda printed herein on pages 556–​59. 9. Several reasons may be given for this. Blavatsky herself in a letter of November 6, 1877, to A. N. Aksakoff gave the critique by the British medium D. D. Home as the main reason (see H. P. Blavatsky, The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, vol. 1, ed. John Alegro (Wheaton: Quest Books, 2003), 361 (no. 94); and see also Farquhar, Modern Religious Movements, 226, who relies on V. S. Solovyoff, A Modern Priestess of Isis (London: Longmans, Green, 1895), 278), but this has, probably, to be combined with the fact that during the process of writing Isis Unveiled Blavatsky’s interests in matters Indian had actually increased, as well as with the fact that the Theosophical Society was not very successful and that Blavatsky and Olcott were looking for new pastures to influence. 10. When quoting Indian names I am sticking to the transliterations used by the Theosophists. 11. It is worth noting that there are no entries in Blavatsky’s diaries between February 13 and July 8, 1878, although this period is very crucial in the history of the Theosophical Society. 12. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 525–​26; and Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 3–​4. The text is not identical in the two versions. I am quoting from the version of Sarda, which I think may be more trustworthy here, since it does not repeat the mention of the diploma to be accepted by Dayananda, which became one of the issues of contention. 13. See Jordens, Dayānanda Sarasvatī, 209. 14. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 526; and Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 4. This later became one of the contentious issues among the parties, because, it seems, that the Founders took this as Dayananda’s acceptance of membership of the Theosophical Society. 15. Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 5. 16. Namely, Isis Unveiled. 17. Blavatsky, Letters, 454. 18. Ibid.,  466. 19. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 527 (letter of May 21, 1878). The question here is, of course, whether Hurrychand Chintamon acted on his own or with the approval of Dayananda. This we do not know, but to judge from Jordens (Dayānanda Sarasvatī, 144–​45) it seems to be a characteristic of Dayananda that he tried to interfere as little as possible in the affairs of

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  243 the various regional Samajes, therefore it is by no means sure that he was involved in the suggestion. 20. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 527; and Blavatsky, Letters, 434. 21. Letter from the recording secretary, Augustus Gustam, in Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 527–​28. In Sarda it is undated, but according to Ransom, A Short History, 106, it was dated May 22, 1878. 22. But they were most probably written in Hindī, which was more accessible to its members. In Lekhrām, Maharṣi Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī Jīvanacaritra (Delhi: Ārṣa Sāhitya Pracāra Drasta, 1990), 255–​57, they are given in Hindī without any mention of having been translated. 23. Blavatsky, Letters, 431–​32. It is interesting in that it shows her grasp of Indian languages was not impressive. 24. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 528–​31. 25. Extracts from this letter are found in Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 5. It is perhaps worth noting that this letter was not addressed to Dayananda himself. 26. Ibid. Perhaps this solution reminds one a little of modern shell companies, but then Olcott was a lawyer by profession. 27. Ibid. 28. See Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 536–​38. According to the later “Humbuggery” (Golmāl Polmāl), paragraph 7, it seems, however, that they had discussed Dayananda’s membership of the Theosophical Society and had promised to delete his name from the membership list, something which, according to Dayananda, they had not done when they met again later in Benaras (ibid., 557). 29. Ibid., 537. This, along with extracts from two other similar letters, are also found in K. C. Yadav, ed., The Autobiography of Dayanand Saraswati, 3rd rev. ed. (New Delhi: Manohar, 1987),  63–​64. 30. H.  P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings of Blavatsky, vol. 2 (1879–​ 80) (Wheaton, Ill.:  The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967), 75. . 31. Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 6–​7; and Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Second Series,  78–​82. 32. Facsimile in Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 6. According to Olcott (Old Diary Leaves, Second Series, 79), Dayananda also fully approved of the Theosophical Society having sections consisting of Parsis, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. 33. In this article I use this old name for Varāṇāsī because it is used in the sources. 34. According to Ransom, A Short History, 137. 35. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 538. 36. A summary and excerpt of this letter was published in The Theosophist 1 (April 1880): 190; see also Dayananda Sarasvati, Rishi Dayanand ke Patra aur Vijñapan [Hindi letters], vol. 1, ed. Pandit Yudhistir Mimansak (Bahalgat, Sonipat, Haryana:  Ramlal Kapur Trust, 1993), letter 396, p. 428. https://​​a/​​www/​home/​the-​great-​authors/​ maharshi. 37. See Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 7.  For the original Hindī text of the will, see Sarasvati, Rishi Dayanand ke Patra, letter 447, pp.  488–​93. This will was dated August 16, 1880, and Olcott and Blavatsky are mentioned as numbers sixteen and seventeen respectively. 38. For a translation of an excerpt of this document, see Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 7–​8. For the full original see Sarasvati, Rishi Dayanand ke Patra, letter 436, pp. 469–​73. 39. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 557. 40. Olcott does not write anything about this in his account in Old Diary Leaves. 41. To judge from Ransom, A Short History, 141, this letter reached them on March 18, 1880. 42. For excerpts of this letter and the telegram, see Sarasvati, Rishi Dayanand ke Patra, letters 380 and 387, pp. 418 and 422.

244  Interactions with the East 43. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 338–​39. The relevant passage concludes “The members of the Arya Samaj, the Vedic Branch, and the Theosophical Society should know and make clear to all the precise relation existing between them, so that no doubt in the matter may remain in any quarter.” 44. See Olcott, “Swami Dayanand’s Charges,” 5. 45. Editor of the Pioneer and later author of The Mahatma Letters, who had befriended the Founders the year earlier and had come to meet them in Benaras. 46. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 539. The word tamāśa in Hindī is used for a “show,” “spectacle,” or “something astonishing or curious”—​something opposed to being serious; see R.  S. McGregor, ed., The Oxford Hindi-​English Dictionary (New Delhi:  Oxford University Press), s. v. 47. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Second Series, 137. 48. Ibid.,  124. 49. Ibid., 127–​30. 50. Ibid., 213–​25; and Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 539–​40. Ransom, A Short History, 145 only deals with it very briefly. 51. O[lcott], “Swami Dayanand’s Views about Yoga,” The Theosophist 2, December (1880): 46–​48. 52. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Second Series, 223. 53. Ibid.,  224. 54. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 539. 55. Ibid.,  540. 56. Perhaps it is worth noting that Ransom, A Short History, 145, thus supporting Sarda’s version, mentions that they had “long arguments” about Dayananda’s belief in a personal god. 57. Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 540–​42. 58. Ibid., 542–​46. 59. Ibid., 550–​52. 60. Ibid., 552–​54. 61. Ibid., 554–​56. 62. If this description, which basically follows Dayananda’s own in his Golmāl Polmāl or “Humbuggery” statement (Sarda, Life of Dayanand Saraswati, 558), is correct, one feels tempted to characterize their behavior as rude and insulting, especially to someone whom they earlier called their teacher. 63. Blavatsky, in Caves and Jungles, 24, also has a brief note regarding the breach, attributing it to Dayananda’s bigotry.

Bibliography Blavatsky, H.  P. Collected Writings. Vol. 2:  1879–​1880. Edited by Boris de Zirkoff. Wheaton, Ill.: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1967. Blavatsky, H. P. From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan. Translated from the Russian by Vera Johnston. London, New York, and Madras: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892. Blavatsky, H. P. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky. Vol. 1. Edited by John Alegro. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 2003. Cranston, Sylvia. HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993. Deveney, John Patrick. “Astral Projection or Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society.” In Theosophical History: Occasional Papers, edited by James A. Santucci. Fullerton, CA: Theosophical History, 1997. Farquhar, J. N. Modern Religious Movements in India. London: MacMillan, 1929.

The Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj  245 Godwin, Joscelyn. The Theosophical Enlightenment. Albany:  State University of New  York Press, 1994. Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Jordens, J. T. F. Dayānanda Sarasvatī: His Life and Ideas. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978. Jordens, J. T. F. Dayananda Sarasvati: Essays on His Life and Ideas. New Delhi: Manohar, 1998. Lekhrām. Maharṣi Svāmī Dayananda Sarasvatī Jīvanacaritra. Translated from Urdu by Kavirāja Raghunandanasinha “Nirmal.” Delhi: Ārṣa Sāhitya Pracāra Drasta 1990. McGregor, R. S. The Oxford Hindi-​English Dictionary. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993. Olcott, Henry Steel. “Swami Dayanand’s Charges.” Extra Supplement to The Theosophist 3, no. 10 (July 1882): 1–​18. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves:  The True Story of the Theosophical Society. New  York, London, and Madras: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. http://​​theosophypdfs/​ olcott_​old_​diary_​leaves_​volume_​one_​1895.pdf. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves: The Only Authentic History of the Theosophical Society, Second Series; 1878–​83. London and Madras:  Theosophical Printing Society, 1900. http://​​theosophypdfs/​olcott_​old_​diary_​leaves_​volume_​2_​1900.pdf. Ransom, Josephine. A Short History of the Theosophical Society. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938. Sarasvati, Dayananda. Rishi Dayanand ke Patra aur Vijñapan [Hindi letters]. Vol. 1. Edited by Pandit Yudhistir Mimansak. Bahalgat, Sonipat, Haryana: Ramlal Kapur Trust, 1993. https://​​a/​​www/​home/​the-​great-​authors/​maharshi. Sarda, Har Bilas. Life of Dayanand Saraswati: World Teacher. Ajmer: Vedic Yantralaya, 1946. Solovyoff, Vsevolod Sergyeevich. A Modern Priestess of Isis. Abridged and translated by Walter Leaf. London: Longmans, Green, 1895. van der Veer, Peter. Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Yadav, K. C., ed. The Autobiography of Dayanand Saraswati. 3rd rev. ed. New Delhi: Manohar, 1987.

12 The West Moves East Blavatsky’s “Universal Brotherhood” in India Tim Rudbøg

This chapter analyzes and contextualizes the idea of universal brotherhood as it was formulated, developed, and employed in relation to the early Theosophical Society in India by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​91)—​a topic still relatively unexplored yet historically important for a better understanding of the ideology behind the globalization of Western esotericism and the early Theosophical relations with the East. The chapter will begin by contextualizing the general idea of brotherhood in relation to the immediate historical context preceding the founding of the Theosophical Society (1875), which is directly relevant for understanding the early Theosophical emphasis of the idea. Next the chapter will analyze Blavatsky’s formulation of the idea and the strategic implementation of the notion in relation to the Theosophical Society’s reinvention of itself by moving to India.

Contextualizing the Idea of Brotherhood The idea of a universal brotherhood of humanity became a constitutional platform of the Theosophical Society in May 1878,1 about three years after its founding, and Theosophists have often regarded this announcement as a unique prerogative. However, ideas of universal brotherhood are recurrent throughout religious history and have been formulated in various ways prior to the Theosophical Society.2 The more immediate and relevant historical background for understanding the Theosophical formulation of the idea begins with the ideology of the Enlightenment and more specifically with reform movements, spiritualism, and Freemasonry in the nineteenth century.

Enlightenment Ideology With the onset of the Enlightenment from the late seventeenth century onward, several philosophers, such as John Locke (1632–​1704), Montesquieu (1689–​1755),

248  Interactions with the East Voltaire (1694–​1778), and Jean-​Jacques Rousseau (1712–​78), however varied their models, all discussed and proposed new rational secular models for ordering society and strengthening public opinion based on principles of universal human rights, equality, and individual freedom.3 Many of these Enlightenment ideas were both supported by and cultivated the formation and growth of Freemasonic societies,4 and they became co-​responsible for great social changes. These ideas also influenced the formulation of the United States Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), wherein the second sentence famously states that We hold these Truths to be self-​evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.5 These Enlightenment ideas and struggle for a new social order culminated in the French Revolution (1789–​99) under the slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, and brotherhood), which remains the motto of the French Republic.6 Of course, the French Revolution notably failed to implement the idea of brotherhood, as witnessed by the immediate massacre during The Terror (1793–​94) and the succeeding Napoleonic wars (1803–​15) across Europe.7 Aside from war, the impact of the increasing industrialization of Western nations through the nineteenth century produced new inequalities, harsh conditions for a new working class, and new social divisions with the growth of an ascendant middle class, all developments that compromised the Enlightenment ideal of universal brotherhood.8 Imperialism also continued to segregate and suppress natives, and the slave trade continued to flourish. For example, the legal slave trade did not end until after the American civil war (1861–​65) in North America, and finally in 1888 it ended in Brazil.9 Even after the termination of the legal slave trade, well into the twentieth century anthropologists continued the discussion of the so-​called inferiority of various human or so-​called “primitive” races, including the Indians.10

Reform Movements and Spiritualism In order to counter these new social inequalities and problems—​perceived as resulting from private property rights, capitalism, and industrialism—​ radical thinkers proposed new alternative models of society. Henri de Saint-​ Simon (1760–​1825), François Marie Charles Fourier (1772–​1837), and Robert Owen (1771–​1858) are credited with being among the first to define modern socialism;11 Karl Marx (1818–​83) and Friedrich Engels (1820–​95) defined modern communism in 1848 with the publication of their Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei.12 Numerous reform movements were formed, and the literary landscape was flooded with many books in the utopian genre.13 Instrumental to the idea of universal brotherhood was Elihu Burritt (1810–​79), an American blacksmith, pacifist, and peace advocate with extraordinary autodidactic abilities. At the age of thirty Burritt was able to translate thirty languages, increasing to about one hundred languages

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  249 by the time of his death. He was instrumental in the publication of a whole spate of short-​lived magazines related to peace and brotherhood such as Literary Geminæ (1839–​40), The Christian Citizen (1844), The Advocate of Peace and Universal Brotherhood (1846), The Bond of Brotherhood (1854), Burritt’s Citizen of the World (1855), and The North and the South, and New Britain Journal (1857–​59). Burritt had also been a member of the American Peace Society until 1846, after which he founded his own League of Universal Brotherhood. Burritt was furthermore involved in international peace congresses in 1848, 1849, and 1850 and received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1874. Burritt’s League of Universal Brotherhood was the first international peace movement against war, slavery, social injustice, and in support of solidarity between all colors and classes.14 James Otis Wattles (1809–​59), a figure now more or less lost to history, is another important reform initiator relevant to the idea of universal brotherhood.15 A Yale graduate, he fought for the abolitionist cause by freeing slaves and establishing black schools. He later became interested in spiritualism and was instrumental in establishing several reform projects. In 1842 he co-​founded The Society for Universal Inquiry and Reform (1842–​46) in Clinton County, Ohio with John A. Collins, Orson S. Murray, and others, as “an alliance of Hicksite Quakers and New England Garrisonian abolitionists.”16 This society sought to implement a new social order upon the principles of liberty, justice, and equality under the banner of fraternal brotherhood.17 Following its failure Wattles bought “Utopia,” a site in Cincinnati, Ohio formerly occupied by the utopian-​socialist Fourierist community, which had closed the same year due to lack of funds. Here he, together with other reformers, significantly founded what they termed the “Universal Brotherhood,” also known as the “Spiritualist Community” (1846–​48).18 The “Universal Brotherhood” was to implement the principles of Christ as formulated in the gospels to rid the evils of society, but unfortunately the society was flooded by the great Ohio flood of December 13, 1847, in which over half of its members died and Wattles only barely escaped.19 His final project was the Grand Prairie Harmonial Institute, an association for education and reform purposes, founded in Warren County Indiana in 1853. However, it only lasted a year.20 The rise of spiritualism in the late 1840s was closely related to the widespread reform milieu of its day.21 The spiritualist Hudson Tuttle (1836–​1910), also from Ohio, and the spiritualist, Freemason, medical doctor, and future Theosophist James M. Peebles (1822–​1922) wrote in The Year-​Book of Spiritualism for 1871 that spiritualism “underlies all genuine reform-​movements, physiological, educational, social, philanthropic, religious.”22 Tuttle and Peebles also attempted to define the multifaceted spiritualist movement. They agreed that to define such a diversified individualistic movement was immensely difficult, but that the most basic belief common to all spiritualists must be the belief in the possible communication with the dead.23 However, they significantly argued that the most common aim of the spiritualist movement is “to reconstruct society upon the principles of eternal justice,—​the principles of equality, charity, and a universal brotherhood.”24

250  Interactions with the East The idea of universal brotherhood was important to a number of spiritualists in various guises. The prolific spiritualist writer Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–​1910) laid the spiritual foundation for its importance throughout his writings.25 He emphasized that everything in nature is harmoniously interlinked through what he termed the great “Law of Association.”26 This intimate connection unifies all life in a universal brotherhood.27 Many religions have tried to establish a universal brotherhood, Davis argued, but each sect or religion seeks to do this by converting others to their own beliefs and thereby by opposing other religions.28 This obviously causes more discord than unity; hence a new universal system is needed.29 In 1850 Davis established his Harmonial Brotherhood, organized according to the human body-​organism, and inspired by Plato’s Republic, with sectors of the new society functioning as the feet, heart, head, and so on.30 In 1855 T. E. Spencer (no date) and his wife Martha Spencer (no date) established the controversial communal Harmonial Society in Harmony Springs, Benton County, Arkansas, which, according to Emma Hardinge Britten’s account, was to form one common brotherhood presided over by angels eventually leading to a universal brotherhood of man.31

Freemasonry Finally, it should be noted that it has been a part of the social-​redemptive ideology of Freemasonry to practice the Enlightenment ideal of universal brotherhood, to reconcile distinctions between religions, classes, and races and to work for its global implementation believed to lead to a new enlightened age.32 The prolific nineteenth-​century freemasonic writer Albert G.  Mackey (1807–​81) stated in 1859 that When the day comes in which all men shall acknowledge one strong tie of brotherhood, then, will be the true millennium; and it is a glorious thought that the mission of Masonry is to bring forth this consummation, to teach the doctrine of a universal brotherhood, and to enforce the necessity of man’s giving a helping hand to man.33

Clearly, ideas of universal brotherhood have a long history and the concept had been used, as just shown, both nominally and ideologically prior to the founding of the Theosophical Society by spiritualists and Freemasons. What this indicates is that in the background of Blavatsky’s notion of universal brotherhood we find mainstream enlightenment ideals that were given life in modern esotericism. Blavatsky herself acknowledges part of this historical background, and historically her discourse for universal brotherhood should, as is argued here, be regarded as part of this wider Enlightenment and social reform milieu of the day.34

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  251

Blavatsky’s Formulation of Universal Brotherhood It is commonly argued that there was no mention of the idea of universal brotherhood in relation to the Theosophical Society prior to May 1878.35 However, Blavatsky’s first reference to a brotherhood of humanity had already occurred prior to the establishment of the Theosophical Society. In her first occult article “A Few Questions to Hiraf,” Blavatsky argued that the role of modern science should be to enlighten humanity, and that it had neglected this responsibility because it rigidly opposed spiritualism. The clergy and the many Christian sects whose obligation it was to guide in spiritual matters, furthermore, only confused the public in spiritual matters. Blavatsky thought that man’s salvation or enlightenment would come, as spiritualism would rise with such strength that all religious confusion and materialistic skepticism would dissipate.36 Furthermore, Spiritualism, the new world’s conqueror, reviving, like the fabulous Phoenix out of the ashes of its first parent, Occultism, will unite for ever in one Immortal Brotherhood all antagonistic races; for this new St. Michael will crush for ever the dragon’s head—​of Death!37

Read on its own account, it sounds as no more than a praise of spiritualism and occultism, but read in relation to its historical context it is clear that Blavatsky’s first use of the idea of “one Immortal Brotherhood [of] all antagonistic races” was directly influenced by the spiritualism Blavatsky had been and to some extent still was immersed in at the time.38 Blavatsky was certainly aware of the work of Andrew Jackson Davis, relating that she was a friend of him in a personal letter dated November 14, 1874, to the spiritualist Alexander N. Aksakoff (1832–​1903),39 and in her article “A Few Questions to Hiraf ” she also mentions Davis.40 Blavatsky also knew of Tuttle, whom she refers to in an article dated January 1875 prior to her first mention of a brotherhood of man and the establishment of the Theosophical Society.41 Tuttle’s co-​author Peebles was a personal friend of both Olcott and Blavatsky prior to the establishment of the Theosophical Society, and he was instrumental in reconnecting Olcott with Moolji Thackersey of the Arya Samaj, eventually leading to the gradual organizational shift to India (see the following sections for further details).42 However, even though Blavatsky mentioned the idea of a brotherhood of various races prior to the establishment of the Theosophical Society, the idea of a universal brotherhood did not play a significant formal role in the initial establishment of the Theosophical Society itself. In the original “Preamble of the Theosophical Society” dated October 30, 1875, the closest relation to a brotherhood of man is the formulation that In considering the qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, sex, color, country nor creed.43

252  Interactions with the East Compared to other organizations at the time, this formulation was no doubt progressive. The preamble also mentions the advancement of “good morals” but has no direct mention of a brotherhood of man.44 The president and founder of the society, Henry S. Olcott, likewise does not make any mention of the idea in his “Inaugural Address of the Theosophical Society” delivered the following month at Mott Memorial Hall in New York, on November 17, 1875.45 In fact, there is no further mention of the idea by Blavatsky until Isis Unveiled, in which there is only one single instance that is part of a lengthy quote related to Freemasonry from a letter by Charles Sotheran (1847–​1902)46 to the New York Press Club dated January 11, 1877. Speculative Masonry has much, too, within its ranks to do. One is to accept woman as a co-​worker of man in the struggle of life, . . . Another important thing is also to recognize practically the brotherhood of all humanity by refusing none on account of color, race, position, or creed.47

Blavatsky does not comment on this aspect of the longer quote, and there is no other mention of the idea elsewhere in Isis Unveiled, but the Masonic background is plainly evident when she writes in relation to the idea of universal brotherhood a few years later that Our society . . . is nothing but the “Universal Brotherhood; the Brotherhood of Humanity!” Our society accomplishes what the Masonic societies promise, but never perform. All Brothers, without distinction of social position, race, or color.48

Blavatsky’s first real identification of the idea with the Theosophical Society, since her first mention of the idea in her first occult article, is not until in a personal letter presumably from late 1877. Our theosophical brotherhood must strive after the ideal of general brotherhood throughout all humanity; after the establishment of universal peace and the strengthening of charity and disinterestedness; after the destruction of materialism, of that coarse unbelief and egotism which saps the vitality of our country.49

Here Blavatsky clearly identifies the Theosophical Society with the idea of universal brotherhood and again in a letter, presumably dated April 1878, to Hurrychund Chintamon (or Harischandra Chintamani), the leader of the Bombay Branch of the Arya Samaj, Blavatsky writes that it is important to establish relations with the Sikhs in India because they have for centuries been teaching “the great ‘Brotherhood of Humanity’—​precisely the doctrine we teach.”50 This indicates that Blavatsky was aware of the Sikh background of the idea of universal brotherhood and that she at this point already talked as if the doctrine of universal brotherhood was a part of the Theosophical Society. It was, however, not until May the same

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  253 year (1878) that the idea became an official part of the Society. Primarily Olcott, supervised by Blavatsky, was responsible for drafting a New York circular that was distributed on May 3, 1878, on “The Theosophical Society:  Its Origin, Plan and Aims.”51 In this historically significant document the idea of a “Brotherhood of Humanity” became an important object of the Theosophical Society. The objects of the Society are various  .  .  .  chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men, of every race shall recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of the Un-​create, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause.52

From then onward, the idea of Universal Brotherhood was gradually emphasized and elevated within the Society, but the famous delineation of three specific objects of the Theosophical Society did not occur until the meeting of the sixth anniversary of the Theosophical Society, originally scheduled for November 17, 1881, but postponed to January 12, 1882, because of Blavatsky’s and Olcott’s far-​reaching travels in India. The decisive events between late 1877 and January 1882 that led to the “reorganization” of the Theosophical Society on the principle of universal brotherhood, as Blavatsky called it,53 included: the gradual relocation of the Theosophical Headquarters from New York to India (first Bombay in May 1879 and then Adyar, Madras in 1882); and especially the fact that Blavatsky’s discourse of universal brotherhood became an important part of Theosophy’s arrival in India. The first steps were taken by engaging in a correspondence, begun in 1877, between Olcott and his Hindu contact Moolji Thackersey (Moolji Thakurshi) whom he had previously met on board a transatlantic voyage in 1870 and with whom contact was re-​established through Peebles.54 Olcott invited Thackersey to join the Theosophical Society and Thackersey then told Olcott about the Indian reform movement, the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824–​83).55 After further correspondence with Thackersey, Chintamon, and Dayananda, it was found that the two societies seemingly shared many goals. It was therefore decided at a meeting of the Theosophical Society on May 22, 1878, in New York (notably the same month the New York circular appeared) that the two societies should unite.56 The Theosophical Society changed its name to Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj of Aryavarta and on June 27, 1878, a branch of this society was founded in London by the English barrister Charles Carleton Massey (1838–​ 1905) named British Theosophical Society of the Arya Samaj of Aryavart (later, from June 1883, it was known as the “London Lodge of the Theosophical Society”).57 In December 1878 Blavatsky and Olcott embarked on their journey to Bombay in India, where they arrived in February 1879, marking a new beginning of the Theosophical Society.58 In New York interest in the society had somewhat waned by 1878, and the conceptualization of both Theosophy and the Theosophical Society needed to be specified and perhaps reformulated in order to give it new life.59 This

254  Interactions with the East revision took place during “the first major construction of the concept ‘Theosophy’ (1879–​1880)” in which the “Theosophical Society” became synonymous with “Universal Brotherhood”; the relocation to India previously discussed (1879); and the founding of the first Theosophical magazine, The Theosophist (October 1879).60 Precisely during this transitional phase the idea of universal brotherhood seriously entered Blavatsky’s discourse, and from 1879 onward three major strategic aspects of this discourse emerged, in relation to the Christian missionaries, the “no-​dogma” politics of the Theosophical Society, and the mission of the Theosophical Society.

Universal Brotherhood, India, and Christian Missionaries In order to revive and expand the Theosophical Society, from 1879 onward India became central to the Society’s new identity and resulted in the first phase of the globalization of Western esotericism. Both Blavatsky and Olcott regarded India (or Aryavarta, as they often called the country) as a holy land, the origin of civilization (within historical time), and as the primary source of the Wisdom-​Religion.61 The first major aspect of Blavatsky’s discourse for universal brotherhood was thus ideologically related to disseminating Theosophy in India and reviving its cultural heritage. In so doing the Christian missionaries (and to some extent the British government and the traditional Brahmin caste system) became the “negative others.” According to Christian traditions, Christian missions in India stretch all the way back to St. Thomas, who reached the Indian shores around 55 ce. The missions have been an ongoing process, though only around 1.55% of the Indian population today is Catholic and around 2% Christian, including the Catholic Church. From the early eighteenth century onward the Protestant churches organized missions in India, and Christian missions continued under British rule (1858–​1947),62 but just prior to Blavatsky’s and Olcott’s arrival in India several Hindu reform movements had emerged as reactions to the proselytizing activity and prejudices of the Christian missionaries and the pressing modernization of British rule threatening to undermine Indian culture.63 The Brahmo Samaj (est. 1830), the Arya Samaj (est. 1875), and later the Ramakrishna Mission (est. 1897) all sought to reform traditional Hindu society in order to move toward a more modern society yet retain and emphasize the importance of the ancient Vedas.64 The Christian missions regarded these movements as a threat, as the Arya Samaj for example sought to reconvert Hindus (Shuddhi) and the Ramakrishna Mission even sought to proselytize in the West.65 Not only had Hindus reacted against the Christian missionaries but also Buddhists. As the culmination of debates since the early 1860s in Ceylon with Christian missionaries, the Buddhist orator Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera (1823–​90) became famous in 1873 for having won a public debate with the Christian missionary Rev. David de Silva. The debate resulted in a book by Peebles entitled Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face (1878).66 Olcott and Blavatsky read their

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  255 friend’s book and were so enthusiastic about it that they initiated a correspondence with Gunananda and also with Unnanse H. Sumangala (1827–​1911), another key figure in the Sri Lanka Buddhist-​Christian debates (and later in the Theosophical Society),67 and promised to visit Ceylon in the near future to join their efforts.68 When two Westerners, such as Blavatsky and Olcott, came to India in February 1879 and contrary to all expectations regarded ancient India, Hinduism, and Buddhism as superior to the West and to “Church Christianity”—​they joined forces with the Indian reformers such as the Arya Samaj and the Sri Lankan Buddhists—​ their stance of course held great appeal for the Hindus and Buddhists; but, simultaneously, it was a major irritation to the Christian missionaries, who attacked the Theosophists in India from the very beginning.69 Blavatsky and Olcott’s strategy was to undertake extensive travels throughout India with an outreach campaign to the Indians.70 Instead of converting the Hindus and Buddhists as the Christian missionaries had done, they themselves took pansil, that is, converted to Buddhism on May 25, 1880, in Ceylon71 and helped in the design of the Buddhist flag as well.72 They supported the revival of Indian culture by establishing free schools teaching Sanskrit; constructing a massive oriental library in Adyar; and promoting Hindu and Buddhist culture and philosophy through the activity of the Theosophical Society and The Theosophist, which in part was dedicated to “Oriental Philosophy, Art and Literature.”73 Instead of regarding the Indian religions as heathen superstition, as many Christians tended to do, and the Indian people as inferior, as the British government and mainstream anthropology did, Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society promoted universal brotherhood without distinction of race, color, sex, or class. This overall strategy of extending the Enlightenment ideal of equality and human rights to the Indian natives helped return and even enhance the original dignity, unity, and self-​respect of the natives and proved a great success; so much so, that by 1884 the Theosophical Society in India alone had grown to one hundred Indian branches.74 A brief survey of the textual trace of Blavatsky’s use of the idea of universal brotherhood more clearly demonstrates that the strategy of universal brotherhood was a part of her Indian mission, as opposed to the Christian missionaries, and that it appealed to many Hindus and Buddhists. In an early letter to their Hindu contact Chintamon in April 1878, Blavatsky already emphasized the importance of “the great ‘Brotherhood of Humanity’ ” and that it was central to Theosophical work.75 In a reply to Mr. Rossi de Justiniani published in La Revue Spirite, Paris, in September 1879, Blavatsky criticizes the Christian missionaries and Justiniani for seeking to “convert the whole universe to his special beliefs,” because in so doing one neglects to do justice to the beliefs of others and fails to look beyond the differences of religions and races. Being able to look beyond differences is the true “love of humanity” and universal brotherhood, which the Theosophical Society works for in India and elsewhere.76 Two months later Blavatsky praised Sumangala and Gunananda in The Theosophist for their immense knowledge, personal character, and the debates they had undertaken with

256  Interactions with the East the Christian missionaries. In connection with this she mentioned their willingness to cooperate with the Theosophical Society.77 Blavatsky states that this willingness was especially due to the principle of universal brotherhood: When it was decided to reorganize the Theosophical Society upon the basis of a Universal Brotherhood of humanity, uniting men of all creeds in an effort to spread throughout the world the basic principles of a true religion, he [Sumangala] cheerfully gave his adhesion to the movement, and accepted a place in the General Council; thus dignifying the Society and securing it the good-​will of Buddhists, the world over.78

This quote clearly demonstrates that Blavatsky also perceived universal brotherhood as a means to spreading “true religion,” namely Theosophy, around the world. The following year, after having visited Ceylon Blavatsky gave a status report in The Theosophist (August 1880)  wherein she declared that the “Asiatic people” have greatly supported the cause of a “human brotherhood,” and that they have expressed great delight for the attempts to rescue from oblivion the “Aryan wisdom.”79 Blavatsky also reports that The Theosophist had gained many supporters among the Indians and even among the Anglo-​Indians as an important “Oriental magazine.”80 During the following ten years (1881–​91) heated debates with and critique of the Christian missionaries and their idea of brotherhood toward the Indians continued.81 Blavatsky acknowledged that the idea of universal brotherhood originated with the Christians and also praises them for this,82 but she found more vice and strife in much Christian activity among the Indians than actual brotherhood.83 Blavatsky continued to focus on her idea of universal brotherhood and the cause “to revive the philosophical Self-​respect of the Indian people”84 and to “prove to occidental scholars that the ancestors of those they now look down upon as of an ‘inferior race,’ were intellectual, moral and spiritual giants.”85 Such recognition from the British, that the Indians are not inferior, Blavatsky hoped, would not only lead to a universal brotherhood of equal human rights but also to a “link between the East and the West, uniting them both in a bond of Intellectual Brotherhood.”86 Blavatsky, however, not only criticized the way the British and the Christian missionaries treated the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Parsees, and so on. Her discourse of universal brotherhood was also aimed at a social reform of the traditional Indian societal power structures, such as the caste system.87 Just as the Buddha originally had “opened his Church to all men, without distinction of origin, caste, nation, color, or sex,”88 she wished to absolve the various boundaries separating the different Indians and their religions from interchanges of ideas, intermarriages, and general communion, as she perceived these divisions, stubbornly upheld by tradition, to be equally obstructive to the realization of universal brotherhood.89

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  257 It follows, therefore, from all that precedes, that it is not the “priesthood of India” that attempts to bring the Occident back to the ancient wisdom, but rather a few Occidentals from Europe-​America [i.e., Blavatsky, Olcott, and other Theosophists] who, led by their Karma to the happiness of knowing certain Adepts of the secret Himâlayan Brotherhood, attempt, under the inspiration of these Masters, to lead the priesthood of India back to the primitive and divine esotericism.90

Such fruitful brotherly interchanges between the different Indian creeds and a return to the original esotericism (i.e., the Wisdom-​Tradition), which according to Blavatsky’s esoteric Orientalist ideology existed in a remote epoch prior to the implementation of the caste system, had to some extent been accomplished within the confines of the Theosophical Society and its mission in India; and the TS had also facilitated interchanges between the Indians and the British.91

The Universal Brotherhood and “No-​Dogma” Politics The principle of universal brotherhood in fact became so central to Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society after anchoring in India that, as Blavatsky argued, it was the primary defining principle of the Theosophical Society and of a true Theosophist.92 Blavatsky also continuously emphasized what Andrew Jackson Davis similarly had argued, that in order to counter sectarianism and cultivate intellectual as well as practical brotherhood, a Theosophist can believe whatever he likes, be a member of any religion he prefers or none at all, but he can only become a member of the Theosophical Society if he believes in and is willing to support the principle of universal brotherhood.93 In relation to this, Blavatsky firmly stated that the Theosophical Society has no specific dogmas one must adhere to,94 and that it is not concerned with any political conviction, such as socialism or communism.95 This of course appealed to the Indians because both their religion and their dignity would be respected. The no-​dogma policy in relation to universal brotherhood clearly mirrors Western Enlightenment ideals of religious freedom and universal rights, but it was also a natural extension of Blavatsky’s esotericism or definition of Theosophy as a universal religion, the “One Universal Truth,” and that there is no one religion higher than this truth, namely that no one religion can lay absolute claims to the one truth.96 In this connection Blavatsky also states that the Theosophical Society was founded on the model of the United States of America (its birth place), because it does not include any pretense to founding a state religion and therefore accepts all religions.97 For Blavatsky the idea of universal brotherhood is based on what she regards as the logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and scientific principle that no matter how varied peoples’ ethnicity or racial background might be, all individual people are one. Blavatsky points to St. Paul’s notion of shared unity in the one common “Christ spirit,”98 and notions of a “common soul,”99 or “common humanity,”100 which

258  Interactions with the East transcends all secular and sacral divisions; and that humanity is essentially a brotherhood by virtue of the one common origin and sameness of the material from which it is formed physically, spiritually, and morally.101 Humanity as a whole is also causally linked in such a way that every individual action will have repercussions on the whole.102 In practice, universal brotherhood for Theosophists thus meant that one would pledge oneself to defend his brother, even if it meant one’s own life,103 and to practice equality, charity, tolerance, and universal love for all mankind without distinction of race, color, caste, class, or creed, as this would strengthen unity and is the only foundation of universal morality.104 Universal brotherhood should, however, also extend to what Blavatsky called “intellectual brotherhood” in relation to which the no-​dogma policy was central, because “unless . . . it becomes a Brotherhood also intellectually, it is no better than a superior genus of animals.”105

The Theosophical Cause As the idea of universal brotherhood was only once and indirectly mentioned in Isis Unveiled and also only once directly mentioned in The Secret Doctrine,106 it is fair to say that the idea played no real part of her major philosophical or occult works. The idea was, however, the most important reform cause for which the Theosophical Society strove, at least in Blavatsky’s opinion, after the Society had moved to India in the years 1879–​82 and onward.107 Blavatsky took the view that the French Revolution had not succeeded in implementing brotherhood among men,108 just as she criticized the Freemasons and Christians for having failed to practice it.109 The causes still hindering its realization, Blavatsky found, can be categorized as existing on sociological, ideological, and individual levels. On the sociological level, all hegemonic structures upheld either by secular or sacral institutions and organizations, that unnaturally divide and separate people, are a hindrance to the true implementation of brotherhood, as in the case of the British rule in India, the Christian Churches, and the traditional Hindu caste system, mentioned earlier.110 This also included the un-​brotherly strife between nations.111 On the ideological level, Blavatsky found modern materialism and conservative theological dogmas to be a great hindrance due to their reductionism and their intolerance.112 Finally on the individual level, Blavatsky generally argued that men’s natural selfishness, prejudice, greed, and bias are obstacles to be overcome.113 Similar to other reformers of the day, Blavatsky argued that it is the mission of the Theosophical Society to counteract these obstacles. This should, however, not be done in any manner involving bloody revolution114 or the implementation of diplomatic policy,115 as it has to come naturally and voluntarily by moral regeneration,116 “inner enlightenment,”117 and the gradual awakening of the realization among all men that humanity is naturally a brotherhood and that the true law that governs inequalities is karma.118

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  259 Blavatsky saw the mission of the Theosophical Society in the formation of a global “Republic of Conscience”119 and worked for the implementation of brotherhood,120 a task the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, established in 1888 as an independent organization, also sought to accomplish.121 Blavatsky hoped that the efforts of the Theosophical Society to establish brotherhood and break down divisions among men gradually would manifest themselves during the twentieth century.122 This realization, the mission of the Theosophical Society and the Freemasons alike, was believed to usher in the dawning of a better world, a New Age and a “New Cycle.”123 Blavatsky’s ideology and construction of the cause of the early Theosophical Society in India was thus clearly a reflection and extension of Western Enlightenment ideals and a bold attempt at globalizing esotericism (i.e., the notion of one true universal religion, Theosophy) in order to unite all people and usher in a New Age or better world. After Blavatsky’s death many of these ideas were implemented on a wider scale by Theosophical leaders such as Annie Besant (1847–​1933) and Katherine Tingley (1847–​1929). Besant became president of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) after Olcott’s death in 1907 and made great efforts to steer India toward independence through her work in the Indian National Congress (est. 1885) and the Home Rule League (est. 1916), both organizations being founded by the help of Theosophists.124 Tingley became leader of the Theosophical Society in America in 1896–​98 and emphasized the idea of universal brotherhood by founding the International Brotherhood League (1897) and the Universal Brotherhood Organization (1898). At the American Theosophical convention in 1898 the Theosophical Society in America became an integral part of the Universal Brotherhood Organization, later known as Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society (UB & TS). Tingley also initiated the first and only large-​scale Theosophical experiment in communal living at Point Loma in California and held several international peace congresses.125

Conclusion In this chapter it was shown that Blavatsky’s inspiration for ideas of universal brotherhood resided in the Enlightenment ideals of equal human rights and nineteenth-​century initiatives of social reform. In particular, both spiritualism and Freemasonry provided immediate Western sources for Blavatsky’s early use of the idea. In other words, Enlightenment ideals were cultivated and practiced by esoteric movements and carried to India by the Theosophical Society in the name of universalism. More specifically it was shown that the idea of universal brotherhood did not play any formal role in the Theosophical Society until May 1878 and the “reinvention” of the Society by moving its headquarters to India the following year. The launch of the Theosophical Society in India was in this light purposefully facilitated

260  Interactions with the East by implementing the idea of universal brotherhood; in fact the two became synonymous to Blavatsky and other Theosophists. It was also shown that Blavatsky’s discourse for a universal brotherhood particularly included three major facets. The first was a unique plan to revive ancient Indian culture, counteract the Christian missionaries and British rule, and spread Theosophy or universal esotericism among the Indian people through cooperation with Hindu and Buddhist reformers. This approach to the East was new and has no doubt created precedence for many Western groups and their engagement with the East henceforth. The second aspect of her discourse was a strategy to connect the idea of universal brotherhood with the Theosophical policy of no-​dogma, as this was believed to lead to intellectual unity and thereby avoid superficial divisions among men. It was also shown that Blavatsky’s discourse of universal brotherhood was based on the belief that all individual people essentially are of the same origin, and that this belief must be practiced ethically as the first principle of Theosophy. The analysis of the third aspect of Blavatsky’s discourse showed that universal brotherhood was construed as the central cause for which the Theosophical Society was intended to work since its reorganization, by eliminating the obstacles that still hindered its realization and thereby naturally ushering in a New Cycle. In conclusion it is fair to say that the result of the Theosophical Society’s move to India, Blavatsky’s discourse, and the implementation of universal brotherhood was in fact the dawning globalization of esotericism on the basis of Western enlightenment ideals.

Notes 1. See H. S. Olcott [mainly], “The Theosophical Society,” in HPBCW (1988), 1:375–​78; see also the following notes for more details. 2. See Tim Rudbøg, “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism” (PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012), 409–​10. 3. See Milan Zafirovsk, The Enlightenment and Its Effects on Modern Society (New York: Springer, 2011),  1–​278. 4. Peter Hanns Reill and Ellen Judy Wilson, Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, rev. ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2004), 209–​11; Margaret C. Jacob, “Polite Worlds of Enlightenment,” in The Enlightenment World, ed. Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf, and Iain McCalman (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2004), 272–​87 (285); James Van Horn Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 252–​72; and John Morris Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (New York: Scribner, 1972), 132, 138, 354. For further discussion, see also Margaret C. Jacob, Living the Enlightenment:  Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-​Century Europe (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1991); Klaus Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966). 5. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2002), 9.

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  261 6. It has been long contested to what extent Enlightenment ideas influenced the American and French Revolutions, but see Zafirovsk, The Enlightenment, 192–​93; Jonathan Israel, A Revolution of the Mind:  Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2010), 223; and Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 688–​89. 7. For this overall period see Davies, Europe, 693–​757. 8. Ibid., 679–​82. 9. Tom Monaghan, The Slave Trade (London: Evans Brothers, 2008), 75. 10. See Paul B. Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 92–​119; see also Kenan Malik, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and Louis L. Snyder, The Idea of Racialism (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1962). 11. Davies, Europe: A History, 836–​37. 12. Ibid.,  837. 13. See Jean Pfaelze, The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–​1896: The Politics of Form (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984); and James Morris and Andrea L. Kross, The A to Z of Utopianism (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2004). 14. David Cortright, Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 31–​32; see also Elihu Burritt, Lectures and Speeches (London: Sampson, Low, Son & Marston, 1869); and Merle Curti, The Learned Blacksmith: The Letters and Journals of Elihu Burritt (New York: Wilson-​Erickson, 1937). Blavatsky knew of Burritt and mentions him in 1889; see H. P. Blavatsky, “On Pseudo-​Theosophy,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:45–​61 (56). 15. Morris and Kross, The A  to Z of Utopianism, 321–​22; see also, Thomas D. Hamm, God’s Government Begun: The Society for Universal Inquiry and Reform, 1842–​1846 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996). 16. Hamm, God’s Government Begun, xv. 17. Ibid., 235–​36. The society was organized into eight communities. “One (Skaneateles) in New  York, three (Marlborough, Prairie Home, and Highland Home) in Ohio, and four (Union Home, West Grove or Fraternal Home, Kristeen, and Grand Prairie) in Indiana.” None lasted more than a year, ibid., xvi. 18. Ibid., 219; and Morris and Kross, The A to Z of Utopianism, 322. 19. Hamm, God’s Government Begun, 219. 20. Ibid., 221; and Morris and Kross, The A to Z of Utopianism, 123. 21. Hamm, God’s Government Begun, 222; Robert S. Cox, “Spiritualism,” in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements, 5 vols., ed. Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 3:27–​47 (35); see also Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-​Century America, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, (2002), 1–​9. 22. Hudson Tuttle and James M. Peebles, The Year-​Book of Spiritualism for 1871 (Boston, MA: William White, 1871), 21. 23. Ibid.,  21. 24. Ibid.; see also Hudson Tuttle, Arcana of Spiritualism:  A Manual of Spiritual Science and Philosophy (Boston, MA: Adams, 1871), 16, 22, 446; and Cox, “Spiritualism,” 33. 25. For more details on Davis see Phillip Charles Lucas, “Davis, Andrew Jackson, 11.8.1826 Blooming Grove, New York, 13.1.1910 Watertown, Massachusetts,” in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff et al., 2 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005), 1:299–​ 301. For the distinction between spiritualism and Davis’s “Harmonial Philosophy” see Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), 400.

262  Interactions with the East 26. Andrew Jackson Davis, The Harmonial Philosophy, ed. by a Doctor of Hermetic Science [A. E. Waite] (London: William Rider & Son, 1917), 267–​71; and Andrew Jackson Davis, The Principles: Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind (Boston, MA: Colby and Rich, 1847), 734. 27. Andrew Jackson Davis, The Great Harmonia:  Concerning the Seven Mental States; The Seer, 5 vols. (Boston, MA: Benjamin B. Mussey, 1853), 3:125; and Andrew Jackson Davis, The Penetralia: Being Harmonial Answers to Important Questions (Boston, MA: W. White, 1868), 61. 28. Andrew Jackson Davis, The Principles of Nature:  Her Divine Revelations and a Voice to Mankind (Boston, MA: Colby and Rich, 1847), v, see also 401, 575. 29. Ibid.,  v. 30. R. P. Ambler, “New Movement at Hartford,” The Spirit Messenger 1, 42 (1851): 333–​34; James Hogg, Hogg’s Instructor 9, new series (Edinburgh: James Hogg, 1852), 500–​501; and Jean L. Silver-​Isenstadt, Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 195, 287. 31. Geoffery K. Nelson, Spiritualism and Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), 20; and Emma Hardinge [later Britten], Modern American Spiritualism: A Twenty Years’ Record (New York: printed by the author, 1870), 365, 367. 32. Philip G. Nord, The Republican Moment:  Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-​Century France (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1995), 25–​26, 85; Jessica Harland-​ Jacobs, Builders of Empire:  Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–​1927 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 235–​36; and Clifford Putney, “Service over Secrecy:  How Lodge-​Style Fraternalism Yielded to Men’s Service Clubs,” in Freemasonry in Context:  History, Ritual, Controversy, ed. Art DeHoyos and S. Brent Morris (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 105–​16 (107). 33. Albert G. Mackey, “Monthly Masonic Miscellany: Brotherhood,” The American Freemasons’ New Monthly Magazine, July 1859, 73. For later Freemasonic accounts of the importance of “universal brotherhood,” see S.  R. Pachment, Ancient Operative Masonry (San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Center, Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1930), 10–​12; and Deman S. Wagstaff, Wagstaff ’s Standard Masonry (San Francisco, CA: Walter N. Brunt, 1922), 104. 34. The Enlightenment heritage has been demonstrated in Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994). 35. James A. Santucci, “Communications,” Theosophical History 7, no. 1 (1998): 14. 36. H. P. Blavatsky, “A Few Questions to Hiraf,” in HPBCW (1988), 1:101–​19 (114)t. 37. Ibid.,  114. 38. For Blavatsky’s relation to spiritualism see Rudbøg, “Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context,” 302–​64; but see also Jeffrey D. Lavoie, The Theosophical Society: The History of a Spiritualist Movement (Boca Raton, FL: BrownWalker Press, 2012); and Nicholas Goodrick-​Clarke, ed. and intro., Helena Blavatsky, Western Esoteric Masters Series (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004), 23–​48. Blavatsky’s attraction to the social and reformist aspects of spiritualism might be rooted in her childhood identification with the French Revolution and the goddess of liberty; see A. P. Sinnett, Incidents in the Life of Madam Blavatsky: Compiled from Information Supplied by Her Relatives and Friends and Edited by A. P. Sinnett (New York: J. W. Bouton, 1886), 29 (repr. New York: The Arno Press, 1976, 39). 39. John Algeo, ed., The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky 1861–​1879 (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2003), 1:“Letter 11,” 44. For more on Blavatsky’s relation to Davis, see Lavoie, The Theosophical Society, 109–​30. 40. Blavatsky, “A Few Questions to Hiraf,” 117. 41. H. P. Blavatsky, “The Philadelphia ‘Fiasco’, or Who Is Who?,” in HPBCW (1988), 1:56–​72 (68)t.

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  263 42. See K. Paul Johnson, The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge (New York: SUNY Press, 1994), 75–​79. 43. “Preamble and By-​Laws of the Theosophical Society,” October 30, 1875, reprinted in The Theosophical Forum, September 1947, 515–​18. 44. Ibid.,  8. 45. H.  S. Olcott, “Inaugural Address of the President-​Founder of the Theosophical Society,” delivered November 17, 1875, accessed May 13, 2019. https://​​ component/​content/​article/​65-​olcott/​1867# 46. For more on Sotheran and his important relation to the early Theosophical Society, see Boris de Zirkoff, “General Bibliography,” in HPBCW (1988), 1:443–​538 (526–​28); Johnson, The Masters Revealed, 80–​89; and James A. Santucci, “Does Theosophy Exist in the Theosophical Society,” in Ésotérisme, gnoses & imaginaire symbolique: Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre, ed. Richard Caron et al., Gnostica 3 (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2001), 471–​89 (475–​6). 47. H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, 2 vols. (New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877), 2:391. During the time of writing and publishing Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky cooperated extensively with Alexander Wilder, who had already prior to Blavatsky talked of a “Human Brotherhood,” in New Platonism and Alchemy: A Sketch of the Eclectic Philosophy of the Alexandrian School, by Alexander Wilder (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons, 1869; repr. Minneapolis: Wizards Bookshelf, 1975), 20. 48. H. P. Blavatsky, “What Is Theosophy?,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:500–​507 (502 H?); see also H. P. Blavatsky, “Qabbalah: The Philosophical Writings of Solomon Ben Yehudah Ibn Gebirol (or Avicebron),” in HPBCW (1973), 11:21–​33 (24)r2. 49. Algeo, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, 1:“Letter 105,” 395–​96. 50. Ibid., 1:“Letter 112,” 417. 51. Olcott, “The Theosophical Society,” 375–​78. 52. Ibid.,  377. 53. H. P. Blavatsky, “Buddhistic Exegesis,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:138–​40 (138)t; see also H. P. Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:123–​36 (125)he; H. P. Blavatsky, “Our Three Objects,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:391–​400 (392–​96)r; H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Drift of Western Spiritualism,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:107–​10 (107–​8)t; and H.  P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892), 328. In a couple of instances, however, Blavatsky mentions that the idea of universal brotherhood had been a part of the Theosophical Society program from the start; see for example H. P. Blavatsky, “The Original Programme Manuscript,” in HPBCW (1987), 7:145–​71 (145); and H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy (London:  Theosophical Publishing Company, [1889]), 39. These instances, however, seem generalized and would contradict the instances above. 54. See Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 76–​78; Michael Gomes, The Dawning of the Theosophical Movement (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987), 162–​63; and Howard Murphet, Yankee Beacon of Buddhist Light: Life of Col. Henry S. Olcott (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 96. 55. See Godwin, The Theosophical Enlightenment, 319–​20. 56. Murphet, Yankee Beacon, 96; Gomes, The Dawning, 162–​ 69; and Robert Ellwood, “The Theosophical Society,” in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements, 5 vols., ed. Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 3:48–​66 (54–​55). 57. This cooperation ceased in March 1882 due to disputes and obvious differences between the goals of the two societies; see Johnson, The Masters Revealed, 110. For more details on the cooperation between the two societies, see also John Patrick Deveney, Astral Projection or

264  Interactions with the East Liberation of the Double and the Work of the Early Theosophical Society, Theosophical History Occasional Papers 6 (Fullerton, CA: Theosophical History, 1997), 61–​65. 58. See Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The History of The Theosophical Society, 6 vols. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895]), 2:1–​14; Murphet, Yankee Beacon, 94–​ 101; Silvia Cranston, H. P. B.: The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky; Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993), 199–​201; and Gomes, The Dawning, 159–​98. 59. See Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived, 76. Deveney argues that the problem of satisfying members and revitalizing the life of the Theosophical Society was a continued challenge up through the 1880s, especially in relation to the practice of practical occultism; see Deveney, “Astral Projection,” 58–​80. 60. Rudbøg, “Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context,” 119, 122. 61. Kenneth W. Jones, The New Cambridge History of India: Socio-​Religious Reform Movements in British India (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 3.1, 173; and Edward C. Moulton, “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​1885: Conversion and Non-​ Conversion Experiences,” in Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia: Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, ed. Geoffrey A. Oddie (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1997), 109–​72 (114–​15). 62. British colonial presence in India stretches back to 1613; see Melvin E. Page, ed., Colonialism:  An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-​CLIO, 2003), 273–​74. 63. Raj Bahadur Sharma, Christian Missions in North India, 1813–​1913: A Case Study of Meerut Division and Dehra Dun District (Delhi, India: Mittal, 1988), 171–​77. 64. Ibid., 171–​77; and Panthapalli A. Augustine, Social Equality in Indian Society: The Elusive Goal (New Delhi: Ashok Kumar Mittal, 1991), 128–​30. 65. Sharma, Christian Missions, 172–​76. 66. J. M. Peebles, Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face: Or an Oral Discussion between the Rev. Migettuwatte, a Buddhist Priest, and Rev. D. Silva, an English Clergyman; Held at Pantura, Ceylon (Boston, MA: Colby and Rich, 1878). 67. For more on Sumangala, see Johnson, The Masters Revealed, 189–​90. 68. Joseph Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism: White Supremacy and Immigrant Adaptation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 37. 69. Jones, Socio-​Religious Reform Movements, 171; Moulton, “Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement,” 117; and Augustine, Social Equality in Indian Society, 130. 70. See Cranston, Extraordinary Life, 191–​284. 71. See Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 2:166–​69; Catherine Wessinger, Dell deChant, and William Michael Ashcraft, “Theosophy, New Thought, and New Age Movements,” in Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, 3 vols., ed. Rosemary Skinner Keller and Rosemary Radford Ruether (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2006), 2:753–​ 67 (755); and Cranston, Extraordinary Life, 214. 72. Ibid., 3:362–​84; Richard Francis Gombrich, Theravāda Buddhism:  A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2003), 185–​87; Richard Francis Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 204–​5; Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism, 33; Stephen R. Prothero, The White Buddhist : The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 171; Thomas A. Tweed, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844–​1912: Victorian Culture & the Limits of Dissent (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 56; Murphet, Yankee Beacon, 142, 320; George D. Bond, The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992), 49; and Cranston, Extraordinary Life, 193.           

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  265 73. Wessinger, deChant, and Ashcraft, “Theosophy, New Thought, and New Age Movements,” 755; Moulton, “Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement,” 115; Cheah, Race and Religion in American Buddhism, 36–​38; Murphet, Yankee Beacon, 131–​52; H. P. Blavatsky, “What Good Has Theosophy Done in India,” in HPBCW (1986), 9:129–​34; and Blavatsky, “Our Three Objects,” 391–​400. 74. Jones, Socio-​ Religious Reform Movements, 171–​ 74; Moulton, “Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement,” 116–​17; W. Michael Ashcraft, The Dawn of The New Cycle: Point Loma Theosophists and American Culture (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002), 199n68; and Robert S. Ellwood, Theosophy: A Modern Expression of the Wisdom of the Ages (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1986), 213. 75. Algeo, Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, 1:“Letter 112,” 417; see also, from the same period, how the Theosophical Society was presented in Blavatsky’s letters: ibid., 1:“Letter 124” (New York, July 30, 1878), 455; and ibid., “Letter 131” (New York, November 29, 1878), 485. 76. H. P. Blavatsky, “Final Reply of a Theosophist to Mr. Rossi de Justiniani,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:62–​67 (62–​63). 77. Blavatsky, “Buddhistic Exegesis,” 138–​39. 78. Ibid., 138. Later, in 1889 Blavatsky also indicates that due to the increasing encounter with various races and religions the original program of the Theosophical Society was enlarged to include the most precious of Theosophical objects, namely that of universal brotherhood; Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 125. 79. H. P. Blavatsky, “Our Second Year,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:426–​29 (426–​27). 80. Ibid., 427–​28; see also Blavatsky, “Our Three Objects,” 392. 81. H. P. Blavatsky, “A False ‘Witness,’” in HPBCW (1995), 3:131–​38 (132–​37); H. P. Blavatsky, “A Word with ‘Zero’ (Reply by a Theosophist),” in HPBCW (1991), 4:358–​65; H. P. Blavatsky, “Footnotes to ‘The Status of Jesus,’” in HPBCW (1991), 4:603–​604; H. P. Blavatsky, “The Rev. W. Hastie’s Karma and the Progress of Poesy in Bengal,” in HPBCW (1997), 5:350–​51; H. P. Blavatsky, “The Neutrality of the Senate House,” in HPBCW (1989), 6:166–​68; H. P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Mahatmas,” in HPBCW (1987), 7:241–​49 (246–​48); H.  P. Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” in HPBCW (1990), 8:70–​91 (89–​90); and H.  P. Blavatsky, “Civilization, The Death of Art and Beauty,” in HPBCW (1982), 13:177–​90 (188). 82. H. P. Blavatsky, “Lucifer to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Greeting!,” in HPBCW (1990), 8:268–​83 (273); H. P. Blavatsky, “The Beacon of the Unknown,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:248–​ 83 (282); and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 41. 83. See note 82. 84. H. P. Blavatsky, “A Personal Explanation,” in HPBCW (1995), 3:440–​48 (448); and Blavatsky, “A Word with ‘Zero,’ ” 360. 85. H.  P. Blavatsky, “Comment on ‘Practical Work for Theosophists,’” in HPBCW (1989), 6:211–​12 (212); see also Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 90–​91. 86. Blavatsky, “Comment on ‘Practical Work for Theosophists,’ ” 212; Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 91; see also Charles Johnston and H. P. Blavatsky, “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” in HPBCW (1990), 8:392–​409 (404–​409). 87. Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 78, 82–​83, 86–​87. 88. H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society:  Its Mission and Its Future; As Explained by M. Émile Burnouf, The French Orientalist,” in HPBCW (1988), 10:63–​81 (65). 89. Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 90–​91. 90. Ibid., 90. 91. Blavatsky, “Our Three Objects,” 392–​98, 400; and Blavatsky, “What Good Has Theosophy Done In India,” 129–​34. 92. See following note, but see also H. P. Blavatsky, “Explanations Relative to the Controversy on Occultism,” in HPBCW (1997), 5:4–​6 (5); H.  P. Blavatsky, “Our New Branches,” in

266  Interactions with the East HPBCW (1997), 5:125–​27 (127); Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 71; H. P. Blavatsky, “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to the Second American Convention,” in HPBCW (1986), 9:241–​48 (243); Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 126, 128–​29; and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 24. 93. Blavatsky, “Final Reply,” 62–​63; H. P. Blavatsky, “Namastae!,” in HPBCW (1967), 2:84–​86 (85); Blavatsky, “What Is Theosophy?,” 500–​507 (505); Blavatsky, “Explanations Relative to the Controversy,” 5; Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 126–​27; and H. T. Patterson, “Comments on ‘The Theosophical Society and H. P. B.,’” in HPBCW (1982), 13:115–​21 (121). 94. Blavatsky, “Namastae!,” 84–​85; Blavatsky, “What Is Theosophy?,” 504; H. P. Blavatsky, “The Chosen ‘Vessels of Election,’” in HPBCW (1991), 4:405–​20 (415); Blavatsky, “Explanations Relative to the Controversy,” 5; H. P. Blavatsky, “[Comments to] The Essentials of Religion,” in HPBCW (1997), 5:95–​100 (95); H. P. Blavatsky, “Let Every Man Prove His Own Work,” in HPBCW (1990), 8:159–​71 (164); Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 126, 128–​29; and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 19–​20. Certain explicit restrictions to the no-​dogma policy should be noted, for example that Blavatsky continually refused to acknowledge the belief in a personal god in favor of an impersonal Absolute: H. P. Blavatsky, “A Christian Minister on Theosophy,” in HPBCW (1997), 5:351–​57 (356); and H. P. Blavatsky, “Victims of Words,” in HPBCW (1989), 6:139–​42 (141). Blavatsky was also thought to propagate Buddhism; see the discussion in Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future,” 64–​65. 95. H. P. Blavatsky, “What Are the Theosophists?,” in HPBBCW (1967), 2:98–​106 (105) (first publ. in The Theosophist I, no. 1 [1879], 5–​7); H. P. Blavatsky, “Our Christian XIXth Century of Ethics,” in HPBCW (1988), 10:81–​88 (82); and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 231–​337. 96. See Rudbøg, “Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context,” 108–​15, but see also Blavatsky, “What Good Has Theosophy Done in India,” 134; and H. P. Blavatsky, “Is Theosophy a Religion?,” in HPBCW (1988), 10:159–​74 (163). 97. Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 126, 128. It is interesting to ask whether this arose through Olcott’s influence on her. 98. Blavatsky, “Lucifer to the Archbishop,” 273. 99. Johnston and Blavatsky, “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” 408. 100. Ibid., 406. 101. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary, 146; Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 41; Olcott, “The Theosophical Society,” 377; and Blavatsky, “Beacon of the Unknown,” 283. 102. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 41. 103. Blavatsky, “Final Reply,” 62–​63; see also H.  P. Blavatsky, “Is Denunciation a Duty?,” in HPBCW (1988), 10:196–​208 (207). 104. Blavatsky, “Explanations Relative to the Controversy,” 5; Blavatsky, “Let Every Man Prove His Own Work,” 164–​65; Blavatsky, “Is Denunciation a Duty?,” 198–​200; Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 126, 128–​29; “Mahatma Letter No. 5 (ML-​4)” (received November 3, 1880), in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett: In Chronological Sequence, ed. A. T. Barker and Vincente Hao Chin Jr. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998), 20. 105. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, 146; Blavatsky, “Comment on ‘Practical Work for Theosophists,’ ” 212; and Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 90–​91. 106. H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, 2 vols. (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888), 1:644. 107. Blavatsky, “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to the Second American Convention,” 243. 108. Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 86. Blavatsky did, however, identify herself with the ideals of the French Revolution on numerous occasions (see for example Sinnett, Incidents in the Life of Madam Blavatsky, for her juvenile declaration that she wanted to be a “Goddess of Liberty” all her life after hearing Henriette Peigneur, her old French governess, relate her memories of the Revolution), but apparently did not think that its attempted implementation of brotherhood had succeeded. F. K. Gaboriau (editor of Le Lotus), however, argued in a footnote to “Misconceptions,” referenced previously, that Blavatsky was misinformed

Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  267 about the state of affairs in France due to her long absence from France and due to the foreign newspapers she read, which only sought to soil French democracy; see Blavatsky, “Misconceptions,” 86n. 109. See previous note, but see also Blavatsky, “Letter from H.  P. Blavatsky to the Second American Convention,” 243. 110. Blavatsky, “Lucifer to the Archbishop,” 273; Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society:  Its Mission and Its Future,” 75; H. P. Blavatsky, “Second Letter of H. P. Blavatsky to the American Convention,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:163–​68; and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 40, 305. 111. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 40. 112. Blavatsky, “Letter from H. P. Blavatsky to the Second American Convention,” 244; Blavatsky, “Second Letter of H.  P. Blavatsky,” 163–​68; Blavatsky, “Beacon of the Unknown,” 282; H.  P. Blavatsky, “Letter to the Fifth Annual Convention of the American Section of the Theosophical Society,” in HPBCW (1982), 13:171–​75 (174–​75); and Blavatsky, “Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty,” 188. For further details on Blavatsky’s view of conservative theology see Rudbøg, “Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context,” 206–​50. 113. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future,” 75; Blavatsky, “Second Letter of H. P. Blavatsky,” 163–​68; H. P. Blavatsky, “The Fall of Ideals,” in HPBCW (1987), 12:33–​52 (51); and Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 40. 114. Blavatsky, “Beacon of the Unknown,” 283. 115. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future,” 74. 116. Blavatsky, “What Is Theosophy?,” 502. 117. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future,” 74. 118. Ibid., 74–​75; Blavatsky, “Beacon of the Unknown,” 283; see also Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, 1:644–​45. 119. Blavatsky, “What Are the Theosophists?,” 104; H. P. Blavatsky, “Closing Note to ‘Address of the President of the Ionian Theosophical Branch at Corfu,’” in HPBCW (1967), 2:442–​43 (443); H. P. Blavatsky, “A Reply to Our Critics (Our Final Answer to Several Objections),” in HPBCW (1995), 3:221–​26 (226); and Blavatsky, “The New Cycle,” 129. 120. H. P. Blavatsky, “The Struggle for Existence,” in HPBCW (1973), 11:147–​56 (153–​56) (first publ. in Lucifer IV, 20 (1889): 104–​11); and H. P. Blavatsky, “Third Letter of H. P. Blavatsky to the American Convention,” in HPBCW (1987), 12:151–​56 (152–​54). 121. H.  P. Blavatsky, “The Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society,” in HPBCW (1987), 12:488–​511 (489, 509, 511) (material from 1888–​89). 122. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy, 395. 123. Blavatsky, “Beacon of the Unknown,” 282. 124. Anne Taylor, Annie Besant:  A Biography (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1992), 277–​ 326; see also Isaac Lubelsky, Celestial India:  Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism (London: Equinox, 2012), 247–​84. 125. For further details see Emmett A. Greenwalt, California Utopia: Point Loma; 1897–​1942 (San Diego, CA: Point Loma, 1978); Ashcraft, Dawn of the New Cycle; and Tim Rudbøg, “Point Loma, Theosophy, and Katherine Tingley,” in Handbook of the Theosophical Current, ed. Michael Rothstein and Olav Hammer, 51–​72, Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion Series, vol. 7 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013).

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Blavatsky’s Discourse for Universal Brotherhood  271 Lubelsky, Isaac. Celestial India:  Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism. London: Equinox, 2012. Lucas, Phillip Charles. “Davis, Andrew Jackson, 11.8.1826 Blooming Grove, New York, 13.1.1910 Watertown, Massachusetts.” In Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, edited by Wouter J. Hanegraaff, in collaboration with Antoine Faivre, Roelof van den Broek, and Jean-​Pierre Brach. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005. Mackenzie, Kenneth R. H., ed. The Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia of History, Rites, Symbolism and Biography. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1877. Mackey, Albert G. “Monthly Masonic Miscellany: Brotherhood.” The American Freemasons’ New Monthly Magazine, July 1859, 73. Malik, Kenan. The Meaning of Race:  Race, History and Culture in Western Society. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Melton, James Van Horn. The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Monaghan, Tom. The Slave Trade. London: Evans Brothers, 2008. Morris, James, and Andrea L. Kross. The A to Z of Utopianism. Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2004. Moulton, Edward C. “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​ 1885:  Conversion and Non-​Conversion Experiences.” In Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia:  Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, edited by Geoffrey A. Oddie, 109–​72. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1997. Murphet, Howard. Yankee Beacon of Buddhist Light:  Life of Col. Henry S.  Olcott. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988. Nelson, Geoffery K. Spiritualism and Society. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969. Nord, Philip G. The Republican Moment: Struggles for Democracy in Nineteenth-​Century France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Olcott, Henry Steel [mainly]. “The Theosophical Society.” In HPBCW (1988), 1:375–​78. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves:  The History of The Theosophical Society. 6 vols. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 2002 [1895]. Olcott, Henry Steel. “Inaugural Address of the President-​Founder of the Theosophical Society.” Accessed May 13, 2019. https://​​component/​content/​article/​65-​olcott/​ 1867# Pachment, S. R. Ancient Operative Masonry. San Francisco: San Francisco Center, Rosicrucian Fellowship, 1930. Page, Melvin E., ed. Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-​CLIO, 2003. Patterson, H.  T. “Comments on ‘The Theosophical Society and H.  P.  B.’” In HPBCW (1982), 13:115–​21. Peebles, J. M. Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face: Or An Oral Discussion between the Rev. Migettuwatte, a Buddhist Priest, and Rev. D.  Silva, an English Clergyman; Held at Pantura, Ceylon. Boston, MA: Colby and Rich, 1878. Pfaelze, Jean. The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–​1896:  The Politics of Form. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984. “Preamble and By-​Laws of the Theosophical Society.” The Theosophical Forum, September 1947, 515–​18. Prothero, Stephen R. The White Buddhist  :  The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott  . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.  Putney, Clifford. “Service over Secrecy: How Lodge-​Style Fraternalism Yielded to Men’s Service Clubs.” In Freemasonry in Context: History, Ritual, Controversy, edited by Art DeHoyos and S. Brent Morris, 105–​16. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004. Rebold, Emmanuel. A General History of Freemasonry in Europe:  Based upon the Ancient Documents Relating to, and the Monuments Erected by this Fraternity from Its Foundation in the Year 715 B.C. to the Present Time. Translated by J. Fletcher Brennan. Cincinnati, OH: Geo. B. Fessenden, 1867.

272  Interactions with the East Reill, Peter Hanns, and Ellen Judy Wilson. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Rev. ed. New York: Facts on File, 2004. Rich, Paul B. Race and Empire in British Politics. Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1990. Roberts, John Morris. The Mythology of the Secret Societies. New York: Scribner, 1972. Rudbøg, Tim. “H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy in Context: The Construction of Meaning in Modern Western Esotericism.” PhD diss., University of Exeter, 2012. Rudbøg, Tim. “Point Loma, Theosophy, and Katherine Tingley.” In Handbook of the Theosophical Current, edited by Michael Rothstein and Olav Hammer, 51–​72. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013. Santucci, James A. “Communications.” Theosophical History 7, no. 1 (January 1998): 14. Santucci, James A. “Does Theosophy Exist in the Theosophical Society.” In Ésotérisme, gnoses & imaginaire symbolique: Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre, edited by Richard Caron, J. Godwin, W. J. Hanegraaff, and J. -​L. Vieillard-​Baron, 471–​89. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2001. Sharma, Raj Bahadur. Christian Missions in North India, 1813–​1913:  A Case Study of Meerut Division and Dehra Dun District. Delhi, India: Mittal, 1988. Silver-​Isenstadt, Jean L. Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Sinnett, A. P. Incidents in the Life of Madam Blavatsky: Compiled from Information Supplied by Her Relatives and Friends and Edited by A.  P. Sinnett. New  York:  J.  W. Bouton, 1886 (repr. New York: Arno Press, 1976). Snyder, Louis L. The Idea of Racialism. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1962. Taves, Ann. Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. Taylor, Anne. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Tuttle, Hudson. Arcana of Spiritualism: A Manual of Spiritual Science and Philosophy. Boston, MA: Adams, 1871. Tuttle, Hudson, and James M. Peebles. The Year-​ Book of Spiritualism for 1871. Boston, MA: William White, 1871. Tweed, Thomas A. The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844–​1912: Victorian Culture & the Limits of Dissent. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. Wagstaff, Deman S. Wagstaff ’s Standard Masonry. San Francisco: Walter N. Brunt, 1922. Wessinger, Chatherine, Dell deChant, and William Michael Ashcraft. “Theosophy, New Thought, and New Age Movements.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. 3 vols. Edited by Rosemary Skinner Keller and Rosemary Radford Ruether, 2:753–​ 67. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. Wilder, Alexander. New Platonism and Alchemy:  A Sketch of the Eclectic Philosophy of the Alexandrian School. Albany, NY:  Weed, Parsons, 1869 (repub. Minneapolis:  Wizards Bookshelf, 1975). Yarker, John. Notes on the Scientific and Religious Mysteries of Antiquity: The Gnosis and Secret Schools of the Middle Ages; Modern Rosicrucianism; and the Various Rites and Degrees of Free and Accepted Masonry. London, J. Hogg 1872. Zafirovsk, Milan. The Enlightenment and Its Effects on Modern Society. New York: Springer, 2011.

13 Allan Octavian Hume, Madame Blavatsky, and the Foundation of the Indian National Congress Isaac Lubelsky

The main purpose of this chapter is to analyze the tight relations that existed between the Theosophical Society and the early Indian nationalist movement, particularly during the early 1880s. In fact, the Theosophical Society not only deeply influenced the early days of Indian nationalism but was closely involved with the foundation of the Indian National Congress (hereafter the INC), the body that in the following decades represented and organized national policy and activities against the British rule and in 1947 became India’s first ruling party. The person who stood behind the foundation of the INC in 1885 was Allan Octavian Hume (1829–​1912). Hume, a retired senior officer in the Indian Civil Service, was well connected to top British officials in India. At the same time, he was a dedicated Theosophist for several years and one of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s (1831–​91) closest disciples. His relationship with Blavatsky and his belief in the orders he received from her spiritual teachers, the Mahatmas, will comprise the main part of this chapter. As I will show, Hume’s plan to found the INC was probably initiated from a series of letters he received from these Mahatmas, in which they urged him to act in favor of the Indian subjects and thus prevent a second great Indian rebellion. The main man behind the Indian nationalist organization believed in the occult, Blavatsky’s Tibetan Mahatmas, and the Theosophical vision of India’s future. Is it therefore true to say that the Indian National Congress was founded on an ideological basis influenced by Theosophical ideas? In order to answer that question, this chapter will tell the story of Hume’s Theosophical period in detail and analyze his writing and correspondence from that period. It will raise questions in regard to the somewhat peculiar motives that made Hume act as he did and try to illuminate a crucial historical junction, in which Theosophy had a strong influence on the birth of the nationalist movement of the world’s largest democracy.

274  Interactions with the East

Blavatsky’s Theosophy: A Short Background Madame Blavatsky reached India in 1879, accompanied by her close friend and co-​ founder of the Theosophical Society, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832–​1907). The two chums, as they used to refer to each other, founded their society in 1875 in New York. Blavatsky, Russian by birth, had quite a peculiar life story before traveling to India. Both her parents were aristocrats. Her mother died when young Helena was eleven years old. Her father, the Baron von Hahn, was an army officer, who in 1848 decided to marry his seventeen-​year-​old daughter to Nikifor Blavatsky, the deputy military governor of Erevan, Armenia, who was forty years old at that time. Three months after her marriage Blavatsky ran away from her husband to Constantinople, and thereafter, according to her story, traveled for many years in several continents, in a quest for esoteric knowledge that had been preserved in countries with a rich magical tradition, such as Egypt, and later on Tibet, where she claimed to have spent more than seven years, during which time she was instructed by spiritual teachers whom she titled Mahatmas or Masters. Blavatsky’s two most significant Mahatmas were called Morya and Koot Hoomi. As we shall see, both names were later involved in a close correspondence with Hume during the early 1880s. These Mahatmas had taught Blavatsky their esoteric wisdom and urged her to return to the West and spread her new Theosophical doctrine, which targeted the study of the kernel of the truth that existed in all religions but was presumably distorted by their establishments throughout history. Two years after Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in New York, she published her first major work, Isis Unveiled. This was followed by a large number of articles, in which she promoted and shaped her message to a more complete doctrine. Her teachings pretended to tell the original story of the creation, describe the true cosmology, unveil the mysteries of human existence, and teach her disciples what she later referred to as the “Secret Doctrine,” which was the title of her second major work, published in 1888.1 Blavatsky and Olcott’s decision to move to the East derived from their belief in India as the cradle of the occult lore. In fact, Blavatsky was the first significant spiritual teacher to successfully synthesize similar existing ideas and create a new hypothesis, which corresponded with current academic Orientalist study, in which India was presented as the source of the Aryan civilization and the place that should be reawakened and constructed toward a spiritual renaissance and thus fulfill its historical role, serving once again as the world’s spiritual center.2 In order to promote this vision, on their arrival in India Blavatsky and Olcott began to publish a monthly journal, The Theosophist, which provided a platform for their vision. The subheading of the first issue, October 1879, may demonstrate this vision: “A Monthly Journal Devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism: Embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Other Secret Sciences.”3 In 1882 Blavatsky and Olcott founded the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar, a suburb of Madras (Chennai today), and began to give lectures to local

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  275 audiences, both Indian and English, presenting their belief in India’s major historical role and suggesting the Indian masses to wake up and return to the ways of their ancestors. These lecture tours went on for several years and covered large parts of the subcontinent, as well as its neighboring Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). They resulted in an impressive expansion of the Theosophical Society. By 1886, about a decade after its foundation, the Society already had 136 lodges worldwide, most of them in India, Burma, and Ceylon.4 This growth exemplifies the warm reaction the Theosophical message received from the locals. The topics of their lectures thrilled the Hindu public, especially due to the fact that Blavatsky and Olcott were the first-​ ever Westerners who, instead of treating India as a primitive colony, were actually praising it and its ancient religion. In one of these tours, on their visit to the town of Shimla in Northern India (today the capital of Himachal Pradesh), Blavatsky and Olcott visited one of their new local followers, Alfred Percy Sinnett (1840–​1921), a British journalist who from 1879 became Blavatsky’s greatest admirer. Sinnett had a close friend, whom he gladly introduced to her when she stayed at his home in December 1879. This friend was Hume, who shortly after became a devout Theosophist.

Hume and Theosophy Hume was a senior officer in the Indian Civil Service who retired from it in 1882. I will briefly sketch his life story, according to his biography, which was written in 1913 by his close friend, Sir William Wedderburn (1838–​1918), following its protagonist’s death in 1912. Like Hume, Wedderburn himself was a senior officer in the Indian Civil Service, and later an MP (1893–​1900) and twice the president of the Indian National Congress (1889, 1910).5 Hume was born in London. He studied at University College London for two years, and then at Haileybury, the academy of the East India Company. Following his graduation he joined the Indian Civil Service and sailed to India in 1849, where he served in a number of posts, moving up the hierarchy of the British Raj. In 1870 he was appointed by the Viceroy Lord Mayo (1869–​72) as head of the Home Department, a post he held for three months.6 Mayo created a commission in charge of agriculture, revenue, and commerce especially for him. Hume, who consistently sought to promote the economic development of the Indian subjects, chaired this commission between 1871 and 1879. Unfortunately, his patron Mayo was assassinated in 1872, thus weakening Hume’s position in the upper circles of the government. In 1879 Viceroy Lytton (1876–​1880) disbanded Hume’s commission and appointed him to a minor post in the administration of the North-​West Provinces. Looking back, it seems that Hume might have felt that this post, which obliged him to move to the summer capital (but rather provincial) town of Shimla, after thirty years of service in India, was a humiliation. Two years following that last official appointment Hume applied for early retirement. His request was probably

276  Interactions with the East due to his unpopular critical view of the British regime in India. Accordingly, the Dictionary of National Biography claims that he retired “under a cloud.”7 Despite his retirement, it is clear that Hume kept up his contacts in the upper circles of government. For example, he was consulted on a regular basis by Lytton’s successor, Viceroy Lord Ripon (1880–​84).8 Hume preferred to stay in India for many years after his retirement, until he returned to England in 1894. During this long period of time, he devoted himself to researching local ornithology, a field in which he became an expert, as evidenced in his three volumes of The Game Birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon.9 Besides his enthusiasm for ornithology, Hume’s main interest after his retirement was the organization of the Indian nationalist movement, a task he took on after at least three years of profound involvement with the Theosophical doctrine. The connection between Hume and the Theosophical Society began in December 1879, when Blavatsky and Olcott visited his friend Sinnett in Shimla. Sinnett was a respected journalist who ever since his first meeting with Blavatsky became her admirer and remained one of her firm supporters until her death in 1891. In 1881, two years after they met, he published his first book, The Occult World, which contained letters sent to Sinnett and Blavatsky by the Theosophical Mahatmas. It is interesting to note Sinnett’s fury against Blavatsky’s opponents and their claims that those letters were a fraud, as early as 1881: “For me, knowing her as intimately as I did, the inherent evidence of the style was enough to make the suggestion that she might have written them a mere absurdity.”10 His second book, Esoteric Buddhism, which was published in 1883, introduced the term “esoteria” into the English language.11 Sinnett introduced Blavatsky and Olcott to a number of local pandits, as well as to Hume. Olcott was favorably impressed by Hume, “who made an eloquent and altogether excellent address; far better than my own.” Hume, for his part, was captivated by Blavatsky’s supernatural powers, which he believed to have witnessed. For example, in 1880, when she stayed at his house, she used her clairvoyance skills to locate his wife’s lost brooch, which was found buried in the garden.12 Soon after, he joined the Theosophical Society and founded a Theosophical lodge in Shimla (the Simla Eclectic Branch), which he headed until 1883. Unlike Sinnett, who remained Blavatsky’s devoted disciple to the end of his life, Hume had a strong critical sense, which constantly kept him skeptic and probably prevented him from becoming another obedient admirer of Blavatsky, following their early acquaintance. When he was invited to join the Theosophical Society at the end of 1880, he struggled with himself: “I am no military machine—​I am an avowed enemy of the military organization—​a friend and advocate of the industrial or co-​operative system, and I will join no Society or Body which purports to limit or control my right of private judgement.” Moreover, he wondered about the capability of Olcott, the Society’s president, to guide its followers: “I should not object in any way to dear old Olcott’s supervision, because I know it would be nominal, as even if he tried to make it otherwise, Sinnett and I are both quite capable of shutting him

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  277 up if he interfered needlessly. But neither of us could accept him as our real guide, because we know that we are intellectually his superiors.”13 Despite his doubts, Hume joined the Theosophical Society, adopted its customs (for example, he called himself H.-​X., in keeping with the Theosophists’ fondness of initials), and for several years it seems that he genuinely believed in Blavatsky’s powers and her links with the Mahatmas.14 First-​hand evidence in regard to Hume’s Theosophical devotion may be traced in his 1882 article, compiled from Mahatma letters and entitled Hints on Esoteric Theosophy, in which he treated Blavatsky and her Mahatmas with the greatest respect. For example, in the second letter in this compilation, written January 2, 1882, he wrote enthusiastically about the Mahatmas’ Brotherhood and emphasized the way in which the local populace in India and Ceylon cooperated with the Theosophical Society. Nonetheless, his opinion of Olcott did not change at all: “But though Col. Olcott is a scholar, he can perform no phenomenon—​except very rapidly developing clairaudient and clairvoyant powers—​and is yet, as far as I can see, as far from the great secret as any of us.”15 The friendship between Blavatsky and Sinnett gave birth to the publication in 1923 of The Mahatma Letters, a compilation of letters supposedly sent by the Mahatmas Koot Hoomi and Morya, mainly to Sinnett and Hume. These letters, written between 1880 and 1884, contain lots of information about the early development of Theosophical theological doctrine. Assuming that Blavatsky was indeed the author of those letters, one may therefore regard them as the intellectual laboratory in which she developed the ideas first expressed in Isis Unveiled, in preparation for her second large book, The Secret Doctrine. The letters of the Theosophical Mahatmas contained, beside the “theological” material, many references to the social and personal contacts that marked the early activities of the Theosophical Society in India. For example, in early 1883, after Hume began to distance himself from the Theosophical Society because of his doubts regarding Blavatsky’s honesty, Sinnett received a letter from the Mahatma Koot Hoomi saying that Hume “is pushed and half maddened by evil powers, which he has attracted to himself and come under subjection to by his innate moral turbulence.” The Mahatma then gave Sinnett careful advice: “Avoid him, but do not madden him still more.”16 It is difficult, looking at it rationally and critically, to understand the effect this correspondence had on Sinnett and Hume. Regardless of the debate on the Mahatma Letters’ authenticity, it is clear that Blavatsky’s disciples were convinced that these letters were indeed genuine.17 The Mahatma Letters are compiled of 145 letters, altogether almost 500 pages long. Writing them must have been quite a demanding task. The effort put in their writing is emphasized when noticing that, as their belated publication shows, they were never meant for the general public. Hume’s belief in Blavatsky grew, until he became a regular correspondent of her Mahatmas, who began to directly address him from 1880. The more he corresponded with them, the more his skepticism gave way to belief, at least until the end of 1882. Whereas in 1880 he wanted to go to Tibet in person, to witness

278  Interactions with the East the Masters in person (an idea firmly rejected by Koot Hoomi), by 1881–​82 he already regarded them unreservedly as real entities and addressed them as a disciple addresses his gurus.18 Moreover, it is quite clear that he continued to believe in their existence and mission even after he quit the Theosophical Society. Hume’s interest in the occult and his trust in Blavatsky’s stories could be attributed to several reasons. Wedderburn chose to ignore the subject, probably due to its potentially embarrassing context. The Indian historian, Sri Ram Mehrotra, on the other hand, claims that Hume’s attraction to Theosophy was the result of his advanced age. This estimation may seem somewhat exaggerated when bearing in mind that Hume was barely fifty years old when he met Blavatsky.19 Another reason for Hume’s interest in Theosophy might be the rejection he felt from his superiors at the end of his service, together with his profound interest in the local Indian culture, especially its esoteric aspects. However, it seems that Hume, as willing to believe in Blavatsky’s Mahatmas as he was, managed to retain his criticism. Toward the end of 1882 he began to doubt the authenticity of the Mahatma Letters. When he became convinced that Blavatsky had written at least some of those mysterious letters, he turned away from her and even assisted Dr. Richard Hodgson, the emissary of the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), when he visited Adyar on his investigation against Blavatsky.

Hume and the SPR Report against Blavatsky The SPR was founded in 1882 by a group of respected academics, led by Henry Sidgwick (1838–​1900), a philosophy professor at Cambridge University. His most famous associates were the Balfour brothers and their sister. Arthur James Balfour (later Lord Balfour, 1848–​1930, British prime minister between 1902 and 1905), was the society’s president in 1893–​94; his younger brother Gerald (Earl Balfour, 1853–​ 1945) was appointed president in 1906; their elder sister, Eleanor (1845–​1936), who married Sidgwick in 1876, was the society’s president in the 1930s. Other presidents of the SPR included well-​known figures from the contemporary spheres of science and politics, among them the mythologist Andrew Lang (1844–​1912) and the former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809–​98). The purpose of the society in its early years was the scientific examination of the spiritual phenomena that occurred in séances, and the scientific and objective determination in regard to the question of the soul’s persistence after death. The interest in spiritualism reached its peak in England in the 1880s. Alongside a tide of books on magic and the occult, a swarm of esoteric societies were founded during that time and became extremely popular. The founding of the British Theosophical Society in 1878, three years after the foundation of its mother-​society in New  York (now the London Lodge), followed by the foundation of the SPR, seems to have stemmed from this spiritualist common interest. This great interest in the occult and spiritualism at that time is usually attributed to the Victorian crisis

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  279 of faith, and the numerous individuals who engaged in these subjects are commonly described as fugitives from the Christian church.20 One way or another, the Theosophical Society fitted in with the spirit of the time. Its mission, which called for a scientific investigation of the occult, its reservations about the supernatural, and its claim that phenomena that were considered mysterious would in future be categorized within the natural sciences, accorded with the tendency toward spiritualism widespread in England at the time. As a result, in its early years the SPR maintained close relations with the Theosophical Society. Statements made by representatives of the two societies created the impression that they were pursuing the same goals, or even collaborating with each other. Moreover, some of the leading English Theosophists were also members of the SPR, among them Charles Massey (1838–​1905), the founder of the British Theosophical Society, as well as some other prominent Theosophists, such as Francesca Arundale (1847–​1924) and the Countess of Caithness (1830–​95), who joined the SPR in 1884. Another SPR member was Blavatsky’s disciple and Hume’s close friend Sinnett, who returned to England from India in 1883.21 Accordingly, the SPR library purchased Theosophical books and proudly announced the acquisitions in its journal.22 In 1885 these friendly and collaborative relations reached their end as the SPR launched a fierce attack against Blavatsky, and eventually, in 1885, mocked her as a mere charlatan. The person whose report led this attack was Hodgson, who traveled to Adyar, India, and investigated several incidents in which alleged “miracles” occurred. He interviewed people who witnessed them, cross-​examined them, and concluded that behind the supposed Theosophical supernatural phenomena was a systematic fraud invented by Blavatsky. For example, one of these “miracles” took place in August 1883, when Blavatsky and Olcott were away from the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar. Some members of the society who were staying in Adyar reported a miracle that had taken place in the “Occult Room” at the Theosophical Society headquarters, the room that contained the shrine of Mahatma Koot Hoomi. A china saucer placed in the shrine, which was in fact a double-​doored cabinet, fell on the floor and was smashed to small pieces. The pieces were placed for a few moments inside the shrine and were miraculously restored by Koot Hoomi to their original shape, as an unbroken saucer. With the help of Emma Coulomb, who was in charge of the headquarters’ household, Hodgson discovered that the broken saucer was one of an identical pair that had been bought in a Madras shop the previous month, and that Blavatsky had instructed Coulomb to smash one and replace it with another while she herself was away from Adyar, to heighten the impact of the miracle performed by Koot Hoomi despite her absence. The deceit was further exposed when a double door leading to Blavatsky’s bedroom was discovered behind the shrine.23 Hodgson sent progress reports about his work to England in the course of 1885. They revealed several more acts of fraud, as he described them, and were published extensively in the SPR journal, building up expectation for his final report.24 When he finished his investigation he returned to England and reported to the general

280  Interactions with the East assembly of the SPR on May 29 and June 26, 1885.25 His final report was published in December that year. Indeed, it stated that Blavatsky was not “a mere vulgar adventuress.” However, Hodgson’s bottom line was his assertion that she was “one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting impostors in history.”26 A major assistance to Hodgson’s attack on Blavatsky came from an unexpected direction, none other than Hume, who gladly volunteered to build the case against Blavatsky. Hume, who during 1884 became convinced that Blavatsky had deliberately misled him, stayed in Madras in February and March 1885, a few months before the first INC conference, and witnessed the discovery of the hoax of the double doors in the Koot Hoomi altar cabinet. A  short time afterward he also joined the SPR. The May issue of the SPR’s journal listed “Alan Octavian Hume, Simla, India,” in its “New Members” section.27 Hume contributed a serious accusation to Hodgson’s report. He claimed that Blavatsky forged The Mahatma Letters, having in fact written them herself. Hume maintained that from a certain time the Mahatma letters that reached him were written on a type of paper manufactured exclusively in the Darjeeling region. He stated that previously, the Mahatma letters had been written on paper manufactured elsewhere, but the Darjeeling paper made its appearance only after Blavatsky had first traveled to that region. Nonetheless, he seems to have continued to believe in the Mahatmas even after he turned away from Blavatsky herself. This is evident in the Hodgson Report, which quotes Hume in regard to his firm belief that Blavatsky’s Mahatmas are real, and that some of the Mahatma Letters were in fact genuine.28

Hume and the Foundation of the INC The Indian National Congress was the principal Indian political body in India up to independence in 1947. The INC was founded in 1885 and functioned for a long time as India’s national movement. Later, the INC became the political party that governed India for decades. Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister and foreign minister, was the leader of the INC in its early years as a political party. Later it was headed by his daughter Indira Gandhi (1917–​84) and his grandson Rajiv Gandhi (1944–​91). Rajiv’s widow Sonia restored the INC to government in 2004, until the loss in the general elections of 2014. Thus the roots of this major Indian party lie in the political organization of 1885, which marked the start of the organized national struggle in India. Hume’s previously mentioned assertion in the 1885 Hodgson Report, regarding his belief in the existence of Blavatsky’s Mahatmas, just a few months before the first conference of the INC, indicates that the man behind the Indian national organization believed in the occult, Blavatsky’s “Tibetan” Mahatmas, and the Theosophical vision of India’s future. In my opinion, it is therefore correct to propose that the Indian National Congress was founded on an ideological basis influenced by Theosophical ideas.29 Although Hume himself quit the Theosophical Society

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  281 soon after he became convinced of Blavatsky’s fraudulence, the link between the Theosophical Society and the INC was not severed. Quite the contrary, the connection between the two organizations even grew closer, reaching its peak in 1917, under Annie Besant’s leadership of both bodies. As I will show, it is clear that the INC’s initial goals were defined by Hume and as such showed a great affinity to the same goals that Besant contributed to its agenda during her presidency. Hume’s efforts to establish the INC were undoubtedly motivated by his profound interest in Theosophy and from the messages he received from the Mahatmas, in which the unjustified relationships between the dominating British and their subjected Hindus were widely discussed. This theme was emphasized in the first letter Hume received from Koot Hoomi in November 1880 and was further developed in their later correspondence.30 Although he had tried to promote reforms to improve the living conditions of the Indian subjects even before he met Blavatsky, Hume’s attempts to erect a local political organization were clearly fortified by his growing interest in the Theosophical doctrine and guidance. This ideological shift is mentioned by his biographer and close friend, Weddurburn, who almost inadvertently provides clear evidence of this effect. He noted that among Hume’s papers he found a strange memorandum concerning seven volumes of secret reports that had been entrusted to him. Wedderburn stated that the people behind these reports were “Gurus,” leaders of religious sects who “have purged themselves from earthly desires. . . . These religious leaders, through their Chelas or disciples, are fully informed of all that goes on under the surface, and their influence is great in forming public opinion.”31 The date of this memorandum is problematic, as those secret reports were supposedly delivered to Hume before he met Blavatsky. However, as Wedderburn suggested, Hume deduced from the reports that British rule in India was under serious threat, due to a widespread organization of a rebellious local Indian movement. He noted that the reports contained quotes from hundreds of thousands of diverse local sources and believed that the danger to the British Raj was greater than that of the Great Indian rebellion of 1857. In 1886, after Hume’s denunciation of Blavatsky, he wrote a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin (1884–​88), warning him against this danger, stating that his information came from a confidential source that might not be revealed. As his biography’s editor, Edward Moulton, points out, Hume told Dufferin that he was being instructed and guided by “initiates,” whose standing was only slightly below that of Mahatmas.32 It is difficult to determine precisely what he meant, what those volumes entrusted to him contained, or who had given them to him in the first place. However, it is likely that Blavatsky was involved in the matter, just as she was probably involved in the case of the Mahatma Letters. It is certainly possible to conclude from this story that Hume believed that higher spiritual entities were using him to prevent a major mutiny. This may have been what drove him to organize a national Indian body that would cooperate with the British government of India and thus prevent a catastrophe.

282  Interactions with the East Hume’s preparations and efforts to found the INC were based on the tight connections he developed with the local Indian elite throughout the subcontinent during his long term of service. These connections were put to action during 1885, at the end of which the INC held its historic first meeting in Bombay. Hume left Madras on March 19, after having assisted Hodgson, and traveled all over India, meeting numerous local leaders and establishing Provincial Congress Committees in Madras, Pune, Bombay, Surat, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Karachi, Calcutta, Benares, Allahabad, Agra, and Lahore, thus efficiently covering the subcontinent.33 Having organized the infrastructure, he sailed to England, where he remained between August and November. His purpose was to persuade as many influential politicians, including the former Viceroy Lord Ripon and some members of parliament, to support his idea of creating an organization that would improve education, agriculture, and India’s general situation, out of abiding loyalty to the British crown. He urged the formation of a parliamentary commission dedicated exclusively to Indian issues, thus making the subject an integral part of parliamentary debate. His ideas became popular among the British establishment as well as in the Indian elite. Hume’s efforts contributed to the change in the English public opinion in regard to India. The impact of Hume’s activity was first evidenced in 1888, as the British Committee of the INC was founded, headed by Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–​1917), a wealthy Parsee who had resided in England since 1865. The Committee recruited influential politicians, among them Charles Bradlaugh (1833–​91), Besant’s close friend for many years, who became deeply involved in Indian affairs until his death in 1891. In 1890 the committee began to publish the periodical India (a monthly in 1892 and a weekly in 1898), which spread pro-​Indian propaganda in England. A  major advancement was made in 1892, when Naoroji became the first-​ever Asian MP, and in 1893, when Hume’s closest friend, Wedderburn, was himself elected to the parliament. Both fresh MPs founded a parliamentary committee that dealt exclusively with Indian matters and propagated pro-​India ideas.34 The Provincial Congress Committees that Hume organized during 1885 sent delegates to the first INC conference that was opened in Bombay on December 28. Altogether seventy-​two delegates arrived from all parts of the subcontinent, among them lawyers, journalists, university lecturers, and merchants. Most were Hindus, while Muslims were a minority. Among the prominent individuals at the conference were the lawyers Pherozeshah Mehta (1845–​1915), Kashinath Trimbak Telang (1850–​99), and Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee (1844–​1906), alongside the wealthy merchant Naoroji. The delegates elected Bonnerjee as president and chose Hume as the secretary-​general of the INC, a post he held till 1894. Later on, after his return to England, Hume was appointed honorary secretary, a post he filled until 1904. The conference was also attended by senior representatives of the British Raj. Lord Reay (1839–​1921), the recently appointed governor of Bombay, was the honorary president of the Bombay Congress, while Viceroy Dufferin gave it his blessing.35 Thus was launched the body that would ultimately free India from British rule. When looking back at the INC’s activities until the end of World War I, it seems

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  283 that the same principles that guided Hume on its foundation were kept without any opposition. The best example to that somewhat submissive policy would be that of the INC’s most prominent leader between 1905 and 1915, Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–​1915), who himself was a member of the Theosophical Society before taking up politics. Gokhale, who paved the way for Besant’s political rise in the INC, was a proponent of gradualism in the Indian national struggle, believing that national education and training must be advanced before Indians could govern themselves. He therefore favored cooperation with the British government with the aim of achieving self-​government under the Empire’s sheltering wing. Gokhale, who was of poor Brahmin origin, began his political career in 1889, when he was elected as the Pune delegate to the INC. The INC president that year was Wedderburn, who recognized the young Hindu’s potential and kept close relations with him for many years. Gokhale met Hume in 1893 and became his friend until the latter’s death, in 1913. In 1910 he was appointed as the Indian member of the Imperial Legislative Council, perhaps the most powerful post open for Indians in those days. In 1905 he was elected to the presidency of the INC. Being the leader of the moderate faction, he remained the central leader of the INC until his death, in 1915.36 Gokhale’s life story, serving as an Indian national leader and at the same time as an employee of the British government of India, may exemplify the troubling duality that the INC was characterized by for many years. The warm patronage the INC received from the British rulers in its first thirty years was replaced after World War I by a much more hostile attitude, when the reforms that were promised by Britain and were eagerly awaited by the Indian leaders failed to materialize. Nevertheless, Hume’s main idea, which promoted cooperation between Indians and the British rulers, remained for a long time the motto of the INC. Blavatsky seems to have lacked enthusiasm when mentioning the foundation of the INC. Indeed, she claimed that the spirit of aspired Theosophical world brotherhood was becoming more and more visible in India, as a direct result of the Theosophical activity. One aspect of this was “a fervor of patriotism which has culminated in the formation of the Indian National Congress—​a political body with which our society has no connection.”37 In contrast to this somewhat dry acknowledgment of Hume’s achievements, it seems that Blavatsky’s heiress, Besant, saw the connections between the Theosophical Society and the INC in a much more favorable manner, as may be clearly evidenced in her presidential address in 1917, after having been elected as the INC’s president.38 Hume’s ideas, which were first and foremost based on his fear of an overwhelming Indian uprising and therefore called for a tight cooperation between the British rulers and their Indian subjects, were embraced by Besant as well in 1917.

Conclusions The main aim of this chapter was to sketch the close relationships that existed between Hume and the Theosophical Society during the early 1880s. These

284  Interactions with the East relationships, as I have claimed, influenced Hume in his successful attempt to found the Indian National Congress in 1885. Hume’s belief in Madame Blavatsky’s supernatural powers and in her Tibetan Mahatmas lasted at least until 1883. As I have shown, this belief characterized his political activity in India and was influenced by the orders and instructions he received from the Theosophical Mahatmas. In regard to the main question that was raised at the beginning of this chapter, it would therefore be true in my opinion to say that the Indian National Congress was founded on an ideological basis influenced by the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society itself viewed the INC favorably from its inception. For example, Besant claimed that the INC’s birth resulted from a Theosophical enterprise and specified its foundation moment as being during the annual Theosophical convention of 1884.39 Surprisingly, an official INC report from 1935 gives a similar impression. Its author, Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya (1880–​1959), who was considered the INC’s official historian, and later, in 1948, became the INC president, claimed that the idea that gave birth to the INC was first raised in Adyar in 1884.40 Curiously, although Hume had assisted Hodgson and officially quit the Theosophical Society, it seems that Besant kept recalling him most favorably and after his death commemorated him as one of the Theosophical Society’s most prominent members.41 She maintained this favorable attitude and as president of the society went beyond mere support for Indian nationalism in an effort to seek a synthesis between the Theosophical Society and the INC. Her aspirations were finally put to an end in 1919, after the massacre in Amritsar and the dramatic political shift that followed it, which allowed Gandhi’s rise to power, thus ending a long period of direct Theosophical influence over the INC.42 The foundation of India’s national movement by a Briton, who for many years served in the Indian Civil Service, may be retrospectively viewed as an extraordinary story, which perhaps could only have taken place in the nineteenth century, and in an era in which politics and national aspirations in India were interwoven with mythical and mystical ideas imported from the West by the Theosophical Society. The fact that the same person who founded the INC was deeply inspired by such mystical and occultist perceptions makes the whole story even more remarkable, especially as the influence of the Theosophical Society and other occult groups on mainstream culture is becoming more and more clear as research continues.

Notes 1. For a description of the early history of the Theosophical Society, see Isaac Lubelsky, Celestial India:  Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism (Sheffield and Oakville: Equinox, 2012), 77–​91. 2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled:  A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, vol. 1 (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1998), xi, 4, 90, 92, 583–​88 (first pub. 1877). 3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, ed., The Theosophist (October 1879).

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  285 4. Ibid., (January 1887): supplement, xx. 5. Sir William Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume, “Father of the Indian National Congress,” 1829–​1912, A  Biography, ed. Edward C. Moulton (New Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 2002), x (first pub. 1913). 6. Alexander John Arbuthnot, “Bourke, Richard Southwell, Sixth Earl of Mayo (1822–​1872),” in The Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 2, ed. Leslie Stephen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921–​22), 929–​32. 7. Harrington  Verney  Lovett, “Hume, Allan Octavian (1829–​1912),” in The Dictionary of National Biography:  1912–​1921, ed. H. W. C. Davis and J. R. H. Weaver (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 277–​78; Wedderburn, Alan Octavian Hume, xiii–​xvi, 12–​32; and Briton Martin, New India, 1885:  British Official Policy and the Emergence of the Indian National Congress (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 53–​56. 8. William  Lee-​ Warner, “Robinson, George Frederick Samuel, First Marquis of Ripon (1827–​1909),” The Dictionary of National Biography:  Supplement, vol. 1, ed. Sidney Lee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 216–​21 (first pub. 1920). 9. Allan Octavian Hume, The Game Birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon, 3 vols. (Calcutta: A. O. Hume and Marshall, 1879–​91); and Wedderburn, Alan Octavian Hume, lxxix–​lxxx,  35–​40. 10. A. P. Sinnett, The Occult World (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969), 103 (first pub. 1881). 11. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), 384 (first pub. 1996). 12. Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Second Series, 1879–​1882 (London:  Theosophical Publishing Society, 1900), 118–​19, 237–​42. 13. A. T. Barker, trans. and comp., The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, from the Mahatmas M. & K. H. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), letter no. 99 (Hume to K. H., November 20, 1880), pp. 430–​31 (first pub. 1923). 14. Edward C. Moulton, “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​ 1885: Conversion and Non-​Conversion Experiences,” in Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia: Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, ed. Geoffrey A. Oddie (Richmond: Curzon, 1997), 109–​72. 15. Allan Octavian Hume (H.-​X.), Hints on Esoteric Theosophy, vol. 1 (Benares: Theosophical Publishing House, 1909), 23, 41 (first pub. 1882). 16. Barker, The Mahatma Letters, letter no. 56 (K. H. to Sinnett, January 1883), pp. 320–​21. 17. See Vernon Harrison, H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885 (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1997). 18. Barker, The Mahatma Letters, letter no. 100 (K. H. to Sinnett, undated, probably from 1880), p. 431; letter no. 20A (Hume to K. H., August 1882), pp. 120–​21; letter no. 28 (K. H. to Hume, 1881?), pp. 205–​15; letter no. 11 (K. H. to Hume, June 30, 1882), pp. 59–​66; letter no. 14 (K. H. to Hume, July 9, 1882), pp. 77–​83; letter no. 15 (K. H. to Hume, July 10, 1882), pp. 88–​ 99; and letter no. 22 (K. H. to Hume, late 1882), pp. 133–​41. 19. Wedderburn, Alan Octavian Hume, 65–​68; and S. R. Mehrotra, The Emergence of the Indian National Congress (Delhi: Vikas, 1971), 312. 20. Janet Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–​ 1914 (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 159–​60. For further detailed discussion on the subject, see Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004). 21. “Members,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 9 (London, October 1884):  155; “Constitution and Rules (February 20, 1882)” and “List of Members, Associates, Honorary and Corresponding Members (September, 1882 & July, 1883),” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research I (London, 1883): 321–​31.

286  Interactions with the East 22. See, for example, the acquisition list of October 1884, which contained seven different Theosophical publications: “Library Catalogue,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 9 (London, October 1884): 168. 23. N.N., “Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society,” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 3 (December 1885): 201–​400. 24. N.N., “Mr. Hodgson’s Investigations in India,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 15 (April 1885): 323–​24. 25. N.N., “Report of the General Meeting,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 17 (June 1885): 420–​24; and N.N., “Meeting of Council,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 18 (July 1885): 451–​64. 26. N.N., “Report of the Committee,” 201–​400. 27. “New Members and Associates,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 16 (London, May 1885): 369. 28. N.N., “Report of the Committee,” 224, 275. 29. Briton Martin, New India, 1885:  British Official Policy and the Emergence of the Indian National Congress (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1969), 65; and Mark Bevir, “Theosophy as a Political Movement,” in Gurus and Their Followers: New Religious Reform Movements in Colonial India, ed. Antony Copley (Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 2000), 159–​79. 30. K. H.’s first letter to Hume was not included in the official 1923 edition of the Mahatma Letters. Nonetheless, it was almost fully cited in Sinnett’s The Occult World, 110–​22. For later correspondence on the issue, see for example Barker, The Mahatma Letters, letter no.  28 (K. H. to A. O. Hume, 1881?), pp. 205–​15. 31. Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume,  65–​66. 32. William Lee-​ Warner, “Blackwood, Frederick Temple Hamilton-​ Temple, First Marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1826–​1902),” The Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement 1, ed. Sidney Lee (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1963), 171–​76 (first pub. 1920); and Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume, lxxxi–​lxxxiii. 33. Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume, 46; and Mehrotra, Emergence of the Indian National Congress, 392–​402. 34. Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume, 71–​78; B. R. Nanda, Gokhale: The Indian Moderates and the British Raj (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977), 88; and David Lewis Jones, “Naoroji, Dadabhai (1825–​1917),” The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons, ed. Sidney Lee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 490. 35. Wedderburn, Allan Octavian Hume, lxxxiii–​ xcvii, 49–​ 51; Mehrotra, Emergence of the Indian National Congress, 378–​420; and Gordon Johnson, Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism:  Bombay and the Indian National Congress, 1880 to 1915 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 5–​43. 36. Arthur Nethercot, The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (London: R. Hart-​Davis, 1963), 219; and Nanda, Gokhale, 56–​172. 37. H. P. Blavatsky, “Recent Progress in Theosophy,” The North American Review 151, no. 405 (August 1890): 304. 38. Annie Besant, “Presidential Address,” Congress Speeches (Adyar: Commonweal Office, 1917), 30–​133. 39. Annie Besant, How India Wrought for Freedom: The Story of the National Congress Told from Official Records (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915), 1. 40. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, The History of the Indian National Congress, 1885–​ 1935 (Madras: Working Committee of the Congress, 1935), 16, 21.

Hume, Blavatsky, and the Indian National Congress  287 41. Annie Besant, ed., The Commonweal, A Journal of National Reform (Adyar, January 9, 1914); and Annie Besant, ed., The Commonweal, A  Journal of National Reform (Adyar, August 21, 1914). 42. For further reading about the 1919 dramatic political shift, see Lubelsky, Celestial India, 276–​84.

Bibliography Arbuthnot, Alexander John. “Bourke, Richard Southwell, Sixth Earl of Mayo (1822–​1872).” In The Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 2, edited by Leslie Stephen, 929–​32. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921–​22. Barker, A. T., transc. and comp. The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, from the Mahatmas M. & K. H. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972 [1923]. Besant, Annie, ed.The Commonweal: A Journal of National Reform (August 21, 1914). Besant, Annie, ed.The Commonweal: A Journal of National Reform (January 9, 1914). Besant, Annie. How India Wrought for Freedom: The Story of the National Congress Told from Official Records. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915. Besant, Annie. “Presidential Address.” Congress Speeches. Adyar: Commonweal Office, 1917. Bevir, Mark. “Theosophy as a Political Movement.” In Gurus and Their Followers: New Religious Reform Movements in Colonial India, edited by Antony Copley, 159–​79. Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 2000. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, ed.The Theosophist: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism: Embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Other Secret Sciences 1 (October 1879). Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, ed.The Theosophist: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism: Embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Other Secret Sciences, A Supplement 8 (January 1887). Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. “Recent Progress in Theosophy.” The North American Review 151, no. 405 (August 1890): 173–​86. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled: A Master-​Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology. Vol. 1. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1998 [1877]. Hanegraaff, Wouter J. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. New York: State University of New York Press, 1998 [1996]. Harrison, Vernon. H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR: An Examination of the Hodgson Report of 1885. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1997. Hume, Allan Octavian. The Game Birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon. 3 vols. Calcutta:  A.  O. Hume and Marshall, 1879–​1891. Hume, Allan Octavian (H.-​X.). Hints on Esoteric Theosophy. Vol. 1. Benares:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1909 [1882]. Johnson, Gordon. Provincial Politics and Indian Nationalism: Bombay and the Indian National Congress, 1880 to 1915. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973. Jones, David Lewis. “Naoroji, Dadabhai (1825–​ 1917).” The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons, edited by Sidney Lee, 490. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Lee-​ Warner, William. “Blackwood, Frederick Temple Hamilton-​ Temple, First Marquis of Dufferin and Ava (1826–​1902).” In The Dictionary of National Biography: Supplement. Vol. 1, edited by Sidney Lee, 171–​76. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963 [1920]. Lovett, Harrington Verney. “Hume, Allan Octavian (1829–​1912).” In The Dictionary of National Biography: 1912–​1921, edited by H. W. C. Davis and J. R. H. Weaver, 277–​78. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961 [1927]. Lubelsky, Isaac. Celestial India: Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism. Sheffield and Oakville: Equinox, 2012.

288  Interactions with the East Martin, Briton. New India, 1885: British Official Policy and the Emergence of the Indian National Congress. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Mehrotra, S. R. The Emergence of the Indian National Congress. Delhi: Vikas, 1971. Moulton, Edward C. “The Beginnings of the Theosophical Movement in India, 1879–​ 1885:  Conversion and Non-​Conversion Experiences.” In Religious Conversion Movements in South Asia:  Continuities and Change, 1800–​1900, edited by Geoffrey A. Oddie, 109–​72. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1997. Nanda, B.  R. Gokhale:  The Indian Moderates and the British Raj. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1977. Nethercot, Arthur. The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant. London: R. Hart-​Davis, 1963. N.N. “List of Members, Associates, Honorary and Corresponding Members.”Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 1 (London, 1883): 321–​31. N.N. “Library Catalogue.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 9 (London, October 1884): 168. N.N. “Mr. Hodgson’s Investigations in India.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 15 (April 1885): 323–​24. N.N. “New Members and Associates.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 16 (London, May 1885): 369. N.N.“Report of the Committee Appointed to Investigate Phenomena Connected with the Theosophical Society.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 3 (London, December 1885): 201–​400. N.N. “Report of the General Meeting.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 17 (June 1885): 420–​24. N.N. “Meeting of Council.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 18(July 1885): 451–​64. Olcott, Henry Steel. Old Diary Leaves, Second Series:  1879–​ 1882. London:  Theosophical Publishing Society, 1900. Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–​1914. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Owen, Alex. The Place of Enchantment:  British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004. Sinnett, A. P. The Occult World. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1969 [1881]. Sitaramayya, B. Pattabhi. The History of the Indian National Congress, 1885–​ 1935. Madras: Working Committee of the Congress, 1935. Wedderburn, William. Allan Octavian Hume, “Father of the Indian National Congress,” 1829–​ 1912, A Biography, edited by Edward C. Moulton. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002 [1913].

14 Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule Mark Bevir

Recently historians have become interested in the idea of a history of modern political thought in India.1,2 Some of them explicitly champion an approach to intellectual history associated with the contextualism of Quentin Skinner and John Greville Agard Pocock. This debt rarely—​if ever—​entails a commitment to Skinner’s theory of speech-​acts, Pocock’s account of the relation of “langue” to “parole,” or the strict methodological claims of either Skinner or Pocock.3 Nonetheless, the debt has clear historiographical consequences. At a general level, the debt to contextualism consists in recognition of the active role played by ideas and a refusal to treat ideas as the epiphenomena of social, economic, or political forces. At a more specific level, the debt to contextualism may lead historians to focus on traditions that echo those of early modern Europe recovered by Skinner and Pocock. Parts of the new history of Indian political thought focus on liberal constitutionalism, republicanism, the ancient constitution, and federalism. These traditions privilege ideas about political rights and liberties, so that Indian radicals and nationalists appear to have relied more on general secular arguments than appeals to the distinct qualities of Indian culture. However, if we press too hard on these traditions, there is a danger that we may marginalize Gandhi, making his rise and influence hard to explain, for he often relied on cultural arguments to justify the nationalist position. While the precursors and founders of the Indian National Congress may have been inspired by constitutional liberalism, Congress was already dominated by cultural nationalism by the time Gandhi returned to India in 1915. Where did this cultural nationalism come from? Historians might approach this question in a way that reflects the general stance of the new history of political thought, focusing on intellectual and cultural history to show how traditions of thought informed changing political practices, and emphasizing the importance of transnational exchanges in the rise of the relevant traditions and beliefs.4 This approach may reveal diverse sources, developments, and varieties of cultural nationalism, including parts of neo-​Hinduism and the early Swaraj (self-​governance) movement. In this chapter, however, I will examine only how Western Theosophists and Indian writers interpreted, appropriated, and transformed one another and thus the societies of

290  Interactions with the East which they were a part. I do not want to imply cultural nationalism can be reduced to Theosophy. But I do want to suggest that: Theosophy was one strand feeding into cultural nationalism; Theosophy introduced important and largely novel themes to cultural nationalism, including a principled commitment to non-​violence and an alternative to liberal subjectivities; and Theosophy inspired the Home Rule Movement through which cultural nationalism came to dominate Congress. So, this chapter contains three sections. The first shows how Western Theosophists simplified and appropriated Indian thought, deploying it to resolve dilemmas confronting occult and other religious traditions. The second section explores how Theosophical ideas then provided one inspiration for a tradition of cultural nationalism within India itself. Finally, the third section examines how this cultural nationalism transformed Congress in the years immediately surrounding Gandhi’s return from South Africa.

Theosophy Indian thought had long been engaged in transnational exchanges with Europeans, and by the nineteenth century some Indian thinkers had repositioned their intellectual traditions to address dilemmas in Western thought, thereby helping inspire neo-​Hinduism. My narrative begins, however, with the ways in which Western Theosophists appropriated and transformed Indian thought to address dilemmas associated with the Victorian crisis of faith. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Olcott and others founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.5 The Society soon settled on three explicit aims: to explore the psychic powers latent in man, to promote the study of comparative religion, and to defend universal brotherhood. Beyond these aims, Theosophy rested on Blavatsky’s modern occultism, according to which contemporary spiritualist and mystical practices derived from an ancient wisdom originally from India. Blavatsky was one of the leading mediums of her time. She produced various occult phenomena, beginning with table raps and later including the materialization of objects such as the notorious Mahatma Letters. Her detractors portrayed such phenomena as fraudulent tricks. She claimed that the phenomena were insignificant compared with the ancient, esoteric truths of which they were evidence—​an ancient wisdom that was best expressed in the Brahmanical tradition of India but was found in all the great religious traditions of the world. To appreciate the importance of Blavatsky’s contribution to occultism, we must locate her work in the spiritual upheaval of the late nineteenth century. The whole of the occult revival of the second half of the nineteenth century owed much to the crisis then afflicting Christianity. Many of the leaders and members of the spiritualist movement had recently lost their Christian faith. Others came from liberal Christian traditions, such as Unitarianism or Universalism, which were trying to loosen Christian dogma so as to bring Christianity into line with modern secular knowledge.6

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  291 Many Victorians believed that Christianity was directly opposed to science. Early in the nineteenth century, geologists showed that the earth was far older than the Bible implied. Whereas Archbishop Ussher had scribbled in the margins of his Bible that God must have made the world in 4004 bc, the geologists now talked of millions’ of years. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Darwin dropped a bombshell. His theory of organic evolution through natural selection was incompatible with a literal reading of the doctrine of special creations as found in Genesis, and it arguably implied that humanity was on a level with other species, not God’s supreme design. More generally, science as a whole tended to suggest that nature was too uniform for the supernatural miracles described in the Bible. Science was not the only dilemma that confronted Christians in the second half of the nineteenth century. Many moralists disliked the Christian doctrines of vicarious atonement and eternal damnation. They wondered about the morality of sacrificing an innocent Christ for the sins of others, even if the sacrifice was voluntary. And they wondered how a loving God could damn people for eternity, let alone condone the vengeful tortures of hell-​fire. The dilemmas that beset Christians represented both an opportunity and a danger for occultists. On the one hand, occultists could argue occultism avoided those Christian dogmas that their contemporaries found so hard to accept. They could display their familiar acceptance of new scientific discoveries, as Andrew Davis did in incorporating geological discoveries into his writings. On the other hand, however, occultists had to be careful not to overdo things since they too had beliefs that could seem implausible in the harsh light of modern science. If science questioned the existence of a Christian God, then did it not also question the existence of any deity? If science taught that nature was too uniform for miracles, then did it not also teach that nature was too uniform for magic? Blavatsky was well aware of the context in which she wrote. She described “Science and Theology” as “two conflicting Titans” between which “a bewildered public” was “fast losing all belief in man’s personal immortality” and “in a deity of any kind.”7 She thought her contemporaries needed a religion or worldview that met the challenge of modern science. Her work was “a plea for the recognition of the hermetic philosophy, the anciently universal Wisdom-​Religion, as the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology.”8 Geology and evolution had disproved the dogmas of the Christian Church, but they were an established part of the ancient wisdom tradition. In the case of geology, scholarship “has found unanswerable proofs that human existence antedates the last glaciation of Europe,” which is “a hard nut . . . for Patristic Theology to crack; but an accepted fact with the ancient philosophers.”9 In the case of evolution, “modern science insists upon the doctrine of evolution; so do human reason and the ‘secret doctrine’, and the idea is corroborated by the ancient legends and myths.”10 In her occult cosmology, Blavatsky tried to embrace modern science. The universe began with a single all-​embracing deity that infused each particle of matter with a divine spark. Thereafter the universe evolved through a cycle of emanations: lower

292  Interactions with the East orders emanated from higher orders, becoming increasingly dense and gross until they reached a turning point, after which they became increasingly spiritual until eventually they were reabsorbed into the infinite and eternal deity. This cosmology seemed to fit nicely with geological knowledge and evolutionary theory, since it replaced the Christian idea of a transcendent God who created the world in seven days with an immanent God who created the world slowly through natural processes. Although Blavatsky accepted Darwin’s notion that all life evolved, she rejected Thomas Henry Huxley’s argument that all life originated in matter. Darwin made no claims about how life began, merely explaining how he thought life had developed. The theory of evolution did not give us any reason to suppose that life had begun with protoplasm as opposed to the divine spirit. Evolution need not imply materialism. On the contrary, Blavatsky argued all religions rightly taught that nature consisted of three substances corresponding to the matter, spirit, and soul of the occult tradition. She wrote:  “there is a visible, objective nature; an invisible, indwelling nature, the exact model of the other, and its vital principle; and, above these two, spirit, source of all forces, alone and indestructible.”11 Here Blavatsky postulated a third plane linking the gross material plane to the unchanging divine. This plane was the subject of occult science and the basis of natural magic. Since magicians understood how this plane united the whole universe, they could use one thing to influence another one. Blavatsky wrote, “one common vital principle pervades all things, and this is controllable by the perfected human will.”12 Magicians knew the “astral” properties of natural things and used this knowledge to accomplish their will. The practice of occult healing, for example, rested on the manipulation of “imponderable fluids,” which linked everything in a single sympathetic relationship. Mesmerists and other occult healers altered the physical state of their patients by influencing these fluids through suitable actions.13 Blavatsky believed only in magic that she thought rested on natural scientific knowledge rather than supernatural dogma. She denied that occult science transgressed the laws of nature: Nothing can be more easily accounted for than the highest possibilities of magic. By the radiant light of the universal magnetic ocean, whose electric waves bind the cosmos together, and in their ceaseless motion penetrate every atom and molecule of the boundless creation, the disciples of mesmerism—​howbeit insufficient their various experiments—​intuitionally perceive the alpha and omega of the great mystery. Alone, the study of this agent, which is the divine breath, can unlock the secrets of psychology and physiology, of cosmical and spiritual phenomena.14

Blavatsky was arguing not against science but only that contemporary scientists did not know all the laws of nature. She even suggested that the theory of evolution implied that occultists could have developed natural powers as yet unknown to scientists, for if souls had evolved from vegetable to human, there seemed every possibility that advanced humans might have gone on to develop new powers.

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  293 For Blavatsky, the principles that governed human life were the same as those which governed the rest of the universe. Humans had a threefold nature, consisting of a divine spark, an astral or inner fluidic body, and a physical body. They emerged from more spiritual natures and then trod the evolutionary path from spirituality down to a gross materiality and finally back toward the divine. This account of human nature informs Blavatsky’s mysticism.15 Like many earlier occultists, she maintained that humans contained a divine spark, and their telos was to unite themselves with the divine infinite. She called on people to search in themselves for an unmediated experience of the divine, revealing the oneness of all things. “There being but ONE Truth, man requires but one church, the Temple of God within us; walled in by matter, but penetrable by any who can find the way; the pure in heart see God.”16 Blavatsky responded to the moral as well as the scientific dilemmas confronting religious faith. She played on the qualms of Christians, asking “whether Christendom would not be the better for adopting Christism in place of Christianity with its Bible, its vicarious atonement and its Devil?”17 She accepted that evil existed, but then went on to criticize the concept of the devil as a mistaken attempt to present evil as a consequence of a historical figure that consciously chose to do evil. She argued that the doctrine of the atonement derived from an ancient Mystery of Initiation, during which the hierophant chose to sacrifice his life to the gods “whom he hoped to rejoin.”18 Christians had turned this Mystery into a dogma according to which one sinless man had died to atone for the fall of the rest of humanity. While Christians were worried about the morality of the atonement and eternal damnation, they, like many who had lost their faith, were equally anxious about what would provide the basis for moral action in a post-​Christian world. Blavatsky tried to ease their anxiety by claiming that the ancient wisdom taught that unity with the divine required moral behavior: “a man” who believes “he has no scapegoat to carry the burden of his iniquities for him” is more likely to behave morally than one who believes “that murder, theft and profligacy can be washed as white as snow” if only he believes in the atoning Christ.19 As well as responding to the problems facing contemporary Christians, Blavatsky modified the occult tradition in one other crucial respect. She made India the source of the ancient wisdom. Occultists traditionally had identified Egypt as the fountainhead of the ancient wisdom, but Blavatsky argued that recently “it has been discovered that the very same ideas expressed in almost identical language, may be read in Buddhistic and Brahmanical literature.”20 Some contemporary Orientalists claimed that Hinduism pre-​dated Christianity, and most contemporary Orientalists claimed that Christian and Hindu teachings had much in common. Thus, when Blavatsky read Louis Jacolliot or even Sir William Jones, she easily concluded that here lay the proof of the ancient wisdom that occultists long had spoken of as the source of all religions. The evidence fitted her beliefs so nicely that well might she almost exultantly claim, “a conclusive opinion is furnished by too many scholars to doubt the fact that India was the alma mater, not only of the civilization, arts and

294  Interactions with the East sciences, but also of all the great religions of antiquity.”21 Now scholars would have to acknowledge the existence of an ancient wisdom tradition. Here Blavatsky referred to scholars who had shown that many Biblical legends also appeared in Sanskrit works that pre-​dated the Bible. She wrote, “when we find some of the oldest Ceylonic traditions in the Chaldean Kabala and the Jewish Bible, we must think that either Chaldeans or Babylonians had been in Ceylon or India.”22 Similarly, she pointed out that scholars had shown that Buddhist missionaries had translated Sanskrit works into every Asian language, and she concluded that the religion of ancient India had spread throughout the world providing the groundwork of each and every religion. Then Blavatsky offered her own account of how an oriental wisdom had spread westward. Six thousand years ago India had contained a brilliant civilization. A matured section of its population emigrated to Eastern Ethiopia where they became known as the mighty builders, and from where they colonized Egypt. The Egyptians then devised the Judaic law to which Christianity and Western culture owed so much. Thus, Blavatsky explained, “there is not one of all these sects—​Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included—​but sprang from the two main branches of that mother-​trunk, the once universal religion, which antedated the Vedic ages—​we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism.”23 Blavatsky rewrote the occult tradition in the light of modern science, rejecting the concept of a personal God and expounding a philosophy that overlapped somewhat with the teachings of Buddhism. She also claimed that contemporary Orientalists had shown that certain Sanskrit texts were the basis of many of the worlds’ religions. These two positions may seem odd companions, since the Sanskrit texts were the sacred works of Hinduism not Buddhism. Blavatsky brought them together by arguing that the doctrines that people now called Buddhism were actually the true teachings of the Vedas, that this true Brahmanism later had been corrupted by accretions introduced for reasons of self-​interest by the Brahmins, and that the Buddha merely taught the need to return to the true religion of the Vedas. Thus, the true Brahmanism of the Vedas incorporated the ideas that the Buddha later defended:  “Gautama Buddha’s philosophy was that taught from the beginning of time in the impenetrable secrecy of the inner sanctuaries of the pagodas.”24 Blavatsky thus distinguished a corrupted modern Hinduism from a true Brahmanism.

Cultural Nationalism The first issue of The Theosophist officially declared that the Theosophical Society was “unconcerned about politics.”25 When Blavatsky and Olcott visited India, they assured the colonial authorities they would restrict themselves to philosophical and scientific studies, avoiding politics.26 This official position was dramatically symbolized at the Society’s annual convention of 1884. Some Indian Theosophists

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  295 wanted to meet up to discuss the idea of a national political movement, but the official disavowal of politics meant they had to do so not in the Society’s headquarters under the auspices of its annual convention but across the road as an apparently unrelated group. A road in Adyar, just outside of Madras, thus divided the Theosophical Society from the political action taken independently by some of its members. It was no accident that an important effort to form a national political movement had close ties to the Theosophical Society. Nor was it an accident that the colonial authorities kept Blavatsky and Olcott under police surveillance, fearing they would undermine British rule. Theosophy’s influence on politics arguably became even greater in the early years of the twentieth century under the leadership of Annie Besant, who succeeded Olcott as president of the Society.27 At first Besant saw the role of the Society as a religious and cultural one to the exclusion of politics; she said that the genius of India “is for religion and not for politics, and her most gifted children are needed as spiritual teachers, not as competing candidates in the political arena.”28 Yet by 1915, she had founded the All-​India Home Rule League in a clear attempt to foist a more radical political agenda onto Congress. To appreciate how Theosophy fed into nationalism, we have to contrast it with the official discourse of the Raj. Christianity may have played different roles in the lives of different individuals in British India, but the colonial authorities relied on a particular Christian discourse to define and legitimate their role. They implied that only in Christian societies can individuals develop as properly rational beings in accord with the will of God. The Raj was needed to secure the conditions under which Indians could realize their God-​given capacities.29 Hinduism was here denounced, first, for obscuring the worth of the individual behind a fatalistic pantheism, and second, for preventing a rational concern with the facts by representing the world as māyā—​an evil illusion to be overcome by ascetic withdrawal.30 Theosophy turned upside-​down this dual denunciation of Hinduism. First, where the ruling discourse of the Raj complained Hinduism reduced the individual to part of a larger whole, Theosophists argued Christianity fostered an unhealthy individualism. Theosophists believed in an ancient wisdom that recognized all beings as manifestations of the one divine form. We are all interlinked with one another in a way that implies an ethic of solidarity and “universal Brotherhood.” Thus, as Besant explained, Hinduism puts the individual in a proper relationship to the social whole, for it recognizes that the good of the individual is bound inextricably to that of society, teaching that “the primary truth of Morality, as of Religion and of Science, is the Unity of Life.”31 The unity of life does not imply a lack of respect for individual differences, nor does it imply a flat, Western-​style equality, defined in terms of the rights of man. Rather, it implies that individuals should use their talents and abilities for the good of the whole. For Besant, Hinduism thus incorporates an admirable social morality, teaching us that “we live not to assert our rights but to do our duties, and so to make one mighty unit where each shall discharge his functions for the common good of all.”32 It teaches the importance

296  Interactions with the East of performing one’s social duty (dharma). However, Theosophists such as Besant continued, the introduction of Christianity into India undermined the traditional ideals of brotherhood, service, and duty. Christianity’s emphasis on the salvation of the individual prevents people seeing themselves correctly as part of a social whole: it encourages the illusory idea, so popular in the West, that the individual is an independent entity with private ends; it leads people to think in terms of individual rights rather than social duties. Theosophy also turned upside-​down the idea that Hinduism encouraged an ascetic withdrawal from the world conceived as an evil illusion. Many Theosophists complained that Western thought failed to provide an adequate basis for moral action. They echoed Blavatsky’s idea that Hinduism gives a purely natural account of ethics based on the doctrine of reincarnation and the law of karma. Recognition that the current evils afflicting people are the necessary consequences of their past actions gives people a reason to behave morally; people know they later will reap the harvest they now sow. In Theosophical writings, the concept of karma thus comes to serve as a call to action, requiring people to strive to make life better for others and so for themselves. Theosophists argued that while Hinduism teaches us that we can escape from a cycle of rebirths only by ridding ourselves of desire, we should take this teaching as an injunction to renounce only selfish desires, not the desire to do good for others. Besant told her fellow Theosophists, “the word of freedom” is “Sacrifice—​that which is done for the sake of carrying out the Divine Will in the world”; “that which you do as living in God and doing God’s work—​that action alone does not bind the man, for it is an action that is sacrifice, and has no binding power.”33 The law of karma does not mean that we have a fate to be endured, but that we are called on to act selflessly for the good of others. Theosophists thus concluded that Hinduism, with its concept of karma, gave an impetus to rational, moral behavior in a way neither Western science nor Christianity did. In defending Hinduism, Theosophy idealized Indian culture and society. The official discourse of the Raj portrayed India as an unchanging land where individual liberty lay crushed beneath religious superstition and traditional custom. In contrast, Theosophy implied that traditional Indian society embodied the ancient wisdom—​an ideal religion and ethic. From this perspective, the Indian nation was in essence an organic community of individuals bound together to pursue spiritual enlightenment through recognition of personal duty. Besant and some other Theosophists argued that Aryan society and its caste system were designed to serve the religious purpose of advancing a universal process of spiritual evolution.34 For a start, Aryan society aided the soul’s growth by subordinating man’s lower nature to his higher one. The hierarchy of castes showed that the Aryans prized spiritual life over material luxury, for, as Besant explained, “the highest caste in the older days, the Brahmans, were a poor class, and the wealth of the Brahman lay in his wisdom, not in his money-​bags.”35 The Aryans lived pure, simple lives dedicated to the conquest of their lower selves as a means to contact with the divine. In addition, Aryan society promoted spiritual advancement by defining and encouraging

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  297 performance of one’s dharma. The location of individuals in a caste defined their specific place and duty in a social whole. Caste indicated the nature of people’s dharma, encouraging them to do their duty and so facilitating their spiritual development. Finally, the emphasis that the Aryans put on simple living and social duty produced an organic community in which religion governed social conduct and in which each individual cared for his neighbors. Aryan society was thus an association of individuals bound together in pursuit of shared spiritual goals, not a neutral arena in which atomistic individuals fought for competing, private goods. Besant argued that self-​governing villages were the institutional embodiment of the organic nature of Aryan society. The village was the basic, enduring feature of Indian society. Emperors came and went, but the village remained as a self-​ sufficient community providing stability and continuity in the lives of ordinary people. Each village was composed of a core area of buildings for living, working, and resting, surrounded by arable land, then pasture land, and finally a natural or planted forest. The village owned the land on which it was situated, and the villagers treated each piece of land as a common possession on loan to the family that cultivated it. Everyone had a common right to the pasture land, where they grazed animals under the watchful eye of a shepherd, and to the forest, where they gathered wood for fuel and building. Each village supported craftsmen, including carpenters and potters, and professionals, such as priests and astrologists, by granting them a share in village lands, or, more usually, village crops, and by making gifts to them during religious festivals. The life of the community always revolved around the temple, which fostered religion and moral culture. Everyone happily devoted time and effort to work on communal projects such as digging wells. An idealized view of Indian culture as organic and spiritual left Theosophists needing a very different historiography from that incorporated in the official discourse of the Raj. Theosophists could not accept that India was a land of unchanging superstitions being liberated and made rational by the British. Instead, they had to explain how Indian society had fallen away from the Aryan ideal. They did so by pointing to the disruptive effects of foreign, and especially British, rule. Earlier invaders rarely touched the soul of India. Indeed, India typically captured the invaders by turning them into Aryans whilst also being enriched by their culture. But the British had destroyed the religious basis of India by pushing Western ideas and habits on to her people. The crucial difference here was that the British had been the first foreigners to come to India exclusively for profit, with no intention of learning from her culture. The British invaded India not to spread Christianity, nor to free a subject people, nor to find adventure but rather to trade and, in particular, to find new markets for the products that they produced in such vast quantities after the industrial revolution. They had even conquered India by the dishonest means of the merchant class. The East India Company paid scant heed to treaties and also initiated quarrels among Indians. It played rulers off against one another by, for instance, hiring troops for one until he became too powerful, at which time they would begin to help his rival. “England,” Besant concluded, “did not ‘conquer

298  Interactions with the East her [India] by the sword’ but by the help of her own swords, by bribery, intrigue, and most quiet diplomacy, fomenting of divisions, and playing of one party against another.”36 The Theosophists’ historiography inspired an account of British rule in India very different from the official discourse of the Raj, and for that matter from constitutional liberals. Once the British had conquered India, they systematically discredited Hinduism by ignoring indigenous literature and religion and teaching subjects designed to produce the clerks needed first by the East India Company and then by imperial rule. Worse still, the British had instilled in India a European concern with rights. They taught Indians to regard caste as a mark of privilege and status indicating how much respect an individual should be shown, making caste stand for social distinction rather than social duty, and so making the lower castes angry and jealous of the higher ones. The resulting conflicts ruined Indian society, for “out of the base marriage of Caste to Separateness, instead of the true wedlock of Caste with Service, there sprang a huge and monstrous progeny of social evils, which preyed, and are still preying, on the life of India.”37 British rule had also destroyed India’s economy. Theosophists often complained of the drain on Indian wealth that was needed to pay for the India Office and pensions to retired civil servants. British rule had led to increased taxation of the Indian peasant and so to recurring famines and a neglect of public works, such as irrigation, that were needed to promote economic development. Finally, the British had ruined the self-​governing village of the Aryans by replacing common ownership of the land with peasant proprietors, and elected officers responsible to the village itself with appointed officials responsible to the higher echelons of government. The British ruled India through an administrative bureaucracy that paid no attention to the voices of Indians, relying instead on executive fiat and repressive legislation. Theosophists generally denied, therefore, that British rule was or even could prepare the way for liberal democratic government in India. On the contrary, the British had promoted a corrupt individualism and decadent materialism, destroying the glories of the Aryan polity. The political question was not how long it would take the Indians to adopt the values needed to govern themselves. It was how best to return India to its true self. Here Theosophy fed into a tradition of cultural nationalism very different from constitutional liberalism. Cultural nationalism focused on religious, social, and economic issues, far more than constitutional ones, and it hoped to revive the cultural and social inheritance of an idealized India at least as much as to win political rights and liberties. Cultural nationalists characteristically approached political reform less as a way of encouraging a liberal and democratic Indian public than as an adjunct or prelude to returning India to its alleged cultural, social, and economic inheritance. Cultural nationalism could inform widely different political proposals. Over time, it led Besant and her followers to focus not on constitutional limits to British power and the expansion of Indian representation but on independence. When

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  299 Besant first arrived in India in 1893, and again when she emigrated there in 1898, she assured the authorities that she would not engage in political activity. Elsewhere she explained that India’s genius “is for religion and not for politics, and her most gifted children are needed as spiritual teachers, not as competing candidates in the political arena.”38 At this time, Besant linked Theosophy to a rejection of politics. She argued that the important task was to revive Indian culture, and politics was of little help in this task. She herself concentrated on promoting a religious and moral renaissance based on traditional Hindu ideals, propagating Theosophical ideas, founding the Central Hindu College in Benares, and forming the Brothers of Service. Yet, even the apolitical form of cultural nationalism was in tension with the constitutional liberalism of the moderates who dominated Congress. As Besant came to think that the longed-​for cultural renaissance was under way, she began to think the time was ripe to combine her religious and social work with more political activities. She wrote to Pherozashah Mehta and Dadabhai Naoroji, asking them if Congress would lead a campaign for religious, educational, social, and political reform.39 The moderates declined to do so on the grounds that Congress should be a purely political organization. Besant could not accept their position. For her, the whole point of politics was not constitutional reform but a religious and cultural revival. She entered nationalist politics to try to make it of more relevance to such a revival.

The Home Rule Movement It was clear by 1914 that Besant’s cultural nationalism had led her to take a very different view of the role of Congress from that of the moderates who dominated it. The moderates were constitutional liberals.40 Typically they believed that the diversity of the Indian people meant that an Indian nation could not rest on a shared language or a shared religion as was the case with many European nations. It was thus vitally important that the Indian public develop a commitment to liberal democracy and religious toleration so they could live together despite their diversity. The moderates emphasized the backwardness of Indian society and so the need to introduce reforms that would gradually create a mature public fit for democratic self-​rule. They argued that British rule benefited India because it was guiding India toward a secular and liberal democracy. Ultimately they wanted India to have self-​government in the British Empire, but they thought it would be some time before India was fit for self-​government, and in the meantime they wanted more opportunities for Indians to influence and participate in British government. They promoted this agenda by cooperation, deputations, and participation in constitutional politics. While Besant disagreed with the moderates, she also distanced herself from the extremist advocacy of revolutionary violence. As a Theosophist, she believed that

300  Interactions with the East change only took place through the power of the spirit in people: nationalists had to live the ancient Aryan ideal, including non-​violence. Violence was incompatible with a moral life, so it would hinder the renaissance of the Indian nation. From time to time Besant argued that India should remain in the British Commonwealth, spreading its spiritual ideal and advancing universal brotherhood. More generally, Theosophists and other cultural nationalists typically had a primary commitment to the cultural revival of India and saw politics as serving this end, whereas the extremists often had a primary commitment to political independence and used religious and cultural symbols to promote that end.41 Theosophists brought relatively novel ideas into the nationalist movement. Certainly they differed from constitutional liberals in important respects. First, their cultural nationalism was based on religious and social ideals, rather than liberal and constitutional ones. For Besant, “there was no progress possible for any form of human activity if the roots of that activity were not struck deep in the ocean of spiritual life.”42 Her supporters “bring with them devotion to Hindu ideals, readiness for sacrifice, a burning passion of patriotism, and of devotion to the motherland.”43 Second, cultural nationalism concentrated on transforming individual lives, rather than building a liberal public sphere. Besant championed Indian languages, dress, customs, arts, and manufactures, including the swadeshi (home grown) movement. She wanted Indians to adopt “a simple life with all the noble characteristics of the ancient times” so that “their houses should have the old simplicity and not be crowded over with a multiplicity of things of modern manufacture.”44 Third, cultural nationalism thus advocated an activist mass politics designed to convert and transform people, rather than a politics of official deputations. Besant and her followers wanted “to carry on a continuous educative propaganda.”45 Finally, cultural nationalists often argued for immediate self-​rule, since they associated British tutelage with the spread of a corrupt individualism and materialism, rather than the secular liberalism for which the moderates were hoping. After Mehta and Naoroji rejected Besant’s overtures, the differences between constitutional liberalism and cultural nationalism came to dominate nationalist politics. Besant’s own opposition to the nature of Congress under the leadership of the moderates is well laid out in an article she wrote for her daily newspaper, New India, in October 1914. Besant argued that Congress raised little “enthusiasm” among the Indian people since it “continues to move on in exactly the same groove, passing year after year similar resolutions and making little substantial progress.”46 Congress should do more than hold annual gatherings and arrange for Indian participation in the larger legislative councils established by the Morley-​Minto reforms of 1909. Congress should lead the Indian people to nationhood, that is, not only independence but also the revival of India’s true religious and cultural spirit. In particular, Besant proposed that Congress start immediately to formulate, proclaim, and promote the views of educated India on all matters of public importance, gathering facts on the basis of which detailed legislation could be prepared, and educating public opinion so as to secure support for legislative action in the new councils.

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  301 Behind Besant’s specific proposals lay her belief in agitational politics based on educative propaganda. She wanted Congress to select a number of topics for discussion each year and then conduct a campaign of education around them. To do so, Congress would have to extend its organization down to a more local level and deploy novel means of propaganda such as popular lectures and public discussions. Here Besant argued for urban and village committees of Congress being added to those at the Provincial, District, and Taluka levels, and she called for numerous leaflets, newspaper articles, and pamphlets dispersing facts and opinions relating to the nationalist cause. Theosophists such as Subramania Iyer and Krishna Row soon wrote letters and articles in support of Besant’s position. She herself constantly wrote and spoke of the necessity of Congress preparing a definite plan of self-​government around which an educative and legislative campaign could be conducted, arguing that the “working out of a scheme of self-​government feasible at once but open to the future is now imperative.”47 Then, on September 25, 1915, she announced that she would form a Home Rule League to compliment Congress. Besant suggested that Congress, as the nearest thing India had to a representative body, should prepare a scheme of self-​government that the League would then popularize through educative propaganda. She argued that Congress’s “annual sessions and the rare meetings of its committees” left it unable to engage in constant agitation on behalf of the demands it formulates, and the League would fill this gap.48 Yet, Besant’s talk of complimenting Congress barely veiled her threat: if the moderates did not initiate a popular agitation through Congress, she would create a new organization to do so. The battle lines between constitutional liberals and cultural nationalists were now drawn. Theosophists and other cultural nationalists sided with Besant. Bal Gangadhar Tilak assured her that he was ready to disavow violence and join her, and a group of young theosophists in Bombay led by Jamnadas Dwarkadas and Shankerlal Banker began to publish a weekly paper entitled Young India in support of her proposals. On the other side, the moderates with their liberal constitutionalism tried to stall the emergence of the League. Jairazbhoy wrote Besant an eloquent letter, explaining why the League would be inappropriate. He argued that the League would be incompatible with Congress’s promise to the Viceroy not to cause trouble during the War (World War I). But his main arguments drew on the Whig themes of so much constitutional liberalism. He believed that the British would introduce liberal and representative government as an appropriate Indian public emerged, so the nationalists should concentrate on helping the British to prepare India for self-​government rather than trying to push through reforms for which the nation was not yet ready. As he explained: We can trust to our rulers to encourage and guide the political self-​development of the people of India. The pace cannot be forced by artificial means, the growth should be natural. . . . It is not politic or right to dangle before immature and impatient minds impossible ideals. . . . We all know what our goal is, but it is distant and

302  Interactions with the East we have to work ourselves for its attainment by our training, fitness and capacity and not by mere preparing rave youth for agitation, however constitutional.49

Besant tried to get the blessing of Congress for the League. Yet, although the Bombay Congress of 1915 passed a motion requiring the All-​India Congress Committee to initiate a program of educative propaganda, nothing actually happened, so she decided to go ahead and form a new organization. On September 3, 1916, the All-​India Home Rule League was formed at a meeting in Gokhale Hall, Madras. Theosophists dominated the meeting. George Arundale spoke about how Besant had sent him to northern India “to draw recruits around the Home Rule flag, to help to organize educative propaganda, and above all else to send to the coming Congress, delegates pledged to make the policy of Home Rule the dominant policy of the National Congress.”50 Dwarkadas told those present that “they should not judge public opinion in Bombay by the opinions of the few who had elected themselves as leaders of the political movement in that city [the moderates], but by the opinions of those whose opinions were worth having, viz. of those members of the younger generation.”51 Besant herself called on those present to “educate the people politically,” especially emphasizing the need for “vernacular work”; she wanted “Home Rule missionaries” to build a mass movement.52 The All-​India Home Rule League was intended to educate and mobilize people to build the nation by adopting indigenous cultural practices and taking coordinated political action. These goals seemed to be best served by a loose, decentralized organization in which leadership came from inspirational literature and charismatic figures. On October 8, 1916, the League’s Council adopted a constitution.53 Almost anyone over the age of eighteen could join. The only exceptions being students, who were limited to associate membership until they left education, and the subjects of Indian states for whom membership could bring trouble from their governments. Life membership cost a mere one rupee, although individual branches could levy additional annual subscriptions. Any three members could apply to form a separate branch, and once they received the go-​ahead from their provincial secretary, they could elect their own officials and frame their own rules, though the latter would be subject to approval. Once seven branches arose in a given Presidency or Province, they could elect a provincial secretary. The Council had few formal powers, and in practice it only met six times during the first ten months of the League’s existence, sometimes with as few as two Council members attending and with discussion of issues often being perfunctory.54 Few executive decisions were needed. What mattered was the enthusiasm, propaganda, and mobilization achieved through newspapers, pamphlets, and informal channels of communication. By January 1917 Arundale was able to report to the first annual conference of the League that there were over five thousand members spread across 108 branches.55 The League’s membership rose to about five times that of the Indian Section of the Theosophical Society. Nonetheless, the overlap of membership was important,

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  303 with Theosophists often forming branches of the League and continuing to lead them. Sixty-​eight of the seventy people who founded the Bombay City branch of the League were Theosophists. Prominent local Theosophists often became president of the local branch of the Home Rule League: Srinwasa Aiyar headed both in Tanjore and Manjeri Ramier held office in both in Calicut, as did others in places such as Kumbakonam, Madura, and Trichy. At the national level, the League’s Council was dominated by Theosophists, including Besant as president; Iyer as honorary secretary; Arundale as organizing secretary; Bahman Pestonji Wadia as treasurer; and Chetpat Pattabhiraman Ramaswami Aiyar, Seth Abdul Rasul, and Pandharinath Telang as the general secretaries respectively of Madras, Bombay, and Bengal. When Wadia visited Guntar in October 1916, he spent one day engaged in home rule work and another on Theosophical work.56 Theosophy and Home Rule were providing spiritual homes to Western-​educated Indians who were struggling to reconcile their traditional faith with new learning. Years later Dwarkadas still called Besant “my adorable Guru,” describing his meeting with her as a greater landmark in his life than his marriage.57 His brother Kanchi wrote of his relationship with Besant as one of “Guru and Chela [disciple].”58 The brothers were educated at Elphinstone College, Bombay, and by the time they left they spoke English considerably better than their native Gujurati. Their father was a Theosophist, and they too joined, welcoming the association of Hinduism with the ancient wisdom. Jamnadas asked rhetorically, “is it not also true that all the later isms, whether Zorastrianism, Christianity, Islam or any other ism are contained at least in embryo in the great religion of Hinduism?”59 The brothers identified this purified Hinduism with the perpetual basis of the Indian nation, portraying Indians as a uniquely spiritual people with a spiritual mission: Jamnadas explained, “we believe that we are perhaps more spiritual than other peoples.”60 As Theosophists, they were initially attracted to religious, educational, and social work, but Besant soon pulled them into the Home Rule League and the nationalist movement. If the League was to transform the nationalist movement, it had to have an impact on Congress. The League’s membership card declared the immediate task of members to be “to form or join local societies affiliated to Congress organisation, to elect delegates to the Congress of 1916 pledged to vote for Home Rule.” The League made headway at the Lucknow Congress, dominating the open session, and securing a resolution calling on the British “to confer self-​government on India at an early date.”61 Yet the moderates still controlled the Subjects Committee, so Tilak’s proposal to establish a working committee to direct a widespread agitation was ruled out of order on the grounds that Congress was a purely deliberative organization. The Calcutta Congress of 1917 marked the final triumph of the League. During the previous year Besant had been first interned by the British authorities and then elected president of Congress by her supporters. The dominance of cultural nationalists in Congress led to two dramatic changes. First, Congress moved even further toward demanding immediate home rule, describing the earlier Lucknow

304  Interactions with the East proposals as but a “first step” to be enacted immediately, and calling for “a time-​limit to be fixed” for complete self-​government.62 Second, Besant positioned Congress to lead a continuous movement based on educative propaganda, saying that she would be a working president, acting as the chosen leader of India for the following year not just during the annual gathering.

Conclusion “The politicians of India have found out how to agitate,” bemoaned Austin Chamberlain, the out-​going Secretary of State for India, in 1917.63 Agitation had arisen along with a cultural nationalism that fostered movements of educative propaganda for a mass audience in the hope of transforming individual lives so as to revitalize the Indian nation and secure home rule. Cultural nationalists generally upheld a particular view of the Indian nation. They believed that India embodied an ancient wisdom or spirituality that was the common root of all religions and that taught the divine unity of people, and so an ethic of individual simplicity and social duty. Many of them suggested Hinduism had a uniquely close if often rather unspecified relationship to this ancient wisdom. Ramaswami Aiyar argued, for example, that Hinduism was uniquely tolerant since it had no doctrinaire basis: “the only thing that makes a Hindu is his belief in the unity and continuity of all life and the operations of a just but inevitable law of existence.”64 Cultural nationalism may have arisen in Indian politics around 1915–​ 17 with the Home Rule movement, but its intellectual roots lie in earlier transnational exchanges. These exchanges involved Western thinkers appropriating Indian thought in an attempt to address dilemmas associated with the Victorian crisis of faith, and Indian thinkers then appropriating these Western ideas to resolve dilemmas associated with British rule. The resulting web of beliefs enabled cultural nationalists to promote an idealized version of Indian culture as, among other things, in accord with the very scientific and moral ideas that had produced the Victorian crisis of faith. Chakravarti Rajagopalachariar wrote, for instance, of Besant’s “service in repelling” the attacks of “Christianity as well as science” on the “Hindu religion.”65 When Gandhi returned to India in 1915, he picked a propitious moment. He and Besant may have disagreed on whether India should retain any links to Britain, and on whether or not it was reasonable to promote passive resistance without expecting it to lead to violence, but they shared a brand of cultural nationalism very different from the constitutional liberalism of the moderates. The Home Rule agitation would soon bring that cultural nationalism to the fore within and without Congress, and after Gandhi had traveled around getting to know India, he would make it his own. He himself had been attracted to Theosophy and influenced by its ideas. Upon his return to India, his entry into politics owed much to the

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  305 Theosophists of the Home Rule League, as, for example, when he took over Young India, the Bombay newspaper that had been founded by Theosophists and Home Rulers such as the Dwarkadas brothers. Later, in 1919 when the Home Rule League split, Gandhi even took over much of the old organization, renaming it Swaraj Sabha. He came to prominence, in other words, precisely because India was more than ready for a leader versed in cultural nationalism.

Notes 1. For helpful comments on successive versions of this paper, I am grateful to the seminar of the South Asia Program, Cornell University, April 2008; the conference on The Empire of Political Economy, Yale University, November 2008; the conference on Comparative Political Thought in a Multipolar World, Center for Human Values, Princeton University, October 2009; and the workshop on Political Thought Seminar at the University of California, Berkeley, October 2010. 2. Examples include R. Travers, Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: The British in Bengal, 1757–​1793 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and the essays collected in S. Kapila, ed., “An Intellectual History for India,” special issue, Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007): 3–​169. 3. For my own doubts about their methodologies see M. Bevir, The Logic of the History of Ideas (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 4. Shruti Kapila has similarly attempted to situate Gandhi. I  think her story fits alongside mine in so far as it emphasizes how a mix of rationalism and evolutionism inspired novel appropriations of Indian thought, inspiring new theories of self and nation that were overtly hostile to constitutional liberalism: S. Kapila, “Self, Spencer and Swaraj: Nationalist Thought and Critiques of Liberalism, 1890–​1920,” Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007): 109–​27. 5. See B. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived:  A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1980). Work on the place of Theosophy in the history of political thought generally concentrates on its relationship to feminism, for example J. Dixon, Divine Feminine:  Theosophy and Feminism in England (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). For a study of its relationship to Indian nationalism see I. Lubelsky, Celestial India:  Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism (London: Equinox, 2012). 6. For a general history see J. Oppenheim, The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–​1914 (New  York:  Cambridge University Press, 1985). Here too there are links to feminism, as explored by A. Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (London: Virago, 1989). 7. H. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2  vols. (Wheaton:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 1:x. This book was the first in which she met the challenge of modern thought in a manner that promoted the cultural vision of India that I  trace in this chapter. Theosophists think her most important work is H. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888). The Secret Doctrine differs from Isis Unveiled in various respects, perhaps most generally in replacing a series of threefold divisions with sevenfold ones. 8. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:vii. 9. Ibid., 1:3. 10. Ibid.,1:152. 11. Ibid.,  2:588.

306  Interactions with the East 12. Ibid.,  2:590. 13. Compare A. Winter, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 14. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 1:282. 15. The best expression of her mysticism is H. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence: Being Chosen Fragments from the Book of Golden Precepts (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1971). 16. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 2:635. 17. Ibid.,  2:472. 18. Ibid.,  2:42. 19. Ibid.,  2:288. 20. Ibid.,1:626. 21. Ibid.,  2:30. 22. Ibid.,  1:578. 23. Ibid.,  2:123. 24. Ibid., 2:169. Later Blavatsky succumbed to the pressure of scholars who insisted her doctrines were not those of Buddhism. She said there had been a semantic muddle with Theosophists using the word Buddhism when they should have used “ ‘Budhism’ from Budha, Wisdom or Knowledge.” See Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, 1:xvii–​xviii. 25. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “What are the Theosophists,” in The Theosophist:  A Monthly Journal Devoted to Oriental Philosophy, Art, Literature and Occultism: Embracing Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Other Secret Sciences, vol. 1, conducted by H. P. Blavatsky (October 1879): 7. 26. H. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves:  The History of the Theosophical Society, 6 vols. (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972–​75), 1:254–​57. 27. For a useful biography see A. Taylor, Annie Besant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). 28. A. Besant, “India’s Mission among Nations,” in Essays and Addresses, vol. 4:  India (London: Theosophical Publishing, 1913), 3. 29. Compare G. Studdart-​ Kennedy, British Christians, Indian Nationalists, and the Raj (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991). 30. Compare the general construction of Hinduism in Western Indology as described in R. Inden, Imagining India (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990). 31. A. Besant, The Basis of Morality (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1915), 26. 32. A. Besant, “The Place of Politics in the Life of a Nation,” in Essays and Addresses, vol. 4: India (London: Theosophical Publishing, 1913), 131. 33. Ibid.,  25. 34. In doing so, they were tacitly rejecting Blavatsky’s alternative argument that caste was a later corruption of the ancient wisdom and that Theosophists should oppose it. 35. A. Besant, The East and The West (Adyar: Theosophical Office, 1908), 22–​23. 36. A. Besant, How India Wrought for Freedom (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1915), lv–​lvi. 37. A. Besant, “East and West,” in Essays and Addresses, vol. 4:  India (London:  Theosophical Publishing, 1913), 78. 38. Besant, “India’s Mission,” 3. 39. Besant described her entry into nationalist politics in A. Besant, The Future of Indian Politics (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1922). Later she added the occult explanation that she had acted under the orders of the Rishi Agastya, who was the Mahatma responsible for guiding the Indian nation. See Annie Besant, ed., “From Peace to Power,” The Theosophist 51, no. 2 (November 1929): 150. 40. On the origins of this constitutional liberalism see C. Bayly, “Rammohan Roy and the Advent of Constitutional Liberalism in India, 1800–​30,” Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007): 25–​41. For accounts of the later conflicts between moderates and extremists see D. Argov, Moderates and Extremists in the Indian Nationalist Movement, 1883–​1920, with Special Reference

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  307 to Surendranath Banerjea and Lajpat Rai (New  York:  Asia Publishing House, 1967); K. Sharma, Moderates and Extremists: Ideological Differences (Delhi: Vista International, 2008); and S. Wolpert, Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962). 41. Aurobindo attacked the moderates as early as 1893 but did not begin to study the Upaniṣads until 1903, and when he first began to practice prāṇāyāma (breathing-​exercises) in 1904, he did so to make himself better able to fulfill his political ambitions, not for spiritual reasons. True, after his imprisonment, he became increasingly concerned with spiritual matters and began to publish a newspaper that dealt with religion and literature as well as politics, but then he moved to Pondicherry and gave up politics within a year of founding that newspaper. He wrote the books that made him a figure of the Hindu revival only after he had retired from politics. On the nature and consequences of his political use of a religious idiom see B. Southard, “The Political Strategy of Aurobindo Ghosh: The Utilization of Hindu Religious Symbolism and the Problem of Political Mobilization in Bengal,” Modern Asian Studies 14 (1980): 353–​76. 42. Annie Besant, The Besant Spirit, compiled from the works of Dr.  Annie Besant, 8  vols. (Madras:  Theosophical Publishing House, 1938–​43), 3:103 [Original, New India, January 3, 1915]. 43. A. Besant, India: A Nation (London: Home Rule for India League, 1917), 89. 44. A. Besant, Essays and Addresses, vol. 4: India (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1913), 116. 45. This phrase comes from the four official objects of the Home Rule for India League. See New India, September 4, 1916. 46. Ibid., October 17, 1914. 47. Ibid., March 13, 1915. 48. Ibid., September 25, 1915. 49. Letter from Jairazbhoy to Besant, December 23, 1915, in The Political Papers of Annie Besant (PPAB), Archives of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, India, part 2, file 13. 50. New India, September 4, 1916. 51. Ibid. 52. Ibid. 53. N.N., Organisation of the Home Rule League (Madras: Home Rule League, 1916). 54. “Minutes of the Council of the Home Rule League,” PPAB, part 2, file 15. 55. New India, January 11, 1917. 56. Ibid., October 31, 1916. 57. J. Dwarkadas, Political Memoirs (Bombay: United Asia, 1969), 175. 58. K. Dwarkadas, India’s Fight for Freedom 1913–​37:  An Eyewitness Story (Bombay:  Popular Prakashan, 1966), 2. 59. Dwarkadas, Memoirs,  6–​7. 60. J. Dwarkadas, Presidential Address to the East Khandesh District Conference, Saturday April 20th, 1918 (Bombay: Chronicle, 1918), 7. 61. Report of the Thirty-​First Indian National Congress Held at Lucknow on the 26th, 28th, 29th, and 30th December 1916 (Allahabad: Reception Committee, 1917), 70. 62. Report of the Thirty-​Second Session of the Indian National Congress Held at Calcutta on 26th, 28th & 29th December 1917 (Calcutta: Reception Committee, 1918), 90. 63. Political A, July 1917, nos. 299–​313, in Home Department Proceedings, National Archives of India, Delhi. 64. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, “Indian Renaissance,” in Religion, Man and Society (Madras: C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, 1979), 98. 65. C. Rajagopalachariar, “Annie Besant and the Revival of Religion in India,” in The Annie Besant Centenary Book, ed. J. Cousins (Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1947), 58.

308  Interactions with the East

Bibliography Argov, Daniel. Moderates and Extremists in the Indian Nationalist Movement, 1883–​1920: With Special Reference to Surendranath Banerjea and Lajpat Rai. New  York:  Asia Publishing House, 1967. Bayly, C. A. “Rammohan Roy and the Advent of Constitutional Liberalism in India, 1800–​30.” Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007): 25–​41. Besant, Annie. The East and The West. Madras: Theosophical Office, 1908. Besant, Annie. Essays and Addresses. Vol. 4: India. London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1913. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. October 17, 1914. Besant, Annie. The Basis of Morality. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915. Besant, Annie. How India Wrought for Freedom. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. January 3, 1915. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. March 13, 1915. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. September 25, 1915. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. October 31, 1916. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. September 1916. Besant, Annie. India: A Nation. London: Home Rule for India League, 1917. Besant, Annie, ed. New India. January 11, 1917. Besant, Annie. The Future of Indian Politics. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1922. Besant, Annie. “From Peace to Power.” The Theosophist 51 (November 1929): 148–​151. Besant, Annie. The Besant Spirit. Compiled from the works of Dr.  Annie Besant. 8 vols. Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1938–​43. Bevir, Mark. The Logic of the History of Ideas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Blavatsky, H. P., “What are the Theosophists.” The Theosophist 1 (October 1879): 5–​7. Blavatsky, H. P. The Secret Doctrine. 2 vols. London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1888. Blavatsky, H. P. The Voice of the Silence: Being Chosen Fragments from the Book of Golden Precepts. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1971. Blavatsky, H. P. Isis Unveiled. 2 vols. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972. Campbell, Bruce. Ancient Wisdom Revived:  A History of the Theosophical Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Dixon, Joy. Divine Feminine:  Theosophy and Feminism in England. Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Dwarkadas, Jamnadas. Presidential Address to the East Khandesh District Conference, Saturday April 20th, 1918. Bombay: Chronicle, 1918. Dwarkadas, Jamnadas. Political Memoirs. Bombay: United Asia, 1969. Dwarkadas, Kanji. India’s Fight for Freedom 1913–​37:  An Eyewitness Story. Bombay:  Popular Prakashan, 1966. Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990. Jairazbhoy to Besant, December 23, 1915. The Political Papers of Annie Besant. Archives of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, India, part 2, file 13. Kapila, Shruti, ed. “An Intellectual History for India.” Special issue, Modern Intellectual History 4 (2007). Lubelsky, Isaac. Celestial India:  Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism. London: Equinox, 2012. “Minutes of the Council of the Home Rule League.” The Political Papers of Annie Besant. Archives of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, India, part 2, file 15, n. d. N.N.Organisation of the Home Rule League. Madras: Home Rule League, 1916. Olcott, Henry S. Old Diary Leaves:  The History of the Theosophical Society. 6 vols. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972–​75. Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–​1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Owen, Alex. The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England. London: Virago, 1989.

Theosophy, Cultural Nationalism, and Home Rule  309 Political A, July 1917, nos. 299–​313. Home Department Proceedings, National Archives of India, Delhi. Rajagopalachariar, C. “Annie Besant and the Revival of Religion in India.” In The Annie Besant Centenary Book, edited by J. Cousins. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing, 1947. Ramaswami Aiyar, C.  P. “Indian Renaissance.” In Religion, Man and Society. Madras:  C.  P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, 1979. Report of the Thirty-​First Indian National Congress Held at Lucknow on the 26th, 28th, 29th, and 30th December 1916. Allahabad: Reception Committee, 1917. Report of the Thirty-​Second Session of the Indian National Congress Held at Calcutta on 26th, 28th & 29th December 1917. Calcutta: Reception Committee, 1918. Sharma, K. C. Moderates and Extremists: Ideological Differences. Delhi: Vista International, 2008. Southard, Barbara. “The Political Strategy of Aurobindo Ghosh:  The Utilization of Hindu Religious Symbolism and the Problem of Political Mobilization in Bengal.” Modern Asian Studies 14 (1980): 353–​76. Studdart-​Kennedy, Geoffrey. British Christians, Indian Nationalists, and the Raj. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991. Taylor, Anne. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Travers, Robert. Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth Century India: The British in Bengal, 1757–​ 1793. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Winter, Alison. Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Wolpert, Stanley. Tilak and Gokhale:  Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962.

15 Experiments with Theosophical Truth Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History Michael Bergunder

Without doubt, one of the most remarkable political personalities of the twentieth century was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–​1948), better known under the name Mahatma Gandhi. He was the charismatic leader of the Indian independence struggle against British colonialism and one of the founders of so-​called nonviolent resistance. He is also widely known for his tolerant views on religion, though the intellectual sources of this tolerance are still a matter of debate. In order to provide a framework for a systematic interpretation and contextualization of Gandhi’s religious views, this chapter argues for a global history approach.1

Gandhi’s Religious Views Gandhi was born in what is now Gujarat, North India, in 1869. From 1888–​91 he studied law in London in order to train as a barrister. After a short Indian intermezzo, working as a lawyer in Bombay and Rajkot, he went to South Africa. He remained there from 1893–​1914 and organized the civil rights struggle of the Indian minority. After returning to India in 1915, he became the leader of the national liberation movement against British colonial power, which succeeded in attaining Indian independence in 1947. He was assassinated in 1948. To a great extent, Gandhi’s political engagement was defined religiously. In his thought and action, political and religious ideas were inextricably intermingled.2 Of particular note was his positive attitude toward other religions, especially Christianity.3 For one who described himself explicitly as a Hindu, his works and statements provide numerous affirmative references to Christian thinking, especially to Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount. He insisted that all religions point toward the same truth. The question concerning the historical roots of Gandhi’s particular stance on religion has been raised repeatedly, but no conclusive answer has been given. A political or general historical interest has characterized the writing of most works on Gandhi, and these have failed to focus on his religious positions. In cases where

312  Interactions with the East religion has been referred to explicitly, two kinds of interpretation are evident. The first focuses on Gandhi’s own stated view. He maintained that his tolerant attitude toward other religions could be traced to his “Hindu instinct” or, more generally, to the philosophical principles of Hinduism: My Hindu instinct tells me that all religions are more or less true.4 The Hindu system of philosophy regards all religions as containing the elements of truth in them and enjoins an attitude of respect and reverence towards them all.5 His view found support in the indological debate about “Indian inclusivism,” a debate that has continued until recently.6 The notion of an Indian inclusivism was further reinforced by its reception in Christian theology. Friedrich Heiler described “boundless syncretism” and “worldwide tolerance” as the “fundamental features of the Hindu religion.”7 He interpreted Gandhi’s appreciation of Christianity and equating of religions as a typical characteristic of Hindu religiosity. Many other liberal Christians shared this perspective. The second interpretation, of more recent origin, is based on a claim made by Kathryn Tidrick (2006) that views Gandhi as a representative of Western esotericism. Gandhi’s religious ideas, “though clothed in Hindu terminology, were not Hindu in origin. They owed their existence to Gandhi’s precipitation in his youth into the atmosphere of experimentation with esoteric and occult forms of religion which flourished in the London of the 1880s.”8 Tidrick argues that Gandhi’s religious views can be traced back to esotericism and, more specifically, to his encounters with the Theosophical Society and the Esoteric Christian Union.9 This assertion, though, has not been the subject of serious debate. She does not explain what the broader consequences of her findings would be for any assessment of Gandhi’s view of religion. These two ways of interpreting the emergence of Gandhi’s religious views, then, are far apart in their appraisals. Gandhi is seen either as a tolerant Hindu inclusivist, dependent on his “Hindu instincts,” or as a Western esotericist, drawing on its particular concept of religious truth. It is surprising, given that Gandhi is one of the most written-​about historical figures, that the debate on the roots of his religious views remains inconclusive. The criteria required to assess the historical influence on his religious formation are not clearly worked out. A “Hindu instinct” cannot, from a historical perspective, be presumed as a given. It requires a proper historical grounding, which, in relation to Gandhi, has not been adequately provided. On the other hand, positing Western esotericism as the unique and decisive source contradicts Gandhi’s self-​ understanding and neglects other possible influences from India, and perhaps also from Europe and North America. Current debates in religious studies could be helpful in formulating a comprehensive and balanced approach to overcome the impasse. Two insights from these debates are of particular importance and can be applied to Gandhi’s case. First is the understanding that crucial concepts in his thinking, like “religion,” “Christianity,” and “Hinduism,” are not essential and fixed ideas but are contingent and changing

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  313 historical phenomena. They are products of the religious history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that was firmly shaped by the colonial enterprise, which witnessed a global and multidirectional flow of concepts. In light of this, the narrative of Gandhi’s religious views has to be re-​centered away from a psychological-​biographical perspective toward a more discursive approach, in which his intellectual genealogy is described in relation to the general global discourse on religion. Second, religious studies has shown that the modern notion of nineteenth-​century esotericism as an arena of “cranks” and “comically vainglorious spiritualists”10 can easily conceal the tremendous influence it had at the time. In what follows, I  elaborate on these two points to formulate criteria for establishing the genealogy of Gandhi’s religious views. It will be shown how this can help to shed new light on the sources Gandhi used for his views on religion.

The Global Religious History of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries The study of the nineteenth century is being shaped, increasingly, by a global history approach.11 This approach has three aspects. First, it agrees with the central insight of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), which claims that nineteenth-​century colonialism forced “Western” knowledge upon colonized cultures and societies. Said did not discuss the role of the colonized within a colonial power discourse, but this became the primary focus of postcolonial studies,12 which forms the second aspect of a global history approach. Though postcolonialism also assumes that the colonized subjects were subjugated to “Western” knowledge, it shifts the emphasis to the concrete appropriation of this knowledge by the colonized. It shows that colonial discourses are anything but monolithic or uniform. They possess a considerable dynamic, a substantial potential for transformation, and they can, in their fragility, at the same time articulate opposition.13 Hence, postcolonialism is interested in the full breadth of articulation of the colonized and their constant resignification of “Western” knowledge. Third, because the process was multidirectional, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries should be understood as consisting of “entangled histories,” in which “the related entities are themselves in part a product of their entanglement.”14 Due to its entanglement with the colonies, Europe did not experience an autonomous history; rather, the formation of its identity was entangled with the colonized. The crucial point is that concepts like “religion” in the modern sense, and “Hinduism” and “Christianity” as representations of “religion,” emerged as part of a global religious history in the nineteenth century. They were the products of multidirectional discourses and entangled relationships on a global scale.15 In this process, “East” and “West” became detached from their geographical denotation and were used as metaphors that were invested with meanings well beyond the spatial. As a result, Western knowledge, as a de-​spatialized marker in regional identity formation, could be simultaneously propagated by the colonizer

314  Interactions with the East and received by the colonized as a “universal knowledge.”16 There were, therefore, no prior, fixed European concepts that Gandhi related to. Gandhi’s views were themselves part of a global and entangled process of negotiation that shaped these concepts. Today’s understanding of religion did not develop before the middle of the nineteenth century. According to current research, the period provided a new context for our modern understanding of religion, which came about through the challenges presented by the fast emerging natural sciences, the discovery of religious history, and globalization as a central aspect of colonialism. This newly articulated concept of religion was itself a product of global entanglement.17 Connected to the birth of modern “religion” were great changes within Christianity. The nineteenth century was not an easy time for Christian theology. A central challenge was presented by the idea of religious pluralism, which led to the historical relativization of Christianity.18 A result of this was the birth of a liberal Protestant theology that defined Christianity, first and foremost, as a “religion,” which was a new and unorthodox notion.19 The transformation was even more obvious in the case of Hinduism. India, in the nineteenth century, was comprehensively changed through British colonialism.20 Colonial rule led to a fundamental reinterpretation of the Indian religious landscape. The modern concept of “Hinduism” as a coherent entity, and the self-​ understanding of Hinduism as a “religion,” emerged as probably the most important result of the colonial period.21 Central to this was the development of a conceptual antithesis between “West” and “East.” “Hinduism” became a “mystical,” “Eastern” religion, with Advaita Vedānta as its central philosophy22 and the Bhagavad Gītā as its most important scripture.23 Any genealogy of Gandhi’s religious views, then, cannot be based on a supposed dependency on fixed traditional concepts, be they European or Indian, but has to take into consideration the global discourse on religion that Gandhi was obviously a part of.

Esotericism A global history approach is also relevant for the conceptualizing of esotericism. Research on Theosophy has long been neglected, but this has slowly changed in recent decades and the academic study of “Western Esotericism” has become an established field of scholarly investigation.24 It considers modern Theosophy “the most influential esoteric movement of the nineteenth century . . . that created essential foundations for much of twentieth-​century esotericism.”25 However, understanding modern Theosophy as part of “Western Esotericism” is not without problems. The concept of “Western Esotericism” is highly controversial. Esoteric studies continues to struggle to provide a convincing theoretical justification of its subject matter, the reasons for which I have discussed elsewhere.26 With regard

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  315 to Gandhi and Theosophy, it is the Eurocentric notion of “Western” in “Western Esotericism” that calls for special attention. The adjective “Western” was added to esotericism in order to avoid an essentialist understanding that could be universally and comparatively applied to all cultures and eras.27 Limiting it to the West, a specific geographical region, was viewed as a successful retreat from essentialism, but it ignores the insights of a global history approach. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, the leading scholar in the field, characterizes esotericism “as an inherently Western domain of research.”28 In his opinion, esotericism refers to the “Renaissance narrative of ancient wisdom” and its many different receptions in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, which went into decline during the Enlightenment era of the eighteenth century but was rediscovered by “German romanticism” in the early nineteenth century and has persisted up to the present.29 Hanegraaff considers the eighteenth century a watershed but assumes a general continuity starting from the early nineteenth century onward.30 He acknowledges an “expanding horizon of religion” in the nineteenth century, with the adoption and integration of “terms and concepts from Indian religions that had never been a part of Western esotericism before.”31 Yet he views this as the invention of a purely Western “Orientalist imagination,” in which “Western audiences defined their own identity with implicit or explicit reference to the ‘Otherness’ of the East.”32 His approach leaves no room for a global history understanding of esotericism from the nineteenth century on. Western Esotericism remains a profoundly “Western” product, with an entirely “Western” history and audience. As a result, modern Theosophy, understood as a constitutive part of “Western Esotericism,” is studied as a purely Western movement,33 with rare exceptions.34 This approach needs to be reconsidered, because the historical evidence favors a more global perspective. The history of the Theosophical Society, the main contemporary exponent of modern Theosophy, makes this immediately clear. It was founded in 1875 in New  York on the initiative of the German-​Russian Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–​91) and the American Henry Steel Olcott (1832–​1907). The Theosophical Society directly addressed the challenges presented by the discourse on religion at the time. The Society called for the establishment of a universal, multi-​religious brotherhood of humanity, in which the comparative study of the “religions of the world” would be advanced. It was anticipated that this comparison of religions would lead to a disclosure of a primeval religion or “primeval wisdom”—​with primeval wisdom understood in the sense of a hermetical philosophia perennis. As a consequence of this program, Theosophy explicitly integrated Hindu and Buddhist ideas into its system. In 1882, as an outward expression of its interest in Hinduism and Buddhism, the Theosophical Society relocated its headquarters to Adyar, a locality of Madras (Chennai) in South India. Under Annie Besant (1847–​1933), the successor of Blavatsky and Olcott, this commitment in India continued. Besant played an important role in the struggle for Indian independence during the first decades of the twentieth century (Bevir 1998). Theosophy became quite popular among certain educated classes in Europe, North America,

316  Interactions with the East India, and Ceylon. Around 1900, it was more than a fringe or marginalized movement, though its popularity at the time is frequently undervalued or ignored today. In colonial India, members of the new English-​orientated, educated classes became Theosophists, and Theosophy had a deep impact on Hindu reform movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Likewise, it shaped Singhalese reform Buddhism.35 This Indian and Singhalese appropriation effected a change in the character of Theosophy in Europe and North America. Theosophy, thus, provides an outstanding example of the complex entanglements of the global religious history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Gandhi’s involvement with Theosophy has to be understood in this context.

Gandhi and Theosophy As Gandhi turned eighteen years of age, he arrived in London and soon came into contact with Theosophists. His relationship to the Theosophical Society has been referred to repeatedly in academic research. It is possible to reconstruct intensive contacts with the English Theosophists and their writings.36 It is less well known that he continued these contacts, in various ways, during his time in South Africa.37 In 1907, he still had a picture of Annie Besant hanging in his lawyer’s office.38 At some point between 1899 and 1911, however, Gandhi explicitly broke off from the Theosophical Society as an institution.39 A major obstacle in determining the exact impact of Theosophy on him is the limited sources available. He destroyed some of his correspondence with Theosophists and, in later writings, consciously played down the role of Theosophy in his early days.40 The extant sources are carefully reviewed in the works of Hunt and Tidrick.41 What is lacking is a convincing narrative for their interpretation and for understanding their impact on Gandhi. The following discussion will focus on three central topics: Hinduism, Christianity, and religion. In each case, it will be asked if any direct influence from Theosophy on Gandhi’s views about these topics can be philologically traced. Then, it will be asked if these views could have been influenced by the Indian context. Were there influences from his early childhood and youth in Gujarat? What about his time in Bombay and Rajkot, between 1891 and 1893, when he was in close contact with Jain reformers? Did he know anything about other Hindu reform movements? Last, the issue of global “entanglement” will be raised in relation to the topics.

Hinduism In his autobiography, Gandhi used the word “Hinduism” for the first time when he portrayed how Theosophy had stimulated him toward a deeper reflection on his own tradition. He wrote:

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  317 I recall having read, at the brothers’ [Bertram und Archibald Keightley] instance, Madame Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy. This book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused me of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition.42

This suggests that Gandhi became aware of the concept of Hinduism and associated notions of inclusivism through Theosophy. As late as 1946, in an interview with Louis Fischer, Gandhi said: “Theosophy is the teaching of Madame Blavatsky. It is Hinduism at its best.”43 In accordance with the Orientalist notion, Theosophy considered Advaita Vedānta to be the core and central philosophy of Hinduism. In the Key to Theosophy, Gandhi would have read that the “Aryan philosophy” is “fully represented only by the [Advaita] Vedantins, and the Buddhist system.”44 In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky had already written about Advaita Vedānta as the pure philosophy, the philosophia perennis.45 Accordingly, Gandhi identified himself as a “follower of the Advaita doctrine”46 and claimed that “Advaita (oneness) was the fundamental principle of the Vedas.”47 The Theosophist influence is particularly evident in Gandhi’s reception of the Bhagavad Gītā. From Gandhi’s own report, we know that his first acquaintance with the Bhagavad Gītā came through Theosophy. During his stay in London, he came to know two Theosophists, Bertram and Archibald Keightley, who offered to read Edwin Arnold’s popular English version of the Bhagavad Gītā (1885) with him. Gandhi wrote in his autobiography: They were reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation—​The Song Celestial—​and they invited me to read the original with them. I felt ashamed, as I had read the divine poem neither in Samskrit nor in Gujarati. I was constrained to tell them that I had not read the Gita, but that I would gladly read it with them. . . . The book struck me as one of priceless worth. The impression has ever since been growing on me with the result that I regard it today as the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth.48

When he began to study the Bhagavad Gītā intensively, first in South Africa around 1903, it was with “Theosophist friends.”49 For the religious instruction of Indian youth in South Africa, he arranged for a reprint in 1905 of the Theosophist translation of the Bhagavad Gītā by Annie Besant, with her portrait on the title page.50 When Besant protested against the reproduction of her portrait, Gandhi apologized, explaining that “it has arisen from excessive reverence for yourself.”51 Gandhi’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita closely paralleled the allegorical exegesis of Theosophy. As in Theosophy, Gandhi viewed the Bhagavad Gītā as depicting the struggle between the high and debased self in people. In no sense did it justify the use of violence—​the field of battle it described was human nature.52 Gandhi also saw the Bhagavad Gītā as presenting an invitation to action: “He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises.”53

318  Interactions with the East It can, thus, be established that Gandhi’s view of Hinduism, with Advaita Vedānta as its core philosophy and the Bhagavad Gītā as its central scripture, was decisively influenced by Theosophy. Could it, though, also have been influenced by insights from Indian sources? In the period before he went to London, there are no sources to suggest that he was introduced into any comprehensive notion of Hinduism. In his autobiography, Gandhi described how he spent his childhood and youth in a Vaishnava family home shaped by the Vallabha tradition of his father.54 His mother was also an orthodox Vallabha practitioner:  “Going to Haveli—​the [Vallabha-​] Vaishnava temple—​was one of her daily duties.”55 He does not mention any special or profound religious instruction in his youth. It was, for a merchant family (Modh Vania) of the time, possibly not to be expected. He said that he did not have “any living faith in God” in his youth.56 His understanding of his own religion came primarily from the praxis of his family home and was probably to a large extent unreflective. A detail from Gandhi’s descriptions of his school days is revealing. The school taught in English from the fourth year on, but offered Sanskrit and Persian as elective subjects. When Gandhi, for practical reasons, decided on Persian, the Sanskrit teacher took him to task: “How can you forget that you are the son of a Vaishnava father? Won’t you learn the language of your own religion?”57 Here the matter of religion centered on “Vaishnavism” rather than “Hinduism.” In short, there is no textual evidence to suggest that Gandhi had any comprehensive notion of Hinduism before he was introduced to it by Theosophy. It should also be pointed out that it was not without reason that Gandhi did not know the Bhagavad Gītā before he came to London. Though Krishna is the central deity of the Vallabha community, its faith was based on the young Krishna of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and not the mighty Krishna of the Bhagavad Gītā. Admittedly, the founder, Vallabha (d. 1530), came from a Vedānta tradition and accepted the Bhagavad Gītā as one of the foundational scriptures (prasthāna), but the Bhagavad Gītā had probably no impact at all in the traditional Vallabha community of Gandhi’s time (Glasenapp 1933–​34, 278; Barz 1976),58 which explains why Gandhi knew little about it. The crucial point is that Gandhi could easily keep his Theosophist understanding of Hinduism even after he disavowed Theosophy, because the Theosophical notion was not unique at the time. Theosophy’s access to Hinduism and Buddhism came from the reading of Orientalist research and its popularized variants. Its idea of Hinduism, with Advaita Vedānta and the Bhagavad Gītā at its core, concurred with Orientalist notions of India that were welcomed by English-​speaking Hindu elites in the nineteenth century. Theosophy played a decisive role in the popularizing of this Oriental knowledge in colonial India,59 though this is still little acknowledged in present research. Theosophy was, for example, one of the most important promoters of the Bhagavad Gītā, not only in Europe and North America but also in India.60 Gandhi’s case shows clearly how Theosophy was a way for Indians to appropriate Orientalist knowledge. It is notable there is no evidence to show that Gandhi tried, at any time, to reconnect to the Vallabha faith of his family. The community still had a bad reputation

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  319 among the educated public in India and Europe, due to the spectacular Maharaja Libel Case in the 1860s.61 The Key to Theosophy explicitly rejected the Vallabha community, declaring that “the [Vallabha] sect is despised by all the other Hindus.”62 Gandhi mirrored this sentiment in his autobiography.63 There is no evidence to suggest that Gandhi knew of the Vallabha reformer, Hariscandra Bharatendu, or read any of his works. When Gandhi returned to India in 1891, he would have met English-​educated Indians who shared many of his religious views, because they were also influenced by Orientalist notions of India. The Bhagavad Gītā only became popular in India in the 1880s,64 but that was the case when Gandhi returned. The idea of a uniform Hinduism, with Advaita Vedānta as its central philosophy, had become increasingly popular among the English-​educated elites in India, especially through the so-​called Bengal renaissance.65 The Jain reformer Virchand Gandhi (1864–​1901) was one of Gandhi’s closest colleagues in Bombay in 1892.66 Virchand Gandhi (unrelated) attended the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. As a graduate of Elphinstone College, he was well versed in Orientalist knowledge and acquainted with the writings of contemporary Hindu reformers. He also seems to have had some liking for Theosophy, as he translated Nicolas Notovich’s Unknown Life of Jesus Christ from French into English in 1894, which Gandhi became aware of in South Africa.67 The contact with people like Virchand Gandhi must have confirmed Gandhi in his religious views. Perhaps the best example of this process of submersion in the general Indian discourse on Hinduism of the time was a reading circle that Gandhi formed in South Africa in 1903. The participants were Theosophists and they read two English books on Raja Yoga from like-​minded Hindus.68 One book was from Vivekananda (1863–​1902), the great Bengal Hindu reformer, who propagated an inclusive concept of Hinduism with Advaita Vedānta as its central philosophy, and had a special interest in the Bhagavad Gītā. The other was from Manilal Nabhubhai Dvivedi (1858–​98), a famous Gujarati Sanskrit scholar of Advaita Vedānta and member of the Theosophical Society.69 The important point is not so much that Gandhi was leaning toward Theosophy in his early years, but that Theosophy was for Gandhi, as for many other Indians, the entry point into the Orientalist discourse on Hinduism. The anticolonial stance of the Theosophical Society also provided a means for an anti-​Western resignification of Hinduism. During his intellectual development, Gandhi added more critical thinkers from the West to his list of “authorities and testimonies by eminent men,” such as Emerson, Ruskin, Thoreau, and Tolstoy.70 When he advanced his own political philosophy, Gandhi referred to a whole ensemble of “the ‘other’ West”71 to make his point. Another Indian source of influence on Gandhi’s view of Hinduism is worthy of consideration. During his Indian intermezzo, a friend of Gandhi’s family introduced him to an illustrious relative, Raychandbhai Mehta (1867–​1901), a diamond and pearl trader. Raychandbhai was not only a successful jeweller but also a Gujarati poet, who wrote about Jain teachings and the Jain path to salvation (mokṣa). He

320  Interactions with the East lacked a higher education and did not know English.72 When Gandhi felt challenged in his religious identity by evangelical missionaries in South Africa, he sent Raychandbhai a letter with twenty-​seven questions on a whole variety of religious matters. Between the years 1894 and 1896, Gandhi received three lengthy replies from Raychandbhai, written from a decisively Jain perspective and containing a very conservative social stance on caste observances (varṇāśramadharma). The contents of the letters hardly influenced Gandhi, since his notion of Hinduism, based on monistic Advaita Vedānta, was fundamentally different from Raychandbhai’s dualist Jain teachings.73 However, Raychandbhai was an open-​minded person and, along with his letters, he sent Gandhi three Gujarati books on Hindu teachings: Yoga-​ Vāsiṣṭha, Maṇiratnamālā, and Pañcīkaraṇa. We know from Gandhi that he read Maṇiratnamālā and Panchikarana fully and the first two chapters of Yoga-​Vāsiṣṭha .74 All these books were written from the perspective of Advaita Vedānta.75 It seems that Raychandbhai considered Advaita Vedānta to be the most important Hindu philosophy. In this way, he affirmed Gandhi’s position on the significance of Advaita Vedānta for Hinduism. Moreover, Gandhi was able to connect his Theosophical understanding with original Sanskrit sources in Gujarati translation. He wrote, “I felt reassured that Hinduism could give me what I needed.”76 Gandhi’s views on Hinduism evolved further later in his life,77 but that is a topic beyond the scope of this chapter. Gandhi’s views on Hinduism certainly came to have an influence on Europe and North America. He reinforced the Orientalist notion of the Bhagavad Gītā as the Bible of Hinduism.78 The Gītā is considered today, both in India and the rest of the world, as the most important and most popular scripture of Hinduism. Gandhi’s views played an important role in this development. He is a good example of historical entanglement.

Christianity There is also ample evidence to support the claim that Gandhi’s particular view of Christianity was shaped by Theosophy. In South Africa, Gandhi was in contact with the Esoteric Christian Union, which traced its teachings back to Anna Kingsford (1846–​88), a prominent Theosophist and strong proponent of vegetarianism.79 She practiced as a physician and was the second woman in England to graduate in medicine (MD). In contrast to Blavatsky and Olcott, she was particularly interested in an esoteric interpretation of Christianity. After her death, Edward Maitland (1824–​ 97) founded the Esoteric Christian Union to propagate both their teachings, which he also changed significantly in the years that followed.80 Maitland, with whom Gandhi in South Africa conducted an intensive correspondence until his death in 1897,81 sent Gandhi two books: The Perfect Way by Kingsford, with Maitland as co-​author and editor82; and The Story of the New Gospel of Interpretation (1893) by Maitland.83 In a letter from South Africa in 1894 to another founder of the Esoteric

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  321 Christian Union, A.  M. Lewis, Gandhi wrote:  “During my stay here I  intend to spread as much as possible information about theosophy.”84 In the same letter, he also asked if he could distribute the books of Kingsford and Maitland in South Africa, in the name of the organization on a sale or return basis. He then placed newspaper advertisements for the books, in which he affixed his signature as “M. K. Gandhi, Agent For The Esoteric Christian Union and The London Vegetarian Society.”85 Gandhi had a detailed knowledge of the works of Kingsford and Maitland. In connection with this, he spoke for the first time, in his collected works, about the role of Christianity in comparison to other religions. He wrote the following lines to the editor of the South African newspaper Natal Mercury, explaining his desire to publicize the books of the Esoteric Christian Union: The system of thought expounded by the books advertised is not, by any means, a new system but a recovery of the old, presented in a form acceptable to the modern mind. It is, moreover, a system of religion which teaches universality, and is based on eternal verities and not on phenomena or historical facts merely. In that system, there is no reviling Mahomed or Buddha in order to prove the superiority of Jesus. On the other hand, it reconciles the other religions with Christianity which, in the opinion of the authors, is nothing but one mode (among many) of presentation of the same eternal truth.86

It is hardly by chance that the many later statements of Gandhi about Christianity were in accordance with the basic beliefs of the Esoteric Christian Union.87 He sharply criticized “orthodox” church teaching and practice of the time: It is my conviction that those who today call themselves Christians do not know the true message of Jesus.88 I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the message of Jesus.89

Central to Gandhi’s view of Christianity was his rejection of Jesus as the unique Son of God or the “the most perfect man ever born.”90 Jesus is merely one of the “greatest teachers”91 among many others, like Buddha or Krishna, who provide an example to people: My interpretation, in other words, is that in Jesus’ own life is the key of His nearness to God; that He expressed, as no other could, the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense that I see Him and recognize Him as the Son of God.92

This is exactly the critique of Christianity voiced by Kingsford and Maitland. Like Gandhi, they assumed that all religions are equal and, as a consequence, Jesus Christ was to be taken as one of many teachers:

322  Interactions with the East Christianity has failed, that is, not because it was false, but because it has been falsified. And the falsification, generally, has consisted in removing the character described under the name of Jesus, from its true function as the portrait of that of which every man has in him the potentiality.93

Kingsford and Maitland held that anyone could become “a Christ” or “Christ-​Jesus.”94 Once, when Gandhi was explicitly asked about his attitude toward the teachings of Jesus Christ, he replied: They have an immense moral value for me, but I do not regard everything said in the Bible as the final word of God. . . . Many passages in the Bible are mystical. For me “the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.”95

Conspicuous here is the concept of the Bible’s “mystical” meaning, because the word mystical was seldom used by Gandhi.96 It is striking that the same notion is found in the views of Kingsford and Maitland, who strongly differentiated between a mystical and literal meaning of the Bible and granted validity only to the former. Regarding the interpretation of biblical concepts, they commented in The Perfect Way: The letter, it is declared, killeth; the letter and the spirit together have and confer life. For, while interpreted in one sense—​the sense of the spirit—​they are divine truths; interpreted in another sense—​the sense of the letter—​they are idolatrous falsehoods . . . those interpretations are idolatrous which give to mystical doctrines physical applications. Now, all Scripture given by inspiration of God is mystical.97

Gandhi professed repeatedly that the historical Jesus had no special meaning for him. He wrote: I may say that I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it was proved by someone that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the Gospels was a figment of the writer’s imagination.98 But whether the Jesus tradition is historically true or not I do not care. To me it is truer than history.99

Kingsford and Maitland argued in the same manner against the “fallacy involved in the conception of religion as a thing dependent on history”100:  “Christ Jesus, then, is no other than the hidden, and true man of the Spirit, the Perfect Humanity, the Express Image of the Divine Glory.”101 The teachings of Kingsford and Maitland made it possible for Gandhi to build a bridge between Hinduism and Christianity in two prominent areas, reincarnation and vegetarianism. Gandhi understood the belief in reincarnation to be universal

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  323 and scientifically proven. He expressly pointed out that “an increasing number of Christians now believe in the possibility of the soul getting another body.”102 From sources it is clear that the esoteric Christianity of Kingsford and Maitland, which considered reincarnation to be a part of the original Christian teaching, had from the outset a special significance for Gandhi.103 Kingsford and Maitland wrote: Not only is the doctrine (of reincarnation) respectable for its antiquity, universality, and the quality and character of those who, on the strength of their own experience, have borne testimony to it; it is indispensable to any system of thought which postulates Justice as an essential element of Being.104

Gandhi was particularly attracted by the radical commitment to vegetarianism within the Esoteric Christian Union. He frequently cited Kingsford when discussing questions about the vegetarian diet,105 and he shared, at least in his early years, the opinion that Jesus was also a vegetarian.106 Are there, though, other possible early influences on Gandhi’s view of Christianity? His childhood and youth provide no clues. On the contrary, in his autobiography he said that he “developed a sort of dislike” for Christianity in his youth, due to the impression he received from Christian missionaries.107 In London, he started to read the Bible and was impressed by the New Testament,108 but there is no hint of any other readings in Christian theology. Nor was he exposed to forms of liberal Christian theology (e.g., Harnack, Clarke, Johnson, or Conway), where it might have been possible to find similar views to what were to become his own.109 It is also doubtful if he spent time thinking about Christianity during his Indian intermezzo. At least, there is no textual evidence to support it. However, in South Africa, shortly before he re-​established his contacts with the Christian Esoteric Union in 1894, he had a close encounter with evangelical missionaries, who got him to read certain books on Christianity.110 In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote that he turned to Kingsford and Maitland in reaction to the theological exclusivism of these evangelical missionaries and their writings. As with Hinduism, Gandhi could have found confirmation of his newly developed views on Christianity in other contemporary Hindu reform movements. Keshab Chandra Sen (1838–​84) and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (1840–​1905), from the Bengal Brahmo Samaj, held similar views on Christianity.111 When Gandhi visited Calcutta, in 1896 and 1901–​02, he was in contact with members of the Brahmo Samaj.112 He attended several lectures of Majumdar and read his book on Keshab Chandra Sen. However, he never mentions clearly if they had any impact on his understanding of Christianity.113 Gandhi’s understanding of Christianity was widely welcomed among Christians in India and Europe. The famous Indian missionary Charles Freer Andrews was inspired by Gandhi to break with the “sectarian spirit” that had “become so ingrained in Western Christianity.”114 Gandhi’s combination of a basic high regard for the Christian message with a sharp critique of the praxis of Christianity of the time was also taken up by liberal Christians in Europe and North America as a fundamental

324  Interactions with the East challenge to the established churches. For Friedrich Heiler, Gandhi, “who in his religious thought and life is Hindu from head to toe,” was “a better Christian than millions of baptised Christians.”115 Agnes Maude Royden wrote:  “It is a strange thing that Christians should feel, as many of us do, that the best Christian in the world to-​day is a Hindu.”116 And Joseph Doke stressed: “Mr. Gandhi is not a Christian in any orthodox sense. Perhaps orthodox Christianity has itself to blame for this.”117 The significant point of this Christian reception of Gandhi has been aptly formulated by Otto Wolff: “Gandhi becomes the true heathen Christian in opposition to the Christian heathens.”118 The reception of Gandhi and his critique of Christianity were understood, in the liberal theological circles of Europe and North America, as an external Hindu confirmation of their own search for a tolerant and individualized Christianity. Here, again, is another clear example of historical entanglement.

Religion Gandhi assumed that all religions refer to the same “truth,” which implies that “religion” is for him a basic comparative category and that there exists a “truth” that can be found in all religions. This is also the basic tenet of Theosophy. Theosophy saw itself as standing above the historical religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. It was committed to the “one truth which finds expression in all the various religions.”119 The Theosophical scriptures claimed to prove the “identity of fundamental doctrine in the old religions”,120 because they all stem from one original source. The Theosophical Society called on their members, therefore, not to give up their affiliation to the historical religions. This commonality between Gandhi and Theosophy is, in itself, of little instruction, but it becomes significant when similarity is found in their conceptual forms and phrasings. In 1925, Gandhi had his autobiography published under the motto “my experiments with truth,” since truth was one of the central categories in his thinking. Against the widespread view that Gandhi’s idea of truth (satya) is almost exclusively rooted in Indian traditions,121 it can be argued that it depended, in part, on Theosophist language and ran conceptually parallel to Theosophist beliefs. In his speeches, Gandhi occasionally characterized the Sanskrit saying Satyānnāsti paro dharmaḥ as the central teaching of Hinduism, which he translated as “no religion other than or higher than truth.”122 His prominent use of this phrase is striking, because it is the central maxim of the Theosophical Society: “No Religion Higher Than Truth.” According to Theosophist statements, this phrase was originally the motto of an early Indian supporter, the Raja of Benares.123 In 1881, with his permission, they took it over as the Society’s motto. The phrase came originally from the Mahābhārata.124 Helmuth von Glasenapp has commented that the English translation is not a convincing one; it should be “there is no higher duty [dharma] than truthfulness.”125 The authoritative English translation of the Mahābhārata, at

Gandhi, Esotericism, and Global Religious History  325 Gandhi’s time, also interpreted the verse in similar fashion to Glasenapp.126 The verse in this form was even cited by Gandhi himself in a compilation of quotations from the Indian tradition on the theme of truth!127 It can be argued, therefore, from the extant evidence that Gandhi’s interpretation of Satyānnāsti paro dharmaḥ is dependent on the unconventional and less-​than-​obvious Theosophist translation.128 Gandhi reported that he was already fascinated by the special Theosophical emphasis on truth whilst in London. He recalled a speech of Besant that he had attended in 1889, which made an impression on him: She said . . . that she would be quite satisfied to have the epitaph written on her tomb that she lived for truth and she died for truth. I had from my childhood an instinctive fascination for truth. The utter sincerity with which, I felt, she spoke these words captivated me.129

Truth for Gandhi, as for Theosophy, was a constitutive and comparative category employed to compare the worth of religions: “Truth is superior to everything and I reject what conflicts with it.”130 Blavatsky wrote: “There is, and can be, but one absolute truth in Kosmos . . . we still know, that if it is absolute it must also be omnipresent and universal; and that in such case it must be underlying every world-​religion.”131 Other statements on truth by Gandhi also display a conspicuous parallel to Theosophy. He often said that “Truth alone is God.”132 Likewise, Blavatsky said that the one God, whom the Theosophists worship, is the “truth” (“Le seul Dieu qu’ils adorent est la Vérité”).133 It is noticeable that Gandhi changed the way he related “Hinduism” to “religion” during his life.134 Initially, he claimed that Hinduism was the best expression of truth and true religion: “What of substance is contained in any other religion is always to be contained in Hinduism. And what is not contained in it is insubstantial or unnecessary.”135 From around 1930 onward, he gave up this implicit claim of Hinduism’s superiority and emphasized the basic equality of all religions: “For me all the principal religions are equal in the sense that they are all true.”136 What remained unchanged was his concept of truth. Again, the question has to be asked if there could be other early sources for this understanding of truth. When Gandhi stayed in London, Theosophists were not the only ones who favored a comparative and relativizing approach to religion. Max Müller, the famous Orientalist and one of the founders of religious studies, in an early phase believed that an original religion could be elicited and studied from the oldest religious sources. Later on, he represented the view that the various religions expressed the revelation of God through their different languages. In historical development the religions diverged in their actual teachings, but he hoped that “the ancient religion . . . in all its purity and brightness” would once again show itself in the future.137 Müller held that the academic study of religions at the universities would help to recover the former glory of the religions. No appeal is made by him to the occult or esoteric traditions. Theosophy was aware, though,

326  Interactions with the East of their own similarity to Müller’s standpoint, which was emphasized by Blavatsky, who wanted Theosophy to be understood and known for a comparative and scientific approach to the study of religions.138 There is, nevertheless, no evidence to suggest that Gandhi read Max Müller’s works or those of other Orientalists when he was in London. Nowhere in his collected writings does Gandhi refer to their ideas on comparative religion. In his autobiography, Gandh