To the Editor of the Theosophist.
I cannot say that, to me, the explanation furnished at page 288 of the last number of the Theosophist of our friend “C.C.M.’s” difficulties seems altogether satisfactory, or sufficient—not to the uninitiated, at least.
In the first place, I think it a pity that it is not plainly said that “Isis Unveiled”—for all but the adepts and chelas—teems with what are practically errors. Passages on passages convey, and must convey to every ordinary reader, wholly erroneous conceptions. No uninitiate can take any single passage in this work,—relating to occult mysteries, and construing this as he would an ordinary work, infer therefrom that he understands the real meaning.
The fact is, “Isis” never has been, and never will be, unveiled to any outsiders—all that can be said is that in “Isis Unveiled” a few rents were torn1 in the veil, through which those knowing how to look can obtain glimpses of the Goddess.
The work was essentially destructive in its character; it never seriously aimed at reconstruction, but only at clearing the way for this. Its mission was, as it were, to clear the site for future building operations.
Hence all that it contains, touching occult mysteries, was purposely so written as not to convey correct ideas to outsiders, while, at the same time, the correct ideas were given sufficiently plainly to permit of their recognition by initiates.
But besides this, the text, written much of it by different adepts imperfectly acquainted with English, had to be put into shape by yourself (necessarily in those days no great English scholar) and Colonel Olcott, who was quite ignorant at that time of occult philosophy.
The result was that, into sayings purposely dark and misleading to all outsiders, a number of distinct errors were introduced in the process of putting those sayings into English.
Surely, if I am correct in the above, it is best to say so plainly, once for all, and avoid what may otherwise become a perpetually recurrent demand for the reconciliation of apparent discrepancies between passages in “Isis” and passages in articles in the Theosophist.
In the second place it seems to me that it should be clearly understood that what we, lay disciples, write on the subject of Occult Philosophy is not to be taken as exhaustive, or as necessarily correct to the letter, in every detail. We receive certain instructions, and portions of what we are taught we reproduce as occasion demands; doubtless our contributions are looked at, and any glaring errors, should such find a place there, are eliminated, but it is not pretended that papers like the Fragments, or the Review of the Perfect Way, are to be considered as authoritative or final—correct, in the main, of course they are and must be, or they would not be allowed to appear, but for all that no “verbal inspiration” is claimed for them; and while they will necessarily always be imperfect (for how can such questions be exhaustively dealt with in a few pages?) they will very often fall short of perfect accuracy in regard to even those points with which they do deal.
Hereafter a more or less comprehensive and complete sketch of the whole system will perhaps be given, at present the object of all these detached papers merely is, to familiarize readers with the barest outlines of some of the more salient of its features. We do not pretend to furnish pictures, much less photographs, only the roughest possible sketches.
If “C.C.M.” wants to know why he and others, like himself honestly anxious to learn the whole truth, cannot get this at once totus terres atque rotundus, the reply is that those who presumably know best, and who, be this as it may, hold the keys of the position, declare that the time has not come for giving more than stray glimpses of that truth to the world.
It would be well too for “C.C.M.” and other worthy Brothers, unacquainted with the East, to remember that the adepts (with whom it rests to give to us little or much and to give what they do give slowly or promptly, grudgingly or freely) differ intellectually in many respects from ourselves. I, for instance, distinctly hold that knowing what they do, it is a sin on their part not to communicate to the world all the knowledge they possess which would not involve conferring on people unworthy, probably, to exercise them, occult powers. I hold that, be a man an adept or what not, all the knowledge he possesses, he holds, simply, in trust for his fellow-men. Under that trust he may reserve, for specially tried disciples, such knowledge as would invest men with abnormal powers over their fellows, but the rest he is bound to give. But they scout any such idea, and hold that the knowledge they possess is their own especial property, to communicate or not to others as they please and they consider this communication, which I hold to be a simple duty, the greatest possible favour and one which must be worked for.
Again, even when disposed to teach, their ideas of doing this differ toto cælo from ours. If we wanted to teach any thing, 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. It suits them now to have some general conception of their views disseminated and they therefore condescend to vouchsafe stray scraps of information sufficient to enable us to put forth now and again feeble sketches of their views on this or that point. But, certainly, in one week I could teach any ordinarily intelligent man, all, that in eighteen months, we all of us have succeeded in extracting from them.2
From my point of view, from the point of view, I believe, I may say, of every educated European gentleman, nothing can, in certain respects, be more unreasonable and unsatisfactory than the position they take up; but, from an Oriental point of view this position so repulsive to me that I have more than once been on the point of closing my connection with them for good, this position I say, would seem to wear no such aspect, since many of my native friends seem to look upon it as not only natural and what was to be expected, but as actually reasonable and right.
European Theosophists should realize this feature of the case, and further that one might as well try to argue with a brick wall as with the fraternity, since when unable to answer your arguments3 they calmly reply that their rules do not admit of this or that.
To me personally it appears very far from a hopeful business this dealing with the Brothers—one may respect all, for the great knowledge, in certain lines, that they possess, and for the extremely pure and self-denying lives that they have led and do lead, and one may even heartily love, some if not all of them for their geniality and kindly natures; but their system and their traditions are opposed to our ideas of right and wrong and it is, to me, still doubtful whether we shall ever be able to get any good out of their teaching at all commensurate with the expenditure of time and energy that this involves. At the same time it is to be borne in mind, that they, and they only possess the highest knowledge; they are not to be reasoned with, nor persuaded; they are neither, according to our European views, altogether just, nor generous; in a dozen different ways they fall short of the European ideal of what men so elevated in learning and so pure in personal life should be, but for all that they alone hold the keys that unlock the secrets of the unseen world, and you must either accept them, as they are, in the hopes that in doing their work you may be able to do some little good to others, or give them up altogether and devote your energies to the service of your fellows on perhaps a lower, but certainly a more promising field of action.
It is absolutely certain that the Brothers honestly believe themselves to be entirely right in all their ways and in all they do and say; it is equally certain that no ordinary educated European will altogether concur with them. But then they do unquestionably possess knowledge entirely hidden from us and which if known to us might wholly change our verdict and so it may well be that they are right despite the look matters bear to us, and we wrong.4 But without this knowledge (and not the slightest hopes of our ever acquiring it is held out to us), no European will see it in this light (Asiatics see it as the Brothers do) and so C.C.M. and other British Theosophists, must be prepared to meet constantly with all kinds of things in connection with the alleged sayings and doings of the Brothers which to them seem quite inconsistent with such beings as adepts, or more properly with their Ideals of what these ought to be. 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. Their aims, their objects, their habits of thought, their modi operandi, even their standards of right and wrong, where many questions are concerned, differ entirely from ours; and the sooner European Theosophists understand all this and square their expectations and demands accordingly, the better it will be for all.
To use Mr. Gladstone’s now traditional formula three courses are open to us.
1. To accept the Brothers as they are—make the best we can of them, accept gratefully such small crumbs as fall from our Masters’ tables and admit once and for all that there is at present no possibility of any such explanation of their policy and system as can be wholly satisfactory to our European (and perhaps as they would tell us, warped and demoralized) minds.
2. To give up the Brothers and their painfully doled out glimpses of the hidden higher knowledge altogether, but to work on in the practical groove indicated by them, labouring to unite all we can in bonds of brotherly love and mutual forbearance and regard.
3. To cut the concern altogether as affording no prospects of any practical results at all commensurate with the time and energy demanded from all who are to be more than nominal members of the Society.
I at any rate as at present advised, prefer the first alternative—but I do think that every Theosophist should clearly realize that these are the only three courses logically open to him, and decidedly adopt one or other of them.
And now before closing I venture to suggest that it might be well to make clear to C.C.M. why it is that what we call the personality can reappear in the case of idiots and children dying before the time of responsibility arrives. Otherwise looking at the Personality in its literal sense, derived from persona or mask, he will possibly be disposed to think that as the mask, the body, dies in those two cases as well as in all others, rebirths in these cases must as in others be accompanied by new personalities.—Of course the fact is that with us the personality stands not for the fleshy masks of the two higher duads but for the lower of these two latter, which even to the man himself in most cases, is a very Iron mask to the higher one.
Now to evolve a new personality, in our application of this term, there must be some new materials to melt up with the old, and those materials can only be Karma, i.e., responsible deeds, words or thoughts—but where there has never been responsibility, there then can be no Karma, and therefore no new materials; therefore perforce, no new personality despite the new birth. So too in our sense of the word there is no change, only development in the personality, right through the lower kingdom, up to that man-life when as a sequel of multitudinous men-ape, ape-men and physical men lives, the fully responsible man appears and Karma begins to attend each life. Up to that time there has been evolution but no recast; from that time save in exceptional cases, (two classes of which are above referred to) there is a recast and therefore a change in personality after every life, and with this change (not a mere forgetting but) a loss of all memory, the experiences which constituted this, having been melted up into the body of the new personality.
The Perfect adept, of course, claims to be able to avert this change of personality and so through thousands of births and through millions on millions of years to preserve his personality, and not merely his individuality, unchanged. But he must be a perfect adept5 which our immediate adept masters cannot, they tell us, claim to be.6 The Perfect Sorcerer can similarly secure a personal immortality through millions of years, but it is an immortality of misery.
H. X. [A. O. Hume]
1. That is just what we had the honour of repeating more than once, privately and in print. We have repeatedly stated that the title was a misnomer and—through no fault of ours. Therefore, the charge that precedes is quite uncalled for.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
2. No doubt, no doubt. Any “ordinary intellegient man” may learn in an hour, or perhaps less, to speak through a telephone, or a phonograph. But how many years were required to first discover the secret force, then to apply it, invent and perfect the two wonderful instruments?—Ed. [H.P.B.]
3. Our esteemed Brother and Correspondent would perhaps do well to first make himself sure that our Masters “are unable to reply” before venturing such a bold assertion.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
4. With such a possibility in view, it would have been perhaps wiser, to abstain from such premature and wholesale denunciation.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
5. One who has successfully passed the highest degree of initiation beyond which is perfect Adi-Buddhaship, than which there is no higher one on this earth.—Ed. [H.P.B.]
6. May not this confession of our Brothers be partially due to one more attribute they are found to share so “grudgingly” and rarely with the too “educated Europeans,” namely—Modesty?—Ed. [H.P.B.]