The [following] questions being of very grave import require to be answered at length: questions involving critical enquiry into the dicta of current science and history cannot be disposed of in a few lines. The replied will therefore appear in instalments.
The object of the following paper is to submit certain questions which have occurred to some English readers of Esoteric Buddhism. We have had the great advantage of hearing Mr. Sinnett himself explain many points which perplexed us; and it is with his sanction that we now venture to ask that such light as is permissible may be thrown upon some difficulties which, so far as we can discover, remain as yet unsolved. We have refrained from asking questions on subjects on which we understand that the Adepts forbid inquiry, and we respectfully hope that, as we approach the subject with a genuine wish to arrive at all the truth possible to us, our perplexities may be thought worthy of an authorized solution.
[Initial reply and preface to detailed answers: “Reply to an English F.T.S.”]
We begin, then, with some obvious scientific difficulties.
1. Is the Nebular Theory, as generally held, denied by the Adepts? It seems hard to conceive of the alternate evolution from the sun’s central mass of planets, some of them visible and heavy, others invisible,—and apparently without weight, as they have no influence on the movements of the visible planets.
[Answer: “Do the Adepts Deny the Nebular Theory?”]
2. And, further, the time necessary for the manvantara even of one planetary chain, much more of all seven,—seems largely to exceed the probable time during which the sun can retain heat, if it is merely a cooling mass, which derives no important accession of heat from without. Is some other view as regards the maintenance of the sun’s heat held by the Adepts?
[Answer: “Is the Sun merely a Cooling Mass?”]
3. The different races which succeed each other on the earth are said to be separated by catastrophes, among which continental subsidences occupy a prominent place. Is it meant that these subsidences are so sudden and unforeseen as to sweep away great nations in an hour? Or, if not, how is it that no appreciable trace is left of such high civilizations as are described in the past? Is it supposed that our present European civilization, with its offshoots all over the globe, can be destroyed by any inundation or conflagration which leaves life still existing on the earth? Are our existing arts and languages doomed to perish? or was it only the earlier races who were thus profoundly disjoined from one another?
4. The moon is said to be the scene of a life even more immersed in matter than the life on earth. Are there then material organizations living there? If so, how do they dispense with air and water, and how is it that our telescopes discern no trace of their works? We should much like a fuller account of the Adepts’ view of the moon, as so much is already known of her material conditions that further knowledge could be more easily adjusted than in the case (for instance) of planets wholly invisible.
[Answer: “Is the Moon Immersed in Matter?”]
5. Is the expression “a mineral monad” authorized by the Adepts? If so, what relation does the monad bear to the atom, or the molecule, of ordinary scientific hypothesis? And does each mineral monad eventually become a vegetable monad, and then at last a human being?
[Answer: “About the Mineral Monad”]
Turning now to some historical difficulties, we would ask as follows:
6. Is there not some confusion in the letter quoted on p. 62 of Esoteric Buddhism, where “the old Greeks and Romans” are said to have been Atlanteans? The Greeks and Romans were surely Aryans, like the Adepts and ourselves:—their language being, as one may say, intermediate between Sanskrit and modern European dialects.
[Answer: “Historical Difficulty—Why?”]
7. Buddha’s birth is placed (on p. 141) in the year 643 B.C.. Is this date given by the Adepts as undoubtedly correct? Have they any view as to the new inscriptions of Asoka (as given by General A. Cunningham, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicanum, vol. i. pp. 20-23), on the strength of which Buddha’s Nirvana is placed by Barth (Religions of India, p. 106), etc., about 476 B.C., and his birth therefore at about 556 B.C.? It would be exceedingly interesting if the Adepts would give a sketch however brief of the history of India in those centuries with authentic dates.
8. Sankaracharya’s date is variously given by Orientalists, but always after Christ. Barth, for instance, places him about 788 A.D. In Esoteric Buddhism he is made to succeed Buddha almost immediately (p. 149). Can this discrepancy be explained? Has not Sankaracharya been usually classed as Vishnuite in his teaching? And similarly has not Gaudapada been accounted a Sivite? and placed much later than Esoteric Buddhism (p. 147) places him? We would willingly pursue this line of inquiry, but think it best to wait and see to what extent the Adepts may be willing to clear up some of the problems in Indian religious history on which, as it would seem, they must surely possess knowledge which might be communicated to lay students without indiscretion.
[Answer: “Sri Sankaracharya’s Date and Doctrine”]
We pass on to some points beyond the ordinary range of science or history on which we should be very glad to hear more, if possible.
9. We should like to understand more clearly the nature of the subjective intercourse with beloved souls enjoyed in Devachan. Say, for instance, that I die and leave on earth some young children. Are these children present to my consciousness in Devachan still as children? Do I imagine that they have died when I died? or do I merely imagine them as adult without knowing their life-history? or do I miss them from Devachan until they do actually die, and then hear from them their life-history as it has proceeded between my death and theirs?
10. We do not quite understand the amount of reminiscence attained at various points in the soul’s progress. Do the Adepts, who, we presume, are equivalent to sixth rounders, recollect their previous incarnations? Do all souls which live on into the sixth round attain this power of remembrance? or does the Devachan, at the end of each round bring a recollection of all the Devachans, or of all the incarnations, which have formed a part of that particular round? And does reminiscence carry with it the power of so arranging future incarnations as still to remain in company with some chosen soul or group of souls?
[Questions 9 & 10 were left unanswered; see “Reply to an English F.T.S.”]
We have many more questions to ask, but we scruple to intrude further. And I will conclude here by repeating the remark with which we are most often met when we speak of the Adepts to English friends. We find that our friends do not often ask for so-called miracles or marvels to prove the genuineness of the Adepts’ powers. But they ask why the Adepts will not give some proof—not necessarily that they are far beyond us, but that their knowledge does at least equal our own in the familiar and definite tracks which Western science has worn for itself. A few pregnant remarks on Chemistry,—the announcement of a new electrical law, capable of experimental verification—some such communication as this (our interlocutors say), would arrest attention, command respect, and give a weight and prestige to the higher teaching which, so long as it remains in a region wholly unverifiable, it can scarcely acquire.
We gratefully recognize the very acceptable choice which the Adepts have made in selecting Mr. Sinnett as the intermediary between us and them. They could hardly have chosen any one more congenial to our Western minds:—whether we consider the clearness of his written style, the urbanity of his verbal expositions, or the earnest sincerity of his convictions. Since they have thus far met our peculiar needs with such considerate judgment, we cannot but hope that they may find themselves able yet further to adapt their modes of teaching to the requirements of Occidental thought.
AN ENGLISH F. T. S.
LONDON, July, 1883.