The Theosophical Mahatmas
A Critique of Paul Johnson’s New Myth
by David Pratt September 1997
(This version: 4.11.97)
Part 2 of 2
4. Chelas and confederates
5. A “scheme of deception”?
6. A “disinformation pilgrimage”?
7. Fraudulent vs. genuine testimony
8. Babaji and “the whole truth”
4. Chelas and confederates
Johnson states: “Hodgson’s suspicion that HPB and the supposed chelas of the Masters were engaged in a massive fraud was indeed accurate” (ISM 242). His claims concerning which chelas and associates of HPB were dupes and which accomplices differ somewhat from those of other critics. Johnson, like Hodgson, claims that Damodar was one of her main confederates, while the Coulombs – Hodgson’s “star” witnesses – claimed he was a dupe.* Hodgson regarded Olcott as a credulous fool, while Johnson believes he became a confederate after his arrival in India. Hodgson regarded Ramaswamier as a dupe, while Johnson says he was a confederate.
*Charles Ryan says that Mme. Coulomb “made only one attempt – a very feeble one – to inculpate [Damodar], seemingly in order to bolster up her reputation with Hodgson. In all her dealings with Dâmodar she treated him as a dupe, not a confederate.” (BTM 175)
Johnson writes: “Ramaswamier, Damodar, Pillai, Babaji and Mohini all believed in (or indeed knew of) the reality of the Mahatmas, wanted to help prove it, and were willing to use deception in order to mislead the public”– especially about where the masters really lived (see Gnat). But if the chelas knew that the Himalayan masters were a “myth”, why would they have received private letters in the handwriting associated with these supposedly nonexistent masters? If Johnson believes the chelas thought that the letters were written by Ranbir and Thakar, they obviously could not have been responsible for helping HPB to “forge” them. So who did?
The greater the number of confederates, the greater the chance of betrayal or exposure. Yet this apparently never happened. None of those who – in Johnson’s scenario – knew that the Indo-Tibetan KH and M were fictional or that Thakar Singh and Ranbir Singh were the “real” KH and M, ever disclosed this, not even those chelas who, as Johnson puts it, later “defected” from the TS. Babaji accused HPB for a time of desecrating the masters’ names by associating them with occult phenomena and said she had been abandoned by them. Subba Row, with his brahmin exclusiveness, at one time accused HPB of having been deserted by the masters, but when HPB took him to task, he answered that she had been guilty of the crime of giving out “secrets of occultism”, and that it was time to throw doubt into people’s minds (see LBS 95-6). But neither Babaji nor Subba Row ever claimed that the Himalayan masters were a sham.
Johnson cannot produce a single document that even faintly suggests that Ranbir and Thakar were the inspiration behind the characters of M and KH, or that Ranbir and Thakar acted as HPB’s secret teachers and advisors. A conspiracy on the scale Johnson is alleging, involving concocted letters, fraudulent occult phenomena, and numerous cross-references by different people to supposedly fictitious people and events would have required tremendous planning and coordination. There is no documentary evidence for any such conspiracy. Even private correspondence between HPB and those who were supposedly her accomplices, or between the accomplices themselves fails to provide any genuinely incriminating evidence (e.g. see Damodar 467-9, 482-3). It is certainly remarkable that HPB seems to have found so many confederates who were willing to work for nothing – since she rarely had any money herself! Although Johnson is quite happy to accuse people of being liars and deceivers despite a complete lack of evidence, he never goes into much detail about how particular frauds and hoaxes might have been accomplished. The Coulombs at least realized that they would need to forge a bit of “hard” evidence to support their accusations that HPB had masterminded the production of bogus phenomena and letters. Johnson does not have so much as a fig leaf.
In September 1882 Ramaswamier received a letter from M with a message for Olcott: “Tell him that he but too often mistakes Upasika [HPB]. She is all he thinks her to be, and nothing what he suspects her of. Let him understand the riddle. She has never deceived him – only left him ignorant of many things in accordance with my orders” (LMW 2:96). If Johnson believes that this letter was written by HPB, the following situation emerges: Ramaswamier, whom Johnson regards as an accomplice of HPB, receives a letter from M (HPB), in the handwriting associated with the “nonexistent” M, telling Olcott – another of HPB’s “accomplices” – that she had never deceived him, but had sometimes left him ignorant of many things in accordance with M’s – HPB’s – orders (to herself)! This is typical of the absurdities to which Johnson’s hypothesis gives rise. If Johnson believes that this particular letter was not written by HPB but by a “co-conspirator”, an equally absurd situation arises: one conspirator (unnamed) writes in the script associated with a mythical mahatma to a second conspirator (Ramaswamier) instructing him to tell a third conspirator (Olcott) not to distrust the chief conspirator (HPB)! What a complicated business these conspiracies must be!
Johnson’s portrayal of Colonel Olcott – a crucial witness to the existence of the masters – is confused and contradictory. Olcott received ample evidence of the existence of adepts of various nationalities during the early days of the TS in New York. In 1877 he received an astral visit from Mahatma M which made a tremendous impression on him (ODL 1:376-81; OWMB 86-8; HPB 179-80; DTM 159-61). Johnson says that Olcott appears to have been Blavatsky’s dupe in the early days of theosophy, in the sense that she deliberately manipulated him with distorted portrayals of her masters, but that he gained considerable understanding of the real nature of the theosophical masters after the founders’ arrival in India (ISM 259).
In India, Olcott saw M in his astral body on several occasions, and met him in his physical body in Bombay on 15 July 1879.* In November 1883 he met the Maharaja of Kashmir – the supposed prototype of Master M. There is no doubt that as far as Olcott is concerned, Morya and the maharaja were two different people. In Johnson’s view, Olcott was lying, for he had by this time become a participator in HPB’s alleged fraud concerning the Tibetan masters. As we have seen, Johnson claims that Olcott was involved in forging mahatma letters to Sinnett in June 1883. He also speculates that after HPB’s death Olcott may have revealed some of the secrets about the “real”, “historical” masters behind the TS to Annie Besant (ITM 197-8). Olcott was often severely reprimanded by the masters, especially for his attitude towards HPB. In a note received in 1884, M wrote: “These are foolish, insane ideas of yours about Upasika [HPB], Henry, wretched thoughts . . . You are ungrateful and unjust, and even cruel” (LMW 2:89-90). If Olcott was party to the supposed fraud, he would hardly have received such a note.
*For Daniel Caldwell’s trenchant critique of Johnson’s double standards regarding Olcott’s encounters with adepts, see Cards, parts 1 & 2.
Johnson is saying that after deceiving and lying to Olcott for a long time with stories about “fictitious” mahatmas, HPB finally came clean in India and told him the truth – i.e. that her Tibetan mahatmas were masks for the historical figures identified by Johnson. Yet instead of turning on her and exposing her, Olcott then joined in the fraud, thereby showing himself to be as unscrupulous and dishonest as HPB supposedly was. He continued to endure her sometimes vehement tirades against his “flapdoodles”, and even meekly allowed himself to receive bogus messages in the handwriting of “mythical” masters reprimanding him for being unjust to HPB! A reading of Olcott’s Old Diary Leaves and other writings, and the letters he received from the masters, lends no support whatsoever to Johnson’s bizarre fantasies. As Olcott himself said: “If [HPB] was the unmitigated trickster alleged I should have been the first to know it, and must have been her accomplice. Some, after vainly trying to impeach my own character have put forth the paltry theory that my integrity is saved at the expense of my intelligence; in short, that if not a knave I must be a perfect fool! But my past proves me to have been neither the one nor the other” (DTM 4).
In June 1883, Olcott received a letter from M with an enclosed letter to Subba Row, in which M reproaches Subba Row for not doing enough to win support for the Phoenix, and for not doing enough for the Madras branch of the TS. Johnson does not say who he thinks wrote these letters, nor whether he thinks Olcott received them paranormally. Regarding the delivery of the letter to Subba Row, M tells Olcott: “Pass it off to him someway” (LMW 2:81). Johnson says that this sounds like a suggestion to deliver the letter in a way intended to make it seem paranormal (ITM 34), and he sees this as an indication that Olcott was “caught up in a web of deceit” (ISM 261).
That this is a gross exaggeration will become clear from a consideration of some pertinent remarks about the delivery of letters that KH makes in an often humorous letter to Sinnett in August 1882 (MLC 230-7 / ML 294-302). KH says that he finds himself in an embarrassing situation with regard to Hume, as a result of entrusting his correspondence into the hands of M. “The wretch laughs since yesterday,” he says, “and to confess the truth I feel inclined to do the same.” He explains that since they had two regular chelas at Simla plus an “irregular” one – the candidate Fern – he “conceived the unfortunate idea of saving power”. Edmund Fern was a secretary to Hume and was for a time a chela of M. In September 1882 M wrote: “Fern was tested and found a thorough Dugpa* in his moral nature. . . . Had I hinted to him to deceive his own father and mother he would have thrown in their fathers and mothers in the bargain” (MLC 278 / ML 270).**
*The general meaning of dugpa is any person who makes mischief or does harm.
**Johnson quotes from a letter to Fern in which M comments that “one so high in a Society that neither tolerates not practices deceit, could not care to belong to our poor Brotherhood that does both – regarding its probationists”. Johnson sees this as “an admission of deception” (ISM 261). He neglects to point out that the letter concerned is a masterpiece of irony and that when read in context the above remark takes on a very different complexion (LMW 2:142-5).
KH says: “Another of our customs, when corresponding with the outside world, is to entrust a chela with the task of delivering the letter or any other message; and if not absolutely necessary – to never give it a thought.” He goes on to describe the delivery of three letters to Hume, stressing that “No one has ever attempted a deliberate deception, nor would anyone be permitted to attempt anything of the sort”:
The first letter – the one found in the conservatory – I gave to M. to have it left at Mr. H.’s house by one of the two regular chelas. He gave it to Subba Row – for he had to see him on that day; S.R. passed it in the ordinary way (posted it) to Fern, with instructions to either leave it at Mr. Hume’s house, or to send it to him through [the] post, in case he were afraid that Mr. H. should ask him – since Fern could not, had not the right to answer him and thus would be led to telling an untruth.* Several times D.Kh. [Djual Kul] had tried to penetrate [in his mayavi rupa] into Rothney Castle [Hume’s home], but suffered each time so acutely that I told him to give it up. . . . Well, Fern did not post it but sent a friend – his dugpa – to leave it at the house and the latter placed it in the conservatory about 2 a.m. This was half of a phenomenon but H. took it for an entire thing, and got very mad when M. refused as he thought to take up his answer in the same way [i.e. by occult means]. Then I wrote to console him, and told him as plainly as I could say, without breaking M.’s confidence in relation to Fern that D.K. could do nothing for him, at present, and that it was one of Morya’s chelas that had placed the letter there, etc., etc. I believe the hint was quite broad enough and no deception practised?** The second letter, I think, was thrown on his table by Dj. Khool . . . and, as it was done by himself it was a pukka orthodox phenomenon and Hume has no need to complain. Several were sent to him in various ways – and he may be sure of one thing: however ordinary the means by which the letters reached him, they could not be but phenomenal in reaching India from Tibet. But this does not seem to be taken into any consideration by him. And now we come to the really bad part of it, a part for which I blame entirely M. for permitting it and exonerate Fern, who could not help it.
*KH writes in the same letter: “when we take candidates for chelas, they take the vow of secrecy and silence respecting every order they may receive.”
**In a letter received by Hume on 30 June 1882, KH wrote: “It was one of M’s chelas who left [my letter] for you in the flower-shed, where he entered invisible to all yet in his natural body . . .” (MLC 170 / ML 45)
. . . Fern had received a letter of mine through a chela, with the injunction of causing it to reach its destination immediately. They were going to take breakfast, and there was no time to lose. Fern had thrown the letter on a table and ought to have left it there, since there would have been no occasion for him then, to lie. But he was vexed with H., and he devised another dodge. He placed the letter in the folds of Mr. H.’s napkin, who at breakfast took it up and accidentally shook out the letter on to the floor; it appears, to the terrible fright of “Moggy” [his wife] and the contented surprise of Hume. But, his old suspicion returning to him, . . . Hume looks at Fern full and asks him – whether it was he who had placed it there. Now I have the entire picture before me of F.’s brain at that moment. There’s the rapid flash in it – “this saves me . . . for I can swear I never put it there” (meaning the spot on the floor – where it had fallen) – No – he boldly answers. – “I have never put it THERE” – he adds mentally. Then a vision of M. and a feeling of intense satisfaction and relief for not having been guilty of a direct lie. . . . Truly then, our friend [Hume] was taken in but once, but I would pay any price could I but recall the event and replace my letter with somebody else’s message. But you see how I am situated. M. tells me he gives me carte blanche to tell anything I like to you, he will not have me say a word to Hume; nor would he ever forgive you – he says, were you to interfere between the punishment of Hume’s pride, and – fate.
Clearly, then, in the masters’ opinion, there is no deception involved in a chela who has received a letter from a master by occult means, leaving it at the house of the person it is intended for. Deception only arises if the recipient is lied to about how it was delivered. KH ends with a warning to Sinnett: “Dark and tortuous as may seem to your Western mind the paths trodden, and the ways by which our candidates are brought to the great Light – you will be the first to approve of them when you know all. Do not judge on appearances – for you may thereby do a great wrong, and lose your own personal chances to learn more.”
Johnson claims that Damodar was one of HPB’s chief confederates, and that he probably colluded with HPB in deceiving Olcott (another accomplice!) (ISM 154). On one of his astral journeys in November 1883, Damodar thought he had seen HPB have an accident and fall on her knee; this was later confirmed by a telegram (Damodar 346-9). Olcott saw this as evidence of how Damodar’s psychic powers were developing, and commented:
There have been critics of limited acumen but great conceit, who wish us to believe that this might have been a vulgar conspiracy between Damodar and H.P.B. to deceive me; but I am not aware that it is likely that a fat woman of 16-stones’ weight would give herself a serious injury to her knee for the purpose of befooling me, when she might as easily have agreed with Damodar that he should have seen her doing something that would have been queer and yet harmless in itself . . . (ODL 3:36)
Damodar received a letter from KH on 27 February 1884 when HPB was away in Europe (BTT 401-2; Damodar 528; LMW 1:62). It begins by telling him not to feel so dejected. Did Damodar go to the trouble of forging a letter to himself in the KH script to cheer himself up?! Since Dr Paul L. Kirk and Vernon Harrison see no resemblance between Damodar’s handwriting and the KH script, perhaps in this instance Johnson will prefer to abandon his preferred thesis (“ordinary” materialistic explanations for everything) and resort to the hypothesis that Thakar or one of his colleagues did in fact possess the advanced occult powers necessary to produce such a phenomenon. (And if he could do it once, why not many times?) The only thing Johnson absolutely rules out is that the theosophical masters were exactly who they said they were. He prefers to hurl groundless accusations of fraud at HPB, Olcott, and the Hindu chelas than accept the existence of the Himalayan Brotherhood.
The Coulombs published their accusations against HPB in the Madras Christian College Magazine in September 1884. Five months later, Damodar left Adyar, intending to go via Darjeeling to join his master (KH) in Tibet. Despite unconfirmed reports of his frozen corpse being found, the “orthodox” view is that he arrived safely. But Johnson comes up with a much more dramatic (or rather tragicomic) scenario. Apparently, with the collapse of the “myth” of the Tibetan masters and HPB’s exposure as a fraudulent psychic (in the eyes of Johnson and the Christian missionaries at any rate!), Damodar fled Adyar so that he could take on a new identity elsewhere. Johnson writes:
Alas for poor Damodar! The entire period of his attachment to the Headquarters had been extremely stressful, as he was HPB’s only truly trusted chela. Whatever the mysterious connection between the real Masters and the dubious phenomena, the secret died with him and HPB. But while she could rebound, as she had from so many other trials, his honour was destroyed and his only salvation was escape. Motivated by love for India and hope for reviving its degraded spiritual heritage, he had labored for the Masters and gained as his reward public humiliation as an accomplice of a fraudulent psychic. Small wonder that he felt he had no choice but to quietly disappear into “Tibet.” Damodar’s destination was probably neither the death by freezing to which Meade and her predecessors condemn him, nor the glorious reunion with Tibetan Masters as believed by Theosophists. In Kashmir or the Punjab, he was rewarded for his labors with a new identity and a new life in service to the real Masters whose existence was denied by Richard Hodgson. (ISM 257)
Johnson’s imagination appears to have run riot here! Contrary to what he implies, the Coulombs did not accuse Damodar of being HPB’s accomplice in the production of fraudulent phenomena; Hodgson did, but his report was not published until December 1885, 10 months after Damodar had left Adyar. In a series of letters and articles Damodar easily rebutted the Coulombs’ charge that they had helped HPB to defraud him with bogus letters. Anybody reading Damodar’s writings with an open mind is likely to be struck by his honesty and sincerity, and to agree with him that the Coulombs’ accusations against HPB are “absurd twaddle” – a description which might equally well be applied to Johnson’s accusations against Damodar.
Nor does Damodar’s diary in the days leading up to his final departure for his master’s ashram in April 1885 provide any evidence for Johnson’s wild claims (Damodar 12-15 / ODL 3:272-6). Damodar was in very poor health when he left Adyar. Olcott says that his delicate constitution was run down from overwork, and that he showed signs of consumption and had started spitting blood. Damodar hoped to be allowed to go to Lhasa with a certain Tibetan functionary, whom Olcott does not name, but who he says “is equally well known on both sides of the mountains, and makes frequent religious journeys between India and Tibet” (ODL 3:270). Elsewhere he calls the functionary “an ‘Avatari Lama,’ a very influential and mysterious Tibetan prelate” (BTM 100). After visiting various TS branches, Damodar reached Darjeeling on 1 April 1885, and agreed the details of his trip to Tibet with a representative of the functionary. He left Darjeeling on 13 April, and met up with the functionary on 19 April in the capital of Sikkim. To conceal his connection with the functionary, Damodar was ordered to go on ahead two days’ march and then wait for him. On 23 April Damodar left Kabi alone, sending back the coolies with his superfluous luggage and diary. Olcott later spoke to the chief coolie, who told him that on their return journey to Darjeeling they had passed the person who was following Damodar; the chief coolie “heard subsequently that the junction had been effected, and the caravan proceeded on towards the pass through the mountains” (ODL 3:278). Olcott says that Damodar had reached his destination safely and had written three times to two persons in India.
On 5 June 1886 Tukaram Tatya of Bombay wrote to Olcott to inquire after the fate of Damodar, from whom nothing had been heard since his departure for Tibet. (HPB was living in Germany at the time.) When Olcott received the letter two days later, he found that KH had added a message to it in transit:
The poor boy has had his fall. Before he could stand in the presence of the “Masters” he had to undergo the severest trials that a neophyte ever passed through, to atone for the many questionable doings in which he had over-zealously taken part, bringing disgrace upon the sacred science and its adepts.* The mental and physical suffering was too much for his weak frame, which has been quite prostrated, but he will recover in course of time. This ought to be a warning to you all. . . . To unlock the gates of the mystery you must not only lead a life of the strictest probity, but learn to discriminate truth from falsehood. (LMW 2:7; Damodar 18)
What would Johnson make of this? Was Thakar Singh taking time off from his international conspiracy to have a last fling concocting letters from “nonexistent” Tibetan masters? Or was it a hoax perpetrated by Olcott? If he suspects so, let him seek expert opinion on whether this letter might have been forged by Olcott.
*A reference to Damodar’s role in misleading Hodgson instead of telling him frankly that he was not allowed to speak about certain things (see LBS 122).
HPB asserted that she had received a letter from Damodar after his arrival in Tibet, that she had seen him astrally, and that he had written, at the dictation of the masters, some passages for The Secret Doctrine, which Sinnett had mistaken for Dharbagiri Nath’s writing (Damodar 18-20). A witness to Damodar’s safe arrival in Tibet was Sriman Swamy, who, in a letter published in The Theosophist for September 1889, stated that he had visited Tibet twice since 1879 and had become acquainted with several mahatmas, including M and KH, who confirmed that they and others were interested in the work of the TS and that M had been HPB’s occult guardian since her infancy. He goes on: “in March, 1887, I saw Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar at L’hassa, in a convalescent state. He told me in the presence of Mahatma ‘K.H.’ that he had been at the point of death in the previous year” (MTL 373-4). Perhaps Johnson would like to add Sriman Swamy to his list of fictitious characters or paid (?) impostors!
5. A “scheme of deception”?
R. Keshava Pillai was an Inspector of Police in Nellore, and became a probationary chela of KH in 1882. On 14 September 1882 in Bombay, in the presence of HPB, Mme. Coulomb, Tukaram Tatya, Damodar, and another theosophist, he received a letter from KH which fell from the ceiling. In it KH stated that he wanted to send two of his chelas to Simla to “confound the skeptics” among the theosophists there. Although they had two chelas at Simla, their vows prevented them from addressing a European before their final initiation. He had called “Deb” (another chela) to Darjeeling, and intended to send him to Simla with letters for Sinnett, “the best of all”. He asked Pillai if he wanted to accompany Deb, adding that “the task is easy and there will not be much to do for either but be silent, and successfully play their parts”. KH promised that if the mission was successful, he would permit some of their secrets to be taught to him. He told Pillai that if he placed his reply behind the Buddha’s statue he would find it gone after a few minutes (LMW 2:116-8). In a long account of his encounters with masters published in The Indian Mirror in March 1885 (ICM 24-35; see also Report 87-91), Pillai said that he did as instructed, and the letter disappeared.
That night he received an astral visit from KH, who told him, in Telugu, to go and see him beyond the Himalayas. The next day, 15 September, he and HPB started for the north. On 17 September, a letter from KH fell to his feet in the compartment of a railway carriage, while he was travelling between Allahabad and Mogul Sarai, a railway junction near Benares (Varanasi). The letter answered his thoughts and advised him to carry out the instructions received from Damodar and HPB. This involved a change of name to Chandra Cusho and a change of attire to a yellow robe and cap. KH also told him that he would receive further instructions from him at Darjeeling by post (LMW 2:118-9). Pillai met up with HPB again in Allahabad on 18 September, and they reached Chandernagore by train the next morning. There, he left HPB and travelled to Darjeeling, where he arrived the following evening, and met Babaji Dharbagiri Nath. Pillai continues:
We were both together until the 28th idem. We travelled together, both on horseback and on foot in Bhutan, Sikkim, etc. . . . In the course of these travels, just about Pari or Parchong* on the northern frontier of Sikkim, I had the good fortune and happiness to see the blessed feet of the most venerated Master Kut Humi and M. in their physical bodies. The very identical personage whose astral bodies I had seen in my dreams, etc., since 1869, and in 1876 in Madras and on the 14th September 1882 in the head-quarters at Bombay. (ICM 34-5)
In Johnson’s view, this is a pack of lies. He accuses Pillai of lending himself for use in a “scheme of deception”, a conspiracy to prove the masters’ existence, while giving the impression that they lived in Tibet rather than northern India (ITM 28, 32).
*Phari Dzong is situated in Tibet, a few miles from the northwest frontier of Bhutan, on the route from Sikkim to Lhasa.
Soon afterwards, Babaji and Pillai delivered two letters to Sinnett from KH (and not from M, as Johnson mistakenly says [ITM 25]). In the covering letter, KH said that the other letter would be delivered by Dharbagiri Nath, one of his young chelas, and his brother chela, Chandra Cusho. He stated that they were forbidden to shake hands, or to enter anyone’s house without being invited to do so, and that Mrs Sinnett should not address them since they were forbidden by their religious laws to speak to a woman. He also told Sinnett that Dharbagiri Nath would collect his reply, and that he could invite him to come and talk with him as much as he liked (MLC 253-66 / ML 446-7, 178-91).
Pillai received another letter from KH during the TS Convention at Adyar in December 1883. It began: “I hope that the effect produced upon your mind by Damodar’s conversation with you will remain permanent and [you will] not be affected by any more ‘unfortunate doubts’. Live in the present for the future, and let the past be a closed book” (LMW 2:120). The nature of these “doubts” is not explained, but Johnson assumes they are the result of the “strange” instructions (about assuming a different name and dressing in yellow robes) received in the previous letters – letters received over a year earlier (ITM 30). This is by no means certain, however, for in his letter in The Indian Mirror in 1885, Pillai explained that he had dressed in a yellow cotton blouse on leaving Bombay with HPB because that was the costume of the chelas – and not to “give the thing a mysterious appearance”, as Mme. Coulomb had alleged (ICM 32). As for changes of name, this is a common occurrence in many religious, mystical, and esoteric schools, and is hardly evidence of “deception” or likely to occasion “doubts”. It is quite possible, however, that Pillai’s doubts concerned HPB, whom he did not fully trust. He confesses this in a letter to Damodar, and in his reply, dated 26 October 1882, Damodar upbraids him for his attitude towards HPB (Damodar 299-302). This hardly supports Johnson’s claim that Pillai was a “willing accomplice” of HPB in spreading the “myth” of Himalayan masters.
Olcott tells of an earlier attempt to find a Hindu messenger whom KH could send to Sinnett. During their stay in Amritsar in 1880, Olcott and HPB met a delegation of Arya Samajists, headed by Rattan Chand Bary and Siris Chandra Basu.
[HPB] made a proposal to them which led to an unfortunate misunderstanding between them and herself . . . Up to that time Mr. Sinnett had had no opportunity of discussing Indian mystical philosophy with any educated Indian, much to his and our regret. His correspondence with Mahatma K.H. was going on, but he wanted to come face to face with him or one of his pupils. Finding Mr. Rattan Chand well qualified to be such a spokesman, H.P.B. – as she told me and him – with the Master’s concurrence, tried to persuade him to go to Mr. Sinnett as the bearer of a note from K.H. and play the part of his messenger. He was to abstain from giving Mr. S. any facts about himself, his name, condition, and place of residence, but to answer fully all his questions on religious and philosophical subjects; the assurance being given him by H.P.B. that every needed idea and argument should be put into his head at the moment when needed. Mr. R.C. and his friend S.C.B., not aware of the extent to which this thought-transference could be made, and seeing neither Mahatma nor letter about H.P.B., showed the strongest repugnance to undertaking the affair. Finally, however, they consented and left for Lahore to get the required short leave and return next day. . . . The next day, instead of their returning, a telegram came to say that they positively refused to carry out the compact; and in a letter they plainly said that they would not be parties to such an act of deception, as it seemed to them. H.P.B.’s annoyance and indignation were strongly expressed. She did not hesitate to call them a couple of precious fools for throwing away such a chance as few persons had had to work with the Masters in accomplishing great results; and she told me that if they had come, the letter would have been dropped out of space right before their eyes and all would have gone well with them. (ODL 2:252-3)
Olcott was unaware that on 29 October 1880 KH had written to Sinnett from Amritsar about the above incident:
I desired Mad. B. to select among the two or three Aryan Punjabees who study Yog Vidya, and are natural mystics, one whom – without disclosing myself to him too much – I could designate as an agent between yourself and us, and whom I was anxious to despatch to you, with a letter of introduction, and have him speak to you of Yoga and its practical effects. This young gentleman who is as pure as purity itself, whose aspirations and thoughts are of the most spiritual ennobling kind, and who merely through self-exertion is able to penetrate into the regions of the formless worlds – this young man is not fit for – a drawing-room. Having explained to him that the greatest good might result for his country if he helped you to organize a Branch of English mystics by proving to them practically to what wonderful results led the study of Yog, Mad. B. asked him in guarded and very delicate terms to change his dress and turban before starting for Allahabad – for, though she did not give him this reason, they were very dirty and slovenly. You are to tell Mr. Sinnett, she said, that you bring him a letter from our Brother K., with whom he corresponds, but, if he asks you anything either of him or the other Brothers, answer him simply and truthfully that you are not allowed to expatiate upon the subject. Speak of Yog and prove to him what powers you have attained. This young man, who had consented, wrote later on the following curious letter: “Madame,” he said, “you who preach the highest standards of morality, of truthfulness, etc., you would have me play the part of an impostor. You ask me to change my clothes at the risk of giving a false idea of my personality and mystifying the gentleman you send me to. And what if he asks me if I personally know Koot’hoomi, am I to keep silent and allow him to think I do? This would be a tacit falsehood, and guilty of that, I would be thrown back into the awful whirl of transmigration!” Here is an illustration of the difficulties under which we have to labour. Powerless to send to you a neophyte before you have pledged yourself to us – we have to either keep back or despatch to you one who at best would shock if not inspire you at once with disgust! The letter would have been given him by my own hand; he had but to promise to hold his tongue upon matters he knows nothing about and could give but a false idea of, and to make himself look cleaner. Prejudice and dead letter again. (MLC 18 / ML 15-16)
Writing to Mohini in Paris in March 1884, KH sheds further light on the tactics sometimes adopted by the masters:
Appearances go a long way with the “Pelings”. One has to impress them externally before a regular, lasting, interior impression is made. Remember and try to understand why I expect you to do the following: When Upasika [HPB] arrives, you will meet and receive her as though you were in India, and she your own mother. You must not mind the crowd of Frenchmen and others. You have to stun them . . . And know for your own edification that One far greater than myself has kindly consented to survey the whole situation under her guise . . . You will thus salute her on seeing and taking leave of her the whole time you are at Paris – regardless of comments and her own surprise. This is a test. (LMW 2:111-12)
Whatever Johnson thinks of KH’s remarks about “pelings” (westerners), the contents of this letter are difficult to reconcile with his claim that Mohini was an accomplice of HPB.
6. A “disinformation pilgrimage”?
As an example of the incredible lengths to which Johnson believes HPB was prepared to go to propagate the alleged hoax of the Himalayan masters, consider the following account of the events leading up to her meeting with M and KH in Sikkim in 1882, remembering that in Johnson’s view KH’s letters may have been written or composed by HPB herself.
In the middle of 1882 HPB was hoping to pay a visit to her master’s ashram in Tibet, but at the last minute the trip was called off. In July 1882, KH wrote to Sinnett: “H.P.B. is in despair: the Chohan refused permission to M. to let her come farther than Black Rock, and M. very coolly made her unpack her trunks. Try to console her, if you can.” (MLC 203 / ML 116) Soon afterwards Sinnett received a letter from HPB:
My plans are burst. The “Old One” [the Chohan] won’t let me go, doesn’t want me. Says all kinds of “serenades” – bad times; the English will be behind me (for they believe more in the Russians than in the brothers); their presence will prevent any Brother to come to me visibly, and invisibly I can just as well see them from where I am; wanted here and elsewhere but not in Tibet, etc. etc. . . . I had all ready, the whole itinerary was sent from Calcutta, M. gave me permission, and Deb was ready – Well you won’t prevent me from saying now at least from the bottom of my heart – DAMN MY FATE, I tell you death is preferable. Work, work, work and no thanks. (LBS 28-9)
Johnson presumably considers such anger and despair to be feigned. By September HPB was seriously ill (did she fake this as well?!), partly due to the emotional stress caused by Hume’s attacks, and the longed-for visit to the masters became a necessity. That month, Sinnett received a letter from KH, saying:
I am not at home at present, but quite near to Darjeeling, in the Lamasery, the object of poor H.P.B.’s longings. I thought of leaving by the end of September but find it rather difficult on account of Nobin’s boy*. Most probably, also, I will have to interview in my own skin the Old Lady [HPB] if M. brings her here. And he has to bring her – or lose her for ever – at least, as far as the physical triad is concerned. (MLC 266 / ML 190-1)
The same month Sinnett received a letter from M referring to HPB as “a woman so sick that as in 1877 I am again forced to carry her away” (MLC 278 / ML 270).
*The Chohan had ordered that the 14-year-old son of Nobin K. Bannerjee, a chela, should be accepted as a pupil at one of their lamaseries near Chamto Dzong, about 100 miles from Shigatse (see MLC 248 / ML 292).
In September HPB wrote to Sinnett:
I am afraid you will have soon to bid me goodbye – whether to Heaven or Hell – connais pas [don’t know]. This time I have it well and good – Bright’s disease of the kidneys; and the whole blood turned into water with ulcers breaking out in the most unexpected and the less explored spots . . . This all primo brought by Bombay dampness and heat, and secundo by fretting and bothering. . . . [Dr] Dudley says – I forced him to tell me this – that I can last a year or two, and perhaps but a few days, for I can kick the bucket at any time in consequence of an emotion. . . . Boss [M] wants me to prepare and go somewhere for a month or so toward end of September. He sent a chela here, Gargya Deva from Nilgerri Hills, and he is to take me off, where I don’t know, but of course somewhere in the Himalayas. . . . Well good bye all; and when I am gone – if I go before seeing you – do not think of me too much as an “impostor” – for I swear I told you the truth, however much I have concealed of it from you. (LBS 37)
At about the same time, HPB wrote a very similar letter to her relatives (HPB 229). In another letter to Sinnett, she wrote: “This morning I got up from my bed for the first time this week. . . . Read this: ‘I will remain about 23 miles off Darjeeling till Sept. 26th – and if you come you will find me in the old place . . . K.H.’ ” (LBS 34). (The note in the KH script was pasted on to HPB’s letter.) HPB left Bombay with R. Keshava Pillai on 15 September.
In a letter published in the 9 August 1884 issue of Light, HPB wrote: “Only two years back, as I can prove by numerous witnesses, when journeying from Chandernagore to Darjeeling, instead of proceeding to it direct, I left the train half way, was met by friends with a conveyance, and passed with them into the territory of Sikkim, where I found my Master and Mahatma Koot Hoomi” (CW 6:272-3). HPB wrote to Sinnett from Darjeeling on 9 October 1882, telling of her joyful reunion with the masters:
Oh the blessed blessed two days! It was like the old times when the bear [M] paid me a visit. The same kind of wooden hut, a box divided into three compartments for rooms, and standing in a jungle on four pelican’s legs; the same yellow chelas gliding noiselessly; the same eternal “gul-gul-gul” sound of my Boss’s inextinguishable chelum pipe; . . . the same entourage for furniture – skins, and yak-tail stuffed pillows, and dishes for salt, tea etc. (LBS 38)
She ends by saying that she had seen M again the previous night at the Lama’s house. In a letter to M. Bilière, a friend in Paris, written the next year, she says:
My Mahatma and Guru has already twice patched me up. Last year the doctors condemned me. I had Bright’s disease in the last phase. . . . Well, I went to Sikkim, to the entrance of Tibet, and there my beloved Master repaired kidneys and liver, and in three days’ time I was as healthy as ever. They say it was a miracle. He only gave a potion to drink seven times a day from a plant in the Himalayas. (Guide 395)
In a letter received by Sinnett in October 1882, KH wrote: “She [HPB] is better and we have left her near Darjeeling. She is not safe in Sikkim. The Dugpa opposition is tremendous and unless we devote the whole of our time to watching her, the ‘Old Lady’ would come to grief . . .” (MLC 286 / ML 445-6). In another letter received the same month, written from Phari Dzong monastery, KH refers to HPB’s visit as follows:
I do not believe I was ever so profoundly touched by anything I witnessed in all my life, as I was with the poor old creatures’s ecstatic rapture, when meeting us recently both in our natural bodies, one – after three years, the other – nearly two years absence and separation in [the] flesh. Even our phlegmatic M. was thrown off his balance by such an exhibition – of which he was chief hero. He had to use his power, and plunge her into a profound sleep, otherwise she would have burst some blood-vessel including kidneys, liver and her “interiors” . . . in her delirious attempts to flatten her nose against his riding mantle besmeared with Sikkim mud! We both laughed; yet could we feel otherwise than touched? Of course, she is utterly unfit for a true adept: her nature is too passionately affectionate and we have no right to indulge in personal attachments and feelings. You can never know her as we do, therefore – none of you will ever be able to judge her impartially or correctly. . . . In your opinion H.P.B. is, at best, . . . a quaint, strange woman, a psychological riddle; impulsive and kindhearted, yet not free from the vice of untruth. We, on the other hand, under the garb of eccentricity and folly – we find a profounder wisdom in her inner Self than you will ever find yourselves able to perceive. . . . I pledge to you my word of honour she was never a deceiver; nor has she ever wilfully uttered an untruth, though . . . she has to conceal a number of things, as pledged to by her solemn vows. (MLC 297-8 / ML 314-5)
Another letter from KH referring to HPB’s visit was received by his chela, Mohini, in September 1882:
He [Mohini] must bear in mind, that whenever Upasika [HPB] tells him anything of great importance or as emanating from me, her words must be prefaced with the sentence, “In the name of Amitabha,” otherwise even she can be inaccurate and repeat her own fancies, her memory being much impaired by ill-health and age. He must also know that Upasika was with us from Sep. 19 to the night of Sep. 21 – two days and that since then she was in direct communication with my confidential chelas. (LMW 2:105-6)
In Johnson’s view, HPB did not meet Thakar Singh and Ranbir Singh (his “prototypical” masters) in Sikkim in 1882, let alone her “fictitious” Tibetan mahatmas. Her trip from Bombay to Darjeeling was supposedly a “disinformation pilgrimage”, designed to support the “cover story” about her imaginary masters’ residence in Tibet (ISM 241, 245)!
S. Ramaswamier of Tinevelly was a chela of Master M, and remained devoted to his master and the TS until his death in 1894. His first letter from M, accepting him as a chela, was received in December 1881, when he saw M in his mayavi rupa at the TS Headquarters in Bombay (LMW 2:94). In September 1882, he received a letter from KH, telling him he could not yet go to Tibet but must first prove himself worthy (LMW 2:94-5). Later the same month he heard M’s voice ordering him to go to Bombay to see HPB. On arrival he found that HPB had already left for Darjeeling, and followed in pursuit. On 5 October 1882, he left Darjeeling on foot and ventured alone into Sikkim territory, and the next day he met Master M, who had a long talk with him in Tamil.
On M’s instructions, he wrote an account of the meeting in a letter to Damodar, which was published in the December 1882 issue of The Theosophist under the title “How a ‘Chela’ Found his ‘Guru’ ” (Damodar 289-98 / LMW 2:163-74 / MTL 321-30 / ICM 13-23). He then received a note from M telling him to dress as a pilgrim and travel from town to town preaching Theosophy and Vedantism. M wrote: “Every one must know he is my chela, and that he has seen me in Sikkim. . . . His whole aspiration and concern must be directed towards one aim – convince the world of our existence” (LMW 2:95-6). Ramaswamier did as ordered and four TS lodges were founded by him on his way to Bombay, where he arrived with HPB on 25 November. On 1 December he received a note from M, telling him to return home (LMW 2:100).
Johnson declares that Ramaswamier’s account of his meeting with M in Sikkim is “inherently preposterous”, “a long, fanciful tale of a weak and fearful man”, and that, as with Pillai, HPB had found in him a “willing accomplice”. The goal of the operation, he says, was to distract attention from the Punjab and Kashmir, where “KH” and “M” – i.e. Thakar Singh and Ranbir Singh – really lived (ISM 246; ITM 25-8)! But while Ramaswamier’s account of his meeting with M and the events surrounding it has a ring of truth, Johnson’s tale is certainly “inherently preposterous”. The note that Ramaswamier received from KH in September 1882 stated that he could not go to Tibet, which implies that Ramaswamier still believed in the alleged myth of Tibetan masters. Yet by the next month Ramaswamier had supposedly become a fully fledged accomplice of HPB, willing to invent a tale about meeting M in Sikkim. After this event he continued to receive further instructions in the handwriting associated with the supposedly mythical M. In 1883 he received a short note from M instructing him to take an enclosed letter to Subba Row, and M says that the note is “a new proof of our reality independently of Upasika [HPB]” (LMW 2:100-1) – a rather strange thing for “M” (HPB?) to write to one of her supposed accomplices! Johnson may be wrong, but at least he is entertaining.
7. Fraudulent vs. genuine testimony
The December 1883 issue of The Theosophist contained an article by Mohini entitled “The Himalayan Brothers – Do They Exist?” (LMW 2:174-85 / MTL 333-41). Mohini reports interviews by himself and others with a Tibetan pedlar (Sundook) in Darjeeling and a Bengali Brahmacharin in Dehra Dun (about 700 miles northwest of Darjeeling), who both told of their personal knowledge of a Tibetan Buddhist sect known as the “Koothumpas”. After being shown a portrait of KH, the pedlar said he had seen him and his disciples at Giansi, two days’ journey southward of Shigatse (in western Tibet). The Brahmacharin stated that he had seen the Koothumpas near Taklakhar, a place about a day’s journey from Lake Manasarowara (in far western Tibet). They were going to attend a festival on the banks of the Lake, and then intended to proceed to the Kailas mountains.
Johnson says that Mohini’s article, like Ramaswamier’s, was part of a “well-orchestrated scheme to shore up faith in the Masters” (ISM 252; ITM 42). In evidence, Johnson quotes from a letter to Mohini from KH telling him to make his article as strong as possible, and “have all the witnesses at Darjeeling and Dehra”.* This, says Johnson, “sounds more like instruction for fraud than a truthful record” (ISM 253). KH’s exact words are as follows:
I want you, my dear boy, to write an account for the Theosophist of what the pedlar said, and the Dehra Bharmacharia. Make it as strong as you can, and have all the witnesses at Darjeeling and Dehra. But the name is written Kuthoompa (disciples of Kut-hoomi) tho’ pronounced Kethoomba. (LMW 2:108)
KH is clearly not telling Mohini to invent witnesses to an imaginary interview with an imaginary Tibetan pedlar and an imaginary Brahmacharin about an imaginary Tibetan sect. The underlying assumption in what KH writes is that the events Mohini relates really did take place. KH merely reminds Mohini to mention all the witnesses and to write as forcefully as possible, which he duly does. Given that several of the witnesses Mohini names held respectable positions in life, it is unlikely that he would have got away with making the whole story up.
*The quotation of the relevant passage in Johnson’s book ITM (p. 42) is followed by a reference to note 58, but the corresponding note at the end of the book is actually number 59.
Johnson’s habit of twisting remarks is very revealing, but, in addition, he neglects to mention two further pieces of evidence that support the truthfulness of Mohini’s account. Firstly, the issue of The Theosophist containing Mohini’s article also included a letter from Preo Nath Bannerjee, a law-pleader, referring to his meeting in Bareilly with the same Brahmacharin that Mohini interviewed at Dehra Dun, and reporting similar remarks about the Koothumpas. Secondly, Johnson fails to mention that a letter from the Brahmacharin himself appeared in The Theosophist for August 1884, providing a few additional facts. Although the Brahmacharin says that Mohini’s article contained some mistakes, Damodar points out in an appended note that none were actually mentioned in his letter (Damodar 454-9 / MTL 341-51).
In response to Daniel Caldwell’s criticisms, Johnson has conceded that he was wrong to suggest that Mohini invented the whole story (see Gnat). However, his new line is that the pedlar and the Brahmacharin were probably not genuine witnesses to the Koothumpas – in other words, we can add them to the list of paid (?) impostors! Johnson claims that no other evidence of “Koothumpas” has come to light. However, during his travels in Tibet in the 1920s, Nicholas Roerich met a wandering lama, and asked him whether he had met Azaras and Koothumpas. The lama replied: “Many of our people during their lives have encountered the Azaras and the Kuthumpas and the snow people who serve them. Only recently have the Azaras ceased to be seen in cities. They are all gathered in the mountains. . . . The Kuthumpas are no longer seen now. Previously they appeared quite openly in the Tsang district [in western Tibet] and at Manasarowar, when the pilgrims went to holy Kailasa. . . . There are profound reasons why, just now, the Great Ones do not appear so openly” (HPB 233-4).
Johnson regards the accounts by Olcott, Damodar, and W.T. Brown of their meetings with KH at Lahore and Jammu in November 1883 as genuine testimony to the existence of the masters (i.e. his “prototypical” masters). The first mention of these encounters was in an editorial note to Mohini’s article in The Theosophist for December 1883. In the early morning of 20 November 1883, KH visited Olcott and Brown in their tents on the outskirts of Lahore, and materialized a letter in the hand of each. He made another visit, in the company of a high chela, Djual Kul, the following evening, and spoke with Damodar and Olcott. The next day, the group headed to Jammu, in Kashmir, to visit the maharaja, Ranbir Singh (supposedly Mahatma M). On 25 November Damodar disappeared from the house in Jammu where they were staying, and was taken to a secret ashram. He returned on the 27th, greatly altered by the experience (MTL 236-40, 242-50; Damodar 350-1).
Johnson writes: “This is one of the great true Mahatma stories of Theosophical history; KH and his colleagues Dayal Singh Majithia and Bhai Gurmukh Singh did indeed welcome Olcott, Damodar, and Brown to Lahore” (ITM 40). He does not cite any historical records that would suggest that Thakar Singh, his “prototypical” KH, was in Lahore and Jammu on the dates concerned. But even if it were proven that Thakar was elsewhere on those dates, it would not bother Johnson, for he would simply say that on this occasion the role of “KH” was played by some other figure – though not of course by the Indo-Tibetan KH, whom Johnson dismisses as a figment of HPB’s imagination! Whoever it was, he seems to have been so good at conjuring that he made both Olcott and Brown believe that a letter had materialized in their hands. Johnson clearly implies that by this time Olcott was in league with HPB in her alleged fraud, and knew that KH was “really” Thakar Singh and that M was Ranbir Singh. He says that Brown’s report of these events, entitled “Some Experiences in India” (see Theosophical History, July-Oct. 1991, pp. 214-23), was never published during his lifetime, perhaps because the details about his encounters with KH were considered too indiscreet for public consumption and “possibly raised concerns in the minds of Olcott and HPB” (ITM 35). Johnson is mistaken here, for, as Daniel Caldwell has pointed out, Brown’s pamphlet was actually published in 1884 by the London Lodge of the TS (see Cards, part 1).
Damodar tells of his meetings with KH and other masters at Lahore and in Kashmir in his article “A Great Riddle Solved”, which appeared in the December-January 1883-84 issue of The Theosophist (LMW 2:186-9 / Damodar 332-7 / ICM 4-9). Johnson states: “How foolish . . . for Damodar to write so freely of something so important and sensitive! The lack of wisdom shown by HPB and Olcott in publishing such reports could have led to revelations with the power to rock the thrones of princes” (ISM 242). Johnson’s fertile imagination seems to get out of control again here. He also states: “it is most peculiar to find Damodar, Olcott, and Brown proving the reality of the Masters in Punjab and Kashmir just a year after HPB, Ramaswamier, Babaji, and Pillai had proven them to be a thousand miles east, in Sikkim and/or southern Tibet” (ITM 41). This is a “most peculiar” statement. Are we supposed to believe that the masters are immobile?!
While in Kashmir, KH probably met another chela, Bhavani Shankar, who retained a lifelong interest in theosophy and died in 1936. While alone in Berabanki, near Lucknow, Bhavani Shankar says he received a letter from KH instructing him to go and see him in Kashmir. He went there and saw KH in his physical body. On 15 December 1883, he wrote a letter to Damodar from Moradabad, telling him he had met his guru (Damodar 331-2 / MTL 271-2 / ICM 10-13). KH confirmed that such a meeting had taken place in a letter to Pran Nath (LMW 1:26-7). Since Bhavani Shankar was involved in the transmissions of mahatma letters to Sinnett, perhaps Johnson would like to add him to his list of “lying Hindu chelas”!
From Kashmir, KH proceeded southward and met several other chelas. On 26 November 1883, HPB wrote to Sinnett and excitedly told him that KH had taken Damodar from Jammu. She also mentioned that KH was expected in Madras or in the neighbourhood by two chelas who had come from Mysore to meet him. She did not know whether she would see him herself. She ended: “Well strange things are taking place. Earthquakes, and blue and green sun; Damodar spirited away and Mahatma coming” (LBS 73). In an editorial note to Mohini’s article in the December 1883 Theosophist, HPB wrote: “we have been notified that Mahatma K.H. on his way to Siam [Thailand] would most likely pass via Madras in a week or so . . .” (MTL 250). In December 1883, Sinnett, in England, received a letter from KH saying: “This day week I will be at Madras en route to Singapore and Ceylon [Sri Lanka], and Burmah. I will answer you through one of the chelas at the Headquarters” (MLC 403 / ML 428). On 7 December KH was in Mysore, the capital of the independent state of the same name bordering Madras Presidency, and wrote a letter to the London Lodge of the TS (MLC 409-13 / ML 398-402). He enclosed it with a letter to Sinnett, in which he says: “The journey before me is long and tedious and the mission nearly hopeless. Yet some good will be done” (MLC 408 / ML 405). On the same day KH sent a letter from Sanangerri to Damodar and Dharani Dar Kauthumi (LBS 64). On 17 December he wrote to Brown saying that he had left Mysore a week ago; he was on his journey and would cross over at the end of his travels to China and then home (LMW 1:55). Mohini says that he met KH in person when he passed through the Madras Presidency to China in 1883 (ICM 35-6). In a letter received in January 1884, M told Sinnett that KH was in the far-off woods of Cambodia (MLC 405 / ML 432).
Johnson makes no reference to KH’s travels from Kashmir through India and to other parts of Asia in late 1883 and early 1884. Most likely, he regards everything said about the journey as just another example of lies and disinformation – all designed, of course, to further the theosophical cause of truth!
8. Babaji and “the whole truth”
Johnson plucks another supposedly incriminating remark from a letter that HPB wrote in April 1886 to Babaji, who was then staying with the Gebhard family at Elberfeld, Germany. In it she criticizes him for arousing Dr Hübbe Schleiden’s doubts about two letters he had received from the masters, and accuses him of having played an instrumental role in the recent suicide of Walter Gebhard. She continues:
The fools who listen to a chela of the Mahatma K.H. and were made to believe that the Master had turned away from me – will reap the fruits of their credulity or – [be] made to choose between yourself and me. They will shake us off both – most likely when they learn the whole truth. (LBS 301)
Johnson asks: “What was this whole truth which would have been so damaging?” (TMR 207). HPB’s correspondence with A.P. Sinnett in 1885/86 clearly shows that this remark, far from implicating her in any sort of fraud, was a reference to the “whole truth” about Babaji.
Babaji was a young brahmin of South India, whose real name was S. Krishnaswami. He joined the staff at the theosophical headquarters in the early 1880s, a few months after becoming a probationary chela of KH. His mystery name was Dharbagiri Nath, but this was also the mystery name of an accepted chela, Gwala K. Deb, probably a Tibetan. As mentioned in an earlier section, in late 1882 Deb and Keshava Pillai were to travel to Simla from Darjeeling to deliver a letter to Sinnett from KH. According to HPB, however, instead of going in person, Deb remained in Darjeeling, but Babaji allowed him to overshadow his own body for the occasion.
Babaji accompanied HPB when she left India for Europe in March 1885, and was at first devoted to her. However, after going to stay with the Gebhard family in Elberfeld, he began accusing her of desecrating the masters’ names by connecting them with psychic phenomena. He also accused her and Olcott of trying to defraud an Indian prince (Harisinghji), though this charge was easily refuted. On 26 January 1886, Babaji wrote to HPB begging for forgiveness and pledging his devotion to her. But this change of mood did not last long. Babaji exercised considerable influence over the Gebhards and other theosophists, largely because he was a Hindu chela. But HPB explains that he was not the long-standing, accepted chela that he made himself out to be, and in this respect he had practised deception.
The following passage from a letter that HPB wrote to A.P. Sinnett in February 1886 makes this clear:
[Babaji] has as much right to call himself Dharbagiri Nath, as “Babaji.” There is – a true Dh. Nath, a chela, who is with Master KH for the last 13 or 14 years; who was at Darjeeling, and it is he of whom Mahatma KH wrote to you at Simla. For reasons I cannot explain he remained at Darjeeling. You heard him ONCE, you never saw him, but you saw his portrait his alter ego physically and his contrast diametrically opposite to him morally, intellectually and so on. Krishna Swami’s, or Babaji’s deception does not rest in his assuming the name, for it was the mystery name chosen by him when he became the Mahatma’s chela; but in his profiting of my lips being sealed; of people’s erroneous conceptions about him that he, this present Babaji was a HIGH chela whereas he was only a probationary one and now cast off . . . [D]o not ask me anything more, for if I had to be hung, publicly whipped, tortured I would not, never would dare tell you anything more. You speak of “deceptions,” mysteries, and concealments in which I ought “never to be involved.” Very easily said by one, who is not under the obligation of any pledge or vow. . . . Tell [people] that one living D.N. came to you at Simla, and another living D.N. the prototype of the first remained at Darjeeling and still remains and lives now even to this day with the Masters – and they will call us all liars, deceivers, and humbugs. (LBS 170-1)
In another letter to Sinnett, written the same month, HPB says:
I ought to have written “He assumed the attitude of the real D. Nath. . . . [I]f the whole truth were told, he would be (found) guilty (by the uninitiated world and every profane) of false pretences.” . . . [I]f he had the right to call himself Dharb. Nath he had no right to abuse this position by assuming an attitude which only the real Dh. Nath would have the right to assume, and which he never would, however. . . . [H]e took advantage of the position assigned to him temporarily – to harm me and the Cause, and several Theosophists, who see in him the real, instead of the reflection of Dh. N. the high chela. I too was made a reflection several times and during months; but I never abused of it, to try and palm off my personal schemes on those who mistook H.P.B. of Russia, for the high Initiate of xxx whose telephone she was at times. And this [is] why the MASTERS have never withdrawn Their confidence from me, if all others (saving a very few) have. (LBS 174)
In a letter of 7 February 1886, Countess Wachtmeister wrote to Sinnett: “Don’t trouble any more about the two D.N.’s – there are two – but there is also a Mystery. . . . Some day you will know all for Madame has told me that at her death all that she has ever received from the Mahatma K.H. will be given to you . . . Babajee is a chela, though not the high one he pretends to be” (LBS 286). That the masters had written to HPB providing certain information about Babaji is also mentioned in a letter she wrote from Elberfeld on 23 June 1886 to C.W. Leadbeater, who at that time was a probationary chela of KH. In it she says:
When [Babaji] came to Bombay to the Headquarters, your Master ordered me to tell all He accepted Krishna Swami, and had sent him to live with us and work for the TS. He was sent to Simla to Mr. S, that is to say, he gave up his personality to a real chela, Dharbagiri Nath, and has assumed his name since then. As I was under pledge of silence I could not contradict him when I heard him bragging that he had lived with his Master in Tibet and was an accepted regular chela. But now when he failed as a “probationary” owing to personal ambition, jealousy of Mohini, and a suddenly developed rage and envy even to hatred of Colonel and myself – now Master ordered me to say the truth. . . . When I showed him Master’s writing in which your Mahatma corroborated my statement and affirmed that he (Bawajee) “had never seen HIM or [been] to Tibet” – Mr B. cooly said it was a spook letter; for the Mahatma could neither write letters, nor would He ever say anything about his chelas. (LCWL 85-6)
HPB wrote this letter in reply to a letter from Leadbeater asking her to pass on an enclosed letter to KH. She begins her reply by saying that she is returning his letter to KH because she is not prepared to transmit any more letters. However, when Leadbeater received HPB’s letter, his letter to KH was no longer enclosed, but written across the last page of HPB’s letter was a brief message from KH. It includes the sentence: “The little man [Babaji] has failed and will reap his reward.”
Thus, when HPB writes to Babaji that theosophists will probably shake both of them off when they learn the whole truth, she is referring to Babaji’s deception in pretending to be a high chela, and to her own inability to expose his pretences due to her pledge of silence. That Johnson should cite this passage as potential evidence for his hypothesis that HPB’s Tibetan masters were a myth is a clear indication that, due to a serious shortage of convincing evidence, he is reduced to clutching at straws.
Johnson quotes extensively in ITM from the correspondence concerning Babaji, but omits any references to the two DNs. In his view, there is only one Dharbagiri Nath, who is always the same person as Babaji and Gwala K. Deb (ITM 38). It is worth noting that the protest by 12 chelas to the letter from “HX” (Hume), which accused the masters of “sinning” by not giving out all they knew, was signed by both Krishnaswami (Babaji) and Dharbagiri Nath (Deb) (Damodar 286-8; MTL 317-20; Guide 374-83).* In case Johnson believes that HPB invented the story about the two DNs to cover up for Babaji’s “damaging” attacks on her, he should note that a hint was given to Sinnett that Babaji was not who he seemed to be at the time of the latter’s first visit to Simla in October 1882. In the letter delivered on that occasion, KH says: “do not forget – he is but an appearance” (MLC 266 / ML 191). Sinnett may have sought further information from HPB during her visit to Simla the following month, for in a letter to him in January 1886, she writes: “I will evoke him with Master’s permission, I will produce the true Dharb. Nath – and show this one [Babaji] a little pretender, and you may suspect the truth and understand the hint, you who have heard enough of it at Simla and elsewhere” (LBS 336). How very clever of Thakar/HPB to have “invented” this little story in anticipation of Babaji’s “defection” three years later!
*Hume’s letter and the chelas’ protest were published in the September 1882 Theosophist. Hume’s letter is preceded by a comment by HPB, saying that she would never have consented to publish such an ungenerous document if she had not been ordered to do so by the masters. KH wrote to Sinnett: “Let [Hume] know that the Protest of the Chelas is no work of ours, but the result of a positive order emanating from the Chohan. The Protest was received at the Headquarters, two hours before the postman brought the famous article, and telegrams were received from several chelas in India on the same day.” (MLC 249 / ML 293)
In asking: “What was this whole truth which would have been so damaging?” Johnson implies that Babaji was party to HPB’s alleged fraud concerning the Tibetan masters. Johnson speculates that the reason for Babaji’s breakdown and loss of faith in HPB in the fall of 1885 was that she continued to fabricate messages from M (for Hübbe Schleiden) as if he were alive even though Ranbir Singh (the “prototypical” M) had died in June of that year (elsewhere he says he died in September!) (ITM 60). This is rather far-fetched, for Babaji’s outbursts appear to have begun before Hübbe Schleiden received a note from M in early January 1886; a week or two after the receipt of the note there was a brief reconciliation, followed by a period of renewed hostility. HPB says that too much adulation had spoiled Babaji and that his wild and erratic behaviour was a remnant of his grandmother’s sorcery, while Olcott says he was an epileptic.
Babaji wrote a private letter to Mohini from Torre del Greco on 16 July 1885, in which he says that HPB’s master attracted his attention astrally and directed him to go to his room where he found a letter with instructions to send a letter to Olcott. He says that as he is not M’s chela he cannot understand why he sent it through him (LBS 343-4). Clearly Babaji writes as if both he and Mohini still believed in the masters and their occult powers, yet in Johnson’s view Mohini had long since become a willing accomplice in HPB’s alleged fraud. This is yet another of the countless absurdities produced by Johnson’s poorly thought-out myth about “prototypical” masters.
Paul Johnson fails to produce any compelling, concrete evidence to refute the view that the portrayal of the masters by HPB, the masters themselves, and their chelas is essentially true. He exaggerates the discrepancies in theosophical accounts of the masters in order to dismiss most of what HPB said on the subject as lies and disinformation. He hypothesizes that the theosophical masters were based on well-documented historical figures, and points to a number of extremely tenuous and tentative links between Koot Hoomi and Thakar Singh and between Morya and Ranbir Singh. He admits that there is no conclusive evidence to support these “identifications”. Many details concerning KH and M are reported in theosophical literature that contradict these identifications. In these instances, Johnson either speculates that a more plausible “historical” candidate may have been involved, or he dismisses the details as irrelevant, imaginary, or disinformation. His general position is therefore an unfalsifiable dogma rather than a testable hypothesis.
Johnson shows an astonishing willingness to dismiss all witnesses who offer testimony contrary to his pet theory as liars and frauds, but is happy to make use of anything reported by these same witnesses that seems consistent with his theory. He quotes out of context and twists statements to suit his beliefs. His interpretations lead to many inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities. He fails to account for the production of the mahatma letters, let alone their content. Nor does he satisfactorily account for the source of HPB’s teachings or the wide knowledge she displayed in her writings.
Many of the deeper and more technical theosophical teachings are impossible for us to prove, and whether we consider them worthy of study will largely depend on whether we believe that HPB really was the messenger of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood. In a letter to Sinnett, referring to Hume’s arrogant and combative attitude, M wrote:
either we are what we claim, or we are not. [I]n the former case, however exaggerated the claims made on behalf of our powers still, if our knowledge and foresight do not transcend his, then we are no better than shams and impostors and the quicker he parts company with us – the better for him. But if we are in any degree what we claim to be, then he acts like a wild ass. (MLC 277 / ML 269)
The Theosophical Mahatmas: contents