In a recent note to someone I had mentioned some reasoning behind the discussion on the Stanzas of Dzyan.  Recently, the thought came to mind, what else did we miss?

Perhaps a good question here is to gather a list of questions that result from comments made by HPB (and others) that either left more questions than answers or did not sufficiently answer a question, and results in confusion today.  Of course, this does not only apply to Blavatsky, but also to others who in their incompleteness or by omission, left gaps in their explanations.

So, let's have at it and have fun.

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 Dear Paul, I agree on that Leadbeater and Prophet attached pseudonyms to imaginary creations, but I don't think Bailey did so.

 The deep ethical issue I see in this question is not the use of pseudonyms, but authority. Pseudonyms as a literary recourse do not raise this kind of deep ethical pondering, IMO. ;-) 

K. Paul Johnson said:

Something that she seemed to miss, as did many others of her era, is the ethical imbroglio created by the use of pseudonyms.  While she acknowledged that M. and K.H. etc. were not the real names of the individuals so memorialized, there is no reckoning AFAIK in the Theosophical literature with the consequences of assigning pseudonyms to people who are then cited as spiritual authorities.  IMO the consequences were catastrophic, Leadbeater, Bailey, and Prophet being the most obvious examples of people who could attach these pseudonyms to their own imaginary creations.  I don't bring this up to "bash Blavatsky" because the same problem occurs in the Church of Light via the HBofL: Emma Hardinge Britten with her "Chevalier Louis" and "Sirius"; "Max Theon" as the pseudonym of Louis Bimstein.  Not to mention Dalton/Burgoyne or Williams/Benjamine/Zain, and their colleagues Faucheux/Barlet, Encausse/Papus, etc.

Attaching pseudonyms to hide the identities of one's associates is perfectly understandable as a short term tactic in light of the hostility of the broader culture to certain kinds of occult endeavors.  But as a long term strategy, it FAILS.  HPB is not the only one to evade dealing with the ethical issues involved in this practice.

For me, the biggest thing that Blavatsky missed was her omitting to tell us the actual name of the Book of Dzyan. Having it would have made my life a lot easier, and saved me loads of work. She pretty much tells us that there is a recognizable name behind the generic pseudonym title she gave us (SD 1.xxii):

"One of the greatest, and, withal, the most serious objection to the correctness and reliability of the whole work will be the preliminary Stanzas: “How can the statements contained in them be verified?” True, if a great portion of the Sanskrit, Chinese, and Mongolian works quoted in the present volumes are known to some Orientalists, the chief work — that one from which the Stanzas are given — is not in the possession of European Libraries. The Book of Dzyan (or “Dzan”) is utterly unknown to our Philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name."

So although this book is not available, its actual name has apparently been heard of. This is much like the lost Sasti-tantra (Shashti-tantra), "The Sixty Topics," the ancient original Samkhya sourcebook. Its name has always been known, but it was seen as being mostly mythical, since nothing more than its name was known. For that reason, in the first half of the twentieth century the prevailing scholarly opinion came to see it as merely meaning "sixty topics," rather than a book of that title. Then in the mid-twentieth century a very old Jaina commentary was discovered and published, on the Dvadasara-naya-cakra, that quoted the Sasti-tantra by name. From this, Erich Frauwallner identified other quotations as being from the Sasti-tantra that were found in the Tibetan translation of Jinendrabuddhi's commentary on the Pramana-samuccaya. In 2005, the first chapter of Jinendrabuddhi's commentary that contained these quotations was published in the original Sanskrit, having been recovered from Tibet. So we now have actual quotations from this book, hitherto thought to be only mythical.

For me, there are two problems with Blavatsky that stand out. First, I have little problem with her use of pseudonyms and literary devices, as there is a long tradition of this. In Paul's own book, "The Masters Revealed," he points out the beginning of the India Independence movement and some of these individuals involvement in it could have necessitated their indentity being protected for their own safety. (though Paul may correct me on this!) As for the other people he mentioned, I'm not familiar enough with them to comment - except for Elizabeth Claire Prophet, who was an obvious exploiter.

The main problem was HPB claiming some extreme paranormal occurrences(some would say preposterous) in connection with her Masters. The main being "materialization" of matter, i.e., the letters falling from the ceiling out of "thin air." Without getting into the all the possibilities about it, most paranormal investigators would say this type of phenomena is extremely rare and has never been able to be examined in a lab.

If HPB had said she received the teachings via a deep trance, clairvoyance or in some sort of altered state of consciousness, I think the spiritual/occult/metaphysical community would have embraced her more. As for the mainstream academy community, they'll never accept anything metaphysical, other than an "Oddity" to be studied as of historical significance.

The second main problem with HPB, to my knowledge, is the her lack of putting forth any real system and organized techniques/practices of spiritual/occult development. If I'm wrong in this, please correct me. For if it's there, it's certainly been well hidden. Sure, there mentions of meditative practices here and there, but no systematized, gradiated approach. And, with all the available practices in both the Western mystery schools and Eastern schools, particularly her beloved Tibetan Buddhism, it's a mystery why she didn't develop a whole new school of practical development, and not just lots of theory and hypotheses.

One of the things missing in Blavatsky-Theosophy, and other esoteric literature, is an in-depth illustration of the working of analogy. If analogy is the key to understanding nature, life, soul and spirit, why not abundantly illustrate the point?

This goes together with the lack of development of (testable) models of natural process which would be REALLY helpful to further our understanding of life and consciousness.

The implication of this is, of course, that the whole of Blavatsky theosophy should be reconsidered in the light of current notions and insights. That can be considered as a proper use of one's faculty of understanding and is also a matter of pragmatic thinking: in what way can the philosophies of old have meaning in today's world? I would stress the inclusion of feminine values, the importance of our relation to the ecosystem, of which we form an integral part, etc. Eco-spirituality, in short.

K. Paul Johnson said:

It's easy to criticize people of the past for their lack of foresight, but I think Olcott was less impulsive than HPB and wiser about certain issues.  Creating the ES might have solved an immediate problem (the HBofL recruiting many of the leading members frustrated by lack of any practical teaching) but the longterm problem it created was very damaging.  Olcott opposed it for reasons that seem all the more well-founded now.  Merging the ES leadership and the TS presidency under Besant created a conflict of interest; the tail has been wagging the dog ever since.

But if I could go back in time and warn HPB not to do something, here's what I'd tell her: "EVERYTHING believed in the 19th century about race is not only false but hateful and harmful.  For god's sake don't add to the problem-- remove all references to race in everything you have written and certainly don't give racial BS the legitimation of coming from Mahatmas."

 

Martin, those are two excellent points concerning feminine values, or the Divine Feminine, and eco-spirituality, both something HPB missed.

And the same kudos  for you, Paul, in bringing up Blavatsky's outdated, repugnant racial theories. Somewhat to their credit, the TS points out the passages where HPB emphasized world brotherhood of all races, but there's no getting around the other passages. I'm sure this has turned off many a person to Theosophy in general.

The Sanskrit words for races are manushya and nara, meaning humanity, or in plural, humanities. They can also be translated as human(s), man (men), mankind, etc. In Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kosa, chapter 3, verse 9, they are said to be of four kinds. In his own commentary thereon, he gives these as: egg-born (andaja), womb-born (jarayuja), sweat-born (samsvedaja), and spontaneously generated (upapaduka), i.e., parentless. He describes the spontaneously generated as those of the first age (prathama-kalpika).

The Sanskrit words for rounds are manvantara and kalpa. A chart of the manvantaras/rounds is given in The Secret Doctrine, vol. 2, p. 309. In an apparently secret commentary quoted at SD vol. 1, p. 183, "Round" is given as a translation of "Kalpa." Kalpa is the term used in Buddhist texts, as in the Abhidharma-kosa commentary just mentioned regarding the spontaneously generated humanity of the first kalpa or age. It is a general term for an age, and can just as well represent the time of a root-race as a round, as it seems to in the commentary on this Abhidharma-kosa verse. As HPB says at SD 2.230, "The several meanings of the words 'Manvantara' and 'Kalpa' or age, are withheld, and the general one only given."



Joe Fulton said:

What are the Sanskrit words for:

Races?

Rounds?

From Mahatma Letter 23b, what is the definition of a Raja Star?

These are pretty glaring gaps in the literature.

 This reply has been moved to the discussion, "Race".

As for the complaint about the use of pseudonyms by Blavatsky and her followers - EVERYONE did it in the late nineteenth century.  I've just been trying to sort out our branch Theosophical library, and that leads to the problem, do I file "Cheiro" as such, or as "Count Lewis Hamon," and which of the dozen or so pseudonyms used by the founder of AMORC do I use for his books?  Letters to the Editor, soppy novels, serious psychic or spiritual works - all were written under pseudonyms.  Spiritualist and "Channelled" works are often supposedly authored by the entity, not the contactee.  And so on ....  People writing under their own name seems to be the exception rather than the rule, so I don't think that Blavatsky can be criticised for doing something that was the accepted and normal practice in her time.

It's definitely the case that this was quite the pattern before and after the beginnings of the TS in occult literature.  And in fiction for women it was not uncommon at the time.  But if "everyone did it back then" was reason to refrain from criticism or complaint about the results of using pseudonyms in one's writings, I'd have to muzzle myself when editing Ghost Land.  The most salient fact about the book is its use of pseudonyms and the mysteries of Chevalier Louis, Professor Marx, John Cavendish Dudley et al that remain unsolved after 140 years.  To be honest one has to criticize the great confusion caused by an author swearing that these are autobiographical sketches and not a novel.  HPB was very definitely in tune with practices among occultist writers before and after her-- including close acquaintances.  But this particular genre of literature is pretty much extinct; I don't know of any current or recent spiritual teachers who populate their books with acquaintances given pseudonyms a la Gurdjieff's Remarkable Men etc. 

An important difference between Emma and Helena is that Emma's adept acquaintances were never known to send mysterious correspondence to anyone or participate in any sort of paranormal phenomena with her.  Nonetheless, in working on Ghost Land I'm seeing the nucleus of a lot of later developments in Theosophy rather than Spiritualism, even though Emma ended up fighting against the former on behalf of the latter.  She and Helena influenced each other in their books of 1876-77, so it's even conceivable that the same mutual acquaintance might appear under one pseudonym in one's writings and another in the other's. 

My real complaint and criticism is when pseudonymous characters become absolutely central to the belief system-- which is not true for all Theosophists, only some.  No one in the Church of Light seems to care at all about Emma's adeptic pseudonyms except as a matter of mild curiosity.

 

Dear Paul,

Could you compose a list of writers and their main works of both occult fiction and non-fiction (with year of publication), maybe even with assigning probabilities about HPB having access to them? I'm thinking here of writers like Bulwer-Lytton, Alan Kardec, Andrew Jackson Davis, Emma Britten Hardinge, Hargrave Jennings, P.B. Randolph, etc.

 

Hi Govert,

That sounds like at least a Master's thesis and perhaps a Ph.D. if done properly.  But here's a great online resource giving you all the basics on English occult fiction.  Britten and not Blavatsky is my focus but they are hugely influenced by each other in 1875-77 and I'm learning more step by step daily about that. However, I'm a beginner at all this; Marc's expertise is Victorian lit while mine is American religious history-- and the only major (at the time) American fiction writer in the  TS milieu is F. Marion Crawford.  Someone should do a dissertation on him.

Look to Marc Demarest's site for lots of bibliographic influence data (and I mean data-  he uses quantitative methods.)  Art Magic's intro is a terrific example IMO of what software can do at sorting out literary sources.  I'm new to all this but will try to help do the same thing with Ghost Land.  Who knows we might find HPB wrote pieces of it!  Unlikely however.  Blavatsky researchers should certainly make use of the same tools, but it's not a field to which I'll return except tangentially.  There are plenty of people working on HPB within and outside the Theosophical world and I've fallen in love with obscure authors almost no one cares about but me!

Ghost Land has an 1892 Book II never seen in book form that gives Emma the last word on everything, interesting to come back twenty years after the original GL sketches. 

Bulwer-Lytton is clearly the major fiction writer who is influential on both Emma and Helena.  But otherwise I'd be ill-equipped to comment on Helena's fictional influences because they start with her mother and may well include other Russian writers unknown to me.  It would take some knowledge of Russian lit to comment knowledgably I think.  Emma also had contact with Dickens (Marc discussed this in his CofL presentation) which I don't think Helena did.

HTH,

Paul

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