The method of this study is to take time as an organizing principle. H.P. Blavatsky claimed to be imparting an ancient, esoteric wisdom unavailable to the scholars of the West, or even to most seekers in the East. Her opponents, many of them very eminent Orientalists, accused her of appropriating secondary literature on Buddhism, available in translation (since allegedly HPB knew no canonical languages). One line of defense against this criticism, taken by Theosophists and sometimes by Blavatsky herself, was to point to the magnitude of the Theosophical teachings, their consistency and internal coherence, as demonstrating their validity. Well aware of the criticisms scholars would level at her teachings, Blavatsky attempted to document her "Wisdom Tradition" by marshalling thousands of supportive statements from the literature of the ancient world.
What may not have occurred to Blavatsky, however, is that using tiny
fragments to point to the existence of a long-broken whole is a purely subjective
method. The veracity of her individual and scattered quotations does little
to objectively demonstrate the overarching hermeneutic she puts forward.
What is "coherent" and indicative of a perennial philosophy to
a Theosophist has obviously been considered "a melee of horrendous
hogwash" by outsiders.
Blavatsky was neither in the habit of drawing bars over her "m's"
nor so out of touch with English usage as to imagine that "out of time"
and "out of tune" were "all one, as it seems." This
is but one example among many, to say nothing of handwriting, style, or
the fact that the Mahatma Letters routinely criticize HPB for her adle -
brain, her emotional outbursts, and her unfamiliarity with the doctrines
of those "beyond the Himalaya." (51) In reading the letters, one
gains an ambivalent image of Blavatsky, one which is certainly not hagiographic.
It is difficult to understand why HPB would forge private letters which
made her look worse, not better, before her inmost admirers.(52) But acknowledging
that the letters were (usually) written by other persons than Blavatsky,
however, does nothing to prop up her claim that such authors were in fact
men of great learning, whom we term Initiates,
and still greater holiness of life." (53) Max Müller gave full
credence to the idea that HPB had been duped by unscrupulous Asians posing
as perfected beings, and this only added to the calamity that was the Theosophical
(45) The Secret Doctrine, p. xxii-xxiii.
(46) Barker, A. T, ed. The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. & K.H. 1st edition 1923. 3rd Edition: Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1979.
(47) Accusers and defenders include Coulomb, Emma. Some account of my intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884. With a number of additional letters and a full explanation of the most marvellous theosophical phenomena. (London: Published for the proprietors of the "Madras Christian College magazine", by Elliot Stock, 1885); Cranston, Sylvia. H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, Founder of the Modern Theosphical Movement. (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1993); Fuller, Jean Overton. Blavatsky and her teachers : an investigative biography. (London: East-West Publications, 1988); Jinarajadasa, Curuppumullagae. Did Madame Blavatsky forge the Mahatma Letters? (Adyar, Madras : Theosophical Pub. House, 1934); Johnson, K. Paul. The Masters Revealed : Madam Blavatsky and the myth of the Great White Lodge. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). Kingsland, William. Was she a charlatan? A critical analysis of the 1885 report of the Society for Psychical Research, on the phenomena connected with Mme. H. P. Blavatsky. (London: The Blavatsky Association, 1927); Meade, Marion. Madame Blavatsky, the woman behind the myth. (New York: Putnam, 1980); Solovyoff, Vsevolod S. A Modern Priestess of Isis. Abridged and translated on Behalf of the Society for Psychical Research from the Russian by Walter Leaf. (1st edition 1895. New York: Ayer Co., 1976); Williams, Gertrude Leavenworth Marvin. Madame Blavatsky, Priestess of the Occult. (New York: Lancer Books, 1946).
(48) Secret Doctrine, p. xxiii.
(49) Barker, Letter No. 4, p. 14.
(50) Barker, Letter No. 5, p. 19.
(51) In but one typical example, KH explains Blavatsky's excess zeal in producing psychic phenomena, and claiming that such phenomena was all her guru's doing, while claiming she had nothing to do with it. "Was, or rather is it lack of intellectual perceptions in her? Certainly not. It is a psychological disease, over which she has little if any control at all. Her impulsive nature - as you have correctly inferred in your reply - is always ready to carry her beyond the boundaries of truth, into the regions of exaggeration; nevertheless without a shadow of a suspicion that she is thereby deceiving her friends, or abusing their great trust in her. The stereotyped phrase: 'It is not I; I can do nothing by myself it is all they - the Brothers I am but their humble and devoted slave and instrument' is a downright fib." Barker's Mahatma Letters, p. 307.
(52) However, see Appendix III, where HPB admits in a sworn statement that she at times wrote Mahatma Letters herself (not merely transcribing them but composing them ex nihilo) when the subject matter was of a personal nature not related to philosophy or issues of a universal scope.
(53) Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p. 289.
(54) Müller, "Esoteric Buddhism," p. 775.