Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

Occultism in India

By William T. Brown.

[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical Journal (Chicago)
January 29, 1887, p. 2.]

After graduating from Glasgow University, I paid a visit to London, where the new theosophical movement was attracting attention. A. P. Sinnett had recently arrived from India, and, as he was the leader of Theosophical thought in London, I was fortunate to make his acquaintance. I read with interest Mr. Sinnett’s "Occult World," in which the views of the theosophist are set forth; and I was so impressed by the reasonableness of the new philosophy that I resolved to obtain a more thorough knowledge of the subject, and go out to India without delay.

Armed with letters of introduction to Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, the leaders of the movement in India, I left England, August 25th, 1883, going out in the capacity of an independent investigator, at my own expense.

Now I can say with all candor that my motive in going to India was to further my highest interests, that is to say, to add to my knowledge of spiritual things and further the working out of my own salvation; and it will be interesting to myself to put in writing the reasoning whereby I arrived at the conclusion that the Theosophical movement is a good one and worthy of the most serious attention on the part of religious thinkers.

It was claimed for Madame Blavatsky that she had phenomenal powers, that she was clairvoyant and clairaudient, that wonderful things took place in her presence, such as the tinkling of bells and the sound of tapping upon objects without physical (i.e., ordinary physical) contact, that letters were formed in the air "out of nothing" and that she was in communication, by occult or psychic methods, with the living representatives of the ancient Magi. It was not claimed for Colonel Olcott that he had unusual powers, but that he was an earnest gentleman, who had been a Spiritualist in America when converted by Madame Blavatsky to Theosophical doctrine. Of Madame Blavatsky’s clairvoyance and clairaudience I had no doubt, because I had satisfied myself that clairvoyance and clairaudience were true; of the tinkling of bells, the sounds as of tapping and formation of letters I had no doubt also, as the literature of Spiritualism teems with thousands of parallel instances; and of her being in relationship with the Magi, the letters of Koot Hoomi in the "Occult World" presented a strong prima facie case. I asked myself and answered the following questions. What character does she bear? Is she self-denying? Very. She does not care for "society" or worldly pleasures, but spends her time quietly in furthering the interests of the organization with which she is connected. She holds the post of Corresponding Secretary and edits the Theosophist Magazine. Does she make money out of the concern? No. On the contrary Olcott and she have spent thousands of pounds out of their own pockets (vide preface to "Occult World," p. XV). Does she gain the applause of the multitude for her work? No, only the esteem of her devoted followers. Does she charge money for the performance of occult phenomena? Never, not a fraction. In the magazine which she edits is purity of life advised and enjoined? Always - no advancement in occultism without it. In short, is she leading a Christ-like life for the benefit of her fellow men in India? I think so.

The same line of inquiry might be pursued regarding Colonel Olcott. As providing an indication of his character I cannot do better than quote passages from a private letter to myself, received shortly after my arrival at Madras. Referring to the Ilbert Bill controversy, which was raging at that time, Col. Olcott says:

"We are devoted to the revival of the old Aryan wisdom, and therefore have to partake of the moment’s hatred of everything Indian. Of course the affection and respect for us is correspondingly growing among the natives. As American citizens, Madame B. and I have no difficulty to keep ourselves free from the passions and prejudices that rage about us, and I go about the country as unmoved by the things that are goading the Europeans as though they did not exist. But can you do the same? Do you feel in your heart that the missionary work of Theosophy is thoroughly attractive? Are you prepared to eat with me the plainest food, to expect neither luxury nor even comfort, to have your private character traduced, your motives pictured as base and sordid, to endure extremes of climate, the fatigue of hard journeys in all sorts of conveyances by land and sea, to know of the existence of the Masters, yet be denied the privilege to go to them, until by years of toil you have purged your innermost nature of its selfishness and accumulated moral filth, and by working unselfishly for the enlightenment of mankind you shall have fitted yourself for the holy companionship? Think of all this. The philanthropist’s lot is a hard one; few covet its crown of thorns, fewer still are able to wear it. If you are liable to soon tire of my constant movement and sigh for rest and inertia at home then do not come, for I tell you I am so dead in earnest that I would be ready to die any day for my society."

From October, 1883, till January, 1885, I was immediately connected with the Theosophical movement in India, and became acquainted with its work. I traveled over the entire length of the land - from Madras to Bombay, and from Bombay to Peshawur. I have been as far north as Jammoo in the territory of Kashmere and as far south as Madura and Tuticorin. Coming into contact with Indians of all grades I got an insight into native life accorded to few Europeans.

As the best mode whereby to test the efficacy of the Theosophical movement, let us ask a few more questions. How far does it succeed in promoting its first object, viz., the cultivation of the principle of Universal Brotherhood? In reply we may state that there are men of all shades of opinion, members of the organization. There are Brahmins, Parsees, Buddhists, Christians and Mahomedans. There are materialists and Spiritualists. A well known member is a Jew. There are members in San Francisco, St. Louis, Chicago, Rochester and New York; in Edinburgh; in London; in Paris; in Germany; in Australia; and in all the cities of India; all recognizing the great principles of common humanity and freedom of thought.

Then how far is the movement a success as regards it second object, viz., the study of Aryan literature and science? The answer is to be found in the Theosophist, one of the most advanced metaphysical periodicals in the world, and in the contributions to literature by prominent members. Does the study of Sanskrit receive due prominence? There are a number of Sanskrit schools under the superintendence of the society. Can the members of the organization be said to have average intelligence? There are members from the Indian, German, English, Scotch and American Universities.

Then how far has the society succeeded as regards the third object, viz, the exploration of the hidden mysteries of nature and the development of the psychical powers latent in man? The success in this direction is indicated by the number of students in different countries devoting themselves to self development.

The general metaphysical teaching of the Theosophical Society is that in the realm of relativity knowledge is a growth, that there are latent powers in man applicable to hyper-physical and spiritual planes. One finds these ideas inherent in the Indian mind. Whether the object of admiration be a Buddhist Arhat or Brahmin Rishi, he is one who has risen to heights in spiritual science by force of will, and Indians will tell you that the reason why there are no Rishis visible to the ordinary world to-day is that the world is in a state of spiritual darkness. "This is Kali Yug," they say, "the age of iron."

Now in regard to the "phenomena" of which so much has been said in the "Occult World" and in the public press, I have experienced "phenomena" when Madame Blavatsky was a thousand miles away. On the 19th of November, 1883, for instance, at Lahore I see a man who impresses me as being Koot Hoomi, and on the morning of the 20th I am awakened by the presence of some one in my tent. A voice speaks to me and I find a letter and silk handkerchief within my hand. I am conscious that the letter and silk handkerchief are not placed within my hand in the customary manner. They grow "out of nothing." I feel a stream of "magnetism" and lo! it is "materialized." I rise to read my letter and examine the handkerchief. My visitor is gone. The handkerchief is a white one of the finest silk, with the initials K. H. marked in blue. The letter is also in blue in a bold hand. The matter of it is as follows:

"What Damodar (a Brahmin) told you at Poona is true. We approach nearer and nearer to a person as he goes on preparing himself for the same. You first saw us in visions, then in astral forms, though very often not recognized, then in body at a short distance from you. Now you see me in my own physical body so close to you as to enable you to give to your countrymen the assurance that you are from personal knowledge as sure of our existence as you are of your own. Whatever may happen, remember that you will be watched and rewarded in proportion to your zeal and work for the cause of humanity which the founders of the Theosophical society have imposed upon themselves. The handkerchief is left as a token of this visit. Damodar is competent enough to tell you about the Rawal Pindi Member.   K. H."

Now who was the writer of this note? Was he Colonel Olcott? Colonel Olcott is incapable of the imposition, besides being unable to produce the K. H. writing, which is known to at least a hundred people. Was he Damodar? Damodar was not aware that on the previous day I had seen anybody "at a short distance from" me, as I had communicated the fact to no one, and he was in addition incapable of producing the writing. Again, on the evening of the 21st November, there appeared on the open plain the same figure which I had seen on the 19th, and on this occasion Damodar and Colonel Olcott were by my side. Damodar (who is a neophyte or chela), in the sight of Colonel Olcott and myself advanced to the figure, conversed with it, and returned to us with the information that the figure was K. H., and that he had received instructions from him. Was there anybody in Lahore sufficiently interested in the Theosophical movement and in Colonel Olcott, myself and Damodar to give himself over to impersonation? Not that we knew of. Where was Madame Blavatsky? In Madras. Where was Coulomb, the originator of the absurd scandal, known as "The Collapse of Koot Hoomi?" In Madras. These circumstances took place between the morning of the 19th and night of the 21st November.

I have experienced "phenomena" also when Madame Blavatsky was at hand. On returning to Madras, about the middle of December, I wrote a letter to Koot Hoomi, asking the favor of another personal interview. This letter is put into "the shrine," a sort of astral postoffice at the Theosophical head quarters at Madras, by the aforesaid Damodar in my presence. He shuts the door of the shrine and in less than half a minute opens it. The letter is gone. There is no trace of it. There was somebody concealed in the wall behind, who opened a door from behind and abstracted my letter? If so, the person so concealed must have been content to pass his life there, as letters, often unexpectedly, as mine was, were put into the shrine at all hours, morning, noon and night. Damodar hears, or pretends to hear, a voice, clairaudiently, and informs me that his Master (meaning K. H.) requests me to be patient. Next evening (17th December), in the presence of Blavatsky and friends, including an army general, a lawyer and a doctor, on turning round in my seat I find on a ledge behind the identical letter which Damodar had placed in "the shrine" on the previous day. The envelope, to all appearance, has never been opened, the address only being altered from "Koot Hoomi Lal Singh" to "W. Brown F. T. S." On cutting open the envelope I find my own letter, and in addition, a letter of eight pages, purporting to come from K. H. Now it is to be observed that this letter was received through Madame Blavatsky, that is to say, when Blavatsky was in the same building and in the same room. How does this letter compare with the letter "materialized" into my hand at Lahore, when Blavatsky was at the other end of India? The writing is the same, and the matter proves its author but the author of the Lahore letter also. The author is neither Col. Olcott, nor Damodar, nor Coulomb, nor Madame Blavatsky, he is none other than the veritable K. H., the Brahmin Initiate, the author of the beautiful and scientific letters in the "Occult World."

Koot Hoomi says: -

"I have told you through Damodar to have patience for the fulfillment of your desire. From this you ought to understand that it cannot be complied with, for various reasons. First of all it would be a great injustice to Mr. Sinnett, who after three years’ devoted work for the Society, loyalty to myself and to the cause begged for a personal interview and - was refused. Then I have left Mysore a week ago and where I am you cannot come since I am on my journey and will cross over at the end of my travels to China and thence home. On your last tour you have been given so many chances for various reasons. We do not do so much [or so little, if you prefer] even for our chelas until they reach a certain stage of development necessitating no more use and abuse of power to communicate with them. If an Eastern, especially a Hindu, had even half a glimpse but once of what you had he would have considered himself blessed the whole of his life. Your present request mainly rests upon the complaint that you are not able to write with a full heart, although perfectly convinced yourself, so as to leave no room in the minds of your countrymen for doubt. Pray can you propose any test which will be a thorough and perfect proof for all? Do you know what results would follow from your being permitted to see me here in the manner suggested by you and your reporting that event to the English press? Believe me they would be disastrous for yourself. All the evil effects and bad feeling which this step would cause would recoil upon you and throw back your own progress for a considerable time, and no good will ensue. If all that you saw was imperfect in itself it was due to previous causes. You saw and recognized me twice at a distance. You knew it was I and no other; what more can you desire? . . . If you are earnest in your aspirations, if you have the least spark of intuition in you, if your education of a lawyer is complete enough to enable you to put facts in their proper sequence and to present your case as strongly as you in your inmost heart believe it to be, then you have material enough to appeal to any intellect capable of perceiving the continuous thread underneath the series of your facts. For the benefit of such people only you have to write; not for those who are unwilling to part with their prejudices and preconceptions for the attainment of truth from whatever source it may come. It is not our desire to convince the latter; for no fact or explanation can make a blind man see. Moreover our existence would become extremely intolerable if not impossible were all persons to be indiscriminately convinced. If you cannot do even this much from what you know, then no amount of evidence will ever enable you to do so. You can say truthfully and as a man of honor, "I have seen and recognized my Master, and approached by him and even touched." What more would you want? Anything more is impossible for the present. Young friend, study and prepare. . . . Be patient, content with little and never ask for more if you would hope to ever get it. . . . . K. H."

There were received on August 2nd, 1884, two letters in the well-known writing, one to Dr. Hartmann, F. T. S., and Mr. Lane-Fox, F. S. T., jointly, and the other to Mr. Lane-Fox alone. Copies of these letters taken by myself at the time are in my hands.

The letter to Dr. H. and Mr. L. F. refers to a dispute which had arisen between Damodar (the neophyte aforesaid) and myself.

"Damodar," says K. H., "has undoubtedly many faults and weaknesses as others have. But he is unselfishly devoted to us and to the cause and has rendered himself extremely useful to Upasika (Blavatsky’s occult name). His presence and assistance are indispensably necessary at the Head Quarters. His inner self has no desire to domineer, though the outward acts now and then get that coloring from his excessive zeal, which he indiscriminately brings to bear upon everything whether small or great. It must, however, be remembered that inadequate as our ‘instruments’ may be to our full purpose they are yet the best available, since they are but the evolutions of the times. It would be most desirable to have better ‘mediums’ for us to act through; and it rests with the well wishers of the Theosophical cause how far they will work unselfishly to assist in her higher work, and thus hasten the approach of the eventful day. Blessings to all the faithful workers at the Headquarters. K. H."

The following passage is from the letter to Mr. Lane-Fox:

Yes, you are right in your supposition. We leave each man to exercise his own judgment and manage his affairs as he thinks fit. Every man is the maker of his own Karma, and the Master of his own destiny. Every human being has his own trials to get through and his own difficulties to grapple with in this world; and these very trials and difficulties assist his self-development by calling his energies into action, and ultimately determine the course of his higher evolution."

Now it is interesting to inquire - Where was Madame Blavatsky when these notes were received? She was in Europe. Where was Col. Olcott? In Europe also. Coulomb had been expelled from the Theosophical premises. Did Damodar write them? Damodar is not the man to admit that he has any "faults and weaknesses" whatever.

I remained in India till January, 1885, and along with other investigators received the fullest satisfaction. Of the existence of the adept Koot Hoomi I obtained all the proof desirable, and was convinced of the soundness of the Theosophical teaching.

It only remains to add that I left India about the same time as Mr. Hodgson, the investigator from the English Psychical Research Society. I believe Mr. Hodgson to be quite sincere in the report which he prepared regarding the phenomena of the Theosophical Society, but am sorry that, by his incompetence for dealing with occult and psychic subjects (probably arising from a materialistic training), he has totally misled a very important body of thinkers.