OCCULT WORLD --
By T. Subba Row, B.A.B., L., F.T.S.
[Reprinted from The Theosophist, December 1883, pp. 86-7]
I have been watching with considerable interest the effect produced on the western Public by Mr. Sinnetts book on "Esoteric Buddhism;" and I have not been disappointed in my expectations. There is nothing surprising in the attitude of the Spiritualists toward theosophy and its Teachers. Startled by the strange phenomena -- erroneously called spirit manifestations, which have been witnessed during the last few years, the majority of the so called Spiritualists have firmly persuaded themselves into the belief that those manifestations indicate a turning point in the history of mankind, that they are destined to introduce into the world a sublime system of religious philosophy which will supplant every other existing system whether in the East or in the West, and that for the first time in the annals of this globe man is being permitted through the instrumentality of the manifestations to have a glimpse into the mysterious inner world. They are not probably aware of the fact, or they are extremely unwilling to believe, that these phenomena were known in the East for long ages and that their mysterious causes were carefully studied by esoteric mystics. They are evidently offended at being told that these phenomena are rather stale to the Eastern nations; that there is nothing very profound either in their manifestations or in their immediate causes, that they can never unravel the real mystery of the manifested Cosmos or of the human Spirit (7th principle); and that all that they can teach was long ago known to the Eastern Occultist. And probably there is another reason why the Spiritualists and the Theosophists of the West do not treat the teachings embodied in Mr. Sinnetts "Occult World" and "Esoteric Buddhism" with the serious attention that they deserve. Western nations are accustomed to look upon the Easterns as their inferiors in every respect. In their opinion, as it seems, muscular strength is always co-existent with intellectual powers and spiritual insight; and European political ascendency means and includes intellectual and spiritual superiority. Hence they are too proud to admit that there are mystics in the East who know a good deal more about nature and her laws than all their scientists, philosophers, Spiritualists and religious teachers put together. The discovery of Mahatmas in the East is almost a nightmare to them; and they would feel very happy to get rid of it as soon as possible. Therefore instead of carefully examining the theories propounded in Mr. Sinnetts book, they are trying their best to ferret out a few facts and incidents which will enable them to disprove the existence of our Mahatmas, or render it extremely doubtful; or if both these courses be found impracticable, to show the Sadhus extremely inferior to themselves. Several prominent Spiritualists have already been giving absurd, superficial and one-sided accounts of the doctrines contained in Mr. Sinnetts book apparently with a view to allay the fears of orthodox Spiritualists, to soothe their own feelings and to vindicate the importance and incomparable grandeur of the "New Dispensation" ushered into the civilized and enlightened West by spirit-rapping and table-turning; while some other spiritualists are probably consoling themselves with the idea that even if the Mahatmas should be proved to have an actual existence (outside of Mad: Blavatsky) they cannot be anything more than spirits (Pisachas!), or, at best -- strong physical mediums. Under such circumstances any thing like argument with the Spiritualists is worse than useless. Mere phenomena however wonderful can never prove to their satisfaction either the actual existence of Adepts or the nature of true Adeptship. Any phenomena that you may show them will at once be attributed to the agency of spirits (as they are called by them) or elementals as we call them, and classed with their own seance room manifestations. Even if we were to effect an impossibility and induce one of our Eastern Adepts to appear in London and prove his existence and knowledge before their eyes, these phenomena-hunters would proclaim him by way of compliment an excellent medium and nothing more. Hence, it is not difficult to foresee that so long as the general body of Spiritualists or their leaders are satisfied with their own illogical and fanciful hypotheses and make no attempt to investigate scientifically their phenomena and their causes in connection with the ancient systems of religious philosophy and occultism, it is impossible to expect them to give a patient hearing to the teachings of our Mahatmas To a real scientific investigator who is attempting to ascertain the general law governing a particular class of phenomena, even the suggestion of a plausible hypothesis is of considerable value. The Mahatmas have never declared that they would give a systematic and exhaustive exposition of the Occult Science, but only that they intended to place before the general public a few general doctrines which might suggest some reasonable hypotheses by which the experience of ancient mystics and the so-called Spiritualistic phenomena of modern times may be knit together, and brought under one general law, and which may also show to some extent the scientific basis of all ancient religions whose teachings are generally supposed to be diametrically opposed to those of modern Science. To every genuine Occultist and every student of science these doctrines are of immense importance; especially at the present time, when old religious systems are dying out from want of real vital strength, when science has as yet found no means of penetrating into the inner world of Noumena, and when the strange manifestations taking place in seance-rooms are rejected by the majority of the men of science as absurd superstitions, while they are regarded by the Spiritualists as indicative of the existence of disembodied Spirits!
Our Eastern doctrines having been proclaimed by the general body of Spiritualists as impertinent intruders, leaders of that body seem to have discovered at last a very simple means for getting rid of them. Mr. Henry Kiddle has found out that the Mahatma whose instructions are embodied in Mr. Sinnetts publications has committed an act of plagiarism in borrowing certain sentences from one of his lectures without admitting his obligation. He tells us, he wrote to Mr. Sinnett about his discovery more than a year ago; and though Mr. Sinnett distinctly states that he has never heard from him, this American discoverer has been very persistently complaining to the public of the great injury done to him. This is considered as a very "grave charge" by the Spiritualists, who suppose that it "strikes at the very root, of the pretensions of the Adepts." But if these spiritualist -- "Perplexed Readers" and "Students" who are making such a terrible fuss about the matter were to examine the passage in question carefully, they will, perchance, be able to perceive that there is evidently some confusion and mistake in the whole matter, and that the probabilities of the case are against the truth of Mr. Kiddles complaint. Upon a closer examination of it I find that --
I. So far as the leading idea in the passage is concerned, if any body has committed literary theft it is the complainant himself and not the accused. I find no reference to Plato in the passages quoted from Mr. Kiddles lecture in his letter published in "Light," (1) and the complainant has very prudently omitted the reference to the Greek philosopher that precedes the passages which he reproduces from the Mahatmas letter.
II. There seems to be nothing very sublime in the language used by Mr. Kiddle in the passage under consideration; and it may be easily seen from the other letters written to Mr. Sinnett by the Mahatma concerned, that the said Mahatmas English vocabulary is not more limited than his own and that he is not wanting in power of expression. It is, therefore, very difficult to see why the Master should have borrowed Mr. Kiddles language, unless some good reason can be shown for it.
III. There are certain expressions and certain alterations of Mr. Kiddles language in the passage in question which show that the Mahatma never intended to borrow Mr. Kiddles ideas and phrases but that he rather intended to say something against them. Where the Spiritualistic lecturer says that "the world advances," the Mahatma says that "the world will advance" for the purpose of showing that this change in ideas must inevitably take place by reason of the great cyclic Law to which the Universe is subject. Where the lecturer says that "the agency called Spiritualism is bringing a new set of ideas into the world," the Mahatma emphatically affirms that "it is not physical phenomena" that he and his brother Occultist study, but "these universal ideas" which are as it were the noumena underlying all physical manifestations The contrast between the Mahatmas view of the relationship between these ideas and physical phenomena and Mr. Kiddles view is striking. The latter thinks that new ideas are being introduced into the world by physical phenomena, while the former thinks that new physical phenomena have begun to manifest themselves by reason of a change in these general ideas (noumena) which govern all physical phenomena in the objective world. It seems to me that even the word "idea" has been used in two different senses by the Mahatma and Mr. Kiddle respectively. The former means by the word idea the original form of type according to which the objective manifestation takes place. And this is Platos meaning which the spiritualistic lecturer has not properly understood. Mr Kiddle, on the other hand, uses the same word in the sense it is ordinarily used by English writers. And again, where the lecturer speaks of "the universal reign of law as the expression of the divine will" the Mahatma postulates the existence of "an immutable Law" not depending on any divine will.
But "A Perplexed Reader" writing to Light says that the Mahatma "has omitted inconvenient words and has so distorted the ideas he has borrowed as to divert them from their original intention to suit his own very different purpose." If there is a difference of words and ideas where is the offence? Or is it a law of plagiarism that the person who borrows from anothers writings should do so without making the slightest alteration in the passage extracted? If this "Perplexed Reader" were not also a perplexed thinker, he would have seen that these very alterations in the passage in question go very far to show that there was no intention on the Mahatmas part to borrow Mr. Kiddles inaccurate language and erroneous ideas and that there is some misconception -- some mistake in all this.
IV. It is quite evident from the wording of the passage under examination that there is "something wrong somewhere." Plato is introduced into it rather abruptly and the grammatical construction of the last sentence is by no means clear. Apparently there is no predicate which refers to "ideas larger, &c."
A part of the sentence is thus evidently lost ... From the foregoing considerations it will be clearly seen that it could not have been the Mahatmas intention to borrow anything from Mr. Kiddles lecture. On the other hand, the Mahatmas emphatic declaration immediately preceding the passage in question that Adepts of the "Good Law" do not believe in any other but planetary spirits, his remarks regarding the insufficiency and worthlessness of mere physical phenomena in unraveling the mysteries of the noumenal world, and his enunciation of the existence of an immutable law in no way subject to the divine will, the existence of which is assumed by the lecturer, all tend to show that the Mahatmas real intention was rather to criticise than adopt the views of the Spiritualists as embodied in Mr. Kiddles remarks. Therefore, from a careful perusal of the passage and its contents, any unbiassed reader will come to the conclusion that some body must have greatly blundered over the said passage and will not be surprised to hear that it was unconsciously altered through the carelesness and ignorance of the Chela by whose instrumentality it was "precipitated." Such alterations, omissions and mistakes sometimes occur in the process of precipitation; and I now assert, I know it for certain from an inspection of the original precipitation proof, that such was the case with regard to the passage under discussion. I can assure the "Student" who throws out a suggestion in his letter to Light that there might be some deep psychological problem involved in the matter in dispute, that there is one, and that one is no other psychological mystery than the is above indicated. The Mahatma against whom the accusation has been brought, will, of course, think it beneath his dignity to offer any explanation in his own defence to Mr. Kiddle or his followers and supporters. But I hope Mr. Sinnett will be good enough to place before the public as soon as possible such explanation or information as he may be permitted by the Mahatma concerned, with regard to the "Mystery" of the passage in question and the manner in which the letter which contains the said passage was received by him.
In conclusion I cannot but regret that some writers in the Spiritualistic organs and other English journals have thought it fit to drag our Mahatmas name into public print without any necessity for doing so, using, moreover such remarks and insinuations as are fully calculated to be highly offensive to those who have the good fortune to be personally known to, and acquainted with, the Mahatma in question. The reproach contained in the Protest of 500 Hindu theosophists -- just published in Light -- may be fairly applied to many a Spiritualist besides "G. W. M. D."
(1) Nor is there in his now famous lecture at Lake Pleasant, for we have procured and carefully read it. -- Ed.