Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

"The Brothers" of Theosophy

No. II.

by A.P. Sinnett

[Originally published in Light (London), December 29, 1883, pp. 568-569.]

In continuation of the paper on this subject, recently read by Mr. Sinnett, the following address by the same author has been communicated to us for publication: -

Many people who approach the consideration of occult philosophy, are inclined to lay great emphasis on the difference between believing in the existence of those whom we call "the Brothers," and believing in the vast and complicated body of teaching which has now been accumulated by their recent pupils. I think it can really be shewn that there is no halting place at which a man who sets out on this inquiry can rationally pause and say, "Thus far will I go, and no farther." The chain of considerations which will lead any one who has once realised the existence of the Adepts to feel sure that there can be no great errors in a conception of nature obtained with their help, consists of many links, but is really unbroken in its continuity, and equally capable of bearing a strain at any point.

It consists of many links, partly because no one at present among those who are in our position as students - who are living, that is to say, an ordinary worldly life all the while that they are intellectually studying Occultism - can ever obtain in his own person a complete knowledge of the Adepts. He cannot, that is to say, come to know of his own personal knowledge all about even any one Adept. The full elucidation of this difficulty leads to a proper comprehension of the principle on which the Adepts shroud themselves in a partial seclusion, a seclusion which has only become partial within a very recent period, and was so complete until then that the world at large was hardly aware of the existence of any esoteric knowledge from which it could be shut out. This is a matter that is all the more important because experience has shewn how the world at large has been quick to take offence at the hesitating and imperfect manner in which the Adepts have hitherto dealt with those who have sought spiritual instruction at their hands. Judging the occult policy pursued by comparison with inquiries on the plane of physical knowledge, the impatience of inquirers is very natural, but none the less does even a limited acquaintance with the conditions of mystic research shew the occult policy to be reasonable likewise.

Of course everyone will admit that Adepts are justified in exercising great caution in regard to communicating any peculiar scientific knowledge which would put what are commonly called magical powers within the reach of persons not morally qualified for their exercise. But the considerations that prescribe this caution do not seem to operate also in reference to the communication of knowledge concerning the spiritual progress of man or the grander processes of evolution. And in truth the Adepts have come to that very conclusion; they have undertaken the communication to the general public of their safe theoretical knowledge, and the effort they are making merely hangs fire or may seem to do so to some observers, by reason of the magnitude of the task in hand, and the novel aspect it wears, as well for the teachers as for the students. For remember if there has been that change of policy on the part of the Adepts to which I have just referred, it has been a change of such recent origin that it may almost be described as only just coming on. And if the question be then asked why has this safe theoretical knowledge not been communicated sooner, it seems reasonable to find a reply to that question in the actual state of the intellectual world around us at this moment. The freedom of thought of which English writers often boast, is not very widely diffused over the world as yet, and hardly, at all events, in any generation before this, could the free promulgation of quite revolutionary tenets in religious matters have been safely undertaken in any country. Communities in which such an undertaking would still be fraught with peril, are even now more numerous than those in which it could be set on foot with any practical advantage. One can thus readily understand how in the occult world the question has been one of debate up to our own time, whether it was desirable as yet to promote the dissemination of Esoteric philosophy in the world at large at the risk of provoking the acrimonious controversies, and even more serious disturbances, liable to arise from the premature disclosure of truths which only a small minority would really be ready to accept. Keeping this in view, the mystery of the Adepts’ reserve, up till recently, can hardly be thought so astounding as to drive us on violent alternative hypotheses at variance with all the plain evidence concerning their present action. There is manifest reason why they should be careful in launching a body of newly won disciples on to the general stream of human progress; and added to this, the force of their own training is such as to make them habitually cautious to a far greater extent than the utmost prudence of ordinary life would render ordinary men. "But," it will be argued, "granting all this, but assuming that at last some of the Adepts, at all events, have come to the conclusion that some of their knowledge is ripe for presentation to the world, why do they not present as much as they do present, under guarantees of a more striking, irresistible, and conclusive kind than those which have actually been furnished?" I think the answer may be easily drawn from the consideration of the way in which it would be natural to expect that a change of policy amongst the Adepts, in a matter of this kind, would gradually be introduced. By the hypothesis we conceive them but just coming to the conclusion that it is desirable to teach mankind at large some portions of that spiritual science hitherto conveyed exclusively to those who give tremendous pledges in justification of their claim to acquire it. They will naturally advance, in dealing with the world at large, along the same lines they have learned to trust in dealing with aspirants for regular initiation. Never in the history of the world have they sought out such aspirants, courted them or advertised for them in any way whatever. It has been found an invariable law of human progress that some small percentage of mankind will always come into the world invested by nature with some of the attributes proper to adeptship, and with minds so constituted as to catch conviction as to the possibilities of the occult life, from the least little sparks of evidence on the subject that may be floating about. Of persons so constituted some have always been found to press forward into the ranks of chelaship, to resort, that is to say, to any devices or opportunities that circumstances may afford them for fathoming occult knowledge. When thus besieged by the aspirant the Adept has always, sooner or later, disclosed himself. The change of policy now introduced prescribes that the Adept shall make one step towards the disclosure of himself in advance of the aspirant’s demand upon him, but we can easily understand how the Adept, in first making this change, would argue that if many chelas have hitherto come forward in the absence of any spontaneous action from his side, it might be that an almost dangerous rush of ill-qualified aspirants would be invited by any manifestation from him that should be more than a very slight one. At any rate, the Adept would say it would be premature to begin by too sensational a display of faculties inherent in advanced spiritual knowledge with which the world at large is as yet unfamiliar. It will be better at first to make such an offer as will only be calculated to inflame the imagination of persons only one step removed beyond those whose natural instincts would lead them into the occult life. This appears actually to have been the reasoning on which the Adepts have proceeded so far, and this may help us to understand how it is that, as I began by saying, no one person amongst those outer students, who have been called lay-chelas, has yet been enabled to say that of his own personal knowledge he knows all about any of the Adepts.

On the other hand, putting together the various scattered revelations concerning the Brothers which have been distributed amongst various people in India belonging to the Theosophical Society, so much can be learned about the Adepts as to put us in a very strong position in regard to estimating their qualifications for speaking with confidence as they do about the actual facts of nature on the super-physical plane. These scattered revelations, - if my reasoning in what has gone before may be accepted, - have been broken up and thrown about in fragments designedly, in order that as yet it should only be possible to arrive at a full conviction concerning Adeptship after a certain amount of trouble spent in piecing together the disjointed proofs. But when this process is accomplished we are provided with a certain block of knowledge concerning the Adepts, out of which large inferences must necessarily grow. We find, to begin with, that they do unequivocally possess the power of cognising events and facts on the physical plane of knowledge with which we are familiar, by other means than those connected with the five senses. We find also that they unequivocally possess the power of emerging from their proper bodies and appearing at distant places in more or less ethereal counter-parts thereof which are not only agencies for producing impressions on others, but habitations for the time being of the Adepts’ own thinking principles, and thus in themselves, if the proof went no further, demonstrations of the fact that a human soul is something quite independent of brain matter and nerve centres. I do not stop now to enumerate instances. The record of evidence must be disassociated from its manipulation in arguments like the present, but the records are abundant and accessible for all who will take the trouble of examining them. Now, if we know that the Adept’s soul can pass at his own discretion into that state in which its perceptive faculties are independent of corporeal machinery, it is not surprising that he should be enabled to make, of his own knowledge, a great many statements concerning processes of nature, reaching far beyond any knowledge that can be obtained by mere physical observation. Take, for example, the Adepts’ statement that certain other planets, besides this earth, are concerned with the growth of the great crop of humanity of which we form a part. This is not advanced as a conjecture or inference. The Adepts tell us that once out of the body they find they can cognise events on some other planets as well as in distant parts of our own. This is not the exceptional belief of an exceptionally organised individual, who may be regarded by doubters as hallucinated; there is no room for doubting the fact that it is the concurrent testimony of a considerable body of men engaged in the constant experimental exercise of similar faculties. In this way the fact becomes as much a fact of true science, as the fact that the great nebula in Orion, for instance, exhibits a gaseous spectrum, and is therefore a true nebula. All of us who have star spectroscopes can ascertain that fact for ourselves, if we make use of a clear night when the conditions of observation are possible. To doubt it, would not be to shew greater caution than is exercised by those who believe it, but merely an imperfect appreciation of the evidence. It is true that in regard to the condition of the other planets our acceptance of the Adepts’ statement must be governed by our impressions concerning the bona fides of their intention in telling us that they have made such and such observations. So far it is a matter of inference with us whether the Adepts are saying what they believe to be true - when they speak of the septenary chain of planets to which the earth belongs, - or consciously deluding us with a rigmarole of statements which they know to be false. I think it can be shewn in a variety of ways that the latter supposition is absurd. But an exhaustive examination of its absurdity would be a considerable task in itself. For the moment the position I am endeavouring to establish is one which does not depend upon the question whether the Adepts are telling us, in reference to the planets, what they know to be true, or something which they know to be untrue. My present position is that at all events the Adepts themselves know what is true in the matter, and that position, it will be observed, is not vitiated by the fact that, as yet, we, their most recent pupils, are unable to follow in their footsteps and repeat the experiments on which their teaching rests.

The same train of reasoning may be applied to the whole body of teaching which the Theosophical Society is now concerned in endeavouring to assimilate. As offered now to the uninitiated world, it can only take the form of a set of statements on authority. And that sort of statement is not one which is most agreeable to our methods or to the Adepts’ habitual methods of teaching. For there is no chemical laboratory in England where the system of teaching is more rigidly confined to the direction of the learner’s own experiments, than that same system is adopted with occult chelas following the regular course of initiation. Step by step, as the regular chela is told that such and such is the fact in regard to the inner mysteries of nature, he is shewn how to apply his own developing faculties to the direct observation of such facts. But those developing faculties carry with them, as pointed out a-while ago, fresh powers over nature which can only be entrusted to those from whom the Adepts take the recognised pledges. In teaching outsiders as they are trying to do now, the Adepts must depart from their own habitual methods, - we must depart, if we wish to understand what they are willing to teach, from our habitual methods of inquiry. We must suspend our usual demand for proof of each statement made, in turn as it is advanced. We must rest our provisional trust in each statement on our broad general conviction which can be satisfied along familiar lines of demonstration, - that such men as the Adepts certainly exist, even though we cannot visit them at pleasure, that they must understand an enormous block of Nature’s laws outside the range of those which the physical senses cognise, that in any statement they make to us, they must be in a position to know absolutely whether that statement is or is not true.

This much fully realised, the truth is that each inquirer in turn becomes satisfied, pari passu with his realisation of the case so far, that reason revolts against the notion that the Adepts can be engaged in their present attempt to convey some of their own knowledge to the world at large in any other than the purest good faith. It may be concluded that we who have come to the conclusion that their teaching is altogether to be accepted, are rearing a large inverted pyramid upon a small base. But the logical strength of our position is not impaired by this objection. In every branch of human knowledge, inferences far transcend the observed facts out of which they grow. And even in the most exact science of all, a theorem is held to be proved if any alternative hypothesis is found, on examination, to be irrational. Moreover, the doctrine even of legal testimony recognises the value of secondary evidence where in the nature of the case it is impossible that primary evidence can be forthcoming. That is exactly the state of the case in regard to the present attempt to bridge the gulf that separates the school of physical research from the school of spiritual knowledge. As long as we of this side were justified in doubting whether there was anywhere on earth such a thing as a school of spiritual knowledge, it may have been hardly worth while to worry ourselves with the stray fragments of its teaching which now and then broke loose in barely intelligible shapes. But to doubt the existence of such a school now is equivalent, really, to doubting the statement about the nebula in Orion, according to the illustration I adduced just now. It can only arise from inattention to the facts of the whole case as these now stand, - from reluctance to take that trouble to examine these thoroughly, which still, as a sort of hedge, separates the Theosophical Society from the general community in the midst of which it is planted. Regarded in the light of an occult barrier - as an obstacle which corresponds in the case of the lay-chela, to the really serious ordeals which have to be crossed by the regular chela, - the necessity of taking this trouble can hardly be regarded as a hedge that it is difficult to traverse. And on the other side there lies a wealth of information concerning the mysteries of nature which clearly lights up vast regions of the past and future hitherto shrouded in total darkness for critical intelligences, and the prey for others of untrustworthy conjecture. For those who once thoroughly go into the matter, and obtain a complete mastery over all the considerations I have put forward - who thus obtain full conviction the Brothers certainly exist, that they must be acquainted with the actual facts about nature behind and beyond this life, that they are now ready to convey a considerable block of their knowledge to us, and that it is ridiculous to distrust their bona fides in doing this, - for all such true Theosophists of the Theosophical Society, nothing, at present, connected with spiritual success is comparable in importance with the study of the vast doctrine now in process of delivery into our hands.