Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.

"The Brothers" of Theosophy

by A.P. Sinnett

[Originally published in Light (London), December 22, 1883, pp. 557-559.]

The following paper was read by Mr. Sinnett at a recent private gathering of Theosophists and their friends: -

I have put down on paper the few remarks I want to make this evening, in order that some views connected with the Theosophical Society may be presented for your consideration in a systematic way.

All persons who become interested in any of the teachings which have found their way out into the world through the intermediation of the Theosophical Society very soon turn to the sanctions on which those teachings rest.

Now the orthodox occult reply hitherto given to inquirers as to the authenticity of any small statements in occult science that have hitherto been put forth, has simply been this: - "Ascertain for yourself." That is to say, lead the pure spiritual life, cultivate the inner faculties, and by degrees these will be awakened and developed to the extent of enabling you to probe Nature for yourself. But that advice is not of a kind which great numbers of people have ever been ready to take, and hence knowledge concerning the truths of occult science has remained in the hands of a few.

A new departure has now been taken. Certain proficients in occult science have broken through the old restrictions of their order, and have suddenly let out a flood of statements into the world, together with some information concerning the attributes and faculties they have themselves acquired, and by means of which they have learned what they now tell us.

It is very widely recognised that the teaching is interesting and coherent, and even supported by analogies, but every new inquirer in turn must ask what assurance can we have that the persons from whom this teaching emanates, are in a position to ascertain so much. Most people, I think, would be ready to admit that persons invested, as the Brothers of Theosophy are said to be invested, with abnormal and extraordinary powers over Nature - even in the departments of Nature with which we are familiar - may very probably have faculties which enable them to obtain a deep insight into many of the generally hidden truths of Nature. But then comes the primary question, "What assurance can you give us that there really are behind the few people who stand forward as the visible representatives of the Theosophical Society, any such persons as the Adept Brothers at all?" This is an old question which is always recurring, and which must go on recurring as long as new comers continue to approach the threshold of the Theosophical Society. For many of us it has long been settled; for some new inquirers the existence of psychological Adepts seems so probable that the assurances of the leading representatives of the Society in India are readily accepted; but for others, again, the existence of the Brothers must first be established by altogether plain and unequivocal evidence before it will seem worth while to pay attention to the report some of us may make as to the specific doctrine they teach.

I propose, therefore, to go over the evidence on this main question, which certainly underlies any with which the Theosophical Society, so far as it is concerned with the Indian teachings, can be engaged. Of course, I am not going to trouble you with any repetition of particular incidents already described in published writings. What I propose to do is briefly to review the whole case as it now stands, very greatly enlarged and strengthened as it has been during the last two years. The evidence, to begin with, divides itself into two kinds. First, we have the general body of current belief, which in India goes to shew that such persons as Mahatmas or Adepts are somewhere in existence; secondly, the specific evidence which shews that the leaders of the Theosophical Society are in relation with, and in the confidence of, such Adepts.

As to the general body of belief, it would hardly be too much to say that the whole mass of the sacred literature of India rests on belief in the existence of Adepts; and a very widely-spread belief, covering great areas of space and time, can rarely be regarded as evolved from nothing, - as having had no basis of fact. But passing over the Mahabharata and the Puranas and all they tell us concerning "Rishis" or Adepts of ancient date, I may call your attention to a paper in the Theosophist of May, 1882, on some relatively modern popular Indian books, recounting the lives of various "Sadhus," another word for saint, yogee, or adept, who have lived within the last thousand years. In this article a list is given of over seventy such persons, whose memory is enshrined in a number of Marathi books, where the "miracles" they are said to have wrought are recorded. The historical value of these narratives may, of course, be disputed. I mention them merely as illustrations of the fact that belief in the persons having the powers now ascribed to the Brothers is no new thing in India. And next we have the testimony of many modern writers concerning the very remarkable occult feats of Indian yogees and fakirs. Such people, of course, are immeasurably below the psychological rank of those whom we speak of as Brothers, but the faculties they possess, sometimes, will be enough to convince anyone who studies the evidence concerning them, that living men can acquire powers and faculties commonly regarded as super-human.

In Jaccolliot’s books about his experiences in Benares and elsewhere, this subject is fully dealt with, and some facts connected with it have even forced their way into Anglo-Indian official records. The report of an English Resident at the court of Runjeet Singh describes how he was present at the burial of a yogee who was shut up in a vault, by his own consent, for a considerable period, six weeks, I think, but I have not got the report at hand just now to quote in detail - and emerged alive, at the end of that time, which he had spent in Samadhi or trance. Such a man would, of course, be an "Adept" of a very inferior type, but the record of his achievements has the advantage of being very well authenticated as far as it goes. Again, up to within a few years ago, a very highly spiritualised ascetic and gifted seer was living at Agra, where he taught a group of disciples and by their own statement has frequently re-appeared amongst them since his death. This event itself was an effort of will accomplished at an appointed time. I have heard a good deal about him from one of his principal followers, a cultivated and highly respected native Government official, now living at Allahabad. His existence and the fact that he possessed great psychological gifts, are quite beyond question.

Thus, in India, the fact that there are such people in the world as Adepts is hardly regarded as open to dispute. Most of those, of course, concerning whom one can obtain definite information, turn out on inquiry to be yogees of the inferior type, men who have trained their inner faculties to the extent of possessing various abnormal powers, and even insight into spiritual truths. But none the less do all inquiries after Adepts superior to them in attainments provoke the reply that certainly there are such though they live in complete seclusion. The general vague, indefinite belief, in fact, paves the way to the inquiry with which we are more immediately concerned, - whether the leaders of the Theosophical Society are really in relation with some of the higher Adepts who do not habitually live amongst the community at large, nor make known the fact of their adeptship to any but their own regularly accepted pupils.

Now the evidence on this point divides itself as follows: -

First, we have the primary evidence of witnesses who have personally seen certain of these Adepts, both in the flesh and out of the flesh, who have seen their powers exercised, and who have obtained certain knowledge as to their existence and attributes.

Secondly, the evidence of those who have seen them in the astral form, identifying them in various ways with the living men others have seen.

Thirdly, the testimony of those who have acquired circumstantial evidence as to their existence.

Foremost among the witnesses of the first group stand Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott themselves. For those who see reason to trust Madame Blavatsky, her testimony is, of course, ample and precise, and altogether satisfactory. She has lived among the Adepts for many years. She has been in almost daily communication with them ever since. She has returned to them, and they have visited her in their natural bodies on several occasions since she emerged from Tibet after her own initiation. There is no intermediate alternative between the conclusion that her statements concerning the Brothers are broadly true, and the conclusion that she is what some American enemies have called her, "the champion impostor of the age." I am aware of the theory which some Spiritualists entertain to the effect that she may be a medium controlled by spirits whom she mistakes for living men, but this theory can only be held by people who are quite inattentive to nine-tenths of the statement she makes, not to speak yet of the testimony of others. How can she have lived under the roof of certain persons in Tibet for seven years and more, seeing them and their friends and relations going about the business of their daily lives, instructing her by slow degrees in the vast science to which she is devoted, and be in any doubt as to whether they are living men or spirits? The conjecture is absurd. She is either speaking falsely when she tells us that she has so lived among them, or the Adepts who taught her are living men. The Spiritualists’ hypothesis about her supposed "controls" is built upon the statement she makes that the Adepts appear to her in the astral form when she is at a distance from them. If they had never appeared to her in any other form, there would be room to argue the matter from the Spiritualists’ point of view, or there might be, but for other circumstances again. But her astral visitors are identical in all respects with the men she has lived and studied amongst. At intervals, as I have said, she has been enabled to go back again and see them in the flesh. Her astral communication with them merely fills up the gap of her personal intercourse with them, which has extended over a long series of years. Her veracity may, of course, be challenged, though I think it can be shewn that it is most unreasonable to challenge this, but we might as reasonably doubt the living reality of our nearest relations, of the people we live amongst most intimately, as suppose that Madame Blavatsky can be herself mistaken in describing the Brothers as living men. Either she must be right, or she has consciously be en weaving an enormous network of falsehood in all her writings, acts and conversation for the last eight or nine years. And the plea that she may be a loose talker and given to exaggeration will no more meet the difficulty than the Spiritualists’ hypothesis. Pare away as much as you like from the details of Madame Blavatsky’s statement on account of possible exaggeration, and that which remains is a great solid block of residual statement which must be either true or a structure of conscious falsehood. And even if Madame Blavatsky’s testimony stood alone, we should have the wonderful fact of her total self-sacrifice in the cause of Theosophy to make the hypothesis of her being a conscious impostor one of the most extravagant that could be entertained. At first when we in India who specially became her friends, pointed this out, people said, "But how do you know she had anything to sacrifice? she may have been an adventurer from the beginning." We proved this conjecture, as I have fully explained in my preface to the second edition of the "Occult World," and from some of the foremost people in Russia, her relations and affectionate friends, came abundant assurances of her personal identity. If she had not given up her life to Occultism she might have spent it in luxury among her own people, and in fact as a member of the aristocratic class.

Difficult as the hypothesis of her imposture thus becomes, we next find it in flagrant incompatibility with all the facts of Colonel Olcott’s life. As undeniably as in the case of Madame Blavatsky he has forsaken a life of worldly prosperity to lead the theosophical life, under circumstances of great physical self-denial, in India. And he also tells us that he has seen the Brothers both in the flesh and in the astral form. By a long series of the most astounding thaumaturgic displays when he was first introduced to the subject in America, he was made acquainted with their powers. He has been visited at Bombay by the living man, his own special master, with whom he had first become acquainted by seeing him in the astral form in America. His life, for years, has been surrounded with the abnormal occurrences which Spiritualists again will sometimes conjecture - so wildly - to be Spiritualism, but which all hinge on to that continuous chain of relationship with the Brothers, which for Colonel Olcott has been partly a matter of occult phenomena and partly a matter of waking intercourse between man and man. Again, in reference to Colonel Olcott, as in reference to Madame Blavatsky, I assert, fearlessly, that there is no compromise possible between the extravagant assumption that he is consciously lying in all he says about the Brothers, and the assumption that what he says establishes the existence of the Brothers as a broad fact, for remember that Colonel Olcott has now been a co-worker of Madame Blavatsky’s, and in constant intimate association with her for eight years. The notion that she has been able to deceive him all this while by fraudulent tricks, apart from its monstrosity in other ways, is too unreasonable to be entertained. Colonel Olcott, at all events, knows whether Madame Blavatsky is fraudulent or genuine, and he has given up his whole life to the service of the cause she represents in testimony of his conviction that she is genuine. Again the spiritualistic hypothesis comes into play. Madame Blavatsky may be a medium whose presence surrounds Colonel Olcott with phenomena; but then she is herself deceived by astral influences as to the true nature of the Brothers who are the head and front of the whole phenomenal display, and we have already seen reason, I think, to reject that hypothesis as absurd. There is no logical escape from the conclusion that things are broadly as she and Colonel Olcott say, or they are both conscious impostors, rival champions of the age in this respect, both sacrificing everything that worldly-minded people live for, to revel in this life-long imposture which brings them nothing but hard living and hard words.

But the case for the authenticity of their statement, far from ending here, may in one sense be said to begin here. Our native Indian witnesses now come to the front. First Damodar, of whom the well-known writer of "Hints on Esoteric Theosophy" speaks as follows in that pamphlet: -

"You specially in a former letter referred to Damodar, and you asked how it could be believed that the Brothers would waste time with a half-educated slip of a boy like him, and yet absolutely refuse to visit and convince men like ----- and ----- Europeans of the highest education and marked abilities. But do you know that this slip of a boy has deliberately given up high caste, family and friends, and an ample fortune, all in pursuit of the truth? That he has for years lived that pure, unworldly, self-denying life which we are told is essential to direct intercourse with the Brothers? ‘Oh a monomaniac’ you say, ‘Of course he sees anything and everything.’ But do not you see whither this leads you? Men who do not lead the life do not obtain direct proof of the existence of the Brothers. A man does lead the life and avers that he has obtained such proof, and you straightway call him a monomaniac and refuse his testimony . . . . . quite a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ sort of position."

Damodar has seen some of the Brothers visit the headquarters of the Society in the flesh. He has repeatedly been visited by them in the astral shape. He has himself gone through certain initiations; he has acquired very considerable powers, for he has been rapidly developed as regards these, expressly that he might be an additional link of connection, independently of Madame Blavatsky, between the Brothers, his masters, and the Theosophical Society. The whole life he leads is impressive testimony to the fact that he also knows the reality of the Brothers. On any other hypothesis we must include Damodar in the conscious imposture supposed to be carried on by Madame Blavatsky, for he has been her intimate associate and devoted assistant, sharing her meals, doing her work, living under her roof at Bombay for several years.

Shall we, then, rather than believe in the Brothers, accept the hypothesis that Madame Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and Damodar, are a band of conscious impostors? In that case Ramaswamy has to be accounted for.  Ramaswamy is a very respectable, educated, English speaking-native of Southern India, in Government service as a registrar of a court in Tinnevelly, I believe. I have met him several times. First, to indicate the course of his experience in a few words, - he sees the astral form of Madame Blavatsky’s Guru, at Bombay; then he gets clairaudient communication with him, while many hundred miles away from all the Theosophists, at his own home in the South of India. Then he travels in obedience to that voice to Darjeeling; then he plunges wildly into the Sikkim jungles in search of the Guru, whom he has reason to believe in that neighbourhood, and after various adventures meets him, - the same man he has seen before in astral shape, the same man whose portrait Colonel Olcott has, and whom he has seen, the living speaker of the voice that has been leading him on from Southern India. He has a long interview with him, a waking, open-air, daylight interview, with a living man, and returns his devoted chela as he is at this moment, and assuredly ever will be. Yet his master who called him from Tinnevelly and received him in Sikkim, is of those who on the spiritualistic hypothesis are Madame Blavatsky’s spirit controls.

Two more witnesses who personally know the Brothers next come to me at Simla, in the persons of two regular chelas who have been sent across the mountains on some business, and are ordered en passant to visit me and tell me about their master, my Adept correspondent. These men had just come, when I first saw them, from living with the Adepts. One of them, Dhabagiri Nath, visited me several days running, talked to me for hours about Koot Hoomi, with whom he had been living for ten years, and impressed me and one or two others who saw him as a very earnest, devoted, and trustworthy person. Later on, during his visit to India, he was associated with many striking occult phenomena directed to the satisfaction of native inquirers. He, of course, must be a false witness, invented to prop up Madame Blavatsky’s vast imposture, if he is anything else than the chela of Koot Hoomi that he declares himself to be.

Another native, Mohini, soon after this begins to get direct communication from Koot Hoomi independently altogether of Madame Blavatsky, and when hundreds of miles away from her. He also becomes a devoted adherent to the Theosophical cause; but Mohini must, as far as I am aware, be ranked in the second group of our witnesses, those who have had personal astral communication with the Brothers, but have not yet seen them in flesh.

Bhavani Rao, a young native candidate for chelaship, who came once in company with Colonel Olcott, but at a time when Madame Blavatsky was in another part of India, to see me at Allahabad, and spent two nights under our roof there, is another witness who has had independent communication with Koot Hoomi, and more than that, who is able himself to act as a link of communication between Koot Hoomi and the outer world. For during the visit I speak of, he was enabled to pass a letter of mine to the master, to receive back his reply, to get off a second note of mine, and to receive back a little note of a few words in reply again. I do not mean that he did all this of his own power, but that his magnetism was such as to enable Koot Hoomi to do it through him. The experience is valuable because it affords a striking illustration of the fact that Madame Blavatsky is not an essential intermediary in the correspondence between myself and my revered friend. Other illustrations are afforded by the frequent passage of letters between Koot Hoomi and myself through the mediation of Damodar at Bombay, at a time when both Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott were away at Madras, travelling about on a Theosophical tour, in the course of which their presence at various places was constantly mentioned in the local papers. I was at Allahabad, and I used, during that time, to send my letters for Koot Hoomi to Damodar at Bombay, and occasionally receive replies so promptly that it would have been impossible for these to have been furnished by Madame Blavatsky, then four or more days further from me in the course of post than Bombay.

In this way, my very voluminous correspondence is, demonstrably as regards portions of it, and therefore by irresistible inference as regards the whole, not the work of Madame Blavatsky, or Colonel Olcott, which, if the Brothers are not a reality, it must be. The correspondence is visible on paper, a considerable mass of it. How has it come into existence; reaching me at different places and times, and in different countries, and through different people? I do not quite understand what hypotheses can be framed by a non-believer in the Brothers about my correspondence. I can think of none which are not at once negatived by some of the facts about it.

It would be useless to copy out from statements that from time to time have been published in the Theosophist, the names of native witnesses who have seen the astral forms of the Brothers - spectral shapes which they were informed were such - about the headquarters of the Society at Bombay. Quite a cloud of witnesses would testify to such experiences, and I myself, I may add, saw such an appearance on one occasion at the Society’s present headquarters in Madras. But, of course, it might be suggested of such appearances that they were spiritualistic. On the other hand, in that case the argument travels back to the considerations already pointed out, which shew that the occult phenomena surrounding Madame Blavatsky cannot be Spiritualism. They can be, in fact, nothing but what we who know her intimately and are now closely identified with the Society, believe them to be with full conviction, viz., manifestations of the abnormal psychological powers of those whom we speak of as the Brothers.

[See also the continuation No. II.]