Published by Blavatsky Study Center. Online Edition copyright 2004.
Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy|
A Reply to My Critics.
by William Emmette Coleman.
[Reprinted from The Religio-Philosophical
As an offset to the abuse, misrepresentation, and sneers with which I was freely favored from the theosophists, in the Journals columns, were the hearty thanks and warm encomiums which I received from representative Spiritualists and others for my critique of theosophy in the Journal of January 14th. One of the most zealous workers for pure common-sense Spiritualism wrote to a friend of mine in this state that said article of mine was the best he had ever read. "Thank God," said he, "we have such a man as Coleman in our ranks to tell the truth and defend the right!" In the Journal of May 19th there was published a venomous and silly article by Dr. J. D. Buck, of Cincinnati, which he attacked and derided me in a disgraceful manner. A few days after its publication I received the following from one of the Journals most critical and intellectual contributors: "I have just read your article on Theosophy and Spiritualism in the Journal of May 19th with my usual satisfaction in perusing whatever comes from your pen. Indeed, permit me to say, you are one of the few contributors to the Journal for whom I have profound respect, and whose opinion I consider worth much on the subject of Spiritualism vs. Theosophy. Of one thing I am certain; your integrity is sound to the core, your learning I admire, and the way you castigate humbugs and cranks meets with my entire approval. I am the more moved to write you at this time, because of an impudent letter from Dr. J. D. Buck published in this issue. The man raves, and I should like to impale him and would if I had been the subject of his impotent venom. How such shallow minds lay themselves open to rebuke! He stultifies himself in half a dozen instances and hasnt the wit to see it." To this I may add, that not only such minds as Dr. Buck, but even those of a greater intellectual caliber accepting theosophy, are guilty of continual self-stultification, fallacious reasoning, and sophistry, saying nothing of the wholesale distortion, garbling, and suppression of the truth with which all their writings teem. This Dr. Buck a few years ago undertook to defend theosophy in the columns of the Cincinnati Gazette, but he was effectually riddled by Mr. John T. Perry. Such minds as his rarely learn anything wise; they cling to the exploded nonsense championed by them with as much tenacity as a sapient philosopher clings to demonstrable truth. Poor deluded souls! their mental condition is to be pitied.
The statement of the Countess Wachtmeister, in the Journal of May 5, that my "calumnies" of Madame Blavatsky are due to "personal spite, a very ignoble feeling indeed," serves to indicate the Countesss ignorance both of the facts of the case and of my mental status. The reply of Lyman C. Howe to the strictures of Prof. Coues is a sufficient vindication of me from the charge of being actuated by "personal spite," an "ignoble feeling" to which I never suffer myself to become a victim. I antagonize Madame Blavatsky solely in the interests of truth and right, and in opposition to fraud and untruthful doctrines. The worthy Countess is evidently one of the Madames most blinded dupes; since she tells us that she is devoting herself and her life to the theosophical cause and to Madame Blavatsky, and also that she has "sacrificed much that the world holds dear to serve the theosophical cause." Poor lady! I am sorry for her.
A Washington correspondent in the Journal of March 10th, writing over the signature of "Seventeen-Twenty-Six N," speaks of the "depths of depravity or folly into which Mr. Coleman seems to think" the members of the Theosophical Society in America are sunken. This is another instance of the usual theosophical misrepresentation. It seems almost an impossibility for a theosophist to present a thing in its true light. Perversion and distortion seem chronic with them all. No where have I said a word about the members of the Theosophical Society being sunken into "depths of depravity." Nothing was said by me in any manner affecting the moral character of any theosophist anywhere in the world, except in the cases of Madame Blavatsky and her few confederates in India. The term "depravity" is inapplicable to aught that I have said about any of the other theosophists. I have charged them with "folly" and absurdity, but not with depravity. On the contrary I have spoken of many of them as "worthy people" who have suffered themselves to be deluded. Again must I protest against the injustice constantly which is done to me by the theosophists. I demand that in criticising me they forbear from attributing to me ideas that I have never entertained or broached.
Helen Densmore asks my opinion of Madame Blavatskys letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, on "Theosophy and the Churches." The intellectual vigor and the ability, in some things, of Madame Blavatsky has never been denied by any, I believe. It is to be regretted, however, that her talents and intellect are devoted to such bad ends. So far as the Madame, in her letter to the Archbishop, contrasts the corruptions of modern Christianity with the teachings of Jesus and primitive Christianity I can concur with her; but when she claims the oneness of the teachings of Jesus and those of theosophy, that Jesus had a "secret doctrine," of theosophic, mystical import, which has been suppressed and destroyed, and that to understand the esoteric doctrines of Jesus and of primitive Christianity, we must study the eastern religions and philosophies, - when Madame Blavatsky tells the Archbishop such rubbish, falsehood, and balderdash as this, I am compelled to withhold, my approval. The world has been cursed sufficiently with mysticism already; this age demands science, truth, demonstratable fact. The theosophical movement is a retrogressive one inimical to the highest welfare of the human race, a spurious religion manufactured to order from various pre-existing materials mostly of an absurd and false character, - a pseudo-religion worthy of the contempt and scorn of every well-wisher of humanity and truth. Christianity, with all its corruption and evils, is the natural product of religious evolution, its founders, Jesus and Paul, being honest, earnest, unselfish workers for moral purity and theological reform. Christianity has an undoubted historical basis in ethical reform. It was not deliberately prepared forgery manufactured for a selfish end, such as theosophy is. To compare such souls as Jesus and Paul with a person like Blavatsky savors of what is usually called blasphemy, while to compare primitive Christianity, with all its defects, with present-day theosophy borders strongly upon the ridiculous.
General A. Doubleday, in the Journal of April 28th, cites instances of kindness and charity on the part of Madame Blavatsky. This is irrelevant to the remark that I made concerning her, and proves nothing. That she may be benevolent and kind-hearted in cases of distress has not been denied. That in no manner affects the question of her imposture and fraudulency. It is no uncommon thing for noted criminals to be benevolent and charitably-disposed. Boss Tweed, of New York City, the head of the infamous ring that systematically stole vast sums pertaining to the municipal government of that city, was a very benevolent man, it is said, and gave away to poor people large amounts from the stolen funds. Regarding the marriage of Madame Blavatsky, to which General Doubleday refers, as I have had quite a different version of the circumstances attending it than that which he relates, given me by those well acquainted both with her and her husband, I am strongly of opinion that the account given by him is one of the Madames characteristic romances, her penchant for which was pointed out in Part One of this reply.
The worthy General also says, "to those who know her" the bare assumption that Madame Blavatsky is the kind of woman to "engage in thimble-rigging performances to obtain a senseless notoriety from gaping crowds" "is unutterably absurd, and does not need refutation." This declaration of our military friend illustrates how thoroughly the wool has been pulled over his eyes, and how little he really knows of the "true inwardness" of this woman. It is often said that there are none so blind as those who will not see; and the General complacently shuts his eyes to the overwhelming mass of evidence proving her a trickster and a sham. Poor deluded old man! The distortion and perversion so universal among theosophists is apparent in the Generals remark about the Madame performing tricks before "gaping crowds." This is about as near the exact truth as a theosophical writer seems able to get. The inaccuracy so marked in Madame Blavatsky seems to affect all her literary adherents. The Madame is not in the habit of performing her slight-of-hand tricks before "crowds," and the General must know this. Why then does he make a statement so contrary to truth? We all know that her alleged magical exhibitions are only given to an aristocratic, select few, sometimes to only one person. The General says that "To those who know her" the bare idea of her performing tricks is "unutterably absurd." Our warrior friend is mistaken. I believe that the Coulombs, who so fully exposed her imposture in India, "know her" quite well. I have received a number of details of her impostures and of her true character from those most intimately associated with her, parties who "know her" much better than do General Doubleday and the other theosophical dupes. It is those who know her the best that are aware of her life of deception and fraud.
W. P. Phelon, M.D., in the Journal of March 3d, says: "Theosophy can hardly be called a branch of offshoot of Spiritualism, for the former was taught by Gautama Buddha and Jesus, at least three thousand years ago, while the latter can hardly count a half-century of assertive existence." This is about as cheeky a perversion of truth as I have seen of late, another instance of theosophical distortion and manipulation of facts. In the first place, it is untrue that Buddha and Jesus taught theosophy. Theosophy signifies the "wisdom of God." Buddha was an agnostic or atheist. He ignored God in his teachings, and he did not claim, nor is it claimed for him by his followers, that his philosophy was derived from any divine source. The doctrines taught by him, which he regarded as ultimate truths, were evolved by him from his own inner consciousness, the result of long and diligent reflection and study. Moreover the teachings of Buddha are in most matters radically dissimilar to those of modern theosophy. Aside from re-incarnation and karma, both of which theosophy teaches in quite a different manner from Buddhism, there is scarcely anything in common between Buddhism and theosophy. The name "Esoteric Buddhism" applied to the system of thought known as theosophy is a misnomer. It is not Buddhism. Nearly the whole of it is borrowed from sources alien to Buddhism. A portion is Brahmanism, and the remainder is taken from Paracelsus, Eliphas Levi, the Kabbala, Spiritualism and Christianity. It is doubtful if there is anything distinctively Buddhistic in it, save the use of a few Sanskrit terms. Its doctrine of Karma approximates the Brahmanic idea more than it does the Buddhistic, and its re-incarnation is more Brahmanic than Buddhistic. In fact, theosophy has no title whatever to the name of Buddhism, exoteric or esoteric, and its appropriation of the name is in keeping with all the rest of its false pretensions, perversions and distortions. From top to bottom, from stem to stern, theosophy is one mass of falsehood, tergiversation, pretense, imposture, fraud. As a humbug it has perhaps never been excelled.
To claim that Jesus taught theosophy is a worse perversion of the truth than the similar claim for Buddha. Did Jesus teach re-incarnation, karma, the sevenfold nature of man, the existence of elemental and elementary spirits, the astral body, and the astral world, or any of the other nonsensical jargon of theosophy? Theosophy stole from the teachings of Jesus a few moral precepts, precepts recognized as true by the bulk of civilized humanity regardless of creeds; and upon the strength of this theft it claims that Jesus was a theosophist. None of the distinctive doctrines of theosophy can be found in Jesuss teachings or in Christianity. There is nothing in common between them except certain elementary or fundamental ethical injunctions common to humanity in all lands and creeds. Madame Blavatsky, with her usual audacity and disregard of fact, claimed and still claims Jesus as a theosophist, at one with her monstrous plagiarized doctrines; and the other theosophists parrot like repeat the falsehood. That any presumably intelligent person could for a moment seriously entertain so transparent an absurdity as the identity of Jesuss teachings and those of theosophy is a lamentable commentary upon nineteenth century rationality and common sense. Of course Mad. B. knows that there is no truth in the assertion, but it is fair to presume that her honest but deluded followers really believe such arrant nonsense. But any person who could believe in re-incarnation, elemental and elementary spirits, devachan, the seven principles of man, etc., can believe in anything, no matter how opposed to reason, nature, science, philosophy, or the demonstrated truths of the universe. The folly of weak-minded, credulous people is amazing whether in theosophy, Spiritualism, or Christianity.
While it is true that none of the distinctive features of theosophy are found in Christianity or Buddhism, it is evident, on the other hand, that some of the distinctive features of Spiritualism are connected with the life-work both of Jesus and Gautama Buddha. Spiritualism is centered in spiritual manifestations, and spiritual phenomena of various kinds are recorded as forming an integral part of the life-line of Jesus and Buddha. The lives of these two, as well as primitive Buddhism and primitive Christianity in general, are interpermeated with spiritual phenomena. It is not claimed that there is historical foundation for all of these phenomena. In both cases myth and legend play a very important part. Instead of it being theosophy that dates back to the times of Buddha and Jesus, while Spiritualism is not fifty years old, the converse more nearly approximates the truth. Spiritualism was known and accepted, in its fundamental features, though not in its present-day form, long ere the time of Buddha, while theosophy is about thirteen years old. The statements of Dr. Phelon in this matter are a fair sample of the false assumptions, misstatements, bad logic, sophistry, and fallacious reasoning with which all theosophical literature is crowded.
I have reserved for my concluding remarks a consideration of the attempts of J. Ransom Bridge to weaken the force of my strictures upon theosophy by endeavoring to make his readers believe that theosophy is really something different from the Blavatsky concoction which I have criticised. In the Journal of Jan. 28, Mr. Bridge begins an article by quoting a statement of mine that "the world needs none of this fanfaronade of pretended mystical truth, and the sooner the whole of it is buried in oblivion the better for humanity." Mr. Bridge next defines theosophy as something different from that which I had labelled theosophy. Now it was not the so-called theosophy of Mr. Bridge as specially defined by him, that I wished consigned to oblivion. I said "this" fanfaronade of pretended truth. What is meant by "this" is shown in the next preceding sentence, which Mr. Bridge did not quote, thus leaving his readers to suppose that I meant that every phase of theosophy was only worthy of eternal oblivion. Here is what I did say: "Have done once and forever with the jargon of elementals, elementaries, the seven principles of man, Kama-loka, Devachan, shells, astral bodies, adeptship, Esoteric Buddhism, black and white magic, and all the other tomfoolery conjured up by Madame Blavatsky to deceive and mystify the unwary and the mystically inclined. The world needs none of this fanfaronade," etc. It is seen that I was referring solely to the Blavatskyite theosophy as a system of thought. Mad. Blavatsky did not coin the word theosophy, and there have been many other phases of theosophical speculations in the world besides the one manufactured by her. She borrowed the word and applied it presumptuously and bombastically to her plagiarized concoction of nonsense and falsehood. It is not my prerogative to combat all the variant theosophical systems that have arisen in the world; it is the special phase of it that is promulgated by Madame Blavatsky, the various theosophical publications of the day, and the various theosophical societies in existence connected with the parent society in Madras, India, that I antagonize. It is beside the question for Mr. Bridge or any other person to tell me that theosophy means Divine Wisdom, and therefore it includes all that is true in every religion and every sect. All such misleading, disingenuous talk as this is indicative of the truth of my repeated statement, that sophistry, fallacy, perversion, distortion, misrepresentation and inaccuracy permeate the whole body of theosophical writings. It seems impossible for theosophists to indulge in anything like accuracy or to refrain from false logic, sophistry, and misinterpretation. With genuine theosophy, the divine wisdom found in all religions and every philosophy, I am in full accord, and it is in the interest of this true theosophy that I antagonize the false, spurious, bastard theosophy of Blavatsky and of all the theosophical societies of to-day. There are some grains of ethical truth in present-day theosophy, but they were borrowed from the current religious systems. It is very easy for Madame Blavatsky to inculcate the higher moral teachings of Christianity, and label them theosophy, but it would be more to her credit if she exemplified some of them, such as truth, honesty, purity of thought and speech, conscientiousness, etc., in her life-walk; and it would also be more to the credit of her theosophical dupes if they would learn to be accurate in statement, just and fair in criticism of opponents, and logical in argument. Reprehensible looseness of statement appears the universal characteristic of theosophical writers.
There is no doubt that the theosophy of to-day, so-called, is, everywhere and with all its adherents, practically Blavatskyism, no matter how much some of its followers, partly ashamed, perhaps, of the justly incurred odium attaching to Madame Blavatsky, endeavor to make others believe that their theosophy is some species of universal truth distinct from the teachings of the Madame. All the theosophy of the day sprang from that of Blavatsky. In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society in America; she subsequently transferred its headquarters to India; and all the theosophical societies of the world are branches of the parent Blavatsky society. She is the leader, guardian and guide of the whole body of misguided mystics calling themselves theosophists. It may be that in some individual cases intelligent theosophists do not accept all the teachings of Blavatsky, but I doubt if there can be found one theosophist who is not, partially at least, a Blavatskyite, or who does not endorse the general principles enunciated by Blavatsky, even though in some matters of detail her ideas may not be entertained. When you get to the bottom of it, it is all Blavatskyism - a little diluted in some places, perhaps - but the same poisonous virus everywhere. The talk about divine wisdom, the truth in all religions, and every thing of that character, is practically bosh - a sugar-coated pill compounded within of various deadly poisons. The root and branch of all species of current theosophy is mysticism. Occultism is used as a synonym of theosophy; and mysticism, occultism and theosophy are three names of the same old serpent - the foe of rational thought, the enemy of humanitys best interests. The attempts made to induce us to believe that theosophy is anywhere segregated from Blavatskyism is delusive, misleading. All the theosophy of to-day is an offshoot from Blavatskys teachings; she is responsible for the whole pestilent brood. Some of it is not quite as bad as Blavatsky herself is, but the weakest and least Blavatskyish of it is bad enough, and deserves no encouragement. The world needs no form of mysticism; it needs scientific truth, not nonsensical theories born of ignorance and imposture.
All theosophical periodicals teach Blavatskyism; all theosophical societies are founded on Blavatskyism. The American theosophical headquarters has published a tract called "An Epitome of Theosophy," and from beginning to end it is Blavatskyism, including in its scope the entire field of Blavatskys doctrines, esoteric Buddhism and all. There was a convention of the American Theosophists held in Chicago, April 12th last. In an account of this convention published in the Inter-Ocean, I find the following: "A long autograph letter from Mme. Blavatsky was presented by her emissary, Dr. Keightley, wherein the lady spoke with much tenderness of her watchfulness and abiding faith in the aim to do good to the assembly there gathered, and of her inability to be there in esse, concluding with an ardent expression of hope that the result will be of lasting good. During the reading of this personal missive - for each one present deemed it a personal letter - there was what one of the ladies afterwards expressed as a wave of unity of love and brotherhood in the room, and it was plain to be seen that the responsiveness of their inner natures had been touched." In the well known "Wilkesbarre Letters on Theosophy," a publication highly commended by theosophists generally, I find the following: "There are in Theosophy two central doctrines - the doctrine of reincarnation, and the doctrine of Karma." In an article by Mr. Bridge himself (who tried hard to mislead his readers into believing that theosophy is quite different from Blavatskyism), published in the Journal of April 28th, he speaks with admiration of the theories of Karma, reincarnation, the pantheistic conception of God, and the "grand system of philosophy" the outcome of which is the existence of the mahatmas. Is not all this Blavatskyism pure and simple? Mr. Bridge, though he attempts to induce us to think his theosophy something grander and more divine than the teachings of Blavatsky, yet "gives himself away," as the saying goes; and before he finishes he plainly shows that what he really believes in is simon-pure Blavatskyism, esoteric Buddhism; and so, no doubt, with them all. They write sweetly about universal truth, the good in all religions, the divine wisdom; but when you make them plainly and squarely confess what they really believe in, you find that the divine wisdom, the universal truth, consists of reincarnation, karma, the teachings of the mahatmas, and all the other rubbish of Madame Blavatsky. They prate about Jesus and the other reformers being theosophists; did Jesus, Paul, Zoroaster, Confucius, teaching reincarnation, karma, the doctrines of "shells," elemental and elementary spirits, devachan, or any other part of the "Secret Doctrine" of Madame Blavatsky? Did Buddha teach any of this except reincarnation and karma? The conclusion of the whole matter is, try to disguise it as some theosophists may, present-day theosophy is Blavatskyism all through. Its teachings are primarily derived from her; her labors and her writings are the main-spring and fountain-head of the whole movement. She bestowed the name of theosophy upon the movement started by her, and all other theosophists adopted the name from her. From her every theosophist has his being, and from her nearly all other forms of present day occultism and mysticism, not calling themselves theosephic, have been derived. All phases of the occultism and the mysticism of the present day can be summed up in one word - Blavatskyism; and that is virtually a synonym of imposture as well as of mystical rubbish; and I repeat, the sooner the whole of this fanfaronade of nonsense and corruption is buried in oblivion the better for humanity.
San Francisco, Cal.