Reprinted by Blavatsky Study Center
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"The Hidden Voice"
by W.E. Small (1)
A sickness of heart comes over one on reading and pondering long an article in the October 1971 issue of The Theosophist by Hugh Shearman, titled Theosophical Ontologies. It is an article that demands from members of all Theosophical Societies and groups a most careful and honest evaluation. What inner urgings, we may ask, led to its writing and publication? What effects may it have not only on one Theosophical Society but on the whole Theosophical Movement?
A curious introductory note by the Editor, N. Sri Ram, commenting that the article may be regarded by some as controversial, as "upsetting to settled views of one sort or another," would indicate that he himself may regard it as constituting a challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet. We may certainly accept his words as indirect, if not overt, invitation expectant of a rebuttal expressing other' views.
So we speak out. And we trust that this will be only one of other speakings-out from Theosophists in many countries; for in Dr. Shearman's words we find a line of thought and attitude which, if representative of large numbers of other Theosophists, could change the future course and destiny of that Noble Movement launched and re-activated in the closing quarter of the 19th century with such high hopes by H.P. Blavatsky and the Adept Brotherhood of which she was the outer representative.
These words are not leveled in an uncharitable spirit at any individual. They point with honest conviction to what appears to the writer to be a great and serious danger within the Theosophical Movement; for what Dr. Shearman writes may well act as a placebo helping to lull the stirring conscience of many because of its appealing but specious argument, its flavor of scientific open inquiry. To others, of course, it will serve as an irritant, a prod or challenge.
Dr. Shearman advances the idea that there are in Theosophy mainly two ontologies. (He is using the word in its philosophic meaning as the science of being or reality; the branch of knowledge that investigates the nature, essential property, and relations of being.) There is the ontology, he says, which "came from Madame Blavatsky," extensions of which are to be found in the Mahatma Letters, with respect to which she was the medium and means of transmission..." And there is, he contends, the ontology of Bishop Leadbeater - "more personally his own," from his individual experience. These are, the author declares, very largely what constitutes the corpus of Theosophical literature today.
That is Dr. Shearman's major premise, and from it he pursues his argument. But it is a false premise, untrue; and thus no matter with what apparently fair or persuasive reasoning he seeks its support, it will confuse and mislead the untutored reader or beginning student of Theosophy.
Let us speak plainly. There are not in Theosophy various and sundry 'ontologies' differing in their fundamental teachings concerning the nature of the universe (see The Mahatma Letters, p. 49) - not one propounded by H.P.B. and another equally sound and authentic presented by C.W. Leadbeater or by Olcott or by Tom, Dick or Harry. Truth per se is one. It is not one thing here and another thing somewhere else. It is one. If you want to use the term 'ontology,' acceptable to that branch of study called Philosophy, then there is in Theosophy only one ontology. We prefer the simple word Teaching. The Teachings are the facts of universal being. Thus Have I Heard: iti maya srutam: are the words that mark the true chela become Teacher. Only as I have been taught, only as I have received it, do I pass on the Teaching. What true Theosophist does not recognize its esoteric ring? On that statement and what it deeply signifies Theosophy stands - or falls.
But this, you say, is not an attitude acceptable to Science or scientists today. Let that be. Given time, in the true spirit of scientific inquiry and research, leading and intuitive thinkers will come to recognize the basic Theosophical truths. This is not said dogmatically but because we believe, as Dr. G. de Purucker expresses it (Occult Glossary), that Theosophy is "the formulation in human language of the nature, structure, origin, destiny, and operations of the Kosmical Universe and of the multitudes of beings which infill it." Facts are pitchforks, said H.P.B. somewhere, meaning they are there; they exist; they cannot be wished away or denied. Our inadequacy intellectually and intuitively to grasp them, to place them in proper relationship with other facts of being, does not change, das Ding an sich. It remains. Obviously H.P.B. did not say all there was to say about these facts of being, but what she did say is a faithful reporting on which students can rely. They can test them; they should. They can question them; they should. They will find that there will be no need to throw them overboard, to flounder around for new facts, or, if you prefer, new ontologies.
Each student will, of course, see these basic ideas colored by his own nature and understanding - some more clearly and intuitively one aspect; some another. But this natural personal coloring is not a creating of grand postulates or new and worthy 'ontologies.' It is merely a viewing of the Truth through the qualities of one's individual swabhava, one's essential nature. Seek the Truth. Seek the Great Idea. The rest will come. Seek in the buddhi-manas of your being, and let psychic visions fall into their place as relatively unimportant and subsidiary.
Dr. Shearman stresses the 'personality' of these two individuals, emphasizing the "strong prejudices of H.P.B." which affect the "descriptive material that came from her," and insinuating, as an instance, that her accounts of the after-death conditions "clash very emphatically, not only with what Bishop Leadbeater and other members of the Society later describe, but also with descriptions given by psychics quite unconnected with the Society." (I should think so!)
Throughout the article the effort to discredit H.P.B.'s bonna fides is transparent. Shearman quotes from A.P. Sinnett's The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe (p. 26), written as all historians should know, when A.P.S. in his later years was disgruntled with Theosophy and had completely turned against H.P.B. Sinnett says that H.P.B. did not know enough of the truths of "Reincarnation, karma, the planetary chains, the succession of root-races, the sub-races and so on" to tamper with them, "to import confusion" into them; but, he implies that because of "a bitter detestation of spiritualism" she let this feeling distort the teachings on the 'after-death' conditions.
Poppycock! Anyone who knows anything about H.P.B. and how she was trained and taught will laugh at this bleating of the bruised ego. It is pitiable enough to recall Sinnett's turning on his friend after all he had received from her of inestimable value while she was alive; but for a later Theosophical writer, an historian to boot, to seek reinforcement of his own personal views from this biased source is sadly reprehensible.
Shearman tries to show that letters which H.P.B. transmitted from the Masters contained ideas and expressions out of her own head. In support of this he quotes phrases taken out of context from a letter from H.P.B. written in Wurzburg, Germany, in June 1886 and copied in the handwriting of Frau F. Gebhard. A careful reading of that whole letter (see The Theosophist, August, 1931), and, for a longer version, The Path, March, 1893) makes, perfectly clear that H.P.B. was not writing anything out of her own head and making it appear to be Master's. It often happened that in precipitating messages from the Master, chelas who could not speak English sought appropriate English words and phrases "from H.P.B.'s own head" when she was present. But the real message was not tampered with; it was conveyed as intended. To imply that H.P.B. 'invented' these is a plain falsehood. And as for the general slur that H.P.B. concocted large portions of these messages herself, just ask yourself the simple question: If you could produce or write anything on order from the Master and in his own style of handwriting, would this message be considered your own or Master's?! If you take a note in shorthand from the boss and he says, Sign it and post it, is that letter his message or yours? Verb. sap.
Who, after all, was H.P.B.? All true Theosophists should know her rightful place. It is not a matter of praise or worship. It is a matter of honesty and a burning desire to search for and know the Truth. Who was that complex, dynamic, often volcanic and unconventional character? Says the Master M. (Mahatma Letters, p. 263): "... a woman of most exceptional and wonderful endowments. Combined with them she had strong personal defects, but just as she was, there was no second to her living fit for this work."
In simple language, H.P.B. was far more than a sensitive psychic of rare ability. She was, above all else, the direct and chosen vehicle or carrier of the message "of the truths of being" about Man and Nature from the Trans-Himalayan Adepts. She was their chela, who had paid the awful price necessary in training and discipleship. What do we, with our petty comparisons, our limited focus of understanding, know of the constraints, the rules, under which she labored in order to become worthy, second to none, to carry out her mission? Again the Master M. speaks (op. cit. p. 272): "The Old Woman is accused of untruthfulness, inaccuracy in her statements... She is forbidden to say what she knows. You may cut her to pieces and she will not tell... were she a natural born liar - she might be happier and [have I won her day long since by this time. But that's just where the shoe pinches, Sahib. She is too truthful, too outspoken, too incapable of dissimulation, and now she is being daily crucified for it."
H.P.B. makes no bones about her own qualifications. She knew what she knew and for the most part kept silent on the real issues involved. Despite what her detractors in the past have said of her; still worse, despite what so-called friends would intimate today, that she concocted or invented these truths, she declares frankly and straightforwardly, borrowing Montaigne's words, that what she brought of her own was but the 'string' that tied the 'nosegay of culled flowers.' And she adds words that every student of Theosophy should know and should have tested: "Pull the I string to pieces and cut it up in shreds, if you will. As for the nosegay of FACTS - you will never be able to make away with these. You can only ignore them, and no more."
And here let us say that these "facts" do not comprise an 'ontology' of H.P.B.'s. What she brought is a page of the Secret Doctrine, something about the truth in Nature - inviolable because a part of TRUTH itself . It should be obvious to any tyro in Theosophy that H.P.B.'s words, when it comes to teaching, when it comes to reporting the facts of universal nature, are what have been checked and tested - scientifically, if you please, for what else is real science but such a testing? - by generations of adepts and seers, and are an accurate reporting of them. Nor do you belittle H.P.B. by saying that she 'merely' reported these facts. In saying so you can only elevate her. And to say, as Shearman concludes, that H.P.B. confined herself "to the perhaps safer fields of things large, relatively remote and incapable of testing," is with subtle casuistry trying to saw seeds of doubt and confusion in the minds of those untrained. And to trot out Count Keyserling as finding C.W. Leadbeater's account of inner worlds written as "one who observes more or less scientifically, the only one who describes in simple straightforward language" - what support is this? Since when is Keyserling considered an authority on the invisible or astral worlds!
It is doubtful if any scientist would be impressed on reading Leadbeater's Man, How, Whence and Whither? or his Lives of Alcyone by the veracity of his visions. To say this is to state mildly what could be expressed with some force. One does not attack Mr. Leadbeater because of his psychic explorings; one can recognize his sincerity and the devotion of his followers; but one must clearly state that his so-called reportings are simply what they are: psychic investigations by a psychic and are not Theosophy as the word should be understood.
These are facts our readers should know in judging the worth and value of what is presented as Theosophy today. Theosophy should be respected, sought after as imbodying in its practical bearing "divine ethics" (H.P.B.); also recognized as "the substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies, taught and practised by a few elect ever since man became a thinking man" (H.P.B.); and, as we have already noted, as reporting the "nature, origin, destiny, and operations" of the Universe and its multimyriad beings (G. de Purucker). Theosophy should be recognized as nothing less than this in the public mind.
What, frankly, would a logical follow-through of Dr. Shearman's ideas mean? That basically there are two Theosophical Societies? - one loyal to the Teachings of the original Founders (and composed of individuals who are members of various groups and some probably not outwardly even labelled as Theosophists); and another whose chief aim would be to serve the forwarding of the psychic investigations of C.W. Leadbeater and the Liberal Catholic Church of which he was a Bishop?
Let us be honest with ourselves. That dichotomy may yet be invisible, but who will deny that it is there, growing, consolidating? No longer can a slumbering membership sweep under the rug and shrug off what has lain hidden there as something to turn away from or postpone decision on to some indefinite future. The hope of true Theosophists has ever been to preserve and promulgate the original Teachings which carry the impact of tested Truth, and to work constructively and harmoniously with all. The danger has been, and is now stronger than ever - if we may judge by the publication of this article under review in a Theosophical organ of international repute - that the pure stream of teaching may be so contaminated by the psychic tide, that for the very preservation of that inner life essential to the Movement, a separation may prove to be an unavoidable and remedial necessity. It is a strange and eminently fateful situation.
As a Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, Leadbeater may speak for that body through his writings, but he cannot under that guise be considered to speak for the T. S. or for Theosophy itself, nor for any true Esoteric Section of any Theosophic body. Yet one is impelled to ask: Is there here a hidden voice that thus speaks for many kindly, well-meaning, sincere individuals who are unacquainted with the basic Theosophical literature and the tradition behind it? Is there a hidden Voice representing the Liberal Catholic Church that seeks to elevate one of its Bishops and at the same time to lower in the estimation of Theosophists uncertain of their ground H.P.B. and what she stood for?
Or, we may ask, is there not another deeper hidden voice that, overleaping barriers of separative organizations and the weathered canyons of prejudice, speaks for untold numbers in this great Theosophical Movement? A voice that cries out for Truth above all else? Truth that will enlighten. Truth that will stir to noble and wise action? If and when we come to truly know something of the Essence of the Nature of Being or Reality, can we ever be satisfied with that which is obviously less, swept along by currents and temptations that offer the 'easy way,' succumbing to the merely pleasing and pleasant? Has not the time come in this new cycle to stand firm and raise high the banner of real Theosophy, and to acknowledge allegiance only to that "TRUTH, high-seated upon its rock of adamant," "alone eternal and supreme"? (Isis Unveiled, Preface, v.)
(1) From The Eclectic Theosophist, May 15, 1972. W. E. Small's active Theosophical career spans over seventy years, from an Editor of Theosophical Forum in the 1930's, to Editor of the Eclectic in the 1990's.