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[How Theosophy Came to Me]

by A.P. Sinnett

Part I
[Compiled and collated from The Occult World by A.P. Sinnett, London, 1881.]

A.P. SinnettOwing to a train of fortunate circumstances,…I have come into some contact with persons [certain Adepts, Masters, Mahatmas] who are heirs of a greater knowledge concerning the mysteries of Nature and humanity than modern culture has yet evolved; and my present wish is to sketch the outlines of this knowledge…and the grounds there are for bestowing the most respectful consideration on the theories entertained by occult science concerning the constitution and destinies of the human soul.…

The wisdom of the ancient world --- science and religion commingled, physics and metaphysics combined --- was a reality, and it still survives.  It is that which will be spoken of in these pages as Occult Philosophy [or Occultism or Esoteric Science or Theosophy]. It was…a complete system of knowledge that had been cultivated in secret, and handed down to initiates for ages….

Adepts of occultism in the present day are capable of performing similar experiments, and of exhibiting results that prove them immeasurably further advanced than ordinary modern science in a comprehension of the forces of Nature. Furthermore, they inherit from their great predecessors a science which deals not merely with physics, but with the constitution and capacities of the human soul and spirit.

Modern science has discovered the circulation of the blood; occult science understands the circulation of the life-principle. Modern physiology deals with the body only; occultism with the soul as well --- not as the subject of vague, religious rhapsodies; but it is an actual entity, with properties that can be examined in combination with, or apart from, those of the body.

…The identity of occultism as practised in all ages must be kept in view to account for the magnitude of its organization, and for the astounding discovery that secluded Orientals may understand more about electricity than Faraday, more about physics than Tyndall….

And during a career which has carried occultism in the domain of physical science far beyond the point we have reached, physical science has merely been an object for occultism of secondary importance. Its main strength has been devoted to metaphysical inquiry, and to the latent psychological faculties in man, faculties which, in their development, enable the occultist to obtain actual experimental knowledge concerning the soul's condition of extra-corporeal existence….

Occultism is not merely an isolated discovery showing humanity to be possessed of certain powers over Nature, which the narrower study of Nature from the merely materialistic standpoint has failed to develop; it is an illumination cast over all previous spiritual speculation worth anything, of a kind which knits together some apparently divergent systems. It is to spiritual philosophy much what Sanskrit was found to be to comparative philology; it is a common stock of philosophical roots. Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and the Egyptian theology [as well as other religious systems worldwide] are thus brought into one family of ideas.…

I have said that the startling importance of occult knowledge turns on the manner in which it affords exact and experimental knowledge concerning spiritual things which under all other systems must remain the subject of speculation or blind religious faith.

It may be further asserted that occultism shows that the harmony and smooth continuity of Nature observable in physics extend to those operations of Nature that are concerned with the phenomena of metaphysical existence.

Occult phenomena must not be confused with the phenomena of spiritualism. The latter, whatever they may be, are manifestations which mediums can neither control nor understand in a scientific sense. The former are achievements of a conscious, living operator [the Adept] comprehending the laws with which he works.

If these achievements appear miraculous, that is the fault of the observer's ignorance. The spiritualist knows perfectly well, in spite of ignorant mockery on the part of outsiders content to laugh without knowing what they are laughing at, that all kinds of [paranormal or psychic] occurrences distinctly outside the range of physical causation do constantly take place for inquirers who hunt them with sufficient diligence.

But he has never been able to do more than frame hypotheses in respect to the hidden laws of Nature by virtue of which they have been produced. He has taken up a certain hypothesis [that the phenomena associated with mediums and Spiritualism can only be produced by or with the help of spirits of the dead]…in the first instance, and working always on this idea, has constructed such an elaborate edifice of theory round the facts….

Broadly speaking, there is scarcely one of the phenomena of spiritualism that [living] adepts in occultism cannot reproduce by the force of their own will, supplemented by a comprehension of the resources of Nature.…I have seen some of the most familiar phenomena of spiritualism produced by purely [living] human agency.

The old original spirit-rap [of the Fox sisters in America] which introduced the mightier phenomena of spiritualism [to the world in 1848] has been manifested for my edification in a countless variety of ways, and under conditions which render the hypothesis of any spiritual[istic] agency in the matter wholly preposterous.

I have seen flowers fall from the blank ceiling of a room under circumstances that gave me a practical assurance that no spiritual[istic] agency was at work, though in a manner as absolutely "supernatural" [or superphysical] in the sense of being produced without the aid of any material [or trick] appliances, as any of the floral showers by which some spiritual mediums are attended.

I have over and over again received "direct writing," produced on paper in sealed envelopes of my own, which was created or precipitated by a living human correspondent. I have information…of a great variety of other familiar spiritual[istic] phenomena produced in the same way by human adepts in occultism.

But it is not my present task to make war on spiritualism. The announcements I have to make will, indeed, be probably received more readily among spiritualists than in the outer circles of the ordinary world, for the spiritualists are at all events aware, from their own experience, that the orthodox science of the day does not know the last word concerning mind and matter, while the orthodox [skeptical] outsider stupidly clings to a denial of facts when these are of a nature which he foresees himself unable to explain [in a materialistic way]….

…Although…the ordinary scientific mind will be reluctant to admit either the trustworthiness of my testimony or the conceivability of my explanations, it may allay some hostile prejudices to make clear at the onset that occult science deals with no guesswork concerning the post-mortem intervention of human beings in the affairs of this world.

Its methods are as precise, and its mental discipline as rigid, as those of the laboratory or the university lecture-room. Wedding with theosophic research, spiritualism itself might guard itself from all those hasty inferences which have done so much to turn large sections of the cultivated people against it, and if they will but take the trouble to approach the subject from the point of view of occult science, students of physical Nature will be enabled at last to handle the phenomena of spiritualism freely, to consider them apart from the [spiritualistic] theories to which they have prematurely given rise ; and thus relieved of the repugnance they feel for them at present, to bring them within the area of that which they at last will willingly recognise as true scientific generalizations….

The powers with which occultism invests its adepts include, to begin with, a control over various forces in Nature which ordinary science knows nothing about, and by means of which an adept can hold conversation with any other adept, whatever intervals on the earth's surface may lie between them.

This psychological telegraphy [or telepathy] is wholly independent of all mechanical conditions or appliances whatever. And the clairvoyant faculties of the adept are so perfect and complete that they amount to a species of omniscience as regards mundane affairs.

The body is the prison of the soul for ordinary mortals. We can see merely what comes before its windows; we can take cognisance only of what is brought within its bars. But the adept has found the key of his prison and can emerge from it at pleasure. It is no longer a prison for him --- merely a dwelling. In other words, the adept can project his soul out of his body to any place he pleases with the rapidity of thought.

I have said that the occultist can project his soul from his body. As an incidental discovery, it will be observed, he has thus ascertained beyond all shadow of doubt that he really has got a soul.

A comparison of myths has sometimes been called the science of religion. If there can really be a science of religion it must necessarily be occultism. On the surface, perhaps, it may not be obvious that religious truth must necessarily open out more completely to the soul as temporarily loosened from the body, than to the soul as taking cognisance of ideas through the medium of the physical senses.

But to ascend into a realm of immateriality, where cognition becomes a process of pure perception while the intellectual faculties are in full play and centred in the immaterial man, must manifestly be conducive to an enlarged comprehension of religious truth.

I have just spoken of the "immaterial man" as distinguished from the body of the physical senses….Occult philosophy has ascertained that the inner ethereal self, which is the man as distinguished from his body, is itself the envelope of something more ethereal still --- is itself, in a subtle sense of the term, material.

The majority of civilized people believe that man has a soul which will somehow survive the dissolution of the body; but they have to confess that they do not know very much about it.

A good many of the most highly civilized have grave doubts on the subject, and some think that researches in physics…tend to establish the strong probability of the hypothesis that when the life of the body is destroyed nothing else survives. Occult philosophy does not speculate about the matter at all; it knows the state of the facts.

St. Paul, who was an occultist, speaks [in the New Testament] of man as constituted of body, soul, and spirit. The distinction is one that hardly fits in with the [common Christian] theory, that when a man dies his soul is translated to heaven or hell for ever. What then becomes of the spirit, and what is the spirit as different from the soul, on the ordinary hypothesis.

Orthodox [Christian] thinkers work out each some theory on the subject for himself. Either that the soul is the seat of the emotions and the spirit of the intellectual faculties, or vice versa. No one can put such conjectures on a solid foundation, not even on the basis of an alleged revelation.

But St. Paul was not indulging in vague fancies when he made use of the expression quoted. The spirit he was referring to may be described as the soul of the soul. With that for the moment we need not be concerned. The important point which occultism brings out is that the soul of man, while something enormously subtler and more ethereal and more lasting than the body, is itself a material reality…[but] not material as chemistry understands matter….

The soul is material, and inheres in the ordinarily more grossly material body; and it is this condition of things which enables the occultist to speak positively on the subject, for he can satisfy himself…that there is such a thing as a soul, and that it is material in its nature, by dissociating it from the body under some conditions, and restoring it again.

…When I say that the occultist knows he has a soul I refer to this power. He knows it just as another man knows he has a…coat. He can put it from him, and render it manifest as something separate from himself. But remember that to him, when the separation is effected, he is the soul and the thing put off is the body. And this is to attain nothing less than absolute certainty about the great problem of survival after death. The adept does not rely on faith, or on metaphysical speculation, in regard to the possibilities of his existence apart from the body.

He experiences such an existence whenever he pleases, and although it may be allowed that the mere art of emancipating himself temporarily from the body would not necessarily inform him concerning his ultimate destinies after that emancipation should be final at death, it gives him, at all events, exact knowledge concerning the conditions under which he will start on his journey in the next world.

While his body lives, his soul is, so to speak, a captive balloon (though with a very long, elastic and imponderable cable). Captive ascents will not necessarily tell him whether the balloon will float when at last the machinery below breaks up, and he finds himself altogether adrift; but it is something to be an aeronaut already, before the journey begins, and to know definitely…that there are such things as balloons, for certain emergencies, to sail in.

There would be infinite grandeur in the faculty I have described alone, supposing that were the end of adeptship: but instead of being the end, it is more like the beginning….

Who are the adepts…of which I speak ?

There is reason to believe that such adepts have existed in all historic ages, and there are such adepts in India at this moment, or in adjacent countries. The identity of the knowledge they have inherited, with that of ancient initiates in occultism, follows irresistibly from an examination of the views they hold and the faculties they exercise….

For the present let us consider the position of the adepts as they now exist.   They constitute a Brotherhood, or Secret Association, which ramifies all over the East, but the principal seat of which for the present I gather to be in Tibet. But India has not yet been deserted by the adepts, and from that country they still receive many recruits.

For the great fraternity is at once the least and the most exclusive organization in the world, and fresh recruits from any race or country are welcome, provided they possess the needed qualifications.

The door, as I have been told by one who is himself an adept, is always open to the right man who knocks, but the road that has to be travelled before the door is reached is one which none but very determined travellers can hope to pass.

It is manifestly impossible that I can describe its perils in any but very general terms, but it is not necessary to have learned any secrets of initiation to understand the character of the training through which a neophyte must pass before he attains the dignity of a proficient in occultism. The adept is not made: he becomes, as I have been constantly assured, and the process of becoming is mainly in his own hands….

It has been through my connection with the Theosophical Society and my acquaintance with Madame [Helena Petrovna] Blavatsky that I have obtained experiences in connection with occultism [and its adepts]….

H. P. Blavatsky ...Madame Blavatsky is an initiate [of this Adept Brotherhood] --- [and she] is an adept to the extent of possessing this magnificent power of psychological telegraphy with her occult friends….

…After a course of occult study carried on for seven years in a Himalayan retreat, and crowning a devotion to occult pursuits extending over five-and-thirty or forty years, Madame Blavatsky reappeared in the world….

The guidance of [her adept] friends from whom, though she had left them behind in the Himalayas on her return to Europe, she was no longer in danger of separation, as we understand the term, induced her to visit America, and there, assisted by some other persons whose interest in the subject was kindled by occasional manifestations of her extraordinary powers, and notably by Colonel Olcott, its life-devoted President, she founded the Theosophical Society, the objects of which, as originally defined, were to explore the latent psychological powers of man, and the ancient Oriental literature in which the clue to these may be hidden, and in which the philosophy of occult science may be partly discovered.

The Society took root readily in America, while branches were also formed in England and elsewhere; but, leaving these to take care of themselves, Madame Blavatsky ultimately returned to India, to establish the Society …among the natives, from whose natural hereditary sympathies with mysticism it was reasonable to expect an ardent sympathy with a psychological enterprise which...appealed to their intuitive belief in the reality of yoga vidya….

About the beginning of September, 1880, Madame Blavatsky came to Simla [India] as our guest. . . . One day…I asked Madame Blavatsky whether if I wrote a letter to one of the Brothers [Adepts or Masters]…, she could get it delivered for me. I hardly thought this was probable, as I knew how very unapproachable the Brothers generally are; but as she said that at any rate she would try, I wrote a letter, addressing it "to the Unknown Brother," and gave it to her to see if any result would ensue.…

A day or two elapsed before I heard anything of the fate of my letter, but Madame Blavatsky then informed me that I was to have an answer. I afterwards learned that she had not been able at first to find a Brother willing to receive the communication. Those whom she first applied to declined to be troubled with the matter. At last her psychological telegraph brought her a favourable answer from one of the Brothers with whom she had not for some time been in communication. He would take the letter and reply to it.…

Mahatma Koot HoomiA day or two after I found one evening on my writing-table the first letter sent me by my new correspondent.

I may here explain, what I learned afterwards, that he was a native of the Punjab who was attracted to occult studies from his earliest boyhood. He was sent to Europe while still a youth at the intervention of a relative --- himself an occultist --- to be educated in Western knowledge, and since then has been fully initiated in the greater knowledge of the East….

My correspondent is known to me as the Mahatma Koot Hoomi. This is his "Tibetan Mystic name" --- occultists, it would seem, taking new names on initiation….

[The next year 1881]…I [also] got into relations with one other of the Brothers, besides Koot Hoomi. It came to pass that in the progress of his own development it was necessary for Koot Hoomi to retire for a period of three months into absolute seclusion. . . . Under these circumstances one of the Brothers [Master Morya] with whom Koot Hoomi was especially associated agreed…to...keep us going during Koot Hoomi's absence with a course of instruction in occult philosophy….

…It was a happy inspiration that induced me to...[begin this correspondence with the Mahatmas], for out of that small beginning has arisen the most interesting correspondence in which I have ever been privileged to engage….

[See Part II below.]

Part II

[Compiled and collated from The Early Days of Theosophy in Europe by A.P. Sinnett, London, 1921.]

Early in the [1800s]…the drift of cultivated opinion in the western world had been definitely in the direction of pure materialism. The progress of science had encouraged the belief that all consciousness was [merely] the result of natural [physical] laws working through organized matter….
The Masters [first made known to the world by H.P. Blavatsky] saw the danger of the predominant [materialistic] tendency, and it was decided that an attempt should be made to ascertain whether the world was ripe for a partial revelation of the natural [but higher occult and spiritual] laws governing human evolution. This attempt took the shape of the Theosophical movement.…[whose primary founders were H.P. Blavatsky, Henry S. Olcott and William Q. Judge.]
…[Concerning] the inauguration of the Theosophical Society, in November, 1875,…on the outer plane the idea of establishing [such] a Society…was suggested by Colonel Olcott during an informal gathering of persons who had become interested in Madame Blavatsky, at her rooms in New York [City], in September, 1875, the ostensible motive of the gathering being interest in a lecture to be given by a certain Mr. Felt on Egyptian antiquities and the magical science of the Egyptian priests….
The day after this gathering a more formal meeting was held, and those present resolved to form a Society for "the study and elucidation of Occultism, the Cabala, etc." At an adjourned meeting on September the 18th "it was decided that the name of the Society should be The Theosophical Society."
Madame Blavatsky is the central figure to be considered. She was the one person who knew of her own knowledge, that [the Masters or] The Brothers, --- as she called them in those days --- were Beings, human in aspect, of flesh and blood, for she had been for a time in company with two of them in Tibet. She knew they had dazzling powers in dealing with the affairs of the world.
She herself had faculties of a super-physical order that kept her in touch with them wherever she might be. She knew she had a mission to fulfil which had for the moment assumed the shape of the Theosophical Society.
…She had written [a large two volume work titled] Isis Unveiled which… was full of extraordinarily suggestive hints…[on spiritualism, mediumship, psychic phenomena, life after death, magic, occultism, esoteric Christianity, other world religions including Hinduism and Buddhism, evolution, science, etc.].
After the publication of Isis Unveiled [in September 1877], Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott left New York [in December 1878] on their way to India....
With the arrival of the Founders in India the real development of the Society may be regarded as beginning.…
Early in the year 1879 Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott arrived in Bombay. At that time I was, and had been for about eight years, Editor of the Pioneer, the leading Anglo-Indian daily newspaper.
Friends in London had told me about Madame Blavatsky's book Isis Unveiled, how it opened up new vistas of thought beyond those suggested by spiritualism….It seemed to revive old beliefs concerning Magic, long regarded in the western world as mere superstition.
At all events the authoress of that book was a remarkable person, sufficiently so for public notice, and I wrote a note in the Pioneer apropos to her arrival in India suggesting that she might be in search of new varieties of mediumship among the people of that country. This prompted Colonel Olcott to write to me….
…My wife suggested…that we should invite them to stay with us when they came up country [to Allahabad, India]. . . . So I duly sent the invitation…[and] of course it was eagerly accepted….
It was not till nearly the end of the year [1879], that she and Colonel Olcott actually came to us at Allahabad. . . . I vividly remember the circumstances around their arrival. They came by a train reaching Allahabad at a very early hour in the morning. I went to the station to meet them and brought them back. It was still so early that our Chota hazri or first breakfast was set out in the verandah though my wife had not yet emerged from her room.
Madame Blavatsky sat down with me at the table and asked me if we had been trying any experiments in spiritualism. I told her that we had done so sometimes but without any results, "not even so much as a rap", ----- "Oh", she said, "raps are the easiest things to get", and thereupon put her hand upon the table. At once raps of the genuine spiritualistic order were heard all about it.
My wife almost immediately appeared and received the visitors cordially.
Our first impression of Madame Blavatsky was certainly pleasant and I find in my wife's Diary for that day --- the 4th of December, 1879 --- the following entry concerning Madame Blavatsky. "A most original old lady who promises great amusement".
…The raps, which Madame Blavatsky had produced for us in all sorts of ways…were certainly evidences of something more than even mere mediumship. They were obviously under her [conscious] control in a way that is never the case with mediumship….
…[Next year] we invited our guests to pay us another visit at Simla [in far northern India]. . . . They arrived there on the 8th of September, 1880….
The events attending the presence of Madame Blavatsky at Simla…are described…in my book The Occult World. . . . The manifestations of occult power then freely given [by Madame Blavatsky and the Masters] had a profound effect on my own mind. I felt that those who exhibited such marvelous power over natural forces unfamiliar to physical science must possess knowledge to correspond.
…On one occasion…[I told Madame Blavatsky that] I wished I could get into communication with one of the Brothers she talked about. . . . Conversation showed that she thought this might not be impossible, and I wrote a letter addressed to A Brother and gave it to Madame Blavatsky for transmission.
In due course I received a reply, and this was the first of a long series of letters from the Masters K. H. and M. which led to the preparation of [my two books] The Occult World and…Esoteric Buddhism.
…[The letters from the Masters] contained masses of information concerning the natural truths that have since become the fundamental ideas underlying Theosophy. . . . Reincarnation, Karma, the planetary chains, the succession of the root races…spiritualism…after-death conditions…[etc.].

…Mr. A. O. Hume, the head of one Department of the Government of India, took a deep interest in the wonderful phenomena then in progress through the agency of --- or by personal power of --- Madame Blavatsky. I showed him the letters I received from the Master K. H., and he in turn wrote to the Master himself and received replies. We worked at this time, and later on again in close co-operation….

…A good many letters…[were] received from the Master K. H., some addressed to myself, some to Mr. Hume. . . . Some of this teaching was published in The Theosophist [in a series of articles] under the heading "Fragments of Occult Truth" [during the years 1881, 1882 and 1883]. Most of these [articles] were contributed by myself on the basis of the information obtained [in the letters from the Masters]….
…In March, 1881, my wife and I went for a…holiday trip to England. I wrote The Occult World at sea during the voyage home and it was published soon after our arrival [in London].

…After my return to India in June, 1881,…I began to receive letters from the Master containing specific teaching concerning human evolution, the origin and destiny of the human race [including life after death, reincarnation, spiritual evolution, etc.] which eventually, a year or two later, furnished the information which enabled me to write [my second book] Esoteric Buddhism [published 1883]....

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