The Great Master’s Letter
The Aims of the Theosophical Movement
The true Theosophist is a philanthropist – “not for himself but for the world he lives.” This, and philosophy, the right comprehension of life and its mysteries will give the “necessary basis” and show the right path to pursue.
– Mahatma K.H.
The Chiefs want a “Brotherhood of Humanity,” a real Universal Fraternity started. – MAHATMA K.H.
Over half a century ago, at a very early stage in the development of the Theosophical Movement in India, a document of valuable instruction was passed on to some of the principal workers of that day. It embodied important ideas indicating principles of action. It has been published in full or in part more than once. It is known as the Letter of the Maha Chohan; we use the title “The Great Master’s Letter” used by our Los Angeles colleagues in Theosophy for January 1922. H.P.B. referred to the author of this document as “the Paraguru – my Master’s MASTER”; at the same time she referred to India as “the Motherland of my MASTER.”
We add two appendices, both extracts from an article by H.P. Blavatsky, published in Lucifer of August 1888, and entitled “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and Its Future.” In this H.P.B. examined the views of the great French Orientalist, Emile Burnouf, on the aims and policy of the Theosophical Movement, concluding it with extracts from this same Letter.
THEOSOPHY COMPANY (INDIA) LTD
The Great Master’s Letter
The doctrine we promulgate being the only true one, must – supported by such evidence as we are preparing to give – become ultimately triumphant, like every other truth. Yet it is absolutely necessary to inculcate it gradually; enforcing its theories (unimpeachable facts for those who know) with direct inference, deduced from and corroborated by, the evidence furnished by modern exact science. That is why Col. H.S. Olcott, who works to revive Buddhism, may be regarded as one who labours in the true path of Theosophy, far more than any other man who chooses as his goal the gratification of his own ardent aspirations for occult knowledge. Buddhism, stripped of its superstition, is eternal truth; and he who strives for the latter is striving for Theosophia, divine wisdom, which is a synonym of truth. For our doctrines to practically react on the so-called moral code, or the ideas of truthfulness, purity, self-denial, charity, etc., we have to preach and popularize a knowledge of Theosophy. It is not the individual and determined purpose of attaining Nirvana – the culmination of all knowledge and absolute wisdom, which is after all only an exalted and glorious selfishness – but the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead on the right path our neighbour, to cause to benefit by it as many of our fellow creatures as we possibly can, which constitutes the true Theosophist.
The intellectual portion of mankind seems to be fast dividing into two classes; the one unconsciously preparing for itself long periods of temporary annihilation or states of non-consciousness, owing to the deliberate surrender of intellect and its imprisonment in the narrow grooves of bigotry and superstition – a process which cannot fail to lead to the utter deformation of the intellectual principle; the other unrestrainedly indulging its animal propensities with the deliberate intention of submitting to annihilation pure and simple, in case of failure, and to millenniums of degradation after physical dissolution. Those intellectual classes reacting upon the ignorant masses – which they attract, and which look up to them as noble and fit examples to be followed – degrade and morally ruin those they ought to protect and guide. Between degrading superstition and still more degrading brutal materialism, the White Dove of Truth has hardly room whereon to rest her weary unwelcome feet.
It is time that Theosophy should enter the arena. The sons of Theosophists are more likely to become in their turn Theosophists than anything else. No messenger of the truth, no prophet has ever achieved during his lifetime a complete triumph – not even Buddha. The Theosophical Society was chosen as the cornerstone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity. To achieve the proposed object, a greater, wiser, and especially a more benevolent intermingling of the high and the low, the alpha and the omega of society, was determined upon. The white race must be the first to stretch out the hand of fellowship to the dark nations, to call the poor despised “nigger” brother. This prospect may not smile for all, but he is no Theosophist who objects to this principle. In view of the ever-increasing triumph and at the same time misuse, of free thought and liberty (the universal reign of Satan, Eliphas Levi would have called it) how is the combative natural instinct of man to be restrained from inflicting hitherto unheard-of cruelties and enormities, tyranny, injustice, if not through the soothing influence of Brotherhood, and of the practical application of Buddha’s esoteric doctrines? For everyone knows that total emancipation from authority of the one all-pervading power, or law – called God by the priests, Buddha, divine wisdom and enlightenment, or Theosophy, by the philosophers of all ages – means also the emancipation from that of human law. Once unfettered, delivered from their dead-weight of dogmatism, interpretations, personal names, anthropomorphic conceptions, and salaried priests, the fundamental doctrines of all religions will be proved identical in their esoteric meaning. Osiris, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, will be shown as different means for one and the same royal highway of final bliss – Nirvana. Mystical Christianity teaches self-redemption through one’s own seventh principle, the liberated Paramatma, called by the one Christ, by others Buddha; this is equivalent to regeneration, or rebirth in spirit, and it therefore expounds just the same truth as the Nirvana of Buddhism. All of us have to get rid of our own Ego, the illusory, apparent self, to recognise our true Self, in a transcendental divine life. But if we would not be selfish we must strive to make other people see that truth, and recognize the reality of the transcendental Self, the Buddha, the Christ, or God of every preacher. This is why even exoteric* Buddhism is the surest path to lead men toward the one esoteric truth.
As we find the world now, whether Christian, Mussalman, or Pagan, justice is disregarded, and honour and mercy are both flung to the winds. In a word, how – since that the main objects of the Theosophical Society are misinterpreted by those who are most willing to serve us personally – are we to deal with the rest of mankind? With that curse known as the “struggle for life” † which is the real and most prolific parent of most woes and sorrows, and all crimes? Why has that struggle become the almost universal scheme of the universe? We answer: because no religion, with the exception of Buddhism, has taught a practical contempt for this earthly life; while each of them, always with that one solitary exception, has through its hells and damnations inculcated the greatest dread of death. Therefore do we find that struggle for life raging most fiercely in Christian countries, most prevalent in Europe and America. It weakens in the Pagan lands, and is nearly unknown among Buddhist populations. In China during famine, and where the masses are most ignorant of their own or any religion, it was remarked that those mothers who devoured their children belonged to localities where there were the most Christian missionaries to be found; where there were none
* See Appendix I.
† See Appendix II.
and the Bonzes alone had the field the population died with the utmost indifference. Teach the people to see that life on this earth, even the happiest, is but a burden and an illusion; that it is our own Karma, the cause producing the effect, that is our own judge – our saviour in future lives – and the great struggle for life will soon lose its intensity. There are no penitentiaries in Buddhist lands, and crime is nearly unknown among the Buddhist Tibetans. The world in general, and Christendom especially, left for 2,000 years to the regime of a personal God, as well as its political and social systems based on that idea, has now proved a failure.
If the Theosophists say: “We have nothing to do with all this; the lower classes and the inferior races (those of India, for instance, in the conception of the British) cannot concern us, and must manage as they can,” what becomes of our fine professions of benevolence, philanthropy, reform, etc.? Are these professions a mockery? And if a mockery, can ours be the true path? Shall we devote ourselves to teaching a few Europeans – fed on the fat of the land, many of them loaded with the gifts of blind fortune – the rationale of bell-ringing, of cup-growing, of the spiritual telephone, and astral body formation, and leave the teeming millions of the ignorant, of the poor and oppressed, to take care of themselves, and of their hereafter, the best they know how? Never! perish rather the Theosophical Society with both its hapless Founders, than that we should permit it to become no better than an academy of magic, and a hall of Occultism! That we, the devoted followers of that spirit incarnate of absolute self-sacrifice, of philanthropy, divine kindness, as of all the highest virtues attainable on this earth of sorrow, the man of men, Gautama Buddha, should ever allow the Theosophical Society to represent the embodiment of selfishness, the refuge of the few, with no thought in them for the many, is a strange idea, my brothers! Among the few glimpses obtained by Europeans of Tibet and its mystical hierarchy of perfect Lamas there was one which was correctly understood and described. The incarnations of the Bodhisattva Padmapani or Avalokiteshvara, of Tsongkapa, and that of Amitabha, relinquished at their death the attainment of Buddhahood, i.e., the summum bonum of bliss, and of individual personal felicity, that they might be born again and again for the benefit of mankind. In other words, that they might be again and again subjected to misery, imprisonment in flesh, and all the sorrows of life provided that they, by such a self-sacrifice, repeated throughout long and weary centuries, might become the means of securing salvation and bliss in the hereafter for a handful of men chosen among but one of the many planetary races of mankind. And it is we, the humble disciples of the perfect Lamas who are expected to allow the Theosophical Society to drop its noblest title, that of the Brotherhood of Humanity, to become a simple school of Psychology. No! no! our brothers, you have been labouring under the mistake too long already. Let us understand each other. He who does not feel competent enough to grasp the noble idea sufficiently to work for it, need not undertake a task too heavy for him. But there is hardly a Theosophist in the whole Society unable to effectually help it by correcting erroneous impressions of outsiders, if not by actually propagating the ideas himself. Oh! for noble and unselfish men* to help us effectually in that divine task! All our knowledge, past and present, would not be sufficient to repay them.
* In the various reprints, we come across two versions of this sentence: the copy in our possession has the following but we retain the other version in the text as it is inclusive and more general:-
“Oh! for the noble and unselfish man to help us effectively in India in that divine task. All our knowledge, past and present, would not be sufficient to repay him.” – EDS.
Having explained our views and aspirations I have but a few words more to add. To be true, religion and philosophy must offer the solution of every problem. That the world is in such a bad condition, morally, is a conclusive evidence that none of its religions and philosophies – those of the civilized races less than any other – have ever possessed the TRUTH. The right and logical explanations on the subject of the problems of the great dual principles, right and wrong, good and evil, liberty and despotism, pain and pleasure, egotism and altruism, are as impossible to them now as they were 1880 years ago. They are as far from the solution as they ever were; but to these problems there must be somewhere a consistent solution, and if our doctrines will show their competence to offer it, then the world will be the first to confess that ours must be the true philosophy, the true religion, the true light, which gives truth and nothing but the TRUTH.
(H.P.B. in Lucifer, Vol. II, pp. 427-428)
M. Burnouf has evidently grasped the lofty ideal of primitive Buddhism, and rightly sees that this ideal is identical with that of the T.S. But he has not yet learned the lesson of its history, nor perceived that to graft a young and healthy shoot on to a branch which has lost – less than any other, yet much of – its inner vitality, could not but be fatal to the new growth. The very essence of the position taken up by the T.S. is that it asserts and maintains the truth common to all religions; the truth which is true and undefiled by the concretions of ages of human passions and needs. But though Theosophy means Divine Wisdom, it implies nothing resembling belief in a personal god. It is not “the wisdom of God,” but divine wisdom. The Theosophists of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonic school believed in “gods” and “demons” and in one impersonal ABSOLUTE DEITY.
(H.P.B. in Lucifer, Vol. II, pp. 429-431)
The “struggle for existence” applies only to the physical, never to the moral plane of being. Therefore when the author [M. Burnouf] warns us in these awfully truthful words:
“Universal charity will appear out of date; the rich will keep their wealth and will go on accumulating more; the poor will become impoverished in proportion, until the day when, propelled by hunger, they will demand bread, not of theosophy but of revolution. Theosophy shall be swept away by the hurricane. . . .”
The Theosophical Society replies: “It surely will, were we to follow out his well-meaning advice, yet one which is concerned but with the lower plane.” It is not the policy of self-preservation, not the welfare of one or another personality in its finite and physical form that will or can ever secure the desired object and screen the Society from the effects of the social “hurricane” to come; but only the weakening of the feeling of separateness in the units which compose its chief element. And such a weakening can only be achieved by a process of inner enlightenment. It is not violence that can ever insure bread and comfort for all; nor is the kingdom of peace and love, of mutual help and charity and “food for all,” to be conquered by a cold, reasoning, diplomatic policy. It is only by the close brotherly union of men’s inner SELVES, of soul-solidarity, of the growth and development of that feeling which makes one suffer when one thinks of the suffering of others, that the reign of Justice and equality for all can ever be inaugurated. This is the first of the three fundamental objects for which the Theosophical Society was established, and called the “Universal Brotherhood of Man,” without distinction of race, colour or creed. . . . . . .
The Spirit of these aims [of the T.S.] is clearly embodied in a letter from one of the Masters quoted in the Occult World, on pages 71 and 73. Those Theosophists then, – who in the course of time and events would, or have, departed from those original aims, and instead of complying with them have suggested new policies of administration from the depths of their inner consciousness, are not true to their pledges.
“But we have always worked on the lines originally traced to us” – some of them proudly assert.
“You have not” comes the reply from those who know more of the true Founders of the T.S. behind the scenes than they do or ever will if they go on working in this mood of Self-illusion and self-sufficiency.
What are the lines traced by the “Masters”? Listen to the authentic words written by one of them in 1880.[ this Lucifer magazine edition followed this with extracts from the Great Master’s Letter ]
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from ULT Pamphlet No. 33, in the Price List on the Library page