Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna
(1831-1891). Prolific writer on comparative religion, mythology, and esoteric subjects, and primary founder of the Theosophical Society (TS). As part of a larger movement to reinstate the ageless wisdom of countless seers and sages, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky has been called the greatest esotericist in the history of Western civilization and a “direct agent of the Trans-Himālayan Brotherhood of Adepts,” by the editor of her Collected Writings, Boris de ZIRKOFF. HPB, as she later became known by her students, was born August 12 (July 31 O.S.) 1831 at Ekaterinoslav, Russia (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine). She was daughter of Col. Peter Alexeyevich von Hahn (1798-1873) and Helena Andreyevna de Fadeyev (1814-1842), a renowned novelist. When christened as a babe, the officiating priest’s robe caught fire from a candle, a seeming token of that fervent opposition to sectarian and priestly religion she was to champion. As a child, Blavatsky was endowed with remarkable psychic sensitivity, and a brilliant mind. The latter was cultivated by a keen pursuit of the metaphysical books in her grandfather’s library. Her psychic powers were later brought under control with aid from her Oriental teachers. To those surrounding her in youth, her behavior seemed odd, but to the street urchins she preferred to play with, she was intriguing. The family moved to Saratov after her mother died, traveling partly by camel and meeting some Kalmuck Buddhists. The old mansion they settled in had subterranean passages the children loved to explore. HPB’s sister recounted how Helena could be found reading a book known as “Solomon’s Wisdom,” hidden amidst a tower of piled-up chairs in the old country mansion. She loved to immerse herself in the folk and fairy tales told by an elderly servant. She would regale her playmates with stories of antediluvian creatures, psychometrized from petrified relics found in a sand tract near the governor’s villa. Her gift for descriptive narrative surfaces in her adult fiction, such as “The Ensouled Violin” and other Nightmare Tales. (London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892; reprinted in The Tell-Tale Picture Gallery, Los Angeles: Theosophy Company, n.d.). She became a gifted linguist, talented pianist and artist.
In 1849, to defy her governess, she married 40 year-old Nikifor Vassilyevich Blavatsky (1809-?). Within a few months she left him to travel in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and France, fulfilling her ardent yearnings for the secrets and underlying causes of the Universe. She was seeking to answer two recurring questions: “Where, WHO, WHAT is GOD?” and “Whoever saw the IMMORTAL SPIRIT of man, so as to be able to assure himself of man’s immortality?” (IU I:vi)
Early in 1851, HPB underwent a deep depression, despairing if she would ever grasp the “philosopher’s stone.” At a critical moment, on a bridge overlooking the Thames River, her Master’s reassuring voice promised triumph in her quest (H. P. B. Speaks, edited by C. Jinarājadāsa, Vol. II. Adyar: T.P.H., 1951, 66-67).
A number of months following this prophetic encounter, Blavatsky stated that in 1851, on her 20th birthday, she met her Master in London. He was traveling with a delegation of Indian princes. Recognizing in him the pinnacle of human perfection, and the one who had guarded her since childhood, she conversed several hours with him in Hyde Park. According to Countess WACHTMEISTER this stately Rajput initiate outlined a great work of worldwide scope for her to do, “on account of her great intellectual and mental powers, and because of her partly Eastern and partly Western birth,” as well as her psychical powers. Master MORYA, as he later became known, forewarned her of a position fraught with great trial, even persecution, connected with the Society he asked her to form (see The Irish Theosophist, June 15, 1894, Vol. II, p. 128).
She continued her travels throughout America, Ceylon and India, in search for the truth about the universe and man. Alfred Percy SINNETT’S Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky (London: Redway 1886; p. 62) portrays her disillusionment with a tribe of Indians in Quebec, whose medicine men she had conversed with in 1851. When they stole her possessions and prized boots, she felt they had been corrupted by Christian missionaries. From Canada she wended her way south to New Orleans, to study the practice of Voodoo. Warned of its dangers in a vision, she continued onward, via Texas to Mexico. Sinnett writes:
- Thus by hook or by crook Madame always managed to scramble along unscathed; though it seems miraculous in the retrospect that she should have been able — young woman at that time as she was — to lead the wild life on which she was embarked without actually incurring disasters. . . . She passed through rough communities of all kinds, savage as well as civilized, and seems to have been guarded from harm, as assuredly she was guarded, by the sheer force of her own fearlessness, and her fierce scorn for all considerations however remotely associated with the “magnetism of sex.” (op. cit., p. 64)
In 1852, after extensive travels throughout Central and South America, she met at Copán, Honduras, a Hindu who was to accompany her to India, along with an English gentleman who joined them in the West Indies. Unfortunately, the names of her fellow travelers are unknown. For a time she traveled in India dressed as a man. Dr. Albert Leighton Rawson is an important witness to her travels. HPB had met him in Cairo, Egypt. In 1878, Rawson published a letter citing several friends of his who had met her in India: “[Some] of my acquaintances have met Madame Blavatsky in the far east; others have heard of her residence there; for instance, the eminent physician and surgeon, David E. Dudley, M.D. of Manila; Mr. Frank A. Hill of Boston, Mass., who was in India some years since . . .” (The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, by Sylvia Cranston. New York: Putnam’s, 1993, p. 51).
Her first attempt to reach Tibet failed. Major General C. Murray told Henry Steel OLCOTT on March 3, 1893, that he himself had thwarted her plans on her second effort to cross over the border in 1854 (“Traces of H. P. Blavatsky,” The Theosophist, April 1893, pp. 4-9).
Of her vast travels, HPB later wrote to Prince Dondoukov, . . . “I have lived with the whirling Dervishes, with the Druses of Mt. Lebanon, with the Bedouin Arabs and the Marabouts of Damascus . . .” (H. P. B. Speaks, Vol. 2, p. 65). After crossing the Rocky Mountains of America via covered wagon in 1854, she again left for India by late 1855. Journeying via Kashmir and Ladakh, she finally reached Tibet, to undergo training in the ancient mysteries with her Master (see Cranston, Pt. III, pp. 58-9 et seq.). Many incidents about her second trip to India and Tibet were recorded in Caves and Jungles of Hindostan (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975). Originally appearing under HPB’s pen name Radda Bai in the Moskovskiya Vedomosty (Moscow Chronicle) between 1879-1882, they were republished in Russkiy Vestnik (Russian Messenger) by the same editor, Mihail N. Katkov. Blavatsky’s teacher is known as Thākur Gulāb-Lal-Singh in these fictionalized tales. Accompanied by a Tartar Shaman during 1856-57, her travels led her throughout India, Kashmir, portions of Tibet, Burma, Siam and Assam. Later in Burma she was cured of severe fever by a Rangoon native.
Returning to Europe via Java in 1858 she eventually arrived in her native Russia in late fall of 1858. During the following years, she exhibited to her family many of her inner powers, drawing numerous visitors interested in her psychic abilities. She was cautioned by the Metropolitan of Kiev to use these powers with discrimination, for if wisely used she could do much good. During the years 1860 to 1865 she lived and traveled in the Caucasus, studying with native Kudyani (magicians), and learning to heal. It was during this time that she underwent a mysterious illness and began to bring her powers under control. She herself stated that “Between the Blavatsky of 1845-65 and . . . 1865-82 there is an unbridgeable gulf” (H. P. B. Speaks, II, p. 58).
Leaving Russia in the autumn of 1865, HPB traveled extensively throughout the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Italy. Joining the cause of Giuseppe Garibaldi, she was wounded amidst the revolutionaries at the battle of Mentana, Italy, on November 3, 1867. HPB went via India back to Tibet, meeting Master KOOT HOOMI for the first time in late 1868, and staying in his house in Little Tibet (now Western Kashmir). After a visit to Cyprus and Greece where she met Master HILARION, she embarked for Egypt, and traveling on the SS Eunomia, was shipwrecked near Spetsai Island on July 4, 1871. Settling in Cairo (1871-72) her attempt to form a Société Spirite aborted. She had hoped to investigate mediums and phenomena, testing Allan Kardec’s theories about Spiritism, but drew on amateur mediums who absconded with the Society’s money. Undaunted, her training in the hidden laws of nature continued via travels throughout the Mid-East and Eastern Europe.
It was recognized by her adept teachers that HPB was not perfect, but the best vehicle they could find for awakening the West to the truths of Eastern philosophy. She had the courage to challenge both the dogmas of theology and science, and to oppose materialism in an industrial age. Although at times quick to explode, she had a large, forgiving heart, total loyalty to her Teachers, and a wide-ranging knowledge despite lack of formal education. In mid-19th century Russia women did not receive the same education as men, but were tutored at home by their governesses.
She often suffered betrayal by trusted friends and associates. At times she recognized a potential enemy, but knew karmically the individuals deserved a chance to collaborate in her work. She knew that the final judge would prove to be Time itself and the laws of the universe would balance all effects in the grand scheme of things.
In Paris by Spring of 1873, she received orders from her Master to go to New York. Exchanging her lst class ticket for 3rd class tickets, she enabled an indigent mother and her two children, who had been swindled, to reach America. She traveled with them via steerage in a crowded hold. Upon reaching New York, alone in a foreign city, HPB crafted ties and decorated calling cards for a living.
On October 14, 1874, she met Col. Henry Steel Olcott at the Eddy farmhouse in Vermont, where he was investigating Spiritualism for The Daily Graphic. Spiritualism was rampant in America in those days, attracting even high officials from other countries. Olcott stated in People from the Other World, (Hartford, Connecticut: American Publishing Co., 1875; p. 453) that Blavatsky’s “mediumship is totally different from that of any other person I ever met; for, instead of being controlled by spirits to do their will, it is she who seems to control them to do her bidding.”
Her literary career began in late 1874 with defending genuine Spiritualistic manifestations, while opposing the theory of “spirits” as their source, proposed by Spiritualism. In New York, around August of 1875, H. P. B. also met a young lawyer, William Quan JUDGE, who became one of her closest students and eventually president of the American Theosophical Society. Together with Col. Olcott, William Quan Judge and several others, HPB founded The Theosophical Society, on November 17, 1875. The Inaugural Address was given by President Henry S. Olcott. The chief objects of the Society were, as given in the appendix (p. 308) to The Key to Theosophy:
First — To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color. Second — To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions and sciences. Third — A third object — pursued by a portion only of the members of the Society — is to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers of man.
HPB’s first major work, Isis Unveiled, (New York: J. W. Bouton) was published in the Fall of 1877 in New York, producing a tremendous impact, with 1,000 copies sold within ten days. There were rave reviews by the N.Y. Herald Tribune, as well as other major newspapers and journals. In London the critical journal Public Opinion (December 29, 1877) called it “one of the most extraordinary works of the Nineteenth Century.” Observing HPB at work on Isis, Olcott marveled at her newly-found learning. He wrote a long letter to her aunt inquiring about her education. Nadya replied with a compact character sketch in a letter dated October 8, 1877:
- . . . She was well brought up, but was not at all learned. . . . But the unusual richness of her intellectual nature, the delicacy and swiftness of her thought, her marvelous facility in understanding, grasping and assimilating the most difficult subjects, such as would require from anybody else years of laborious study; . . . these gave her such an unusual superiority, . . . that she could never avoid attracting general attention, and the consequent envy and animosity of all those who, in their trivial inferiority, felt wounded by the splendor of the faculties and talents of this really marvelous woman. (Cranston, p. 151)
HPB wrote to her family about the change which came over her in writing Isis, mentioning the presence of a Hindu supervising her conduct and her writing, along with her struggles to cope with a double identity during this period. In Volume I of Isis, entitled Science, Blavatsky examined the ancient systems of philosophy and cryptic science, thus unearthing their true foundations. By the close of Volume II (Theology), she traced the hidden traditions of ancient religions pre-dating the Vedas and early Jain, Buddhist, Egyptian and Chaldean teachings; finding the same Esoteric stream in the later Gnostic, Platonic, Kabbalistic and Judeo-Christian systems. Blavatsky established that “MAGIC is spiritual WISDOM” and that “One common vital principle pervades all things, and this is controllable by the perfected human will” (IU II:590).
In May of 1878, according to Josephine RANSOM (A Short History of the Theosophical Society: 1875-1937. Adyar: T.P.H., 1938, p. 106), HPB received orders from her Masters to begin preparations for eventual departure to India. Apparently the co-founders believed the move to be exploratory. She never returned to the U.S., but did become an American citizen on July 8, 1878, before leaving. Blavatsky later explained that it was the intention of her teachers to vitalize three centers of Theosophy in the world: America, India, and Europe.
While Judge remained in New York, HPB sailed for India with Olcott on December 17, 1878, settling first in Bombay, and editing her first journal The Theosophist. Prominent Hindu and Buddhist figures, including Mahātma GANDHI and Anagarika DHARMAPALA of Sri Lanka, have attributed India and Ceylon’s restored faith in their respective Aryan and Buddhist cultures to the influence of the TS in India. (A special stamp issued by the Indian government in 1975, commemorated the 100th celebration of the founding of the TS.) On May 25, 1880, HPB and Olcott became Buddhists, assisting the Ceylonese reformers Megethuvatte Gunananda and Anagārika Dharmapāla in their struggles against the missionaries, as well as stimulating a revival of Buddhism.
HPB transferred Headquarters from Bombay to Adyar, Madras (Chennai) in 1883. The Indian membership grew rapidly, although some Brahmins were reluctant to support an organization revealing the existence of their revered Masters. Alfred Percy SINNETT, editor of the British colonial newspaper The Pioneer, ardently begged contact with these august beings and eventually began a correspondence with them. Thus began the series of epistles spanning the years 1880-84, eventually edited by A. Trevor BARKER, as The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1923). These letters, in which the Master Morya and Koot Hoomi address numerous questions on theosophical teaching and current affairs, are now housed in London at the British Museum. The earliest letters became the foundation of Sinnett’s books The Occult World (London: Trübner, 1881) and Esoteric Buddhism (Trübner, 1883). Allan Octavian HUME (1829-1912), an ornithologist and British civil servant who fathered the Indian National Congress, sought the same privilege. With Sinnett he founded the Eclectic Branch of the TS at Simla, where HPB was a frequent visitor. His arrogance, insistence on scientific proof of their secret teachings and disdain for Blavatsky, led the Mah€tmas to discontinue the correspondence. In their totality these letters gave the West an insight into the more recondite teachings of the Occult (i.e., hidden) Brotherhood and the purpose for presenting them to the Occident at this time. Readers learned that “Masters” were not Gods but advanced humans, having achieved a state of evolution open to all. They were not solely Hindus, or Buddhists, but members of a Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood seeking to uplift humanity throughout the world.
Numerous phenomena were produced by HPB in those early days in India. Although the Masters K. H. and Morya rarely appeared to anyone in person, many seekers came to Adyar to witness the phenomena occurring in the presence of their messenger. A portrait called “The Messenger” by famous Russian painter Nicholas ROERICH, symbolizes the door to the East HPB opened for Humanity. It now hangs at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, Adyar.
While Olcott became increasingly absorbed with Buddhism and healing, HPB influenced a number of Hindu disciples such as Damodar K. MAVALANKAR and S. RAMASWAMIER. Damodar, after reading Isis and joining the TS wrote . . . “this study makes every man respect his religion the more.” (“The Path in India,” The Theosophist, May 1880, pp. 196-7.) Well into the 20th century we find HPB’s work acclaimed by Indian figures such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal NEHRU and S. Radhakrishnan. The Theosophical Society’s influence on Indian Society is widely recognized in India.
However, a shadow fell upon HPB’s work between 1884 and 1885, which created a disruption for a time. This was partly due to betrayal by Emma and Alexis Coulomb. Emma COULOMB had helped Blavatsky when HPB was in dire straits on her earlier trip through Cairo. Later the Coulombs showed up at Adyar begging for employment. As household aides at Adyar they had access to the shrine where the Masters letters were materialized. Having been expelled for slander and extortion of TS funds while the founders were in England, the Coulombs refused to leave immediately. They became willing pawns of Christian missionaries by accepting money and forging letters in HPB’s handwriting. Those letters were reproduced in the Madras Christian College Magazine of Sept. 11, 1884, under the title “The Collapse of Koot Hoomi.” Emma Coulomb claimed that the shrine cabinet was accessed from Blavatsky’s room by secret sliding panels in its back. (Some Accounts of My Intercourse with Madame Blavatsky from 1872 to 1884. Madras: Higginbotham and Co., 1884.) An inept and biased investigation of her psychic powers was conducted by Richard HODGSON of the Society for Psychical Research. Although claiming at the outset that he was favorably disposed toward Blavatsky and the theosophists, he privately held the opinion that Blavatsky was a Russian spy. According to Judge, sent there to investigate the charges, the shrine’s panels had recently been added by Alexis Coulomb, a skilled carpenter. The implicating report of the Society for Psychical Research was repudiated by Adlai Waterman in his Obituary: The “Hodgson Report” on Madame Blavatsky, 1885-1960 (Adyar: T.P.H., 1963). In 1986 Vernon Harrison of the S.P.R. pointed out many flaws in the Hodgson Report (“J’Accuse,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, April 1986, Vol. 53, pp. 286-310).
With regard to accusations that HPB had written the Mahatmas’ letters, Harrison’s findings paralleled earlier conclusions regarding disparities in their writing styles by Dr. Ernst Shütze in 1886, and Dr. Paul L. Kirk of the University of California criminological department in 1964. Dr. Charles Marshall used a computer analysis of HPB, Master K. H. and M.’s syntax and writing style to prove she was not the author (“The Mahatma Letters — A Syntactic Investigation into the Possibility of Forgery by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a 19th Century Occultist,” Viewpoint Aquarius, London, England, October 1980).
In 1885 HPB left India disgusted, disheartened and ill, because Olcott and other theosophists refused to pursue legal action. Her remarks on this period are from “Why I Do Not Return to India,” (Blavatsky Collected Writings, Vol. XII, p. 162):
- If, I say, at that critical moment, the members of the Society, and especially its leaders at Adyar, Hindu and European, had stood together as one man, firm in their conviction of the reality and power of the Masters, Theosophy would have come out more triumphantly than ever, and none of their fears would have ever been realised, however cunning the legal traps set for me, and whatever mistakes and errors of judgment I, their humble representative, might have made in the executive conduct of the matter.
- But the loyalty and courage of the Adyar Authorities, and of the few Europeans who had trusted in the Masters, were not equal to the trial when it came. In spite of my protests, I was hurried away from Headquarters. Ill as I was, almost dying in truth, as the physicians said, yet I protested, and would have battled for Theosophy in India to my last breath, had I found loyal support. But some feared legal entanglements, some the Government, while my best friends believed in the doctors’ threats that I must die if I remained in India.
In Würzburg, Germany, Blavatsky was nursed back to health by Constance WACHTMEISTER, who then helped her transcribe her greatest work. (See Wachtmeister’s Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and “The Secret Doctrine,” London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1893.) Later, HPB spent the summer of 1886 in Ostend, with numerous visits from English students as she prolonged her stay there into autumn. That fall the printing of Sinnett’s Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky did much to restore confidence, overcoming adverse reaction to the S.P.R. report. His book portrayed HPB as an exceedingly humane and dedicated individual. In that very year Blavatsky donated title to her ink factory to an impoverished woman at her door. The ink factory venture was evoked by the poor quality of ink available in Ostend that summer. So HPB arranged to have her own produced. Meanwhile, students from London repeatedly begged her to come and form a center for true workers there. The existent London Lodge appealed only to the upper classes and had grown stagnant. Archibald and Bertrand KEIGHTLEY arranged for accommodation in England and assisted her transfer during this time of HPB’s grave illness.
It is stated by Blavatsky that several times she was saved from death by her Master Morya. This was attested by several doctors who presided at her bedside during those crises. At one such episode Dr. Ashton Ellis came from London to Ostend, Belgium at the request of Countess Wachtmeister to attend to HPB. There, even a lawyer and an American Consul, who had been summoned to draw up her will, witnessed her remarkable recovery. (See Cranston, pp. 320-1.) Several days later she was fit enough for the voyage to London.
Shortly after HPB’s arrival in London, on May 19, 1887, the Blavatsky Lodge was formed. On May 25th a publishing house was formed to help with The Secret Doctrine’s production, and a new magazine Lucifer was launched. Its emphasis was to be on theosophical philosophy and ethics, rather than on occult phenomena. Mabel Collins was originally co-editor, replaced later by Annie Besant. The HPB Press handled all the printing.
Inaugurated in Europe, The Secret Doctrine (S.D.) was published in London in 1888, by the Theosophical Publishing Company. Later in 1889, Keightley described to New York Times reporter that HPB had had few books to consult in writing the S.D. The many quotes HPB had seen astrally, he himself checked in the British Museum and found them to be accurate. This monumental work was to influence many scientists and scholars, including William CROOKES, Dr. HÜBBE-SCHLEIDEN, editor of The Sphinx, and Kabalist J. Ralston Skinner, whose MS and correspondence Blavatsky often quoted from. The S.D. also drew a number of admirers from the Irish Literary Renaissance, including George W. RUSSELL (AE), Charles JOHNSTON, William B. YEATS, W. K. Magee (John Eglinton) and Charles Weekes. Comprising the Dublin Lodge of the TS, this Celtic group proclaimed Universal Brotherhood and the esoteric tradition of the inner divinity of man as its objective, gathering impulse from the “Perennial Philosophy” of HPB. Prominent English reformer, Annie BESANT, reviewed Blavatsky’s two-volume compendium on Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis for London’s Pall Mall Gazette (April 25, 1889), and became closely associated with HPB until the end of her life. In 1890/91 Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge was published by the Theosophical Publishing Society, providing HPB’s direct answers to students questions relating to The Secret Doctrine.
The Secret Doctrine was not intended for HPB’s day alone, but for generations to come. Its vast scope encompasses the cosmic origin and divine ancestry of man. Enormous cycles of development throughout the kingdoms of nature grant the possibility of reaching an exalted state similar to those Adepts she drew her teachings from. Blavatsky demonstrated that the whole system of ancient cosmogony” was not the “fancy of one or several isolated individuals” but the “uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers. . . . No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions . . . of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences” (SD I:272-73).
A student of these volumes can witness modern scientists verifying a number of her prophetic statements today. Several, such as Dr. Freeman Dyson, Dr. David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, even Stephen Hawking, express ideas akin to the proposition that this is a multi-leveled universe of order, not chance! Albert Einstein was reported to have The Secret Doctrine upon his desk. Most physicists and astronomers assert that our origin is indeed the starry vault, comprising states of matter and energy (or interacting fields) beyond our physical perceptions, but registered with the advanced technology of 20th Century astrophysics and radio astronomy.
In October of 1888, HPB invited all theosophists so inclined to join an Esoteric School. It was to be organized on the “ORIGINAL LINES” of the TS, to promote the “deeper study of esoteric philosophy.” The Esoteric Section was to be solely under the direction of Madame Blavatsky, with no official or corporate connection with the exoteric Theosophical Society. Because W. Q. Judge had appealed for guidelines and had urged HPB to “make public the Inner Section,” she asked him to come to England. He was to help found the E.S. along the lines of his handwritten draft for a Preliminary Memorandum and Rules he had sent her earlier. Many in the U.S. wished to more directly serve the cause of the Masters by becoming lay chelas. Judge was appointed as HPB’s only representative in America.
During these last years when her health was rapidly failing, she not only founded Lucifer magazine but continued to write articles for The Theosophist, as well as letters to prominent worldwide journals and newspapers. In Lucifer (Vol. IV, p. 188; CW XI:202) HPB wrote:
For real Theosophy is ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth.
Her devotional gem The Voice of the Silence was published in 1889, preceded in the same year by The Key to Theosophy. The Voice, most theosophists agree, expresses the heart doctrine of theosophy. It was acclaimed by Dr. D. T. Suzuki as “real Mahāyāna Buddhism” in Buddhist News of August 1965 (p. 90). HPB wrote it at Fontainebleau, near Paris, where she went to recuperate upon her physician’s demand. There amidst the reviving forest air she penned her most poetic work. Based on The Book of the Golden Precepts, HPB had learned 39 of the 90 treatises by heart, probably on an earlier trip to Tibet. She dedicated them to the “few real mystics of the Theosophical Society.” Since then many poets, including Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edwin ARNOLD, have acclaimed their worth. Tennyson was reading The Voice shortly before his death according to Cranston (p. 390). William James, a TS member, quotes several passages in The Varieties of Religious Experience, stating, “There is a verge of the mind which these things haunt; and whispers therefrom mingle with the operations of our understanding, even as the waters of the infinite ocean send their waves to break among the pebbles that lie upon our shores.” (N.Y.: Longmans Green, 1925, pp. 421-2)
The Voice of the Silence, wrote the 14th Dalai Lama in April, 1989, “has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path.” Written in dialogue format, The Key to Theosophy (London: T.P.H., 1889) was considered her clearest outline of theosophical teachings. Her preface states that it is not be considered an exhaustive text book of theosophy, “but only a key to unlock the door that leads to the deeper study.” It affords today’s students practical means to help alleviate social evils still plaguing us today. HPB writes on p. 229: “Duty is that which is due to Humanity, to our fellow men, neighbors, family, and especially that which we owe to all those who are poorer and more helpless than we ourselves.” Blavatsky’s Letters to the American Conventions instill the same humanitarian concerns. In a letter to Judge which HPB asked him to read at the second annual convention of the American Section of the TS (April 22, 1888), she states “Theosophists are of necessity the friends of all movements in the world, whether intellectual or simply practical, for the amelioration of the conditions of mankind. We are the friends of all those who fight against drunkenness, against cruelty to animals, against injustice to women, against corruption in society or in government, although we do not meddle in politics” (CW IX:246). Blavatsky herself funded the opening of a residence for underpaid working girls in August of 1890, insisting this “Women’s Club” be open to all.
Passing away on May 8, 1891, HPB’s body was cremated in Surrey, England. The news of her death was reported world-wide. The Indian Mirror of May 15th stated: “She was not of this nation or that. The wide earth was her home, and all mankind were her brothers . . .” (Cranston, p. 412). For her courage HPB has been called “lion-hearted.” Who else could have had the zeal to start an altruistic society amidst a materialistic culture, in a foreign land whose language she barely knew? William Q. Judge stated that she dealt with the mind of the century as she found it, able to “inject into the thought of the day the ideas, the doctrines, the nomenclature of the Wisdom-Religion . . .” (The Path, New York, June 1891, Vol. VI, p. 68). An editorial tribute in the New York Tribune of May 10, 1891, saw beyond all the vilification she had received at the hands of the press:
- Few women in our time have been more persistently misrepresented, slandered, and defamed, than Madame Blavatsky, but though malice and ignorance did their worst upon her, there are abundant indications that her life-work will vindicate itself, that it will endure, and that it will operate for good. . . . The life of Madame Blavatsky was a remarkable one, but this is not the place or time to speak of its vicissitudes. It must suffice to say that for nearly twenty years she had devoted herself to the dissemination of doctrines the fundamental principles of which are of the loftiest ethical character. . . . Madame Blavatsky held that the regeneration of mankind must be based upon the development of altruism. In this she was at one with the greatest thinkers, not alone of the present day, but of all time. . . . This alone would entitle her teachings to the candid and serious consideration of all who respect the influences that make for righteousness . . . and someday, if not at once, the loftiness and purity of her aims, the wisdom and scope of her teachings, will be recognized more fully, and her memory will be accorded the honor to which it is justly entitled.
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