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Agehananada Bharati on H.P. Blavatsky

Oct 09, 1996 11:46 AM
by Daniel H Caldwell

Forwarded from Theos-l.
Bharati's article was published  in
the Tibet Society Bulletin in 1974.  In the next
issue, Bharati became the editor of the Bulletin.


> Date: Tue, 8 Oct 96 11:23:09 EDT
> From: "K Paul Johnson" <>
> Subject: Fictitious Tibet (article)
> Forwarded to me by email, and of some interest to this list.  I
> have cut the last half which refers entirely to Rampa.
> Agehananada Bharati, "Fictitious Tibet: The Origin and
> Persistence of Rampaism", Tibet Society Bulletin, Vol.  7, 1974
> Let me first of all stake my claim and explain some terms in the
> title: an apparently unexterminable tradition of sheer fiction
> taken as holy fact originated in Europe and America slightly
> before the turn of the century -- the brainchild of some fertile
> writers and orators, a number of core tales about inaccessible
> Tibetan and Himalayan mystics took shape in contrivedly esoteric
> writings which gained steady momentum until its culmination in
> Lama Lobsang Rampa's, alias Mr.  Hoskins', fantastically
> fraudulent output beginning with The Third Eye and its sequels.
> I call this whole phony tradition "Rampaism" after its phony
> consummator, Rampa- Hoskins, and his all-too-numerous followers
> in North America and Europe.  This depressing crowd of partly
> well-meaning, totally uninformed, and seemingly uninformable
> votaries holds something like this as its modal view: that there
> is, somewhere hidden in the Himalayas (invariably mis-stressed on
> the penultimate 'a'), a powerful, mystical, initiate brotherhood
> of lamas or similar guru adepts, who not only know all the
> mysteries of the world and the superworld, who not only
> incorporate and transcend the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism,
> and Christianity, but who also master all the occult arts -- they
> fly through the air at enormous speeds, they run 400 miles at a
> stretch without break, they appear here and there, and they are
> arch-and-core advisors to the wise and the great who hide these
> ultimate links to supreme wisdom and control.  In addition, they
> know all their previous incarnations, and can tell everyone what
> his incarnations were and are going to be.  Geographically, the
> area where these supergurus reside is nebulously defined as
> "Tibet," "Himalaya," and it often includes the Ganges and India.
> This, very briefly, is the somewhat autoerotic creed of a large,
> and unfortunately still growing, crowd of wide eyed believers in
> the mysterious East, apropos which my colleague Professor Hurvitz
> at the University of British Columbia sagaciously remarked that
> "for these people, the East must be mysterious, otherwise life
> has no meaning." To put this somewhat less succinctly and more
> technically, the enormous, pervasive alienation of Euro-America
> from the religious themes of the Western world, matched with the
> general disgruntlement, with the superciliously religious in the
> established churches, the surfeit with scientific models which
> seem to generate war and destruction, and most recently the
> proliferating fascination with the exotic for its own sake --
> about which later in greater detail -- all these contribute to
> the desperate quest for ideas, rituals, and promises that are
> different from those of the West, that are distant from the West,
> and that are easily accessible, without any intellectual effort,
> without any discursive input.
> Let me now present an historical sketch of the increasing ingress
> of pseudo-Orientalia, and specifically of pseudo-Buddhica and
> pseudo- Tibetica into Europe and America.  During my research
> into ideological change in the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka in
> 1971, I marveled at a painting in a temple in the southernmost
> part of the island.  In a long subterranean corridor, some two
> hundred vignettes depicting the phases of the dharma from its
> inception under the Bodhi-tree in Buddhagaya to the foundation of
> the particular temple, the last one showed a white woman kneeling
> and bowing down before the image of the Tathagata and two monks
> administering sil (the five precepts of Thervada Buddhism) to
> her; behind her, several white men in tropical hats and western
> suits, one of them bearded.  These, so the monk who showed me
> around informed me, were Mme.  Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott
> embracing Buddhism.  This is historically quite correct.  The
> well-meaning American Colonel Olcott and the Russian-born Mme.
> Blavatsky, founders of the Theosophical Society, did indeed
> undergo that ceremony of initiation in that shrine in Sri Lanka.
> Annie Besant became a convert to Mme.  Blavatsky, rather than to
> Buddhism, about a decade later.  Leadbetter and other founding
> members formed the incipient caucus of the Society which still
> survives, albeit in highly modified and in a largely reduced form
> when compared to the initial thrust into the religious
> ideological world of the early 20th century.  Now we must
> distinguish between the genuine and the spurious elements in the
> movement as it relates to Buddhism.  Annie Besant was no doubt a
> sincere woman; one of the British Empire's most powerful orators,
> cofounder of the Indian National Congress, and a fine mind,
> genuinely annoyed at the inanities perpetrated by and constituted
> in the missionary scene.  Col.  Olcott was a genuine person, too,
> concerned with human affairs, and strongly cognizant of religious
> options other than those of Christianity.  But I think Mme.
> Blavatsky and Leadbetter were frauds, pure and simple.  My
> definition of a fraud or phony does not quite coincide with the
> usual dictionary meanings of these terms.  A phony does not
> necessarily doubt the theses he or she propounds -- in fact they
> can be full believers themselves.  But what makes them phonies is
> their basic attitude of refusal of matching their tenets with
> those of a genuine tradition, and of imitating lifestyles which
> are alien to them, by doing things that superficially look part
> of the lifestyle they imitate, or of imitational lifestyles which
> simply do not exist in any cultural body, except as
> idiosyncrasies.  Leadbetter wrote about the kundalini, the secret
> serpent power, and a melee of things exoteric and other which he
> had picked up from Indian sources in early translations.  He
> never learned any of the primary languages -- Sanskrit, Pali,
> Tibetan; neither did Besant, Olcott, and Blavatsky.  Leadbetter
> was an aggressive homosexual, and there is no doubt in my mind
> that he used his esoteric homiletic to seduce young men -- some
> of them very famous indeed in later days.  Now I don't object to
> homosexuality -- I think the Gay Freedom movement is well taken
> and should succeed.  But I do object to utilizing bits of
> theological or other religious doctrinal material to support
> one's own aesthetical and sensuous predilections.  Hindu Buddhist
> Tantric texts do indeed use sexual models and analogues in their
> esoteric tracts, so it is quite in order if scholars and
> practitioners use these texts in support of their sexual
> behavior, because the support is objectively there.  But no
> Tantric text implies any but heterosexual relations in its
> corpus.  The most recent authentic presentation of the place of
> sexuality in Tibetan Tantrism (1) should suffice as a document
> for the rejection of the esoteric innuendos in Leadbetter's
> writings.  H.V.  Guenther, of course, is a valid empire of
> Buddhist Tibetan studies in and of himself, and it may not be
> even necessary to quote so exalted a source as his prolific
> writings in order to dismantle the Blavatsky-to-Rampa type
> fraudulence; a very average familiarity with Buddhism would do
> the job.
> Mme.  Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, a multivolume work, is such a
> melee of horrendous hogwash and of fertile inventions of inane
> esoterica, that any Buddhist and Tibetan scholar is justified to
> avoid mentioning it in any context.  But it is precisely because
> serious scholars haven't mentioned this opus that it should be
> dealt with in a serious publication and in one whose readers are
> deeply concerned with the true representation of Tibetan lore.
> In other words, since Blavatsky's work has had signal importance
> in the genesis and perpetuation of a widespread, weird, fake, and
> fakish pseudo-Tibetica and pseudo-Buddhica, and since no
> Tibetologist or Buddhologist would touch her writings with a long
> pole (no pun intended, Blavatsky is a Russian name, the Polish
> spelling would be Blavatski), it behooves an anthropologist who
> works in the Buddhist and Tibetan field to do this job.  I don't
> think that more than five per cent, if that many, of the readers
> of Lobsang Rampa-Hoskins' work have ever heard about Blavatsky,
> but Lobsang Rampa-Hoskins must have read them, cover to cover or
> in excerpts -- his whole work reeks of Blavatskyisms; and of
> course, he doesn't quote sources -- fakes never do.  Long before
> Rampa, the whole range of quasi-mathematical spheres,
> diagrammatic arrangements, levels of existence of consciousness,
> master-and- disciplehood, hoisted on a style of self-indulgent,
> self-aggrandizing rhetoric, was more or less created by
> Blavatsky.  Medieval Christian writers, the Hermetics and a large
> number of kindred thinkers and their products had indeed
> presented a wide vista of quasi-mathematical, impressionistic
> imaginary structures; earlier, of course, Jewish mysticism with
> kabbalistic, Talmudic, and earlier medieval Rabbinical moorings
> might have set the example for the medieval Christian writings of
> this kind, unless the Christian writers were -- or were also --
> inspired by whatever filtered through to them from the Greek and
> Hellenic esotericists, the Pythagoreans and a large number of
> neo-Pythagorean writings spread through the Hellenic world.
> Medieval Christian scholars did not read Greek, and whatever they
> did know about these esoteric systems they obtained through Latin
> translations.  Nobody knows to what degree Blavatsky was familiar
> with any of this.  As an anthropologist, I believe in the
> perennial possibility of independent invention -- people get
> similar ideas without any necessary mutual communication or
> diffusion.  Be that as it may, Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine and
> all the subsequent writings of the Esoteric section of the
> Theosophical Society, later on rechristened "Eastern" to
> forestall criticisms of mystery-mongering and the pervasive
> tendency to identify the esoteric with the erotic, rested heavily
> on such quasi-structural schemes.
> I do not doubt that in her earlier years, Blavatsky must have
> been a highly eclectic, voracious reader.  But as with all
> nonscholars in the field of religious systems, she did not unmix
> the genuine from the phony; she obviously regarded all sources as
> equally valid.  Not knowing any of the primary languages of the
> Buddhist-Hindu tradition, she had to rely on whatever had been
> translated.  And, as an epiphenomenon to the awakening interest
> in oriental studies, a large number of unscholarly writings
> emerged, produced by people who thought, or pretended, that they
> could get at the meat of the newly discovered wisdom of the East
> by speculating about it in their own way rather than by being
> guided by its sources, or by seeking guidance from authentic
> teachers in those eastern lands.
> Blavatsky, Besant, and the other founders of the Theosophical
> movement were of course familiar with other translations then
> available.  The I Ching had just about then been translated into
> French for the first time, though Richard Wilhelm's classical
> translation into English was published after the Secret Doctrine.
> This whole quasi-mathematical, highly self-indulgent speculation,
> of course, was part of the emotional packet of the Renaissance
> and the late Middle Ages in general.  There is no doubt that
> esotericism was, always is, a reaction against the official
> ecclesiastical hierarchy and against the official doctrines.  In
> India and Tibet, esotericization never took to this kind of
> pseudo-geometrical-mathematical model, since those models were
> already part of the official, scholarly traditions available.  In
> these two countries, esotericization used what I call
> psycho-experimentation models, including the erotic, as
> instruments of opposition and criticism of the official religious
> establishments.  It is quite obvious that Mme.  Blavatsky very
> much identified with this European tradition of opposing the
> occidental religious belief system by esoteric, i.e.
> quasi-mathematical, pseudo-scientific speculations and by
> writings that encompassed diagrammatic representations of a
> secret universe.  The Secret Doctrine and much of the older
> "Esoteric" (later "Eastern") sections of the Theosophical Society
> generated a welter of phantasmagoria of a spherical, cyclical,
> graphic overlay type; the vague acquaintance with mandala
> paintings in India added zest to these creations.
> I am just not sure whether Mme.  Blavatsky read the serious Hindu
> and Buddhist literature in translation and commentary available
> in her days, particularly the Sacred Books of the East, created
> by Max Mueller in the 80's of the last century.  If she did,
> little of it showed in her writings.  One of the most annoying
> features in the "M Letters" (M for Master) is her use of
> semi-fictitious names, like "H Master K" (Koot Humi).  There is,
> of course, no such name in an Indian language or in Tibetan.  But
> in the Upanishads, there is a minor rishi mentioned by the
> obviously non-Indo-European name Kuthumi.  Just where she picked
> it up I don't know but I suspect she might have seen R.E.  Hume's
> Twelve Principal Upanishads which was first published by Oxford
> University Press in the late '80s of the 19th century.  The silly
> spelling "Koot Hoomi" was probably due to the occidental mystery
> peddlers' desire to make words sound more interesting by
> splitting them into a quasi-Chinesse series of letters.  The
> Master Letters signed "K" are quite clearly Blavatsky's own
> invention; no Indian or Tibetan recluse talks or writes like the
> European feuilleton writer of the early 20th century.  In a
> passage, "K" (for Koot Hoomi) criticizes a writer for saying that
> "the sacred man wants the gods to be properly worshipped, a
> healthy life lived, and women loved." "K" comments "the sacred
> man wants no such thing, unless he is a Frenchman." The inane
> stupidity that must have gone into the early converts actually
> believing that an Indian or Tibetan guru would use these European
> stereogibes is puzzling.  Yet again mundus vult decipi, and if
> the average Western alien feels she or he can get to the esoteric
> goods, she or he tends to lower the level of skepticism to a
> virtual zero.
> The works of Swami Vivekananda appeared at about the same time as
> the Secret Doctrine.  Vivekananda knew of, and heartily detested,
> the esotericism of the Theosophical Society; he pronounced his
> disdain at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1892 -- at
> which convention the Theosophists were well represented.  But
> while the followers of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda movements as
> well as the followers of most other neo-Hindu and neo-Buddhist
> movements officially decried the esoteric, they and other groups
> marginal to them either blurred that relatively parochial
> rejection of the esoteric, or much more commonly, they blended
> both the esoteric of the Blavatsky type and the Hindu- Buddhist
> reformist of the Vivekananda-Anagarika Dharmapala types into the
> kind of broth which is now solidly ensconced in the
> wisdom-seeking kitchens of the Western world.
> Let me now proceed to the arch-paradigm of esoteric phoniness of
> the latter days.  ...

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