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K. Paul Johnson on HPB, the Mahatmas, Buddhism and Tibet

May 05, 1998 12:58 PM
by Daniel H Caldwell

K. Paul Johnson on HPB, the Mahatmas, Buddhism and Tibet

K. Paul Johnson wrote:
> The current Newsweek (5/11/98) mentions Theosophy in an article
> on pp. 64-65, "A Scratch in the Teflon Lama."  The article is
> about the conflict within Tibetan Buddhism over the worship of
> Dorje Shugden, but becomes a quasi-book review of Donald S.
> Lopez, Jr.'s *Prisoners of Shangri-La* (University of Chicago
> Press) which examines Western distortions of Tibet.  The review
> doesn't mention HPB, but does say:
> In this century, spiritual seekers from the West invented a very
> different Tibet.  Several were eccentric American theosophists
> who mined the Tibetan Buddhist texts (which they knew only in
> translation) for the secrets of ancient occult knowledge.  Their
> personal agendas-- much like those of New Age spiritual seekers
> of today-- advanced the image of Tibet as a treasure chest of
> mustic lore long lost to the West.(p. 65)
> That image is not entirely inaccurate, but glamorizes and
> mythologizes a real living culture.  It was recently asked here
> how HPB and Theosophy conflict with genuine Tibetan
> understandings of their religion.  Jerry has mentioned one
> aspect, interval between births, but there are several.  For
> example the doctrine of the three kayas is presented by HPB as
> alternative choices of vehicle, where in Tibetan tradition they
> are simultaneous and not separable.  Alexandra David-Neel, a
> one-time Theosophist, reports in her Magic and Mystery in Tibet
> that her Tibetan lamas regarded the stories about the Mahatma
> letters as ridiculous and took them as a joke, insisting that no
> real lama would do such things.  I'm no expert on the topic but
> will comment that here is another subject where HPB clearly has
> learned a lot more by the end of her life than she knew when
> writing *Isis* which makes the colossal error of calling Ladakh
> "central Tibet."  In posthumously published material she makes it
> pretty clear that she has access to Tibetan primary source material but
> does not fully understand it, warning that she might be mistaken
> in her presentation.

Daniel Caldwell replies:

I haven't seen the book by Donald Lopez yet but I have been
told that 7 or 8 pages are devoted to Theosophy,
HPB and the Mahatma Letters.  Lopez is not "negative" toward
Theosophy and HPB, but overall his review is not favorable.
Again I haven't read the book.  Paul in his above quoted
posting brings up some *extremely important issues* that need
to be seriously discussed.  I hope various subscribers on Theos-talk
and Theos-l will give some serious thought to these issues.

Are Paul's observation on HPB, Tibet and the Mahatmas accurate?
[NOTE:  I know one fairly well known Blavatsky student and
scholar who would agree with much of what Paul has written.]
Even if we accept all these observations as true and accurate,
what legitimate and reasonable conclusions may be drawn from
them about HPB and her claims?  If these observations are
more or less true, do they negate any of the claims
put forward by HPB and the Mahatmas?

Does Alexandra David-Neel's account seriously
invalidate the alleged precipitation of letters from the
Masters M and KH?  If so, why?  If not, why?

Why should we believe these Tibetan lamas?  Do these
Tibetan lamas interviewed by Alexandra David-Neel have
misconceptions or biases?  Etc. Etc.

Another example:  One well known Blavatsky student has
asked the current Dalai Lama if he knew of the
BOOK OF DZYAN.  The Dalai Lama said he knew of no
such book in the Tibetan religious writings.  What can
we reasonably conclude from this?  Etc. Etc.

I hope everyone (on both sides of the issues) will challenge
their own thinking and assumptions.  Let's have a thoughtful,
calm discussion even if some of us have disagreements.

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