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RE: Theos-World The Theosophical Masters

Nov 24, 2000 04:52 AM
by Peter Merriott

Dear Brendan

Thanks for your thoughtful post on the above.
> In the first place I should note that I have recently completed a
> Ph.D on the subject of the Masters. The thesis (2 vols; 850 pp)
> is entitled: 'The Theosophical Masters: An Investigation into the
> Conceptual Domains of H. P. Blavatsky and C. W. Leadbeater'.

Accepting the parameters of your study have you speculated, in your wider
reflections, as to whether there are are any significant differences between
your findings on 'The Theosophical Masters' and those of other spiritual
traditions. I am thinking here of the difficulties involved in verifying
the actual physical existences of personages such as Sri Krishna, Maitreya,
Patanjali & so on, compared to their function and role within the respective
spritual tradition.

> Early in my researches it became clear that all discourse related
> to the Masters was predicated on their physical ontology; that
> is, their existence in time and space.

Yes, this does make sense, to some extent, because with regards HPB's
teachers she did maintain they were actual human beings with whom she and
others met physically. But, as I believe you touch on later, the concept of
"Mahatma" or "Master" is also used by Theosophy and many spiritual
traditions to point towards a stage of human and spiritual development that
is achievable, with effort, by all.

> Predictably, perhaps,
> claims such as those made by Blavatsky and Leadbeater (and their
> numerous disciples and continuators) have almost without
> exception been dismissed by commentators on the basis of
> evidential facticity. Unless the doubting Didymuses can put
> their Œhands in the sideš of the Masters, then the latter ipso
> facto cannot be considered to exist.

I guess I am wondering at your term "predictably" and "almost without
exception". I feel I know exactly what you mean but this sounds like no
one outside of HPB and Leadbeater accepted the reality of the Theosophicah
Mahatmas, and I wonder if this is the case. I'm sure that wasn't what you
meant to imply. Do you simply mean there will always be some people in
certain circles who will never be satisfied with the evidence and testimony

> Such an epistemological
> attitude tends to establish opposing camps of those who believe
> and those who do not, with any ground in between considered a "No
> Manšs Land". This position (which amounts to an academic
> "stand-off") has led to a deep divide which I would consider to
> be a species of the religionist versus reductionist duel which
> characterises much religious discussion.

That makes a lot of sense. Though I would say this kind of standoff is not
limited to 'spiritual traditions'. I work in the field of Transpersonal
Psychology and Psychotherapy and see a similar standoff between those who
put a argument for the validity of transpersonal states of awareness,
mystical experience, unitive states of consciousness & so on and those who
reduce EVERY human experience down to the sole actions of electro-chemical
processes in the brain - the only thing that matters is matter, there is no
conscoiusness per se.

> Inevitably, then, the terrain of Theosophical studies has been
> made barren for generations of scholars because of faulty
> methodology. It is simply the case that meta-empirical faith
> claims are beyond the purview of the scholar, who possesses no
> methodological tools with which to falsify (or, indeed, prove)
> such assertions.

What a refreshing last statement. Thanks. I think this is an important
part of our difficulty because our cultural and societal bias in this modern
era is to assume, perhaps unconsciously, that if scholars cannot verify the
truth of something, then it must automatically mean it is false or not worth
much further investigation. Quite often the truth is just as you say - such
methodological tools are inadequate to valsify or verify.

> A study of the Masters, after all, is a study
> of religious belief.

I think this is where words carry all kinds of implicit assumptions that we
are often not aware of. I notice in the area where Traspersonal Psychology
and the Spiritual traditions interface with traditional psychology and
science, the term "belief" is often by used by scientific traditions to
imply "those things that people accept as real without any evidence". In
other words they suggest people don't actually HAVE a mystical experience
they simply *believe* they do. The assumption in those kinds of statements,
which of course are themselves kinds of "beliefs", is that religious
experience is no more than a set of beliefs ABOUT our experience, while
traditional psychology and science deals mainly with the 'facts' of our

These are subtle yet powerfull attitudes that permeate society at large, in
my view.

But I would feel a more accurate view is that science is a study of
scientific beliefs just as spirituality is a study of spiritual or religious
belief. That science cannot claim a basis on ultimate facts may be seen by
the number of times Science has changed its beliefs about what is real over
the centuries.

I think you statement above suggests that we need to consider "methodology"
very carefully when we seek to verify or falsify anything. Interestingly,
we might suggest that the Buddha put forward a set of propositions about the
Nature of Life, the cause of human suffering and the WAY out of the cycle of
suffering. He mainained that for him these propositions were real. He
offered a methodology ie "The Eightfold Path", for others to use in order to
verify or falsify the four Noble Truths for themselves. We find
propositions and methodology in the Bhagavad Gita and other works.

I guess this raises interesting questions as to whether there are difference

(1) Religions and 'Religious Beliefs' - which ask no more than acceptance of
that particular orthodoxy


(2) 'Spiritual Traditions' - which are, or could be seen as, 'students'
engaging with sets of working hypotheses and methodologies to practically
achieve the goals laid out as possible by that particular tradition.

The latter may well neccesitate one to find a Master Craftsman for the
apprentice to learn from, or at least some valid outline of terain and 'the
way' by someone who has made the journey already. Of course, this bears
directly on our question of how does someone who is still at the spiritual
'apprentice' stage discern whether a 'Master Craftsman' is genuine or not?

Will physical evidence ever be adequate? I doubt it.

Brendan, if I stop here it is because I am out of time for the moment, but I
would like to discuss some of the other interesting things that you wrote in
the rest of your mail.

all the best,


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