Historical evidence of the "masters" ?
Oct 06, 2001 05:28 AM
Dear list members, A new comment is placed on line ;
I like Steve's expressions and careful reading of the SD and Isis.
The question I like to ask this group is what is your personal opinion
about the idea that Blavatsky basic theorys would have been
"concocted" by a "secret" group apart from the help and information we
biographically know HPB received from many contacts (See Paul
Johnson's books on that) , friends, books, and students without there
anything unexplained about it ?
I myself was open to the idea and formulated it in my question in the
interview with Brendan about 4 months ago: " Regarding the structure
of globes and rounds, laying at the overall foundation of the Secret
Doctrine, would she have received some specific help or inspiration
from some unknown esotericist or small lodge that used caballistic
structures mixed with oriental sources of which there where several in
But I must say at this point that since all information in Blavatsky's
work is accounted for, and the septenary cabalistic teachings where
already incorporated in Isis I don't think this anymore. (Steve is
familiar with my opinion)
A perennialism that emphasized common denominators among many
different cultures and traditions was a popular idea with Blavatsky
early on, without the need of secret masters it seems to me. To quote
a co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Charles Sotheran: all
religions are tracable (sic) to the same original fountain heads, that
in every religion is a portion of the truth and the symbols are
identical- that as each religion merges into a mere theology, a new
savior is impelled forwards, who becomes by a gradual transition
transformed in the minds of exoteric vulgar from man to adept, from
adept to prophet, from prophet to demi-god. Ideas in the original
HIRAF article of HPB on the other hand emphasizes the role of
Rosicrucianism and Rosicrucians by Blavatsky, as the lost wisdom and
the apostles of that lost wisdom: "To regain this treasure, long lost
by humanity, we must study the seers who gathered it, gem by gem, and
coin by coin. Of that web, from the looms of the Nile, the power is
Ain-Soph, - the Cabala is the gospel, and the Hermetics or
Rosicrucians the apostles and the masters."
This shows actionally supports the position of Brendan who believs
that HPB's schema is at its core neognostic. The underlying structure
of her work according to HPB herself are "the Cabala", and the
"Hermetics or Rosicrucians the apostles and the masters", indeed
gnostic/hermetic. That she then ads also orient related material is
also no need proof for Masters.
However authors like Whitney, Muller, Jones, Lassen, Weber, Burnouf,
Hardy, and Jacolliot all familiar to her, incorporate material on
India. In 1860 for example a book appeared in Saint Petersburg with
refferrences to the eight "Sidhi's" and so on, by W.Wassiljew called
"Der Budhismus, seine Dogmen, Geschichte und Literatur" (Budhism, its
teachings, history and literature.) In India than she comes into
contact with pandits who have first-hand knowledge of the subject. One
sees this in the SD, which introduces an abundance of Sanskrit
terminology and philosophical concepts. But also there she does not
ignore Western esotericism however. Her model of the Primordial
Tradition, Esoteric Teaching, or Secret Doctrine remains much the
same: the only variation from her earlier teaching being her growth in
understanding and greater emphasis placed on the Eastern version of
Concerning HPB's thesis : a "single theme running through all of
HPB's work. It is that mankind was wiped out when Atlantis sunk except
for a remnant which escaped to the highest ground (i.e., Tibet.) From
there colonizers set out when the waters receded and conquered the
rest of the world, including Europe." This is not an oriental concept
but purely western It started with Plato, and Steve himself mentions:
" The idea that the survivors of the Flood lived in Tibet comes from
Bailly. That tags the theory as 19th century in Origin". Also the idea
of an 'Aryan race" definetly had its origin in the west. So if
"masters" (in the sense of "secret", other the the biographical
correlations that Paul points out in his books) that where responsible
they would have to be western. Yet where/who would they have been, all
is accounted for in the sources available to HPB. And due to lack of
other original documents/evidence, the only place we momentarily can
search more for evidence is in HPB's writings and comparing them to
litterature of the time.
Steve mentions accurately that:" The idea that the survivors of the
Flood lived in Tibet comes from Bailly. That tags the theory as 19th
century in origin." But that means a "western" influence in that case,
and so not that of "oriental masters". From that point of view maybe
Brendan is right by indeed placing the greatest influence in HPB's
work western sources. And the gnostic/hermetic tradition from the very
beginning had also incorporated oriental influences (see my
bibliographic remarks below), and made these groups in early times
considered "heretic" from a roman catholic point of view.
Re.:"the conservation of sexual energy, was the key to longevity and
even physical immortality. She said Morya was 300 years old and non
aging and that was due to his mastery of sexual energy conservation."
And the notion of "mastery of sexual energy conservation and
longevity", this is an old one in western esoteric litterrature and
goes all the way back to gnostic sects, plus to the import of tantric
information from the Indies and particularly incorporated in 17/18
century rosicrucian/ masonic societys.
Already Blavatsky's grandfather as a member of the German rosicrucians
of that time had likely such literature in his library. And if not
there, there are numerous other occasions where HPB trough rather
ordinary sources could have heard or read about this. For example it
was part of Cagliostro's Egyptian Masonry with wich Blavatsky was also
. Fact is also that Randolph never traveled to "India", that is an
invention, but it shows the attraction in regards to esoteric
knowledge that India already had that time previously to Blavatsky's
books. And also shows the correlation between India and sexual energy
conservation to wich Steve refers and in wich Randolph claimed to be
an initiate. Randolph did however travel to Paris and London.
Point is also that HPB with her reference to "She said Morya was 300
years old and non aging and that was due to his mastery of sexual
energy conservation" is very vague and doesn't give any specifics.
That means she could just have picked up on it as a rumor. Whereas
there certainly was much more detailed knowledge of it around . As a
matter of fact we don't have to look any further then a well known
figure in HPB's time , Swedenborg. (see also the Swedenborg
"Theosophical Society" in London and the choosing of the name TS by
Sotheran, who was also involved with Memphis-Misraim, so there might
already be Blavatsky's source/person.)
Swedenborg learned about Tibetan and Chinese Yoga from Swedish
soldier-scholars, who had been prisoners of war in the Siberian and
Tartar areas of Russia and returned to Sweden in the l720's. See
Emanuel Swedenborg, The Delights of Wisdom Concerning Conjugial Love,
trans. Alfred Acton 1768; London: Swedenborg Society, l970. In his
Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg drew on the travel journal of Philip
Strahlenberg, a Swedish officer and former prisoner, to describe the
spiritual relation between the Tibetans, Tartars, Chinese, and
Siberians (Swedenborg, Spiritual Diary, #6077; see Philip John
Strahlenberg, An Historical-Geographical Description of the North and
Eastern Part of Europe and Asia (London: W. Innis and R. Manby, l736),
In London, he received reinforcement for his Kabbalistic-Yogic
interests from Dr. James Parsons, an Irish- and French-educated
physician and Fellow of the Royal Society. Like Swedenborg, he studied
the reports of Strahlenberg and earlier Swedo-Gothic scholars, which
led him to perceive similarities between Kabbalistic, Tibetan,
Nordic-Gaelic, and Christian beliefs in a triune godhead.
Swedenborg's practical access to Yogic techniques probably came from
Moravian missionaries, who went beyond the East Indies and penetrated
into central Russia, Tartary, and China. Shortly after Swedenborg's
spirit-account of Zinzendorf and the Indians, he described his vision
of Chinese Yogis, "sitting there, as the Indians are wont to do, with
the feet crossed" and "in the tranquility of peace" ,i.e., in the
lotus position and state of nirvana. (Swedenborg, Spiritual Diary,
#6067. On the similarities of Swedenborg's meditative breath control
and Asian Yoga, see the chapter, "Was Swedenborg a Yogi?" in D. Gopaul
Chetty, New Light upon Indian Philosophy, or Swedenborg and Saiva
Siddhanta ,London: J.M. Dent, l923, 125-46; also, Stephen Larsen,
"Swedenborg and the Visionary Tradition," in Swedenborg: The
Continuing Vision, ed. Robin Larsen ,New York: Swedenborg Foundation,
Taking advantage of the great interest in Asian culture generated by
the Swedish East India Company (which secretly employed Swedenborg),
he argued that the Yogis of Great Tartary discovered the secrets of
Kabbalism long before the Jews. Swedenborg and his Masonic colleagues
in London assimilated their sexual theories into a special order of
Freemasonry, the "Royal Order of Heredom of Kilwinning" or "Rite of
French Masonic historians claim that Swedenborg initiated Pasqually
into his system of Masonry; see Reghellini de Scio, La Maçonnerie
considerèe comme le resultat des Religions Egyptiénne, Juive et
Chrêtien (Paris, l822-29), II, 436; Papus (Gerard Encausse),
Martinésisme, Willermosisme, Martinisme, et Franc-Maçonnerie (Paris:
Cagliostro arrives in London, as the "Count Sutkowski," a Polish
Nobleman, and and asserts that he hails from a Swedenborgian Secret
Society at Avignon which had been formed in Courland in 1779.
Cagliostro visited the Swedenborgians at their Theosophical Society
meeting in rooms in the Middle Temple and displayed minute
acquaintance with their doctrines, whilst claiming a superior
knowledge." (Notes on the Rainsford Papers, in Ars Quatuor Coronati,
Vol. XXVI, p. 111.)
Cagliostro incorporated his most secret information in the so called
Arcana Arcanorum, he took this term from German Rosicrucian lodges of
the 17th Century, consisted of descriptions of magical practices that
stressed "internal alchemy" .
The notion of a Chinese "pre-Kabbala" was especially promulgated by
the Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay, who had a major influence on
Écossais and Swedish Freemasonry; see [A.M. Ramsay], The Philosophical
Principles of Natural and Revealed Religion (Glasgow: Robert Foulis,
l748-49), II, 173-85, 304, 356, 537-38. For a comparison of
eighteenth-century Tantric and Masonic esoteric practices, see Hugh
Urban, "Elitism and Esotericism: Strategies of Secrecy and Power in
South Indian Tantra and French Freemasonry," Numen, 44 (1997), 1-38.
Regarding Blavatsky and her thesis, Richard Payne Knight (1751-1824)
introduced his readers to theories explaining the origins of the
world's mythologie, and diminished the perceived distance between
Christian and non-Christian ("paga") beliefs. Others such as Friedrich
Schlegel and Madam de Stael, attempted to formulate grand syntheses of
the various currents. Romantic speculative religion was in some sense
understood to be essentially the same as christian theosophy, Hinduism
and Neoplatonism. Besides Payne Knight other early nineteenth century
proponents of orientalizing esotericism are Charles Nodier, Godfrey
Higgins, Emma Harding-Britten and hargrave Jennings that all can be
seen as precursors of Blavatsky.
A large body of litterrature in fact was available since long time
without "Masters" or a secret brotherhood. I give below some samples
along with specific source material.
By the early 18th century, manuscripts were being solicited from the
Jesuits for the French "Académie des Inscriptions" in Paris under the
direction of Abbé Bignon (royal librarian to Louis XIV). Bignon was
able to have Etienne Fourmont, then engaged in cataloguing over 5,000
Chinese texts in the Académie, translate a page of Tibetan (1724) for
Peter the Great using a Tibetan-Latin dictionary complied by the head
of Capucian mission to Lhasa in c. 1720 (1)
In 1727, the first book in English to describe Japanese Buddhism (Zen
and Jodo Shinshu or "Pure Land") was published in London by Engelbert
By 1733, the Jesuits published in Lettres édifiantes (for European
readers, written in India) that they had assembled a "complete" Indian
Veda and in 1731 a copy of the Rig Veda, one of the oldest Indian
texts, was placed in the Académie. By 1733, over 168 India items,
including many Upanishads and other "Vedic literature" were sent to
France by Jesuit missionaries. By 1740, a basic Sanskrit grammar and
dictionary was translated, preceded by alphabetic transliterations as
early as 1663; from this point onward, European scholars would
increasingly improve and expand their knowledge of Eastern texts and
"oriental" philosophies (3)
In 1761, M. De Guignes published his translation of a Chinese voyage
to Fu-Sang (in 458 CE) which he identified as Mexico, peopled by the
Maya Indians, thereby popularizing an esoteric theory of Asian
influences in the New World (4)
In 1762, Italian Capuchin Antonio Giorgi published Alphabetum
Tibetanum Missionum Apostolicarum (a Latin-Tibetan dictionary of
35,000 words) based on works of Capuchin Father Francesco Orazio della
Penna (who lived and studied in Tibet from 1716-1732) (5)
The most classic narrative of an influence from India is found in the
Life of Apollonius of Tyana (recorded by Philostratus, c. 220 CE).
Apollonius journeyed to India to study at the sacred hill of the
Indian "wise men marked with a crescent on their foreheads". When
Apollonius (d. 98 CE) was asked about why he came on such a long
journey, he replied "Your ways are wiser and much more godly", clearly
indicating a classic Greek respect for Indian thought at the time of
Roman Philostratus (6)
Another example, is that of the teachings of the Persian religious
leader, Mani (c. 245 CE). According to Mani's teachings, the Apostles
of Light sent by Jesus to redeem humanity included the Buddha and
Manichaeism is distinctively influenced by Buddhist ideas, such as
Mani representing himself as the Buddha to come, Maitreya (7)
The Kitab Sirr al-Khaliqa wa San`at al-Tabi`a (Book of the Secret of
Creation and the Art of Nature), attributed to Jabir, c. 800, who in
fact attributes this text to Apollonius of Tyana, is the basis for the
single most popular text in Western Hermeticism, translated into Latin
(1140) as the Tabula Smaragdina (Emerald Tablet) (8)
>From the Renaissance period of the retranslation of the Corpus
Hermeticum (found in Byzantium, the "east") into Latin by Marsilio
Ficino (1471) to the above mentioned Académie des Inscriptions
(1720s), there is a slow but continual referencing of "oriental"
cultures and literatures as sources for esoteric thought and practice.
Pico della Mirandola (d. 1494), as the first Christian Kabbalist,
certainly introduces "oriental" ideas in his 900 theses, see also the
A variety of "oriental" references appear in the writings of Henry
Cornelius Agrippa, specifically in De Occulta Philosophia (1531), such
as references to the Chaldeans, Arabians and Mohammadeans ( Islamic
concepts of soul), the Buddha , the Indian Gymnosophists and Bragmanni
(Brahmans, having many occult teachings and esoteric lore), India
(with certain plants and as derived from the union of male and female
animal as in the Upanishads), reincarnation as explicitly taught by
the "wise men of India" and of rebirth as "recompense in accordance
with his former life" (karma) (9).
John Dee (d. 1608), would seek knowledge of "oriental wisdom" in the
hope of assembling a concordia mundi of world beliefs and "occult
mysteries of the east" (stimulated by voyages of global
By the 1820s in America, Ralph Waldo Emerson was beginning to make
journal entries on Hindu religions based on his initial readings of
English translations of Sanskrit like those of Wilkins and Jones.
(Steve did mention Jones) In Europe, these same translations were also
making an impact in France and Germany. The German Romantic
Naturphilosophie movement, a central influence on Western Esotericism,
was certainly affected by the new translations of Indic materials. It
was Friedrich von Schlegel who coined the popular term "Oriental
Renaissance" (1803) to describe the impact of Asian and Indic
philosophy on early 19th century European intellectuals and
esotericists which he described as "a sun in comparison to the weak
spark of Western Idealism." These authors shared a common esoteric
interest in India as a source for a "primordial tradition"
(philosophia perennis) or a "universal revelation" that could be
reconstructed to counter rising emphasis on rational materialism (11).
In 1784 Antoine Court de Géblin, building on Fabre d'Olivet's "study
of the three mother tongues of Hebrew, Sanskrit and Chinese,"
published Le Monde Primitif Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne,
a seminal work on the of concept of an ancient and universal
"primordial tradition." In 1792 the famous esotericist Louis-Claude de
Saint-Martian published Le Nouvel Homme and later Le Ministère de
L'Homme-Espirit, works strongly influenced by Indic ideas.
Saint-Martain explicitly draws connections, as did the esotericist
Pierre-Simon Ballanche, between the ideas of illuminism, theosophy,
and the literature of India (12).
In 1837 Burnouf (who founded the Société Asiatique) received 64
Sanskrit texts from Brian Hodgson gathered from Nepalese monasteries.
Burnouf began translating the Sanskrit into French, and published
Introduction à l'histoire du Buddhism Indien (1844), the first great
French scholarly work on Buddhism which established the Indian origins
of Buddhism, emphasized a textual approach to Eastern religions, and
made Buddhism into an object of western scientific knowledge. Burnouf
died in 1852, the year his translation of the Lotus Sutra (containing
other sutras as well) was released to the public (13).
Beginning in the 1830s many Indian expatriots began to arrive in
England, exemplified by Rammohun Roy's visit in 1833; Roy died in
England and his grave (in Bristol) became a shrine for many
esotericists interested in Indian philosophy (14) .
In America, in the 1840s, a Swendenborgian wave of interest in the
occult and spiritual realms combined with interests in Mesmerism as
well as indigenous and Eastern ideas (like reincarnation) and led to
the formation and rapid spread of Spiritualism. Various channel
mediums also formed groups which proclaimed messages using symbols and
concepts drawn from "Kabbalah, Hinduism, Neo-Gnosticism, and
Christianity." By 1850 there were over 150 Spiritualist circles in New
York state alone, drawing heavily on esoteric ideas east and west as
well as having a highly eclectic interest is shamanic, native guides
and spirits (15).
In 1871, James Freeman Clarke published Ten Great Religions, plus
numerous popular articles which, while imposing Christian ideas on a
romanticized view of Buddhism and other Eastern religions, became a
popular source for esotericists. Also in the same year, John Weiss
published American Religion, drawing heavily on world religions and
wrote against dogmatism, emphasizing the universality in all
traditions (16) .
Those who believe in a "philosophia perennis" like Blavatsky, still
have to explain the differences between religious traditions.
In the SD, Blavatsky presents a legend of the origin of other
religions as well as her own doctrine that try to explain why a
allegoric reading of Hindu or Budhist scriptures is necessary to bring
out the inner, hidden meaning of these texts. Which elliminates the
relativism that one risks when facing the diversity of human faiths.
Blavatsky considered a positioning vis-à-vis science of importance, so
that Book I and II of the SD are devoted to it. Devas and genii are
declared to be the same entities that science calls forces. (SD I:
478.) Chemicals terms like moleculs, atom and particle refer to
realities named Hosts, Monads and Devas. (SD: I: 548.) The periodic
table of Mendeleeff is explained as consisting of seven families of
elements plus an eight, said to correspond to the Hindu allegory of
Aditi, the mother or infinite space who accepted seven of her sons and
rejected the eight. ( SD: I: 553.)
One passage in Isis became the subject of controversy. Blavatsky had
claimed that the transmigration of souls was "an exeption, a
phenomenon as abnormal as a fetus with two heads". (IU I:351.) In the
SD a different story is told. One of the Mahatma Letters called "The
Famous Contradictions", attemts to clarify the change. The channel of
information between the Master and the disciple may be partially
blocked. The Master does not always speak in his quality of Master; at
times he abstains from using his occult powers and is then
fallible.(ML p. 178.) Being Masters from the Himalayas, they can at
times misspel the English language, e.g. by using an erroneous
punctuation that alters the meaning of the sentences. Furthermore, the
masters "had not yet decided upon teaching the public
The U shaped time line wich Brendan correctly sees represented in the
Neoplatonic as an influence on Blavatsky, can just aswell be seen in
Romaticism. To quote M.H. Abrams classic study on the Romantic
version: The poet or philosopher, as the avant-garde of general human
consciousness, possesses the vision of an imminent culmination of
history which will be equivalent to a recovered paradise or golden
age. The movement toward this goal is a circuitous journey and quest,
ending in the attainment of self-knowledge, wisdom and power. (M.H.
Abrams "Natural supernaturalism" 1971, 255.)
Thank you for your opinions,
1. Schwab 1984: 29-30; Batchelor, 1994: 190-195, 227-228; the Italian
Capucian scholar Ippolito Desideri arrived in Lhasa in 1716 and spent
six years "studying Thibetan...from early morning to sundown",
including a study of the Kangyur (Buddhist canon) and Tengyur
(commentaries) at Sera monastery.
2. Fields, 1992: 23-24; Versluis 1993: 17.
3. Schwab 1984: 30-32.
4. Fields, 1992: 25.
5. Fields 1992: 48; De Jong, 1987: 12.
6. Philostratus, 1970: 77-78, Bk. 3.16.
7. Rudolph, 1983: 326ff., 335, 339.
8. Cobb and Goldwhite, 1995: 64; Holmyard, 1990: 68-86.
9. See Stoyanov, 1994: 56ff., who also points to the interactions
between the rise and spread of Mahayana Buddhism and the simultaneous
popularity of Greco-Roman Mystery religions. 9. Tyson, 1998
10. French 1987: 181.
11. Schwab 1984: 205, 216-19, passim; Faivre 1994: 82 ff.; Versluis
1993: 23; Lopez 1995: 32; Batchelor 1995: 252.
12. Schwab 1984:163, 239-40; Faivre 1994:73-74.
13. Schwab 1984: 289-295; De Jong 1987: 16-19, 34; Batchelor 1994:
88, 240, 239ff.
14. Ellwood 1987: 13-14; Miller 1995: 331ff.
15. Versluis 1993: 152-55, 251
16. Lewis and Melton 1992: 35.
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Buddhism with Western Culture (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1995).
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Schwab, Raymond. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Rediscovery of
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Faivre, Antoine and Jacob Needleman (eds.), Modern Esoteric
Spirituality (New York: Crossroads press, 1992)
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French, Peter. John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (NY:
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Books, 1970). Rudolph, Kurt. Gnosis: The Nature and History of
Consciousness (San Franscico, CA: Harper & Row Publishers, 1983).
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Versluis, Arthur. American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions
(London: University of Oxford Press, 1993).
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