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Patterson vs. Besant re HPB and Masters

Feb 06, 2002 06:20 AM
by kpauljohnson


Jerry's remarks yesterday about faith in Masters being a sine qua non 
reminded me of something published in Lucifer a few months before 
HPB's death. It is an article by H.T. Patterson, in response to an 
article by Annie Besant which was published without HPB's consent and 
which HPB says she would never have allowed to be published.

Besant's article is noteworthy in a number of ways, but rather than 
quote it at any length I will let Patterson's quotes stand for 

...there seems to be a grain of erronous opinion in them [Besant's 
words] from which a large and poisonous growth may spring. If this 
is so, it is only true brotherliness to point it out. It lies first 
in the statement that "If there are no Masters the Theosophical 
Society is an absurdity and there is no point in keeping it up." And 
again in another statement which says "Once accept the philosophy you 
must accept her (H.P.B.)." May not much harm be done by the holding 
of such views? May they not tend to keep out many who would be 
benefited by being in, and for whom the Society was largely founded? 
Are not the statements in their nature somewhat dogmatic? Have we 
not still in our natures some of that intolerance which forcing 
rather than leading, persecuted in the name of righteousness? For 
there are subtle transformations in our characters, which will bring 
the old faults out in new guises, and we are none, not one, quite 
free from intolerance. The churches have creeds; but applicants for 
admission are usually given to understand that they need not be fully 
accepted; and they seldom are. The Theosophical Society has no 
creeds, but its members seem scarcely able to avoid making them in 
spite of all efforts to the contrary. And watchfulness as to the 
Theosophical movemen must lead those who believe in the Masters to 
see how strenuously they and their mouth-piece H.P.B. are working 
against the development of them. If this Theosophical movement is to 
be carried on successfully through the first three or four 
generations of the first seventy-five years of the coming century, we 
must be very heedful. What do the Constitution and by-laws of the 
Society, what does the application for admission into it, tell us? 
Not one word as to belief. They simply contain provisions which 
tend to guarantee liberty and cultivate tolerance. Is it not 
contrary to their spirit to say: "Once accept the philosophy you myst 
accept her"? Accept what philosophy? The Society has none...

We constantly cry out that we have no creeds, no dogmas, no beliefs, 
and we almost as constantly, or at any rate very frequently give the 
lie to this...And why speak of the Society as an absurdity without 
Masters? Are its objects, especially the first, nothing? If those 
objects were even partially lived up to, and again as we 
say, "especially the first," would no good come of it? Most 
certainly, and it is perhaps this good which the Masters are seeking, 
rather than the acceptance of any philosophy, or any recognition of 
themselves. {HPB adds a note here: "Our Brother, Mr. Patterson, is 
quite correct.'}

If the Society has an authoritative leader, beliefs will be accepted 
simply on authority, and a belief thus accepted is almost of 
necessity perverted...Such a reliance is against the presumable wish 
of the Masters. We must seize on our own truth and digest it 
ourselves: and if we do we cannot so pervert it...

The honest materialist, the honest agnostic, the honest spiritualist, 
the honest christian-scientist, the hoenst dogmatic Christian, may be 
an honest disbeliever in H.P.B. and the Masters, and an honest member 
of the Theosophical Society, too, provided he is enlisted in the 
cause of humanity. {HPB adds a note here: "I have repeated these 
words for years: it is my *stereotyped answer* to enquirers who ask 
me whether belief in the MASTERS is obligatory in joining the T.S."} 

This article is found in BCW XIII, pp. 115-121. There is no question 
that the Besant position won out not just in the Adyar TS, but 
throughout the movement. There is also no question that taking this 
fork in the road was disastrous in terms of the original mission of 
the Society. What might things be like if people had heeded 
Patterson, who was implicitly endorsed by HPB?


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