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Betrayals and history

Apr 07, 2004 09:23 AM
by kpauljohnson

Dear Pedro and all,

Thanks for another interesting post which provides food for 
thought. I'm particularly interested in one notion:

> Probably this is the reason why when I became aware of
> the controvesies surrounding "Theosophy and
> Neo-Theosophy" I didn't give them much attention,
> although I am familiar with the main arguments. And
> that is still my point of view. Theosophical
> historians may argue any way they want to try to prove
> that Besant and Leadbeater "betrayed" HPB, that they
> distorted the her teachings.

In no case are such arguments coming from Theosophical *historians* 
to my knowledge. They have come from Theosophical polemicists, 
mostly outside the Adyar TS but also within it. My portrayal of 
Besant was generally favorable, but focused largely on her first 
trip to India. Dr. Tillett doesn't use highly charged concepts like 
betrayal in describing CWL's doctrinal innovations. Nor have I seen 
such emotionally charged terminology coming from authors like Gomes, 
Santucci, Price, Prothero, Dixon, et al. in discussing Theosophical 

It seems to me that "betrayal" is a ubiquitous feature in the 
history of spiritual movements, in a certain sense. Successors 
often change emphases and teachings and organizational forms in ways 
that the founders would have deplored. If we honestly consider what 
HPB or Olcott would have thought of the Adyar TS in the 1920s, I 
don't think there is any alternative to concluding that they'd have 
been horrified and regarded it as a huge betrayal of everything they 
stood for. There are so many warnings from both of them against the 
kind of atmosphere that Besant and Leadbeater imposed on the Society.

But going back to the early days, it's also evident that Olcott felt 
betrayed by HPB (remember the night he contemplated suicide after 
Hodgson gave him a letter in which HPB ridiculed his credulity?). 
HPB at times felt betrayed by Olcott, as a number of her letters 
complain. Sinnett and HPB are another pair with feelings of mutual 
betrayal. Besant felt betrayed by Judge for pawning off fake 
Mahatma letters. Judge felt betrayed by Besant for turning against 
him and siding with Olcott. Look into the later Point Loma history 
if you want to see a whole bunch of Theosophists feeling betrayed by 
one another, the Covina/Pasadena TS vs. the Point Loma 
independents. It all comes down to people behaving in ways we 
didn't expect them to, that we had trusted them not to do, whether 
it's personal conflicts or doctrinal disputes.

Historians generally try to avoid judgmental language about such 
situations. When it comes to something as basic as betraying the 
trust of parents who place their children in someone's care, though, 
it's pretty hard not to express feelings of moral outrage. Dr. 
Tillett was far more nonjudgmental in tone than I could have been 
writing about these circumstances.

That left me and leaves
> me perfectly cold, for I know, from my earliest
> association with theosophical studies, that the
> essence of their contribution to theosophical
> literature is a message of altruism and selfless
> service. And this is the essence of Theosophy
> according to HPB.

A message that Besant lived, but not IMO CWL.



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