OLD DIARY LEAVES, First Series (1874-78)
by Henry Steel Olcott
THE poles are scarcely farther apart than the views of Western Spiritualists and Asiatics with respect to communion with the dead. The former encourage it, often try to develop mediumship in themselves or their family members to enjoy it, support many journals and publish many books to tell about and discuss their phenomena, and cite the latter as proofs of the scientific basis of the doctrine of a future life. Asiatics, on the contrary, discourage these necromantic dabblings as soul-debaucheries, and affirm that they work incalculable evil both upon the dead and the living; obstructing the normal evolution of man’s spirit and delaying the acquirement of gnânam, the highest knowledge. In Europe and America one often meets around the séance-table the noblest, purest, most learned, as well as their opposites; in the East, the mediums and sorcerers are patronised only by Pariahs and other degraded castes, as a general rule. At the West, in these
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latter days, families usually feel glad rather than sorry if a medium is discovered in their household, whereas in India it is thought a disgrace, a calamity, something to deplore and to abate as soon as possible.
The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Zoroastrian, the Mussulman, are of one mind in the above respect, all being influenced by ancestral tradition as well as by their sacred writings. Dealings with the dead are not alone discountenanced, but also the exhibition of one’s own psychical powers, whether congenital or developed later by ascetic training. The Indian Brahmin would, therefore, look with disfavour both upon the phenomena of M.A. Oxon, the medium, and those of H. P. B., the educated thaumaturgist. Not caring for the problems of Western psychology as intellectual stimuli, and having forms of religion which start with the basic hypothesis of spirit, they place but a minimum stress upon the psychic phenomena as proofs of immortality; loathe the obsessed medium as spiritually impure, and hold in diminished respect those who, possessing siddhis, vulgarise them by display. The development of a long list of siddhis occurs naturally and spontaneously in the progress of Yogic training, of which only eight, Anima, Mahima, Laghima, etc.,—the Ashta Siddhis, in short—relate to the higher spiritual state; the other eighteen or more pertain to the astral plane and our relations to it and to the plane of this life. Black magicians and beginners have to do with these; the progressed Adepts of White Magic with the nobler group. It is to be
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observed, then, that while H. P. B.’s phenomena commanded the adoring wonder of her Western pupils and other intimate friends, and caused the malignant scepticism of her opponents, they actually lowered her in the opinion of the orthodox pundits and ascetics of India and Ceylon, as marking an inferior spiritual evolution. With them, there was no question of the possible genuineness of the marvels, for all such are recognised and catalogued in their Scriptures; the mental aura of a Lankester would asphyxiate them. At the same time, while the display of psychical phenomena in public or before the vulgar is condemned, the knowledge that a religious teacher possesses them adds to his sanctity, as being signs of his interior development; but the rule is that they are not to be shown by a teacher even to his pupils before they have become so versed in spiritual philosophy as to be able to understand them.
In the Kullavagga, v., 8, I., is related the story of the sandalwood bowl of the Setthi of Râgagaha. He had had a bowl carved out of a block of sandalwood, and lifted it high up into the air on the top of a bamboo tied to a succession of other bamboos, and then offered it as a gift to any Sramana or Brahman possessed of psychical powers (Iddhi) who could levitate himself and get it down. A renowned monk named Pindala Bhâradvaga accepted the challenge, rose into the air and brought down the bowl, after going “thrice round Râgagaha in the air.” The onlookers, a great concourse, fell to shouting and doing him reverence, which
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noise coming to the ears of the Buddha, he convened a private meeting of his disciples and rebuked Pindala.
“This is improper,” said he. “Not according to rule, unsuitable, unworthy of a Sramana, unbecoming, and ought not to be done. . . . Just like a woman who displays herself for the sake of a miserable piece of money, have you, for the sake of a miserable wooden pot displayed before the laity the superhuman quality of your miraculous power of Iddhi. This will not conduce either to the conversion of the unconverted, or to the increase of the converted; but rather to those who have not been converted remaining unconverted, and to the turning back of those who have been converted.” He then made this imperative rule: “You are not, OBhikkus, to display before the laity the superhuman power of Iddhi.” (Vide Sacred Books of the East, Vol. xx, p. 79.)
In Kullavagga, vii, 4, 7, Devadutta is said to have “come to a stop on his way (to Arahatship), because he had already attained to some lesser thing” (pothuggan-ikâ iddhi, or psychical powers)—and being satisfied that he had reached the summit of development.
In Dr. Râjendralâl Mitra’s note to Aphorism xxviii, of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, speaking about the developed psychical powers (siddhis), he says:
“The perfections described are of the world, worldly, required for worldly purposes, but useless for higher meditation, having isolation for its aim. Nor are they simply useless, but positively obstructive, for they interfere with the even tenor of calm meditation.”
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It is not widely understood that the developed psychical powers, covering the whole range of sublimated degrees of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, intuition (prophetic, retrospective, and contemporary), etc., bear to the awakened individuality a relation similar to that which the ordinary five senses do to the physical self, or personality. Just as one must learn to restrain one’s perceptions of external things through the avenues of sense, to concentrate one’s whole thought upon some deep problem of science or philosophy, so must the would-be gnâni, or sage, control the activity of his developed clairvoyance, clairaudience, etc., if he would not have his object defeated by the wandering of his thought into the bypaths they open up. I have never seen this point clearly stated before, yet it is most important to bear in mind. Through ignorance of this rule Swedenborg, Davis, the Catholic Saints and religious visionaries of all other sects have, as it were, staggered, clairvoyantly drunk, through the picture-galleries of the Astral light; seeing some things that were and creating others that were not until they begot them; then giving out mangled prophecies, imagined revelations, bad counsel, false science, and misleading theology.
Asiatics throng to a possessor or reputed possessor of siddhis from the most selfish motives—to get sons from barren wives; cures for diseases, often the fruit of vice; recover lost valuables; influence the minds of masters to favour them; and to learn the future. They call this
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“asking the blessings of the Mahâtma,” but no one is deceived by the euphuism in the least, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the begging hypocrite is dismissed unsatisfied. Even I, in my humble experience, came to know the meanness of this class, for out of the thousands of clamorous sick persons that I healed or relieved in my experimental researches of 1881, I doubt if one hundred were really grateful; and before the year was up, I had practically learnt how a Yogi must feel about exhibiting his psychical powers. Truly, indeed, does the Sage declare in Suta Samhita that the true Guru is not he who teaches one the physical sciences, who confers worldly pleasures, who trains one’s powers until he may reach the gandharvas or develop the siddhis, for all these are sources of trouble and sorrow: the real Teacher and Master is he who imparts the knowledge of Brahman. This is taught likewise in Chandogya, Brahadaranya, and other Upanishads, where it is said that while the Yogi can by will-power make or destroy worlds, call to him pitris, gandharvas, and other spiritual beings, enjoy the power of Ishwara in unalloyed sattwa, yet he should avoid all these vanities as tending to foster the sense of separateness and as being hostile to the acquisition of true gnânam. As for voluntarily consorting with the denizens of the astral spheres, invoking their favours and submitting to their behests, no right-minded, well-informed Asiatic would even dream of it. Sri Krishna sums it up most concisely in that famous verse of the Gita (Ch. IX): “Those who worship
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(invoke, make pujâ to) the Devatas (higher elementals) go to them (after death); those who worship the Pitris, go to the Pitris. The worshippers of the Bhûtas (here defined by Sankara as the lowest nature-spirits; but the word is also a synonym of Pisachas, meaning the souls of the dead or astral shells) go to the Bhûtas. Only my worshippers (i.e., the devotees of gnânam, the highest spiritual knowledge), come to me.” To repeat, then H.P.B. would be respected as possessing siddhis, but blamed for showing phenomena; while M. A. Oxon would be looked down upon as the medium of Pisachas and Bhûtas, gifted as he may have been in mind, highly educated as the University may have made him, pure and unselfish as may have been his motives.
So much for the Asiatic view of our cases. As for myself, I was through-and-through a Westerner in my way of looking at the wonders of H. P. B. and Stainton Moseyn. They were to me supremely important as psychical indications and as scientific problems. While I could not solve the riddle of her complex entity, I was convinced that the forces in and behind H. P. B. and her phenomena were skilfully handled by living persons who knew Psychology as a science, and by its practice had gained power over the elemental races. In Stainton Moseyn’s case there was an equal obscurity. His rooted idea was that his teachers, “Imperator,” “Kabbila” [Kapila?], “Mentor,” “Magus,” “Sade” [Sadi ?], et al, were all disincarnate human spirits; some very ancient, some less so, but all wise and beneficent. They not only
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permitted but insisted that he should use his reason and work his own way upward; and with tireless patience answered his questions, solved his doubts, helped to develop his spiritual insight, aided him to project his astral body, and, by multifarious marvels, proved the nature of matter and force and the possibility of controlling natural phenomena: moreover, they taught him that a system of impartation of knowledge by teacher to pupil existed throughout the Cosmos, in ordinated stages of mental and spiritual development: like the classes in a school or college. In all these respects his teachings were identical with my own; and he never could convince me that, if not the same group, at least the same kind of Masters were occupying themselves in forming these two reformatory and evolutionary centres of New York and London. What a noble soul animated his body; how pure a heart, how high an aim, how deep a devotion to truth! At once a scholar, a gentleman, a clear thinker and writer, he became the most eminent of all the leaders of the Spiritualist party; or, at least so it seems to me, and I have had the personal friendship of Davis, Sargent, Owen, and many others. Before commencing this present chapter I have read and studied some seventy of his delightful letters to H. P. B. and myself—representing an interchange of above two hundred epistles; I have also consulted Mrs. Speer’s “Records,” and they have re-awakened the charm of our early intercourse. His close relation with us and the way in which our psychical experiences were interwoven,
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make it necessary that I should give more than a merely cursory glimpse of the man; and the best way to show what he was in thought, mind, and aspiration, will be to publish in this connection some portions of an autobiographical narrative contained in one of his letters to me. It is dated from University College, London, 29th April, 1876, and reads as follows:
“My life has been cut up into ‘junks’—generally of about five years’ duration—and the discipline of each is peculiar; but all tends to the same. Illness in some form pervades all, and I seldom am left at one form of work more than five or seven years. I inherited good property; but it was taken from me. I lost it all in one day by an incursion of the sea. I was doing well at College—a likely First and Fellowship to follow. Ten days before examination I broke down from overwork, and was not able to read or even write a letter for two years, or rather I was obliged to defer work for my degree for two years, and then to take an ordinary one. During that two years I went all over Europe, and learned more really than I should have got from books. But it was a wreck of life’s prospects.
“Then I had my five years, or six rather, at Theological work. I had a name in the Church, and was counted a preacher who would make a reputation, and get on. I was thoroughly orthodox, a more or less intelligent theologian who had really studied all round, and who had a knack of argument. I went to a wild country district,
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partly by doctor’s advice, to have benefit by sea, air and solitude to recruit my health shattered at Oxford, and then I read omnivorously, and worked hard. My people would do anything for me. I could lead them anywhere and I got a reputation in Parish and Pulpit. I overdid myself again, and felt that I must get off the excessive work (30 square miles of district to work is no joke: and all in my hands). I came to the West of England, and was appointed to a grand position in the Diocese of Sarum—a sort of select preacher. I acted twice, and irreparably broke down. Doctors could make nothing of me. They said I was overwrought: that I must rest, etc. I did rest, and got no better. Physically I was not exactly ill, but I dare not try to do anything in public.
“Then I fell ill again, this time with a fever: and in a place where no good doctor was to be had. A visitor tended me—my life was barely snatched out of the fire, and he became my fast friend—Dr. Speer. I came to London, and he asked me to live in his house and coach his boy. My property was gone, my position, my health. He took me in and I lived with him. But I could do nothing in public. He could not understand it. I could not explain it: but it was an awful, ever-present fact. I felt my old life was done. Yet I had no doubts as to the faith I had always held, not one—not a bit of one.
“But by degrees I found the old landmarks getting fainter: the bread grew stale. Then one day a man broke down here [at the London Univ.] and the authorities wanted somebody to carry on lectures on Philology.
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Few could do it, for the thing requires preparation. I heard and offered. I have a way of pigeon-holing knowledge till it is wanted, and I had read Philology at Oxford. So I took up the thread, and they finally gave me a permanent appointment.
“Another change, you see. I could lecture well enough, but could not do my old clerical work. When friends found me at work again, they said, now you’ll take a Church in London, or So and So will be delighted to have you preach for him: but I simply could not. Yet I never write a lecture, and can. go a session through without a note.
“Well, Mrs. Speer fell ill with some serious ailment, and got hold of one of Dale Owen’s books. As soon as she got down stairs she set at me. I pished and pshawed, but agreed to look into the thing. I went to Burns, got all I could, went to Herne and Williams, and in two months was in the thick of physical mediums hip, such as is hardly credible. Our phenomena were far ahead of anything I have seen elsewhere. It went on for four years, and now it is dying out, and I am going into another phase—and there have been plenty more that I have passed over. Indeed, I have said too much of self. But you may as well know what sort of man I am.
“At the present I have lost all sectarian faith, i.e., all distinctive dogmatism. You will see in Spirit Teachings how I fought for it. Now I have lost the body, and kept the spirit. I no longer count myself a member of any
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Church, but I have got all the good I could out of them all. I am a free man: with such knowledge as Theological systems can give. I have thrown the husks away. And now, as soon as I have been sufficiently purified, I humbly hope to be allowed to enter within the veil, hoping there to repeat a process which, with some modifications, will be unceasing. Endless progress, perpetual purification, the lifting of veil after veil until—Eh? where have I got to? God bless you.
“Your friend and brother,
“M. A. OXON.”
At this stage had he arrived when we were brought together; thenceforth to keep in perfect sympathy and lovingly work together along parallel lines: our aspirations the same, our views not radically divergent. Often and often does he in his letters bemoan the fact that we were not living in the same city, where we might continually exchange ideas. Several chapters were devoted in the Theosophist to the subject of Stainton Moseyn’s mediumship and the resemblance between his phenomena and H. P. B.’s, which may be read with profit.
Our Western friends will be interested in knowing that the Hindu who would enter upon a course of meditation, i.e., of concentration of all one’s mental faculties upon spiritual problems, has a triple system to observe. There is, first of all, to make the Sthalla Suddhi, or ceremony, with the object of purifying the ground upon which he is to sit: cutting himself off from astral connection with
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the astral body of the earth and with elementals which inhabit it [Vide Isis, I, 379]. This isolation is helped by first purifying the ground by washing, and by the person sitting upon a spread of Kusa grass, one of the group of vegetables whose aura resists bad and attracts good elementals. In this category are also included the Neem (Margosa), Tulsi (sacred to Vishnu), and Bilwa (sacred to Shiva). Among trees infested with bad influences and which the “adversaries” of Imperator are believed to frequent, are the Tamarind and the Banyan; they also infest old wells, long-empty houses, cremation-grounds, cemeteries, battle-grounds, slaughtering places, sites of murders and all other places where blood has been spilt: this is the Hindu belief, and in this connection see Isis, Chaps. XII and XII, Vol. I. The ground having been purified and the operator isolated from terrene bad influences, he next makes the Bhûta Suddhi, a recitation of verses having power to keep off the “adversaries” dwelling in the atmosphere, including both elementals and elementaries; assisting the operation by making circular (mesmeric) passes around his head with his hand. He thus creates a psychical barrier or wall about him. After having very carefully performed these two indispensable preliminaries—never to be forgotten or perfunctorily done—he then proceeds with the Âtma Suddhi, or recitation of mantrams which assist in purifying his body and mind and in preparing the way for the awakening of the spiritual faculties, the absorption called “meditation,” whose aim is the attainment of gnânam, knowledge. A pure spot,
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pure air, the absence of unclean persons, i.e., the unwashed, the immoral, the unspiritually-minded, the overfed, the unsympathetic—are all indispensable for the seeker after divine truth.
Imperator’s admonitions to the Speer circle and, in fact, those which have been given to all really choice circles of spiritualistic investigators in all parts of the world, substantially accord with the Eastern rules. In short, the closer these precautions have been observed, the higher and nobler have been the teachings received. The revolting scenes and disgusting language and instructions which have attended so many séances where unprotected and unpurified mediums have given their services to mixed gatherings of foul and pure inquirers, are traceable to neglect of these protective conditions. Gradually, things have been changing for the better within these past seventeen years; physical mediums and physical phenomena are slowly beginning to give place to the higher forms of mediumship and manifestations.
The views of Imperator about the evils of mixed circles were reflected in Stainton Moseyn’s published writings, and, if possible, more strongly in his private correspondence. He fully comprehended that the experiences of centuries must have taught the Asiatics this verity, that pure spiritual aura can no more be passed untainted through a vile medium and incongruous circle, than the water of a mountain spring be made to run pure through a foul filter. Hence their strict and stern rules for the isolation of the postulant for knowledge
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from all corrupting influences, and for the thorough purification of his own self. When one sees the blind ignorance and rash confidence with which Western people go themselves and take their sensitive children into the sin-sodden aura of many a séance room, one can feel how thoroughly just is the stricture of M. A. Oxon’s chief guide, about the surprising fatuity shown with respect to dealings with the spirits of the departed. The most “orthodox” of the Spiritualist writers are now only, after forty-odd years’ experience with mediumistic phenomena, partly realising this truth. Yet these same persons, yielding to a rooted hatred of Theosophy—which they excuse on the score of their detestation of H. P. B.—will not hearken to the voice of the ancients nor take the precautions which experience dictates aganist the perils of the open circle and the public medium. The improvement above noticed is due rather to the general interest created by our literature, and its reflex action upon mediums and circles, than to the direct influence of editors, speakers, and writers. Let us hope that before long the views of the Theosophists respecting elementals and elementaries will be accorded the full attention they merit.