By R. Jagganathiah, May 1909
On the 27th December, 1882, I was first introduced to HPB by Mr. Damodar K. Mavalankar, in the hall of the Theosophical Society building, as “R.J.” and “Veritas” of The Philosophic Inquirer. She was seated in a chair, and surrounded by a small group of her admirers. The first impression she made on me was that she was not of this earth, as she had a pair of glowing but terrible eyes, under the arch of strongly-marked eyebrows. She was a woman in body, a man in speech, earthly in appearance, celestial in reality. Her pronunciation of some words sounded somewhat peculiar to me, and I was told afterwards that she had a Russian accent.
“Ah!” exclaimed she, “I expected that you would come to me some day.” I asked her how she could expect me, since she was a Theosophist and I am an atheist. She asked Mr. Damodar to fetch her scrapbook, and showed me some cuttings from my lectures on “Kapila, Buddha and Shankara,” and said that she was carefully reading my contributions to The Philosophic Inquirer, which she appreciated, as they breathed a spirit of enquiry after Truth. As secularism was insufficient to satisfy my higher aspirations, she reasonably concluded that I would go to her for further light on the problem of problems – the mystery of life and death.
Then HPB asked me what I wanted to know. I questioned her on some points to all outward appearance difficult, each of which had been very carefully formulated by me overnight. As a member of the National Secular Society of England, I consoled myself with the idea that the problems I proposed were insoluble, and that they would tax her fine and philosophic intellect.
To my great astonishment she took up question after question, and answered each most elaborately and satisfactorily. She occupied nearly three hours in solving my questions. The array of facts she cited in support of her forcible and incontrovertible arguments, historical, philosophical and scientific, confused my poor intellect.
The whole audience was spellbound. And one peculiar point in her answering I cannot afford to omit. Her mastery of the various subjects was such that in her answer all the side-questions were anticipated and disposed of once for all. On the second and third day we were thus occupied for hours in the presence of the same audience; as the interest daily increased in proportion to my more and more difficult questions and her most able and satisfactory answers, the members of the first-day audience were irresistibly attracted to attend punctually the discussion on the following two days.
On the third day, after answering the questions, on which I spent much thought and care, mustering all the force of my atheistic knowledge and learning, she cheerfully asked me if I had anything more to say. Readily and unreservedly I answered that “my stock was exhausted,” and this afforded food for laughter for a few minutes to the whole company.
My idea was that Theosophy was something like the many religions of the world, and that HPB’s knowledge and ingenuity might be a little more than those of the ordinary student. Emboldened by this hasty idea, I “went to shear but returned shorn.” Glad was I to be defeated by her, for my defeat was an immense gain to me, as she opened my eyes to the slippery ground on which I then stood. In three days she shattered my seven years’ knowledge of atheistic theories.
I propounded the following question: “What convincing proof can be given for the existence of spirit after death?” Her answer was a most lengthy one, and to it she added a piece of advice. The study of mesmerism, she said, would give me some good, though not complete evidence. I studied and practised mesmerism with success for some years, and then I appreciated her sage advice. At the conclusion of her answer she addressed me thus – I try to reproduce her words from memory as nearly as I can after so many years:
“Why do you trouble yourself with western Secularism, a modern mushroom? You have secularism among yourselves. The Charvakas were Atheists, but they were not able to stand. You can find truth nowhere but in the teachings of the Aryan Rishis. I advise you to study the Upanishads day and night.”
I left her on the evening of the third day with the indelible impression of the truth of Theosophy and of her sound wisdom. For hours at night, I took a calm survey of the position of Atheism and Theosophy, and exultingly exclaimed that Theosophy was worth enquiring into.
On the fourth day I went again to Adyar to hear her, and obtain some crumbs of knowledge. I was invited, with my companion, the late Mr. P. Rathnavelu Mudaliar, co-editor of The Philosophic Inquirer, to join the gathering on the upper storey.
This giant of intellect, wisdom and might, asked me what I thought of Theosophy, and if I would join the Theosophical Society and help the movement, if I were convinced of the truth of Theosophy. She founded the Theosophical Society, she said, under the orders of her Guru, an Indian Mahatma, a Rishi, and came to disseminate a knowledge of Brahma-Vidya, the Wisdom-Religion. But to her regret many an intelligent and learned Hindu kept aloof from the movement and looked with some suspicion on her for her western origin and alien race.
I readily responded that I would join, and work and die for the sacred Cause, so long as a spark of life existed in this body. Who, that was inspired by her, would dare refuse to be guided by her.
She said that if I would join, I should do so under the following conditions. I should not run after phenomena; should not be too anxious to see the Masters; should not run away to the forests; but should study the philosophy of Theosophy, and work to spread a knowledge thereof in the world as I was then doing in respect to Atheism.
The late revered T. Subba Row, who was standing by my side, asked why such conditions should be imposed in my case, when everyone who signed an application was admitted into the Society. HPB laughed, and said that she knew that even sterner conditions would not deter me from joining the Theosophical Society.
I gladly joined, and I have been working for the Theosophical Society ever since, always alive to the sacredness of my promise made to HPB personally, on the 31st December, 1882, in her Adyar Ashrama. HPB opened my eyes and enlightened my ignorance. She turned my attention to the precious and lustrous gems of knowledge lying deep in the oriental mines of wisdom. Very kindly and motherly advice she gave me in bidding me read the Upanishads, which were Schopenhauer’s “solace in life and solace in death.” I owe my life and knowledge to her, the Great Teacher, H.P. Blavatsky.
The above article by Rangampalli Jagannathiah (1852-1918) was originally published under the title “The Great Teacher H.P.B. As I Saw Her” in “The Adyar Bulletin” for May 1909. It was later republished in “The Canadian Theosophist” for May-June 1983 and in the highly recommended biography “HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky” by Sylvia Cranston. Jagannathiah’s great-granddaughter R.J. Kalpana (above) wrote and published his biography “An Atheist Disciple” in 2012.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, The Importance of Supporting Evidence, Unity of the World’s Religions, The Impersonal Divine, The Ignorance and Conceit of Modern Science, The Two Paths, True Materialism and True Spiritualism, An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, Who wrote “The Secret Doctrine”?, Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy, Responding to Lies about H.P. Blavatsky, Praise for H.P. Blavatsky and Theosophy, Words from The Masters about H.P. Blavatsky, Who are you, Madame Blavatsky?, Meeting Madame Blavatsky, Damodar and the Hall of Initiation, A Film about H.P. Blavatsky, The Life & Times of Adi Shankaracharya, Ramalingam Pillai and the Theosophical Movement, The Masters and Madame Blavatsky and How to successfully study the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky.