The teachings of Theosophy identify three particular substances as being detrimental in an occult or metaphysical way to the human being when ingested.
In order of detriment these are: (1) Drugs – this obviously does not include legitimate medicinal drugs, (2) Alcoholic drinks of any kind, (3) Meat.
This is explored in detail in the article The Theosophical View of Meat and Alcohol and it is shown there that although the eating of meat is not ideal it is nonetheless “no crime” from the perspective of Esoteric Science, as H. P. Blavatsky emphasises in “The Key to Theosophy.”
The Theosophical approach towards meat eating is lenient and tolerant, although it is maintained that at a certain advanced stage of one’s development it becomes essential to follow a purely vegetarian diet and that if one feels able to do so now then that will generally be very beneficial for them.
But alcohol and drugs are quite another matter and it is known that those who pledge themselves as chelas (disciples) and join the Masters’ School – as many did through the Esoteric Section which was established by HPB and William Q. Judge – are strictly forbidden to consume alcohol and drugs. Some of the reasons for that can be found in the article linked to above. They are not forbidden for the time being from eating meat, however, nor are they instructed or requested to stop smoking tobacco.
Theosophy does not identify the smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and so forth, as being a bad thing.
Of course, from the perspective of physical health, there are risks involved, as is well known – and very serious risks for those who smoke excessively – and so Theosophy certainly does not promote or encourage smoking. But at the same time it does not identify or describe it as being harmful or detrimental on any occult level.
Many “New Age” teachings say the exact opposite of this and make claims such as that smoking burns “holes” in one’s aura, thus allowing in evil energies and influences. Many of those theories are said to be derived from the so-called “Ascended Masters.” But the Masters of Wisdom, Mahatmas, and Adepts, behind the modern Theosophical Movement, are not “Ascended Masters” but are physically incarnated and living right here on our physical planet, as They and Their disciples continually emphasised. (See Masters of Wisdom: Outwardly Mortal, Inwardly Immortal for details)
And as surprising and inconceivable as it may sound, even some of the Masters Themselves are described and referred to in the original Theosophical literature as engaging in the practice of smoking! It is well known that H. P. Blavatsky, who those Masters called “Our Direct Agent,” was a regular smoker herself. Did the Masters ever complain about this or express the wish that she would give up smoking? No, there is no record or even suggestion of this, and how could there be, in light of such details as the following? –
“Very kind Sinnett Sahib – many thanks and salams for the tobacco-machine. . . . I was at Chi-in-ki (Lhassa). Smoking your pipe.” (Mahatma M. to A. P. Sinnett)
“Oh the blessed blessed two days! It was like the old times . . . The same kind of wooden hut, a box divided into three compartments for rooms, and standing in a jungle on four pelican’s legs; the same yellow chelas gliding noiselessly; the same eternal “gul-gul-gul” sound of my Boss’s inextinguishable chelum pipe; the old familiar sweet voice of your K.H. (whose voice is still sweeter and face still thinner and more transparent) the same entourage for furniture – skins, and yak-tail stuffed pillows and dishes for salt tea etc.” (H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, describing her recent physical meeting with some of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood; she sometimes referred to her Guru, the Mahatma M., as her “Boss.”)
A chelum pipe – nowadays more commonly written as “chillum” or “chilam” – is a straight conical pipe for smoking tobacco and usually made of clay.
“I was reading in my room yesterday (Sunday) when there came a tap at the door. I said “come in” and then entered the Brother [i.e. this is referring to the Adept known as Hilarion] with another dark skinned gentleman of about fifty with a bushy gray beard and eye brows. We took cigars and chatted for a while. . . . He said he would show me the production of flowers as the adepts do it. At the same time pointing to the air, fancy – the shadowy outlines of flower after flower and leaf after leaf grew out of nothing. The room was perfectly light; in fact the sun was shining in. The flowers grew solid. A beautiful perfume saturated the air. They were suspended as the down of a thistle in the air; each separate from the other. Then they formed themselves into bouquets and a splendid large one of roses, lilies of the valley, camelias, jessamine and carnations floated down and placed itself in my hand. Then the others separated again and fell in a shower to the floor. I was stupefied with the manifestation.
“[Then] as he spoke [again] rain drops began pattering around us in the room and positively a drenching shower was falling about us. The carpet was soaked and so were my clothes, the books on the table, and the bronzes, and clock, and photos on the mantel piece. But neither of the Brothers received a drop. They sat there and quietly smoked their cigars, while mine became too wet to burn. I just sat and looked at them in a sort of stupid daze. They seemed to enjoy my surprise but smoked on and said nothing. Finally the younger of the two (who gave me his name as Ooton Liatto) said I need not worry. Nothing would be damaged. . . . The elder Brother asked me to present their compliments to Madam [i.e. Madame Blavatsky] and say that with her permission they would call upon her.
“I ran down stairs, rushed into Madam’s parlour and there sat these two identical men smoking with her and chatting as quietly as if they had been old friends. Madam motioned to me as if I had better not come in, as if they had private business to talk over. I stood transfixed looking from one to another in dumb amazement. I glanced [at] the ceiling (my rooms are over Madame B’s) but they had not tumbled through. Madam said, “What the Devil are you staring at Olcott? What’s the matter? You must be crazy.” I said nothing but rushed up stairs again, tore open my door and the men were not there. I ran down again; they had disappeared. I heard the front door close, looked out of the window and saw them just turning the corner. Madam said they had been with her for more than an hour. And that is all she would tell me about them. When I showed her my wet clothes and the bouquet of flowers that remained in evidence that I had not been hallucinated, she only said, “That’s nothing remarkable. Ask me no questions for I shall tell you nothing.” (Colonel H. S. Olcott, a co-founder of the Theosophical Society, describing an incident in New York from 1876)
Not only did HPB and some (not all) of the Masters smoke but it is a known fact that William Q. Judge (HPB’s closest colleague and fellow chela of the Master M.), Damodar K. Mavalankar (the chela of the Master K.H. who was eventually so successful as to be called to live physically with the Masters), and Robert Crosbie (founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists), all smoked too.
All these details were thoroughly distasteful to C. W. Leadbeater, the self-proclaimed clairvoyant who rose to a position of prominence in “The Theosophical Society – Adyar” some years after HPB had passed away. Leadbeater – who purported to be a chela of Mahatma K.H., despite being rejected as such by those who were known to genuinely be chelas of that Master, such as Bhavani Shankar – declared that his clairvoyance showed him the terrible occult effects of smoking, and subsequently ordered that all photographs of HPB published or displayed by the Society ought to be cropped or edited so as to remove any photographic evidence of her holding a cigarette.
As history and a mass of undeniable facts show, Leadbeater – who was fixated in an obsessive way with non-smoking, strict vegetarianism, and extreme bodily cleanliness – was at the same time a conscious fraud as well as an abuser of young boys (see The Case against C. W. Leadbeater) so one can hardly give credence to his claims of powerful spiritual insight.
Similarly, Helena Roerich and her husband Nicholas, who produced the Agni Yoga teachings, were ardently opposed to all smoking, despite claiming that they were chelas of Mahatma M. and that the Agni Yoga books were produced at his dictation. In her letters, Helena Roerich dismisses such quotes as those given above as mere “legends” and “stories told in a light vein by H. P. Blavatsky.”
The Masters only ever smoke “a special preparation of ozone” she claimed, and absolutely never tobacco under any circumstances. Those who smoke can never enter the “Community” of the Great Ones, Roerich insisted. So what about HPB? Helena Roerich maintained that if HPB had not smoked she would have been able to accomplish far more for the Theosophical Movement and for humanity. The illegitimate and misleading nature of the Agni Yoga teachings has been explored in the article Theosophy and Agni Yoga, which any serious and open-minded person can see demonstrates that the Roerichs cannot have been what they claimed to be.
The following is from a letter written by Robert Crosbie, a colleague and pupil of HPB and William Q. Judge, and who in 1909 established the United Lodge of Theosophists as a means of keeping genuine Theosophy alive in the world, as it was being diluted, distorted, and even deliberately suppressed and replaced, in the various Theosophical organisations of that time.
“Your friend’s statement on tobacco is quite interesting to me, perhaps because I may at one time have held similar ideas and for that reason recognize the prejudice and preconception that his statement presents. Our personal habits one way or another are matters purely personal and do not affect the facts in the case, but our preconceptions may and too often do just that. Having erroneous ideas, or partially so, as to the facts in any given case, these, together with any existing prejudices, lead us to wrong conclusions.
“As to his remark in regard to Masters smoking, it would be well to enquire just what his understanding of the nature of Masters is, for upon a right or wrong understanding of that nature our basis of judgment depends. It has been stated by Themselves that They are human beings, but not such as we are. They have bodies, of physical matter indeed, but of such a refined and spiritual kind as to be beyond our ordinary conception and experience. They are perfected septenary beings and present the goal to which humanity may tend. Necessarily, then, control absolute over all Their vehicles or instruments must have been gained before They could reach the stage of septenary perfection.
“It would also follow that what They do would be with knowledge and for a beneficial purpose. So, even if They used tobacco, it would have to be conceded that They knew what They were doing and why, while we ignorant physical beings would be judging by hearsay and appearances, and considering ourselves competent to do so, which would be a grave mistake.
“There is one thing certain, They have never promulgated anything about tobacco nor mentioned the weed; we should therefore be guided solely by Their message to the world of men, and leave all other matters alone, if we would understand or reach Them.
“It is said that H. P. B. smoked cigarettes; if she did, it did not impair her wisdom nor ability. No one with any insight whatever would care what any person did as a matter of personal habit, if that person could and did present such a wonderful and complete cosmogenesis and anthropogenesis as the Secret Doctrine. It is never so much a question of what a person does as “Why does he do it?” If for self-benefit, it is just as reprehensible as any other selfish procedure. It is motive and motive alone that makes an action good or bad, black or white. After all is said and done, “the purely bodily functions are of far less importance than what a man thinks and feels, what desires he encourages in his mind, and allows to take root, and grow there.” “True chelaship is not a matter of diet, postures or practices of any kind; it is an attitude of mind.”” (“The Friendly Philosopher” p. 195-196)
The two quotes with which he finished that letter are statements from the writings of HPB.
It might reasonably be asked “But WHY did these individuals smoke, when they must surely have realised the potential negative physical consequences of it?”
The simple answer is that we don’t know but Robert Crosbie’s words about the Masters’ smoking may provide a vague hint:
“It would also follow that what They do would be with knowledge and for a beneficial purpose. So, even if They used tobacco, it would have to be conceded that They knew what They were doing and why, while we ignorant physical beings would be judging by hearsay and appearances, and considering ourselves competent to do so, which would be a grave mistake.”
Most people, it has to be admitted, do not smoke with occult knowledge or for a beneficial purpose. But if those who Theosophists call “The Masters” are the “advanced occultists” which HPB says they are, then it can only be assumed that They know far more about what They are doing than the rest of us can currently conceive.
There are some occultists outside of the Theosophical Movement who say that regulated smoking has a “grounding” effect on themselves and enables them to keep sufficiently connected with their physical body and the surrounding circumstances of physical plane life. It is only speculation to suggest that that may be one of the reasons behind the smoking of some of the Masters and Teachers but it is perhaps worth considering as at least a potential possibility, if one really wants to think further on this subject.
Another factor is that the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda uses millennia-old methods to “detoxify” and “purify” a number of different heavy metals – such as arsenic, tin, lead, mercury, and others – so that they can be used therapeutically as medicines for a wide range of conditions. “Bhasma” is the term for such Ayurvedic preparations. The patient is still ingesting heavy metals but in a form which does no harm (unless misused) but instead does good for the body, as surprising or even implausible as it may sound to many from Western cultures. If non-adept Ayurvedic doctors and manufacturers can do this by physical material methods, eliminating the bad and keeping the good powers of substances generally considered toxic, surely Adepts and Mahatmas would be able to do the same for tobacco, albeit using metaphysical or occult methods? Every substance in Nature is both poisonous and beneficial, said the Adept physician Paracelsus; it all depends on how it is prepared and utilised.
But as was emphasised by Mr Crosbie, smoking is in no way promoted, praised, or recommended, in the philosophy and teachings of Theosophy itself. The three quotes above are from private letters and notes and were never published by HPB nor during her lifetime.
Whatever the Masters and Their disciples may have done in this regard is ultimately of no consequence or importance to us and is really a “side issue” which if dwelt upon at any great length can only serve to distract one’s focus and attention away from that which is really important.
Yet it was felt necessary to produce this article in order to make clear that in Occultism and Esoteric Science smoking is no “sin” and also to help those who claim to revere HPB and the Masters but who at the same time criticise or even denounce HPB for being a smoker to see that they may be building a barrier of arrogance between themselves and the Great Souls who they say they wish to serve.