On The Publication and Use of “The Mahatma Letters”

Should the Mahatma Letters from the Masters K.H. and M. to A. P. Sinnett and A. O. Hume have been published (as they were in 1923 by A. Trevor Barker) and made available to Theosophists and the world at large?

Perhaps the clearest and most definite answer to this question comes from the Masters Themselves, in response to an idea by Sinnett to publish as a book an unedited compilation of all the Mahatma Letters he had received. Ironically we have to turn to the book “The Mahatma Letters” in order to learn that the Masters never wished such a book as “The Mahatma Letters” to be published and were in fact strongly against the idea of such a project.

From “The Mahatma Letters” Letter No. LXIII, p. 357 (Summer 1884):

“When our first correspondence began, there was no idea then of any publications being issued on the basis of the replies you might receive. You went on putting questions at random, and the answers being given at different times to disjointed queries, and so to say, under a semi-protest, were necessarily imperfect, often from different standpoints. When the publication of some of these were permitted for the Occult World, it was hoped that among your readers some may be able, like yourself, to put all the different pieces together and evolve out of them the skeleton, or a shadow of our system, which, although not exactly the original – this would be an impossibility – would be as near an approach to it as could be made by a non-initiate. But the results have proved quasi-disastrous! We had tried an experiment and sadly failed! Now we see that none but those who have passed at least their third initiation are able to write upon those subjects comprehensively. . . . The Secret Doctrine will explain many things, set to right more than one perplexed student.

“Therefore, to put before the world all the crude and complicated materials in your possession in the shape of old letters, in which, I confess, much was purposely made obscure, would only be making confusion worst confounded. Instead of doing any good thereby to yourself and others it would only place you in a still more difficult position, bring criticism upon the heads of the “Masters” and thus have a retarding influence on human progress and the T.S. Hence I protest most strongly against your new idea. Leave to the Secret Doctrine the task of avenging you. My letters must not be published, in the manner you suggest, . . . The letters, in short, were not written for publication or public comment upon them, but for private use, and neither M. nor I will ever give our consent to see them thus handled.” [Bold and underlining added for emphasis]

This is quite conclusive. But there is another letter, also from the Master K.H., of which a superficial or careless reading may cause to appear as a contradiction to the above. Certainly some have taken it to mean that the Master was actually giving consent for any and all of his letters to be read and used by anyone. But that was not the case.

From “Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom” First Series, Letter 52, p. 112-113 (also Summer 1884):

“To Mohini: You may, if you choose so, or find necessity for it, use in ‘Man’ or in any other book you may chance to be collaborating for, anything I may have said in relation to our secret doctrines in any of my letters to Messrs Hume or Sinnett. Those portions that were private have not* been allowed by them to be copied by anyone; and those which are so copied have by the very fact become theosophical property. Besides, copies of my letters – at any rate those that contained my teachings – have always been sent by my order to Damodar and Upasika [i.e. H. P. Blavatsky], and some of the portions even used in The Theosophist. …

“Thus not only you, a chela of mine, but anyone else is at liberty to take anything, whole pages, if thought proper, from any of my ‘copied’ letters and convert their ‘dross’ into pure ore of gold, provided they have well grasped the thought. Show this to L.C.H. who was already told the same.” [Bold and underlining added for emphasis]

[* C. Jinarajadasa, editor and compiler of the book, omits the all-important word “not” which appears in the original manuscript.]

Sinnett and Hume, particularly the former, made copies of some of the letters they had received from the Mahatmas or allowed others to make such copies, the recipients comprising a very small number of Theosophical Society members. Those particular letters or portions of letters became, as the Master expresses it, “theosophical property.” But those copied letters were comparatively few in number and amounted to only a small fraction of those later published, after Sinnett’s death, in “The Mahatma Letters.”

It is only these copied letters which the Master says can be used and then only if found necessary. Alongside these copied letters, there were certain excerpts from their letters which the Masters permitted Sinnett to publish and quote from in his books “The Occult World” and “Esoteric Buddhism.” But as the Master says in the above passage, this experiment “sadly failed!” Whilst these two works did great service in drawing attention to Theosophy and its central teachings, they were nevertheless described by the Masters and H. P. Blavatsky as containing numerous inaccuracies and misunderstandings on the part of the author.

“The Secret Doctrine” is the Masters’ Work and much more important

As plainly seen in the above quoted letter, the Masters pointed to “The Secret Doctrine,” which was eventually published in 1888 in two volumes titled “Cosmogenesis” and “Anthropogenesis,” as being the publication in which Their Teachings and Esoteric Doctrine would be clearly and accurately explained.

To Col. Olcott, the Master K.H. wrote: “I have also noted your thoughts about the ‘Secret Doctrine’. Be assured that what she has not annotated from scientific and other works, we have given or suggested to her. Every mistake or erroneous notion, corrected and explained by her from the works of other theosophists was corrected by me, or under my instruction. It is a more valuable work than its predecessor, an epitome of occult truths that will make it a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.” (“Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom” First Series, Letter 19, p. 51)

In William Q. Judge’s article “Authorship of The Secret Doctrine,” published in “The Path” magazine for April 1893, he writes that “The letters sent to Mr. Sinnett formed the ground for Esoteric Buddhism, as was intended, but as time went on it was seen that some more of the veil had to be lifted and certain misconceptions cleared up; hence The Secret Doctrine was written, and mostly by the Masters themselves, except that she [i.e. HPBdid the arranging of it. For some time it was too much the custom of those, who had received at the hands of H.P.B. words and letters from her Masters, to please themselves with the imagination that she was no more in touch with the original fount, and that, forsooth, these people could decide for themselves what was from her brain and what from the Masters. But it is now time to give out a certificate given when The Secret Doctrine was being written, a certificate signed by the Masters who have given out all that is new in our theosophical books. It was sent to one who had then a few doubts, and at the same time copies were given from the same source to others for use in the future, which is now.”

Its recipient was the German Theosophist Dr Hubbe Schleiden, who was sceptical about “The Secret Doctrine” being written or inspired by the Masters themselves. What he received was a letter from the Master K.H. which included a note from the Master M. on the other side of the page:

“I wonder if this note of mine is worthy of occupying a select spot with the documents reproduced, and which of the peculiarities of the “Blavatskian” style of writing it will be found to most resemble? The present is simply to satisfy the Dr. that – “the more proof given the less believed”. Let him take my advice and not make these two documents public. It is for his own satisfaction that the undersigned is happy to assure him that The Secret Doctrine when ready, will be the triple production of M, Upasika [i.e. HPB] and the Doctor’s most humble servant. – K.H.”

“If this can be of any use or help to Dr. Hubbe Schleiden – though I doubt it – I, the humble undersigned Fakir certify that the “Secret Doctrine” is dictated to Upasika partly by myself and partly by my Brother K.H. – M.”

(Also published in “Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom” Second Series, Letter 69, p. 126-127)

In the article, Mr Judge quoted the above message to Hubbe Schleiden and wrote, “A year after this, certain doubts having arisen in the minds of individuals, another letter from one of the signers of the foregoing was sent and reads as follows. As the prophecy in it has come true, it is now the time to publish it for the benefit of those who know something of how to take and understand such letters. For the outsider it will all be so much nonsense.”

This “other letter” he referred to had been sent direct to him and in the article he quoted the part from K.H. but avoided publishing what the Master M. had written at the end of the letter, as it related to Hubbe Schleiden, who at the time was still living. The full text is as follows:

“The certificate given last year saying that the Secret Doctrine would be when finished the triple production of Upasika, M and myself was and is correct, although some have doubted not only the facts given in it but also the authenticity of the message in which it was contained. Copy this and also keep the copy of the aforesaid certificate. You will find them both of use on the day when you shall, as will happen without your asking, receive from the hands of the very person to whom the certificate was given, the original for the purpose of allowing you to copy it; and then you can verify the correctness of this presently forwarded copy. And it may then be well to indicate to those wishing to know what portions in the Secret Doctrine have been copied by the pen of Upasika into its pages, though without quotation marks, from my own manuscript and perhaps from M, although the last is more difficult from the rarity of his known writing and greater ignorance of his style. All this and more will be found necessary as time goes on but for which you are well qualified to wait. – K.H.”

“The Dr. will be in the same rut for many years. Go on and fear nothing. I am beside you when you least expect it. No, this is not my personal style – the latter in a language you could not read – Yes right, the whole age transits – Particulars not given. M.”

In March 1895, at a time when controversy was being generated in the Theosophical Society around the “Prayag Letter” dictated in 1881 by the Master M. to HPB for the Brahmin Theosophists of Allahabad, Mr Judge published the letter in “The Path” in an article titled “A Mahatma’s Message to Some Brahmans,” adding in conclusion:

“Now this is a genuine message from the Master, allowing, of course, for any minor errors in copying. Its philosophical and occult references are furthermore confirmed by the manuscript of part of the third volume of The Secret Doctrine, not yet printed. We know also that Master K.H. informed Mr. Sinnett and others that he was an esoteric Budhist; H.P.B. declared herself a Buddhist; on my asking her in 1875 what could the Masters’ belief be called, she told me they might be designated “pre-Vedic Budhists,” but that no one would now admit there was any Buddhism before the Vedas, so I had best think of them as Esoteric Buddhists.

“But I am informed that Mrs. Besant has several times privately stated that in her opinion the letter first above printed was a “forgery or humbug” gotten up by H.P.B. I know that Mr. Chakravarti has said the same thing, because he said it to me in New York. It is for Mrs. Besant to deny the correctness of my information as to what she said: she can affirm her belief in the genuineness of the letter. If she does so, we shall all be glad to know. If she merely denies that she ever impugned it, then it will be necessary for her to say affirmatively what is her belief, for silence will be assent to its genuineness. I affirm that it is from one of the Masters, and that, if it be shown to be a fraud, then all of H.P.B.’s claims of connection with and teaching from the Master must fall to the ground. It is now time that this important point be cleared up.”

Consequences from publishing “The Mahatma Letters”

Aside from those excerpts of their letters published by Sinnett himself, those that Sinnett allowed to be copied by others, and those quotes and passages published on rare occasion in the published articles and books of Mr Judge and HPB, including the letter from the Maha Chohan, also known as “The Great Master’s Letter,” much of which she published in “Lucifer” Magazine, the vast remainder of the Masters’ letters has never been authorised or approved by Them for publication or public use.

There are a few people who study “The Mahatma Letters” even more than they study “The Secret Doctrine” and who rate it more highly than any other Theosophical book.

Such an approach is not liable to get one very far, seeing as those letters were private letters written at a certain period of time to a certain person or persons (i.e. Sinnett and Hume) who had certain limitations and they thus deliberately withhold a broader and clearer picture of things. That broader and clearer picture was furnished by those same Masters later on in the work they wrote with H. P. Blavatsky to be made available to the whole world, namely “The Secret Doctrine.”

It is “The Secret Doctrine” that should be our primary source for the Masters’ Teachings, as the Master K.H. said in his letter to Olcott: “a source of information and instruction for the earnest student for long years to come.”

99% of the teachings of “The Mahatma Letters” will be found expanded and clarified there in “The Secret Doctrine,” along with a huge mass of further information and content. A handful of obscure sentences in “The Mahatma Letters” were not touched upon in “The Secret Doctrine,” such as the one which briefly mentions and simply states the fact that there are “inner rounds” and “outer rounds.” The Masters’ reticence and disinclination to elaborate any further on such matters should be indication that nothing is permitted to be given out regarding such subjects at this period in time.

Unfortunately, individuals such as G. de Purucker, prominent leader of “The Theosophical Society – Point Loma,” seized on such vague references and formulated their own theories as to what they mean, theories which were not compatible in any discernible way with the rest of the teachings. HPB encouraged all students to use their own intuition and try to work things out for themselves but never did she encourage them to present their own speculations and theories to the world as actually being Theosophy itself. This is, alas, what Purucker and others have done, much to the confusion and lasting misunderstanding of many.

Another unfortunate consequence of the publication of “The Mahatma Letters” is that some of the references in them to individuals and events can very easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted by readers who lack a solid and accurate knowledge of the history of the Theosophical Movement. We have known of one instance when someone reading the book thus mistook the Master’s criticisms of both Laura Holloway and Anna Kingsford for criticisms of HPB and used – or rather ignorantly misused – them to defend and support his own criticisms and dislike of HPB.

There have undoubtedly been some benefits arising from the publication of this book, such as proving beyond all doubt that the writings and teachings given to the world by HPB were exactly representative of the Masters’ own Teachings as well as being directly inspired by Them and resulting from her own occult training and instruction received from and with Them in Tibet or the Trans-Himalayan regions. “The Mahatma Letters” shows that all later forms and versions of “Theosophy” are not true Theosophy at all, nor can they be considered as legitimately representative of the work and philosophy of those Eastern Adepts.

“The Mahatma Letters” and The United Lodge of Theosophists

It is perhaps significant to note that HPB never published any book of letters from the Masters. Nor did William Judge and nor did their pupil Robert Crosbie, who in 1909 founded the United Lodge of Theosophists in an attempt to keep the original Theosophical teachings and impulse alive in the world.

Mr Crosbie passed away in 1919, a few years before “The Mahatma Letters” was published. The Indian Theosophist B. P. Wadia, who had an influential role in the ULT from the early 1920s until he passed away in 1958, advised Trevor Barker against publishing the Masters’ letters when his opinion was sought on the matter. There are certain reasons and evidence for believing Mr Wadia to have been a chela or disciple of the Master K.H., although he never made such a claim himself. Although respectful of him, Barker published them anyway.

Out of regard to the Masters’ own wishes and attitude towards such an endeavour, the ULT has always refrained from having any “Mahatma Letters” study classes, selling the book, or making much mention of it. In fact, many ULT workers and associates over the years have felt it best to avoid drawing attention or making reference to “The Mahatma Letters” at all. In some ULT Lodges and study groups, “The Mahatma Letters” are never mentioned or quoted from whilst in others they are, although to no great or overriding extent. There are no hard and fast “rules” in the ULT, however, and every Lodge is autonomous.

But in ULT magazines such as “The Theosophical Movement” and the recently defunct “Theosophy,” the occasional publication of brief quotes from the Masters’ letters have never been accompanied by detail or reference to the published source. They are sometimes just simply attributed to “Mahatma K.H.” or “Mahatma M.” or accompanied with such words as “A Master once wrote,” or “One of the Adepts has said,”. It is never mentioned that they can be found in a published book titled “The Mahatma Letters.”

One reason for this is thought to be the fact that “The Mahatma Letters” is not published by Theosophy Company (the printing and publishing division of the ULT) but rather by some of the Theosophical Societies, to whom the ULT would not particularly wish to draw their readers’ or enquirers’ attention due to the degree of misleading and distorted teachings promulgated by and in those organisations and in much of their other literature.

Another reason – and the more obvious one – is that the Masters have said that they would never want such a book to be published. There is no reason or evidence to think that They have changed Their minds on the matter. The same would apply to “Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom.”

The general ULT view is that it is to the published writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge that attention and focus has to be called. These are the Teachings of the Masters and presented and made available to the world in a far more suitable and fitting way than “The Mahatma Letters.”

Out of reverential respect for the Masters and a sense of the sacred, it would generally seem better not to draw attention to the book, nor to place particular focus on such letters except those we find published in the articles and works of Their Direct Agents and Messengers, HPB and WQJ, and any which we know to have become “theosophical property” as “copied letters” during A. P. Sinnett’s days.

In the ULT’s published literature are numerous Mahatma Letters made public during the time of HPB and WQJ and with their consent; in some cases published directly by them in their magazines such as “Lucifer” and “The Path.” These include “The Great Master’s Letter” also known as the Maha Chohan Letter (ULT Pamphlet #33 and “Theosophical Articles and Notes” p. 189), “A Master’s Letter” (ULT Pamphlet #29 and “Theosophical Articles and Notes” p. 289), “Some Words on Daily Life” (ULT Pamphlet #22 and “Theosophical Articles and Notes” p. 133), “A Mahatma’s Message To Some Brahmans” also known as the Prayag Letter (“William Q. Judge Theosophical Articles” Vol. 2, p. 321), and a compilation of the main statements from the Masters’ Letters about Devachan and the other after-death states published by WQJ, “The Worship of the Dead,” “Kama Loka – Suicides – Accidental Deaths,” and “Notes on Devachan” (“Theosophical Articles and Notes” p. 236-247).

Others of the Mahatma Letters are, however, occasionally quoted from in ULT publications, albeit usually in a reserved manner, i.e. just a brief excerpt or a few sentences.

In the February 1935 issue of the ULT’s “Theosophy” magazine (published by the Parent Lodge in Los Angeles) in a series of articles titled “Aftermath,” we read:

“Early in 1925 The Theosophy Company published a photographic reprint of the original edition of The Secret Doctrine which had been out of print since 1893 . . . it enabled everyone to compare the teachings of The Secret Doctrine with the contents of the Mahatma Letters and know for himself why the Masters had forbidden the publication broadcast of Their Letters to Mr. Sinnett. All that is taught in the Letters is contained in The Secret Doctrine which was originally published in 1888, and is there presented in proper form for students under the direct instruction and sponsoring of the Mahatmas Themselves. The publication of the Mahatma Letters in violation of Their own injunction, and recourse to these Letters instead of to The Secret Doctrine for instruction in Occultism, shows the difference between true and false psychology. Mr. Sinnett’s use of the Letters was such as to close to him the door opened via H. P. B. with the Mahatmas: what will be the effect of the unlawful publication and use of them thus made possible to so many “hopeless Incurables in the Mysteries”?” [Bold added for emphasis]

Earlier, in the June 1933 issue of “Theosophy,” one of the contributors mentioned “. . . A. Trevor Barker . . . His limitations as an Editor, however, are clear, and were plainly shown in his compilation of the Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, as well as in his Letters of H. P. B. to Mr. Sinnett. Any publication of the Mahatma Letters in their entirety was expressly discountenanced by the Mahatma himself, so that Mr. Barker acted upon his own judgment and responsibility, not that of the Master.” [Bold added for emphasis]

Thus can be seen and understood the ULT policy of extreme discretion with regard to this book.

So what should we do with “The Mahatma Letters”?

What each Theosophical student does, if anything, with “The Mahatma Letters,” is up to them. As the book has already been published and contains no teachings which could be considered “secret” or “confidential,” there seems no reason why students who have the book should not continue to read and study it by themselves privately if they feel so inclined. For some it may prove truly informative and beneficial.

But as for the promotion of the book and publicising of its contents, it is safe to say, in light of the Masters’ own statements, that this is an inadvisable course of action which goes against Their wishes and that ideally it should never actually have been published.

The Masters M. and K.H. write unmistakably that They want attention drawn towards “The Secret Doctrine” which is Their own “triple production” with HPB. “The Secret Doctrine will explain many things, set to right more than one perplexed student.” Let us respect Their wishes, follow the lines laid down, and aid Them to the fullest extent possible in Their great work.

Some will most likely object to the ideas presented in this article and say that because times have changed the Masters’ wishes have therefore changed also. They can in no way prove this – on the contrary, they tend to expect others to take their insistent word for it – but can surely see how such an attitude stands in defiant opposition to the Master’s unequivocal statement: “The letters, in short, were not written for publication or public comment upon them, but for private use, and neither M. nor I will ever give our consent to see them thus handled.”

These same critics tend to be those who reproach the ULT for refusing to promote or publicise private esoteric teachings or for declining to display pictures or portraits of the Mahatmas. The ULT stance on all three of these matters has nonetheless a firm and solid basis.

Of course, in this explanatory article, we have had to refer to and quote at some length from both “The Mahatma Letters” and “Letters from The Masters of the Wisdom.” This was done, along with providing exact page references, as the only means of clearly and satisfactorily demonstrating the rationale for not doing so. Although in the early days of this website numerous of our articles referred to and extensively quoted from these books, this is no longer the case after having carefully and reflectively analysed the situation. We now prefer to refrain from doing so unless circumstances seem to really require it.

~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~


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